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Cook the week – Kale pesto

January 30, 2015

Maybe this one should be called ‘not cooking the week’ …and I didn’t even shop for it. While I was away for the weekend communing with nature on Sir Bani Yas Island, KP did my market shop… and photographed it (as a joke) too. Veggie teen was away in Bahrain for Young Musician of the Gulf for most of the week, and there were nights out in the mix. So here’s what we ate from the Farmers’ Market and beyond:

Farmers market veg

Farmers’ market veg pic by KP

Sunset Friday – Oh callous, un-caring Mother I am – I’ve no idea what KP and veggie teen consumed on Friday. I was too busy tucking into my own, provided by Amwaj at Anantara Desert Islands Resort on an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi. After watching a dramatic sunset sitting by a roaring wood fire pit I moved onto the terrace to sample some of the Arabic-style menu. It was too dark to photograph but there was a lovely fresh salad centrepiece (if you’ve eaten Lebanese you’ll know what I mean) muhamarra, sujuk (spicy lamb sausages with peppers), falafel, dajaj mashwi (succulent grilled chicken in slightly spicy marinade) followed by fresh mint tea.

Chilli Saturday – A three and a half hour boring, boring drive even after an exquisite weekend is not conducive to cooking. Rather reluctantly I opened the fridge to contemplate supper and spotted a chilli con carne made earlier by KP. Bliss. All I had to do was rustle up something for veggie teen.  This involved defrosting a bean mixture (I cook and freeze ahead), adding some chilli powder, bay leaf, tomato puree, a bit of Swiss Marigold bouillon powder, passata, fresh coriander and yoghurt on the side (I always overdo the chilli!).

Shepherd’s pie Sunday – Awesome beetroot smoothie for breakfast – just had to mention that. Shepherd’s pie – I know, I know, more mince… but KP requested it.  Served with lightly cooked broad beans plus the beany chilli base leftover with mash on top for veggie teen.

Japanese pizza Monday – KP and I sat on our own eating the remains of the Shepherd’s pie with my attempt at okonomiyaki from this recipe. I used banana shallots (kindly sent to me by Chez Charles) instead of leeks and the sauce from this recipe but wasn’t convinced by either. The pancake was rather dry and the sauce too ketchupy for my tastes. Inspired by this about okonomiyaki I’ll give it another go soon (hope KP isn’t reading this).  I also baked a loaf today but that’s a whole other story to be told next week….

Fishy Tuesday – While the cat’s away, the mice will ….eat fish. Neither of my teens can abide fish and make such a fuss about the smell when I do cook it that I give up. Rather sad to see so much (over-fished) hammour still on the slab at Choitrams. I pan-fried some sea bream fillets and served with crushed potatoes and a cabbage, bacon and shallot mixture (KP approved of this version of cabbage) – all inspired by something in my Nathan Outlaw fish book – leaving out the oysters….naturally!

BBC Good Food Awards Wednesday  – I waved in the direction of a jar of kale pesto in the fridge for KP and trotted out in ‘white hot glam’ (who came up with that dress code?) to Conrad Dubai. Rather distracted by too much chatting and excitement to do justice to the food. There were lots of little nibbles at the cocktail reception but I only managed to pause for breath to taste one ‘macaroni cheese’ raviolo with black truffle from La Serre (delicious) and a beef rib slider from I don’t know who. I try to avoid eating farmed salmon due to sustainability and chemical issues but the starter was dill-cured Scottish salmon with caviar remoulade (lump fish roe) which was just ok and then I found the ‘lemon mi confit’ (it was quite dark in the ballroom!). I couldn’t get enough of this candied lemon which was brilliant with the salmon. One to try making at home. The main was a (slightly overcooked for my tastes) beef fillet with mushroom rillettes rossini, pommes Anna, green beans and Perigord truffle jus – all rather nice although I was nattering like mad to the Sassy Mama gals while eating. The less said about the deconstructed Banoffee the better. Random ingredients more like. When will this craze end?

And how to thank everyone who voted for me so that when they announced food blogger of the year my name was announced? Really overwhelming. I am so massively grateful and humbled. You’ve all been so kind with your messages, tweets, emails and calls too. More to be said about this… and right now I just don’t have the words… but THANK YOU.

Table for one Thursday – KP goes out with some chums (a ‘networking event’ ahem) every last Thursday of the month. It’s called ‘Every Second Tuesday’ – work that one out.  I was all set to make a cauliflower risotto for one and to stay in and have an early night to finish this post, but they invited me to come along. So said cauliflower was abandoned and we sat overlooking the water outside at Left Bank at the Madinat. The boys followed their usual order of sharing the bar snacks – who was I to refuse. We tucked into mini-burgers, calamari, edemame, shrimp and crab cakes, chicken tikki skewers and (not on the menu) chips with curry sauce. The Gavi di Gavi was very easy to drink. Ahem.

So not a good week for using my veg – the sweetcorn, aubergine and cauli will be cooked today (somehow). Houseguest arrives again on Saturday so I better get my cooking mojo on. Oh and veggie teen is going vegan for a month. Just off to buy nutritional yeast, bee pollen and quantities of almonds!

Kale pesto

I tinkered with a few recipes to use up kale last week and made this pesto which is really delicious and bright green. Super versatile you can use it over pasta, as a spread or dip or on little bruschetta. Stir in some creme fraiche or cream cheese if you want it creamier. This does make quite a lot so you could halve the quantities, but it keeps in the fridge with a layer of olive oil over the top. Go easy on the garlic – I used two cloves which was far too strong for KP and passing vampires so I’d advise one only.

Kale pesto

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil (I use Astraea)
  • 150ml water
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 175g kale, washed, thicker stalks removed
  • 1 chilli, sliced roughly
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced roughly
  • 60g walnuts, toasted and chopped roughly
  • 100g almonds, toasted chopped roughly
  • 100g Parmesan or hard cheese
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Method

Put all the ingredients, in the order listed, into a power blender (I used a Vitamix) and using the plunger thing push down under everything is blended and combined. I haven’t tried using a normal blender but I’m sure it would work, just not be as smooth. If you want to store it, put into an air-tight container with a layer of olive oil on the top. Serving suggestions as above. Vary the nuts if you like – this is what I had in the cupboard – the walnuts take the edge off an all almond pesto which might be too sweet.

More kale inspiration? People with digestive issues might not want to eat raw kale so check out Kellie’s gorgeous recipe here. Crisps are my downfall, so a kale version from Dannii is very welcome.

There are so many food stories to tell that I’m going to move this veg round up to once a month with edited highlights. That way I can slip another fish finger sandwich in without you noticing (joke!). Dubai-dwellers, see you at the market. And to all, have an amazing week.

Vegan buckwheat ragu for a solo vegetarian

January 26, 2015

This is how to make a vegetarian or vegan ragu at the same time as you do the meaty one for the rest of your guest or family.

It isn’t about cooking up a huge batch of something vegetarian – you’ve got Ottolenghi Plenty, Malouf’s New Feast and River Cottage Veg as inspiration.  It’s not about feeding a mixed crowd of carnivores and vegetarians either; a huge dish of macaroni cheese, a roast chicken and some warm vegetable salads will take care of that. It’s about cooking, day in day out, for one vegetarian or when you have a single non-meat eating guest for supper.

There are two ways to approach this: either you make a vegetarian meal and everyone eats it or you make your veggie something else. My week is usually a combination of both, but when I’ve had a busy day it can be a stretch too far to make two meals when some are eating meat. This ragu is a compromise. By doubling up some of the stages it’s almost like cooking one dish – and by using similar ingredients you all eat the same sort of flavours. I’ve made many, many versions of this over the years usually with lentils as a base. The buckwheat is a new discovery and works really well – the protein element keeps me happy as a Mum to a vegetarian too. Putting Marmite in is something I thought of very recently as it gives the umami depth of savouriness that can be lacking; I’m wondering why on earth I’ve never done it before.

Vegan buckwheat ragu

  • Servings: 1-2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • Unsalted butter
  • Onion, celery, carrot, garlic*
  • Tomato puree*
  • Red wine*
  • 100g buckwheat (in Dubai I bought Tesco brand at Choitrams)
  • 400 ml hot vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  •  a couple of parsley stalks
  • 1 whole dried chilli (optional)
  • dash of vegan Worcestershire sauce**
  • Half a teaspoon Marmite
  • Approx. 2 tablespoons tomato passata
  • Sea salt and black pepper

*The quantities are not given as you just increase the amount you are using for the main ragu.

** Traditional Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies but you can buy vegan alternatives or make your own.

Method

1. Finely chop a generous amount of onion, celery, carrot and garlic for your main meaty ragu. For instance, if your non-vegetarian recipe calls for a medium onion you could use a large one instead. You just need to increase the quantities a little for the whole ‘soffritto‘. Heat the oil and butter together in the pot for the main ragu and sweat gently until the vegetables are soft but not coloured and the onions transparent. Add your tomato puree and cook for a few minutes, then add the red wine and leave to bubble down until reduced to almost nothing.

2. Take a generous tablespoon or two of the soffritto and put into a small saucepan (which has a lid) over a medium heat.  Add the buckwheat and stock, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the bay leaf, oregano, parsley, chilli, Worcestershire sauce and Marmite. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, checking halfway through that it is not drying out.

3. Stir in the tomato passata and cook gently for a further 5 minutes. Add more if the sauce needs loosening. Check that the buckwheat is cooked; it should be slightly firm to the bite. Add sea salt and pepper to taste, remove the parsley stalks and chilli and serve over pasta. You can use a variation of this for a vegetarian Shepherd’s pie too.

Intrigued by buckwheat? Try these vegetarian recipes:  buckwheat and chia seed chocolate chip cookies (Franglais Kitchen), spiced buckwheat and oat porridge (Fuss Free Flavours), buckwheat blini pancakes (Elizabeth’s Kitchen) and roasted buckwheat (kasha) with onions and mushrooms (Coffee and Vanilla).

Sir Bani Yas Island

A view across the lagoon in the dawn light to the Anantara resort I escaped to this weekend. Can’t wait to share more

How do you cope with a vegetarian guest or a solo vegetarian? If the scenario was the other way round, would you as a vegetarian cook meat for a meat eater? Would love to know.

Cook the week – Chard and Stilton tart

January 22, 2015

farmers market vegetablesDown to cooking for three this week and although I went to the market with a list, when I unpacked I felt more daunted than excited. Maybe because I still felt under the weather with an ongoing pesky bronchial chest thing. The produce at the farmers market is at its peak though and the whole place was thronging – enough to lift anyone’s spirits.

Here’s what I bought: broccoli; chard (sticking out right and left), parsley, coriander, radishes, rocket, beetroot, peas (eaten raw as always), broad beans, eggs, quails eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, kale, carrots and baby celery. And here’s how I cooked this week:

Iranian kebab Friday – Although I’m a confirmed carnivore (roast pork, bacon sandwiches, beef stew, lamb chops….) I don’t ever want a huge portion of it. I’ll fall upon Middle Eastern mezze and but feel defeated when the huge portions of grilled meat arrive. Last October, stumbling off the coach in an obscure district of Dubai, having walked our feet off via the lanes of Deira and Bur Dubai on a food tour with Arva, we sank to the floor of a dark room with a single high up window and lolled on the cushions not quite sure what to expect. The best kebabs I have ever eaten, that’s what. Smokey, succulent, moist, tender, fragrant, savoury, melting, salty, moreish – I don’t have words to describe just how heavenly there were. I can tell you that we ate… and ate… and ate.  Cubes of charred, marinated deliciousness wrapped with a rocket leaf and a soused with fresh lemon juice or shoveled in with buttery rice studded with sharp barberries. I’m telling you all this to explain why, with a fridge full of gorgeous produce and at the end of a total energy-drain week, I followed a pin in Google Maps to a restaurant in Jumeirah 2 to get a take away.  As a huge canal is being built which will turn one section of Dubai into an island, a 14 lane highway has been diverted and will eventually form a bridge over the water, I had to negotiate many diversions and road blocks but it was worth it. Entering Control, not a homage to Joy Division but an Iranian restaurant, I conversed in pigeon Arabic with the Egyptian waiter then followed my dear street food leader’s advice and pointed at the menu ordering lamb lemon tikka, boneless chicken tikka, I asked for zereshk (barberries) in my rice and was understood and then pointed at the picture on her blog and the addictive salty, slightly fragrant drink they call laban appeared. Salad was packed as standard. Very surprisingly bread was not so ask for it if you go there. The only thing missing was the spice of the previous company – well worth a trip round the bollards.

 

Spicy Saturday – The veg mountain was barely dented today. Confit chilli and garlic slumbered in my fridge from my first trial of Jamie’s best ever spaghetti arrabbiata (from Comfort Food). KP concurred that, yes, it actually was.

Sinful Sunday – I could breathe again. All my energy back was with a vengeance. Life felt so good – I made some pastry and went out for a meeting. Now I could lie to you here and you wouldn’t know any different, but I’m a truthful soul and this illustrates a very important point. That is: if you want to eat healthily, don’t keep unhealthy food in your house. For all those loyal readers who will never visit my local, healthy, cooked-from-scratch blog ever again after reading the next paragraph, it’s been lovely getting to know you. Thanks for coming this far.

Tired and hungry, I returned later from the meeting than expected. KP “What time’s supper?”. Veggie teen, “When’s supper Mum?”. Oven on. Pastry out of fridge. Open the freezer. “I bought fish fingers” says KP. Now as much as I like eating healthily I also can’t abide food waste. I knew that a) this recent purchase, added to existing stuff in the freezer, meant we had a ‘fish finger Matterhorn’ b) there was a bag of frozen chips (another KP purchase) languishing in there. I’m happy to extol the virtues of a good fish finger sandwich now and again (and these were Waitrose) but oven chips are the equivalent of the pappy, white, sliced loaf in the bread world i.e. beyond the pale. In my defence I made a salad to go with our fish fingers and chips.

Tart Monday – The tart planned for yesterday came out ‘lovely’. I used a recipe from River Cottage Every day but used chard instead of leeks. It was meant to be or happenstance as the two huge bunches of chard weighed exactly 500g. Sarah brought round Greg and Lucy Malouf’s beautiful book Middle Eastern vegetarian which I loosely interpreted for a quinoa salad based on veggie teen’s preferences and the veg I had. You toast the quinoa before cooking it and make a lime juice and sumac dressing to stir in at the end. She loved it.

Sausage casserole Tuesday – Dubai is in the grip of rain. Dramatic thunder and lightning at night and we woke up to flooded roads and high drama. It’s a delicious novelty for a few days a year (some year’s have none) and residents adore it. People from hotter climes go round shivering, wrapped in extraordinary layers. Europeans pretend it’s just like back home. It isn’t. You could easily wear flip-flops through the puddles. Getting into the spirit, I made root vegetable casserole from River Cottage Every Day without the parsnip or celeriac but with lots of celery leaves, carrots and potatoes, served with steamed broccoli. Oh I pickled all my radishes too – thanks David Lebovitz.

Leftover Wednesday – As usual it was a day of using up odds and ends, tart, casserole, salads etc. The last broad beans went into a sort of hummus with preserved lemons. Tomatoes roasted into soup. Quails eggs lightly hard-boiled for nibbling. The beetroot reprimanded me from the fridge as I failed dismally at making purple smoothies this week, staying with green and kale instead. There was an urgency for using everything up by Wednesday due to…

Absent Thursday – This was my dinner on Thursday. Not sure what KP and veggie teen ate but I was on staycation. If you follow my social channels you’ll know where… more about this soon.

Here’s the tart (even ‘real men don’t eat quiche’ KP took a slice to work for lunch) – an adaptation and amalgamation of two Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipes.

Chard and Stilton tart

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
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For the pastry

  • 250g plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 125g cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 50ml cold milk

For the filling

  • 500g chard (2 large bunches)
  • 100g Stilton, grated
  • 3 small eggs
  • 3 small egg yolks
  • 350ml cream (I used whipping)
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  1. To make the pastry, put the flour, butter and salt into a food processor and whizz until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and whizz briefly while pouring the milk in through the tube until the dough just comes together. Alternatively, you could rub the butter into the flour in by hand and add the liquid bit by bit. Turn the pastry out onto a large piece of cling film and form into a thick, flat disc. Wrap up and put in the fridge for at least half an hour.
  2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board or worktop and line a lightly buttered tart tin. I used a 23 cm loose-bottomed, high sided tin. You can either trim the edges at this stage or cut off the excess after baking. You can put back in the fridge, or freeze, at this stage.
  3. Put a baking tray in the oven and set to 170 C. Line the pastry case with some greaseproof or baking paper and baking beans (dried pulses or pasta will also do). When the oven is heated place the tin on the baking tray and cook the tart case for 20 minutes. Take out of the oven, remove the paper and beans, prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork and return for at least 5 minutes or until the base is dried out but not brown. Raise the oven setting to 180 C. Return the baking tray to the oven.
  4. For the filling: wash the chard well, shake off the excess moisture and trim off all the stems. Slice these finely. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and wilt the chard leaves for 2 minutes. Remove the leaves with tongs, drain in a colander and press out as much water as you can with a spatula. When cool enough to handle squeeze any excess moisture out and put to one side. Boil the shredded chard stems for 4 minutes until tender. Drain well in the colander.
  5. Scatter the chard stalks evenly over the pastry case, spread the leaves across the top followed by the grated Stilton. Beat the eggs, egg yolks, cream and seasoning together in a large jug. Open the oven and carefully but quickly (using oven gloves) pull the shelf  with the baking tray half out. Place the tart onto the tray and then pour in the egg mixture. Slide the shelf back in and close the oven door. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the filling is set but not too firm. Leave to rest for 5 minutes out of the oven or serve cold. To remove from the tin, place on a large can and gently push the sides of the tin down. Slide off the base onto a serving dish or platter.

How was your cooking/eating week? Any triumphs? Any oven chip-like disasters? Is my credibility in tatters forever and will you ever speak to me again?

Overcome the fear of green smoothies

January 16, 2015

Taste great green smoothiesHave you ever been nervous about green smoothies? Me too. But now I’m feeling as though I’ve just been on a green smoothie crash course. With patchy results in the past, I dived into a week of mainly green breakfast smoothies for Jumpstart15. I used a combination of Pinterest for general inspiration and what I had from the Farmers’ Market and in the fruit bowl. Instead of being afraid, I just thought about the type of flavours and textures that appealed to me each morning. All* were absolutely delicious – I feel I passed with flying colours and can now take off my green smoothie L-plates and throw them in the bin forever (the recycle bin of course).

Will I survive on a smoothie?

All of these smoothies saw me through until lunchtime without hunger pangs. Each recipe made two small or one large glassful (give or take). I still had a cup of tea in the morning and then drank one glass of smoothie out in the garden. The weather here in Dubai is super gorgeous right now – sorry people in Europe. I sipped the other one slowly at my desk.  My health took a dip towards the end of the week which is when I gravitated to an oaty, fruity recipe but the last vibrant Thai-inspired one put a spring back in my step going round the Farmers’ Market today stocking up with super-fresh veg for this week.

Taste good greenery

Don’t just take my word for it. KP totally scrunched his nose up as he went past – and then when implored and cajoled to taste one, sipped it; his expression changed completely and he then asked for a glassful. I’ve tried to keep away from too much fruit as I think it’s better eaten raw otherwise you load up on more sugars than you are expecting.

A week of smoothie goodness

Tips: If you are going to try this just see how you feel and taste as you go along. I don’t have a sweet tooth and love sharp citrus flavours but you might find this needs softening with a spoonful of raw honey or a few pitted dates. I hate cold drinks but I’m probably in the minority. You can add some ice in your blender or at the end plus you can use frozen fruit (great use for over-ripe bananas). I kept the stalks on my kale and they blended fine. If you avoid dairy just use nut milks and leave out the yoghurt in some of the recipes.

Here’s a week’s worth of great tasting green smoothies. All the pics were taken on my iphone 4S and posted on Instagram:

Day 1: Kale and orchard fruit smoothie – This was a great start to the week. Try this one and you’ll be converted. 1 organic apple, cored |handful of green grapes | 1 pear, cored | 25g organic local kale | 1 organic local cucumber | juice of 1/2 lime | 175 ml almond milk (or any milk) | dash of Balqees raw honey | blend well until smooth in Vitamix or power blender

Day 2: Kale, lime and basil smoothie – Not just great in a Jo Malone perfume (excepting the brassica of course!) 1 ripe banana| a few green grapes | 1 organic apple, cored | 1 pear, cored | 2 small organic local cucumbers | 25 g (about 4 leaves) organic local kale | juice 1 lime | 6 fresh basil leaves (from garden) 250 ml fresh orange juice | blend well in Vitamix or power blender

Day 3: Greengrocer smoothie – This one had a lovely savoury taste from the celery leaves and a gorgeous fragrance. You could use a celery stick if yours isn’t leafy.  1 ripe banana | 1 apple | 1 pear | 4 kale leaves | small bunch celery leaves | 200 ml almond milk | blend well in Vitamix or power blender

Day 4: Earth mother smoothie 1 small organic carrot | 1 pear, cored | 4 organic kale leaves | 2 small organic cucumbers | a slice of ginger | juice of one lime | juice of 1 lemon | 1 tablespoon raw honey | 200 ml almond milk | blitz  until smooth in Vitamix or power blender *I reduced the amount of carrot from my first attempt as found it too earthy with 3

Day 5: Oat, kale and raspberry smoothie Don’t judge a smoothie by its colour.  Needing comfort and warmth? This creamy, oaty smoothie will fit the bill as it’s very easy to drink. 75g frozen raspberries | 40g oats | 1 ripe banana | 3 dates (pitted) | 200ml milk (cow/goat/almond/your choice) 2 kale leaves | 2 tablespoons yoghurt | blitz  until smooth in Vitamix or power blender

Day 6: Warm chocolate smoothie When you feel like you need a warm blanket this smoothie is quite indulgent. No veg just fruit. If you like cold drinks use frozen banana or add some ice. I let it run in the Vitamix so it was ever so slightly warm…. it had a hot chocolate vibe about it.  1 banana (frozen if you like) | 2 pitted dates | 1 organic apple, cored | 1 pear, cored | 250 ml milk/nut milk | 50g oatmeal | 2 tablespoons yoghurt (optional) | 1 tablespoon raw cacao | small handful nuts (I used cashews) | blitz well until smooth in Vitamix or power blender. If you want some greenery add a couple of kale leaves or a small handful of washed spinach.

Day 7: Thai-inspired smoothie Super refreshing with a cleansing and warming hit of ginger to fight off the dreaded lurgies. 1 large slice pineapple | 4 organic local baby cucumbers | large tablespoon fresh coriander (cilantro) | large handful green grapes (not shown) | juice of 1 lime | sliver fresh ginger | 1 tablespoon yoghurt | 150 ml milk/nut milk/coconut water | blitz until smooth in Vitamix or power blender (add ice if you like cold drinks)

For more inspiration for Jumpstart15 visit Kellie on Food to Glow,  Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes, Sarah of Maison Cupcake, Kate of Veggie Desserts, Nazima and Pierre of Franglais Kitchen, Michelle of Utterly Scrummy, Helen of Fuss Free Flavours and Ren Behan. See the juices, smoothies and soups that Elizabeth created this week and an easy 3-day juice feast from Monica of Smarter Fitter.

If you are joining in let us know with the #Jumpstart15 hashtag on your social channel of choice. Or just leave a comment below.

Are you into smoothies? Feel the fear of the green? Or would you rather have bacon and eggs?!

Cook the week – Swedish fish stew or Fiskgryta

January 15, 2015

farmers market vegetablesDropping elder teen at the airport on Friday morning so she could fly back to Uni left me with a heavy heart. Heading straight to the farmers’ market helped lift my spirits and veggie teen was appeased with a heavenly cream puff from Baker and Spice while I whizzed round.

Hooray! I snapped up some of the first broad beans of the season – they are so fragrant and sweet that I ate a few raw when I got home. Veggie teen got started on the peas in the pod and soon there was a mountain of shells on the kitchen table. It’s strange to have just four in the house to cook for after a month of visitors (one houseguest remains).

Here’s what I made from the bounty shown above:

Truck drivers Friday – Almost home alone with veggie teen out, houseguest out, KP with flu not hungry. Truck drivers pasta (from Georgia Locatelli’s Made In Sicily) which is basically some raw, fresh tomatoes chopped and seasoned, stirred through some hot spaghetti with some fresh basil from the garden. The only way this dish works is if your tomatoes are really ripe, sweet and make an umami sauce with their juices.

Saturday night comfort food – Finally went back to yoga, followed by a quick paddle in the sea and then home for my first green smoothie (that’s where the kale and cucumber went this week) for Jumpstart 15. KP looked at it in disgust but when I persuaded him to take a sip he then asked for a whole glassful.

Crunchy baked pork chops, roast potatoes and a salad based on one in Smitten Kitchen’s book but with the amazingly fresh, crispy Romaine lettuce, some shredded celery leaves, fried onions instead of bacon and this blue cheese dressing (without the chives). Loads of the breadcrumbs leftover and stashed in the freezer – that’s the problem with cup measurements. Veggie teen had a pea and feta tartlet (from freezer) – Annie Bell recipe.

Macaroni cheese Sunday – While I was discussing We are completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler with the best Book Club in the entire world, I left a macaroni cheese, lamb and rosemary sausages (from Prime Gourmet) and a salad of lettuce, cucumber, radish and some shelled broad beans for veggie teen, KP and houseguest.

In our gang, whoever chooses the book tries to theme the food to what we’ve read but edible references were very thin on the ground with this novel. C made Fiskgryta, a fish stew from her home country of Sweden which we ate in her lovely garden. At least three people asked for the recipe including me so you can find it below. She bought the salad from the Farmers Market so I’m not cheating by including it here.

Best ever Gnocchi Monday – In the past I’ve had disappointing results with homemade gnocchi, so was delighted when a recipe from Jamie’s Comfort Food for potato gnocchi with butternut squash sauce turned out a treat. The sauce was flecked with chilli and garlic, topped with grated Parmesan over hot, soft, melting gnocchi, honestly, what’s not to like? Veggie teen wolfed it down uncharacteristically (for butternut). KP swears he didn’t say he’d eat anything in Comfort Food – and made himself pesto pasta due to a complete aversion to a) gnocchi b) butternut. Houseguest tucked in (he can stay).

NOT Clé Tuesday – Bronchitis returned (boo) and instead of swanning off to the launch of Greg and Lucy Malouf’s new book at Clé (the swankiest new Middle East restaurant in town), I stayed in feeling like I had a ton weight on my chest and having smoked the contents of a cigarette factory. Two people who called during the day called me ‘Sir’ as I did a passable impression of the (old) Marlon Brando in the Godfather down the phone . Slow-cooked beef (using fresh coriander, parsley and cherry tomatoes) and cauliflower tagine (buckwheat ragu for veggie teen) with some broad bean and preserved lemon rice provided succour.  The recipe was from Paula Wolfert’s wonderful The Food of Morocco which I got for Christmas (available in Jones the Grocer). I used an enamelled cast iron pot but would make in the slow cooker next time (or maybe it’s time to buy a flameproof tagine?).

Minestrone Wednesday – alternatively known as leftover Wednesday, with buttery sweetcorn, the gnocchi, the tagine and a salad with kale pesto dressing. Sadly, I missed yoga and a preview of P&B Smokehouse’s Smokin’ Fair at the Madinat to stay in and watch Broadchurch while nursing my excoriated lungs!

No-cook Thursday – this is my day off from the kitchen. Veggie teen likes a home delivery pizza and we are usually going out, but tonight we stayed in and tucked into a huge pot of minestrone soup (green beans, carrots, kale and turkey stock from the freezer) to satisfy us all. Houseguest leaves on Friday so we’re down to three next week.

P.S. If the eagle-eyed among you have spotted the fresh fenugreek (methi) in the picture but not in my menus, it was for a friend.

Swedish fish stew or Fiskgryta

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

The fish stew is traditional Swedish except for the fact that it’s got a bit of curry power.

Ingredients

  • 700g white fish (C used hammour* and added some prawns)
  • 1/2 leek, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 400ml water + 1 fish stock cube (alternatively make your own stock)
  • 200ml créme frâiche
  • 5 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 4-5 drops tabasco
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Optional: chopped, hardboiled egg, chopped parsley

Method

  1. Add the butter to the pan and fry the curry powder for a minute or so. Add the leek and fry for another minute.
  2. Add the stock and créme frâiche. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Cut the fish into large bite-sized pieces and add to the stew with the chopped tomatoes.
  4. Let it all come to the boil then remove from the heat. Add tabasco, salt and pepper to taste. Let it rest for about 7-8 minutes or until the fish (and prawns) is cooked through.
  5. Serve with garlic bread, and the hard-boiled egg and parsley if desired.

*Use the Choose Wisely guide in the UAE for a sustainable option.

How was your week? If you shopped at a farmers’ market what was on your menu? How do you cope with fussy eaters in your family?

A time for health: Super simple roast beetroot soup

January 12, 2015

roast beetroot soupI may have misled you the other day, in fact I told an outright porky pie. I mentioned that I had made beetroot soup using this recipe – when in fact I did nothing of the sort. Necessity is the mother of invention and time was exceedingly tight so beetroot were tossed into the oven with an onion, added to hot stock and herbs in the Vitamix and blitzed. And that’s it. It’s the beetroot equivalent of my iphone tomato soup recipe and no less easy, tasty or satisfying. You could add more stock and make it drinkable but as I’ve been following Jumpstart 15 where I have soup for lunch I wanted a scoopable texture which would fill my mouth and tummy with substance and silkiness.

So the impact of advancing years on my metabolism have made and impact. I’ve never been on a ‘diet’ in my life. If overeating strikes (and as a keen eater and food blogger in Dubai this is ridiculously easy) I just try to eat sensibly. That’s it. There are no scales in my house, you just know when you start feeling uncomfortable round the middle. If there’s anything I follow it’s the Michael Pollen mantra:

Eat foodHaving more than a minor post-Christmas Pirelli round my waistline, I decided to join a few friends in Jumpstart 15. So what’s that all about?

There’s no calorie counting. Why do I think this is a good thing? The whole concept of calories is outdated and inaccurate. It’s a simplistic measurement of available energy in foods devised in the 19th century; a calorie is the amount of energy required to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. This doesn’t take into account the complexity and diversity of the digestive system (let alone how the food is prepared) and how much energy each individual actually derives from what’s available. It also assumes that all calories are equal, so 100 calories of chocolate will have the same effect as 100 calories of spinach (which you don’t need scientists to point out is flawed).

The beauty of Jumpstart 15 is that it makes you plan healthy choices for breakfast and lunch, and you eat what you like for dinner. As someone who often eats two slices of toast to start the day, the breakfast smoothie has been an easy habit to start and something I’ve been looking forward to after my morning dog walk.

Lunch is soup – another vegetable-based (or could be vegan for those doing Veganuary)meal (although there is nothing wrong with a meaty version). I’ve not cut out bread but limited myself to a single sour dough or wholemeal slice at the end of the bowl if I’m still feeling hungry.

Late afternoon is always the time that I might reach for a snack so I’m making sure I choose fruit or a few nuts. I have a small glass of wine with dinner (I never eat pudding at home unless entertaining so this is not an issue).

So Jumpstart 15 for me is:

  • A smoothie for breakfast with as much organic, local veg from the farmers market as possible
  • A veggie-heavy soup for lunch with one slice of grain bread maximum
  • Making an effort to drink more water (I’ll still drink tea)
  • Fruit, veg or a few nuts as a snack
  • A normal meal with my family in the evening including a glass of wine
  • If I’m eating out I’ll try to keep it in moderation (book club wine exempt!)
  • Plus I’ve upped the pace and distance of my dog walk, doing Vinyasa yoga twice a week and running up and down stairs on the hour as a break from my desk.

Back to this soup. It’s the easiest thing to whip up if you have a power blender and I’m sure an ordinary blender or processor would work well too. It’s peppery, earthy but very clean in taste and feels like a treat for lunch.

Roast beetroot soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 medium beetroot (you could keep the leaves on)
  • 1 large onion
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh herbs, leaves picked (I used 2 sprigs of thyme and 2 of marjoram)
  • 500 – 600 ml hot vegetable stock (I use Swiss Marigold Bouillon powder)
  • Black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with foil and place the beetroot and onion onto it (no need to peel the onion or trim the beetroot). Cover with another sheet of foil and seal the edges.
  2. Bake in the oven for an hour or until the vegetables are soft when pierced with a knife). Remove the outer layer of the onion and discard.
  3. Put the stock, beetroot, onion and herbs into your blender and blitz until perfectly smooth. Add more stock if you want a thinner texture. Add black pepper to taste.

If you are tempted to join in but want more reassurance that this is a sensible eating plan to follow, Kellie, a health educationist and nutrition adviser with Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres, and leading healthy eating blogger of Food to Glow got me started on this. For more inspiration (they inspired me too) see what Monica of Smarter Fitter, Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes, Elizabeth of the eponymous Kitchen Diary, Sarah of Maison Cupcake, Kate of Veggie Desserts, Nazima and Pierre of Franglais Kitchen, Michelle of Utterly Scrummy, Helen of Fuss Free Flavours and Ren Behan. Simple and in Season – this recipe truly is!  Visit Ren and Sarah for more delicious recipes that fit the description.

Do share any #Jumpstart 15 pics, posts etc with the hashtag so everyone can see what you are up to. Have you been tempted to change your eating habits in January? How are you getting on?

Cook the week – sausagemeat and fennel pie

January 9, 2015

farmers market dubai organic vegetablesIt’s become a balancing act that’s a challenge and a pleasure. It’s improved my confidence and abilities as a cook and made me more experimental and intuitive about mixing flavours and ingredients. This source of many new tastes and recipes? What has caused this revolution in my kitchen? My main grocery shop of the week on Friday mornings at the Farmers’ Market makes me think on my feet and judge with my senses rather than following a shopping list.

Sometimes it’s hard to judge how much food we’ll need and what to do with it but I’m getting better and more ingenious in making sure that by Thursday night nothing is left or thrown away ready for the next unpacking of deliciously fresh, organic veg.

I’ll admit that my excitement sometimes gets the better of me and I get carried away. When I lay out my market still life before putting it away, KP rolls his eyes and I do think “what will I do with all this?”.  Do you think this too? So at the end of this first week of the year, I’ve documented what I made and what we ate. I hope it’ll give you some ideas and maybe I’ll manage to do this on a regular basis – no promises!

Last week our house was packed full to the gills with guests. Every bed was occupied and even mattresses on the floor. Hazel (dog) had a field day roaming from cosy nest to welcoming arms. KP’s Mum and a visitor from the ‘magic kingdom’ (Saudi) helped me to fill my bags at the market. Here’s my haul:

Roast with veggie options Friday – Some remaining carrots from last week were whipped up with tahini, lemon juice, orange juice, cumin and raw honey into a roast carrot hummus (recipe from River Cottage Veg Every Day by Hugh F-W ). I would add less honey and more spices next time.

A cauliflower was also left over from last week and made a classic cauliflower cheese with lots of good Davistow Cheddar, with Parmesan on the top. The cauli was still crisp, firm and perky making you wonder how long the ones on the supermarket shelves have been there (weeks is my guess). This went with an organic, free-range roast chicken with butter from some garlic and parsley bread rubbed over skin and half a lemon stuffed in the cavity.  There were also some hasselback potatoes with sage (from the garden).  The price of of the free-range organic bird meant there was no way I was slinging the carcass and it was boiled up into stock with an onion and some celery.

Tortilla Saturday – Potatoes and eggs were begging to be made into a Spanish omelette or tortilla with lots of fresh parsley stirred into the egg mix. A few more potatoes were cubed small, tossed in olive oil and roasted like croutons for the salad. A big dish of roasted med veg (peppers, courgettes, aubergine, tomatoes, onions, and garlic) were slathered with a parsley, basil, olive oil, red wine vinegar dressing (whizzed up in the Vitamix).

Barszcz - beetroot soup

My illustrated beetroot soup

Sausage and fennel pie Sunday – Elder teen suggested that the magnificent bulb of fennel would go well with sausage. A tube of sausagemeat unused at Christmas was whisked out of the freezer with some all butter puff pastry (Waitrose). I don’t buy the normal stuff as puff pastry isn’t nice made with lard, vegetable or trans fats). The pie was a triumph (a hybrid of two Tamasin Day Lewis recipes combined) – the recipe is below.  A small dish of Dauphinoise potatoes (using up the last of Christmas cream) and a salad made with the last of peas (the rest were eaten raw by veggie teen as they entered the house), radish, cucumber, green leaves (endive from Rashed), some of the fennel tops and parsley. Sweetcorn was boiled and served with butter and pepper. Sorry no picture of the pie as it was eaten immediately.

Out on a Monday – We ate out at a friend’s house and brought home some of her amazing courgettes in tomato sauce.

Leftovers Tuesday – I used up the rest of the roasted med veg over some couscous for a very late lunch which was my main meal. Veggie teen had a wrap with leaves, chick peas and pesto. We returned late from her netball to egg mayo sandwiches. Everyone else ate at Eat and Drink while we were out.

Spag Wednesday – A huge ragu simmered comfortingly on the stove, made with loads of carrots and celery, a red chilli or two; deeply savoury as the chicken stock went into it; served with salad on the side (and spaghetti). I made a buckwheat version for veggie teen.

Soup and roots Thursday - there were kohlrabi fritters and beetroot soup. Thai food was ordered for elder teens last night before she goes back to University.

carrot hummus

Sausage and caramelised fennel pie

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 500g good quality sausagemeat
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of freshly, chopped sage
  • 1 large bulb of fennel, top and leaves removed
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1-2 dessertspoons sugar
  • 500g all-butter puff pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C with a baking tray inside. Mix the sausagemeat with the seasoning and 2 tablespoons of chopped sage.
  2. Slice fennel into about 12 wedges joined at root.
  3. Dry roast the fennel seeds in a cast iron skillet until just lightly golden, remove and grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle. Heat the oil in a skillet and carefully scatter the sugar over it. Sit the fennel pieces in the oil and cook over a fairly rapid heat until caramelised on one side then turn the slices over and repeat on the other side. Remove and slice off the root so the fennel is in slivers. Sprinkle with the ground fennel seeds.
  4. Line a 20 cm (8-9 inch) pie tin with one sheet of puff pastry. Spread half sausage mixture onto base, layer with the fennel then cover with the remaining sausagemeat.  Brush the edge with egg wash. Top with other sheet puff pastry trimming to size and using the cuttings as decoration if you like. Crimp edges with a fork and brush with egg wash.  Put the pie dish on the baking tray in the oven and bake for 15 minutes at 20o C, then turn down the oven to 180 C and cook for another 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through.

All in all a good week for veg but lighter eating and no home deliveries or eating out required to get January back on track. I’m getting back to yoga after holiday induced lapse and thinking of joining Jumpstart 2015 to shift that Christmas pud round my middle.

How was your first week of the year?

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