Pomegranate seeds salad herbs

Pomegranate made easy

One of the great things about having a blog, I reckon, is being able to convey little pearls of wisdom that those closest to me (i.e. The Other Half and the cat) couldn’t really care less about but my dedicated followers (i.e. my Mum and Dad) might actually appreciate. And so, here you go followers. My top tip for the day (and a cheeky recipe, too)…

How to deseeded a pomegranate
Much debate (in the foodie world at least – I’m not suggesting Parliament here) has been given over deseeding a pomegranate. Traditionalists call for a pin, to gently and painstakingly prize out each precious gem. More modern writers, in so many words, ask for a swift smack on the bottom with a spoon with the hope that seeds will romantically rain out upon a suitably middle class salad (see such a recipe below). I however, think I have cracked it. It’s definitely the cleanest (no massacre like blood-red spray from the smacking) and it’s definitely the quickest (no pins required).
Simply cut the pomegranate in half. Observant cooks will notice that the pomegranate is a fruit of compartments. Using the best tool in the kitchen, your hands, gently break away a quarter of the fruit. The pretty seeds will start to naturally break away. Using your fingers, help the seeds along. Continue this process, breaking another quarter of fruit away, easing the seeds out, discarding any bit of white, bitter membrane. See, simples. Then, when you’ve done that, make my delicious salad. It might look like a lot of ingredients but there isn’t anything too exotic in there and it is very low maintenance. Just let the bulgur wheat soak while the veggies are roasting and put on a brew and read Cotswoldcapers while you wait!

A bejewelled bulgur wheat salad
(serves 8-10)

1 medium butternut squash
A punnet of cherry tomatoes (about 350g)
2 bundles of asparagus (about 12 stalks)
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 bunch of spring onions
1 bulb of garlic
1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
Olive oil
500g bulgur wheat
2 lemons
A handful of parsley
A handful of mint
2 tbsps chopped dill
1 pomegranate
100g pumpkin seeds
100g sunflower seeds
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
100ml cider vinegar
200ml hemp oil
400g feta cheese (optional)

  1. Peel and chop the butternut squash into rough cubes and throw in a large roasting tray with the cherry tomatoes. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus (I love that sound) and chop in half, deseeded the peppers and roughly slice. Peel and chop the spring onions in half, too, and add them all to the pan. You can, of course, use whatever veggies you like – we also regularly throw in some courgettes, aubergines, mushrooms, etc. Smash a bulb of garlic, but leave the individual cloves in their cases, and add to the pan with the dried chilli flakes, salt and pepper, and a good glug of olive oil. Don’t bother with the really expensive stuff, a good medium all-rounder will do. Place in a hot oven (around 200ºC) for 30-45 minutes until all of the veg is tender and lightly charred. Check every so often, and have a quick toss of the veg, to make sure nothing is catching.
  2. Meanwhile, pour the bulgur wheat into a large bowl and pour over boiling water so it covers by about an inch. Chop the two lemons in half, squeeze over the juice and throw them in with the soaking bulgur wheat, and cover with clingfilm. Leave to soak.
  3. Roughly chop the parsley, finely chop the mint and dill and deseed the pomegranate (see the tip above). Chop the feta into rough chunks.
  4. Dry fry the sunflower seeds until lightly browned and toasted, and the pumpkin seeds until the pop and crack.
  5. When the veggies are well roasted, remove the garlic and squeeze the soft, sweet garlic from two of the cloves into a mortar. Add the mustard, a pinch of sea salt, and pound together with a pestle until smooth. Add the vinegar and hemp oil (I am using hemp at the moment as that is what I have in the cupboard but olive or rapeseed would do) and using a whisk, combine until emulsified.
  6. When the bulgur wheat is completely soaked and dry (i.e. there shouldn’t be any residual liquid – drain if necessary) remove the lemon halves and fold in the veggies, herbs, pomegranate and toasted seeds and pour over the dressing while everything is still warm. If you like feta, serve it over the top. Enjoy – it’s delicious with lamb steaks or on its own in the lunchbox. Serve warm or cold.
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pasta homemade ravioli ricotta cheese herbs

Herb and ricotta ravioli – the filling

There’s nothing like a spot of spanking on a Friday night. And by spanking, I of course mean spanking of dough. Pasta dough to be precise.
I had decided, thanks to an unexpected abundance of eggs delivered by our landlord/farmer (laid a mere 100m away from our front door) and a severe shortage of meat and veg, to make fresh pasta. Making it is simple enough – after all, it literally is just eggs and flour – but the kneading to make it smooth and silky is hard, physical labour. And, with The Other Half cruelly shunning his manly responsibilities, I was left with the job.
Now, I could have cheated and used the beautiful piece of machinery that is my Kitchen Aid to bind and knead the dough but I had plans for that later. And, after a hard week at the coalface of Fabulous Food I thought a small release of pent-up aggression was just what I needed. And so, I spanked. For a good 10 minutes I tried traditional kneading, the stretching and folding of dough, and then I spanked. I smacked the dough onto the work top, beating it into submission until it was perfectly smooth. How satisfying.
And so, should you need a similar release, here’s the recipe for my ravioli, complete with a delicious ricotta and herb filling with a secret kick. Adjust the seasonings and spice to taste, but I rather like it as it is.

Herb and ricotta ravioli
(Serves 4)

500g ’00’ flour (I used Tesco Ingredients Pasta Flour because it was on special offer – it comes in 500g packs)
6 eggs (as my eggs were straight from the farm they ranged in sizes but I would advise using medium, free-range eggs)
50g polenta (optional)
Hemp, rapeseed or olive oil, to serve

Filling
250g ricotta
75g Grana Padano, finely grated, plus extra to serve
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
Generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
2 tbsps fresh parsley, chopped (I used curly parsley as that is what I have growing in my garden)
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

  1. To make the pasta put the majority of the flour into a bowl (reserving a handful for dusting the worksurface, etc) and make a well. Crack in the eggs and whisk with a fork. Using your hands slowly work the flour into the eggs until combined.
  2. Dust the worksurface with the remaining flour and turn the mixture out onto it. Knead the dough. You can do this by pushing the dough forwards with the heal of your hand. This stretches the glutens in the flour and will make for a beautifully textured pasta. This will take time and I can thoroughly recommend my spanking technique to hurry things along. You want the dough smooth and silky, and not grainy. When it’s ready (this should take around 20 mins) wrap completely in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 mins or longer.
  3. Meanwhile, make your filling. Place all of the filling ingredients into a bowl and mix with a fork until combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. The chilli and pepper should provide a welcome kick, the herbs and lemon will give a fresh, grassy taste, while the two cheeses should be deliciously mellow. Place in the fridge until ready.
  4. Cut the dough in half, wrapping the unused half in clingfilm and place in the freezer for another occasion. Roll the other half out and feed through a pasta machine. I took my dough to notch 5 for a medium to thin pasta. If you don’t have pasta machine you have some serious rolling out to do. It wants to be so thin it is almost transparent.

    Homemade pasta ravioli Kitchen Aid

    Work that pasta

  5. Flour the worksurface and lay the pasta out. Using your hand as a measure, cut down the pasta at a hand’s width and horizontally half way along that (i.e. make squares) – you should have about 80 in total.
  6. Add a generous tsp of the filling to the middle of 40 of the squares. Have a little bowl of water on standby, wet your finger and then draw a circle around the filling. Place the remaining pasta squares on top and seal down, making sure there is no air inside the ravioli. I used a cutter to make them into neat little sombreros but they will work just as well as squares, as long as they are properly sealed. Dust with a combination of flour and the polenta, if you are using, to stop them from sticking.

    Homemade pasta ravioli ricotta

    Add the filling to the pasta sheets

  7. Bring a pan of water to the boil, season with a pinch of salt, and cook the pasta in batches of 10 (unless you have a huge pan) for around 6 mins.
  8. Drain gently, reserving 2 or 3 tbsps of the cooking water, drizzle with hemp oil (I used this because I happened to have some, but an extra virgin rapeseed or olive oil would work just as well) and grate over some Grana Padano to taste. Toss gently to combine and serve. Bloody yum.

    Homemade ravioli pasta

    My beautiful little sombreros

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This week has been an odd one in our household. Good and bad news. Good and bad weather. But always good food. I needed to test some Unearthed Cooking Chorizo for work and raiding my fridge decided to cook one of my all-time favourite recipes – baked chicken and chorizo. 

    Like most of my recipes, it has been cooked in various guises over the years. Sometimes with a whole portioned chicken, many times with chicken thighs. Sometimes with new potatoes, many times with bog-standard bakers. But that is the beauty of cooking, isn’t it. Experimentation, interpretation and adaptation! (See below for recipe). 

    On Saturday morning we also got the first glimpse of the sun in a long while. We certainly made the most of it and completely transformed the garden over the weekend. Andy’s lobster-red arms will certainly testify to that! We got rid of all the long grass growing beneath our border bushes – during which we found 1000s of woodlice, 100s of earwigs, 10s of millipedes, 2 toads and 1 caterpillar – laid some bark, and mowed the lawn. I also revved up the Rowe kitchen garden. I’ve now got tomatoes, courgettes, peppers, six different types of chillies, 4 varieties of strawberries, peaches, parsley, chives, mixed leaves, wild rocket, mustard leaves, petit pois and broad beans. I’ll keep you posted with the results as they start to fruit (along with recipes on how to use up the glut) but here’s what it looks like now.

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Baked chicken and chorizo

2 chicken quarters (skin on, bone in)
250g cooking chorizo
2 baking potatoes, sliced into 5mm slices
1 white onion, cut into rough chunks
1 large glass prosecco
2 tbsps olive oil

Season the chicken quarters with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the oil to a heavy-bottomed pan and seal the chicken quarters over a high heat. Remove from the pan and add the potato slices, onion chunks and chorizo. Pour over the glass of prosecco (or a glass of sherry would work just as well) and position the sealed chicken quarters on top. Place in the oven at a medium-high heat and roast until the chicken is cooked through and the potato slices are tender. Serve with a fresh green salad.

 

ImageAs I recently told a fellow tweeter – I don’t do carbs by half measures. Indeed, carbs are one of the main reasons I cook. Carbs are the epitomy of comfort food. What would mac and cheese be without the mac? What would bangers and mash be without the mash? You get the idea. And so, when I dug out some stewing beef from the freezer last night, I realised I couldn’t possibly think of a meal that didn’t involve dumplings.

The other great thing about stews and casseroles (aside from those little pillows of joy) is that they are throw-everything-in-one-pot cooking. That also means only one pot to wash-up. See, there are no downsides! And so, for these next two recipes I’ll only give rough measurements (if you’ll forgive me). The key is simply slow cooking at low temperatures and seasoning. Oh, and dumplings. Did I mention dumplings?

 

Beef, beetroot and blue cheese casserole

Coat stewing beef in seasoned flour and brown in a heavy-bottomed pan with sunflower oil. Remove the meat and set to one side. Add more oil if needed, then add roughly sliced red onions and fry until caramelised. Add cubes of beetroot and potato, a good glug of balsamic vinegar, a few generous shakes of Worcestershire sauce, and a pinch of brown sugar, along with the browned beef. Add wine, some passata (I happened to have half a glass of Big Tom left) and beef stock, and bring to the boil. Once boiling move to a medium-low oven (around 160ºC in a fan oven) for 1 hr 30 mins. Meanwhile mix 2 parts flour, to 1 part beef suet and 1 part crumbled blue cheese and a handful of chopped parsley. Add enough milk to bind into a dough, then shape into golf balls. Add the dumplings to the casserole and return to the oven, with the lid for 30 mins. Remove the lid, then return to the oven to brown until you’re ready to eat. If you’re being good, serve with broad beans.

 

Sausage and lentil casserole with a cauliflower cheese crust

Roughly chop onions and swede and add to a heavy-bottomed pan with olive oil. Sweat until slightly softened, then add the sausages (making sure they touch the bottom of the pan, and are able to caramelise slightly). Add red lentils, chopped tomatoes, chicken stock and lots of coriander (even the stalks). Bring to the boil and then chuck in the oven to bubble away until everything is cooked and reduce (about 160ºC in a fan oven for an hour). Meanwhile, break a cauliflower into florets and boil until tender. Drain, then roughly chop with a spatula. I added some leftover cheesy bechamel sauce, clotted cream and mustard but creme fraiche, mustard and a handful of grated cheddar would work just as well. When the casserole is cooked, spread the cheesy cauliflower mix on top and add some extra grated cheese, return to the oven until the cheese is bubbling and brown. 

Two for the price of one. You’re welcome.

Celeriac courtesy of thestonesoup.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always used to turn my nose up at menus that included vanilla on savoury dishes. After all, it’s the stuff of nursery puddings, right? Ambrosial rice pudding, voluptuous crème brûlée and smooth, cold ice-cream: that’s what vanilla is for.

And then I tried some vanilla mashed potato served with a simply grilled fillet of white fish, with a delicate cream sauce by Richard Brook at the Manor House Hotel in the Cotswolds and something just clicked. In the right context vanilla as a savoury spice really does work. It’s fruity and aromatic, and actually rather wasted when restricted to just sweets.

And so when I was enlisted to test bacons this week as part of my Best of Three series for Lovefood.com I couldn’t resist trying the vanilla-cured bacon by Heston at Waitrose. While you’ll have to wait for the full results of the taste test, the bacon did inspire me to pair the two ingredients together in cooking. Here are the results. It really is delicious, even if I do say so myself. Let me know what you think.

Celeriac, vanilla and bacon soup
(serves four)

1 tbsp olive oil
2 small white onions
4 rashers of bacon (I used Heston’s vanilla bacon)
1 whole celeriac
2 tsps honey
250ml milk
2 bay leaves
1/2 a vanilla pod
Garam masala (to garnish)

  1. Slice the onions and sweat in the oil until softened and translucent in colour. Snip in the bacon, using scissors, and fry until the bacon starts to caramelise.
  2. Peel and chop the celeriac (use a knife rather than a potato peeler, otherwise you’ll be there all day) and add to the pan, giving a good mix as you go.
  3. Add the honey, and stir, before adding the milk and topping up with water until the celeriac is just covered. Add the bay leaves. Slice a vanilla pod in half (lengthways, reserving one half for your sugar jar or another recipe) and add that, too. Stir thoroughly, add a lid and leave to simmer on a low heat for about 10-15 minutes until the celeriac is tender.
  4. Remove the vanilla pod (wash it and dry it and you can add it to your sugar jar as well) and bay leaves and allow to cool slightly. Blitz until smooth using a hand blender and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Sprinkle over your favourite garam masala mix to serve (I used a rather fruity blend I bought in Zurich last year at the Hiltl vegetarian cookery school). Enjoy!

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Beetroot is one of my favourite ingredients and I owe this recipe to my grampy – who grew some very fine specimens of the root in his accomplished garden right in the Cotswolds. My mum and I always end up with the glut from his garden as no-one else in the family seems that enamoured. Now if we’re talking the pickled stuff I can see why it is disliked – after all, many of the poorly produced supermarket pickled beetroot has no texture and just tastes of vinegar. But the fresh stuff, now that is really special. It’s earthy, sweet, it has a wonderful texture and can be used in everything from soups and salads to cakes and juices. Thanks to my Riverford box I also had an extraordinary amount of carrots this week and so decided to pair the two together in a fresh and crunchy salad. So, here you go. It’s great as a side salad or in the lunchbox, as shown above. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Beetroot, seed and soy-seared pork salad
(serves 2-3) 

1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 handfuls of diced pork (or gammon)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 carrots
2 beetroots
2 tbsp pickled ginger (shredded)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp creme fraiche
2 tsps tahini
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of sunflower seeds
A handful of pumpkin seeds 

1 Add the sunflower oil to a pan and sear your diced pork. When browned on all sides add the soy sauce and honey and fry until you have a sticky sweet glaze and the pork is cooked.

2 Grate the carrots and beetroot (I did mine in a food processor – it’s a messy job otherwise!) and add to a bowl. Pour over the lemon juice, shredded pickled ginger (grated fresh root ginger will work just as well if you can’t find the pickled sushi ginger) and combine.

3 In a separate bowl mix the creme fraiche, tahini and pepper. Pour the dressing over the grated veg and combine. Throw in the seeds and cooked pork and serve.