Watercress

For the longest time I confused watercress and plain old cress.  That the former was far bigger and differently shaped did not help me see my error: I just assumed it was fully grown, deformed cress.  When, whilst eating a tendril of the former in amongst other mixed leaves, I was assaulted by an overwhelming pepperiness rather than a cooling cucumbery-ness, I still did not question the relation of the two: I just thought my watercress had been tainted by some foul tasting plant!

Last year (blush) I discovered the truth.  Watercress and cress are two entirely different foods.  And, now that I know that watercress shouldn’t taste like crispy water, I no longer think it’s digusting.  Quite the opposite, in fact!  So let’s talk about watercress…

Good news:  It can be grown in the UK all year round, meaning I can enjoy a watercress sandwich in January safe in the knowledge it did not need to buy an airline ticket just to come visit me.

 Bad news:  It’s not easy to grow yourself unless you have a running stream in your garden.  Which I don’t.  :(

 Good news:  It’s chockablock full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (is the latter one of the former?). 

Bad news: Lots of people aren’t keen on it. D, for example, spat the following soup out when he tasted it.  :D

 Watercress Soup

Knob of butter

1 tblspn olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 sticks of celery, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

Glass of white wine

600 ml stock (vegetable or chicken)

200g watercress

Seasoning

Yogurt

  • Gently soften the onion, celery and garlic in the butter and oil.
  • Add the potatoes and wine and turn up the heat.  Cook until the harsh alcohol vapours disappear.
  • Add the stock and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft.
  • Take off the heat.  Add the watercress and blend to create a smooth, intensely green soup.
  • Season and serve with a dollop of yogurt.

 This next “recipe” was requested by a few of you earlier in the week.  I haven’t written out Cotter’s basic hummus recipe as I imagine many of you will have your own or may find it simpler to buy the hummus.

Watercress Hummus

(makes lots)

250g hummus (shop bought or make your own)

100g watercress

  • Simply whizz the watercress in a blender with a little olive oil until it is a smooth puree.
  • Stir the watercress puree through the hummus.
  • Tada!

Wild Garlic, Gooseberries… and Dennis Cotter

One of my favourite gifts this Christmas was Dennis Cotter’s new vegetarian cookbook, Wild Garlic, Gooseberries… And Me.  Full of stunningly earthy photographs; Slater-esque anecdotes; elegant recipes and a plethora of information about growing and preparing vegetables, it’s one of those cookbooks which I’m unsure whether to keep by the bed or in the kitchen.

Taking time and effort, the recipes in this book are generally not 30 minute, weekday dishes. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy spending time preparing these dishes and if you’re not, the results are worth it!  Everything I have tried out has been delicious and each dish has made dinner feel like an occasion. 

Here’s what I’ve made so far…

Watercress Hummus

Spring Cabbage Dolma of Pumpkin and Chickpeas with Sesame Yogurt Sauce

Chard, Lentil and Roast Tomato Gratin

Ottolenghi Delivers Again

 Yes, I am going to rave about Yotam Ottolenghi again.  My new favourite chef, Ottolenghi’s recipes feature weekly in The Guardian and are truly inspired.  He has a book coming out soon - can’t wait! 

Tried out this week’s recipe, Saffron Papperdelle with Spiced Butter, for lunch today and it was a real delight.  Warmly spiced and richly coloured, a small portion of this would make a very elegant starter.  You can find the recipe here.

I made a few changes to suit my storecupboard and preferences:

  • Though this could never be a low fat dish, you do NOT need 200g of butter for four people.  I used less than half of that and it was more than ample. 
  • Also, I recommend using tongs to lift the buttered pasta out of the pan and on to a plate.  This reduces the amount of butter in each serving.
  • I used dried tagliatelle cooking it in a large pan of water flavoured with 1 tspn saffron and salt. 
  • Pine nuts were replaced by  sunflower seeds. 
  • Mint was replaced by coriander.

Great Chieftain O’ The Puddin’ Race

 The haggis is a species in the class of Mammalia Puddingous.  This ellusive animal is found predominantly in the windswept Highlands of Scotland though unsubstantiated sightings have been made as far south as the Border town of Peebles. To date, the above picture (taken in 1897 near Loch Duntelchaig) is the soul photographic record of the haggis’ existence. 

A very shy creature, its preferred habitat is heather moorland far from human settlements.  In these barren regions, lone haggis build nests deep in the roots of the extensive heather coming out at dawn and dusk only to feed.

 During the summer months haggis eat mainly insects and green plants, whilst in winter they forage for roots. 

Haggis mate only once in their lifetime and generally produce a single offspring.  Despite this and despite their reputation as being utterly scrumptious, haggis numbers are still strong.  According to the last Scottish Executive-funded “haggis count” (whereby vast lines of participants walk through the heather heaths imitating the gurgling sound of the beasts and listening for haggis’ reply call) there are an estimated 100,000 in the Easter Ross area alone.   

The meat of haggis has been a delicacy in Scotland for hundreds of years and is, indeed, so  possessively prized that Scots have been known to spread false rumours in the hope of reducing the dish’s popularity.  Perhaps the most ridiculous and famous of these rumours is the idea that not only is the haggis not a real animal, it is made from finely chopped animal innards encased in a sheep’s stomach.

Along with champit neeps and bashed tatties (roughly mashed turnip and potatoes), Haggis is traditionally eaten on the 25th of January when Scots celebrate the brithday of their national poet, Robert Burns.  So much did Burns love to eat haggis, he wrote an ode to it.  This poem is now respectfully and traditionally read before diners feast on the Haggis:

To A Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm…

For the full poem and translation, click here.

Happy Burns Night Everyone! :)

Comfort Food

A few weeks ago Valli from More Than Burnt Toast posted on how to make the ultimate comfort food: smooth, creamy mashed potatoes.  To her very useful list of tips, I added one extra:

  • Always make too much mash, for the leftovers can be turned into potato cakes the next day. 

More often that not, my potato cakes consist of nothing more than well seasoned mash, mixed with spring onions and fried in a little butter – yum yum – but for a more substantial meal, I like to make simple fish cakes by mixing a tin of salmon with double the quantity of mashed potatoes and a generous handful of chopped parsley.  Fried gently in a little olive oil and served with salad, it makes for a very comforting, very tasty and very easy dinner. 

Spiced Granola

I’ve mentioned my terrible breakfast habits before.  Despite always being famished from the moment I wake up, I often don’t make time for the first meal of the day.   Winters are the worst.  From November to March when my alarm goes off it’s dark outside and the lack of natural light makes waking up a real struggle.  On these weekday mornings given the choice of 10 more minutes in bed or a nutritious breakfast, I invariably choose the latter and end up munching on white toast and jam in front of my registration class.  It’s not the best start to the day and it’s not a very good example to set either.

So, I’ve decided to make a late New Year’s resolution to start eating breakfast at home.  I’ve got a new, louder alarm that I’ve placed more than an arms length away from my bed and I’m looking around for tempting breakfast ideas to coax me out from under my cosy duvet.  My only criteria for these breakfasts are the following:

  • It’s got to be quick and easy to make.
  • It’s got to be filling.
  • It’s got to be tasty.

When I saw a post on Warda’s blog for “The Best Granola”, it seemed like a good place to start.  Altering the ingredients to suit my whims and my storecupboard, I whipped up a batch on Sunday afternoon and was very impressed with the gently spiced, super-crunchy results.  Though a bowl of this alone would be a little sweet for my taste (perhaps all granolas are?  I’ve never tried it before), sprinkled over a blander cereal like Weetabix, it’s the perfect start to a day. 

Sweet & Spicy Granola (adapted from here)

(Makes lots!)

225g Porridge Oats

50g Bran

75g Plain Flour

50g Desicated Coconut

50g Flax Seeds

150g Brazil Nuts, bashed up

50g Dried Cranberries

120g Butter

200g Brown Sugar

1/2 tspn Salt

1/2 tspn Nutmeg

1/2 tspn Cinnamon

1/2 tspn Cardamon Seeds

1 tspn Vanilla Essence

  • Preheat oven to 150oC.
  • Mix the porridge, bran, flour, coconut, cranberries and nuts in a large bowl.
  • Melt the butter and honey gently in  a small pan until a smooth consistency.  Add the spices, vanilla essence and salt.  Stir well.
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine well using your hands.
  • Lay the mixture out on baking trays lined with baking paper.
  • Bake in the oven for 45-1 hour taking out frequently and turning mixture to brown evenly and break up into small chunks.
  • The granola is ready to be taken out the oven when dried and evenly browned.
  • Leave to cool before storing in an airtight container.

One

I’m pretty awful at remembering birthdays.  Moreoften than not on the actual date of the birthday I suddenly realise it’s a special day for my sister/friend/niece/etc and panic.  I call.  I apologise profusely.  I send a belated card and gift.  I vow to start writing reminders on my calendar.  I fail to do the latter and so the following year I repeat the cycle all over again. 

It’s, thus, no surprise that I let the first anniversary of my blog go by unnoticed.  A whole year?  My goodness.  Time certainly does fly…

To mark this first birthday I want to share a recipe that I not only make very frequently but is also one of the very first dishes I learnt to make from scratch.  It’s a recipe that I’ve actually blogged about before but that was way back when this blog was only read by Deb and… ummmm, actually I think it was only Deb!

Anyhoo, the dish is a winner.  It’s easy, it’s fast and it’s bursting with flavour.

Thai Basil Rice
(Serves 4 as a side or 2, generously, as a main)

3 tblspn ground nut oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium red chilli, finely chopped
200g small prawns (or bitesize pieces of chicken or pork, if you prefer)
500g cold, cooked brown rice (see
Lucy’s post for a foolproof method of cooking brown rice)
1 tblspn sugar
1 tblspn thai fish sauce
3 spring onions, chopped
2 handfuls fresh basil leaves, chopped (If you can find Thai basil, great, otherwise Mediterranean basil is fine)
1 handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped

  • Heat oil in wok over med-high heat. Stir-fry garlic until golden.
  • Add prawns and chilli. Stir-fry till prawns are cooked.
  • Add rice, sugar, fish sauce & soy sauce. Heat through and combine gently over medium heat.
  • Stir through spring onions, basil and coriander. Cook for one more minute. Serve.

Simple Roast Chicken

Is it cheating to use the same photo for two posts?  I feel like I’m breaking a rule.  It’s just that I hadn’t intended on blogging about my roast chicken and therefore only took one photo.

Have now decided that since it’s one of my very favourite meals and since this method for cooking a bird has never failed me, I’d very much like to share it. 

The following method produces crispy skin, moist meat and a rich, fuss-free gravy. 

Simple Roast Chicken

(Serves four or two with lots of leftovers for tomorrow’s risotto/soup/etc)

1 free-range chicken (1.8-2 kg) 

Salt and pepper

30g butter, at room temperature

Handful of thyme

1 Lemon

2 garlic cloves, skin left on and squashed

1 glass white wine

1 glass water (plus extra to top up)

100ml stock

  • Preheat oven to 190oC
  • Place the chicken in a roasting tin and season inside and out with salt and pepper.  Massage into the skin well.
  • Rub the butter all over the chicken.
  • Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the top then place the squashed lemon halves plus the garlic plus most of the thyme into the cavity of the bird.
  • Sprinkle the remaining thyme around the bird and pour the wine and water into the roasting tin.
  • Roast for 1hr 30 mins, topping up the liquid if it evaporates too much (you want the bottom of the tin to contantly be covered in approximately 1cm of gravy.
  • Remove chicken from the oven (testing to see if the bird is cooked through).  Drain the juices out of the cavity back into the roasting tin then place the bird on a big plate to rest for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, place roasting tin on top of the stove.  Pout the stock into the tin and bring to a boil.  Reduce slightly whilst stirring to incorporate all the tasty sticky bits at the bottom of the pan. 
  • Ta da!  Gravy.  Serve with the carved chicken.  :)

PS Excuse my brevity.  Another busy week.

Sunday

It’s been a grey, chilly day here in the Highlands.  There is nothing pleasant about the dirty slush that covers the ground and nothing fun about walking on the ice that lies underneath.  When I tell you that the above photo was taken at mid-day, I think you’ll understand just how sunless this Sunday has been.  Definitely a day for staying inside.

And stay inside is what we have done.  While D lazed on the sofa reading and dreaming about his next snowboarding destination, I was beavering away in the kitchen.  So far as relaxation and cooking goes, it’s been a very successful afternoon!  Here’s what I made:

 Red Bean and Lager Chilli.  Discovered a wonderful blog this weekend – Veggie Meal Plans – and this was one of the many recipes that caught my eye.  The ingredients list was so very odd I just had to try it!  Very glad I did, it’s really tasty.  Now have a huge batch of it in my fridge ready for this week’s lunches.

 Bran Muffins.  My week’s breaktime snack.

 Winter Salad.  Yotam Ottolenghi is is my new favourite cook.  A chef at the renowned Ottolenghi, his recipes feature weekly in The Guardian and I love them.  This salad (the dressing in particular) is a winner.  So pretty too.  :)

Roast Dinner – chicken, gravy, spinach, minted peas and rosemary roasted sweet potatoes (will post recipe later in week).  Yum, yum, yum. 

It’s now 8pm and D and I have swapped places.  He’s in the kitchen carefully monitoring a batch of tablet and I’m lounging on the sofa watching Men In Black 2.  It has a talking pug in it.  Does life get any better than this?

Moist Bran Muffins

 

It’s the first week back at school and it’s a busy one!  Will keep this short. 

Bran muffin. 

Doesn’t sound very appealling, does it?  When I first heard the term I imagined a dry, tasteless cake and, frankly, that’s what my first batch turned out like.  My second attempt were far nicer but, with 120ml of melted butter, hugely calorific.  Then I remembered something Nigella Lawson had written in How to Eat.  In California, she said, pureed prunes are often used to replace butter in recipes.  Interesting…

I tried it out and it worked a treat!  These muffins are gorgeous!  I’m off to eat one now, actually.  :)

Moist Bran Muffins

(Makes 12)

90g wheat bran (can be bought very cheaply in healthfood shops)

50ml plain yogurt

200ml milk

400g (or thereabouts) tin of prunes – drained, stoned and pureed

2 tblspn vegetable oil, plus extra to rub over muffin tin

1 egg, beaten

100g brown sugar

1 tspn vanilla essence

125g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp salt

25g walnuts, chopped

25g raisins

  • Mix together the milk and yogurt add the wheatbran and leave to soak.
  • In a separate bowl add the prunes, oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla essence and whisk until combined.
  • Add the bran mixture and stir well.
  • Sieve the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into the bowl.  Add the nuts and raising.  Stir until just combined.
  • Spoon mixture into an oiled muffin tin and bake in a 190oC pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes.
  • When muffins are golden brown remove them from the oven and cool slightly.
  • Keep in a air-tight container for a couple of days.  Or pop them in the freezer to keep them for longer.