Cornbread and Beans…

We ate a lot of cornbread this summer and not all of it good.  Often I found it too cakey and extremely sweet . When it was good, however, it was fantastic.  Stand out cornbread experiences included my friend, Nanette’s kitchen, the dining hall of the Folk School and an excellent brunch in Marché Artisan Foods, Nashville.

Since returning I’ve made this version by Anna Jones several times.  It’s a coriander and chilli spiked version made with cornmeal and fresh corn.  Not very traditional, perhaps, but a cracker of a recipe.

PS If you don’t know Anna Jones, I highly recommend her cookbooks.  All dishes are vegetarian and I’m yet to find one that underwhelms me.

Red Currant and Almond Muffins

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I forgot we had red currant bushes. In years past, what little crop was produced was eaten by the birds.  Not sure what happened this year but we have more red currants than we can handle!  Red currants have topped salads and cereals and they’ve been made into jelly and cordial.  The best way to eat them is by the handful straight from the bush but these muffins are a close second for me.

Red Currant and Almond Muffins

150g plain flour
100g ground almonds
3 tspn baking powder
Pinch salt
50g caster sugar
1 egg
225ml milk (plus extra if required)
60g butter melted
1 cup red currants
1 tblspn almond extract

  • Preheat oven to 190oC and butter a muffin tin.
  • Sift together the dry ingredients into a large bowl then stir in the red currants until evenly distributed.
  • Briefly whisk together the wet ingredients and add to the bowl. Use a large metal spoon to fold ingredients together. Do this briskly and do not over mix. Add a little extra milk if required.
  • Spoon batter into tins (approx ⅔ full). Bake for 25 mins until risen and golden on top.

Spiced Chickpea Puffs

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I’m off to North Carolina this weekend to teach another cooking course at the John C Campbell Folk School.  Cannot wait to return.  It’s a beautiful place, in every sense: a peaceful, creative, supportive environment in the tranquil, green Appalachians.  They run all kinds of craft based courses – ironmongery, weaving, painting, wood turning – and students come from far and wide to study for a week or two and soak up the mountain air.

This year my course’s focus is baking.  My students and I will be making cakes and biscuits and scones and puddings.  And there will be pastry too.  Pastry is the diva of the food world, I think.  A stunning performer but there’s no rushing it and it must be handled just right.  I’ve been practising different short-crusts and rough puffs for months now and have found the recipes that work for me (Leith’s and Dan Lepard, respectively).

Last week, however, I decided to give proper puff pastry a bash.  I’d always heard that even professional chefs don’t make their own and assumed it was going to be highly technical, time consuming and, ultimately, not really worth it.  Good puff pastry is available in the shops, after all.  But I was wrong on almost every count.

Following the Bourke Street Bakery recipe (superb book, by the way), it turns out that the process of laminating the butter into the flour is pretty straight forward.  It was time consuming in that I had to start 24 hours in advance and for the first few hours I was rolling  for a short time every 20 minutes, but it wasn’t labour intensive and I could potter about whilst the dough was resting.  And the end result?  Well, it was phenomenal.  Light, buttery, crisp and flaky pastry.  I will most certainly be making it again.

I used the pastry to make the following Spiced Chickpea Rolls (based on another recipe from the Bourke Street book) and they were a big hit with everyone who tasted them.  Even the most committed carnivore admitted they were better than their more common sausage counter part.

Shop bought puff pastry would work perfectly well here but should you feel the desire to try making your own, instructions can be found here.

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Spiced Chickpea Puffs

Makes 10

800g puff pastry

Olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 red peppers, chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tins of chickpeas

1 heaped tspn cumin

1 heaped tspn coriander

½ tspn chilli flakes (optional)

250g fresh spinach

Juice of one lemon

½ tspn salt

3 tblspn tahini

Handful of chopped coriander

1 egg white

Paprika

In a large pan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over a medium high heat.  Add the onion and saute until starting to soften.  Add the peppers and cook for another 5 minutes before adding the garlic.  Cook for two more minutes before adding the spices and chickpeas.  Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes more.  Stir occasionally and add a tiny bit of water if the mixture sticks at all.  

Stir in the spinach and pop a lid on to allow the spinach to wilt.  Once wilted, remove from heat and add the lemon juice, tahini and salt.

Spoon half the mixture into a food processor and whizz until a rough paste is formed.  Return to pan and mix to combine with whole chickpeas (you want a varied texture).  Stir through the coriander and let cool for an hour.

Heat the oven to 200oC.

Gently roll out the puff pastry to 5mm thick and cut into rectangles (slice – don’t press down), approx 15cm x 30 cm.  Spoon the mixture onto one side of the pastry then fold over and crimp edges together.  Place on baking tray.  Repeat until all pastry has been used. (There may be mixture left over – it makes a nice veggie burger.) Brush rolls with egg white and dust lightly with paprika.

Place in oven and turn temperature down to 180oC.  Cook for 30 mins then remove from baking tray and place on wire rack in oven.  Cook for another 15- 25 mins more until pastry is crisp on top and bottom.

Allow to cool slightly before eating.  

 

Thai Beef Salad

A blow your head off salad for a Sunday night.

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Thai Beef Salad (serves 2)

For the marinade:

2 tblspn oyster sauce
1 tblspn fish sauce
1 tblspn sesame oil

1 large ribeye steak, approx 300g

For the dressing:
3 garlic cloves
2 birds eye chillis
3 tblspn fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
½ tspn palm sugar (or golden caster)
2 tblspn groundnut oil (or other neutral oil)

To serve:
100g thin rice noodles
Handful of rocket
1 tblspn roughly chopped mint
2 tblspn roughly chopped coriander
½ cucumber, deseeded and sliced
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 spring onions, chopped

  • Whisk together the marinade ingredients then pour over the beef, turning to coat both sides. Let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  • For the dressing, pound the garlic and chilli in a mortar then add the other ingredients. Taste and adjust the lime or fish sauce to suit your own taste. It should be hot and sour and salty and sweet all at once.
  • Pour boiling water over the rice noodles and let soak for 10 mins. Drain then pour over cold water until noodles are chilled. Set aside to drain completely.
  • Heat a griddle pan over a medium high heat and cook the steak for 2 mins on each side. Rest for a few minutes before slicing thinly.
  • Assemble the salad using the noodles and all remaining ingredients. Top with the steak and drizzle over the dressing.

 

Venison & Black Bean Chili (for a chilly day)

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Made the following dish last summer and loved it.  Knew at the time that we’d enjoy it even more come winter.  And so we do.  The bright flavours and warming spices are perfect for days when the frost lies thick on the ground and two pairs of socks just aren’t enough to keep the chill from your toes.

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Venison and Black Bean Chili (adapted from Diana Henry’s Food from Plenty)

(serves 6 – freezes wonderfully)

300g dried black beans, soaked over night

750g diced venison 

2 medium onions, chopped

4 plump garlic cloves, chopped

1 tspn dried chilli flakes

1 tblspn cumin

2 tins chopped tomatoes

600ml light ale or lager

1 tblspn tomato puree

1 tblspn brown suar

1 tblspn dried oregano

To Serve:

Limes

Chopped coriander

Chopped spring onion

Yogurt or sour cream

  • Cook the beans in plenty of unsalted water until just tender.  Drain and set aside.
  • Add enough olive oil to cover the base of a large, heavy based pan.  Heat to medium-high then brown the venison in small batches.
  • Once all the venison is browned, place it to one side.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion to the pan.  Cook until truly soft and beginning to turn golden (about 20 mins).
  • Add the garlic, chili flakes, cumin and oregano to the pan and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add the tomatoes, beer, sugar, and venison to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper then bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently, covered, for an hour.
  • Remove lid, add beans and cook for another hour until sauce is thickened and venison is tender.
  • Serve topped with coriander, spring onions, a squeeze of lime and some sour cream.

 

 

Carrots & Chickpeas – Part 1

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Happy New Year!

Hope you all had a good festive season.  I did but I’m very glad it’s over. Being ill and very tired before the holidays began, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about all the celebrations this year.

These early, quiet days of January are very welcome.  I haven’t left the village since Hogmanay.  Marco has been walked mostly along the shore, I’ve read a few books and I’ve been cooking with whatever is in the cupboard rather than venturing out to the supermarket.

In my cupboard, it turns out, are a lot of carrots and chickpeas.  And carrots and chickpeas, I have discovered, are a great combination.

Made the following salad the other night and it’s a winner.  It’s all about the contrasting textures, I think.  Chewy chickpeas.  Sweet, sticky, roasted carrots. Nubbly grains.  Crunchy, lemon dressed red onion.  You could eat this salad as a side but add a dollop of Greek yogurt and this is a meal in its own.

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Roasted Carrot and Chickpea Salad (serves 2)

I find it easier to think about this salad in its component parts first.  Start with the grains.  While they are cooking, get on with the other parts. Don’t combine the ingredients when hot.  Warm or cool is better.

Start by preheating an oven to 190 oC.   You’ll need two baking trays as the carrots and chickpeas should roast seperately to avoid the flavours combining and so you can cook each perfectly.

For the grains:

½ cup quinoa or bulgar
2 celery stick, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
¾ cup stock or water

Fry the celery in a little olive oil over a medium heat until it begins to soften (5 mins).  Add the garlic and cook for another 2 mins.  Stir in the grains.  Add the water and increase the heat.  Once the liquid begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and put a clear lid on the pad.  Cook until the liquid has been absorbed and little air pockets appear in the surface of the grains.  Remove from heat and let sit for 10 mins without removing lid.  Remove lid and fluff with a fork.  Allow to steam dry.  Season carefully.

For the Carrots:

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1 cm pieces
Olive oil
1 tspn honey
1 tpsn cumin
Pepper

Toss the carrots in a little olive oil then roast for 15 minutes until starting to soften.  Heat the honey until liquid (I just put it in the oven in a heat proof dish for 2 mins), add the cumin and pepper.  Remove the carrots from the oven and toss in the spiced honey.  Roast for another 10 mins until carrots start to caramelise.

For the chickpeas:

400g tin of chickpeas
½ tspn smoked paprika
Pinch of chilli powder
Salt

Rinse and drain the chickpeas well.  Toss with a little olive oil, the spices and the salt.  Roast for 20 – 25 mins until chickpeas darken slightly and become nutty.

For the onion:

½ onion, finely chopped
Juice of half a lemon

While the carrots and chickpeas are in the oven, let the onion marinate in the lemon juice.

To serve:

1 tblspn chopped coriander
1 tblspn chopped parsley

Toss the grains, carrots, chickpeas, onions and herbs together.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.

 

Fig and Walnut Bread

Sundays are for long walks with Marco and baking bread.  This morning there’s a distinct autumnal chill in the air.  It’s not quite hat weather but it’s not far off.  We’re heading to our favourite woods to chase pheasants (Marco) and pick mushrooms (me) and when we return, I’ll make my current favourite bread: Spelt, Fig and Walnut.

I’ve taken to kneading my bread by hand again.  For a while there, I was using a mixer to do all the work and a fine job it did of it too.  Missed the therapy of working the dough myself, though.  It feels oddly right now that those 15 minutes have returned to my Sunday routine.

Fig and Walnut Bread (Got the idea for this bread from the back of the Doves’ spelt flour package.  I’m not so keen on bread make entirely with spelt though.  This ratio was more to my liking.)

300ml tepid water

1 tspn dried active yeast

1 tspn brown sugar

150g spelt flour

350g strong white flour

1 tspn salt

6 dried figs

1 teabag

75g walnuts

A little oil

  • Add the yeast and sugar to the water and set aside for 10 mins.
  • Sift the flours and salt into a large bowl. Add the water and use your hand to mix to a rough dough.
  • Turn out on to a clean surface and knead for 10 – 15 minutes until dough is silky and pliable. Place in a lightly oiled plastic bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for an hour or two until doubled in size.
  • While dough is rising, briefly toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan then chop roughly. Soak the figs in hot tea for 30 mins, blot dry then chop roughly.
  • When dough is risen, tip on to a lightly floured surface and knock the air out. Stretch dough out into a flat rectangle and sprinkly across the nuts and figs.  Roll dough up then knead again for a couple of minutes until filling is evenly distributed and dough is holding together again (it’ll be a little tricky at first but it will happen).
  • Shape into a ball and place on lightly floured baking sheet. Cover ( I put a big plastic bowl upside-down over the dough) and leave to rest in a warm place for another hour.
  • Meanwhile, heat the over to 190oC. Make sure there is a baking tray heating on the shelf below the one you’ll put the bread on.
  • When the dough is risen, sprinkle with a little white flour then slash diagonally three times. Place in the oven.  Pour a cup of water into the hot baking tray then shut the door quickly.  This will create lots of steam to give you a good crust.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  • Let cool completely before slicing.

Very good with some salty butter and/or sharp cheddar.