Ottolenghi’s Shakshuka

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So we invested in a real, grown up dining table. I am getting so old getting excited about a table runner and reduced plate mats – there is no hope left. However, this did mean – my first dinner party! Even more exciting! (Told you I was old). My parents and my brother and his girlfriend joined James and I for my very first attempt at Shakshuka!

What is shakshuka then? Sounds like a noise rather than a word – but Yotam Ottolenghi‘s book Plenty (filled with delicious recipes) tells me it’s a North African dish with many variations, but nearly all will include a peppers/onions/tomatoes mixture with baked in eggs on top. It is ideal for brunch (I took that with a pinch of salt), and can be served in individual pans (who has 6, or even 4, individual pans?) or in one large pan. I clearly didn’t follow this too closely, but I feel like that’s pretty ok with this kind of dish. It is a mishmash of whatever you have, served whenever and however you want!

I cooked mine up in 2 pans so there was an egg for everyone, with a salad, some perfect roast potatoes (coming to the blog soon!), garlic bread and some feta to crumble over the Shakshuka. It wasn’t very expensive, like some Ottolenghi recipes can be, fairly easy as you can prepare the tomato mix well in advance, and went down an absolute treat.

Plenty is filled with amazing recipes, so it’s safe to say Ottolenghi’s new book Plenty More is in my shopping basket!

Serves 4 generously

Ingredients 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

180ml light olive or vegetable oil

2 large onions, sliced

2 red and 2 yellow peppers, cut into 2cm strips

4 tsp muscovado sugar

2 bay leaves

6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and chopped

2 tbsp chopped parsley

2 tbsp chopped coriander, plus extra to garnish

6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 tsp saffron threads

pinch of cayenne pepper

up to 250ml water

8 free-range eggs

salt and black pepper

Recipe

In a very large pan dry-roast the cumin seeds on a high head for 2 minutes. Add the oil and onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, sugar and herbs and continue cooking on a high head for 5-10 minutes to get a nice colour.

Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne and some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. During the cooking keep adding water so that the mix has a pasta sauce consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavoursome. (You can prepare this mix well in advance).

Remove the bay leaves, then divide the mix among 4 deep frying pans, each large enough to take a generous individual portion. (I used two large frying pans). Place on a medium heat to warm up, then make two gaps in the pepper mix in each pan and carefully break an egg into each. Sprinkle with salt and cover the pans with lids. Cook on a very (!) gentle head for 10-12 minutes, or until the eggs are just set. Sprinkle with coriander and serve.

TIPS

Some add preserved lemons, feta or different herbs and spices. This can easily be readjusted to suit your needs – and eaten at any time of day or night!

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An Ode to Cavatappi

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Pasta. I would have it for every meal and be perfectly okay with that. Covered with a simple tin of tuna or a fancy sauce, I’m not too fussy. I had a major love affair with ravioli in my early student years – I think it’s all I ate for the first 3 weeks I moved out. However, now it’s nearly always dried penne or fusilli, for conveniences sake.

BUT. After being carb free for 8 weeks before my holiday (torturous) – I realised how much I missed plain and simple fresh egg pasta, and fresh pesto.

Short of being inspired to make my own pasta shapes (nearly, but not quite enough), I popped to ASDA and found a bag of Cavatappi fresh pasta, which inspired me to make a delicious pasta bake with roasted veggies. I can’t take all the credit for this one, it was primarily my mum’s concoction that I happily wolfed down – but I can’t stop thinking about the difference the pasta shape made! It meant it went all crunchy with the cheesy layer on the top where it had been in a little too long – just made it even better – and the cheesy spirals went perfect with the roasted mushrooms and courgettes. Who’d have thought it!? Anyway, there is another bag in my fridge ready for some more cavatappi goodness.

Quick recipe!

1. Roast any veggies you want to include – we had mushrooms, courgettes and tomatoes. Throw the tomatoes in for the last 5 mins so they don’t lose their shape too much!! 

2. Cook the pasta according to instructions on the packet (use fresh pasta if possible!).

3. Mix it all together and stir through some spinach and grated cheese. We used mozzarella and smoked cheddar.

4. Put it into a baking dish and sprinkle some more cheese on top! We had parmesan and some more smoked cheddar on top! 

5. Bake for 10mins or so, just until the cheese melts and it all goes delicious and gooey.

6. Devour. 

Mushroom & Spinach Quesadillas with Sour Cream & Chive Dip

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Quesadillas – they have confused me for a while. They look delicious, but after trying and failing to make them on my George Forman years ago (what was I thinking?), I gave up. However, after a visit to Lucha Libre Liverpool and ordering the Mushroom and Spinach quesadillas – I fell in love with them all over again – they’re just like an inside out pizza! (You have to visit Lucha Libre ASAP by the way – Mexican food done right!) I needed to recreate them so found SORTED Food’s video of their sweet potato and blue cheese quesadillas – I will be trying them ASAP but James doesn’t share my love of blue cheese so that’ll have to be saved for cooking for one! These were delicious with the sour cream and chive dip I got from the boys at SORTED, and served up with my discovery of Pico de Gallo I talked about here. I made enough for 2 of us for a main and they went down a treat, with some leftovers for the next day too!

INGREDIENTS

Quesadillas

Chestnut mushrooms

Bag of washed spinach

100g cheddar cheese

6 flour tortillas

Sesame oil to fry

 

Sour Cream & Chive dip

200ml sour cream

Half a bunch of chives

Lemon

Salt

RECIPE

  1. I made the dip first, as the quesadillas are so quick to make! Chop up the chives quite finely, and combine in a bowl with the sour cream. Squeeze half a lemon juice in there, and sprinkle some extra chives on top! Easy.
  2. Next, I sliced the mushrooms and fried them on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until just cooked through. Then I threw in the spinach to wilt down at the last second. Once cooked I put the mixture to one side to begin to assemble!
  3. I grated the cheese up and tried to use it as a glue to hold it all together! I lay out 3 tortillas, and sprinkled a layer of cheddar over each. Then I spooned the mixture between the three tortillas. I sprinkled another layer of cheddar to hold the lid on, and then I placed the last 3 tortillas over the tops. Done!
  4. Now to fry them! I put some more oil in a medium to high pan, and placed one of the filled quesadillas in to cook. It doesn’t take long! When the bottom was crispy I flipped it over (with difficulty – some mushrooms did escape!) and cooked the other side through.
  5. When they were done I transferred it over to a board where I cut into sixths, which seemed a nice size. Cook up the last two, slice them up and serve! Eat immediately (not that you need telling!).

Beautiful Pico De Gallo

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Pico De Gallo – what?! It is basically a fresh tomato salsa with no tinned tomatoes in sight – beautiful. I love tomatoes – especially at this time of year – so this was a no brainer for me. I found this recipe on The Kitchn who explains pico de gallo perfectly, so I wont try and compete! I served this up with some mushroom and spinach quesadillas and sour cream and chive dip and it got wolfed down! There was some leftover, but it was even more delicious the next day! The juices had all soaked into each other and tasted incredible. I finished it with some stuffed peppers and salad the next day, but you could put this with almost anything.

Ingredients

1/4 whole white onion

1 garlic clove


1 lime


1/2 teaspoon salt


1 jalopeno pepper

4 to 6 plum tomatoes

About 1/2 bunch coriander 

Recipe

  1. Finely chop the onion and place it in a small bowl.  Using a microplane, grate the garlic into the bowl.
  2. Marinate the onion and garlic in lime juice. Cut the lime in half and juice half of it.  You should have about 2 tablespoons.  Add the salt and the lime juice to the garlic and onions, stir, and set aside for a few minutes while chopping the other ingredients.
  3. Chop the jalapeno. Slice the pepper in half and nick off a small piece of the membrane or seed, and taste for heat.  If the pepper isn’t too hot, finely mince it. If it is very hot, remove the seeds and membrane from one or both halves, and then mince.  You should have about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of pepper.  Add to the onions.
  4. Chop the tomatoes and coriander:  Chop the tomatoes into medium chunks and add to the bowl.  Roughly chop the cilantro and add to the bowl.  Stir gently to combine.
  5. Adjust seasonings! Taste the pico de gallo.  If needed, add more salt, more cilantro, or more lime juice from the remaining half of the lime.

Tips

Let it rest! Give it a few hours to marinate together and it will be perfect! 

*Apologies for the lack of decent photo – I was clearly too hungry to think clearly! These are the quesadillas I made with them that you can find here!

 

Mary Berry’s Ultimate Victoria Sponge 60th Birthday Cake Extravaganza!

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I love a Victoria Sponge. Who doesn’t? Memories of Aunty Joan’s Victoria Sponge on a Sunday after the roast dinner filled my childhood. However, after trying to make one and burning it slightly, I got a cob on and haven’t dared try again! Until my Dad’s 60th. He’s gone fussy in his old age (he will tell you otherwise) and doesn’t like chocolate cake (although loves Dairy Milk), pasta in a creamy sauce or, God forbid – coffee in a glass. But he still loves a Victoria Sponge.

In the hunt for a recipe I returned to my Mary Berry’s Baking Bible after the Bread and Butter Pudding went down so well. Mum and I sneakily baked this Mary Berry delight in hiding in my flat, and snuck it back home for the full surprise effect! It was so bloody easy as well! Once cooled we sandwiched it together with strawberry jam and a ridiculous amount of cream that made the cake resemble a spaceship, and sifted icing sugar over my arts and crafts style 6 and 0 templates, and ta-dah! The perfect, humongous 60th birthday cake. I’m just left craving the next one – lucky for me, it’s Mum’s birthday soon..

Ingredients

For the cake

225g (8oz) softened butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 large eggs

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

2 level teaspoons baking powder

For the filling and topping

4 tablespoon strawberry jam or raspberry jam

Icing sugar for sprinkling

(We added double cream whipped up, and fresh strawberries!)

Recipe

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C/Gas4. Grease two 20cm (8inch) sandwich tins then line the base of each tin with baking parchment.

2. Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and baking powder into a large bowl and beat until thoroughly blended. Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and level out.

3. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes or until well risen and the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly pressed with a finger. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.

4. When completely cold, sandwich the cakes together with the jam. Whisk the double cream until it holds stiff peaks and layer on (there will be a lot!). Try and spread it so it is in a thicker layer around the edge to make it flat for the second layer. Slice up fresh strawberries and push them into the cream. Sandwich the second cake on top and sprinkle icing sugar over the top to serve!

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TIPS

– Add fresh strawberries and double cream whisked!

– Get creative and cut out a stencil for your celebration, and include something to pick it up with easily!

– Enjoy!

Jamie’s 15 Minute (5 minutes) Smokey Baked Beans

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Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart! The more you eat, the more you fart! Well, I’m not owning up to anything here, but I will tell you I love these quick baked beans! Jamie Oliver again – 15 minute meals this time – and swiped from a Cajun Steak recipe I can’t say I’ve tried yet. I think I saw these on the programme he filmed for Channel 4, and they have fast become a BBQ favourite. So quick it’s ridiculous, and uses most things you have in your cupboard – love these types of recipes. Serve them up with some salad, burgers, sausages, halloumi and sangria and have a feast!! Perfect for bank holidays!

Ingredients

2 x 400g tins of mixed beans

350g passata

2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

2 tablespoons HP brown sauce

1 heaped teaspoon English mustard

1 teaspoon tabasco

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon runny honey

40g grated cheddar cheese

Recipe

1. Drain and rinse the beans and start frying them for a couple of minutes on a medium heat. This will crispen the outsides up.

2. Next, add the rest of the ingredients except for the cheddar, mix well and bring to the boil.

3. Grate over the cheddar cheese and put in the oven at 200°C until golden and bubbling!

4. Serve and enjoy!

Tips

Make more! These are delicious the next day, hot or cold, so I will make extra and use as a side dish.

How to Plan A Treasure Hunt: Top Tips

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WHAT I DID

After planning a birthday treasure hunt for James when I was going away the day of his birthday, I wanted to share how I did it! It took a LOT of planning, but I wanted to leave him with something to do while I was gone. It started in the car as he was driving me to the airport – he got to open the first clue! It directed him back home for a few clues around the flat, and then on to pick his mates up who each had a clue! The last one directed him to the main event – it ended with a big box filled with edible goodies (lots of fizzy sweets, mint Aero and flumps) and an ASDA Click & Collect order, which he had to go and collect – it was filled with beer, bacon and ham.. lots of ham. It was very food related, but that was always going to happen!

TIPS

  1. Plan, plan, and plan some more! I honestly made a table. I would have got totally mixed up with what clue was meant to go where and who got what! I wrote the order numbers on the backs of the clues and wrote where that clue was meant to be. Much easier.
  2. Use the internet!! I can’t rhyme for toffee so Rhyme Zone was a lifesaver. I also created a special QR code with this QR code generator, and reversed text so that he needed a mirror to read the clue with on this website! For the QR code, I downloaded a scanner app on his phone, clicked on plain text creator and printed it out! Easy peasy! I also created a Rebus clue (?!) which is basically pictures and letters using this site – I loved this one though! It might have been my favourite! Basically, use all the technology!!
  3. Go big or go home – Take it outside your house! In the garden, in the car, hidden locations, work, with friends, at favourite restaurants, etc., etc.! The possibilities are endless! Go far and wide!
  4. Hide your history! I used Google Chrome’s sneaky Incognito mode. Genius.
  5. Personalise it! It definitely makes it 100% better if you get some personal jokes in there, things that will make them smile and shows how much effort you’ve put in!! Include their favourite foods, favourite places and don’t just print out the first thing you find online! Not worth it.
  6. Get your Art Attack on! Go buy a Pritt-Stick (I actually didn’t have one), some card and Crayola’s and go to town! Cutting and sticking makes it all the more fun to find, and it takes you back to your primary school days!
  7. Where is it all going? What will it end with!? Don’t let it be an anticlimax! It doesn’t have to cost a bomb but make it just as exciting as the clues themselves!
  8. Photos! Film, video, photograph the whole event!! It will be so nice to look back on – I only wish I could have had it filmed so I could have seen his reactions!
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The prize!