Thursday, 10 September 2015

Masala mashed potatoes

Now that I have given up work full time and am doing my own thing, as well as pursuing my culinary passions, I have started to play around with new ideas for old favourites.

Mashed potato is, in my opinion, one of the ultimate comfort foods. Hot and steaming, with loads of butter and milk (or cream if you are feeling in need of some extra comfort), it is guaranteed to make you feel good. And of course you can make it even more comforting by mixing in some cheese or leeks like I do when I am using it as a cottage pie topping.

As delicious as it is however, it is not the healthiest of foods, especially if you are watching your weight or need to follow a low fat diet for health reasons. With that in mind, and some herbs and spices in the fridge which I needed to use up, I wondered if I could do something a little healthier.

I originally used this mix to stuff peppers as part of a vegan and gluten free dinner, but have since discovered that it goes equally as well with sausages, roast chicken or stuffed into flatbreads or dhosas and served with chutneys. It is also great served in a bowl on its' own!

The quantity below fills four peppers generously, but you can scale the quantities up if serving as part of a meal.

300g potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
3tbsp sunflower oil or light olive oil
½tsp yellow or black mustard seeds
½tsp cumin seeds
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped. Take the seeds out if you prefer a milder chilli heat
½tsp ground turmeric
1tsp garam masala
50g raw peanuts or cashews, chopped
1tsp salt, or to taste
2tbsp fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
1tbsp lemon juice

Place the potatoes in a pan with water, bring to the boil and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until soft. Drain and allow to cool slightly. When cool place in a bowl and mash roughly with a fork, what you want is a textured mash. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wide, shallow frying pan. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, place the lid on and allow the seeds to pop. Do not be tempted to lift the lid as the seeds will fly all over the place.

Next add the onion and chilli to the pan and fry for 10 minutes until soft. Then add the tumeric, garam masala and nuts and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, taking care not to burn the nuts.

Add the potato, salt, coriander and lemon juice to the pan and heat through before serving.

Monday, 31 August 2015

20 minute chocolate chip cookies

There's many an occasion when I am asked to produce something sweet for visitors, or last minute trips to family.

Now the only trouble with this is that you need to have an array of ingredients to hand. What I do is keep a small, but select number of staples to hand so that if required, I can conjure up a batch of cookies quickly either to eat immediately or to transport to friends. It is so much quicker and easier than making a cake and you can always have the staples on hand for when required. This recipe makes between 14 and 16 cookies, they are also the soft kind but freeze really well for those of you who like to exercise self-control over their sweet tooth!

My default recipe is:

125 grams of unsalted butter
175 grams of sugar, I tend to use half caster and half soft brown, but you can do all caster or a mix of the caster and soft brown in any proportion you like
1 large egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
150 grams of plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
100 grams of chocolate, roughly chopped. This can be either dark, milk, white, or any combination of these three

To start, preheat the oven to 190 degrees fan or gas mark 5

Next, melt the butter on a saucepan over a low heat. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes.

In the meantime, weigh out the sugar(s) into a large mixing bowl. Then add the melted butter and mix well until everything is combined.

Next add the vanilla extract, followed by the egg. Mix well until thoroughly combined.

Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder and add to the wet mixture. Mix until the dry ingredients have been fully incorporated, but do not overmix. Finally fold in the chopped chocolate.

To shape the cookies, drop dessertspoons of the mixture on to two large baking sheets lined with either baking parchment, or if you are like me bake-o-glide. Leave space between them as they spread when cooking. If you want to have even sized cookies, you can use an ice-cream scoop, but I prefer the more rustic looking cookie.

Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden. If you are using a higher proportion of brown sugar, you need to check after 8 minutes to avoid burning. Remove the cookies from the oven, allow to cook on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool. The cookies will harden as they cool, but remain soft set.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Smoked haddock pilaf

A pilaf is something that I turn to often. When I've had a long day at work, or arrived home after a few days of hotel food and want something comforting, a pilaf is a quick and easy option. Once you have done the preparation, it looks after itself leaving me to unpack, have a shower, etc before dinner. Sometimes I use quorn chunks when I want a vegetarian alternative, but more often or not, it tends to be smoked haddock.

You can vary the recipe considerably. Nigella Lawson has a wonderful version containing chicken and nuts in her Nigella Summer book. Some people like to put hard boiled eggs into theirs, but that makes it more of a kedgeree. And you can vary the herbs too, if I have enough chives hanging about in the garden I tend to snip those in. If not then if I have some parsley or coriander in the fridge then that is what I'll use.

Now I'm not a keen egg eater. I use them in baking and general cooking of course, but generally it is a rare occasion when I will tuck into a fried egg or omlette. However my husband is partial to a soft poached egg, so I tend to add one to the top of the dish so that he can tear it open and allow the runny yolk to sink into the rice. If you wanted to do so, you could poach the eggs in advance, shock in cold water and then reheat on top of the dish during its' resting time.

My version is below. I hope you will give it a go and maybe even enjoy it. It's easy enough to scale up for more people, all you need is a bigger casserole dish.

For two people:

2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of garam masala
125 grams of basmati rice
1 bay leaf
Zest of half an unwaxed lemon, peeled
1 green chilli finely chopped, or quarter of a teaspoon of chilli flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
190ml of chicken or vegetable stock
250grams of smoked haddock, preferably undyed and skin on
half of a small bunch of spring onions, finely sliced, using all of the white parts and as much of the green as possible
1 tablespoon of chopped herbs of your choice - it could be chives, parsley or coriander
Lemon juice, to serve
1 soft poached egg per person

Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4

Start by heating the oil in a casserole dish. When the oil is warm, add the garam masala and gently cook for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir to ensure that all the grains are coated in the mixture.

Add bay leaf, lemon zest and chilli followed by the stock. Bring to a simmer and place the fish on top. You may need to cut the fish into pieces to fit in one layer. Push the fish into the stock, place a lid on a put in the oven for anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes. I tend to check after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to stand, with the lid on for five minutes.

Take off the lid, skin the fish and break up into flakes. Gently stir in the spring onions, herbs and fish with a fork. What you do is ensure that the grains of rice remain separate. Place a clean tea towel over the dish, replace the lid and leave for another five minutes. This ensures that any excess moisture is absorbed and you are left with fluffy rice.

While the rice is resting bring a pan of water to a simmer. Add a drop of vinegar, stir with a fork to create a swirling motion and drop the eggs in, one at a time. When poached to your liking remove and drain.

Serve the pilaf in warm bowls and squeeze over some lemon juice. Top with the poached egg and serve.