Surprising Success (lentils and greens)

 

 I’m off on holiday tomorrow.  First stop Karlstad, Sweden then onto Turku, Finland with a quick stop in my beloved Stockholm enroute.  It’s always exhilarating to go overseas but this trip is extra exciting as I get to spend lots of time with some very good friends who I haven’t seen in a long time.  Hurrah!

 Shamed by Brianna’s good example of using up everything in her fridge before leaving Japan, I have tried my best to do the same.  The result was really very good indeed: a sort of pilaf with green lentils rather than rice.

 Spiced Lentils and Greens

(for one, very rough quantities!)

75g  puy lentils

1 cardamon pod

1 cinnamon stick

1 clove

2 peppercorns

1 tblspn ground nut oil

1 small onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 tspn ginger, finely chopped

1/4 tspn turmeric

1/2 tspn garam masala

1/4 tsp coriander

1/4 tsp chilli powder

1 courgette, quartered lengthways then cut into chunks

Handful of broad beans

Two handfuls of spinach

Fresh coriander and yogurt to serve

  • Cook the lentils along with the cinnamon, cardamon, peppercorns and bay leaf according to instructions.  Drain and remove the spices.
  • Meanwhile, fry the onion in the oil until just brown.
  • Add the garlic and ginger and cook for two more minutes.
  • Add the spices and stir.  Fry for one minute.
  • Add the courgettes and broadbeans and cook until courgettes start to brown and are just cooked though.
  • Add the spinach and cook until wilted.
  • Add the lentils and combine gentle until heated through. 
  • Serve topped with yogurt and fresh coriander.

Yogurt Cheese with Dill (and blatant procrastination)

 

 Despite having more than two weeks of my summer holidays left, last night I lay awake for hours planning lessons in my head.  It wasn’t intentional.  Indeed, I tried very hard to switch off and drift into oblivion, but I simply couldn’t stop thinking about how much there was to do in the coming term and how unprepared I was for it all.  Was also very aware that the next two weeks are chockablock full of fun things, leaving me perhaps only one weekday free to head up to school and get organised.

Hence, on this windy Sunday afternoon I am sitting on my sofa drinking coffees surrounded by a self made fort of novels(Millions for my third years and Fat Boy Swim for the seconds years); essays (another child who thinks Steinbeck wrote a story called Of Mince and Men); old teaching diaries (not sure why though – my writing is totally illegible) and scrumpled up pieces of paper (arranging seating plans can be sooooo frustrating – those of you who have planned a wedding will probably know what I mean).  Playing in the background is Polanski’s MacBethGoodness, it’s gruesome!  The seniors are going to love it.

Meanwhile, dripping away slowly in the kitchen sink is tomorrow’s breakfast.  Inspired by my ricotta making success, I began investigating other types of cheese which could be easily made and discovered yogurt cheese.  Almost entirely effortless, yogurt cheese is lovely and light, and takes very well to being mixed with herbs and spices.  The following recipe is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s rather daunting Eastern Vegetarian Cooking.  There is just so much in this cookery book, though I’ve had it for several years now, I have barely scratched the surface of its promise.

 Yogurt Cheese with Dill

500g natural yogurt (I used fat free and it worked well – not as creamy obviously)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tblspn fresh dill, chopped finely

  • Line a colander with three layers of muslin or cheesecloth.
  • Add the yogurt and salt.  Tie corners of material together to make a loose parcel.
  • Hang from a kitchen tap and let drip for 6 – 9 hours.
  • Place yogurt cheese in a bowl and mix with the dill. 
  • Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Edinburgh Therapy

Edinburgh is adored by almost all who visit it.  It’s an elegant, exciting, young city with lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and yet up until quite recently, I did not care for the city at all.  I felt it pretentious and without heart, much preferring the grittier, friendlier shopper’s paradise that is Glasgow.  This has all changed though.  Still love Glasgow, but in the last few years I’ve spent more and more time in our capital city and it has wholeheartedly won me over. 

No surprise then that this visit to Edinburgh was utterly delightful and succeeded  in getting me over my Rosie-less blues (almost – there was an embarrassing sleepwalking incident involving me looking for Rosie in the middle of the night).

Just arrived back and am pooped so will let the pictures do the talking.  :)

Edinburgh Castle (such a lovely welcome to the city);

 

 

A walk out to Crammond Island at low tide;

 

Followed by a cold pint in the local pub;

Walked off those beers the next day down by the Water of Leith;

Shopped in Stockbridge (dahling!);

Marvelled at Picasso’s work and life;

Waited (not so patiently) for the creepy Millennium Clock to chime;

A picnic in Princes Street gardens; 

And then home.  Tired but happy.  :)

Saag Aloo

 

 A quick post tonight. 

Though I usually relish time alone to cook and read and dig and cycle and generally potter, this week I am not enjoying my solitude at all.  Still got the Rosie blues, I think!  Rather than brood, I’m buggering off to visit friends in Edinburgh for a few days.   Looking forward to a picnic in Princes Street Gardens, a visit to the current Picasso exhibit, shopping in White Stuff, blethering over pints in the pub and sharing a big Indian meal with my chums.  :)

Adore Indian food.  When I read Jenn’s post today sharing her first curry cooking experience with us, I knew what I wanted to blog about this evening.  The following recipe is a firm favourite of mine.  If you’ve got ghee, use it; it makes all the difference.  Still delicious using butter or a vegetable oil though. 

Saag Aloo (Indian style potatoes with spinach) 

(serves 4 with leftovers)

750g new potatoes, halved

Salt

500g spinach

5 tblspn ghee, or other cooking oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1 onion, sliced thinly

3 cloves of garlic, grated

1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1 1/2 tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

More salt

  • Boil the potatoes in salted water until just cooked and no more.  Drain and cool.
  • Wilt the spinach in a large pot with 2 tablespoons of water.  Leave to cool then squeeze out all the moisture.  Chop roughly.
  • In a large frying pan heat the ghee over a medium heat.  Add the mustard seed.  When they begin to pop, add the onion, garlic and ginger.  Fry for 4-5 minutes until the ingredients have browned slightly and combined flavours.
  • Add the spinach and stir.  Cook for 10 more minutes.
  • Add the potatoes, salt, garam marsala and the cayenne pepper

In Need of Comfort – Hazlenut and Fennel Risotto

I’m miserable.  Rosie left this afternoon and D’s still in New Zealand.  The house feels dead.  I’m not a happy bunny at all.

 

Serious blues call for serious comfort food (and, of course, wine) and comfort food to me is risotto.  There is something very soothing about both the risotto making process and the creamy, oozing result.  As I’ve mentioned before, I usually make risotto bianco and top it with salty Parma ham and peppery rocket.  But I have a new favourite and this is it. 

 

Though I happily munch it on its own, it might be a little simple for some people’s tastes.  Try topping it with a seasoned field mushroom, grilled until juicy all the way through.  Or, if you’re a meat-eater, sliced, rare steak or venison or lamb would be great too.

 

 

Hazlenut and Fennel Risotto

(Serves 4)

 

1 tblspn of butter + extra knob

Tblspn olive oil

Fennel bulb, chopped finely

Onion, chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

300g risotto rice

75g sweetcorn (frozen is good)

Handful of hazlenuts, bashed

1 litre stock (veg or chicken), heated

Seasoning

  • Saute onion, fennel and garlic in the butter and oil over a low heat. 
  • When the vegetables are soft increase the heat and add the rice.  Stir briefly until rice becomes translucent.
  • Add the sweetcorn and stir.
  • Ladle by ladle add the hot stock to the rice and stir slowly but firmly until the stock is absorbed. 
  • Continue adding the stock ladle by ladle until the rice is almost soft.
  • Remove from the heat.  Add a knob of butter and some seasoning.  Put the lid on the pot and leave to rest for 5 mins.
  • Remove lid and stir in the crushed hazlenuts.

Mystery Vegetable

A loud weekend.  Niece, nephew, puppy and parents in the house.  After a week with just the two of us, Rosie and I are wondering where our tranquil oasis has gone! 

Obviously, the invasion does not leave me much time to write.  I do have something I want to ask though.  Last weekend when I was visiting my parents I noticed an odd looking plant in Dad’s vegetable garden.  I asked him about them and he wasn’t very sure!  He thinks they may be called Welsh onions, maybe.  Can anyone shed any light on:

a) What they are

and

b) What we do with them

and

c) Which parts we do it with

Cheers!

 

Raspberry Vinegar & the Real Rosie

 

 After a tiring morning of chewing fallen crab-apples and chasing fuzzy bees around the lawn, an exhausted Rosie (puppy) climbed up onto my lap as I sat on the garden bench and fell asleep in my arms, cradled like a baby.  She looked so beautifully serene and felt so wonderfully soft all I could do was gaze at her lovingly and wonder how I would ever manage to let her go home next week.  The sun was shining (for what seems like the first time this summer), my garden was growing and I was feeling amazingly content.  As I was blissfully gazing down at my slumbering, golden spaniel she slowly opened her eyes.  Looking up at me, she blinked a little, stretched out her furry wee legs and then bit me hard on the nose. 

Little bugger.

With a swollen nose-tip I headed in doors muttering furiously and followed by an annoyingly jaunty puppy.  No way she was getting any of my raspberry vinegar.  No way she would want it either, but that was not the point!

When I first decided to make raspberry vinegar I expected the colour to be intense but for the fruity flavour to be subtle.  In fact, both the colour and the raspberry flavour are pronounced.  Not entirely sure what I’ll be using this for other than dressing green salads but I am extremely glad I made it.

 Raspberry Vinegar

250 ml vinegar

2 punnets of raspberries (i.e. quite a lot)

Peel of half a lemon

A big jar

  • Pour the vinegar into a jar.  Add lots of raspberries and the lemon peel. 
  • Use a spoon to crush up the berries.  Leave for two days, shaking occasionally (not sure this is necessary but it’s fun).
  • Remove raspberries with a slotted spoon and add more. 
  • Again use a spoon to crush the berries and leave for 3 days.
  • Pour berry liquid through a sieve (or strain through muslin or cheesecloth a couple of time if you want a clear vinegar – I liked the cloudiness).
  • Store in an air tight container (e.g. jar, bottle). 

This should keep for up to a year.  The strained version definitely will.  Wondering if the sediment in my preferred cloudy version will affect the shelf life?  Any ideas?

P.S. Just discovered how difficult photographing glass is!

Courgette and Pumpkin Seed Bread (not cake)

 

 As much as I love winter with it’s snow and ice and woolly hats and numb toes, I have never got into winter sports.  D, with the patience of a saint, has tried to teach me to snowboard three times now.  Each time on Cairngorm mountain I thoroughly enjoy the morning of sliding and falling and sliding and falling and falling and falling and OH MY GOODNESS, I’M TURNING! and falling.  By lunch time, however, my swollen, blueberry bruised knees make it impossible to fall anymore and I inevitably slink off to the Ptarmigan Restaurant to read my book over a steaming hot chocolate whilst D hits the slopes again. 

It’s his passion.  He loves it.  And he’s out in New Zealand indulging in this passion right now  (that’s him in the photo), tearing up Treble Cone and every other ski resort in the country with enough snow to satisfy him.

Cooking is my passion.  When D called yesterday morning from Wanaka he raved about the lines he has boarded in the last week.  In turn, I babbled about my ricotta success, the veg in my garden and my bread making adventures.  The latter of these may not sound as bold a mission as ski-ing down an off-piste gully in a raging blizzard but, for me, it was the culinary equivalent.

As previously mentioned I am not a baker.  Despite this, when Deb suggested using my courgettes to make zucchini bread (I use the American term as this is something that is not typically made in the UK) I was interested.  I imagined a deeply savoury loaf to toast and top with strong cheese or a thick slathering of butter.  But zucchini bread, I discovered, is sweet.  It’s a courgette carrot-cake and, as lovely as this sounds, I wanted something savoury. 

The following recipe is adapted from an Austalian site called Taste.  It was my second attempt at making bread (the first was a year ago and I don’t want to talk about it!) and it turned out pretty damned well!  Delicious toasted and topped with cheddar.

 

 

Courgette and Pumpkin Seed Bread

350g wholemeal flour

175g plain flour

2 sachets dried yeast

1 tblspn salt

2 medium courgettes, grated

75g pumpkin seeds

375ml warm water

40g butter, melted

Plenty of plain flour, to dust 

  • In a colander, salt the grated courgette and leave to drain for an hour.  Squeeze out excess moisture using a clean tea towel.
  • Sieve flours, yeast and  salt into a large bowl.  Add the courgette and pumpkin seeds.
  • Make a hole in the dried ingredients and add the water and melted butter.
  • Mix well until mixture turns into a dough.
  • Knead dough on a well floured surface for 15 minutes.
  • Split dough into two, shape into balls and place each in a bowl covered with a damp towel.  Leave for an hour.
  • Knead risen dough until it reduces to its original size.  Shape into a ball, split into smaller balls or place in loaf tin (depending on kind of loaf or rolls you want).  Set aside for another 25 mins.
  • Bake at 200oC for 40 mins or until golden brown.

Courgettes R Us

 

Rosie and I have spent the morning in the garden getting the soil ready for some more planting.  I used the hoe, Rosie used her paws.  All the while next door’s tortoise-shell cat sat on top of the high wooden fence giving me the evil eye  as she seethed over my blatant favouritism: So when the puppy digs in your garden, it’s cute .  But I sleep on your sorrel and it’s a hanging offence?  Pah!

My courgette plants (which are too awkward to be slept upon) are doing particularly well.  I’d say I have a glut of courgettes but “glut” is such an ugly word, implying I’m unhappy about the situation.  I’m really not!  Perhaps “abundance” would be better.  Yes, abundance.  I have an abundance of courgettes.  Courgettes which will turn into marrows in no time at all if I don’t keep picking them.  A glut of marrows would not be a good thing as there is only so much you can do with such bland, watery vegetables.  

So I’m on a mission to eat a lot of courgettes this week. 

 My usual use of courgettes (and D’s favourite) would be to slice them length ways, drizzle with olive oil and griddle until stripey.  Delicious but there is only so much griddling a girl can take. 

Sophie at Mostly Eating shared a beautiful recipe for courgette, lemon and goat’s cheese pasta.  I’ve made that several times in the last month.  Can’t get enough of it. 

And then we have the next three recipes.  I made each for the first time this week and each was delightful in its own way. 

 

 Moroccan Spiced Courgettes (side-dish for 2)

Think I might add breadcrumbs to the onion paste next time I make this.  More cripsy bits!

2 medium courgettes, quartered lengthways

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/2 tspn chilli flakes or fresh chilli

1/2 tspn paprika

1/2 tspn cumin

Olive oil

Seasoning

  • Whizz the onion, garlic, spices and a good drizzle of olive oil in a food processor until it creates a paste.  Season well.
  • Place courgette sticks in an oven proof dish and coat with the paste.
  • Cover and bake in a pre-heated oven at 190oC for 20 minutes.
  • Uncover, baste courgettes and bake for another 15 minutes until golden.
  • Serve alone or with some coriander and yogurt

Courgettes and Bacon (for 2 as a side or 1 for dinner)

Inspired by Elizabeth David’s recipe in Summer Cooking this is not a light dish.  It’s oily and salty and absolutely divine.

2 medium courgettes, quartered lengthways and cut into 2cm chunks

4 rashers of unsmoked bacon, roughly chopped

1 tblspn olive oil

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

Black pepper

  • Fry the bacon in the olive oil over a low heat until it renders most of its fat. 
  • Remove bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Increase the heat slightly and fry the courgettes for 5 mins stirring frequently to stop them from sticking to the pan.
  • Add the bacon to the pan and continue to fry over a medium heat until the bacon crisps up and the courgettes turn golden.
  • Season with black pepper.

 Tomato and Quinoa Stuffed Courgette Flowers (for 2 as a starter)

This was pure experiment.  Was extremely happy with the results.

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Olive oil 

50g quinoa

1 tblspn tomato puree

250ml water

1 tomato, deseeded and finely chopped

1 tspn basil, chopped

1 tspn parsley, chopped

Seasoning

2 large courgette flowers, stamen removed and rinsed

  • Soften the onion and garlic in a little olive oil.
  • Stir in the tomato puree and the quinoa.  Add the water and bring to the boil.
  • Cover the pan and reduce the heat slightly.  Simmer for 15 mins or until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water.
  • Fluff up the cooked quinoa and stir in the tomato, basil and parsley.  Season carefully.
  • Pull back the petals of the courgette flowers and fill with the quinoa mixture.  Close the petals.
  • Place stuffed flowers in a heat proof dish.  Brush flowers lightly with olive oil and place under a medium grill for 5-8 mins or until the flowers get a little crispy around the edges.

Peas, Rosie, and Me

Arrived home early this afternoon after a highly uncomfortable journey from Aberdeenshire to Inverness.  The reason for my discomfort was not the twisty, slow A96, nor was it bad weather, nor illness, nor traffic, nor any other problem one might expect from a car trip: it was the constant forlorn looks I was getting from the homesick dog in the back seat.  Rosie (my brother’s cocker spaniel) was obviously not as excited I was about her week long stay in Inverness.  

On arriving home I did my absolute best to make her happy.  Though my cuddling, walking and hiding-a-bag-of-chicken-in-my-pocket tactics worked to an extent, we didn’t truly bond until it began thundering.  I was excited (embarrassingly so – it doesn’t thunder much here) and she was confused (also embarrassingly so – she prides herself on being fiesty).  But we both wanted a cuddle.  It was perfect.  :)

Post-bonding, we played in the garden.  Nowadays, whenever I have been away from home for a few days the first thing I do on my return is check the vegetable patch.  Last week I came home to raspberries.  This week I came home to peas!  Hurrah!

Peas are fantastic.  Not only do they look amazing (teeny-weeny, perfect spheres of flawless green), they also taste heavenly sweet.  I remember my cousin and I gorging ourselves on our grandfather’s peas.  Standing amongst the vines (?) which towered above us, we’d eat the actual peas then crunch up the casings and suck the juice out before spitting out what was left of the chewed up, stringy green pods all over Gaga’s (what we called our grandfather) garden.  Needless to say we got in a lot of trouble. 

My own peas aren’t ready yet.  Having already popped four of the unripened pods (are these mangetout?) into my mouth I am trying extremely hard to leave the rest alone.  I’m with Nigella on the pea issue.  Fresh peas (as in JUST picked) are amazing if you are lucky enough to have access to them; frozen peas are also fantastically sweet; the podded peas that are sold in summer in the supermarkets, however, are crap.  In the day or so it takes them to get to the store they have lost their sweetness and have become starchy instead.  Do you agree?  Or have I just had bad pea experiences?  Or perhaps my good pea experiences have just been too good?

Is this a glass half empty/half full question?  ;)

Anyhoo, my garden pea progress put me in the mood for a fresh pea soup.  The following recipe is made frequently in my kitchen.  I love it.

Pea, Basil and Feta Soup

(Serves 4)

2 tblspn olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

400g frozen peas

750ml chicken or vegetable stock

Handful of basil

Seasoning

100g feta cheese

  • Heat the oil in a medium pan over a medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute gently until soft but not browned.
  • Add the peas and stir.  Cook for 1 min.
  • Add the stock and stir.  Bring to the boil then reduce the heat.  Simmer gently for 10 mins.
  • Remove from heat, add basil leaves and blend.  Season carefully (remember the feta will be salty).
  • Serve sprinkled with a generous amount of feta and a moderate amount of black pepper.

By the by, if anyone was wondering how the doggy weekend went, it was fab.  Check out flickr on the sidebar for a couple of canine pictures.  :)