Monday, 29 November 2010

My Vegetarian Chili

It's Meatless Monday again and today I want to share my chili recipe. It is full of nutrition and flavour and everyone I serve it to seems to love it.

My family are not huge bean lovers, but they do love vegetables, so when developing my own vegetarian chili I decided to focus on the bit they liked the best. The vegetables I have used are a bit unconventional when it comes to chili, but this recipe does have a nice kick to it. Having said that, my family are fairly conservative when it comes to spices, so if you want to add more chili powder, or even some fresh chilis, please feel free.

Chili is traditionally served with white rice in England, and I also like to serve this with brown, basmati or wild rice. However, it is also lovely with toast, or even tortilla chips if you fancy them. And I can’t help but think it would be nice with lightly spiced couscous too, or even just a basket of lovely warmed rolls.

To serve four to five people, you need:

2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use mild olive oil.)
1 large onion, peeled and sliced in half moons or 3 leeks, thinly sliced, rinsed and drained
2 carrots, peeled, halved and cut in small chunks
2 parsnips, peeled, halved and cut in chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled, quartered and cut in chunks
1 zucchini, cut in half and then half moon shapes
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in chunks
1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut in chunks
1 can (about 14 ounces) chopped tomatoes, preferably organic
1 can (about 14 ounces) mixed beans, preferably organic, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, peeled
¼ to ½ teaspoon chili powder
½ cup good red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat to oven to 375 (160 to 170).

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large casserole with a lid - one that goes from the stove top to the oven safely. Add the onions or leeks and stir fry for a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add the carrots, and stir fry for a few minutes longer so that they begin to soften a little too.

Add the parsnips, sweet potato, zucchini and peppers. Stir fry for a couple of minutes. Stir in the canned tomatoes and the beans. Grate in the garlic and add the chili powder. Add the red wine and mix in well.

Cook on the stove top for a few minutes, bringing the mixture almost to the boil. Then cover and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 40 to 50 minutes until the vegetables have softened but still keep their shape. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve and enjoy.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Easy Spanish Chicken

This is one of those recipes you will make again and again, not only because it is quick and easy, but because everyone will love it. It’s only got a few ingredients, and chances are you probably have most of them on hand. This recipe is inspired by things I have eaten in tiny old cafés that we have stumbled upon during our European travels. The smell of garlic generally arrives before the dish gets to the table, and dishes like this are almost always served with an ice cold glass of beer.

You could just as easily use chicken thighs as chicken breasts for this recipe, and in fact I encourage you to do so as they will be more tender. However my family really prefer chicken breasts so I use those instead. I use the red onions, red skinned potatoes and red pepper because they look so pretty contrasting with the chicken, but if you don’t have any of those on hand, or you would rather use a green or yellow pepper instead, there is no reason why you can’t.

I do like to use un-peeled garlic cloves in this recipe because I love how they roast up into garlicky sweetness. You can then squeeze them out of their skins as you eat the dish. However my son absolutely hates garlic cooked that way, so I usually finely grate a clove of garlic in for him, and scatter some whole cloves through the dish for my husband and I. Also, garlic is a very personal (and sometimes acquired) taste, so use as much as you like - or none at all! If you prefer a milder garlic flavour just toss in a couple whole cloves or perhaps grate one or two into the dish. If you like a lot, you can add as many cloves of garlic as you like. When I have had dishes similar to this in Spain and Italy, they have been loaded with at least a whole garlic bulb’s worth of sweetly roasted garlic cloves. I use less at home!

Madeira or sherry gives this dish a wonderful depth of flavour, and as you are only using a quarter cup of it and the majority of the alcohol will cook off, it really should not be an issue with children. However if you are concerned about it, or are teetotal, or just don’t have any on hand, then please feel free to use chicken stock instead.

To serve four people you need:-

3 tablespoons olive oil (or other vegetable oil) plus a little for drizzling
4 large (or several small) red skinned potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut up
(I generally cut the larger ones in quarters or eighths, but little red potatoes can simply be cut in half.)
2 red onions, peeled and cut in eighths
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in chunks
garlic cloves, either peeled to grate in or left un-peeled and whole
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon salt
generous pinch of pepper
¼ cup Madeira, sherry or chicken stock
4 chicken breasts or 8 boneless chicken thighs
dried or freshly chopped parsley to garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 or about 170.

Heat the olive oil in a large casserole (that is safe to use both on the stove top and in the oven) on the stovetop over medium heat. Toss in the onions and stir fry them for a bit but don’t let them go brown. Now add the potatoes, being sure to coat them thoroughly in the oil.  Fry them for a couple minutes, stirring constantly. Add the garlic cloves (or grate in the garlic you are using), the peppers and the seasonings.

Pour the Madeira, sherry or chicken stock over the whole lot and gently stir through. Nestle the chicken on top of the dish, drizzle with a bit of oil and put the the casserole into the oven.

If you are using chicken breasts, this should be cooked within about 25 minutes to half an hour. Be sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked with no pink remaining inside. Chicken thighs will take a little bit longer. Again, do be sure they are cooked through. 

Serve one chicken breast or two thighs on top of a little mound of the potato and onion mixture. Garnish with some parsley and enjoy!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Colourful Vegetable Medley

This is one of those recipes that the photograph doesn’t do justice to. In reality the colours are much brighter, and it makes an excellent side dish with just about any meat. This colourful and fresh dish is also very economical. Plus, it is a fantastic way to use up your more raggedy Thanksgiving leftovers - just stir chunks of cooked turkey and/or ham through it when you add the peas and gently heat through before serving as a one dish meal with hot rolls. Easy and delicious.

To serve four people as a main dish and six to eight as a side, you need:

2 tablespoons oil (I used olive, but any oil is fine)
1 red onion
1 tablespoon sugar
1 small cabbage, shredded
¼ cup Madeira or sherry
¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp soy sauce
½ cup frozen peas

Heat the oil in a frying pan (with a lid) and sauté the red onion over low heat until it is just beginning to soften. Add the sugar and stir to mix through. 

Turn up the heat to medium and add the shredded cabbage. Stir-fry for a few minutes, just until the cabbage is tender-crisp.  Add the Madeira or sherry and the chicken stock, along with the soy sauce.  Stir to mix and bring to the boil. Allow to bubble away for a minute or so just to let the liquid reduce a bit.  Stir in the frozen peas.  Then put the lid on the frying pan, lower the heat and cook for about three minutes.  You still want the peas to be nice, bright green.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Nigella's Venetian Carrot Cake

I am absolutely loving Nigella Lawson’s new cookbook ‘Kitchen’. It’s a beautifully written book and I am thoroughly enjoying cooking my way through it.

One of the recipes that caught my eye almost immediately was for Venetian Carrot Cake. I love Venice, and anything with the word Venetian in it always draws me in. Also, I have been wanting to make a carrot cake for some time, as for one reason and another I just never have, although I have certainly eaten plenty of it.

It’s a wonderful recipe, and is even dairy and gluten free (if you don’t include the optional mascarpone cream). However I did something with this recipe that I rarely do with Nigella’s recipes. I changed an ingredient. (I know, I was shocked at myself too!) The original recipe calls for pine nuts, which while they do make it utterly Italian, I really am not fond of except in savoury food. They can also be really expensive. So I substituted flaked almonds. I’m sure it is gorgeous with the pine nuts if you are a fan, but the almond version was a huge success in our house and they went beautifully with the almond meal/flour Nigella calls for in the cake.

I can honestly say this is the nicest carrot cake I have ever eaten. I was particularly thrilled as it was, as I mentioned, the first time I have ever made a carrot cake. It isn’t overly sweet and the rum soaked sultanas and nutmeg give it a beautiful depth of flavour. I urge you to make this cake - either with the pine nuts if you like them or flaked almonds as I did - as soon as you can. You will not be disappointed.

You can find the recipe here. I can’t wait to make it again. Seriously. Yum.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Easy and Delicious Vegetarian Stew

I love stews this time of year. They are comforting and delicious, and they make the house smell beautiful when they are cooking. Vegetarian stews don’t take as long to cook as the ones containing meat, but they do benefit from about an hour or so in the oven so that the flavours can all blend together.

I’ve tried lots of different combinations of vegetables and this is the one we like best in our house, but I don’t mean to be prescriptive, and of course you can change things round to suit your tastes and what you have on hand. This one makes a fantastic Meatless Monday dinner, and the leftovers are lovely the next day too.

To serve four to six people, you need:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use mild olive oil)
1 red onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced in half moons
1 cup white mushrooms, quartered
3 parsnips, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and sliced in chunky sticks
3 carrots, peeled, cut in half and sliced in chunky sticks
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in chunks
1 can (about 14 ounces) chopped tomatoes, preferably organic
1 can (about 14 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped or dried flat leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 375 (160 to 170).

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large stove top to oven casserole with a lid. Add the onion and sauté gently until it begins to soften. Add mushrooms and stir fry for a few moments longer. Add the parsnips, carrots and red pepper and stir until coated in the oily oniony mixture.
Add the tomatoes, beans, bay leaf and oregano and stir through. Pop the lid on and place in the oven for about 40 to 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven and place on a heatproof surface.
Carefully taste the stew and add salt and pepper if necessary. If the vegetables are softened, return to the oven for five minutes or so, but if they are still not soft enough, return to the oven for ten to fifteen minutes.

Serve when the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape. Serve garnished with the parsley. I like to serve this with a basket of hot rolls, but for a heartier meal you can serve it with crushed new potatoes or rice.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Nigella Lawson's Caramel Croissant Pudding

If you can resist this, you have a will of iron. It is almost unbearably delicious, the crusty edges of croissants surrounded by a meltingly tender and yielding custard. This is a great way to use up stale croissants, but it is so delicious I would even buy croissants just to let them go stale on purpose to make it. And this from a woman who doesn’t really like bread and butter pudding!

I doubled the recipe - not only because I tend to be greedy, but also because there were four of us. In all other respects, do follow Nigella’s instructions carefully though, particularly where she says not to be too timid about allowing the caramel to bubble away unstirred. It does look a bit alarming, and like it is definitely going to stick, but it doesn’t.

She also mentions that after you have added the cream, “Any solid toffee that forms in the pan will dissolve easily if you keep whisking over low heat.” This is very true. I ended up with a huge globule of toffee on the end of my whisk, and considered abandoning the whole thing, but I did as I was told and the glob gradually dispersed into the custard.

Do get everything ready first. At one point I needed three hands and had to call for help from my son, who very obliging whisked while I continued to add ingredients. Next time I would have all the ingredients lined up, with the baking dish containing the torn up croissants immediately beside me.

The only place I seriously veered from the instructions was that I used semi-skimmed (2%) milk instead of full fat milk but that was only because I didn’t have any full fat milk on hand. It didn’t seem to affect the results at all. I also had no bourbon so I used rum as recommended and was very pleased with the flavour it gave.

Please click here to go to for the recipe. If you are cooking in cups, I measured 100 grams of sugar and it was just short of a half cup. Also, 125 ml is half a cup.

I urge you to make this - it is worth every single calorie!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Restaurant Experience at Masterchef Live

One of the best parts of Masterchef Live is The Restaurant Experience, where you can try small plates from some of London’s top restaurants. This year at Olympia Roast, Blue Elephant, The Luxe (Spitalfields), Theo Randall at the InterContinental, Café Spice Namaste, Nin Jiang and the Malaysia Kitchen were all there. There was even a Masterchef restaurant, with dishes from some of Masterchef’s winners. It’s a fantastic way to taste some of London’s best flavours all in one day without splashing the cash or ending up feeling like you’ve eaten for two (or three…or four). 

After you have exchanged your pounds for Dining Currency – which is available in mixed denominations - all you have to do is peruse the huge menu and decide which dishes you would like to try. This takes some time as you are utterly spoiled for choice. You then go to each restaurant’s stand and exchange your currency for small plates of their specialities. Prices range from 4 to 6 pounds per dish. (Dining currency is on par with GBP, so a pound buys you one unit of dining currency, five pounds five units, etc.) 

The Restaurant Experience was sponsored by Hardy’s and there are wine selections in the show guide to go with each dish. However if you had a glass with each selection I think you might struggle to stay upright! My husband and I each chose a wine we liked and just had the one glass to accompany all the various dishes.  My husband chose the lovely Nottage Hill Pinot Noir and I had a glass of their Sauvignon Blanc.

Although the plates are small, you don’t need a lot of them, and in the end we had to go back later in the day to make sure we tasted everything we wanted to. The first dish I chose was Grilled Angus Sirloin Beef with Green Papaya Salad from Blue Elephant. I was given not only the dish, but also a leaflet with a recipe, a sachet of Chili Paste and a coupon for £10 off should I decide to visit the Blue Elephant itself. I thought this was a very nice touch.
The Green Papaya Salad had a refreshing kick to it and was a wonderful foil to the meltingly tender strips of sirloin, perfectly grilled to medium. The contrast of hot and cold, and the kick of the sharp dressing on the salad was really refreshing on the palate. 

My husband’s first dish was the Corn fed Chicken Green Curry with steamed organic red rice also, from the Blue Elephant. What can I say?
It’s not pretty, but it sure did taste good. (We each chose our own dishes, but we shared everything.) It had just the right amount of spice and the chicken was tender and delicious. The red rice had a fantastic flavour to it as well.

From there, we both chose the Slow Roast Wicks Manor Pork Belly from Roast. Neither one of us was sure we would be able to share that, and it was a good thing we got two portions. It’s the kind of classic British dish Roast are famous for, and they do it to perfection. It was accompanied by a sage, garlic and applesauce with a port reduction and root vegetable mash. I can't imagine why I don't have a photograph of it - except if it's because we ate it too fast. It was seriously yummy.

From the Masterchef Restaurant I chose Claire Lara's Crispy Skinned Sea Trout with Apple, Leeks and Watercress. The gorgeous pink sea trout was beautifully set off by the mild flavours of the other ingredients.

My husband's choice from the Masterchef Restaurant was Dhruv Baker's Ballotine of Chicken and Pork with pomme puree, Savoy cabbage and Madeira sauce. 
The presentation was beautiful and it tasted as good as it looks. The pork was spicy and delicious and really accentuated the mild flavour of the chicken.

When it came to desserts, we returned to Roast for their Mulled Spices, Bramley Apple, Sultana and Cranberry Crumble with Vanilla English Custard. 
It was divine. Sadly Roast did not provide recipe cards so I will be spending some time this holiday season attempting to duplicate this ambrosia. It’s the perfect Christmas dessert, with all the season’s traditional flavours wrapped up in a comforting, traditional crumble with custard.

And then there was Paul’s Blueberry Cheesecake with Lemon Curd from The Luxe. 
I don’t know who Paul is, but thank goodness he provided a recipe card because I seriously would have begged for one. This was one of the best cheesecakes I have ever had – and in fact we returned later in the day for another portion of it. The cheesecake itself was light and delicious, with just the right amount of blueberries in it. The homemade lemon curd provided a combination of sharp and sweet that was simply mouthwatering.

It’s worth visiting Masterchef Live for the Restaurant Experience on its own, but there are also so many other shows, including presentations by celebrity chefs and the Masterchef Live team, displays from specialist food, wine and spirit producers, masterclasses, the latest in kitchen appliances and gizmos and lots of things to try and to buy as well. Masterchef Live is at the Winter Good Food Show in Birmingham next week, and if you can get to Birmingham, I definitely recommend a visit!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Blueberry Pie Cake

This dessert was inspired by a recipe in BBC Good Food magazine for a Raspberry Bakewell Slice. I made their recipe and loved it, but I love to fiddle with recipes, plus I wanted to be able to share it with folks like me who like to bake using cups instead of grams. Oh, and I adore blueberries. Seriously adore them. So I spent a few hours playing in the kitchen, and here are the delicious results. My son Christened it Blueberry Pie Cake because it is part pie, part cake. 

This recipe uses ready-made pastry, which can be rolled to fit the pan, but do feel free to make your own pastry from scratch if you feel you want to.
I use a quiche pan for this - about 7 to 8 inches wide by 11 inches long. Here it is lined with the pastry.
To make one pan of squares you will need:-

1 package of sweet pastry
¼ cup blueberry jam
½ cup frozen blueberries, just thawed (or use fresh if they are available)
¼ cup flaked almonds
¼ cup apricot jam
1 teaspoon water

For the cake:-

1 cup butter, softened (plus some to grease the pan)
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups ground almonds (almond flour)
¾ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 (about 160 to 170 for fan oven).

Lightly grease the pan. Roll the pastry out to fit and put it in the pan. Be sure to push it into the corners well. Prick it with a fork, and pop it in the oven for about 8 to 10 minutes until it’s cooked, but not coloured. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit.

To make the cake mixture, cream the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt and beat together.

To assemble, spread the blueberry jam over the pastry, using a pastry brush. Scatter the blueberries over top.

Gently spread the cake mixture over the blueberries and scatter with the flaked almonds. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden, watching carefully after 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool a little on a wire rack.

Heat the apricot jam with the 1 teaspoon of water and spread it over carefully top of the squares with a clean pastry brush to give a nice shiny finish. Cut into squares to serve. May be served warm or at room temperature, and is lovely with good vanilla ice cream. 

Monday Musings -Volume 4

Better late than never! I’m really not sure about the stills I got to choose from for the video but never mind, I’ll just blame the goofy look on my face on my cold!
Here are the links that I mentioned:-

A Dickens of a Christmas Giveaway for $85 (or £60) CSN Gift Certificate