RSS Feed

Posts Tagged ‘main meals’

  1. Vanilla Part 2 – Caribbean sweet potatoes and banana ketchup

    August 21, 2014 by sarah

    In my experimentation to find a delicious savoury recipe using vanilla, I happened to add a vanilla bean to my usual recipe for Caribbean Sweet Potatoes and it worked! So here it is to share with you. I have also included a recipe for banana ketchup (from Levi Roots ‘Caribbean Food Made Easy’) because nothing goes better with sweet sticky potatoes and jerk chicken or pork. I know it sounds weird but it really works.  Bring some soul to your food!

    sweet potatoes-6906

    Caribbean Sweet Potatoes with Vanilla

    1kg sweet potatoes
    2 tbsp vegetable oil
    2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
    juice of 1 lime
    4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
    2 vanilla beans, blitzed in spice grinder grinder until fine powder
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground ginger
    1/4 tsp chili powder
    1/8 tsp nutmeg
    1/8 tsp allspice
    Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a large roasting pan with tin foil – this recipe really sticks!
    In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients then add the peeled and chunked potatoes.
    Toss so all is coated and then pour onto onto the roasting pan so it is one layer thick.
    Cook for 45-60 minutes, turning every now and then.
    sweet potatoes-6898


    Banana Ketchup

    most of a 400g can of chopped tomatoes in juice
    3 very ripe bananas, peeled
    3cm knob of root ginger, peeled and sliced
    1 garlic clove, peeled
    2 spring onions, remove roots
    some chili – however hot you like it man
    good grating of nutmeg (about a quarter of a nut)
    1 tsp ground allspice
    1 tsp ground cinnamon
    2 and 1/2 tbsp soft brown sugar
    good pinch (3 fingers) of salt
    juice of 1 lime
    Put everything in a blender (or use a stick blender in a tall narrow container) and blitz until smooth. Taste to check the seasoning, adjusting the sweet, sour and salt as required.
    Pour into a saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes. Leave to cool entirely before serving.
    This also freezes well but I would recommend using within a few months.
    sweet potatoes-6893

  2. Spice 6 – Vanilla – Madagascan spicy vanilla chicken

    July 22, 2014 by sarah

    Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices after saffron. It is a ubiquitous flavour in many sweet dishes – ice cream, custard – and yet under valued in savoury ones. So this post is hopefully going part of the way to address that and demystify the savoury uses of this delectable and exotic spice. It has a soft, sweet aroma and flavour which pairs so well with desserts and cakes. Vanilla also holds a  very special place in my heart as the vast majority of it comes from Madagascar where I spent a year as a child and on a return trip 20 years later, I met my future husband. From that trip I brought back half a kilo of the valuable beans, smuggled inside a smelly sleeping bag as the export limit was so tiny. I only have half a dozen of those beans left sadly; a good excuse to go back. But these days real vanilla is easily available. Please never use the ‘essence’, but a good quality extract is essential in baking.

    Vanilla beans are actually the pods of a climbing orchid native to Central America, though 75% of the world production is now in Madagascar. Vanilla growing is a labour intensive and slow process; the flowers must be pollinated by hand, the green pods must be harvested by hand and cured in the sun over several days, raised to high temperatures and ‘sweated’ in cloth to achieve the complex balance of sugars and aromatics, then dried and straightened out for several weeks.


    Look for fragrant, very dark brown, almost black pods that are slightly wrinkled, but still supple, with a slightly oily, shiny surface. Length is an indication of quality – 15-20 centimetres is best. If there are white fibre like crystals on the surface of the pods, this is a sign of extra quality. Store vanilla pods in an airtight container in a cool dark cupboard and it will still be good after a few years. Prepare the pods by splitting down the length, opening out the inside of the pod where the seeds are and using the back of the knife to scrape down the length. Add the seeds and pod for flavouring. You can reuse the pods by rinsing well after infusing the milk or cream base and leave to dry for a few days; add the dried pod to a jar of sugar for homemade vanilla sugar. I store my pods in a jar with a little sugar in the bottom; whenever I open the jar, I have to stick my nose right in and take a deep breath.


    We ate versions of this dish nearly every day on our trip around Northern Madagascar. I have upped the spice a little and although it is the main vanilla growing region in the world, I don’t think any versions we had in Madagascar actually had vanilla in it. Missing a trick. Vanilla also goes well with seafood and a typical dish would be lobster or prawns with a vanilla sauce.

    Madagascan Spicy Vanilla Chicken

    8 chicken thighs, boned and skinned (or a jointed jungle fowl)
    1 medium sized onion, chopped finely
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
    1 medium heat chili or a teaspoon of cheats chili from a jar
    thumb sized amount of fresh ginger, grated
    1 vanilla pod
    400ml tin of coconut milk
    4 tablespoon grated coconut (if you have it, could try dessicated coconut)
    handful of fresh tomatoes chopped or half a tin of chopped tomatoes
    chili powder
    Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan and when hot fry the chicken until brown on all sides. When done remove from the pan and rest on a plate. Fry the onion, garlic, ginger and chopped chili with a teaspoon of salt until translucent and soft. Add some chili powder to taste (depends how hot you like it and how hot your chili powder is) and stir for a minute.
    Put the chicken back into the pan with the onion mixture and add the coconut milk, grated coconut and tomatoes. Split the vanilla bean length ways and scrape out the seeds, adding the seeds and remains of the bean to the pan. Give everything a good stir; top up with water if necessary so that the chicken is just covered.
    Put a lid on the pan, bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
    Remove the lid and taste; adjust seasoning as required. Cook for another 10 minutes with the lid off.
    Serve over white rice with a wedge of lime.

  3. On quiches and tarts

    July 17, 2014 by sarah

    I make a quiche – or the posh word for one, a tart – about twice a month. If you buy the pastry it can be surprisingly quick to make. I make my own pastry every now and then to keep my hand in but there is nothing wrong with bought pastry for an everyday quiche. Making quiches is how I overcame my fear of making pastry. They also freeze well so I tend to make a medium sized one that lasts the two of us two nights of dinners (any longer and I get fed up) and the spare pastry makes another 2 to 4 mini quiches which I freeze for lunches. Makes a perfect light dinner with a green salad and possibly some new potatoes if we are extra hungry.

    There is a huge variety of fillings and combinations that can go into your quiche, just try to use something that doesn’t give out too much moisture as it cooks otherwise you will end up with a very soggy quiche – yuck! There is nothing worse than wet quiche and soggy pastry. So that means avoiding spinach and other greens in the filling and if you use vegetables like mushrooms or courgettes then pre-cook them to drive off some of the moisture. Here are some alternative filling suggestions:

    • smoked salmon and asparagus or purple sprouting broccoli – also nice if you replace the cream with creme fraiche
    • pancetta or smoked bacon and strong cheese such as cheddar or Gruyere – classic quiche Lorraine
    • oven roasted cherry tomatoes (or the sunblush semi-dried ones), basil and Parmesan
    • red onion and three cheese – caramelise some red onions in a frying pan
    • leek and cheese – soften leeks in butter, choose a strong cheese like Gruyere
    • poached salmon and new potatoes – again creme fraiche would be good in the filling and perhaps some herbs
    • fig and blue cheese – halved or quartered fresh figs, good amount of a good blue cheese

    What is your favourite filling?


    Goats Cheese and Aspargus Tart

    320g pack shortcrust pastry – leave out of the fridge for 10 minutes so easier to use.
    150ml single cream (double cream or creme fraiche can be substituted, in which case I would reduce the amount and increase the milk to compensate for the extra richness)
    150ml milk
    4 whole eggs
    100g asparagus tips – blanched or steamed until just cooked, allow to cool.
    100-150g pack of soft/fresh goats cheese, usually in a mini log
    Makes a 20cm diameter and 2 mini quiches – you need loose bottomed flan tins with deep sides (the cheap ones tend to be too shallow)
    Use the pastry to line the flan tins. Try not to stretch the pastry as you bring it up the sides of the tin otherwise it can get very thin and holey. Press the pastry into the corners and fluting of the tins – a ball of left over pastry is perfect for this. Trim the edges by rolling a rolling pin over the top of the tin so the pastry is cut on the edge of the tin. Then go around the edge of the tin and with your fingers gently push the pastry up the side of the tin so it sits a few millimetres higher than it. Prick the base all over with a fork (this stops the pastry bubbling). Put the pastry lined tins in the fridge for at least half an hour. If you can’t spare the time then pop them in the freezer for 10 minutes.
    Preheat the oven to 200º C/fan 180ºC.
    Bake the pastry cases blind for 20-25 minutes. To do this, cut out a square of baking parchment a few inches larger than the tin, scrunch up the paper, flatten out and scrunch again. Flatten out the paper and lay over the pastry, fill with ceramic baking beans, dried pulses or even copper coins. Doing this cooks the base so you don’t get a soggy bottom and the baking beans stop the sides from collapsing. 
    Remove the paper and baking beans and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Take out of the oven and with a pastry brush, brush the pastry with one of the eggs (beaten) and return to the oven for 1-2 minutes. This egg layer means your pastry bottom really will not go soggy. Thank you Raymond Blanc for this tip!
    Turn the oven down to 160 ºC/fan 140 ºc.
    In a jug, beat together the eggs (and any remaining from the one used to coat the pastry), milk and cream with a generous amount of seasoning and some fresh herbs if available.
    In the pre-cooked pastry case, evenly spread the asparagus tips and slices of the cheese. Pour over the egg/milk mixture and carefully put in the oven on a middle shelf. Do not spill any egg mixture over the edge of the pastry case otherwise it will be impossible to get out.
    Cook at this lower temperature for 20-25 minutes for the individual tarts and 25-30 minutes for the larger tart. The centre of the tart should be just set but still have a little wobble. Cool the quiche in the tin for at least 15 minutes before removing and eating.

  4. All the greens of Spring

    May 14, 2014 by sarah

    Having just come back from foreign climes, where the environment is much more arid than home, means I am fully reveling in the luscious greenness that is May in England. No dusty or faded colours paint the landscape green here. It is as if everything has been slapped with the freshest glossiest paint of every green shade imaginable. The frothy lace of cow slips fills the gap between hedge and path and hawthorn blossoms drip from every branch above and delicately fragrances the air. It seems I am not the only one rejoicing in the fullness of Spring; every little bird is singing at the top of his little voice as he flits from bush to bush busying himself with household chores. And the cows are chasing us along the footpath, though as I turn to confront them the breaks are applied so suddenly as to make the ground thunder under their hooves. What joys!


    spring (7 of 7) spring (6 of 7)



























    We are incredibly lucky to be living near one of the best bluebell woodlands in the country at Ashridge Estate. My heart was beating with anticipated excitement as we drove through the prettiest little village of Aldbury to get to Ashridge. And then it gave a little skip as we turned a corner on the path and there was the most amazing surreal blue sea spread out below the fresh young green of the tall beech trees. There was a fantastic display this year and yet every year it surprises me at how blue it all is. In another week or two it will be just a memory again.

    spring (2 of 7)

    While at Ashridge, we picked some wild garlic leaves as I always had in the back of mind that there must be something of use in them seeing as how they smell so strongly as you brush past on the footpath. And boy, I was not disappointed; raw the crisp leaves are crunchier than spinach with a green taste and pungent aroma of garlic; cooked, the softness is comparable to spinach and the garlic is tempered to a light scent. I ate handfuls straight from the carrier bag; I had leaves folded into a soft egg omelet. I was still left with half a carrier bag and yet wanting to preserve their uniqueness for longer than the leaves would last even in the fridge. And then I remembered a dish that John Wright from River Cottage cooked us when we went on the River Cottage hedgerow course a few years ago; wild garlic pesto. Of course, John made his with pig nuts which we spent many happy hours digging out of their water meadow but in real life only a sadist would want to waste time digging up a tiny pea sized bulb of a plant to make a dish. (Sadly, I have been known to go to such lengths) So I made mine with walnuts brought back from Iran, and I have to say I do not think the recipe suffered for the change. Indeed, if the feeling takes you then please make fresh gnocchi for the second recipe but also do not feel guilty using good quality ready made gnocchi; I don’t.

    spring (9 of 3) spring (8 of 3)

    Wild Garlic Pesto

    60g young wild garlic leaves (please look this up in a book to be sure what you are picking)
    1 small garlic clove (if you don’t think the leaves are garlicky enough!)
    50g nuts – pine nuts are traditional but walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds would work
    60g parmesan cheese finely grated
    zest of half a lemon
    150-200ml light olive oil or rapeseed oil (do not use virgin olive oil, you will not taste it)
    In a small food processor, blitz the garlic leaves and garlic clove with a good glug of the oil.When chopped down, add the nuts and blitz again until the nuts are fine. Add the cheese, lemon zest and a good pinch of sea salt and blitz again to mix. Add the remaining oil in small lots until the desired consistency is reached. Store in a sterilised jar with more oil over the top. Keep in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.
    spring (10 of 3)

    Gnocchi Primivera

    A 300g packet of fresh gnocchi (do not use the long-life vacuum packed packets in the pasta isle)
    2 tablespoons of fresh wild garlic pesto
    100g English asparagus
    a good shaving of fresh parmesan
    Cook the gnocchi according to the packet – using just dump them in boiling water and they are ready when they float. Steam the asparagus. Drain, reserving a little of the boiling water.
    Put the gnocchi back in the pan with the asparagus which you have chopped into short batons and stir through the pesto.
    Serve up and liberally sprinkle over large shavings of parmesan.
    Put the gnocchi

  5. Chicken, Lemon and Olive Stew

    March 23, 2014 by sarah

    The lovely yellow colour and gentle spice warmth of this recipe brightens up the these cold Spring evenings. Just don’t dribble the juice down your favourite top as it will stain. You have been warned!

    juniper (3 of 6)












    I almost always have a jar of homemade preserved lemons in the cupboard. I make it from the lemon skins left over from pressing the juice from other recipes, such as elderflower champagne or lemon curd, so it is practically free rather than the very overpriced and over coloured jars in the supermarket. But feel free to use what ever preserved lemons you have to hand. Even a quick trip to Marrakesh to pick some up is quite alright by me. If you take me too.

    Chicken, Lemon and Olive Stew

    Serves 4
    1 kg or so of chicken thighs with skin on, or chicken pieces or a jointed chicken
    2 tablespoons of olive oil
    1 large onion cut into fine half moons
    2 garlic cloves crushed
    a large thumb sized knob of fresh ginger, finely grated
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1 teaspoon ground tumeric
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 tablespoon honey
    1 pint/half a litre of chicken stock (from a stock pot is fine)
    half a jar of green olives (pitted or not as to your preference or what is on offer), rinsed
    1 preserved lemon
    fresh coriander, chopped finely
    Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed casserole (my lovely new Creuset pan is perfect) and brown the chicken all over. Remove the chicken from the oil and rest on a plate. Reduce the heat to medium or less and soften the onion for a few minutes. Once the onions are softened, add the dry spices, garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant. 
    Pour over the chicken stock and with a wooden spoon, rub the bottom of the pan to release the crusted yumminess.
    Return the chicken to the pan and put on the lid; simmer for 30 minutes.
    Prepare the lemon by scraping out the sludgy insides and rinsing the rind under a cold tap. Cut the rind into small pieces and add to the pan with the rinsed green olives and the honey. Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes with the lid off. Taste and adjust the seasoning if required (will probably not need salt due to the lemon and olives). Serve over couscous.
    juniper (5 of 6) juniper (4 of 6)

  6. Spice 4 – Juniper Berries – Venison Casserole

    March 19, 2014 by sarah

    Right, time for another spice and this time something that is probably known to you but perhaps lurking in the back of the cupboard unused? Well, mine was until I found this recipe. The recipe is actually a hand me down from my Mum, hand written into my recipe book from about 15 years ago!

    juniper (6 of 6)

























    Juniper is actually the female seed cone (i.e. not a berry or fruit) of Juniperus communis but the scales are fleshy and fused to give the berry like appearance. It is one of the few spices that is native to Europe, and even occurs in the UK though it is rare here. It is used a lot in Northern European, particularly Scandinavian, cuisine in particular to flavour game and cabbage dishes. And who can forget juniper is used to flavour gin. My favourite cocktail has got to be the plain, but oh so mouth watering, gin and tonic. Made with Hendricks of course!

    Venison Casserole with Juniper

    Serves 4

    1 pack of diced venison (about 400g)
    1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns
    1/2 teaspoon juniper berries, bruised in a mortar and pestle
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    3 bay leaves
    good sized sprig of thyme from the garden
    1/2 a bottle of red wine
    2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
    1 onion finely diced
    1 tablespoon plain flour
    rind of 1 orange and juiced
    2 tablespoons of red currant jelly (I used damson jelly because that is what I had – it worked well)
    sherry glass of port
    a dozen small shallots, pan fried
    one pack of vacuum packed chestnuts (or roast and peel and blanch and remove skin yourself – if you are a masochist)
    Marinade the venison in the wine, peppercorns, juniper,  1 tablespoon of olive oil, bay leaves, thyme, garlic and onion for 24-48 hours.
    Drain the venison, reserving the liquid.
    Brown the venison in the other tablespoon of olive oil, dust with 1 tablespoon of plain flour and rest on a plate and soften the onions from the marinade mixture. Add the venison, softened onions and the rest of marinade ingredients to a casserole dish. Add the juice and rind of the orange, the redcurrant jelly and the port and season. Add more water if necessary to make sure the venison is covered.
    Cook slowly for 2 hours on the hob or in a low oven.
    Add the shallots and chestnuts and cook for a further 30 minutes.
    Serve with mashed potatoes, celeriac mash or gratin or any other starch to your preference and it is obligatory to serve braised red cabbage with this stew.
          juniper (2 of 6) juniper (1 of 6)    
     I had quite a lot of problems photographing this dish. Though incredibly tasty, the stew is just BROWN and brown things don’t look that appetitsing. Hense the use use of the contrasting blue napkin and a fair sprinkling of parsley! Also, to get height in the bowl I used a a trick of placing half an upturned apple in the bottom of the dish to raise the chunky bits above the liquid of the stew and give more of a 3-D appearance.

  7. Caribbean Coconut Curry

    January 24, 2014 by sarah

    With the horrible cold long winters’ nights I like to turn to spicy recipes to warm from the inside as well as out as they cook on the stove or an excuse to put the oven on. This recipe from the Caribbean, courtesy of Levi Roots, fits the bill perfectly. Wouldn’t life be so boring without these exotic spices that can transport us half way around the world in one sniff, even if we haven’t been there ourselves?

    Even the cat, Brian, is around more and more, even if it is mostly quick stops for drying off on the bed linen or an extra portion of cat food! I wonder if he would like butternut squash soup? Some sad news this week though; two of the chickens were taken by a cat in the early hours of dawn at the weekend. Poor Gertrude and Mrs Speckledy and now Mrs White is all alone. I will have to get her some friends in the spring.


    Martinique Coconut Curry by Levi Roots (Caribbean Food Made Easy) with some alterations by yours truely. Serves 4.
    2 tbsp sunflower oil
    6-8 chicken pieces (thighs and drumsticks work best)
    2 medium onions roughly chopped
    500g butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 3-4cm cubes
    1 large aubergine, cut into cubes 3-4cm
    6 new or baby potatoes cut in half
    400ml can coconut milk
    300ml chicken stock
    1 tbsp tamarind paste
    3 bay leaves
    1/2 tsp ground turmeric
    2 tsp ground coriander
    2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
    3 garlic cloves, peeled
    1 hot chilli – fresh or in vinegar
    1 tsp sea salt flakes
    juice of a lime
    1 tbsp of rum
    mango or papaya cut into chunks
    Grind the spice mix in a mortar and pestle until a smooth paste.
    In a large flameproof pan, heat the oil and brown the chicken on all sides, in batches if necessary. Remove the chicken and set aside.
    Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions; cook until soft. Add the squash, aubergine and potato and cook until slightly softening. Now add the spice mix and stir constantly for a few minutes until the aromas are released. Add all the other main ingredients, including adding back the chicken. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook like this for 30 minutes then remove the lid and cook for another 15 minutes to thicken the sauce. Finish with any combination of the finishing ingredients; if using the fruit, cook until the fruit is hot through. Serve with boiled rice.

  8. Spice 1 – Star Anise – ox tail stew

    January 16, 2014 by sarah

    So here is the first recipe in a series of forty on spices. This time we are looking at star anise, that pretty star shaped spice with a hidden powerful punch.












    Star anise, or Chinese anise, is the star shaped dried fruit (and seeds contained within) of an evergreen tree (Illicium verum, part of the Magnolia family) native to Vietnam and Southwest China, so it is not surprising that it is widely used in the cooking from these countries. It imparts a deep and warming licorice flavour to dishes, like the Vietnamese soup Pho,  and is an essential ingredient in Chinese 5 spice mix. But perhaps more surprisingly, it is the flavouring in several liquors such as Sambucca and Pastis and even, until relatively recently, used to manufacture antivirals such as Tamiflu!

    I like to use the spice whole, partly because it is so pretty and partly because it is easier to control the flavour level and pick out the bits after. You can buy ground star anise but be very careful with how much you add to a recipe as it is very pungent and will easily overpower any other flavours in the dish. I like to add a star or two to poaching fruit such as plums or pears and I add it my mulled cider recipe (but not to my mulled wine – I like to taste the wine).

    Ox Tail Stew with Star Anise

    Recipe from ‘River Cottage Everyday’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with a few of my own additions. Serves 4. Tastes even better on the second day, like most curries. Although it contains spices other than the star anise, the later is the star of the show and the predominate flavour but not over powering.


    1kg oxtails, cut into thick slices (get the butcher to do it so you don’t chop off a finger trying)
    1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
    2 medium onions, finely sliced
    4″ cinnamon stick
    3 star anise
    2 bay leaves
    1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
    thumb sized bit ginger, finely grated
    up to 1L of good quality beef stock
    couple of squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum)
    salt to taste or a splash of soy sauce
    Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based casserole and brown the meat all over, doing it in several lots so as not to overcrowd the pan and end up stewing up. Remove the meat to a plate and turn the heat down to low and add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Cook until soft and translucent.
    Return the meat to the pan and add all the other ingredients and enough beef stock to just cover the meat.
    Bring to a slow simmer and then let is cook very gently for about 3 hours. If easier, you can do this in a low oven (120 C) or a slow cooker.
    After this cooking time, remove the meat from the sauce with a slotted spoon and pick out the whole spices and bay leaves. Leave to cool so the fat rises and you can skim it off with a slotted spoon and some paper towel. Reheat the sauce and boil until slightly thickened. You can either add the meat back in as it is or remove from the bones with a couple of forks (may be a good idea to do this for ‘fussies’). Stir in the chocolate.
    When you want to serve, heat through thoroughly and serve with mash. It was even better the second day.