Monday 29 June 2009

Vegetable Gratin

Tasty, healthy, quick and wallet-friendly.

I put this dish together after reading a few different recipes for different types of gratins. Oh, I love a conventional gratin, but not the calorific cream that comes with it. This is a healthy take on a version of a vegetable gratin that I found in an old recipe book. I put in some bitesize pieces of chicken (just because I had it to hand) but actually it would be better without, so I've omitted it from the recipe. This will serve 2 people as a side dish or 1 person as a complete dinner.


1 courgette, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
A handful of broccoli florets
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
10 basil leaves, shredded
Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, pepper

Chuck the vegetables in a bowl with the basil and pour over the olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper and mix everything together with your hands to ensure everything is coated with the oil and seasonings.

Transfer the mixture to a baking dish and grate some Parmesan cheese over the top.

Bake in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and the cheese has gone golden brown. Serve immediately.

Sunday 28 June 2009

Minted chickpea salad

Nothing says 'summer' like the fresh taste of mint and lemon

I went shopping for a dress this morning, something I generally find a bit stressful and exhausting. I am not a born shopper. When I got home I was starving and craved something that was not only quick but also full of goodness to perk me back up again. I knew we had mint in the garden and feta in the fridge, so this all came together in a matter of minutes. This is a fresh salad with a bite, and is fairly filling because of the chickpeas.

Ingredients (serves 3 - 4):

1 tin of cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 or 4 scallions, chopped (I would usually use red onion, but didn't have any to hand today)
A block of good feta - it should be crumbley and salty - cut into chunky dice
2 big tomatoes, deseeded and chopped (or some cherry tomatoes)
Approx 10 mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon


Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl, and make sure everything is coated in the lemon juice. It is ready to serve. It works on its own as a lovely lunch on a summer day, or as a side dish with barbeques or dinner parties. Sweet.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Hearty brown bread

Looking for something seedy?

This bread has been made in my house since as far back as I can remember. It's hearty, healthy and versatile. The recipe is completely yeast-free, sugar-free and salt-free, and packed with wholemeal flour and seeds to make it fibre and grain rich. This will keep for a good few days, and tastes great toasted when it's nearing its departure date.


12 oz brown flour
4 oz white flour
2 oz pinhead oats
2 oz wheatgerm
2 oz bran
2 tsp bread soda
1 handful sunflower seeds
1 handful pumpkin seeds (and any other seeds you have about the place)
Approx 1 pint buttermilk


Grease a loaf tin lightly, and pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Add the buttermilk and stir. The consistency you want is that of a thick batter, and I often find I need to splash in another bit of buttermilk to get it just right.

Transfer the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for 50 mins. To check if the bread is cooked, remove it from the tin and turn it upside down. Tap on the underside of the bread; if it sounds hollow, then it's cooked. If not, put it back in the loaf tin upside down and return to the oven for another 2 minutes or so.

When it's cooked, wrap it in a clean damp teatowel. The dampness stops the bread crust from becoming hard. It can be eaten as soon as it has cooled; I suggest trying it with lots of blackberry jam or slices of lightly salted tomatoes.

Friday 26 June 2009

Crepes Suzette

The fancy name for "Pancakes in Orange Sauce"

This is a yummy dessert that I typically have just once a year, on Pancake Tuesday. My father is the master of this dish, and made it for me earlier this week as a treat. The sauce is rich and shiny and sweet and buttery and zingy all at once.


For the pancakes:
3.5 oz flour
2 eggs
Pinch salt
200ml milk mixed with 75ml water (approx)

For the sauce:
2 oz butter
2 oz sugar
About 100 ml good quality orange juice (with bits in is even better)


For the pancakes, sieve the flour into a bowl and mix in the salt. Whisk in the eggs and gradually add in the milk/water mixture until you have the consistency you desire. I like my pancakes a little thicker than usual, so I tend not to mix in all of the liquid. Add as little or as much as you like really. For thin crepes, the mixture should be just slightly thicker than milk in consistency.

Cook the pancakes one at a time on a medium-hot frying pan, greased with a little oil or butter. Once cooked, fold each one in quarters and set aside.

The sauce ingredients as listed above as fairly approximate, as my father and I never work from a recipe for this dish but just go by eye and by taste. Taste the sauce as you go and add a little more sugar if its not sweet enough, or a little more butter if not rich enough.

To make the sauce, sprinkle the sugar over the bottom of a dry, large-bottomed shallow saucepan on a low heat. Allow the sugar to melt entirely and then add the butter. Mix together and the mixture will gain colour as the sugar caramelises.

Heat the orange juice gently in the microwave and add it to the sauce. Don't panic if some of the sugar crytallises into hard bits - these will melt as the sauce cooks. Once all the sugar is dissolved, let the tasting commence. For a zingier sauce, add the zest of an orange or even some Grand Marnier if your wallets can stretch to it.

Place some of the pancakes into the sauce, and have fun creating shapes like this:

Turn the pancakes a few times in the sauce and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, until the pancakes are hot and hopelessly drowning in orange sauce. Serve immediately, and with gusto.

Mozzerella & Basil Puffs

Hehe... puffs.

I rarely bake with puff pastry due to the butter content, but I had some in the fridge this week and wasn't sure what to do with it. A root around the fridge revealed a healthy lump of mozzerella, and I always have a rake of fresh basil on hand thanks to my ever-generous indoor plant. These came together beautifully. We ate these puffs as pre-dinner nibbles with a glass of chilled pink wine and they were absolutely delectable. Apologies that I don't have any photos of the puffs in their cut-up, individual and final form, but my camera died and the smell wafting from this dish made me too hungry to search for batteries.


1 sheet of ready-made puff pastry, defrosted and ready to go
Handful flour
1 egg
1 lump mozzerella, sliced
About 10 - 12 basil leaves
Parmesan cheese


Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celcius (that's fan temperature, so increase if using a conventional oven).

Lightly flour a countertop and open up the pastry. Roll it out a bit so it's slightly thinner than as packaged, and cut it in two like this:

On one side of the pastry, place a layer of the sliced mozzerella, leaving a border of about 1 inch all the way around the edge. Tear up the basil leaves and layer on top. Finally, shave some parmesan (I use a vegetable peeler for parmesan cheese, much easier than grating it) on top. It should look something like this:

Beat the egg in a cup with a splash of water. Brush egg all around the border of the pastry and place the second half of the pastry on top of the cheese and basil. Seal the edges by pressing down with a fork, and brush the entire top of the pastry with eggwash. Make three slits in the top with a knife to allow any steam to escape during cooking.

Put this in the oven for about 15 - 20 minutes until puffed and golden and smelling like a party.

Leave to cool slightly, then cut into slices and serve.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Bangers and mash

Super duper sausage sensation

Today I got my final results from university, and I was thoroughly exhausted from worrying about them all week. I wanted to celebrate this evening by making something easy yet delicious for dinner, so I whipped up one of my favourite at-home treats: bangers and mash. This has a sweet and tangy sauce which is given a bit of a kick by wholegrain mustard. Conveniently enough, this dish goes very well with a big fat glass of red wine. Job done, Joey happy.

Ingredients (serves 5):

15 pork sausages (preferably nice ones from the butcher)
3 red onions, sliced
1 oz brown sugar
6 dessert spoons worcestershire sauce
3 dessert spoons white wine vinegar
375 ml chicken stock
3 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
(I won't bother including the instructions for mash here, but just have enough made to go round.)


Heat some olive oil in a pan on medium to high heat, and add the sausages. Cook them until browned and add the sliced onions. Cook until onions begin to soften.

Add the brown sugar and mix well for 1 minute to ensure it doesn't stick. The sugar will begin to caramelise and the ensuing smells will make your mouth water.

Pour in the chicken stock, vinegar and worcestershire sauce and simmer for 30 minutes. After this, crank up the heat to full and stir until sauce reduces and becomes thicker.

Stir in the mustard and serve immediately over creamy mash. Bleedin lovely!

Parmesan and basil scones

Yummy teatime snack

These little gems are easy to fling together if you have someone popping round for a cup of tea. They taste amazing straight out of the oven when they are hot and buttery, but are also super served cold with a heap of jam or a wedge of cheese. This recipe will make 6 - 8 scones, so if you're expecting guests I'd double the quantities as these will disappear fast.


8 oz self-raising flour
Pinch salt
2 oz cold butter
2 oz parmesan, grated
10 - 12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Approx 140 ml milk


Put flour, salt and butter into a food processor and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Using really cold butter keeps the scones flaky and light.

Add in the parmesan and basil, and enough of the milk to bind the mixture into a soft dough.

Lightly flour a surface and knead the dough gently. Roll or pat out to 3/4 inch thickness. Cut out scones with a floured cutter (the one I used was about 2 inches, but any size will do).

Place scones on a greased baking tray and brush the tops with milk. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 190 degrees celcius until raised and golden brown.

Monday 22 June 2009

Thick garlicky mayonaisse

Creamy garlicky decadence

This was my first attempt at making my own mayonaisse and it didn't turn out half bad. My only mistake was using an extra virgin olive oil instead of a more flavourless variety, as the extra virgin has too strong of a taste for a mayonaisse. This is great as a dip for chips, potato wedges, chicken wings, tortillas etc.


1 egg yolk
2 garlic cloves
100ml olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped


You can either make this in a food processor or by hand. My food processor decided it didn't want to partake in the construction of a mayonaisse, so I made it painstakingly by hand. It takes between 5 - 10 mins to make it this way but it is worth the effort.

Mince the garlic cloves finely and sprinkle them with a liberal amount of salt. Using the flat part of your knife, crush the garlic until it almost forms a paste. The salt acts as an abrasive which helps to break down the garlic pieces.

Beat together the garlic paste, egg yolk and the juice of 1/2 lemon with a whisk. You then need to very very slowly and gradually incorporate the olive oil; whisking all the time, add in a little bit of oil at a time until the mixture is thick and creamy. Don't rush this bit otherwise the mixture can split. Add the chopped parsley (either curly or flat leaf) and stir well.

Taste, and add more lemon juice as needed (or if needed) until you have your ideal garlicky mayonaisse.

Lemon flour mackerel

Fishy, healthy, lemony lunchtime

This is a deliciously light and healthy dish that is as easy on the pocket as it is on the palette. It is also ridiculously quick, and can be put together in less than 10 minutes.

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 mackerel fillets
Olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon flour
Salt, pepper
Fresh rocket leaves
Baby spinach leaves
1 tomato, cut into wedges


On a large plate, mix together the lemon zest and flour with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Lay the mackerel fillets on the flour mix and coat them evenly on both sides.

Put a glug of olive oil in a frying pan and put it on a high temperature. Heat the oil until smoking. Fry the mackerel in the hot oil for 2 minutes on each side. You can add a bit of butter to the oil if you want.

Meanwhile, toss the rocket and spinach in some lemon juice and plate it up with the tomato wedges. Serve with the hot mackerel and a slice of lemon.