a confession

So I was all set to put up a recipe of a cauliflower risotto recipe, I made mental notes about my method, I even took pictures, but whilst eating it I suddenly realised…

I just don’t GET risotto.

There, I’ve said it. I just feel like I’ve missed something, all these chefs (Jamie Oliver and Simon Hopkinson to name two) and just general people go on about how great it is and I just don’t agree. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some ok risottos made by house-mates and restaurants, but that’s just it, they were only ever ok, never the “wow” food everyone makes them out to be, never pot-lickingly good.

I’ve persisted and still I find risotto just too much of the same flavour, too rich and…not bland exactly, but somewhere close to that. The best risotto I’ve ever had was in the Zizzi’s chain of restaurants (Risotto Verde) because the fresh pea, mint and lemon in it lifted the flavour just enough to make it go from meh to mmm. But it was still only borderline ok/good, still not “wow!”

Maybe it just bothers me so much because I’m the least fussy eater I know and  it feels dangerously like a step in the direction of becoming a (dun dun daaaaaah) fussy eater!! It’s not even as if it’s an obscure and exotic food either (don’t talk to me about bitter gourd, blergh!) its a relatively common dish. The other thing I don’t understand is I like all the ingredients on their own, rice- amazing, cheese- fabulous, onion and garlic- extra helpings please, olive oil and butter- what’s not to like? So why does risotto leave me felling so non-plussed??

Maybe I should just admit defeat, admit I’m not all that bothered by it, and that you won’t find any recipes for it on this blog. Or maybe I’ll keep eating, cooking and ordering it to see if there is that special recipe or ingredient that finally makes it click. Either way- don’t judge me too harshly, I promise not to let this become a slow descent into fussy-eaterdom, and that I’ll post a real recipe at the next possible opportunity.




Happy New Year everyone, hope you all had a lovely season of festivities, I certainly did. I would like to say the lack of blogging is due to me being immensely busy during the season of goodwill, but that would only be true, if  you consider watching telly and eating chocolate to be a hectic schedule…

One of the many exciting cooking related gifts that I received in the final week of December (which for me is a double whammy Christmas-birthday gift bonanza) was “the flavour thesaurus“- a great read for anyone interested in cooking and creating recipes. So this recipe (having started on the basis of “oh look, we seem to have a lot of leftover stilton”) was nearly everything that the book says goes with blue cheese thrown in a pan- and it works REALLY well! Another gift utilised in this recipe was my Dad’s potato ricer, though I have made gnocchi without one before it did  make everything a whole lot easier.

I realise this recipe has lots of components, so if you weren’t feeling confident about doing all the time juggling, then I’d suggest using the shop bought gnocchi in vacuum packs, or making the gnocchi (or even just the mash) a day in advance.

Note: butternut squash takes an hour to roast so put it in the oven before starting the gnocchi.

home made quinoa and bulgar wheat gnocchi

serves 6-8

The quinoa and bulgar wheat add extra protein if you are making this dish veggie, but can just as easily be left out if you don’t have any available. I boiled my potatoes (quartered, skins on) for about 15mins, but I think if I do this again I will microwave them for less mess/water wastage/pans that need washing. I also made enough for about 6-8 and froze the gnocchi on a tray before bagging up,as they are quite time consuming to make, but a good quick meal once all the potato rice-ing and kneading has been done.

  • 650g Potatoes
  • 250g flour
  • 75g bulgar wheat and quinoa mix
  • Salt and Pepper

Wash and prick the potatoes, wrap them each in a paper towel and cook on full power for 5minutes, turn over and cook for a further 5mins. Leave to stand for 2minutes and check to see if they are soft, if not, blast for another 5mins. Allow to cool and then peel off the skins. Mash very finely or use a potato ricer. Whilst the potatoes are cooking/cooling rinse the quinoa and bulgar wheat and then boil in a pan of water for 12 minutes, drain.  Put the flour, mashed potato and bulgar wheat and quinoa into a bowl and season thoroughly with salt and pepper. Bring together into a dough and then knead on a floured surface for a couple of minutes. Divide the dough into quarters and make each quarter into a sausage. Slice into 2.5cm pieces and squash with a fork before placing on a tray.

**If you want to freeze them do so now, and cook from frozen in the same way as fresh**

Now, gnocchi really doesn’t take long to cook so at this point I would stash the tray somewhere level/not at risk of being knocked on the floor and get on with the sauce.

To cook, boil water in a large pan, drop the gnocchi into the boiling water and fish out with a slotted spoon once they float, serve immediately. I cook about 8 gnocchi per person.

butternut squash, blue cheese and sage sauce

serves 4

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 medium onion roughly chopped
  • 1 tub (300g) creme fraiche
  • 1/2-1 pint milk
  • 75-100g chopped walnuts
  • 25-50g blue cheese
  • A sprig of sage
  • 200g lardons (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Peel and cut the butternut squash taking care to scrape out the seeds into a sieve. Place 2.5cm chunks in the oven with about 1 tbsp olive oil brushed/sprayed over them. Cook for 1hr. Rinse the seeds of orange gloop and spread out in a baking tin spraying with very little oil and a generous serving of salt. Roast on the top shelf of the oven for 10-15mins until golden brown. Leave to cool and reserve for garnishing at the end.

Once the gnocchi has been made and laid on a tray ready to cook, soften the onions in 2 tbsp olive oil, adding the walnuts and sage and cooking for another 5 mins. Add the squash once cooked and mush up. Add the crème fraiche and enough milk to make the sauce more, well, saucy. Add the blue cheese to taste and any seasoning (bearing in mind the bacon and butternut squash seeds are quite salty). Simmer gently for 5mins and in another pan dry fry the lardons until golden if you’re serving them. Now cook the gnocchi (see above).

Serve the sauce over the gnocchi with the butternut squash seeds and/or the bacon sprinkled over the top.

Try not to get too excited about just how well the flavours go together and annoy everyone else eating.

I also got this super-cool apron for Christmas!

Thank you once again to my sister for the fab photos.

Oh Bing... How I love you.

I know I always talk about how much I love everything I post (aubergines, my friends, butternut squash, soup, rice etc.) but Christmas takes on a whole category of it’s own, I mean I REALLY love Christmas. This might have something to do with my birthday being on boxing day, which means I have to make the most of the festive season as that is all I get for a whole year, or it might just be that Christmas is awesome because it’s about God coming to earth as an actual human being…Now I’m normally a fan of everything Christmassy, even the terrible tat holds a place in my heart, but along came the first of December and I was feeling decidedly un-christmassy, one might even say I was feeling quite scroogey and grumpy towards the whole consumer driven machine that Christmas has become, but cynicism doesn’t suit me so I decided to resolve this quick sharp and get my festive on. These pasty shaped pies came about in a kitchen in Germany, where there were no little pie dishes to be had for love nor money (or none that I was willing to pay out) and so these are mince pies for the equipmentally challenged. All you need is a glass or mug to cut the cirlces, about the diameter of a pint glass. This experimentation in shape has turned out to be more than a one-time emergency plan, I personally think the ratio of pastry to mincemeat is just right, and they are much better for entertaining than the traditional shape as there is none of that lid-falling-off malarkey, just little parcels ideal for eating with fingers. Despite my liberalness with the shape do be warned, I have strong opinions on mince pies . Never try to give me a shop-bought mince pie with it’s sickly, soggy pastry. Only the simplest, unsweetened home-made shortcrust pastry will do, anything else and I’ll pass, thanks.

...and some water

All you need to make pastry

Here is your guide to making yourself feel (more) Christmassy. 1. Go to the shops with this list Lard, Butter, Plain Flour, 1x410g jar Mincemeat, Gluehwein/Mulled Wine/Spiced Apple Juice 2. Get back and shut yourself in the kitchen with your laptop. Get the Christmas tunes on,  my preferences are: Sufjan Steven’s “Songs for Christmas”, anything by Bing Crosby (wonderfully these are both on Spotify) and this playlist compiled by my friend Sophie last year, but if you prefer your Christmas cheer in a cheesier variety then put some of that on. 3. Get a small pan on and heat your spiced drink of choice until it is steaming. Pour into a Christmas themed mug. 4. Start making your mince pies, you will need:

  • 1 small jar Mincemeat (400g)
  • 75g Lard
  • 75g Butter
  • 300g Plain flour
  • your cutting glass (about 6-8cm diameter)
  • Splash of cold water
  • A pinch of salt if the butter is unsalted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Baking tray and baking paper
  • A fork
  • Icing sugar for dusting, or white caster sugar sprinkled is just as good

Cut the lard and butter in to 1cm cubes and put into a bowl with the flour and salt. Rub in the fat and flour using your finger tips, until the mixture takes on a bread-crumb like consistency- this can take a while, especially if the fat is cold, but keep going! Bring the mixture together with just enough cold water to form a soft dough. Put the lump of dough in a sandwich bag and chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile… 5. Put the oven on to 200C. Ensure your drink is topped up and then start browsing for those Christmas gifts on-line (so much nicer than the crowds on the high street). 6. After the 30 minutes chilling time, continue to assemble the mince pies. Roll out your pastry dough on a floured surface until it is about 0.5cm thick. Use your implement of choice to cut as many circles as possible, and then fill with just under a teaspoon of mincemeat. Brush beaten egg all the way round and then fold the circles in half, pressing down at the edges with a fork. Prick the tops to let out steam and then line up on a baking tray lined with paper. Once all the pastry and mincemeat is used, brush the mince pies with the remaining egg wash and put into the hot oven for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool before sprinkling with icing sugar or caster sugar.

un-dusted mince pies fresh from the oven

6. Sit down with the remainder of your spiced drink, or just a cup of tea and some mince pies to watch your favourite Christmas film. Might I suggest “White Christmas”? For another Christmassy weekend suggestion see Sophie’s 2011 Christmas blog post on “style and then some” here, which includes how to make cranberry sauce!

Last weekend I invited some friends over, only there were a lot of last minute emergencies and it ended up shrinking from a party of eight guests to three. Fortunately it meant I got to eat (incredibly garlicky)leftovers for lunch, which may be slightly antisocial but I always find leftovers much more satisfying than a sandwich don’t you?

Aubergines, I love you.

I love aubergines. Along with buttternut squash they are very high on my list of favourite vegetables, and this, or variations on this, is my favourite way to eat them. The best thing about this dish for me, is the meaty and smooth texture of the aubergines against the sharp tangy spicy sauce. Not only does it taste amazing but it is super quick and versatile. When I cooked this at the weekend it was for more of a middle eastern Mediterranean meal, so I left out the seeds (apart from the coriander) and the ginger, added a teaspoon of ras al-hanout and served it with koftas, (recipe to come), a yoghurt sauce, salad and flat bread. I cannot sing this recipe’s praises enough , it is my food heaven, and such a reliable staple.

A lot of recipes tell you to fry aubergines, but this makes them absorb a huge (read:disgusting) amount of oil, and I’ve found roasting them gives them just the right colour and flavour. Just a quick disclaimer, I haven’t suddenly got amazing at food photography, my sister was one of the three people who got to eat the dinner, and she took some snaps for me. Thanks sis!

Spicy Aubergines

serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side dish

  • 1 large or 2 medium aubergines
  • 1 carton of pasata
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • olive oil for brushing
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped/minced
  • 1cm grated ginger
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp kalonji/nigella seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • cayenne pepper to taste (I go for 2 tsp, but I do like it hot!)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 200C and then cut the aubergines into even sized wedges, I do this by cutting thick slices and then quartering/sixthing them. Put into a baking tray and brush or spray with olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes,  giving them a shuggle (somewhere between a shuffle and a jiggle) after 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or heavy based frying pan and fry the seeds until they begin to pop. You might need to take off the heat to cool a little before adding the garlic and ginger as it might spit at you otherwise. Fry them until brown and then add the pasata and all your other ingredients, bring to the simmer. Once the aubergines are cooked stir them into the sauce, adding water if it is a bit thick and cook simmer with a lid for 5 minutes. Check for seasoning, I tend to make it quite salty, especially if it is a side dish and you didn’t season the aubergines before roasting.


I came home from visiting a friend a couple of weekends ago to find a surplus of leftover cabbage had been cooked in my absence. Good old bubble and squeak was the most obvious choice, but naturally, I decided to mix it up a bit. So sweet potato mash replaced regular potatoes and to exotify it even more I used up some mango that was nearing the too-squidgy-to-eat stage as a sort of salsa-esque way of increasing the vitamin and 5-a-day content as well as freshening it up a bit.  Of course, my very good friend with an aversion to any kind of fruit in a savoury situation may take issue with this, but she may have to deal with it this once.

The poached egg also came out of the visit at the weekend as my friend and I decided this song would be the perfect egg poaching theme, and another friend recommended this method for egg poaching. I forgot to grease the cling film before I put the egg in though, so it didn’t come out quite as neatly as it shows in the method. We live and learn.

bubble and squeak with a twist

serves 4

  • 1 onion
  • 1 packet lardons (90g)
  • 3 sweet potatoes
  • 40g leftover cooked cabbage
  • 1tsp sweet paprika
  • seasoning

Peel and cube potatoes. I boiled the potatoes until soft (about 10 mins), but I had a thought that the bubble and squeak might be a bit more solid if you roasted the potatoes for 20-30 minutes, either way make sure they end up mashed. In another pan fry the lardons in a dry pan, and then add the onion once the have released their fat. Fry until the onions are translucent. Add the bacon and onion to the mash, add the cabbage and paprika and season to taste. Get a big wooden spoon, or something that size, heat a little bit of butter in the frying pan used earlier to fry the bacon and fry the mix in spoonful size splodges, making them into rough patties.

I think if I was making this veggie I would replace the lardons with a smoked cheese, though obviously add it in with the cabbage don’t fry it. Serve with mango salsa and a poached egg.

Mango Salsa

  • 1tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 mango, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 bunch coriander, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions

Combine in a bowl and stand for 30 minutes before serving.

Whilst tidying my room, my camera resurfaced, and with it photos of a meal I had completely forgotten about! This is it, the dumpling recipe is the first blog post from the amazing Hollow Legs food blog. I admire blogger Lizzie and reference Hollow Legs a good deal, partly because I am completely incompetent when it comes to Chinese food, but mainly because it is an awesome blog.

I love how the dumplings are all crispy on the bottom and soft and doughy on top. The broth recipe was vaguely based on “Three Shredded and Five Ingredients Soup” from an old regional Chinese cooking book my Dad has. I changed it to suit what I had lying around and to incorporate the leftover pork mince from the dumplings. Before anyone says anything I realise dim sum should be eaten independently and not with soup, but I get a bit edgy when there are no vegetables in a meal and I am after all an ignorant Brit (that, and I love soup…)

potsticker dumplings, makes 15-18

for the dough

  • 100g plain flour
  • 50ml water

for the filling

  • 200g minced pork
  • 2 finely chopped spring onions
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp corn flour
  • pinch of white pepper

Combine the flour and water to make a soft dough, and leave for 30 mins to stand. Mix the filling ingredients and allow them to stand for 30 mins too (while you wait you can get on with the soup…see the next recipe)

Once you’ve waited, knead the dough for a couple of minutes and then roll into a sausage which you can chop into the number of pieces you want. Then make the dough into little balls with your hands, then use a rolling pin to make them into circles and fill with just over a teaspoon of filling. Fold the dough in half over the filling and pinch the tops, folding pleats into them and making sure they sit flat. Put them onto a floured plate until you’ve done all of them.

Thats the fiddly bit, as for cooking them they are super quick, so if you’re making the soup I’d make sure that was simmering away to itself first. If that’s all done or you’re just having these then here’s how to cook them: Get a non stick frying pan and heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in it. Place all the dumplings in, making sure they sit flat. Then fill the pan about a third of the way up with water and put a lid on it. Steam them for 7-10 minutes and then take the lid of and allow all the excess water to evaporate and the bottoms to crisp up. Serve with Chinese black vinegar with matchsticks of ginger in to dip them in.

chinese broccoli and pork broth

serves 4 generously

  • 200-300g minced pork (or whatever you have leftover from the dumplings)
  • 2cm grated ginger root
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 50g mixed dried mushrooms, soaked for 30mins in boiling water and drained
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 head of broccoli
  • the egg yolk leftover from the dumplings
  • 1.5 litres chicken stock
Fry the garlic and ginger in vegetable oil for 2 minutes. Add the leeks and cook gently until softened and then add the shrimp paste and pork, and cook until the meat is browned. Add the stock, then slice the mushrooms and add them too. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stir in the whisked egg yolk and then add the broccoli. Season to taste and serve once the broccoli has cooked, but isn’t too soft (about 10 minutes). Serve in bowls with the dumplings on the side.

Did I mention I like cooking for people…oh I did? Well last Thursday I cooked for the alpha course at my church, so I happily pootled around in the kitchen the day before preparing 20 portions of tagine. For your convenience, I’ve shrunk the numbers (you are welcome), though if you did want to make this for 20 it’s a pretty simple “chuck it all in the pot” endeavour. Also I’d like to take this opportunity to sing the praises of butternut squash, which is definitely in my top ten vegetables. One of the best things about it is the smell when you cut it open, all sweet and autumnal; I actually find it quite a wrench to have to cook it. Just as well it tastes good too, eh?

Oh and sorry for the lack of photos, I just didn’t get round to snapping the food what with all the talking and that…

lamb or lentil tagine with butternut squash

serves 4

  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon or a whole cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp Moroccan spice mix (ras el hanout)
  • just under 1/2 tsp of harissa
  • 200g diced stewing lamb or 1/3 cup of red lentils
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp/a squirt of tomato purée
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into 3cm cubes
  • 300ml lamb or vegetable stock
  • 70g dried apricots, diced finely
  • 1tsp honey
  • ground pepper and salt

Preheat your oven to 170C and then find a heavy based oven proof dish with a lid. Heat the oil in it on the hob and fry the onions and garlic until softened. Add the powdered spices (NOT the harissa!) and fry for another two minutes. Then add everything else and stir until well mixed. Plonk on the lid and pop it in the oven for 1.5 hours, then check seasoning, and how watery it is and the tenderness of lamb (unless its the veggie version of course). Put back for another 30mins for the veggie version and 1hr for the meat. If it looked a bit watery to you when you pulled it out take the lid off for the last 30 mins. Another easy peasy crowd pleaser done.

Serve with couscous. Follow the instructions on the packet to work out quantities but before I pour on the hot water, I like to add a pinch of salt and about 1/2 tbsp of olive oils and 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice stirred into the dry couscous to coat it and give it a bit of extra flavour.

I would also say that any root vegetable like sweet potato, carrot or swede would work well here. I was going to put other veggies in when I made this but the butternut squash I had was so mammoth nothing else would fit in the pots!

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