Sunday, 29 January 2012

Toulouse sausages with roasted red onions, spinach and puy lentils

Can't be arsed? Then this dish is for you.

Little time and effort and good quality ingredients make this a real winner. Make sure you use good quality stock and high meat content sausages - and if you don't like Toulouse then swap them for a more simple herbed sausage.

For four:
1 or 2 sausages per person (number depends on levels of hunger + / greed)
500g puy lentils - boiled in unsalted water from cold until tender, should be around 20 minutes, then drained
300mls medium / dry white wine
500mls chicken, duck or pork stock
300g fresh spinach, drained
3 medium red onions, peeled, top and tailed and quartered
A handful of fresh parsley (flat or curly) chopped just before using
A clove of garlic, crushed
6 rashers smoked streaky, finely diced
Juice of half a juicy lemon 
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 golden onion, finely diced
Unsalted butter
Olive oil for cooking
Extra virgin olive oil for finishing
Groundnut or vegetable oil 
Sea salt and pepper

- Preheat your oven to 160 degrees, place the quartered onions into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and place into the oven for 1 hour. You're looking for them to get golden and soft, don't let them get too dark
- Half and hour before the onions are ready to come out, heat a knob of butter and glug of olive oil in a saucepan on a medium heat, when the butter has melted and is beginning to foam add the diced onion, carrot and smoked bacon. Cook for around 15 minutes to colour and soften the onion and colour the bacon
- Add the lentils and garlic and combine with the onions and bacon, then add the wine, stock and lemon juice, combine and cover, simmer on a low-is heat for around 20 minutes 
- Turn the oven up to 200 degrees
- Take the lentils off the hob, taste and season with salt and pepper, then decant into an oven proof dish
- Poke (couldn't think of a better verb) the sausages into the lentils, then place into the oven for 15 minutes for the sausages to cook right the way through 
- Remove from the oven, take out the sausages and stir the spinach and parsley through as much as you can. Put back in the oven for 5 until they wilt, then remove and mix through properly, poke the sausages in again, then the onions and put back into the oven for 10-15 minutes
- Remove from the oven, serve and give a drizzle of extra virgin before eating

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Smokey Mexican meatball soup with Willies Cacao

Chili con carne is one of my favourite retro dishes. It fits in that category for me because it makes me think of the 70's (not that I was there) and growing up spending time at my grandma and grandpas, therefore giving it a firm place in my food history and heart. 

That said, for all that fondness, we don't eat it all that often. Which I think is a bit of a shame and it makes me want to do something slightly different with it to change that - after all, I love the flavours of the dish, I think it's just the format I'm a bit bored with. 

Cue a meatball soup. Soup can often be rather straight but meatballs are a great way to inject extra interest into them, and a few variations on the theme have been making an appearance at our house recently. 

This might be the kind of soup that appeals especially well to the boys (often found to be soup shirkers). It's hearty, big and beefy, and packed with robust flavours and textures. Plus it's dead easy and quick to do, why not make up a big batch and take the leftovers to work? (You may want to take extra for greedy colleagues who might well fancy a taste). 

One of the best bits of this is the special, deep dark smokiness created by the Willies Cacao Venezuelan Black. At 100% pure cacao it's incredibly powerful, certainly not for noshing on when you have a chocolate craving - this baby needs to be cooked with. Just a few tablespoons of the grated article added to the pot makes a serious difference, I highly recommend it. 

For four:
500g minced beef
1 green chilli - deseeded if you're not into the hot stuff
1 large red chili, finely sliced - deseed again if you don't like it too hot 
2 red onions, one peeled and finely diced, the other peeled and quartered
1 green pepper, finely diced 
6 ripe tomatoes, diced 
1 fat clove of garlic  
100mls pasatta
1.5pt cold water
5 tablespoons red lentils
2 cans kidney beans in chilli sauce
3 heaped tablespoons grated Willies Cacao 100%, other pure or very high content cocoa chocolates are probably available but Willies is my preferred 
1 large bunch fresh coriander
4 tablespoons ground cumin 
Grated rind of 2 juicy limes
Juice of one lime
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil and unsalted butter for cooking 
Natural yogurt or sour cream to serve 

- Into a food processor place 3/4 of the coriander, 1 tablespoon cumin, the quartered onion, garlic clove, the half green chili, lime rind, several good scrunches of salt (be generous) and blitz until smooth. Then add the minced beef and blitz again until it's all minced and all the ingredients combined
- Using your hands form the mixture into balls, you should get around 20 of them depending on the size you make them, set aside on a plate
- Into a deep bottomed saucepan add a knob of butter, glug of oil and once it starts foaming on a medium heat add the onion, cook for a couple of minutes to start the softening of it, then add the green pepper. Cook together for around 10 minutes until both are really softening and the onion turning golden - you'll need to stir frequently to stop it catching
- Now add the ground cumin, stir to combine and after a couple of minutes add the diced tomatoes, half the red chili, both tins of kidney beans, lentils and water - stir to combine then put the lid on the pan and leave until it gets to the simmer. Once this has happened you'll want to leave it for around 30 minutes for the lentils to cook through 
- Whilst this is happening, place a knob of butter and glug of olive oil into a frying pan and once it starts foaming on a high heat, add the meatballs - spacing them apart, don't let them get too close or they'll steam rather than fry, so depending on the size of your frying pan you may need to do this in batches
- Turn them a few times so they become nice and dark on several sides, then remove them from the pan and set aside
- When your soup has been cooking around 30 minutes and the lentils are cooked, add the lime juice and enough salt to season - you'll know by the taste how much it needs, but a good few scrunches should do it
- Now place the meatballs into the soup and put the lid on, poach for 6 minutes and then serve. A dollop of yogurt (if you're good) or sour cream (if you aren't) and a pinch of red chilli 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Roasted pepper, tomato and red lentil soup with crisp chorizo and black garlic

It's no secret I've been ill this week. I've tried to keep a lid on my moaning but lets be honest, when you're feeling rotten that can be a difficult task. 

However, today I woke up feeling much better than I have been doing, and to celebrate this and my sore throat leaving me I decided to take a walk. My travels in Didsbury predictably took me round the charity shop circuit, where I chanced upon some cute little plates and bone handled knives and forks, all tarnished and loved looking. I snapped them up immediately. 

To go with my bargain buys I decided to make a bargain dinner. This soup is very easy and economical but still has some extra added interest in the form of the black garlic. I used it to finish the dish, adding it to the top of the soup along with some more crispy chorizo. 

Black garlic is a recent discovery in our house and it's one that's set to stay. It really is jet black, and you can eat it straight from the bulb. It's rather curious, squidgy and sweet, tasting like a cross between licorice and pickled onion. Yes I realise that flavour combo sounds vile, but it's honestly quite tasty and moreish, buy some and see what you think. 

For two:
600g fresh tomatoes - any kind you like but make sure they're red
1 large red onion, peeled and quartered 
1 fat clove of regular garlic, peeled 
2 roasted red peppers - roast your own until they begin to char or used ones from a jar
3 handfuls red lentils, brought to the boil from cold water then drained and set aside, reserving 300mls of their cooking water
A small glass of red wine
1 tsp red wine vinegar / rice vinegar 
3 cooking chorizo, peeled, diced and fried in a dry pan until they char at the edges
2 cloves of black garlic, skin removed and finely sliced - you'll find black garlic in Sainsburys next to the regular garlic
2 tablespoons creme fraiche 
Virgin olive oil 
500mls water - more if you like your soup more loose, less if you like it thicker 
Extra virgin olive oil 
Sea salt and black pepper

- Preheat your oven to 200degrees
- Place the tomatoes, red onion and regular garlic into a roasting pan, give a liberal douse of olive oil, scrunch of seasoning and place into the oven for 45 minutes, giving an occasional shake - you're looking for them to colour up nicely but not turn totally - see pic above for a guide
- Whilst cooking place the roasted red peppers, half the chorizo, red wine and vinegar into a food processor, once the tomatoes and onions are ready remove them from the oven, pop them into the food processor too and blitz
- The soup is pretty rustic but still a relatively smoothish consistency, if you like yours much thinner, simply pass through a sieve after
- Pop the soup mix into a deep bottomed saucepan and onto a medium heat, add the remaining water, lentils and their reserved cooking water, and cook for around 8 minutes with the lid on and on a medium heat until cooked through
- Ladle into bowls, top with the creme fraiche, a glug of your favourite extra virgin olive oil, the remaining diced crisp chorizo and black garlic slices - eat with some warm bread and a glass of your favourite 

Prawn ramen with miso, homemade dashi and carrot noodle dressing

A noodle dish of epic proportions. Not mine specifically - I mean ramen generally. 

If you're a noodle addict (like me) you'll know what I mean, this is one of the best noodle dishes you can get. It contains delicious umami flavour, slurpy broth and long and slinky and wiggly noodles all spiked with prawns and crab sticks, a bit of Japanese seven spice pepper and some greens. Food for me doesn't get much more fulfilling. 

This time I've used giant prawns and crab sticks. Yeah, the 'crab' sticks are pretty low rent, but there isn't a Japanese restaurant (authentic or otherwise) that I've been to which does this dish without them, and who am I to say what goes. 

This dish is only complex in getting hold of some of its ingredients, it's not remotely difficult to put together once you've got them. If you don't live near / frequent an oriental supermarket very often then make life easy by ordering them all online and have them sent to you directly. You won't regret it. 

What is ramen?

'Ramen' isn't actually a type of noodle (as I originally thought), it's the name for a dish of broth containing noodles. You can use all kinds of noodles to create ramen apparently, and soba are quite common - these are what I've used here. 

What about dashi?

It's a liquor used as a stock base and base for dipping sauces and you can make it from several things. For ramen soup I create it using katsuobushi and kombu or wakame, the lattter two are dried seaweeds and you can use either. The former is known as the flavour of Japan, it's dried, boiled and repeatedly smoked skipjack tuna, which is then shaved so thin that it's almost transparent, carrying the most intense and fragrant smoked fish aroma. Also known as bonito flakes, and you buy them ready shaved.

The flavour these two ingredients create can't be substituted for anything else, and without it this dish won't taste authentic, but apparently dashi granules are readily available if you don't fancy making the real thing (though I promise it's easy once you have the two component parts). 

Is the liquor dashi alone?

Once the dashi is ready I strain it into a deep bottomed saucepan over both white and red miso paste to complete the soup base. 

White miso is reasonably sweet (and savoury at the same time) and brown miso is very savoury indeed, and together they make a great mix. I know for certain that brown miso is available in Sainsburys, but you may need that oriental supermarket for the white variety. 

And finally, those carrot noodles...

Making the carrot noodles is done using a strange piece of kitchen equipment that looks like it belongs to the 1970's. Mine is from Amazon, it's called a 'vegetable spiralizer' if you fancy having a look and perhaps getting one. If you don't but you still want carrot for this dish then simply use a fine grater, it doesn't give the same look but the taste is still there and thats what really counts. 

And there's only one final thing to say about this noodle dish now... Amie...this is for you x

For two and miso dashi stock leftover for another day: 
Two large handfuls dried bonito flakes
1 large handful dried wakame
2.5l cold water
2 tbs white miso paste
2 tbs red miso paste
A handful fresh coriander leaves
2 spring onions, cut lengthways
One carrot, peeled and grated or spiralized 
6 giant raw tiger prawns
6 crab sticks, cut in half
2 handfuls fresh, washed spinach leaves
Japanese seven spice pepper - known as 'shichimi'
3 packets fresh ramen noodles

- Place the bonito flakes and wakame into a deep bottomed saucepan and top with 2l cold water, bring to the boil and once rolling, reduce so it doesn't boil over and keep it going for 30 minutes
- While this is happening take another deep bottomed saucepan and put the miso pastes into it, set aside
- Grate / spiralise your carrot now, then by hand mix it all up with the coriander and spring onion, creating two 'balls' of carrot dressing
- Put a pan of boiling water on the hob to boil ready to do your noodles in
- When the dashi is ready strain it through a sieve directly over the miso pastes in the other saucepan, discard the contents of the sieve and stir the soup base to make sure all the miso pastes dissolve, leave on a medium heat to come to a simmer
- While this is happening, the pan of water should now be boiling, place the noodles in there at the same time as dropping the raw prawns and crab sticks into the soup liquor. Bring both the soup and noodle pan back to boiling and use some cooking chopsticks or a fork to gently break up the noodles. After a few minutes the noodles should be done so strain and set aside, once the prawns have turned pink in a simmering pan you can turn the pan off
- Get your ramen bowls, or just big bloody soup bowls - hell, use a serving dish if you're a greedy guts like me - and place your fresh spinach into the bottom
- Now top the greens with the strained noodles, followed by ladles of the soup broth and seafood, finished with the carrot bundles and a sprinkle of Japanese seven spice seasoning 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Italian wedding soup with mini lemon, basil and chicken meatballs

Happy new year dear blog reader...I hope your festivities were as food and drink filled (and fueled) as mine.

If like me, you're one of the millions of people now feeling a little wobblier than usual and craving healthier nosh, you may be kicking off your new years eatings in the same way. 

Eating delicious and interesting food is important to me all year round, and I certainly don't believe that being 'good' has to mean being boring. At the moment our house is seeing the return of winter salads, broths, slinky vegetable crammed soups, and oriental aromatics. And these and a little extra gym time are already helping feelings of normality to return. 

If you haven't tried this soup before I urge (actually, I plead) you to give it a go - once you discover how easy and tasty it is I'm confident it will make its way into your regular dish repertoire. 

This Italian soup is usually laced with more indulgent ingredients - the delightfully salty percorino cheese, Parmesan, chicken sausage, eggs and breadcrumbs, I miss them out in my version of this classic but not to the detriment of the dish - the broth packs a punch, the fluffy little meatballs are aromatic and juicy, and the overall dish feels both healthy and delicious. 

For two and some leftover for the next day (unless you scoff it all, which is a distinct possibility)
3 large / 4 regular carrots, peeled and top and tailed, top and tailed and grated. I use my food processor for this, on the fine setting
2 celery stalks, top and tailed and grated the same as the carrots
4/5 handfuls small pasta shapes - I used cavatelli but orzo or your favourite small shape will work too
350g skinless and boneless chicken thighs (or breast if you prefer, but thighs are cheaper, tastier and more succulent)
A large handful fresh basil 
1 large red or golden onion, half finely diced, the remaining half left whole
A fat clove of garlic, smoked if you have it but if not don't worry
The rind of one unwaxed lemon 
Sea salt and black pepper
1.5l chicken stock - if you aren't using fresh stock I'd suggest using pork stock cubes, they have a far better and more authentic taste than chicken cubes
A large glass of dry white wine
Unsalted butter
Olive oil for frying
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
A couple of handfuls fresh spinach

Start by making the dumplings
- Into a food processor place the lemon rind, chicken, basil, half onion, garlic, and lots and lots of salt and pepper. Blitz for a minute or two so the mixture is finely and thoroughly chopped and mixed
- Form into small balls, you should be able to get 12 or more out of the mix, depending on the size you make them, and set aside on a plate
- Once you've used all the mix to make the balls, place a knob of unsalted butter and glug of cooking olive oil into a frying pan and turn it onto a high heat. When the butter starts to foam place the meatballs into the pan. Cook them on all sides, you're looking to get them nice and brown, this should take around 10-15 minutes depending on your hob (am having to work on electric at the minute which seems to take a bit longer to do things) once nice and golden remove and set aside

Now onto the soup
- In a deep bottomed saucepan place another knob of butter and glug of cooking olive oil. Bring to temperature on a medium-high heat and once the butter begins to lightly foam, add the chopped onion
- Cook for around 6-7 minutes, stirring continuously, and once the onion begins to turn translucent (not brown) you want to add the carrot and celery. Stir and cook for a few minutes, then add the wine, stock, generous scrunch of pepper
- Bring to the boil and then add the pasta - make a note of the timings as 5 minutes before the pasta is done you'll need to add the meatballs to the pan to poach through
- Into the bowls you're eating from place a handful of fresh spinach (the hot liquor of the soup will cook the spinach through and keep its colour)
- When the dumplings are ready - a clue is that they'll float to the top of the pan, it should take just 5 minutes on a high heat - take the pan off the heat and ladle the soup and meatballs over the bowls with spinach
- Give a glug of your favourite extra virgin olive oil and eat