Tuesday, March 3

Chicken satay stir fry

In my effort to eliminate the foods that I know I shouldn't eat, and in some cases I am not sure why, I decided to make my own peanut butter. 

I toasted my peanuts. I added my flavourless oil. I pulsed my blender for the eons demanded by the recipe. I cracked the plastic bowl (such was the ferocity of hundreds of bullet-like peanuts hurtling at break-neck speed around a plastic drum) and probably diminished my own hearing by around 1% during the course of this peanut inspired din. 

But there it was, home crafted peanut butter. And how delighted I was to finally be able to throw out the sugar laden, palm oil saturated lurid plastic pots which I reach for on a daily basis.

My triumph was short lived. My own peanut butter was a pale gold. Not the creosote shade of the
mass produced gloop. My son, however, had not seen the light (of the peanut butter colour scale) he preferred, as he termed it, 'the orangey one'. 'Preferred' perhaps does not do justice to the scale of his reaction. Imagine you had been told you were biting into an apple, and it was a lemon.

We went back to sun-pat the next morning.

So this recipe satisfied both my craving for the citrus tang of South East Asia and my sons' love of peanut butter, just make sure it's orangey.

Chicken Satay Stir Fry
 Serves 4

2 Chicken thighs

1 bunch spring onions
100g fine green beans
Any left over veg that you fancy: carrots, broccoli, pak choi (I used carrots)
1 mango
small bunch coriander
1 lime juiced

225g soba noodles
Toasted sesame oil

For the marinade
1 lime, zest and juice
2 tbsp peanut butter
3 tsp soy sauce
chilli (optional)
1 clove garlic (chopped)

1. Make the marinade (as far ahead as you can, hours, minutes...whatever you can manage). Simply combine all the ingredients and mix until you have a thin-ish smooth paste. Chop the chicken and leave in the marinade.
2. As always the magic of the stir fry is in the prep, so chop all your vegetables in readiness, boil your water and get your soba noodles cooking. They will need a little longer than standard egg noodles. (7 or 8 minutes)
3. Heat your oil to smoking hot in the largest pan you have. Add the chicken and cook quickly. Once sealed and cooking, add the spring onion, beans and your miscelleanous vegetables. Keep it moving and cooking until the chicken is cooked through. The marinade should provide a light sauce to coat your veg as well as flavouring the chicken.
4. Once cooked, add the mango, and drained soba noodles.
5. Serve with lime juice and coriander.

Monday, February 23

Baked and Spiced Bananas

Baked bananas with a spiced sauce

You may wonder what my inspiration could be when I present a recipe as unashamedly retro as Baked Bananas. Have I been watching Abigail's Party this weekend, or perhaps it was Margot and Jerry Leadbetter that were my culinary pair of muses?

In actual fact I've been chaining episodes of  House of Cards, but when you see a slightly kitsch, lo-fi, pud such as this your mind doesn't leap to Francis and Clare Underwood. Which I must say comes as something of a relief to me. I am reassured to know that two pyschopathic narcissists have not seeped into my pudding related sub-conscious. When I start offering a narrative piece to camera over the hob you'll know I've watched an episode too far.

Baked and Spiced Bananas

Serve 2

2 Bananas
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp dark brown sugar
a pinch of All Spice

1. Preheat the oven to 180
2. Butter an earthenware dish. Slice the bananas in half lenth ways and place in the dish.
3. Squeeze over the lime juice.
4. Mix the sugar and allspice, and scatter over the the bananas.
5. Cook for around 10-15 minutes, until the sugar has caramelised and turned into a rather intriging sweet, sour and spiced sauce.

Baked bananas with a spiced sauce

Wednesday, February 11

Avocado chocolate mousse

chocolate avocado mousse

This recipe is fantastic in many ways, but I don't want to be called to Trading Standards on a chocolate related charge. I don't think, if I am totally honest, that it will hit the spot of a full-on all-consuming tidal wave of a chocolate craving. The kind where you're fully prepared to drive to a garage in your pyjamas.


It will satisfy the urge for something sweet, it will provide you with one of your five a day (a boon in itself I am sure you will agree), and it will certainly provide a topic of conversation around the dinner table.

'Bet you can't guess what's in this'

Chocolate Avocado Mousse
Serves 2

2 very very ripe avocados
5 tbsp honey
4 tbsp cocoa
Juice of 1 lime

(I have made this with avocados which were not ripe enough and I added dates to increase the sweetness)

There's very little method to this mousse. Simply chuck all the ingredients in your blender and blitz away to silky smoothness. Serve into bowls and chill for at least 30 mins.

chocolate avocado mousse

Monday, February 2

Kale pesto and spaghetti

kale and brazil nut pesto

I have it on great authority that kale is currently being advertised at Westminster tube station. Yes, that is kale of curly variety, a member of the great dynasty The Brassicas. Some might liken The Brassicas to The Firm, so meteoric has been the rise of broccoli/kale/cauliflower trio in recent months. Currently seen muscling its way to the front of cookery books/magazines/shows everywhere. But I prefer to think Von Trapp when I read of the Brassica family: all singing all dancing cauliflower, oh so trendy kale, ever popular broccoli, of course just a few of my favourite things.

So answers on a postcard as to why kale is being advertised to our esteemed (ahem) MPs and their SPADs, do they need the health kick more than the rest of us or perhaps there really are some Capone credentials in the Brassica clan?

Kale pesto and spaghetti 

Serves 4
Half a packet of kale
100g Brazil nuts
Olive oil
50g Parmesan
Juice of 1 lemon

400g wholewheat spaghetti

1. Trim the kale from its's toughest stalks. And blanche the remaining leaves and thin stalks in boiling water for around 4 minutes.
2. Once drained place the kale in a food processor, and add the parmesan, a generous few glugs of olive oil, brazil nuts and lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Blitz for a few minutes until you have a paste. If the mixture is too stiff simly add a little more oil.
3. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet and stir through the pesto.

kale and brazil nut pesto with spaghetti

Wednesday, January 21

Cauliflower 'rice'

I reckon this is perfect January fodder.
The coldest month offers something of a quandry: the soul yearning for comfort food, warming and hearty (shepherds pie, spag bol, curry), the body yearning for little more than a lettuce leaf after an over-indulged December.
Whether you're mid-way through a 'dry January' or slogging onwards with your detox diet I offer you this, a way to cheat the system. Have your curry and eat it (maybe with yoghurt instead of cream?)  Swap your rice for cauliflower (YES REALLY) and ta da, you're still on track...
(ps I drunk a glass of wine whilst writing this)

Cauliflower pilau 'rice'
Serves 2

1 small cauliflower
1 tsp turmeric
5 cardamom pods
pinch cumin
small handful of sultanas
2 tbsp toasted coconut flakes
25g flaked almonds
Olive oil

1. Start by grating the cauliflower on the course side of a cheese grater
2. Deseed the cardamom pods and crush in a pestle and mortar. Dry roast the spices for a few minutes until they start to smell toasty (but not burnt)
3. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the hot spices pan, stir, and straight away add the cauliflower.
4. Lightly saute for a few minutes (to warm through and combine the spices, but not cook).
5. Finally stir through the almonds, sultanas and coconut flakes.
And of course serve with curry.

cauliflower rice

Wednesday, November 5

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

cauliflower pizza

I've never thought of the cauliflower as a particularly versatile vegetable. My brassica repetoire is far from bold. Cauliflower cheese, maybe a soup (probably not), and er...ooh, what was it... er, no, that's, um, it. What can I say... it's a bijou list (cough).

In my last post I lamented the sad fact that cheap food usually equals unhealthy food. To find grub which is healthy, economical and that tastes good feels as frustrating as a Rubiks Cube: moving the pieces around but never nailing the puzzle.

But I shouldn't be surprised that the humble cauli could come good, that it could provide the answer to my culinary Krypton Factor.

Circa 1990 and we were keen guinea pig owners (we're talking double figure rodents here, so chomping their way through some serious amounts of greenery on a daily basis). You may know that guinea pigs like humans (and unlike most animals) are unable to manufacture their own Vitamin C (good pub quiz fact that). Cue a similar, albeit  guinea pig based, food challenge: the need for plenty of daily fresh veg and a minimal budget to fund this Vitamin C habit. 

The answer: cauliflower leaves. Yes really. You can find (read scavenge) them in market bins, I like to think it's the urban version of foraging.

First forward twenty four years and I'm back where I started (though without, I am pleased to report, men in fingerless gloves booming 'BEST CAULIs A PAAHND' ) but still finding the cauliflower is as quirky as ever. It's not guinea pig fine-dining this time, it's PIZZA! Yes, that's right, I kid ye not, this pizza is made out of a cauliflower. No dough, no flour, no yeast. It's cauliflower...read on...

Cauliflower pizza

1 large cauliflower (though not a giant one)
1 egg (beaten)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp parmesan
1 ball of mozzarella
Tomato puree or thick passata for topping

Plus further topping of your choice. I just had mushrooms in my fridge when I made this,  but the possibilities are endless

1. Preheat the oven to 210/Gas 7
2. Cut off your cauliflower leaves (save for guinea pigs?) and tough stalk section. Grate or food process the remaining cauliflower head. You will end up with what looks like a pile of rice.
3. Microwave the cauliflower in a bowl for approx 5 minutes, until the vegetable is cooked and softened.
4. Take the cauiflower out of the bowl, place in a seive and strain out any excess water. Press out as much as you can.
5. In a large bowl mix together the cauliflower, egg, parmesan, garlic powder, oregano and grate in approx one third of your ball of mozzarella. The mixture should come together to form what looks like a dough
6. Once the mixture is formed to a dough-like consistency pull it together into a ball. Place on a lined baking tray (it's important that it is lined) and press into a circle. Maybe you could roll but pressing worked.
7. Bake the cauliflower base in the oven for approx 15-20 minutes until golden and firm.
8. You can then add your topping and bake for a further 8-10 minutes.

cauliflower crust pizza

Wednesday, October 22

Spiced Autumn Soup

spiced autumn soupI didn't start this blog to be earnest. It is unashamedly lightweight. My prose has all the substance of a bowl of angel delight. But as I cook day upon day, doing my best to hit my own KPIs: delivered on time, to budget and with  the added value of being vaguely nutritious, I ponder the following (by the way, I know this is no polemic, it taken a while for the penny to drop)...

Why does it not make economic sense to eat healthily?

If I want to fill up on calories without emptying my purse, then my weekly shopping basket starts to resemble a cross between a school vending machine (if that's not a contradiction in terms in the post-Jamie Oliver world of school food) and Wimpy: sugary, processed, full of refined carbs, fatty.

White bread not brown
Crisps not nuts
Fatty meats not lean
Battered fish not fresh
White pasta not wholemeal

It pays to eat badly. Gulp.

How can we make healthy food make financial sense?
Here's my first shot.

Spiced Autumn Soup
140g red lentils
2 small sweet potatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1litre stock
100ml coconut milk (I used creamed coconut dissolved in water so as not to open a whole can)
Optional: pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on soup

1. Gently fry the onion and garlic until soft.
2. Add the spices and cook for a further couple of minutes until aromas are released.
3. Add lentils, potatoes, stock and coconut and cook for approx 25 minutes until lentils have softened.
4. Blend until smooth and serve with pumpkin seeds or coriander leaves

autumn soup