Sunday, 22 January 2012

Chorizo, Butternut and Thyme Pasta.

Today was one of those days when I wasn’t looking forward to cooking. I know, a rarity for me, but I didn’t have anything in the fridge, didn’t fancy anything much to eat and had been up since 8am (which is rubbish because it’s a Sunday).  Basically it was one of those days when I wanted my father to cook me something yummy. Alas, he is many miles away in London so I turned to a version of one of his concoctions.

The original version of this uses sage instead of thyme and pasta tubes rather than twirls, parmesan and doesn’t include the spring greens but this evening was an exercise in creating what I could out of a very, very bare fridge so I was rather pleased with the results. The cheese however, was sorely missed so I’ve included it in the recipe.

Serves two, generously.

1tbsp olive oil
½ a small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small cubes
50g Chorizo, chopped
200g Cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
A handful or two spring greens
1 tsp crushed chilli flakes
Enough pasta for two
Two handfuls of grated parmesan

In an oven at about 180 degrees place the squash on a baking tray, tossed in the olive oil and well seasoned.

When that begins to become tender add the chorizo and when that begins to crisp up and is leaking all its smoky, paprika flavored oils add the cherry tomatoes, chili and thyme.

While that has it’s last blast in the oven simmer the pasta in some salted water and when it has a couple minutes to go add the greens.

When everything is cooked, drain the pasta and greens, reserving a small amount of the cooking water and throw everything together, serve up and liberally sprinkle with parmesan.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Birthday Coca-Cola Cake.

Personally I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I’d take a starter over a dessert in a restaurant any day but when birthdays come around, cake is obviously a necessity. In the past we’ve always been a plain cupcake type household for birthdays. This is probably down to the fact that we don’t own scales, or even a cake tin for that matter. For my friend/housemate/live-in landlord’s birthday, however, I endeavored to raise the stakes.

I borrowed two cake tins and some scales and turned to a recipe that evokes many a childhood memory, Nigella Lawson’s coca-cola cake. I somewhat re-jiggled the construction of it, making two shallower cakes and sandwiching them together with some extra frosting but I was still very happy with the results, it went down a treat and was devoured in one sitting. The coca-cola makes it light, incredibly moist and somehow less filling. A definite winner of a cake.

From Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’.

For the cakes:
400g Plain Flour
500g Caster Sugar
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
2 large eggs
60g yoghurt mixed with 200ml of milk
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
250g unsalted butter
4 tablespoons coca powder
350ml coca-cola.

For the icing:
225g icing sugar
2 tbsp butter
3tbso coca-cola
1tbsp coca powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 Degrees, grease and line two cake tins.

Combined dry ingredients in a large bowl,

Melt the butter in a small pan, with the coco and coca-cola and add this to the dry ingredients.

Add the rest of the wet ingredients and mix well with a wooden spoon, pour into cake tins and bake for half an hour or until a metal skewer stuck into them comes out clean.

When cooked, leave to cool then combine the ingredients for the frosting.

Turn one of the cakes on its top so as to have a flat surface and spread a fair amount on, then sandwich the other cake the right way up on top and ice the cake, the sides of it too if you have enough icing. 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Tomato, Red Onion and Chilli Chutney.

Happy New Year!

This is a belated post. A very belated one, considering it is Christmas related but wanted to share it after seeing the success of the recipe.

Nearly all my Christmas presents this year had a homemade theme, largely because come the end of the year I was nearly flat broke and also because I had a theory that my family (specifically my parents), would appreciate something I had made with my own hands more than something I could buy. I mentioned my plan to my housemates and they jumped on the bandwagon meaning that on a cold afternoon in the run up to Christmas we had an almighty chutney making venture.

Needless to say it was rather epic, considering we needed to peel and chop 3kgs of tomatoes and then 1.5kgs of red onions. Regretfully I took on the onions. Yes, there were LOTS of tears - but don’t worry I’ve scaled down the recipe here.

The most amusing part of this process had to be acquiring the jars to store the chutney in. It had to be in the most economical way possible. Of course.

Our solution? Off we went to ASDA and bought the cheapest thing they had on sale that was in an appropriately sized jar.

This was the result:

That, is 8 jars worth of ASDA, own brand, 22p, Lemon curd.

Gross huh?

But it did thankfully, provide us with this (after they had been sterilized via the dishwasher):

Anyway, to get back to the chutney. This really is an exercise of taste, I cannot reiterate HOW much one has to taste, season and adjust throughout the cooking process to make it sing.

But I promise you; the results are worth it, the jar I gave to my mum for Christmas Day had been devoured by the end of Boxing Day. No exaggeration.

Makes 2-3 jars and was created from an amalgamation of recipes including one from the BBC Good Food website.

500g red onions, peeled and sliced
1kg tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1 hot chilli, finely, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
½ tsp paprika
150g brown sugar
150ml red wine vinegar
lots of salt and freshly ground pepper

In a little oil, sweat the onions until soft then add the garlic, chilli and bay leaf, sweat until fragrant and then add the rest of the ingredients.

Simmer for 1 hour and at this point taste it. Is it too sweet? If so add more vinegar. Not sweet enough? Add more sugar, this kind of thing will largely depend on nature of the tomatoes used.

Season the hell out of it until your happy with the way it tastes then increase the heat and gently boil until it gets thick and jammy.

Place in sterilized jars and leave to cool before covering, will keep in the fridge for 6 weeks or so.

NOTE: Its banging with some strong chedder cheese. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Creamy Green Vegetable Risotto with Lemon Thyme.


It is a thing of joy if done well and a stodgy, claggy mess if not prepared with enough care. It seems this balance is often something difficult to master. However, being a risotto lover I would like to think that I have somewhat managed the art.

Risotto’s issue is that it is temperamental. One has to give it as much love and attention as you want it to give you. A risotto that has not been prepared with care will never sing in the way one that has been lovingly stirred and seasoned will do.

My verdict on the matter is to pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy watching the magic of the rice swell as you add stock. I do at least, but then again I am a mega food geek.

Anyway, I’m of the opinion a risotto should be oozy but not too wet. However a trick I usually employ is to always make it a bit wetter than it appears to need to be. This way while it stands at the end of the cooking process and as you eat, it doesn’t dry up leaving you with a bowl of stodge.

I would also advise you to season with black pepper liberally, it really adds an extra dimension and some bite to this silky and comforting plate of loveliness. I am unashamed to say that despite making enough with which to intend leftovers I ate the lot. I enjoyed it so much I simply couldn’t resist.

Serves 3

2tbsp olive oil
A large knob of butter
1 pint of chicken or veggie stock.
200g risotto rice.
Half a large onion, finely chopped.
1 clove of garlic, crushed.
A large leek chopped.
2 tbsp cream cheese or mascarpone.
Two handfuls of sugar snap peas, quartered.
 A glass of dry white wine.
1 tbsp thyme leaves.
 Large handful of freshly grated parmesan.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To start with get your stock hot.

Secondly in another pan melt half the butter and then add the olive oil to raise the butters burning point. Over a low heat sweat the leeks until really soft then stir in the cream cheese or mascarpone.

In different wide based but tall sided pan add rest of the butter and olive oil and sweat the onion until it looks slightly translucent, then add the garlic and continue to sweat until fragrant.

Increase the heat, add the rice and fry until it looks slightly translucent then add the wine and simmer until you can’t smell the harsh alcohol scent coming off the ingredients and the liquid has absorbed into the rice.

Turn your heat back down and ladle by ladle add the stock adding the next after the previous one has been absorbed. During this process continue to stir. This will massage the starch out of the rice resulting in a creamy, oozy risotto.

After 8 minutes throw in the peas and a further 2 minutes later check the rice, if it is cooked but with a slight bite then it is done. Stir in the creamy leek mixture, thyme, parmesan and season. 

At this point I feel it is crucial to cover the risotto and let it sit for 5 minutes. This helps it relax and helps the flavors to mingle. Loosen with some water if necessary and serve immediately.