Wednesday, 31 October 2012

basil, rocket and walnut pesto

A tasty variation on the traditional pesto. Use as you would any other pesto. This one uses much less oil than most but still packs an amazing flavour. These quantities are a very rough guide and make a lot of pesto. I froze half  for future use and still had enough for at least two meals.

2 large bunches of fresh basil
1 packet of wild rocket
2 - 4 cloves of garlic
approx 100g pecorino or parmesan cheese, grated or chopped into small pieces
good quality extra virgin olive oil to taste (I used a quarter cup)
squeeze of lemon juice
cracked black pepper
2 generous handfuls of walnuts (almonds work really well too)

  1. Roughly tear the basil, stems and all and place in the bowl of the food processor along with the rocket, garlic, cheese and walnuts. Start by pulsing everything together and when it starts to break down you can put it on continuously for a few second until you end up with a smoother consistency. It's up to you what consistency you want.
  2. Add the olive oil, lemon juice and black pepper, blitz for another few seconds then check season.
  3. It's now ready to use or freeze.

(sort of) minestrone

This is a 'sort of' version of minestrone based on the ingredients I already had in the house and to use up the small amounts of left over pasta that were taking up space in my food cupboard. My recipe changes all the time but the basic principles remain the same. I'm a great believer in trying to avoid wasting food and saving money so feel free to vary the quantities and types of veg depending on what you like and already have around. Ideally I would have liked to add some celery but this worked out fine without. The pesto addition is non-essential but great if you can do it. It really lifts the dish to something special. You can always use shop-bought but homemade, fresh pesto is without equal in my opinion.


400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 large soup bowl of finely diced vegetables (I used 2 onions, red and green peppers, 2 carrots and a courgette)
2 handfuls of dried pasta, if they are different size break them up so that they are similar sizes - this will help them cook at the same time.
approx 8 large cabbage leaves, sliced
2 handfuls of green beans
Parmesan or pecorino cheese rind (if you have one)
2 tbsp oil
1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock
selection of herbs (I used 2 bay leaves, some dried oregano and asprig of dried rosemary)
salt and pepper to taste

Homemade pesto for serving.

Heat a large saucepan over a medium high heat, add the oil then the bowl of diced vegetables. Cook until soft but not coloured and the onions are translucent. Stir frequently.

Add the tinned tomatoes, herbs and a good sprinkling of black pepper and stir well. Next add the stock, reduce the heat and cook gently for around 30 minutes.

Now add the pasta and cook for a further 10 minutes until it is almost completely cooked then add the cabbage and green beans for another 5 minutes or so. If the soup is quite thick add extra hot water from the kettle until you achieve your desired consistency.

Check seasoning, remove the cheese rind and any whole herbs then serve. This is excellent with a dollop of pesto in the middle. My recipe for basil, rocket and walnut pesto is particularly good.

homemade egg noodles (kluski)

These are great in so many ways; on their, boiled then fried up in a little butter or in goulash or chicken soup or stews or...

1 cup plain flour
1 egg
½ tsp salt

1. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre.
2. Add the egg then mix together with your fingers. Make circular movements gradually adding more flour to the egg in the middle with each movement.
3. Once all the egg is mixed in add the water a little at a time until all the flour is mixed in and you have a firm dough. Take care to not add too much water, but if you do, add a little flour to adjust it.
4. Kneed the dough for a few minutes until it is smooth and pliable the cover and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
5. When ready to use, roll the dough into a long, flatish sausage shape cut off small pieces with a knife and drop directly into the gently simmering water, stock or soup. Cook for about 3-5 minutes until all the noodles are tender and ready to eat. Cooking time will varying depending on the size of your noodle. As a general guide, they are cooked when they float up to the surface of the pan.

chicken stock

It's always useful to have some chicken stock in the house, either in the fridge or the freezer, as it is the base to so many great dishes. If you have the time, energy and ingredients to hand it is well worth making your own stock, there is something quite satisfying about knowing you made every part of a dish. It also means that you can adjust the flavours to your own taste.

I made this chicken stock as I was craving proper homemade chicken soup and stock cubes just don't quite do the job. My sister has posted her version of chicken soup and homemade stock which is well worth a look. Having a Polish heritage it's hardly surprising that chicken soup and soups in general are important to us.

My stock uses chicken wings rather than a whole bird main because they were on offer when I did my shopping. Feel free to substitute the left over carcass from your roast or a whole bird. Using pre-cooked chicken will alter the flavour and colour but still give you a lovely stock. I have found that by using the wings I end up with a proper 'jellied' stock when it's chilled.

2 kg chicken pieces or left over chicken carcass
2 celery sticks, halved
2 carrots, halved
2 onions, halved
bunch of parsley stalks
4 all spice berries
12 black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
  1. Put all the ingredients in a large sauce pan, cover with cold water so everything is just submerged.
  2. Bring the pan to a gentle boil then reduce the heat to as low as you can and there are occasional bubbles appearing then leave, uncovered for at least a couple of hours. The longer and slower you can cook this the more pronounced the flavours will be. Keep an eye on the water level and add additional hot water if the ingredients are popping above the water. 
  3. Once you have finished cooking the stock strain it through a fine sieve and leave to cool, ideally overnight in the fridge. 
  4. The next day a layer of fat should have formed on the top, skim this off (you could use this for making traditional dumplings). You can either use the stock as it is now or gently simmer to reduce and intensify the flavours further.  

goulash & kluski (homemade egg noodles)

If you're looking for something warming and tasty for your dinner this week you really should try out this recipe for goulash. I don't own a slow cooker but I'm sure you could easily make the soup/stew in it and add the noodles just before eating. It is well worth making your own egg noodles to go with this dish. They're really easy and have a lovely light texture that is perfect with the goulash. You could also add these egg noodles to any other soup or stew, they'd be particularly good in a chicken noodle soup (I'll post a recipe soon).

400 g stewing beef cut into bite sized pieces
2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil
3 tbsp Hungarian Paprika (I didn’t have any so put together my own mix of 2 tbsp regular paprika, 1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika plus 1 tsp hot smoked paprika because I like a bit of a kick in my food)
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
2 cloves of garlic, minced, crushed or finely chopped
500ml beef stock
500ml water
1 green pepper, de-seeded and diced
1 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1-2 carrots, peeled and diced
3 medium potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
salt and pepper to taste
Extra 1 tbsp. paprika

1 portion homemade egg noodles

1. Heat a heavy based saucepan over a medium high heat and add 2 tbsp oil. Saute the onions until they are translucent. Add the beef and colour on all sides.
2. Chuck in the paprika, caraway and garlic. Stir thoroughly so all the meat is well covered. The base of your sauce pan might get a bit gunked up at this stage. Don’t panic, just make sure it isn’t burning.
3. Next add the carrots and pepers, give them a good stir then add the tinned, chopped tomatoes. Give everything another good stir and break up the sticky bits from the bottom of the pan with your spoon.
4. Add the beef stock and water and continue to heat until just boiling. Now turn the heat down as low as you can, cover the pan and leave to cook for around an hour until the beef is completely cooked and almost falling apart.
5. Next add the potatoes and continue to simmer until they are soft and cooked through.
6. Season to taste and stir through the extra tbsp. of paprika.
7. You can serve the goulash as it is now with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche and some crusty bread or you can add some homemade egg noodles.

Monday, 29 October 2012

lemon and plum cake

Inspired by my sisters recipe for lemon and poppyseed ciambella and my memories of Babcia's awesome plum cakes, here is my version of a plum and lemon cake. The sweet plum centre goes beautifully with the tartness of the lemon drizzle icing. You could easily substitute the plums for blueberries, cherries or any other seasonal soft fruit. I love the simplicity and versatility of this cake recipe and the fact that it is all measured in cups and you don't need any sort of specialist equipment. The syrup and glaze stages are entirely optional. The cake is lovely and moist without them but it adds another layer of flavour, additional moistness and makes it look pretty.

: If you don't have a bundt tin use what tin you do have, I just really like the ring shape from a bundt tin, it's kind of nostalgic for me. If you use a different shaped tin or make smaller cakes please take care with the cooking time as it may be effected, the aim is slow gentle cooking to avoid burning.

Plum filling:
400g fresh or frozen plums, stoned and halved
1/2 cup caster sugar
NB: If you're feeling lazy you could substitute this stage with a good quality shop bought plum jam,

1 cup soured milk (sour regular milk by adding the juice of a lemon)
1 cup oil
3 eggs
2 cups of caster sugar
3 cups of self raising flour
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp lemon extract (optional)
a little milk if too thick
Pinch salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup icing sugar
approx 2 tbsp lemon juice
  1. Heat the plums and sugar in a saucepan until they start to break down then continue to cook over a medium heat until the mixture reduces to about 1 1/4 cups this will take about 15 minutes. If you want strain the plums trough a sieve to get a finer puree without the skins in. Leave to one side to cool.
  2. Meanwhile grease a bundt tin, and dust it lightly with flour if you are concerned about the cake sticking. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F. 
  3. Place all the cake ingredients in a bowl and beat together using a wooden spoon or electric hand whisk until everything is well combined, if it’s a bit thick add a little extra milk. 
  4. Pour 2/3 of the mixture into the tin, spoon the plum mixture in a ring around the tin taking care to not let it touch the edges, the cover with the remaining cake mix.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes until well risen and a skewer comes out clean.
  6. Turn off the oven, and remove cake. Leave it to cool in the tin while you prepare the syrup by heating the ingredients together until the sugar has completely dissolved into the lemon juice.
  7. With a skewer poke holes all over the cake and while the cake and syrup are still warm pour the syrup over the cake. Leave the cake to cool completely in the tin.
  8. Once the cake has cooled mix together the glaze ingredients until smooth. Turn the cake out on to a plate and drizzle with the lemon icing. If you're feeling fancy decorate with a little lemon zest or seasonal berries. 

super easy pumpkin soup

I know I say this about a lot of my recipes but I really do love this one. It is stupendously easy, even after a crazy busy day at work I can bring myself to make this when I get home. It is very low calorie, pretty much fat free if you don't use oil for the roasting or for garnishing and surprisingly creamy for a dairy free soup. Sometimes I will vary this recipe by roasting the pumpkin with a couple of tablespoons of ras al hanout or cumin powder and chilli flakes, or I might add in some whole garlic and rosemary for something completely different a current favourite is to add a little creamed coconut and thai green or red curry paste when I blend it. There really is no end to what you can do with this awesome, simple recipe. The version in these pictures is topped with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and some smoked chilli and garlic oil.

Makes enough for 2-3 people

1 butternut squash, acorn squash or similar sized amount of pumpkin (approx 1kg unpeeled)
Oil spray (optional)
1 or 2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes (to taste)
c.500ml just boiled water
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C fan. Cut the pumpkin/squash in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.
  2. Spray the pumpkin flesh with a little oil if using, season with salt and pepper and any other seasonings you are using. Place the pumpkin cut side down in a roasting pan then put in the oven for around 45 minutes or until cooked. I usually check after 30 minutes. You will know the pumpkin is ready when you can easily insert a knife and the skin is coming away from the flesh.
  3. Once the flesh is cooked, boil the kettle then scoop the pumpkin flesh into a food processor.  Add the stock cubes and blitz it all together until you have a smooth puree and everything is combined. While the food processor is still running slowly and carefully add the just boiled water until your soup reaches your desired consistency. I usually use around 500ml.
  4. You can either pour this straight into bowls from the food processor or transfer it to a saucepan and keep warm until you are ready to eat. I'm sure this soup would keep well in the fridge for a few days however I've never tried as it always disappears in one sitting in my house.


Optional Extras To make your soup more special why not try one or more of these optional extras. There's also nothing wrong with a chunk of crusty, buttered bread with this soup either, in fact you're missing out if you don't!
  1. Drizzle with some smoked chilli and garlic oil such as this one from L'ail Olive with which I am currently obsessed. It's glorious.
  2. Sage leaves gently fried in a little butter.
  3. Crumbled feta/riccotta/cottage cheese with or without some chilli flakes.
  4. Crumbled blue cheese.
  5. Crispy fried bacon or pancetta.
  6. Poached, shredded chicken.
  7. Roasted pumpkin seeds.
  8. Crispy fried onions.
  9. Chunks of roasted squash.
  10. Harissa paste swirl.
Let me know if you've got any other ideas for favourite pumpkin soup additions - I'm always looking for new inspirations.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

chorizo, mascarpone and tomato pasta sauce

A tasty, kitchen cupboard meal. These ingredients are usually knocking around in my kitchen or there will be something that I can substitute. To make a vegetarian version of this dish at stage one, saute a finely diced onion in some olive oil, add a tablespoon of hot smoked paprika and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic then continue on with the rest of the recipe. You can either keep the sauce chunky or put it through a food processor before mixing with the pasta.

Serves 2-3
200g cooking chorizo
400g tinned tomatoes or passata
2 tbsp mascarpone cheese or creme fraiche or similar
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
sprinkle of dried chilli flakes (optional)
salt & pepper
200g dried pasta. I used pappardelle.

  1. Heat a wide frying pan over a medium heat, squidge the sausage meat or of their casings directly into the pan so that you've got bite-sized pieces. Cook for around 3-4 minutes until crispy and golden and the spicy paprika oils have been released. Don't move around too much unless you want to it break down into much smaller pieces. You can drain the oil off if you wish but it seems a shame to loose so much of the flavour.
  2. Add the fennel and chilli flakes and sizzle for a minute. 
  3. Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer the ingredients together for about 5 minutes before you put the pasta on, it should be starting to reduce by this stage. If the tomatoes are whole you will need to break them up a bit with the back of your spoon.
  4. Cook your chosen pasta according to the packet instructions, mine took around 10 minutes.
  5. The tomato sauce is ready once it is no longer watery and has thickened up and is glistening with little pools of oil. Season to taste.
  6. When the pasta is nearly ready stir the mascarpone into the tomato sauce and mix thoroughly. 
  7. Once cooked, add in the pasta. If the sauce is too thick for your taste, add a little of the cooking water to thin it out.  Serve and enjoy.


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