Oh isn’t it just heavenly to see the sunshine? I’ve been waking really early, the sun streaming through the curtains (this makes Mr E really grumpy but I LOVE it), making myself a cup of honey and lemon in hot water (current obsession) and wandering around the garden, watching Tails the cat hiding under the delicious-smelling jasmine (by the way, look at the size of him – will he ever stop growing?), watering my little terracotta pots of herbs and other bits and pieces, playing tug of war with Lyra…
I love, love, love travelling, and I’m so lucky that my job involves visiting all sorts of wonderful places and eating all sorts of amazing food. If there’s one drawback (there has to be one, right?) it’s that I tend to put on a little ‘food baby’ every time I go. There’s so much scrummy food, it’s find it impossible to resist. So when I’m at home, I try and cook delicious food that cuts down on the ol’ carbs and focuses on colourful, healthy, tasty ingredients. This ratatouille with spiced, roasted chicken is a good start!
Sam came home from uni the other day and completely randomly had a craving for loaded potato skins. They’re not something I ever cook, but I had a go and wow, they’re pretty moreish. I can see them being our Saturday evening TV viewing snackage of choice from now on. Here’s how I did it:
Ahhh summer is finally here. The garden’s like a jungle, the washing basket is overflowing, but I don’t care – there’s a sun lounger in the garden and that’s where I’ll be if you need me. Summer is also salad central, but I don’t know about you – I get a bit bored of leafy salads. The Death Wish Child won’t touch them with a barge pole either, so I have to get a bit creative on the salad front: something fresh and lively, but without the leafy element.
Happily, then, Apetina has challenged me to create a leaf-free salad, and this one will do you very well. We’re a bit addicted to Apetina (I used the classic cubes for this one), the slight saltiness goes well with the sweetness of the pear and the creaminess of the avocado. Add in olives and cherry tomatoes and it’s a colourful, healthy summer delight. Here goes, then:
You will need:
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lime, juiced
1 red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped
Handful of herbs: mint and oregano are perfect, chopped
1 ripe avocado
Couple of handfuls of black olives
Small punnet of cherry tomatoes
1 pear (slightly under ripe is fine), cored and chopped
To prepare the salad:
Crush the garlic cloves with a little pinch of salt and pop the resulting paste into a jug along with the lime juice, chopped red chilli, chopped herbs and a couple of big glugs of rapeseed oil. Mix it all up and leave to one side.
Next, take your salad bowl and pop in the Apetina cheese, sliced avocado, black olives and cherry tomatoes. Lastly add in the chopped pear, then quickly pour over the salad dressing and toss gently.
And that’s it! Serve with crusty bread and a final sprinkling of fresh herbs. Delicious.
If you love this recipe, pop along to the Apetina recipe challenge on Facebook where every week Apetina will be featuring four salads and vote (for me, preferably, but hey, check out the others too). You could win a picnic hamper or – on the final week – a BBQ.
You might remember that I took part in a little challenge a while ago with Lean on Turkey, supporting our fantastic British turkey farmers, to create a turkey dish for a family of four for under a tenner. The result was my Moroccan style turkey with Ras el Hanout. This time, and happily for us it coincides with this gorgeous weather, my challenge is to cook a low fat, healthy turkey recipe, again costing under a tenner. It has to feed a family of four and can’t be a roast dinner.
So I got my thinking cap on. When I was in Florida (oh how you’re going to get fed up with me saying that), we had some amazing prawns that were both sticky, sweet and delightfully spicy. So I had a fiddle and came up with these: lovely sticky sweet chilli turkey kebabs. We ate them with a fresh salad of avocado, cherry tomatoes and olives, some crusty bread and that old summer favourite, potato salad – bit of a mish mash really, (some call if ‘fusion’) but it all came together really well and made for quite the most delicious al fresco supper.
Here’s how I did it.
For the sticky sweet chilli turkey kebabs:
1 pack turkey breast steaks
1 red chilli (deseeded and finely chopped)
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
Squeeze of lime
In a pestle and mortar, squish the red chilli and the garlic cloves with a little pinch of salt. Make sure they’re completely mashed into a paste, then add the runny honey, soy, fish sauce and lime.
Cut the turkey breast steaks into slivers and drop them into the marinade. Allow them to marinate for at least an hour.
Thread onto skewers or bamboo sticks (make sure you soak the sticks first to stop them catching fire) then grill for 10 – 15 minutes until cooked through, giving them a little baste every so often with the leftover marinade.
Serve with a fresh salad – anything you’ve got in the fridge/store cupboard will do: avocado, cherry tomatoes, olives, Feta, cucumber… Season, then toss with some rapeseed oil and a squeeze of lime.
For the potato salad, just boil the potatoes until tender and coat in a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise. I may or may not have added some spring onions here as well which I may or may not have left off my costing table below. Ahem.
And the verdict on the kebabs? AMAZING! Clean plates all round.
The verdict on the salad? ‘What’s this green stuff?.. and ‘ugh, I hate olives’.
Ah well. You can’t win them all…
For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk
The afternoon we arrived at Bodegas Monje was utterly stunning. The sky was a shimmering turquoise and the rows of vines glowed emerald green, rolling down towards the sea. What a gorgeous place.
First up was a tour of the winery (meaning that we had to head into the gloom of the cellar… boooo.) Still, I learned absolutely loads about wine making (the winery produce a stunning range of wines, mostly exported to the USA).
Next, it was upstairs to the rather beautiful cookery school, to get a crash course in Canarian cooking and test some of those stunning wines as well:
First on our menu was that Canarian staple (and my Disreputable Dad’s absolute favourite): papas arugadas (meaning literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’). We had a bit of a laugh when we discovered that the type of spud used is ‘Quinegua’ – pronounce it in a Spanish accent and you’ll see exactly how it got its name: King Edward!
We watched as the small potatoes were barely covered with boiling water and an eye watering amount of sea salt was added (at least two handfuls, but don’t worry, the potatoes will only absorb as much as they need – we tested this theory). The potatoes were then covered and boiled for about 20 minutes, depending on size. When tender, they were then drained and returned to the heat where they were tossed and shaken until all the remaining water was gone and they took on their traditional wrinkly, dusty appearance. Delicious.
Next we moved on to the sauces. Traditionally, red mojo sauce is served with meat and green with fish. We were on the green team (the green can be coriander, but is just as often parsley or a mixture of the two) and set to work. Mojo is traditionally made entirely by hand in a pestle and mortar and takes LOADS of elbow grease. I bet there aren’t many flabby upper arms to be seen on the island, what with all that pounding!
For Green Mojo
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp sea salt
1 green pepper, deseeded and finely diced
One small (and very hot) green chilli
1/2 bunch fresh coriander (or parsley)
2 tsp cider vinegar
2 wine glasses of olive oil
First, crush the garlic with the salt, then slowly add in the green pepper, pounding until it’s all completely pulped. Now add a tiny piece of the green chilli (to taste, but if they’re as hot as the ones on Tenerife, a teeny tiny square is all you need), then add in the coriander and keep pounding. When everything is completely pulped, add in the vinegar ad the oil.
We added a handful of crushed almonds and sultanas, which adds a little sweetness and thickens the sauce, but this is optional, as is an avocadeo, which adds a lovely creaminess.
For Red Mojo
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 red chilli (again, as much as you like, but a small piece if they’re the very hot fiery ones)
1 slice toasted bread
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 wine glasses olive oil
1 tsp sweet paprika
Again with the red, the garlic is pounded with the salt before the other ingredients are added one by one, making sure they’re completely broken down before the next ingredient is added. The toasted bread works as the thickener in the red mojo. Both were absolutely delicious. We ate the red mojo with some pulled pork and those gorgeous potatoes.
We also had a demonstration of how the locals eat Gofio, the baked corn flour from the mill we visited in La Orotava. The Gofio is mixed with ground raisins and almonds, milk, a splash of water and local honey. It’s worked into a firm dough and that’s it. It’s eaten sliced with goats’ cheese, and maybe even some mojo sauce. We were divided on the gofio but I thought it was really lovely.
I adored the food on Tenerife: the seafood was delicious and very fresh (the ‘wreckfish’ was delicious, but I’m struggling to find out whether this is just local to Tenerife, or if it’s called by another name elsewhere), and obviously we ate an enormous amount of flan (I suppose we would say creme caramel), delicious custardy slabs, sometimes served with the dark caramel sauce, or sometimes with other little drizzly sauces, but often just plain.
If you’d like to see more foodie photos from my trip, check out my Facebook page.
We LOVE lentils. The texture is almost creamy, satisfying in that way that only a big dollop of mashed potatoes is usually satisfying, plus of course they have the added bonus of being VERY good for you and low fat too. This recipe is one of our favourites – I often make double and blend the leftovers with stock the next day to make soup. It’s best, though, served with some big, fat, meaty sausages: our favourites being the ones from Jimmy’s Farm. Nommers.
You will need:
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 carrots, diced
1 leek, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
150g red lentils
500ml chicken stock (or I often use leftover gravy from a roast dinner topped up with water)
Salt and pepper
So heat up the oil in a big saucepan and bung in the chopped onion, carrots and leek (any old veg will do, really). Give them a little sprinkling of salt and a quick stir around then leave them on low for a good ten minutes to soften. A little sprinkling of dried chilli flakes wouldn’t go amiss at this stage either.
After that you can just bung everything else in, really. Leave it on low, pop a lid on and go and do something else for half an hour. Oh and don’t forget to pop your big, fat sausages in to the oven – they’ll take about 30 minutes too, at 200 degrees/gas 6.
Check the seasoning and away you go. I’ll warn you, it’s very moreish, so it’s best that you make double.
So, after promising you a couple of healthy recipes, I then buggered off and promptly forgot all about them. Sorry.
Anyhoo, here I am, back live and a week into my alcohol free month. It’s going well. It’s going really well. I feel fab – and after the amazing facial, my skin’s feeling fab too. I’m drinking much more water (Katy told me that your body often mistakes thirst for hunger) and one of the biggest changes for me has been lunch. I’ve switched from a sandwich and a packet of crisps, to a bowl of soup, and it’s made an amazing difference.
Why switch to soup?
Well, firstly, if you make it yourself, you know exactly what’s in it. You can pack it full of veggies (great for that half a butternut squash left in the fridge, or a half packet of green beans that got forgotten) and it’s really low fat. If you’ve got leftover chicken or beef in the fridge, you can add that in too. Do what I do and make a great big vat of the stuff and store it in the fridge so it’s easy to grab and stops that lunchtime dithering thing that can see you reaching for a lump of cheese and a box of crackers (or is that just me?). And remember, lentils are your friend.
Lentils are, and I don’t use this word lightly, a real superfood. They’re full of fibre and loads of other fab stuff like iron and B vitamins and are great for providing that protein kick you need at lunchtime to see you through the day. They also have the advantage of being a great thickener, so if you’re trying to eat healthily they’re an excellent addition to soups and stews. They absorb flavours really well and have a mild, almost nutty taste themselves.
A good rule of thumb when making soup is to make sure you have lots of different colours going in there. Different coloured veg generally provide different vitamins and minerals, so bung in some carrots or butternut squash, then choose something green (freeze a bag of spinach so you can grab a handful) and maybe, say, a red onion too. Here’s a quick recipe, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be making a different variety every time and you’ll never get bored.
Vary your seasoning
Think past salt and pepper. Sweeter vegetables like parsnips and carrots go really well with a bit of earthy spice… tomatoes go well with chilli… have an experiment.
Lentil and vegetable soup
There are no hard and fast rules here.. add what you like and leave out what you don’t.
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
Variety of veg, peeled and chopped (three or four double handfuls should do it). I used:
3 large carrots
1 large parsnip
1/2 butternut squash
1/2 bag watercress and rocket salad
Thick slice of savoy cabbage, chopped
2 litres chicken stock (or veg stock – cube is fine)
About 150 – 200g red lentils
So heat up the oil in a very large saucepan. Add in the onion and fry until translucent. If you’re adding spice, add it now – stir it around with the onions and oil until you can really smell it (I know that sounds weird, but it works). Now, add in all your prepared veg, then pour over the stock. Add in the lentils (use less if you prefer your soup thinner). Simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender, then blitz with a stick blender.
I’ve been writing on Ready for Ten recently (I would link to it but it’s not published yet – patience, grasshopper) about the age old dilemma of getting the kids to eat enough fruit and veg. I make this sauce a lot (I use it as soup as well) and although it’s got plenty of green veg in, it still looks like plain ol’ tomato which puts paid to ‘ewww – what’s that?’ – my most favourite dinnertime question. Plus, of course, there’s the satisfaction of getting one over on your kids, which is always a bonus.
Of course, even if your family will happily eat their five a day, it’s still a great tea-time all rounder. You can:
- add in other veg, increase the stock and serve as soup with some easy herby bread
- tart it up with 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (put them in at the beginning) and some fried streaky bacon strips
- add basil and pour over pan-fried meatballs
- use in lasagnes and bolognese
- stir into a pack of tortellini (spinach and ricotta is our favourite) and sprinkle with Parmesan
- pour over chicken breasts, dot with torn pieces of mozzarella and bake in the oven
I could go on, but frankly I’m starting to bore myself, but you get the message: it’s incredibly versatile. It has a lovely mellow sweet flavour too. This quantity makes enough to cover pasta for four people and a portion for the freezer too. Ninja costumes at the ready, then:
You will need:
1 large leek
1 large onion
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp salt
1 tin good quality tomatoes (don’t use the cheapo ones, they’re too runny)
The same amount of stock (chicken, veg, bouillon, whatever)
1 tsp sugar
Freshly ground pepper
So slice the leek lengthways and rinse under running water to remove any grit or mud. Chop finely.
Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy-based saucepan and pop in the leek. Finely chop the onion and add that in too. Sprinkle with the salt and then cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally for a good ten minutes until everything is well softened.
Add in a tsp of sugar and the tinned tomatoes. Fill the tin once more with the stock (if I don’t have any home made I just pop in a stock cube and top it up with boiling water). Add in to the pan.
Now just cover and leave it for half an hour. This bit’s really important – everything needs to be really soft to get the texture right. After that, you can remove from the heat, blend with a stick blender and test the seasoning (add pepper or a touch more salt). You’ll end up with a really gorgeous smooth sauce and – here’s the bonus – no hint of anything green in there.
I love a bit of stealth health. Off you go, then, team…
Soooo here comes the big day! There’s just the four of us this year, but whether you’re catering for 15 or it’s just you and your other half, the golden rule is the same as ever: Christmas day is a happy, family day. Please don’t get stressed and fall apart. Just think of it as a big roast dinner – a turkey is very forgiving and will happily rest for a good hour (and probably more), covered in foil and a tea towel or two, so there’s no need to rush anything. My one recommendation is to take ten minutes to write a rough timetable somewhere, so that when you’re a bit sozzled, you can easily work out your timings. Remember if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding as well you’ll need to time that.
And look, I love Nigella, but will I be brining my turkey in about fifteen quid’s worth of citrus fruits, various herbs, spices and maple syrupy water? Nope. It’s waaaay too much effort, and cost. I’ll be preparing as much as I can in advance so that I can have a couple of glasses of champers and enjoy a gentle potter in the kitchen on the big day.
As for prep, here’s my top tips:
Prepare in advance
Get as much as possible done 1 or 2 days in advance. Peel the potatoes, cut them into even sizes and boil for as long as you dare (the softer they are the fluffier the centre will be when you roast them). Then just drain, leave to sit until cool and then open freeze on a tray before popping in a sealable freezer bag and freezing (if you freeze them straight into the bag they all fuse together in one big lump). On the day they can go straight into the hot oil/goose fat from frozen.
With the veg, just peel and prepare all your carrots/sprouts/whatever and bung them in plastic bags. Don’t freeze them as this will make them a bit soggy, but store them sealed in the fridge until you’re ready, then just pop straight into the boiling water (or steam) on the day.
For the turkey
Again, do this the day before. Don’t wally about washing the bloody thing in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just succeed in covering yourself and your sink in all manner of bacteria. Just unwrap it, take the giblets out (use to make stock), pluck out any stray feathers and get on with it.
I use one of those massive disposable foil turkey tray things – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but hey, it’s Christmas.
Add a few extras:
It’s nice to use a few flavours to enhance the turkey so cut up a couple of lemons or oranges, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and a nice bunch of bay, thyme or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.
For extra moistness and flavour, you can take about half a pack of butter, and mush it up with some of the stuff you’ve used in the cavity – maybe some lemon zest, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley? Then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the butter all over the breast under the skin. Now smooth the skin back down, drizzle with a little oil and some salt and pepper.
To stuff or not to stuff?:
I don’t stuff the turkey, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better for the hot air to circulate inside it. I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting. If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking.
Weighing and preparing:
Weigh your turkey and work out the cooking time. Write it on your timetable then just cover with foil (don’t bother buying that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then leave it somewhere cool until you need it. Mine’s going in a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap (heh, yeah right), I’ll pack some ice round it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).
On the day:
I take my turkey out and let it come to room temp on Christmas morning. No point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking. Just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, then stick the turkey on at 190/gas 5 (180 for fan ovens), set your timer and go and have a glass of champers. If you want to, you can baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry at all.
Turkey under 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 70 minutes
Turkey over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 90 minutes
Remove the foil for the last 40 or so minutes to brown the top
Once your turkey is done (you can wobble a leg easily, and a quick stab with a knife into the thickest part will allow you to collect nice clear juices on a spoon), drain the juices into a pan for the gravy, then cover with foil and forget it while you cook everything else.
And because I ordered a turkey crown from James Whelan Butchers, I asked Pat Whelan to tell us how he cooks his gorgeous free-range turkey crowns:
Cream some butter in a bowl until very soft, then add the crushed garlic, orange rind, parsley and thyme. Beat well, until thoroughly blended. Gently loosen the neck flap away from the breast and pack the flavoured butter right under the skin — this is best done wearing disposable gloves. Rub well into the flesh of the turkey, then re-cover the skin and secure with a small skewer or sew with fine twine. Finally, cover the top of the crown with the rashers.
Place the turkey crown in the oven and calculate your time — 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 20 minutes, so a joint this size should take three hours and 40 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, which should be removed about 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. The turkey crown will cook much more quickly than a whole turkey, so make sure to keep basting.
To check if the turkey is cooked, pierce a fine skewer into the chest part of the crown, the juice should run clear. When cooked, cover with foil to rest and keep warm.
For great roasties
You really don’t need a lake of fat to make them lovely and crispy. Just cover the bottom of the roasting tin completely and make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen potatoes. Spoon the fat over all the potatoes then whack in a nice hot oven. The turkey will wait until your potatoes are golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).
Easy apple and red onion stuffing
(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):
1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)
225g pork sausage meat
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the apple and cook until softened. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice. Once well combined, squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish, cool and bung in the fridge. On the day, it’ll take about 25 minutes (obviously more if you double up).
Bringing it all together:
And that’s it. You’ve got the last half hour to fiddle with all your little extras. Add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and cook out before adding plenty of stock (you can never have enough gravy). For sprouts, I just blanch them for a few minutes while I’m frying some streaky bacon in a couple of tablespoons of oil, then toss them in with the bacon before serving. I also serve roast parsnips with honey and a ton of cranberry sauce, oh and peas for the fussy bugger who only likes peas *sigh*.
If it goes a bit wrong and something gets burned or forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the day, pour yourself a drink and remember it’s just dinner.
One of my favourite recipe books is a very old and slightly crusty ‘Curry Club’ book called 250 Favourite Curries and Accompaniments that my Mum bought me years ago. I was searching high and low for it earlier as I’m currently suffering from a glut of courgettes, and knew that I’d seen a recipe for spicy fritters in there. But no, it was nowhere to be seen (it’s since turned up, obviously the ‘where the f*ck has that gone?’ gremlin has finished with it now).
Anyhoo, I had a rough idea what do so, along with the help of the BBC Good Food website, which had a similar recipe for courgette fritters (not quite right, the courgettes were sliced), pretty much worked out how to do them. And here they are (with apologies to the people of Northern India, who will no doubt be shaking their heads at my terrible and not very authentic version of one of their best-loved spicy snacks.
You will need:
Several courgettes (of varying sizes and comically rude shapes, if they’re anything like mine)
1 red onion, halved and finely sliced
1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Large pinch salt
2 tsp curry powder (or you can make your own mix of the usual suspects: cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli, etc)
Chopped fresh coriander (big handful should do it)
150g self raising flour (or, to be more authentic, use half gram flour)*
Grate all the courgettes and place them in a sieve over a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and leave for an hour or two.
You’ll be amazed at how much excess water they give up. Discard the water and place the grated courgette into a bowl.
Add in the onion, chilli, salt, curry powder and coriander, break in the egg, then sprinkle over the flour. Stir it all together as much as you can.
Now slowly add cold water, about a tablespoon at a time, until you’ve got a really thick paste (you’ll probably need around 100ml or so, but judge it by eye).
Leave this to one side while you heat up a wok or large saucepan with a good couple of inches of oil (groundnut is fine). Once the oil is hot (for god’s sake be careful here) – you can test this by popping in a little bit of the batter and seeing if it sizzles – just drop in tablespoons of the batter and fry:
When the first side is a deep golden brown, flip them over in the oil and cook the other side:
Drain on kitchen paper and serve with a nice yoghurt and mint dip, or maybe some mango chutney. Noms.
*Gram flour is made from ground chickpeas and also happens to be gluten free. I didn’t have any, but I’m going to use it next time as I suspect it may give an even crisper result.
I love butternut squash. I love its sweetness, its softness, and its beautiful orangey colour. I love risotto too, and the combination of both of them is one of my favourite meals. I happened to mention to the lovely Matt, fellow blogger and ‘Wine Evangelist’ (I love that title) at Curious Wines that I was going to knock up a butternut squash risotto and he very kindly offered to send me a couple of wines to taste with it. ‘I can’t taste wine’, was my initial reaction, but with the promise of help and tasting notes, I felt much better. Was I in? Too bloody right I was.
#1’s homecoming from bleeding his Grandparents dry in England seemed a good enough time for a little celebration, so I put the vino on ice and set about making the butternut risotto:
1 butternut squash
Salt and pepper
7 or 8 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
350g risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
2 litres chicken stock
Parmesan, grated, and some for serving
So preheat the oven to 200/gas 6. Peel and deseed the squash and cut into cubes. Spread the pieces out on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over about half of the finely chopped sage leaves:
Roast for about 30 mins or until soft and slightly caramelised. You can do this in advance and allow the squash to cool, if you like:
For the risotto: allow the stock to come to a simmer in a saucepan, then keep warm on a low heat on the hob:
Grab a heavy based pan, put it on a low heat and melt a tablespoon of butter. Glug in some olive oil (about 2 tbsp should do it), then gently fry the onion until it’s translucent (try my trick of adding a pinch of caster sugar to stop it browning too quickly). Then add in the rice, stirring around until it’s all glossy.
Add half the squash and the finely chopped sage. Now just keep adding ladlefuls of stock, one at a time, stirring constantly and making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding another. When all the stock is gone – this might take half an hour or so – the risotto should be nice and creamy, still with a teeny bit of bite to it.
Now add in the rest of the squash and stir in the rest of the sage (the smell is amazing). Turn the heat off, have a quick taste and season generously, then stir in another knob of butter, and a handful of grated parmesan, put the lid on and leave it to sit until you’re ready to serve. Finally, ladle the risotto into warm bowls, topping with some grated parmesan, and serve:
Now to the wine. Our first contender was the Waipara Springs Premo Dry Riesling 2006 (€12.99 from Curious Wines), and wow did this baby surprise me. I think the last time I tried Riesling it was some medium German shocker (you can read all about what Curious Wines’ Mike has to say about Riesling here), but this was amazing – so zingy it was almost fizzy on your tongue. We’re no wine buffs, but could actually taste something citrusy, (#1 had a sip and reckoned he could taste grapefruit – and do you know what? It was actually on the tasting notes – he’s far too young to be this good) and the crisp, acidity was a perfect foil for the creamy sweetness of the risotto. Yum.
Onto the next one, then. Next up was the Tussock Pinot Gris 2007 (€14.99 from Curious Wines). You can read Matt’s notes about Pinot Gris here. This was a different kettle of fish. You could see instantly that it was much darker in colour, and for those of you who might find the Waipara Springs a little too sharp, this was much softer and really, really pleasant, although still retaining a crispness that again complemented the risotto perfectly. Try as we might, though, our dodgy palettes couldn’t make out the promised pear/apple notes – but I think that was our fault rather than the wine – and there was a lingering aftertaste that I can’t describe (help, Matt!) but that was absolutely delicious. Although this was lovely with food, we could well imagine polishing this one off whilst tucked up on the sofa in front of Lie to Me.
Sadly, after finishing two bottles of wine between us, I can’t read many of my notes and lost one of the pieces of paper, but the Waipara Springs definitely came in the winner with an impressive score of 16/20. So that’s it, then, my first ever wine tasting. I’d like to thank Mike and Matt for their patience, copious notes, encouragement… and the free wine, oh and for the slightly giggly game of poker that followed. Bless you.
So I’ve had ups and downs with my first year of vegetable patch ownership. For example, the sweet peas went completely mental but didn’t give me a single bloody flower, the pumpkins, coriander and basil all died (too cold? we didn’t really have any sunshine) and the cucumber covered the whole plot in huge leaves and spidery tentrils, but no cucumbers (well how was I to know it was a climber). On the upside, there are two or three courgettes ready to go, the dwarf french beans have given us a sizeable crop; the fennel, parsley, mint and thyme are all huge and the carrots are surviving . In the greenhouse, the tomatoes have been fruiting like wild things, but all the fruit is green and the weather is definitely on the turn here (our morning walk was both rainy AND cold – Bert was not impressed). The aubergine has a tiny fruit but again it might all be too late.
The rhubarb absolutely excelled itself, growing to triffid-like proportions while I scoured local garden centres for one of those terracotta things to ‘force it’. My kitchen gardening guru, Mr Titchmarsh, says that by the end of summer, the rhubarb will be too tough to eat, but ours has been amazing. Sunday, then, saw us tucking into the biggest, juiciest steaks ever, complete with home grown french beans, garlic-roasted butternut squash and some very pleasant home made potato wedges (four or five medium sized potatoes, cut in half, then into four wedges lengthways, blanched in boiling salted water for ten minutes, then tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and baked in a 200 degree oven until golden brown and crispy), followed by a huge rhubarb crumble with cream.
For the crumble, then:
Four or five big fat stems of rhubarb
Big splosh of apple juice or water (say 100ml?)
Sugar for sprinkling
6 oz plain flour
Generous teaspoon ground ginger
4 oz butter
4 oz sugar
1 oz porridge oats
Handful of sliced almonds
So preheat the oven to 200 degrees. I’ve been poaching my rhubarb first as I’ve been freezing some of it, so weigh out your ingredients, then, and wash the rhubarb, chopping into inch-long chunks. Pop them in a saucepan with your splosh of apple juice and a generous amount of sugar (to taste, but remember it’s sour!). Let the rhubarb poach gently with a lid on until it’s just tender but not mushy. Mine took about ten minutes.
Meanwhile, rub your butter and flour together (not too fine – a lumpy texture is better), then stir in your ginger, sugar and porridge oats. Spoon the rhubarb into an oven-proof dish, cover it with the crumble mixture and finally, sprinkle over the sliced almonds. All you’re doing is cooking the top so it should only take about 15 minutes to come out all golden and bubbling.
There you have it, then: good, fresh food, quickly prepared and happily scoffed. I had the leftovers with yoghurt for breakfast then next day too. Mr Atkins wouldn’t like it but hey, them’s the breaks.
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