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I had lots of ideas to post Christmas recipes this month but December ran away and we went away! We are in Vermont for Christmas this year and I couldn’t be more delighted!
I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone that visits here, especially to those who take the time to comment and like things. I am grateful to you all.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a very healthy, happy 2014 to everyone.
I adore Yotam Ottolenghi, I loved his recent Mediterranean series and I could eat most anything from his book Plenty. One dish I’ve made from that book several times is the Winter Cous Cous. Although perfect as it is I most often have to change the original recipe to suit my fridge contents! In fact I don’t think I’ve ever had all the ingredients for the original recipe and gradually I’ve changed it to this one which although a little different to the original it is, in my opinion, still delicious. Its full of some of my favourite things.
This makes a lovely meal in a bowl, real comfort food, perfect for this time of year. There is enough for 2 people or it’s also delicious cold if you have any left over.
Ottolenghi Inspired Cous Cous (inspired by the Winter Cous Cous Recipe in Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi)
- 1 medium carrot, cut into chunks
- 1 onion peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 small aubergine, cut into chunks
- 200 g pumpkin or squash, cut into chunks
- 2 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick, broken in 2
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp chipotle chile powder
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 can chickpeas
- 175 ml water
- 120 g cous cous
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 150 ml vegetable stock – boiling
- 1 tbsp butter
- zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
- Pre heat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6.
- Add the carrot, onion, aubergine, pumpkin, cinnamon stick and star anise and spices (first 9 ingredients) to a large roasting tray. Sprinkle with 2 of the 3 tbsp of olive oil and mix all the ingredients together. Roast for 40 minutes, lessen this time if the vegetables are cooking too quickly in an oven hotter than mine.
- Add the chickpeas and water to the roasting ingredients and return to the oven for 15 minutes, until the chickpeas have heated through.
- Now make the cous cous by putting the cous cous into a heat proof bowl with 1/2 tsp salt and the last tbsp of olive oil. Pour over the boiling stock and cover the bowl with a tea towel or cling film and leave for 10 minutes.
- Dot the butter over the cous cous and fluff it all up with a fork.
- To serve place some cous cous into a bowl and spoon over the roasted vegetables, remove the cinnamon and star anise first. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and juice and scatter with coriander leaves.
Poached pears, that’s not something that usually rolls off of my tongue! Its a dessert that I would usually shun in favour of something more indulgent! However I’ve discovered how wrong I was to assume a poached pear would be an unsatisfactory choice! I had reason to make poached pears recently and I was surprised at how much I liked them!
I had the good fortune of coming across a very knowledgeable greengrocer when I went to buy my pears. Not only did he choose perfectly ripe pears for me, he gave me a step by step guide to poaching them, including talking me through making a cartouche from grease proof paper to keep the pears submerged in their poaching liquid (a cartouche is just a circle of grease proof paper). It turns out the greengrocer also has a restaurant and poached pears is one of their regular desserts so it was lucky for me that I chose to get my pears from him!
I was surprised that there are a few things in all the recipes I saw that weren’t mentioned so for the beginners out there I thought I would share my poached pear experience here!
- You will get burnt fingers, beware!
- Do get a pear or 2 extra just in case of an accident, they are more delicate than you would think.
- I would recommend you use a spoon to lift the stalk up out of the poaching liquid, grab the stalk then place the spoon under the bottom of the pear. As it’s so hot the tendency would be to lift the pear out of the liquid by the stalk, if you do you risk the stalk breaking off, leaving you with a damaged pear. Let the spoon support the pear’s weight but be careful not to pierce the pear with the spoon, gently does it!
- For even cooking and colouring the pears need to be under the liquid throughout the cooking. Be prepared to make extra poaching liquid if you have larger pears, the recipe I was using had nowhere near enough liquid, my pears were only half covered so I had to make more in a hurry!
- The pears should be covered but if you have added more liquid and they still aren’t covered or you don’t want to buy more wine just make sure you turn the pears around often to get even cooking.
These poached pears make a great dessert for the festive season, their ruby colour is so pretty! The pears make a nice light dessert and would make a nice change from all the heavier holiday foods. The poaching liquid is essentially a mulled wine so the house will be filled with the scent of Christmas as you make these.
Winter Spiced Poached Pears (adapted from this recipe)
- 6 pears, peeled but left whole with the stalk left on
- 1 bottle red wine (may need up to half of a 2nd bottle of wine if pears are particularly rotund)
- 750 ml water (may need another 250 ml if adding more wine for larger pears)
- 1 vanilla pod, halved length-ways and seeds scraped out
- 300 g sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks, each broken in two pieces
- 6 cloves
- Add the wine and water to a large pan along with the vanilla pod and seeds, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a simmer.
- Make a circle of grease proof paper to cover your pears while poaching.
- Lower the pears into the liquid adding more until the pears are covered. Place the cartouche (circle of grease proof paper) over the pears to keep them under the liquid. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the pears are tender all the way through (test using a cocktail stick).
- When tender remove the pears carefully from the liquid. When cooled the pears can be stored like this in a Tupperware in the fridge for up to 2 days.
- Bring the poaching liquid to a boil for around 10 minutes or until its reduced and syrupy. When cooled the syrup can also be stored in the fridge up to 2 days.
- When ready, serve the pears and syrup at room temperature. Simply place a pear on each plate and drizzle with some of the syrup. Serve with cream or creme fraiche.
Pumpkins were one of the successes on our allotment this year, although we didn’t grow a gigantic prize winner we did get a lot of smaller, more edible types, I grew 2 varieties this year Bon Bon which was a small variety and Musquee de Provence. Actually after buying my seeds I realised both were classed as squash, but squash or pumpkin they are used in the same way and any kind of pumpkin or squash will work here. I decided to try a Bon Bon first, its only small so was easy to use up, I simply sliced and roasted it. On its own served as a vegetable it was great, a really good tasting pumpkin with a nice texture. Even though it was only a small pumpkin there was still enough for several meals so the next day I made up this salad, it was so good I made it the day after too!
I love pumpkin in salad it lends itself to any flavour dressing and adds some autumn richness, salads feel as they ought to be more substantial now the weather is colder. I used za’atar in my dressing. Za’atar is a middle eastern herb blend containing marjoram, oregano, sesame seeds, sumac and salt. As well as using it in salad dressing I like to scatter it over roasted vegetables. It’s also lovely sprinkled over hummus. Za’atar is a handy herb blend to have in your cupboard.
This salad is great for lunch with the pumpkin either warm or cold. It would make a great starter served on a large platter with the pumpkin still warm from roasting. The feta cheese is an option but if you want to cut some calories or make this salad more paleo/vegan friendly leave it out.
Roasted Pumpkin Salad with a Za’atar Dressing (serves 2)
- 100 grams spinach leaves, rinsed and well dried
- 1/2 a small red onion, diced
- 150 grams roasted pumpkin/squash
- approx 6 cherry tomatoes sliced into halves
- 30 grams feta cheese, cut into cubes (optional)
for the dressing
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 tsp za’atar herb blend
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Roast the pumpkin by de-seeding the pumpkin and slicing, drizzle with olive oil salt and pepper and roast on 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6 for around 30 minutes until the pumpkin is tender,
- Place the spinach, onion tomatoes and pumpkin in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- To make the dressing place all the dressing ingredients into a small jug and whisk quickly with a fork to combine the ingredients, stir until liquid becomes slightly thickened.
- Pour the dressing over the salad ingredients and toss to coat. Serve the salad and place little bits of feta onto each salad, I don’t mix the cheese with the dressing as it breaks up.
So much in our lives is down to timing. People we meet, opportunities that happen just because you were in the right place at the right time or things that don’t happen because you just missed out. Spare a thought for the person that was just before or just after the person that did win the lottery! Timing can also affect so much of what we eat. As much as I love my cook books it’s often what I happen to see while looking at Pinterest or food blogs that now ends up on my plate!
That’s where this recipe idea came from, I follow a blog called smarterfitter by Monica Shaw and a few weeks ago she did a detox during which she made the most amazing soups and salads (smoothies too, if unlike me you like smoothies!). One post that stayed with me was where Monica describes making “cream of” celery soup made creamy by using cashew nuts rather than cream. I’m so glad I saw that post as it really set a light bulb off in my head. It just so happens that I used to love Cream of Celery Soup! I also just happen to be growing celery at the allotment and I just happened to have cashew nuts in! Making this soup was meant to happen!
There was actually no recipe in that blog post for the soup so I made up my own. It turned out great and is one I will be making again! I have always loved celery soup and its amazing how like the one I used to have from a can this turned out! Its got lots of celery flavour and its creamy without been heavy. Those cashews give a good dose of protein to the soup too which is great if following the Whole30 or Paleo diets where protein at each meal is advised but not always easy if you aren’t a big meat-eater. The first time I made this I found the nuts added a little grainy texture to the soup. This wasn’t unpleasant, just noticeable. I’m sure if you have a fancy blender like a Vitamix that wouldn’t happen. Now I add the cashews just before the end of the cooking time to soften them and the soup has a much smoother texture. My soups shade of green varies each time depending on the celery, as its home-grown its tends to be a darker green!
Creamy (without cream) Celery Soup (serves 2)
- 300 grams celery, washed and chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- 500 mls vegetable stock
- 40 grams cashew nuts
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan then add the celery and onion, stir to coat with oil. Turn the heat low and put the lid on leaving the vegetables to sweat for 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, give a quick stir then add the vegetable stock and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the cashew nuts to the saucepan and simmer for another 5 minutes or until the celery is cooked through.
- Tip the soup mix into a blender and purée until smooth.
- Season with the salt and pepper and serve.
It rare for me to want to make or even eat soup in the summer. Rarer still we are actually having some summer like weather here which makes soup an even less likely meal! However I got to thinking of recipes for all the tomatoes I’m hoping for from the allotment and a request for tomato soup from my favourite 10-year-old resulted in this unseasonable recipe.
This is a one pan and blend recipe, really quick and easy to make. It actually makes a great summer meal as there is little effort involved. Paired with a salad you can have a light, nutritious meal in no time.
Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup (makes 2-3 servings)
- 550 grams (approx 5-6 largish) tomatoes, cut into quarters
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into quarters
- 1 small red onion, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- couple of sprigs of fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 500 mls chicken stock (vegetable stock works fine too, whatever you prefer)
- Preheat the oven to 200 c, 400 f, gas 6.
- Place the cut tomatoes, garlic and onion on a baking tray and drizzle over the olive oil. season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme.
- Roast for 30- 45 minutes until it’s all beginning to get a little charred.
- Tip the contents of the baking tray into a blender along with the stock and blend for a couple of minutes until smooth. If you don’t have a blender an immersion blender would also work.
- Season more to taste if necessary and serve.
A swirl of cream added to the soup in the serving bowl makes a decadent finish.
I prefer to use large vine tomatoes but any will do, the roasting really brings out the flavour.
My friend, Liz, recently posted her recipe for Gazpacho. It looks wonderful but if I’m honest Gazpacho isn’t something I eat as I have an issue with cold soup. I confess I can’t really even bring myself to try it. I’ve had shots of cold soup while dining out which was fine and I wish I felt differently but a whole bowl, for a meal isn’t really for me. As I was reading Liz’ recipe I was inspired and found myself thinking that all of those lovely ingredients would make a great salad! Of course I’m not the first to have this idea but as salad is my go to lunch at the moment I thought Id try this idea out and I’m glad I did! It made a delicious, fast lunch. It was nice to have a salad without any leaves for a change!
This Gazpacho salad is made in a jiffy! Chop all of the ingredients, whisk together the dressing and its done, you have the base of a meal in just a few minutes! I left the skin on my cucumber, partly as I like it that way but I also think the crunch it adds is nice. The chilli is to my taste, it can easily be left out or increased. I used oregano as it was to hand. I will try with dill next time but I think any fresh green herb would work. To get the maximum flavor from the tomatoes use them at room temperature. This is especially important at this time of year when tomatoes are decidedly less tasty! Tomatoes stored in the fridge have no flavour. I had salmon with my salad but this Gazpacho salad is the perfect side to fish, prawns (shrimp), chicken or bread!
Gazpacho Salad (serves 2)
- 2 large tomatoes. chopped
- 3 inch piece of cucumber, chopped
- 1/2 small red onion, diced finely
- 1/2 red pepper, chopped
- 1/4 fresh chilli or some chilli flakes
for the dressing
- 1 small clove of garlic, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife
- 2.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- some fresh oregano leaves, chopped finely
- salt and fresh ground pepper
- First assemble the ingredients for the dressing. Peel and smash the garlic clove and put into a jug or jar. Add the olive oil and vinegar and leave to sit while you prepare the rest of the salad.
- Chop the rest of the salad ingredients and add to a bowl.
- Fish the garlic out of the olive oil and discard. Add the salt and pepper and whisk together.
- Pour over the salad ingredients in the bowl and stir well to cover all the vegetables in the dressing, check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve at room temperature accompanied with bread, salmon, chicken, or prawns (shrimp).