AUBERGINES WITH SAFFRON YOGHURT & TOMATO SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE MOLASSES

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I have been a fan of Sabrina Ghayour’s cooking for a while now. I first went to the supperclub she hosts from her living room over a year ago, which you can read about here. Since then I think I’ve been on 4 other occasions, mainly because I kept raving about her cooking to my friends. Sabrina’s cooking has not gone unnoticed by publishers and she has her very first book, Persiana, coming out next month which you can pre-order here.

Persiana

Last weekend, the Observer featured a taster of Sabrina’s recipes from her book, you can see the recipes here. Luckily I had most of the ingredients for two of the recipes in my kitchen so I set about making them straight away.

GRIDDLED AUBERGINES WITH SAFFRON YOGHURT (Serves 4)
aubergines 2 large or 3 small, cut into 1cm-thick slices
olive oil for brushing
saffron threads 2 good pinches, ground with a pestle and mortar
boiling water 2 tbsp
Greek yogurt 250ml
garlic oil 2 tbsp
sea salt
flat-leaf parsley 20g packet, leaves picked and roughly chopped
red pickled chillies 8, thinly sliced
nigella seeds 1 tsp

As I was just making this for myself, I obviously reduced the ingredients, using just one aubergine.

Preheat a griddle pan over a medium-high heat. Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil on one side and chargrill for about 6‑8 minutes on each side, brushing the reverse side with more oil as you turn them over, until the texture softens and they are cooked through with nice griddle marks. Set aside.

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Using a pestle and mortar, grind the saffron to a powder, then pour over the boiling water and leave to infuse for at least 15 minutes. Once done, put the cooled saffron water into the yoghurt along with the garlic oil and a generous seasoning of sea salt and mix well. If you want to slacken the yoghurt mixture, stir in up to 5 tbsp of water.

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Arrange the aubergine slices on a platter, drizzle liberally with the saffron yoghurt, scatter with the parsley and top with the pickled chillies. Sprinkle on the nigella seeds and serve.

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TOMATO SALAD W POMEGRANATE MOLASSES (Serves 6 as a side dish)
tomatoes 600g
Turkish long peppers 2 green, cut into thin rings, or 1 green pepper, thinly sliced lengthways
large red onion 1, cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons
sumac 2 tsp, plus a little extra to garnish
pomegranate molasses 4 tbsp
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
walnut pieces 100g, to garnish

If using large tomatoes, chop them into rough 2cm cubes, or, if using cherry or baby plum tomatoes, simply halve them. There is no science or precision to making this salad – you just chop the tomatoes as you like.

Arrange the tomatoes, pepper rings or strips and onion on a flat serving plate.

In another bowl combine the sumac, pomegranate molasses, crushed sea salt to taste and a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and give the ingredients a good mix.

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Drizzle the dressing evenly over the salad. Garnish with the walnuts and a little sprinkling of sumac and serve.

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These dishes are so quick and easy to make, it almost feels like you’re cheating. I have a slight aubergine obsession at the best of times but I have never even considered pairing griddled aubergines with a saffron yoghurt before and yet it tastes terrific. And tomatoes, well, I eat a punnet of cherry tomatoes every day and yet I have never thought to have them with pomegranate molasses and yet it really works. The molasses makes them ‘pop’. I will definitely be making these dishes again, and I can’t wait for my copy of Persiana to land at my front door so I can make more of Sabrina’s dishes.

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PERSIAN SAFFRON & MINT CHICKEN WITH SPRING COUSCOUS

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I have been eagerly awaiting Diana Henry‘s new cook book, A Change Of Appetite and last week I finally got my hands on it. I was not disappointed, its a beautiful book. In the introduction Diana explains the background to the book and says, ‘the main thing you can do for good health is to eat proper home-cooked food, limit anything processed, really keep an eye on refined carbohydrates (especially sugar), switch to whole grains for at least some meals and up your vegetable intake.’ Its common sense and we all know what we should be eating more and less of, but its much easier said than done. This book is packed full of healthy, nutritious recipes that look and sound delicious.

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The recipes are listed by seasons, and its been lovely to be able to run my eyes down the list of Spring recipes now that the sun has come out and I fancy eating something lighter. This recipe for Persian saffron & mint chicken with Spring couscous in particular jumped out at me and pleaded to be made immediately.  I had most of the ingredients at home so just needed to get some dried sour cherries, and some extra lemons and I was ready to go!

The ingredients below are taken directly from the recipe in the book, which serves 4 people. As I live on my own, (and I only had 3 chicken thighs in my fridge) I halved the amounts so it was enough for me to have for dinner and then again the next day for lunch.

INGREDIENTS
For the chicken
about 1/4 tsp saffrom stamens
juice of 2 lemons and finely grated zest of 1
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 red chillis, deseeded and roughly chopped (if, like me, you don’t like chilli, you can just omit this)
2tbsp olive oil
leaves from 1 small bunch of mint
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs

For the couscous
20g (3/4oz) dried sour cherries
200f (7oz) wholemeal couscous
200ml (7fl oz) boiling chicken stock or water
2tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon and finely grated zest of 1
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tbsp each chopped flat-eaf parsley and mint leaves
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
25g (10z) pistachios, choppped
handful of pea shoots (or other small salad leaves)

For the yoghurt sauce
200g (7oz) Greek yoghurt
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, grated
microleaves, such as amaranth, or 3 radishes, julienned

I began by weighing everything up and laying it out in advance. It just makes the kitchen a little more organised whilst cooking.

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For the chicken, put the saffron and lemon juice in a small pan, heat gently and stir to help the saffron stamens dissolve.

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Remove from the heat and mix with the lemon zest, garlic, chillies and olive oil. Tear the mint leaves into the pan.

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Put the chicken thighs into a large dish (I was only making half the amount so I just used a small one) and pour the marinade over.

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Turn the over to make sure they get completely coated, then cover with cling film/plastic wrap and put in the fridge to marinate. Leave for about 30 minutes. (Alternatively you could just pop the chicken into a freezer bag and pour the marinade over the top to make sure its fully coated. Then pop the bag in the fridge).

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At the same time, pour boiling water over the cherries for the couscous and leave them to plump up or 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the couscous into a bowl, pour over the stock or the water, and the olive oil. Leave for 15 minutes. Fork it through to separate the grains, then add the garlic, lemon juice and zest, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir in the herbs, spring onions, pistachios, pea shoots and drained cherries.

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To make the yoghurt sauce, mix the yoghurt with the extra virgin olive oil and garlic, and place in a serving dish. Sprinkle with the microleaves or radish matchsticks on top.

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Heat a griddle pan until it is really hot. Lift the chicken out of the marinade and griddle it (you will have to do it in two batches if your pan is small), turning frequently.

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You want to get a good dark golden colour on each side.  Make sure the chicken is cooked (cut into the underside to check: the juices should run clear with no trace of pink).

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Serve it with the couscous and yoghurt sauce.

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I am so glad I tried out this dish. It tasted wonderful. The chicken was charred beautifully yet moist and tender and oh so tasty. It was perfect with the couscous which was the best tasting couscous I’ve ever had. I’m not a huge fan of couscous normally but this recipe has changed my mind. The sweetness coming from the cherries, the freshness from the mint, the crunch of the pistachios, it was absolutely delicious. And the yoghurt on the side cut through it all. It is a really stunning dish. And it tasted even better the next day when I had the rest for lunch.

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MY NEW OBSESSION…

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A couple of weeks ago I discovered Portlebay popcorn. I was at an event in central London and there was a pack in each goody bag. I was lucky enough to have a packet of crispy bacon & maple syrup in my bag and from that moment on I was hooked!

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I’m normally not fussed about popcorn, I can take it or leave it. However, these taste amazing. First you get the salty smokiness coming from the bacon and then a subtle sweetness comes through from the maple syrup. Its an intoxicating combination and one I haven’t been able to stop eating since. Seriously, as soon as I see that orange bag, my mouth starts watering and my tummy starts rumbling.

I tweeted that I loved them and the very lovely people at Portlebay kindly contacted me and offered to send me their other flavours so I could try the whole selection. And what a selection it is…Sweet and Salty Kracklecorn, Wasabi & Sweet Ginger, Orchard Wood Smoked Cheddar, Chilli and Lime and of course, Crispy Bacon & Maple Syrup.

The bacon and maple syrup remains my favourite but I also love the sweet & salty kracklecorn just for simplicity.  I normally hate wasabi but the wasabi & sweet ginger were actually really tasty. I wasn’t so keen on the chilli and lime but that’s mainly because I hate chilli in general. The wood smoked cheddar were really beautifully smoky. I would happily eat any of these flavours but I feel an addiction coming on with the bacon and maple syrup ones.

In fact, I was talking to my friend Cristian, who lives in Mallorca, the other day about them. He didn’t think he’d like them as he’s not keen on maple syrup so I posted two packets of them to his office in Palma. This morning I got a phone call from him telling me how much he loved them and wants me to send over more!

Unfortunately he’s not able to buy them in Mallorca but if you live in the UK and you fancy trying these out, you can buy Portlebay popcorn in Tesco, Booths, various specialist food stores around the country (find out where here) and also on Amazon. I’m starting to think I might have to start bulk-buying through Amazon soon…

Follow Portlebay on Twitter for updates.

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CHOCOLATE ORANGE HOT CROSS BUNS

Chocolate Orange Hot Cross Buns

Easter is fast approaching and I do love a holiday that is heavily based around food, especially when that food is cake and chocolate. Hot cross buns are synonymous with Easter but I must admit I have never eaten one. I don’t like dried fruits so a spiced bun full of dried fruit and peel does nothing for me. I wanted to make hot cross buns that I would want to eat so I decided to replace the dried fruits with chocolate and for the spice aspect I thought cinnamon would be nice, with a touch of nutmeg. Then, seeing as I love Chocolate Orange, I thought I could add some Chocolate Orange chunks and a little orange zest to make Chocolate Orange Hot Cross Buns. And finish off with some white chocolate crosses to make them look like traditional hot cross buns.

I looked online for a recipe but nothing jumped out at me. Then I came across this recipe for Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Hot Cross Buns by Not Quite Nigella, a food blogger and writer based in Sydney. Her recipe looked very straightforward so I took the basic elements of that and then adapted it into what I was looking to make. Luckily, it turned out really well. The buns were soft and light with just the right hint of spice and orange through them, and of course, the chocolate gave it the wow factor.

INGREDIENTS  *this recipe makes 8 large buns or 12 medium sized buns*
For the buns
2 x 7g sachets instant dry yeast
300g plain flour, sifted
175ml lukewarm milk
50g caster sugar
25g butter, melted
1 medium egg, beaten
1 pinch salt
100g chocolate chips (milk or dark, whatever your preference)
40g bar of Chocolate Orange (or more if you prefer)
zest of 1 small orange
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg (fresh)

For the glaze
25g caster sugar
2 tbsp hot water

For the crosses
50g white chocolate

In a small bowl, combine the lukewarm milk, caster sugar and dry yeast then set aside for 15 minutes. It should become frothy and increase in volume.

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If you have a mixer with a dough hook, place the flour, salt, cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg in the bowl of your mixer. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the melted butter, lightly beaten egg and frothy yeast mixture, as well as half the chocolate chips.

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Turn the mixer on low and knead for about 5 minutes. If you don’t have a mixer or a dough hook, just place the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix with your hands until you have a soft, sticky dough.

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Place the mixture in the largest mixing bowl you have and cover with lightly oiled cling film.

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Set aside in a warm place for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

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Once the dough has risen, knock it back (knock the air out of it) add the Chocolate Orange chips and the orange zest and mix lightly until everything is incorporated.

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Divide the dough evenly into 8 balls and place them close together on a baking tray, lined with parchment/greaseproof paper. (When I did these ones I didn’t realise how much bigger they would get and ended up with huge buns! I’ve since made them again and made them smaller and got 12 buns out of the mixture.)

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Cover the hot cross buns with cling film and set aside somewhere warm to rise for 20 minutes. At this time, preheat your oven to 200C/180C fan/400F/Gas 6.

After 20 minutes you will notice your buns have increased in size.

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Remove the cling film, place the baking tray in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the buns are golden brown and fragrant.

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You now want to make the glaze so dissolve the sugar in the hot water and brush the hot buns with a few coats of the glaze.

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To make the crosses, melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan filled with a couple of inches of barely simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Keep the heat at its lowest, allowing the chocolate to melt slowly. (White chocolate is different to plain and milk chocolate as it contains no cocoa solids. It is therefore much more likely to ‘sieze’ and turn lumpy or grainy when melting. It also scorches very easily, so keep an eye on it).  Alternatively you could microwave it in short bursts, stirring in between.

Once melted, put the chocolate into a piping bag and pipe crosses across the chocolate chip buns. (As you can see, I’m not great at piping, I’m sure yours could look a bit neater and straighter than mine!)

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And there you have it…chocolate orange hot cross buns! I was really pleased with how these turned out and I will definitely be making them again over the Easter weekend when I’m back at home with my family. They are delicious out of the oven. The bun itself is sweet, with a lovely background taste of cinnamon and orange, the chocolate chunks are melting inside, they are lovely.

I took some into my office for my colleagues to try and they worked really well the next day, toasted. I think the next time I would use the same measurements but make the buns half the size as they are pretty big at the current size. But its whatever you prefer obviously.

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I really hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

Happy Easter!

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MAPLE MERINGUE CRUNCH CAKES

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At the beginning of every month, I look forward to my copy of Delicious Magazine arriving on my doorstep. Its always packed with fantastic, easy to follow recipes and this month was no exception. As I read it on the tube the other day, I earmarked loads of pages containing recipes I wanted to try out. This one was top of my list. As I scanned through the list of ingredients I realised I had everything I needed in my kitchen. Result!

This is a great recipe. Its really easy to make and the cakes taste so delicious. In fact, the sponge itself is so good, it actually doesn’t need the frosting on top. I would easily make this into a loaf and eat it on its own. But yes, frosting is always good too.

Ingredients    *this recipe makes 12 cupcakes*
For the sponge
150g/5.3oz unsalted butter, softened
120g/4.2 oz soft light brown sugar
4 large free-range eggs, beaten
Zest 1 orange and 1 lemon
150g/5.3oz self-raising flour
125g/4.4oz ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp maple syrup, plus extra for drizzling

For the meringue crunch
100g/3.5oz pecans
1 large free-range egg white
2 tbsp icing sugar

For the cream cheese frosting
300g/10.6oz full-fat cream cheese (I used Philadelphia)
100g/3.5oz icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 170°C/fan 150°C/gas 3½. Line a cupcake baking tin with cupcake cases.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and soft light brown sugar with an electric hand mixer until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the 4 eggs, bit by bit, beating well after each addition. Don’t worry if the mixture curdles – it will come back together when you add the flour.

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Stir through the orange and lemon zests, then fold through the flour, ground almonds, baking powder, the 3 tbsp maple syrup and a good pinch of salt.

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Divide the mixture evenly among the cupcake cases. I use an ice cream scoop for this as it means every cupcake is the same size.

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Bake for 30-35 minutes until risen and golden on top, and a skewer pushed into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.

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Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Turn the oven down to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2.  While the cakes are cooling, make the meringue crunch. Spread out the pecans on a baking sheet, then toast in the oven for 10 minutes or until golden (make sure they don’t burn). Remove, then set aside to cool completely.

Line another baking sheet with baking paper. Whisk the egg white in a clean mixing bowl until stiff, then add the 2 tbsp icing sugar, a tablespoon at a time, whisking between additions until stiff. (You can use a balloon whisk for this, if you like, as it doesn’t require that much effort.)

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Stir through the cooled pecans, then spread the mixture thinly over the prepared baking sheet. (With hindsight I should have chopped the pecans before mixing them through the egg white mixture.)

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Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden and crisp, then remove and leave to cool.

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Once cool, break the meringue into small pieces and set aside.

To make the frosting, whisk the cream cheese with the 100g icing sugar in a bowl until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Stir through the maple syrup and vanilla extract.

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To assemble, spread a layer of frosting over each cake, then scatter with the meringue crunch topping. Drizzle a little more maple syrup over the top so it runs down the side, then serve.

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These really do taste delicious. The sponge is light and fluffy and packed full of flavour. I always find ground almonds make for a lighter, tastier, more moist sponge. And the addition of the citus zest takes it to another level.  On its own, this sponge is fantastic.  Add the cream cheese frosting and the meringue and toasted pecan crunch and you have a rather wonderful cupcake.

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Enjoy!

TIPS:

The meringue crunch will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

The un-iced cakes can be frozen, well wrapped in baking paper and cling film, for up to 3 months. Defrost completely before assembling.

If the cakes are likely to sit for a while on the tea table, use Lyle’s Golden Syrup Maple Flavour to drizzle over instead of maple syrup – it’s thicker and will stay in place for longer.

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CHORIZO JAM

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A few days ago I was perusing the shelves in Waitrose and spotted something I hadn’t seen before…chorizo jam, from Eat 17.

Famous for their bacon jam, I hadn’t realised Eat 17 have a full range of jams…chilli bacon jam, onion jam, bacon jammier and of course, chorizo jam.  Now as you may have noticed if you regularly read my blog or my Twitter feed, I am obsessed with chorizo. I add it to as many things as I possibly can, so when I saw this chorizo jam, I didn’t hesitate to pop it into my basket.

I decided to get a nice cheese to eat it with so headed to the cheese counter where the assistant recommended Wookey Hole cheddar, an award winning cheddar from Dorset.

I practically skipped home, eager to try them out.

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The chorizo jam tastes amazing…smoky and sweet, with a kick of heat at the end. Its more of a relish I guess, than a jam. The main components in this jar are onions, chorizo, sugar,  balsamic vinegar, garlic, tomato puree, herbs and seasoning.

When I took it into the office, my colleagues loved it. With one going to Waitrose at lunchtime to buy a jar for herself!

Its incredible just with cheese but it would be great on grilled cheese, spread on a sandwich or added to a burger. You could warm it through and serve it with scallops. You could stir it through macaroni cheese, or an omelette, you could add a dollop of it to soup. The possibilities are endless.

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If you love chorizo or even if you just enjoy a good relish, please try this out. You can buy Eat 17′s chorizo jam, as well as their other savoury jams, at all Waitrose stores. One 110g jar will cost £3.49.

You can read more about Eat 17 here.

 

 

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MY GLUTTONOUS WEEKEND

This weekend I went to stay with my very good friends Claire and Joe in their stunning farm house in Brill, Oxfordshire. Not only did I get to meet their beautiful baby Benji, but they also cooked up a storm!

Last night we had slow cooked pork ribs (loin and belly) which took 6 hours cooking at 140C, with corn on the cob, chips and homemade coleslaw.

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This was followed by chocolate bread and butter pudding served with salted caramel ice cream. Absolutely amazing.

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And yes, I needed to lie down afterwards!

This morning, after the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages (perhaps due to the silence of the countryside), I woke up to the most beautiful view of the countryside.

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For breakfast, Joe had Nigel Slater’s breakfast hash on the go.

Skinned sausages broken up and fried in pan with oil and butter. Once browned, add sliced onion and cook until soft, then add grated potato and season. Once everything is cooked through, make little dents in the sausage mix and add eggs. Amazing.

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This afternoon we went to Waterperry Gardens to buy plants and sat in the sun drinking tea and eating cake. This coffee and walnut cake was one of the best cakes I’ve tasted.

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After saying my goodbyes I got back to London in time to have a gin and tonic on my balcony whilst watching the sun setting.

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What a way to end a wonderful weekend!

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