Friday, 26 August 2016

A Persian Summer...

Smoky, charred hunks of juicy meat, vibrant salads and enough sangria and ice cold beers to sink a rubber dinghy off Bawdsey beach; there is nothing better than a Summer BBQ. 

Well, come on now, let's be frank...I mean, finding a winning lottery ticket in the back pocket of your jeans or discovering that Ryan Gosling is the newest member of your weekly Body Pump class would give that smoldering box of charcoal and bowl of mayo drenched potato salad a slightly convincing run for it's money, but in my mind that really is about it.

Call it British charm, or perhaps the result of far too many al-fresco plans ruined by stormy skies and sudden downpours in the so called Summer months of old, but just as linen shorts and last year's battered flip flops wiggle their way to the front of the wardrobe as soon as the sun comes out, browse the aisles of any supermarket at the start of a seemingly sunny weekend and stocks of sausages and finger rolls will be ravaged, disposable barbies will be selling like Frozen DVDs at Christmas and crates of beer will almost be growing legs and walking themselves out to the boot of your car.

And for me, this sticky, richly spiced Persian lamb recipe is the BBQ-bomb.

Richly spiced, deliciously fruity and finger-lickingly sticky; this flavour packed dish is a true Summer sensation. Use the marinade on juicy lamb fillets, slather over steaks for the ultimate meat feast, or if the weather is more torrential than tropical; let the vibrant flavours ramp up the yum-factor of your Sunday slow roast shoulder.

Piled up on platters with salty, mint spiked feta cream, smoky blackened aubergine wedges drizzled with nutty tahini, griddled Suffolk asparagus and a smattering of jewel hued pomegranate; this is my go-to dish of the Summer, no question about it.

Best served with an ice cold glass of herb spiked rose sangria, or a glass of spicy, full bodied red; just make sure you have a wad of napkins ready to wipe those gloriously rich, pomegranate studded juices from your chin...

Persian Lamb with Feta Cream and Pomegranate, serves 4.

For the Lamb

1 medium butterflied lamb leg
4 tbsp pomegranate mollases
1 pomegranate
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp ras al hanout
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground corriander
Small bunch mint, leaves chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 small red chilli, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed slightly with the back of a knife
Rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper
A glug of white wine and a knob of butter (for your sauce)

For the feta cream

200g feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp Greek yoghurt
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
Small bunch of mint, leaves chopped
Small bunch of coriander, chopped
Rapeseed oil
Salt and Pepper

Marinade the lamb up to a few hours before serving, ideally the night before.
In a large bowl, combining the herbs, spices, oil, lemon juice, garlic, chilli and honey. Squeeze in the juice and seeds of half a pomegranate and season well. Add the lamb, cover and leave to marinade, covered, overnight.

Make your feta cream up to an hour before serving- In a food processor, combine all the ingredients until you have a smooth cream. Season well, adding a little more yoghurt to loosen if necessary. Leave in the fridge until ready to serve

When you are ready to serve, preheat your oven to 200oc, ramp up the BBQ and pour the drinks…

Transfer the lamb shoulder to a roasting tray and roast in the oven, covered tightly with foil for around 40 minutes (for medium, slightly longer for well done)

When the BBQ is hot, transfer the part cooked shoulder carefully to the BBQ and brush with some of the marinade. Cook until charred and caramelised on each side, being careful for spitting and flames, for around 15 minutes.

Leave to rest, covered in foil, for about 10 minutes

To serve, slice the lamb fillets and arrange on top of the feta cream. Let your imagination run wild with your sides- I love chunks of charred aubergine, potatoes roasted with garlic and saffron, grilled asparagus and a smattering of fresh pomegranate seeds and creamy feta!


Monday, 11 July 2016

Summer baking for a baking Summer...

From mounds of warm, butter rich scones waiting to be adorned with jam and gold encrusted clotted cream at the end of a long summer’s day pottering in the garden, to towering sponge stacked masterpieces, dripping in chocolate ganache and crowned with a ruby red smattering of fragrant summer berries at the centre of a decadent afternoon tea; Summer cakes are simply the best.

Delicious Raspberry stuffed Vanilla bean Victoria Sponge

 From the rich, spiced gingerbreads and sticky toffees that weld themselves welcomingly to your ribs throughout those bitter winter months, the dawn of longer days and the sudden bounty of delicious, sun drenched produce means that baking in the summer is the stuff dreams are made of. Whether you plump for gooseberry studded cupcakes with creamy elderflower buttercream, brownies smattered with sharp, jammy raspberries or keep it simple with a Victoria sponge sandwiched with fresh strawberries and decorated with adorable edible flowers (have a google to be doubly sure you don't eat poison ivy...violas and pansies are my fleurs de jour); what better way than cake to use those glorious fruits that summer brings.

Mini Marzipan and Nectarine Bakewells

So, for no reason other than because cake is the sweetest, most luxurious and greatly appreciated platform for the best of the season’s ingredients; now is the time to get baking. From crushing those jewel hued raspberries into cheesecake swirled brownies, or perching a perfect, glistening strawberry a top a cloud of meringue and cream; get creative with anything you can get your hands on, you won’t regret it.

On this occasion, I fancied a totally tropical change from your standard strawberry adorned summer delight; this delicious, almost weather changing banana, coconut and rum loaf was the answer- to be honest, so full of sunshine was the flavour, I'm surprised I didn't get a tan just from the first bite. 

Crammed with coconut, dates, pecans and a good slug of dark rum, this is the very best way to use up those sun-browned bananas that lurk in the fruit bowl, long forgotten in the shadow of all those glorious summer fruits. After all, summer simply isn’t summer without a good slug of rum- Just remember to save a drop or two for a well earned mojito to reward all your hard work (read "hard work") slogging over a mixing bowl...

Boozy Banana and coconut loaf with a dark rum drizzle

120g butter, softened
150g light brown soft sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
3 large ripe bananas, mashed 
230g plain flour 
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
120ml dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g dates, chopped
50g pecans, chopped
50g dessicated coconut
A small handful of banana chips
To decorate
100g Icing sugar
A few tablespoons dark rum

Preheat the oven to 180oc. Grease and line a large loaf tin

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar using an electric whisk, until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs a little at a time, mixing well between additions.

Beat in the vanilla extract and mashed bananas until fully incorporated.

Mix in the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, coconut and salt, being careful not to overmix. Stir in the rum, pecans and chopped dates.

Spoon into the greased tin and scatter the banana chips over the top

Bake for around an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool
Meanwhile, mix the icing sugar with a few tablespoons of rum, until you have a drizzleable icing. When the cake is completely cooled, drizzle over the icing and a sprinkling of coconut if desired.

Serve al fresco, maybe with that mojito on the side...

Monday, 27 June 2016

Breakfast en cama...

There is just something about a lazy morning spent breakfasting in bed, when you pile your plate as high as a tray unconvincingly balanced on a duvet will manage and lick ketchup off your fingers before staining your crisp white bedsheets, which just screams luxury. Don’t save it for your Mother or your Valentine on their respective days of pampering, whatever the time of year, whether the scorching July sun is streaming through your curtained windows, or the early winter drizzle is making ‘tucked up in bed’ the most appropriate place to be (at all times); it simply cannot be beaten.

And, with the days getting longer, sunshine yellow daffs standing proudly in gardens all over the county, just asking to be plucked and added to a breakfast tray, there is no greater time, in my opinion, to indulge in a little bit of sleepy noshing than Spring.

In my mind, which may or  may not be conveniently deluded to allow me to indulge in this tastiest of treats all the way until summer; there is nothing to make me feel guilty about crumbs on the bedsheets at this time of year. Not the threat of missing the hottest day of the year or the queues to the beach, not Christmas shopping induced panic, no bulbs to be planted, no winter chutney to be made. 

Whatever the excuse, and regardless of whether there is (almost always) something more useful you could be doing than eating your body weight in bacon in bed, the fact that it is still too cold to indulge in breako al fresco without a woolly hat, and the revelation that Dusty Springfield herself sang a song about it, are both good enough reasons to rename Spring the season of bedside brunch for me.

Now, let’s be honest, breakfast in bed is never a virtuous affair. The clue’s in the name to be frank. Yes, this is a treat that demands bacon. Toasted muffins dripping in butter. Eggs with yolks that run like liquid gold. Sticky, roasted vine tomatoes. Smashed avocados. And maybe a large glass of Bucks Fizz. My favourite breakfast involves all of these things. Topped off with a smattering of salty feta cheese and a sprinkling of artfully torn coriander leaves and fiery red chillies, it is a truly sunny take on the classic full English, and guaranteed to put a spring in your step after you finally emerge from your duvet lined cave.

Even better, leave this super easy recipe stuck on the fridge or open on the coffee table, and cross your fingers that someone else will make it for you. Breakfast in bed is always better when you haven’t actually had to leave it…

Mexican Breakfast en Cama, serves 2

2 English muffins, toasted and smeared with butter just before serving
4 rashers of smoked bacon
2 vines of cherry tomatoes
2 eggs, poached or fried
2 avocadoes
½ red chilli
½ lemon
Olive oil
Small bunch of coriander
50g feta cheese 
Preheat to oven to 185oc

In a small roasting tray, drizzle the cherry tomatoes with oil, before seasoning well with salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven, for around 20 minutes, or until sticky

In a small bowl, mash the avocadoes (leaving some quite chunky) with the lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and chopped chilli to taste, before seasoning well.

In a frying pan, fry the bacon in a little oil until crispy

Now to assemble! Transfer the toasted muffins to a plate and perch the poached eggs on top. Add a large spoonful of the avocado mixture, the bacon and roasted tomatoes on the vine. Sprinkle with feta, the coriander leaves and a few slices of the chilli if desired.

And it is as easy as that! Now get back in to bed…

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Eastern Promise...

Sweet, spicy and insanely tasty; meatballs are one of my absolute favourite speedy dinners. Ripe for slurping, for staining lips with post-box red tomato sauce and for artfully splashing your favourite white shirt with Pollock inspired embellishment; they may not be top of the list for first date noshing, but there is absolutely no doubting their yum-inducing credentials. Go one step further and add a dash of Morrocan inspired spices, a crumble of milky, slightly sour feta cheese, a scattering of fragrant fresh mint leaves and a flourish of ruby red pomegranate jewels and you have a midweek dinner that will blow your mind. Get rid of the problematic, messy pasta in place of heavenly lemony couscous and, quashing your silk blouse fears, they might even be your new date night favourite...

With juicy, cumin spiked meatballs nestling in a rich, sticky around the edges tomato and red pepper sauce, fragrant with cinnamon and fresh mint this dish is guaranteed to mean you will never look at Spag Bol in quite the same way again. Prepare the meatballs in advance and you can just tumble them into the sauce just before you are ready to dig your fork into the delicious mound of full on Middle Eastern flavour. Add a swirl of creamy, fresh Greek yoghurt, a wedge of lemon and scatter over the gorgeously fresh, totally instagramable jewels of pomegranate and torn mint leaves and your new favourite dinner is as easy as that.

YUM, try it...

Morrocan Meatballs with Lemony Couscous, Serves 4

For the meatballs

500g lamb mince
12 cream crackers, crushed or blended to a fine crumb
1 egg yolk
1 clove garlic crushed
1 red onion, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sweet paprika
Small bunch fresh mint, chopped
Zest 1/2 lemon
1 tsp dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce

Olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped (or to taste)
1 red pepper sliced
2 tins cherry tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp sugar
A squeeze tomato puree
Juice and zest 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

For the Couscous
250g couscous
Boiling water to cover
juice and zest 1 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

To serve

Pomegranate kernels
Fresh mint, torn
Feta cheese, crumbled
Lemon wedges
Greek yoghurt

To make the meatballs, fry the onion in a little olive oil until softened. Add the garlic and spices and saute for a few more minutes, until the spices have released their gorgeous aroma and the garlic is just cooked. Leave to cool.

In a large bowl, use your hands to scrunch together all of the ingredients for the meatballs, including the cooled onions and spices, until fully combined. Season well.

Roll the meatball mixture into balls and fry in a large frying pan in a little olive oil, until golden brown.

To make the sauce- Fry the onion in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the pepper, spices and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the pepper is just cooked. 

Add the tinned cherry tomatoes, the sugar, a splash of boiling water and the tomato puree and cook until reduced to a thick sauce. Add the lemon juice and zest, and season to taste

Carefully stir in the browned meatballs into the sauce and leave to simmer until the meatballs are cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the cous cous. In a large bowl, cover the couscous with the boiling water add a splash of olive oil, the lemon juice and zest and a good twist of salt and pepper. Cover with clingfilm and leave to absorb before fluffing with a fork.

To serve, spoon the meatballs onto the couscous, scatter with the feta, mint and pomegranate, adding lemon wedges and yoghurt if you wish.  

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Eatin' Banana Pancakes...

There is nothing in the world that excites me more than the reduced section at Clapham South Tescos. Not a flash sale in the bric-a-brac section of the Oxfam charity shop, not a free giveaway of crunchy peanut butter outside the station or even the prospect of being fed peanut butter by a scantily-clad male model, from a half-price vintage spoon on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean. Nope, a gigantic bag of slightly soft broccoli or multiple packets of wrinkled lemon thyme for 6p a pop is what does it for me.

So imagine my delight when this Friday night (I know, I know, my life is just too glamorous to bear), I stumbled across the yellow-stickered bounty of cut-price dreams in said reduced section. Bag upon bag of slightly slimy, browning mushrooms, courgettes with slightly tarnished, leather soft skins, spinach, kale, sprouting broccoli, strawberries, raspberries- All in all, my bulging basket resembled not only the makings of a very well fed bag lady, but the makings of a damn good soup.

But the jewel in the crown of my treasure chest? Without a doubt the stash of brown skinned, black flecked bananas which, despite looking more like leopard skinned slugs than vaguely edible, just screamed to be cooked with. And for 7 whole pence for about 15 of these bruised beauties, it would be rude not to.

And what do you do with a bunch of black bananas, a lazy Sunday morning and nothing in the house for breakfast except the dregs of the Rice Crispie box and a couple of eggs? As Jack Johnson so rightly crooned as he filled our summers with carefree ukulele tinkling and dreams of a being shark tooth choker wearing Hawaiian surfer; eatin’ banana pancakes is the only way to go. 

Delicately spiced with sweet cinnamon and studded with slices of the fragrant, super ripe banana, these are a brunch lovers dream. Add a drizzle of salted maple peanut butter, crunchy, sweet and with just enough bite from a sprinkle of rock salt crystals, a scattering of crushed walnuts and a drizzle of rich maple syrup and you will be in pancake-flipping heaven. Go on, those wrinkly bananas are looking at you...

Banana & Cinnamon Pancakes with Salted Maple Peanut Butter

140g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp light brown soft sugar

3 ripe bananas, 2 mashed and one sliced

2 large egga, lightly beaten

25g butter, melted (plus a little extra for frying)

100ml milk

1 tsp cinnamon

A pinch of salt

For the salted maple peanut butter

100g crunchy peanut butter

50g maple syrup

A good sprinkle of rock salt

To serve

Crushed walnuts

Some extra sliced banana

A drizzle of maple.

To make the pancakes, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the beaten eggs, butter, milk and mashed banana and stir well, until you have a smooth batter.

Heat a little butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat, until frothing. Add ladlefuls of the pancake batter, waiting until small bubbles appear on the surface before studding the uncooked side with slices of banana. When nicely golden, flip and cook the other side.

To make the peanut butter drizzle, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.

When the pancakes are ready, serve with a drizzle of the peanut butter, a scattering of the crushed walnuts and some banana slices, and a drizzle of maple syrup. EAT.