Friday, 28 February 2014

Garlic Asparagus with Poached Eggs

I love asparagus, so much so that I usually want to eat it in a very simple way, with a minimum of fuss. A little crispy garlic and a creamy poached egg gives just about the right balance.

This would make a perfect dinner party starter, or a light meal in its own right.

5:2 Intermittent Fasting button5:2 Diet
This works out at 150 calories per serving, while feeling like something special (at least to asparagus-lovers like me).

Garlic Asparagus with Poached Eggs
Serves 2

1tsp olive oil
16 asparagus spears
4 cloves garlic
1tsp white wine vinegar
2 large eggs
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and sautee the asparagus over a medium heat.
  2. Finely slice the garlic.
  3. Once the asparagus begins to soften, add the garlic, and fry until crispy.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring water to a vigorous boil with the white wine vinegar.
  5. Whisk the water, before breaking in an egg. (I find it helpful to break the egg into a cup first, so I'm not messing about with the shell while the water is boiling.)
  6. Stir the water gently, to bring the egg white together.
  7. Boil for 2-3 minutes until the whites are cooked, then use a slotted spoon to remove from the water.
  8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 for the second egg.
  9. Arrange the asparagus on two plates, garnish with the crispy garlic, and top with a poached egg.
  10. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Butternut Squash & Split Pea Soup

It's chilly, it's wet, and there's nothing better than soup to warm up our cold fingers at this time of year.

Since we discovered that our gerbil loves eating butternut squash seeds (more than he loves almost anything else!), we've been buying a lot of butternut. I also had some Hungarian paprika which I picked up at a food show late last year, and have been wanting to try.

If you're unfamiliar with Hungarian paprika, by the way, you should note that it has a dry, mild, and slightly smokey flavour - and it isn't hot. So if you change the recipe to use hot paprika, you'll almost certainly want less of it!

5:2 Intermittent Fasting button5:2 Diet
This soup works out at about 450 calories if you split it between two, and it's a hearty bowlful.

Butternut squash soup

Butternut Squash & Split Pea Soup
Serves 2

300g (11oz) butternut squash flesh
1tsp olive oil
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
230g (8oz, 1 cup) yellow split peas (dry weight)
1 litre (1¾ pints) vegetable stock
4tsp Hungarian paprika
black pepper to taste

  1. Peel and chop the butternut squash.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan.
  3. Fry the onion, garlic, and squash until the onion is soft.
  4. Add the split peas and stock, and season with paprika and black pepper.
  5. Simmer for about an hour, until the split peas are cooked (it can take as long as two hours; to speed it up, soak the peas overnight).
  6. Use a potato masher to puree the squash (I do it this way rather than with a food processor in order to keep some texture, as split peas will fit through the masher).
  7. Sprinkle with a little extra paprika, and serve.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Roasted Vegetable & Rocket Verrines

Roasted vegetable and rocket verrine

Have you heard of verrines? I hadn't, until Terrines and Verrines from Franck Pontais landed on my desk. Franck is involved in selecting the chefs for Supertravel's catered chalets, and they kindly sent me a copy of the book as part of their season's promotions.

The idea of the verrine is very simple: striking flavours served in individual portions. And usually, as you might guess from the name, presented in a glass (although this is by no means true of all the examples in the book). Obviously, I wanted to have a go, and since the idea of a verrine was new to me I wanted to create my own combination.

As a vegetarian, the one down-side of many of Pontais' recipes (even the vegetable ones) is that there's a lot of gelatine, particularly in the terrines. I'm certainly going to try and adapt some of these ideas to use agar agar or another veggie gelling agent, but it will need a bit of experimentation!

The book is really beautiful, packed with colourful photos which highlight all the recipes. There are so many gorgeous display ideas that I think I'll be studying this book for years to come. I wouldn't go so far as to say I've mastered the presentation of verrines yet, but then presentation has always been my weak point as a cook. The mix of flavours, on the other hand, is definitely a winner.

This recipe is vegan so long as you use vegan mayonnaise (I personally like Plamil) and vegan pesto for the dressing.

Roasted vegetable and rocket verrine

Roasted Vegetable & Rocket Verrines
Serves 4

1 sweet red pepper
8 asparagus spears
8 chestnut mushrooms
2tsp olive oil
1tbsp pesto
2tbsp mayonnaise
20g rocket
  1. Cut the pepper into thick strips, halve the mushrooms, and trim the asparagus spears.
  2. Roast the pepper, mushrooms, and asparagus (in a little oil), and allow to cool. If the pepper skins blacken, you can easily remove any charred sections.
  3. Mix the pesto with the mayonnaise.
  4. Coat the (cooled) peppers and mushrooms in pesto mayonnaise.
  5. Arrange the peppers in the base of each glass.
  6. Top with a generous handful of rocket.
  7. Place two spears of asparagus in each glass, using the rocket to hold them in place against the side.
  8. Add the mushrooms and any extra pesto mayonnaise to the top of the rocket.
  9. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Celeriac, Spinach & Mushroom Patties

Celeriac, Mushroom & Spinach Patties

You know you're a bit middle class when the story of how a recipe came about begins with "organic celeriac was half price in Waitrose..." but that's just how it happened on this occasion.

Andy, it must be said, was deeply suspicious of the celeriac and kept asking what I was going to do with "that funny vegetable". Fortunately when I actually presented him with these patties he was convinced that this was actually a good flavour, and something he'd be happy to eat again.

This mixture is quite soft and therefore a little challenging to work with, but they hold their shape reasonably well once they're cooked. Baking works a lot better than frying: I tried both, and if you try to flip them in a frying pan they're almost guaranteed to distort.

Freezer Instructions
You can make these patties ahead of time and freeze them until you're ready to eat them. Freeze them laid out on a baking tray, before cooking, and then transfer to a freezer bag or box once they've frozen solid. Remove from the freezer and brush with olive oil before baking (which will take 5-10 minutes longer from frozen).

patties ready for the oven

Celeriac, Mushroom & Spinach Patties
Makes 10 patties

500g (17oz) celeriac
500g (17oz) potatoes
2tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
200g (7oz) chestnut mushrooms
100g (3½oz) fresh spinach
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
  2. Peel and chop the celeriac and potatoes.
  3. Steam the potatoes and celeriac until tender (I cooked them in separate steamer baskets so I could stop each vegetable as it was ready).
  4. Finely chop the onion and mushrooms, and fry in a little olive oil (about 1tsp) until soft.
  5. Add the spinach to wilt, just for a couple of minutes.
  6. Mash the celeriac and potatoes together, and stir through the other vegetables.
  7. Season liberally with cumin and black pepper.
  8. Form the mixture into patties.
  9. Brush both sides of each patty with olive oil, arrange on a baking tray, and bake for 20 minutes (until golden brown).

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Belfry in Bruges

One of the undoubted highlights of a trip to Bruges is the Belfry, a huge tower which dominates the skyline. With 366 steps, this isn't a climb for the faint-hearted, but it's well worth it if you can. Although it can get a bit hairy when you meet people coming the other way on the narrow stairs, there are a few rooms where you can stop for a breather.

The 47-bell carillon is an incredible sight. You can get close to the drum, which is regularly reprogrammed to play a different melody, and if you time it right you can also catch the bells in action.

The view from the top is also pretty spectacular.








Monday, 17 February 2014

Tahin-Pekmez Cookies

On our most recent trip to Turkey, my dad introduced me to tahin-pekmez, a thick paste of tahini and molasses that makes for a filling breakfast spread.

Tahin-pekmez is such a simple dish that it hardly requires a recipe: you simply mix grape molasses (üzüm pekmez) into tahini. (And now you can see where the name comes from.)

You don't even need to measure anything. Start with some tahini, add the pekmez a little at a time, and stop when it looks and tastes like something you'd enjoy eating. I find about ⅓ to ½ the amount of pekmez compared to the tahini is about right, for me, but it's a matter of personal preference. If you have a local middle eastern grocery store, you should be able to find grape molasses there, or failing that you can get it on Amazon (in a glass jar - don't be fooled into buying 'grape molasses flavour' tobacco...).

Anyway, having become a big fan of these flavours, I started thinking that this might make a good basis for a cookie. I'm not claiming any Turkish baker has ever made cookies quite like these, but it's a very Turkish flavour. The end result isn't overly sweet, but you can really taste the sesame and the molasses.

Tahin-Pekmez Cookies
Makes 12

125g (1 US stick) butter
250g (1½cup) plain flour
85g (½cup) light brown molasses sugar
½tsp baking powder
1 egg
120ml (½cup) tahini
4tbsp (¼cup) pekmez
1tsp sesame seeds

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F).
  2. Melt the butter and set aside to return to room temperature.
  3. Mix the flour, sugar, and baking powder together, breaking up any lumps.
  4. Break the egg into a well in the middle of the flour, and muddle with a fork to break up the yolk.
  5. Add the butter, tahini, and pekmez, and fold together with a spatula.
  6. Knead the mixture until no dry patches remain.
  7. The dough should be soft, but just solid enough to be workable; if it's too sticky, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes.
  8. Divide the dough into 12 pieces, and roll into balls.
  9. Press each ball lightly onto a cookie tray, leaving space for them to spread in the oven.
  10. Sprinkle a small pinch of sesame seeds onto each cookie, and press lightly into the surface so they don't all fall off after baking.
  11. Bake for 15 minutes, or until beginning to brown (which, I confess, is hard to measure on a cookie of this colour).

Friday, 14 February 2014

5 Things To Do In Vancouver

We went to Vancouver for one reason, really: to get on the train across the Rockies.

We had three days between our flight in and our train out, and when we arrived we didn't have much idea what we might find to see or do. These are five of our favourite finds.

Sun Yat-Sen Park is one of the highlights of Vancouver's Chinatown, a serene and secluded spot. Chinatown itself has a collection of intriguing shops and sights, as well as restaurants: we enjoyed the vegetarian dim sum at Jade Dynasty for our lunch.

Gastown clock

Another beautiful old neighbourhood is Gastown. The architecture and lighting is fantastic, and it's especially atmospheric after dark, but my personal favourite thing about this area was the steam-powered clock.

The wild bird life in Vancouver isn't bad, for a city, but for an array of colourful characters it's well worth a visit to see the birds at the Biodome. From tiny zebra finches to giant macaws, there's a lot of variety packed into one small dome, and the weather inside is pleasant all year round (a fact for which we were most thankful).

Capilano suspension bridge

Set amidst the Canadian rainforest, Capilano suspension bridge park features a treetop walk and a cliffside path, as well as the eponymous suspension bridge. The scenery is dramatic even if the level of moisture in the rainforest canopy almost guarantees it will be partially obscured by mist.

Grouse Mountain

A little further afield, Grouse Mountain is a mountain sports resort that can be reached by a combination of ferry, bus, and cable car from the city centre. We were there in January, when we had the choice of exploring ski runs, snowshoe tracks, an ice rink, and sled rides. Summer activities include hiking, ziplines, and wildlife shows.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

An Assortment of Veggie Squash Recipes

There's something wonderfully versatile about squash. Whole, it's robust enough to stand as a dramatic centrepiece; chopped, it's a vegetable amongst many; puréed, it provides a creamy base for soups and sauces.

These gorgeous recipes are all vegan, or (in the occasional case where I made it non-vegan to start with) can be easily made suitable with simple substitutions such as using non-dairy yoghurt or cheese.

I'll be updating this page as I develop more delicious squash recipes, so bookmark it now and refer back at your leisure.

Stuffed Squash Recipes

For a delightfully simple and healthy recipe, this acorn squash with sesame greens features a stir-fried mixture of kale and cabbage. It's ridiculously good for you, too.

Created as a copy-cat recipe for a restaurant dish that's vanished from the menu of a favourite pub, this mushroom-stuffed butternut squash is a creamy and indulgent treat.

To complement the earthy flavours of onion squash, I created a creamy, multicoloured risotto filling packed with fresh vegetables. The resulting dish, onion squash with rainbow risotto, is as bright and cheerful as they come.

Casseroles & Soups

One of my most popular recipes of all time, this butternut squash & spinach risotto is a brightly coloured plate full of healthy vegetables.

I made Turkish squash & chickpea stew while trying to win a trip to Turkey; I didn't succeed, but this dish is a winner.

Drawing on another popular Middle Eastern flavour, the raw heat of harissa was the inspiration for this casserole of harissa & mint roasted vegetables. It took me a while to get the hang of harissa, but I'm certainly a convert.

For a simple, warming winter recipe, you could do worse than a bowl of butternut squash & carrot soup. And at only 165 calories, this is a healthy option, too.

Or this butternut squash & split pea soup with Hungarian paprika is a more hearty option with a smokey taste.

What's your favourite squash recipe? Leave a link in the comments and I'll look forwards to trying out my favourites.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Onion Squash with Rainbow Risotto

Onion Squash with Rainbow Risotto

I'm on a bit of a squash kick at the moment, as evidenced by the fact that every time I see a different kind of squash, I have to buy it. Hence this onion squash, an orange giant that was sitting in a tray of mixed squash in Waitrose. I didn't really know what I would do with it, but I had to buy it.

I don't recall having an onion squash before, and I think I'd remember. The flavour is a lot more savoury than, say, butternut squash, with an earthy flavour. The texture is comparatively dry. It was a bit of a challenge working out how best to complement it, but I decided I wanted to make a light and creamy filling for contrast. I settled on a brightly coloured risotto with fresh mozzarella.

For a vegan meal, you could use a vegan mozzarella (Mozzarisella gets good reviews as one that really melts), or frankly there's enough going on in this dish that you could just skip the cheese altogether.

Onion Squash with Rainbow Risotto

Onion Squash with Rainbow Risotto
Serves 2

For the squash:
1 onion squash
2tsp olive oil

For the risotto:
1tbsp olive oil
1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
1 sweet red pepper
1 small courgette
150g (6oz) risotto rice
500ml (2 cups) vegetable stock
100g (4oz) snow peas (mangetout)
75g (3oz, ½cup) garden peas
75g (3oz, ½cup) sweetcorn
125g (5oz) mozzarella
a handful of fresh herbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
  2. Slice the onion squash in half, and scrape out the seeds.
  3. Rub the olive oil into the flesh of the squash.
  4. Arrange cut-side up on a large baking tray, and bake for 45 minutes.
  5. Once the squash has been baking for about 25 minutes, heat the oil for the risotto in a large saucepan.
  6. Finely chop the onion, garlic, red pepper, and courgette, and sautee for 2-3 minutes until soft.
  7. Add the rice and toss until coated in oil.
  8. Add the stock, a little at a time, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Add the snow peas (halved), peas, and sweetcorn.
  10. Cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the rice is cooked.
  11. Add the herbs and season with black pepper.
  12. Chop the mozzarella into bite-sized pieces (or use mozzarella pearls), and stir into the hot risotto.
  13. Serve the risotto in the 'bowls' made from the roasted squash.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Greenlandic Glaciers

Eqip Glacier, Greenland

It's hard to get used to the sound of icebergs hitting the boat - even though, approaching the glacier, the sound is constant. Thunk, thunk, thunk against the bow as we move forwards. They say a Greenlandic iceberg sank the Titanic, and it's hard to shake that image from your mind as our little boat progresses slowly through a field of ice.

But you can't have a glacier without ice, and what makes Eqip (prounounced, roughly, ey-krip) special is that there's ice falling off the end almost constantly. It's one of the most productive calving glaciers in the region, and that makes it a tourist hotspot, because everyone wants to see big lumps of ice crashing into the sea. Well, I say hotspot. This is Greenland: we see one other boat.

When we get close enough the captain kills the engine and we wait, shivering under cold grey skies. The glacier towers above us, an endless wall of white and blue, dirty with streaks of black moraine. We're still quite a distance from the face. Although it's quiet now, there's constant danger, and being hit by falling ice is a risk we don't want to take.

We hear action before we see it, cracking that sounds like gunshots echoing across the water. We look around but the water is still glassy, undisturbed. It must have been something breaking loose further inland, within the body of the glacier. The next false alarm is a nearby iceberg flipping, which makes waves and a lot of noise, but is nothing we couldn't have seen from the shore.

Half an hour later and there's been no more progress, though we've heard plenty of ice cracking somewhere out of sight. Most of us go inside to warm up and eat our sandwiches, though we're still peering out of the windows as we eat, waiting for something to happen. One guy stays outside, video camera still focused on the ice, sure it'll go soon and not wanting to miss his chance.

There are busy days and slow days, the captain explains. You can't really predict which you'll get... today is looking like a slow one. But even on slow days, we'd expect to see one or two avalanches before we have to turn and go back to Ilulissat.

Suddenly someone jumps to their feet, pointing out of the window, and we all run outside just in time to see a cloud of ice-dust hitting the sea. Now it's started to perform, no-one wants to go back inside. Lunch is left abandoned on the table as we start the waiting game yet again. Then a big collapse comes, and sets the boat rocking as the waves spread out. Thunk, thunk... more icebergs bounce off the boat. We're getting quite relaxed about it now. The falling ice looks like tiny pieces, hardly more than dust, but the icebergs surrounding the boat tell a very different story. It's hard to get a sense of perspective against a face that's five kilometres long and over a hundred metres high.

We're witnessing the birth of some pretty serious icebergs, and it's easy to believe one of these might have taken out a ship. Still, on the journey back we've become quite blasé, and we're far too interested in the gyrfalcon hunting alongside the boat to worry about the constant assault of ice against the hull.

This post was originally published in 2010 as a guest blog on a now-defunct travel site, so I thought I'd resurrect it here.

Eqip glacier, Greenland

Eqip Glacier, Greenland

Monday, 3 February 2014

Cheese & Herb Scones

Cheese and herb scones

Cheese scones have always been one of Andy's favourites. While I'll go for fruit scones as my first preference, he will always order cheese if we see them in a cafe. I find this highly amusing, since in general he has the sweet tooth and I'm looking for savoury options. As with anything, homemade is so much better than you'll ever find in the shops (especially if you eat them warm from the oven.)

You can pretty much mix and match types of cheese and your favourite herbs. This time I used a mixture of cheddar (for flavour) and red Leicester (for colour). I happened to have flat leaf parsley in the kitchen, which worked really well, but usually I'd go for something more robust (and less "leafy") like rosemary, chives, or sage.

Scones are a great way of using up soured milk, so if you have some milk that's no longer tasting nice in your coffee, this is a perfect way to avoid it going to waste. If you don't have soured milk but still want scones, you can use buttermilk, or regular milk and 1tsp lemon juice.

You can either make individual scones or large ones for sharing: the only thing that changes is the cooking time. I made one with half the mixture, which took 15 minutes to bake, and smaller ones (2in across) that were done in 10 mins.

Cheese & Herb Scones

Cheese & Herb Scones
Makes 16 small or 2 large

200g (8oz) self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
½tsp salt
50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) cheese
black pepper (to taste)
large handful of herbs
1 egg
100ml (3½fl.oz) soured milk or buttermilk

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Rub the butter into the flour, to make a mixture with the texture of breadcrumbs.
  4. Grate the cheese, and reserve a little for sprinkling on the tops.
  5. Add most of the cheese to the bowl, and season with black pepper and herbs. Stir to combine.
  6. Break the egg into the middle of the bowl, and add a little of the milk. Start to pull the mixture together, adding extra milk as required to make a soft (but not sticky) dough. Don't knead it beyond the necessity of combining the ingredients.
  7. Roll out the mixture to about 2.5cm (1in) thick, and cut scones with a pastry cutter. Alternatively, for large scones, divide the mixture into two and shape each half into a circle, then score the top to about half-way down.
  8. Brush the tops of the scones with a little extra milk, and sprinkle with cheese.
  9. Arrange on a floured baking tray, and bake for 10-15 minutes (depending on the size you chose).
Cheese & Herb Scones

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