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.  

 

Hot Cross Buns

This summer I’m heading back to the John C Campbell Folk School to teach a British baking course.  Very exciting.

On the list to teach are Hot Cross Buns – beautiful, spiced tea cakes that are eaten around Easter.  I’d never made them before and expected them to be tricky but it turns out, they are very straightforward to make at home and are miles better than anything I’ve ever bought in the shops.  They also make the house smell utterly divine.  Can see these being made all year round from now on.

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Hot Cross Buns

300ml full-fat milk
50g butter
10g sachet dried yeast
500g strong bread flour (plus approx. 50g more)
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tspn mixed spice
130g sultana
60g mixed peel
1 egg , beaten

For the cross:
75g plain flour

For the glaze
3 tblspn caster sugar  & 1 tblspn water

  • Heat the milk and butter gently in a small pan until the butter has melted and the milk is warm.  Remove from heat and leave until the milk is tepid.  Add the yeast and leave for 10 mins.  
  • Meanwhile, sift the flour, salt, sugar and spices into a bowl.  Stir in the sultanas and mixed peel until well distributed.
  • Make a well in the dry ingredients then add the yeasty milk and egg.  Stir to form a sticky dough.  Tip dough onto a floured surface then knead for 10 – 15 minutes.  If the dough is too wet to control, add a little more flour but do this very gradually.  You’re looking for a soft, light dough.  I do this by hand as I’ve found it difficult to get the consistency right in a mixer.  
  • Once dough is smooth and elastic, place in  an oiled bowl.  Cover and leave somewhere warm until double in size.  Remove from bowl.  Punch out the air and knead for another minute. Place in bowl to rise again.  
  • Once dough has doubled in size, remove from bowl and roll into a sausage shape.  Cut tangerine sized pieces off the dough (75/80g) and roll into a ball.  Place dough balls on a baking tray lined with parchment, 5cm apart.  Continue until all the dough is used.  Cover with a clean dish cloth and leave in a warm place to rise again.  Preheat the oven to 220oC / 200oC(fan).
  • Mix together the plain flour and water until a smooth paste has formed.  It shouldn’t be too runny.  Spoon into a plastic sandwich bag and cut the very tip off one corner.  The dough squeezed out should be approximately 5mm wide – it’ll spread.  Once dough balls have doubled in sized, slowly pipe crosses on each of the buns.
  • Bake the buns in the oven for 10/15 mins until buns are bronzed and risen.  Remove from oven.
  • Whilst buns are baking, make the glaze.  Add the sugar and water to a pan and heat gently until sugar is completely dissolved.  
  • Brush the hot buns with the glaze immediately after they come out of the oven.  Place buns on a wire rack to cool down.

Best eaten warm with butter and/or jam.  If you aren’t eating these on the day, freeze once cooled.  

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.

 

The Mountain Café’s Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Fritters

Given the choice of having a meal anywhere in the Highlands, I’d chose The Mountain Cafe in Aviemore everytime.  Light, bright and airy, it’s open for breakfasts and lunches every day (see the Facebook page to be sure)  and is a wonderful place for a coffee and cake or a satisfying meal after a Cairngorms hillwalk or a Feshie cycle.  It’s ridiculously popular.  There’s rarely been a visit where I haven’t had to queue for a table for 10/20 minutes but it has never ever put me off.  I know what’s waiting inside.

The Scottish breakfasts are perfectly cooked with high quality ingredients; the sandwiches have freshly baked breads and generous fillings; the soups are just beautiful; and I challenge any salad-hater to remain so after trying one at the Mountain Cafe.

My favourite dishes are the kiwi fritters.  They used to only serve the Kiwi Sweetcorn fritters (which were excellent) but now do a Fritter of the Day.  The below recipe (kindly shared by Kirsten, the owner and head chef) has been my favourite so far.

Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Fritters

(Serves 3 – Makes 6 fritters – Double the recipe to feed a crowd and adjust the amount of chilli to suit your preferences.)

1 cup roasted pumpkin or sweet potato, mashed
1 garlic clove, finely diced
2 free range eggs, lightly beaten
1 large handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup good quality crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup coconut cream
zest of 1 lime
2/3 cup ground almonds
1 heaped tablespoon buckwheat flour (could also also use spelt flour or regular wheat flour)
Dried chilli flakes, sea salt and cracked pepper to season
coconut oil or ghee for fryingTo serve: shredded crunchy veg (e.g. courgette, pepper, carrot) lime wedges, greek yoghurt or sour cream, sweet chilli sauce, additional chopped spring onion and coriander

  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Season with salt and pepper and a generous dash of dried chilli flakes.
  • Heat coconut oil or ghee in a sauté pan over a medium heat. Fry dessertspoons of batter for 2-3 minutes on each side, turning the heat down if the fritters are colouring too quickly.
  • Fritters can be served immediately or enjoyed at room temperature.
  • The Mountain Cafe (and I) serve two of these per person along with plenty of crunchy veg and a drizzle of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.

The Highland Cross (And a Sweet Nut Butter)

At the beginning of the summer I took part in the Highland Cross with two friends.  It’s a coast to coast event involving walking/running 20 miles then cycling 30 miles through some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery. Armed with picnics and cameras, we weren’t your normal competitors.  After a couple of miles, we couldn’t even see the other walkers ahead of us and we finished almost last!  I know I’d like to run in the event in the future but this summer I had an absolutely lovely day  walking in the hills, chatting with my friends, cheering on the runners and munching away on silly amount of food I had in my back pack.

The Jelly Babies were kindly shared by one of the marshals.  My own snack of choice was a bag of Brazil nuts and dates. And it was this snack that inspired the below sweet nut butter.  It’s very rich and very good.  It’s terribly good for you and, once made, will keep in the fridge for at least four weeks.  Highly recommend smearing it on toast in the mornings and topping with banana.

Brazil Nut and Date Butter

250g Brazil Nuts

10 dates

Pinch of salt

  • Simple add the nuts and dates to a food processor and blend until nuts begin to release their oils.  Add a few splashes of water to loosen, a pinch of salt and continue blending until a buttery consistency is reached.  This can take several minutes.  

Un-dull Dhal

I fell out of love with dhal a few years ago.  Before then I’d regularly make big batches for the freezer and it was a weekly staple when life got particularly hectic.  One day I just couldn’t face it anymore.  Like the macaroni cheese of my childhood, I’d eaten it too often and its uniform taste and texture was no longer comforting; dhal was just dull.

There’s a happy ending, though, as recently I discovered this dahl.  It’s the same lentil stew but with a mix of spices and quickly fried ingredients mixed through at the end.  It utterly delicious and each mouthful a little different than the one before.  I an enamoured once more.

Tarka Dhal (adapted from an epsiode of Saturday Kitchen where a Goan chef cooked for Rick Stein)

For the lentil stew:

Oil (ground nut, coconut, sunflower – not olive)

1 large onion, sliced thinly

3 medium tomatoes, quartered

2 garlic cloves

1 tspn turmeric

200g lentils

Water

Salt

For the “seasoning”:

Oil (as above)

1 tspn mustard seeds

1 tspn onion seeds (optional)

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 green chilli, chopped finely

3 garlic cloves, chopped

4 medium tomatoes – skinned, deseeded and chopped

½ tspn astofoetida (optional)

Heat a good glug of the oil over a medium high heat.  Once hot, add the onions and tomatoes and cook for approximately 6 minutes until onion is soft but not coloured and tomatoes are collapsing.  Add the garlic and turmeric and cook for another minute. Stir in the lentils then add enough water to just cover.  Add a pinch of salt then bring to a simmer.  Cook for 30 mins until the lentils are softened and the water absorbed.  You’ll probably need to add a little more water every now and again.

While the lentils are cooking, make the tarka.  In a large frying pan, add the mustard and onion seeds to the oil.  Place on a medium high heat and cook until the seeds start popping.  Add the onion then cook for a minute.  Add the garlic and chilli.  Cook for a minute.  Add the tomato and asafoetida and cook for another minute.  Remove from the heat and stir into the lentils.  Finally, stir the coriander and a good grinding of pepper into the dhal.