The Task

Though I’m love, love, loving my new home, there are some things I’m missing about my old place.  My neighbours for one thing (they were lovely),  my gas stove (electric sucks) and my herb/vegetable garden.  There’s nothing I can do about the first two but the latter is definitely something I can sort out reasonably quickly.

Over the next few weeks I will be turning the area in the photo below into a herb/veggie patch.

It’s not perfect by any means.  For starters the lower level is currently covered in chuckies.  Also, the upper-level is weed central at the moment and I won’t be able to plant right next to that light blocking hedge.  It’s the only possible area, however, so – along with some containers in more open areas –  I’m going to make the best of it. 

Watch this space for progress.  :)

Chocolate Chip and Walnut Bit Cake

Whilst packing up my kitchen a few weeks ago I came across a newspaper cutting with a recipe on it.  Nothing unusual in this, except that the recipe was for a chocolate cake and I’m not that fond of chocolate cake.  In fact, as I’ve said before, I’m not that bothered about cake at all. 

As it happened, friends were coming for tea the very night I discovered the cutting and being in need of a dessert anyway I decided to give the recipe a go using what was already in my cupboards.  Milk chocolate was swapped for dark, hazlenuts for walnuts and self raising flour for plain plus baking powder.    

The result was quite remarkable.  Rich and moist and not too sweet, I utterly adored this cake and proudly served it up with a slick of double cream for dessert that evening.

Turned out, however, that my friends had both given up chocolate for Lent and could do no more than look at the cake.  Ate the whole thing myself.    Blush.

Chocolate Chip and Walnut Bit Cake – Adapted from an unknown source. 

250g butter

250g caster sugar

4 eggs

100g walnuts, gently roasted in a dry pan then chopped finely

100g dark chocolate, chopped into 5mm pieces

125g SR flour

20ml strong coffee

  • Cream together the butter and sugar.
  • Whisk the eggs briefly then stir gradually into the sugar and egg mixture until combined.
  • Add half the flour, chocolate and nuts and stir to combine.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients and the coffee.  Stir again briefly until just combined.
  • Pour mixture into a lined 20cm cake tin and bake in a 180 oC oven for 50 minutes.
  • Leave to cool before turning out of tin, slicing and serving with cream.

An Almost Elegant Soup

 I’ve always found the following Red Pepper and Tomato Soup to be a very elegant way to start a meal.  It’s richly flavoured and it’s beautifully coloured.  The contrast between the scarlet liquid and white bowls is really quite lovely.  And if you take the time (which you really, really should even though it’s horribly tedious) to push the soup through a sieve, the texture is positively velvety. 

What is less elegant, however, is my insistance on creating little cream love hearts on the surface of the soup. 

Cute?  Yes. 

Elegant?  Perhaps not. 

Bovered?  Not in the slightest

Red Pepper and Tomato Soup (based on Lindsay Bareham’s version in the remarkable A Celebration of Soup)

Serves 4 as a starter

5 red peppers,

1 onion, chopped

400ml tomato juice

2 tblspn tomato puree

400ml stock (chicken or vegetable)

1/2 lemon

Seasoning

  • Roast and peel the red peppers in which ever way you please.  I do it this way.
  • Saute the onion in a little olive oil until softened. 
  • Add the pepper and olive oil to a food processor and whizz for a few seconds.
  • Add the tomato juice, tomato puree and stock to the blender and whizz again, this time for longer.  Whizz until you can no longer see whole onion pieces flying by.
  • Push the soup through a sieve into a pan.  I like to use rubber gloves to do this.  You won’t get it all through, by the by.  It’s fine to be left with a few tablespoons of pinky oniony stuff in the sieve.
  • Heat the soup over a medium low heat until almost simmering.  Add lemon juice and seasoning to taste. 
  • Serve topped with  a little cream in the shape of a love heart.  :)

P.S.  Didn’t think there would be any food blogging these few weeks.  As always though, this blog is a welcome escape.

P.P.S.  If you’re confused by the word “bovered” watch this.  Hillarious.

Toad Rescue

Warning: due to moving house, blog posts in the coming weeks may be random/erratic/few and far between/all of the above.

Today, for example, I’m posting a toad.  We rescued him from the middle of a busy path at the weekend and seemed to quite enjoy having his photo taken.  He’s rather handsome, don’t you think?

Alsatian Pizza

Fellow dog lovers, fear not.  Absolutely no German Shepherds were harmed during the making of the following pizza.  The name refers to this pizzas origins in the Alsace region of France rather than any canine connections.  Indeed, some may even question the naming of the dish “pizza” as there is no Italian connection nor any tomato sauce and only a smidgen of cheese is used in the rich and creamy topping.  Can this really be pizza?

Dunno.  Don’t really care much either.  It just tastes really, really good.

True Alsatian pizzas have a much thinner base than this version (which is light and airy) and I fully intend on discovering a perfect recipe for such a crust in time for a vegetarian version of this dish.  Until then though, I shall resort to my fool-proof Stephanie Alexander recipe which takes very little time and even less effort to make. 

Ideal for a lazy Sunday lunch on a snowy spring afternoon.

Alsatian Pizza

(makes 2 ample pizzas or 4 modest ones)

Base

 250g plain flour

175ml buttermilk

1 tblspn olive oil

1 tspn salt

1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda

Topping

3 rashers of back bacon (with rind), smoked or unsmoked – chopped

1 onion, sliced

1/2 cup creme fraiche

1/2 cup cottage cheese

1 tblspn plain flour

1/4 tspn thyme

Seasoning

Handful of grated mozzarella

  • In a food processor whizz together the ingredients for the pizza base until they just combine.  Remove from processor and knead for a minute or two until silky smooth and elastic.  Place in an oiled bowl covered by a tea towel and leave for 45 minutes.
  • Preheat oven with baking trays inside to 215 oC.
  • Add the bacon to a frying pan and cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes until some fat is released.  Add the onions and fry until the onions are softened but not coloured.
  • Meawhile, whizz together the creme fraiche, cottage cheese and thyme until smooth.  Season carefully.
  • When the dough has rested for 45 minutes, separate into two or four pieces and roll out thinly onto pieces of baking paper..  Spread the creamy mixture onto each base and top as evenly as possible with the onions and bacon.  Sprinkle with just a little mozzarella or emmental cheese. 
  • Carefully slide the pizzas and baking paper onto the hot baking tray and bake for 15 minutes until golden and crisp.

Vegetarian Moussaka

At last.  Success. 

Last year sometime my mum and I shared a vegetarian moussaka made by Marks and Spencers.  It was superb.  By far the best ready made meal I had/have ever ever tasted.  Not content with the knowledge that I could simply pop downtown and pick up another ready made meal, I decided that I was going to master the dish myself.

Easier said than done, I must say.  It’s taken several months, a ton of lentils, a lot of tantrums and more than one grimace from D, but I have, at last, created a vegetarian moussaka that is every bit as delicious (dare I say, perhaps even more) than the Markies version.

Phew.  Think I deserve a drink now.  :)

Vegetarian Moussaka

(serves 4 generously)

2 aubergines, sliced finely

75g brown lentils

75g puy lentils

2 onions, one halved and the other chopped

2 bay leaves

Olive oil

2 red peppers, chopped finely

1 stick of celery, chopped finely

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 tspn dried thyme

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

Glass of wine

Dash of Worchestershire Sauce

600 ml bechamel sauce

150g feta, grated

2 egg whites

Parmesan cheese, grated

Seasoning

  • Griddle or fry the aubergine slices in olive oil for a few minutes on each side until browned and almost cooked through.  Set aside until ready to assemble the moussaka.
  • Make the bechamel sauce (I always use this method) and stir though the feta cheese.  Set aside.
  • Add the brown lentils and puy lentils to seperate pans along with half an onion and a bay leaf each.  Cover with water and bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until cooked – approximately 25 mins for brown and 40 for puy.  Drain, reserving the cooking liquid but discarding the bay leaves and onions.
  • Meanwhile, gently fry the onion in a glug of olive oil for 10 minutes until translucent.  Add the pepper and celery and fry for another 10 minutes.  The onion should be golden and the pepper and celery almost cooked through.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a minutes more.
  • Add the cooked lentils to the vegetables and stir well.  Add the tomatoes and wine.  Stir well, increase heat and bring to the boil, adding some of the lentil cooking liquid if the mixture is too dry.
  • Add Worchestershire sauce and seasoning to taste and set aside.
  • Optional – whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Use a large metal spoon to stir through the bechamel sauce.  This creates a really light and puffy sauce.  Normal bechamel is great too, of course.
  • Assemble the moussaka – one layer of aubergine, a thick layer of the lentil mixture, another layer of aubergine, bechamel sauce and a generous topping of parmesan cheese.
  • Bake in a 180oC oven for 35 minutes until golden and bubbling.