Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Tree of Life Salad

An American friend recently suggested we have a two woman International Cook-Off - she sent me some salad recipes from The New American Cooking by Joan Nathan and asked me to pick one for us both to make. I chose Tree of Life Salad, a recipe inspired by a spicy dressing made at Tree of Life wellness centre in Arizona, which uses red pepper, tahini, garlic and oranges.  

I ended up changing things quite a lot - the original recipe had raisins, which I didn't fancy, and as the dressing sounded a lot like harissa I decided to use that instead, adding ginger to keep it close to the Tree of Life version. I stupidly forgot to buy oranges, so I used white wine vinegar instead and it works well, but I'll have to try the orangey version someday! I also changed the ingredients of the salad itself to include things we had: I used rocket from the garden in place of red cabbage, a yellow instead of green pepper (because green peppers are just gross unripe other peppers) and I replaced the suggested endive with fennel - completely different flavours, but I had fennel and fennel be good. In the end I was enjoying the harissa too much to add tahini, so I omitted that too. Basically this is a completely different recipe, but I think it still counts!

(sort of) Tree Of Life Salad - UK edition

Serves 2 as a side
For the harissa dressing
1 whole red pepper
2-3 long red chillies, medium heat, stalks and seeds discarded
1 large clove garlic, peeled

1 tsp caster sugar
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1 thumb-size piece root ginger, peeled and very finely grated
1 tbs olive oil
1tbs white wine vinegar 

If you've got a gas hob, set the smallest burner on a medium heat and sit the whole pepper directly into the flames. Turn the pepper as the skin blisters and pops, keeping it in the flames until the skin is blackened and the flesh is softened all over (alternatively, turn the oven up high, put the pepper directly on the top shelf and bake for 10-15 minutes, turning half way through, until the skin is charred and the flesh is soft). Leave to cool then remove the stalk and seeds and cut into quarters.

Put the pepper, chillies, garlic, sugar and smoked paprika into a bowl  or food processor, with a small amount of olive oil, and blitz up til smooth. This is the harissa.

Put 3tsp harissa in a small bowl with the grated ginger, white wine vinegar and olive oil and beat together well with a fork. Set aside.

For the salad
Half a red pepper
Half a yellow pepper
1 bulb fennel
Handful rocket leaves
1 small head little gem or similar lettuce
8 cherry tomatoes

Put the rocket and lettuce leaves in a salad bowl. Slice the pepper halves into long, thin strips and place in a salad bowl. Cut the fennel in half vertically, cut off the solid bottom end and remove the outer layer and the top stalks. Slice thinly and add to the bowl. Halve the cherry tomatoes and add them too.

Add a tablespoon of the dressing to the salad and stir it up to ensure everything is well coated. Add a little at a time until it's dressed to your liking, but don't over do it, you want to still be able to taste the veg.

I served my Tree of Life salad with a polenta pizza. More on that another time.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Rhubarb, Almond and Polenta Cake (gluten free)

It's been a whole year since I last posted on here, and I feel rather guilty about that. My absence can be partly blamed on my having to change the way I cook and eat thanks to IBS. I've had to cut out gluten and dairy and thus lots of my favourite foods, but over the past year I've gradually tested things out to the point that I now know I can tolerate a small amount of spelt or rye bread, can occasionally treat myself to things made with plain flour (as opposed to strong bread flours) like pastry and cakes and - perhaps there is a god - halloumi. A lot of avocados have been consumed, gluten-free breads have been tasted and rejected while gluten free pasta has been embraced whole-heartedly. Rice has been eaten in all its myriad forms and has always been scrumptious. My new favourite thing is polenta, which I'll talk about more some other time, because the other reason for my absence is also the other reason for this recipe: we bought a house and got a new allotment which, aside from an abundance of bind weed and couch grass is also rich in rhubarb.

I love me some rhubarb. I've yet to make a savoury dish from it, though I've seen plenty of good recipes, but aside from the obvious crumbles it also makes excellent ice-cream and fool and is delicious roasted with brown sugar and served with a meringue nest and some frozen yoghurt. The Guardian has a great sounding recipe for rhubarb tiramisu in their '10 Best...' collection that I really need to try, but a good old cake is often all you really need, and the texture of the polenta makes this seem lighter but way moister than your average sponge. I don't think I made this recipe up entirely, I'm sure it's come together from lots of different sources, and those quantities probably came from somewhere other than my little noggin - but I'll be damned if I can remember where. But enough piffle, here it is, rhubarb polenta cake, with ground almonds for extra moistness and lemon zest to enhance the all round rhubarbiness.* You don't have to use the xanthan gum if you don't want to, but it does help bind things together a little better than just the eggs alone. If you do want to use it and you've never heard of it before, it's a powder that you'll find in a small tub in the free-from section of supermarkets or health food shops.
*definitely not a word

Rhubarb, Almond and Polenta cake

For the rhubarb
350g rhubarb, chopped into approx 2-4cm chunks
50g soft, light brown sugar

Toss the rhubarb and sugar together in a bowl and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

For the cake
225g caster sugar
225g butter
200g ground almonds
125g polenta
3 eggs
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp xanthan gum (optional)

Heat oven to 180C, and line a 20cm cake tin with greaseproof paper (I always grease the paper but lots of recipes say to grease the pan, do what you will).
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together until creamed then beat the eggs in one at a time with a little of the polenta to help prevent curdling.
Stir in the rest of the polenta, the ground almonds, lemon zest and xanthan gum if using.
Drain the liquid off the rhubarb - this can be retained to use as a drizzle later if you wish - and fold the rhubarb into the cake mixture.
Spoon the mix into your cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven. Check after 40 minutes and if the top looks a little dark cover it with foil, otherwise, replace as it is and cook for another 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Leave to cool in the tin for at least half an hour before turning out onto a wire rack.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Veggie Paella with Asparagus

Asparagus is the tease of the veg world - it needs heaps of growing space, takes three years from planting before you can harvest a few measly tips, and when it finally arrives the season is only 6 weeks long. I made the mistake, once, of trying out-of-season asparagus from Peru, and it did not taste good for its long journey. If you've only ever eaten out-of-season asparagus and decided you didn't like it then, I beg you, try UK asparagus now, while it's in season. It's sweet and tender and so, so much better than its poor, bitter, traveller cousin.

When asparagus season is on I use it as much as I can before it's all over for another year. One of my favourites is a vegetable and goat's cheese frittata, asparagus laid out on top like a wagon wheel, browned under the grill to finish the cooking and crisp the tips. It's also great steamed and tossed into a warm pasta salad with blackened peppers, sautéed mushrooms, olives and pan-fried halloumi. But, of course, the best way to eat it is the simplest: steamed or griddled asparagus with home-made oven chips, hollandaise sauce and poached eggs for dipping. Yum.

This paella is based on a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi, which you'll find in his wonderful book, Plenty, but it's gradually changed over the years until it's become a different beast. Last night it changed again as I discovered that I didn't have any white wine (which I always use in place of Ottolenghi's sherry) and decided to use Badger Beer's Poacher's Choice instead, because we've had a bottle sitting around for weeks, left over from a selection pack. It worked perfectly, but you could substitute it with any other berry-flavoured ale, or a sweet cider.

The first good cherry tomatoes are starting to appear in shops, and the plum-types work best for this because they tend to have slightly firmer, sweeter flesh than the round varieties (though if you can get your hands on Tesco's round Sugardrops, they're possibly the best supermarket cherry toms around). Whatever variety you go for, if they're not bright red and don't smell earthy and deeply tomatoey, then it might be worth leaving them out, because those sour, orangey, unripe chaps are no good here (or anywhere).

To prepare asparagus, hold it about halfway down the stem with one hand and, with the other, gently bend it from the bottom end until it snaps. Discard the bottom - this bit is usually woody and unpleasant.

                                                                   (c) Becca Thorne 2015

Vegetable 'Paella' with Asparagus

Serves 2 (or 4 with a big salad)

4 good-sized banana shallots, halved and finely sliced
1 aubergine, quartered and cut into roughly 0.5cm slices
approx 10 chestnut mushrooms, roughly sliced
1 red pepper, cored and cut into strips
1 large clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
10 plum-type cherry tomatoes
10-12 pitted olives, halved
8 asparagus tips
1 cup paella rice (I often use arborio if it's all I've got)
1/3 bottle Badger Poacher's choice (or other fruity ruby beer)
1 pint hot veg stock, made with 2 tsp Bouillon powder, or 1 veg stock cube
2 generous tsp smoked paprika
sprinkling of cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/3 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat approx 1tbsp olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed frying pan (or a paella pan, if you've got one - you lucky devil), over a low-medium heat. Add shallots and cook until softened and starting to brown.
2.Turn the heat up to medium and add the aubergines, with a pinch of salt, and cook for a few more minutes until just stating to soften and soak up oil, then add the mushrooms, pepper and garlic. Add more oil if the pan is starting to look too dry, and allow the veg to cook down, stirring every so often to prevent burning.
3. Once the veg is mostly cooked, tip in the rice and stir to combine and coat it in oil. Add the Poacher's Choice and allow to bubble and reduce away.
4. When the liquid is almost all gone, stir in the spices and pour in all the stock. Turn the heat down a little to prevent the stock boiling off too quickly, and check every couple of minutes to ensure the bottom's not burning.
5. After about 5 minutes the liquid should be thickened and the rice nearly cooked (to test the rice, bite one of the grains. It's at the right point when the rice is fat and swollen, soft on the outside but the inside is still just firm enough to get stuck in your teeth). Space the asparagus out evenly across the top of the paella. Sprinkle over the tomatoes and olives, turn the heat down and cover with a lid, a large plate or some foil. Leave for another 2-5 minutes or until the liquid is almost completely gone, the rice is soft and you can easily slide the point of a sharp knife into the asparagus stems.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately, with lemon wedges if you wish, making sure everyone gets a fair share of asparagus.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Creamy Vegan Korma

All that sunshine last week tricked me into turning off the heating and had me seriously considering putting my slippers away for summer. These last couple of days though, I'm exceedingly glad I kept them out - my little tootsies are freezing! I'm rather worried about my poor tomato plants out there in the cold and rain too, but hopefully they've toughened up enough to cope (be strong, little guys!).

I've recently developed a very inconvenient intolerance to lactose that has to be ignored whenever there's halloumi around, but I'm being much more sensible with the rest of my diet and this korma is a prime example. Korma's traditionally made with yoghurt or cream, but this vegan version uses coconut milk instead. Not only is it far easier to make (no worrying about curdling) and healthier, but personally I think it creates a richer, deeper flavour too - hoorah!

                                                                                                                                                                   (c) Becca Thorne 2015

Many of these spices can be found in the 'world foods' sections of larger supermarkets, and you'll find the more common spices there too, at a cheaper price and larger quantity than in the regular herbs & spices aisles, but I've added substitutions for those things you might not be able to get hold of. Cassia, or Chinese cinnamon, is a larger, rougher, more obviously bark-like type of cinnamon than is commonly used in the UK. It smells like my late-grandad's old pipe cabinet - woody, a bit like an old spirit barrel and ever-so slightly tobacco-y. It's got a deeper, less sweet and less obvious flavour than true cinnamon, and if you've ever unwittingly bitten into a piece of bark in a South Indian meal, it was probably cassia. If you can't find it you can substitute regular cinnamon, but be aware that it's got a much stronger, sweeter flavour than cassia, so use less. You could replace the ground almonds with flaked, or with cashew nuts if you prefer, or omit them entirely, but I think they add a little extra depth and richness to the sauce.

Creamy Vegan Korma

serves 2-4

for tempering:
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds (use yellow if you can't find black)
3" stick cassia bark, broken (or a 1-2" stick regular cinnamon)
5 green cardamom pods

for the korma:
1 large onion, peeled, halved and finely sliced
1 cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 aubergine, diced into 1-2cm cubes
2 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp Bouillon powder (or half a veggie stock cube, crumbled)
1 tin coconut milk
2-3 tsp ground almonds
good handful fresh coriander, finely chopped
boiling water

In a large, heavy bottomed pan, heat approx 1 tbs oil (eg. olive, groundnut, coconut) over a med-high heat. Add the tempering ingredients and shake gently to distribute. Temper until the seeds start popping, then add the onion and cook until beginning to soften. Add the aubergine and cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently, until it's obviously absorbing oil and changing colour. Add the cauliflower, garlic, ginger, chilli, turmeric and garam masala and continue cooking, stirring every so often, for a few more minutes until everything is well coated in the spices. Add a little more oil if necessary, to help create a very slight paste. Next add the Bouillon/stock and enough boiling water to reach about half way up the veg; don't completely cover it with water. Allow to bubble away vigorously for approx 5 mins, or until the cauliflower is becoming soft and the water is mostly gone, then add the coconut milk and ground almonds, turn down the heat a little, and cook until the sauce is thickened, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Remove the bark and as many of the cardamom pods as you can find. Season with salt to taste, stir in the chopped coriander and serve with brown basmati, pilau or some flatbreads to soak up all the lovely sauce.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Thai-Style Coconut Curry

I'd planned to post here a lot more frequently than I have been so far. Other projects, and a nasty case of illustrator's-block, have been getting the better of me. In the run-up to, and just after, Christmas, I was preparing new work for a joint-show with my brother at Dean Heritage Centre in the Forest of Dean. That work is now on sale at DUKKI in the Broadmarsh Centre here in Nottingham, along with my handprinted cotton totes and lots of mounted original prints. It's up there for one more week, so if you're in the area please do go and check it out. They also sell the work of local artist Ian Jones, and the shop is a treasure trove of Nottingham-themed fun. I've been trying to devote the rest of my time to getting my children's book going, but my brain seems to be shutting down on that right now, so I thought it might be time to do something a little different to get the old creative juices flowing. And that, of course, means food.

This Thai style curry is incredibly simple and very quick to make and can be quite convenient too, if you keep the staple ingredients on-hand. Ginger and chillies, for example, can be bought in bulk from the market (you can often find bowlsful for £1 each) and then frozen. Ginger should be broken or cut into thumb-size pieces before freezing, so you don't need to defrost it before use; the skin slices off easily and much more thinly than from fresh, and the naked root can then be grated finely. Chilli juice gets onto your fingers far less when the fruit is cut frozen, so there's much less risk of rubbing it into your eyes, and the seeds are easier to remove that way too, if that's your bag. Lemongrass is quite easy to come by these days, but for convenience you can buy it as a puree in jars, which can then be kept in the fridge. My top-tip for coconut milk? Buy it from the 'world foods' section of the supermarket (or from a specialist Asian-food shop), where you'll often see it far cheaper than on the 'standard' aisles. The same goes for spices, rice, lentils, tinned pulses, noodles and non-wheat flours like gram and rice.

                                                                                                                                                                   (c) Becca Thorne 2015

The veg I've used here are just what I had on hand the other night, but you can use pretty much anything depending on what's available or what you want to use up. Other veg that work: Celeriac, finely sliced; frozen peas (add these with the coconut milk towards the end); sugar snap or mange touts; french beans; carrots, julienned; courgette; pretty much any brassica..... I wouldn't recommend tomatoes or parsnips, but if you can stir-fry it you can chuck it in here. If you're not using a 'harder' veg, like sprouts/cauli/broccoli that might require a bit of extra cooking, you can skip the water.

Thai-Style Coconut Curry

Serves 2-3

For the puree
2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves discarded, stalks roughly chopped (or 2 heaped teaspoons lemongrass puree)
1 red chilli, roughly chopped (pick the right spice level for you. I use medium hot and leave the seeds in)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Stalks and half the leaves of 1 bunch coriander (standard supermarket pack)
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Tablespoon light soy sauce

For the curry
1 aubergine, cubed
approx 1/2 pack chestnut mushrooms, halved
8-10 sprouts, halved
Half a cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 red pepper, cored, quartered and finely sliced
4 spring onions, white and green parts, finely chopped
1 tin coconut milk

Place all puree ingredients in a bowl, along with a little of the coconut milk (liquid only, but reserve the cream) and blitz to a smooth paste. Set aside.

In a good-sized wok, heat approx 1 tablespoon oil (I used olive, you could use any other oil of not-too strong a flavour - groundnut, rapeseed, coconut) and add the cauliflower and sprouts. Fry on a high heat, tossing frequently, for a couple of minutes until they start to brown a little, then add water to about 1cm deep. Keep over a high heat and allow the water to vigorously boil off until the veg is almost soft. Pour off any left-over water, add a little extra oil if needed and throw in all the rest of the veg except the spring onions. Toss or stir frequently until everything is just cooked and then turn down the heat to med-low and stir in the puree. Allow to cook briefly, stirring frequently to prevent burning, and then pour in the remaining coconut milk, including any solid cream, and the spring onions. Allow to bubble gently for a few minutes while you finely chop the remaining coriander leaves, then stir that in too. Remove from the heat. It should still be quite wet and very fragrant. Taste the sauce and add a touch more soy sauce if you feel it's necessary, but maintain the freshness of the puree flavours.

Serve immediately over noodles.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Low-Gluten Rye-Pastry Mince Pies

It's mince pie time! I adore Christmas pastries; as a student coming home from college at Christmas I anticipated my brother's amazing home-made sausage rolls so much that I could almost smell them as my train pulled into Gloucester station. As these are no longer an option (what with me being veggie n' all), my dad has taken over the responsibility with Delia's unbelievably delicious veggie 'sausage' rolls. But oh! mince pies. Lovely, lovely mince pies. Each year I almost forget how good they are until I open the previous year's half-used jar of mince meat and it all comes flooding back in a delicious, Christmassy fug.

Home made mince pies are a gazillion times better than any shop versions. Mass-produced mincers are a constant disappointment of overly dry and crumbly pastry and too-sweet filling, and they're always, always, far too big. A mince pie shouldn't be too deep; no more than a teaspoon's worth of mincemeat should fill it up and, in my opinion, the pastry should always be savoury and somewhere between shortcrust and flaky. I favour a simple mince meat with little to no residual booziness; glacé cherries are a no-no and I prefer it nut-free, though the occasional almond is nothing to be sniffed at. A mince pie with icing is not a mince pie, it's the work of the devil. And screw the best before instructions on shop mincemeat - use within 3 months of opening?! Hell, no. Mince meat is much better for a year's maturing - all that sugar and booze will keep it well preserved.

                                                                                                                                                                          (c) Becca Thorne

These rye pastry mincers came about this weekend after I volunteered my pie-making services for the opening of our friends' new shop (in Broadmarsh, Nottingham - Dukki Gifts on the first floor - check them out!) and, as one of them has a wheat/gluten intolerance I thought I'd try making some that he could enjoy too. Rye flour is low in gluten (but not gluten-free, so not for coeliacs) and has a pleasingly wholesome, nutty flavour. Combining this virtuous flour with butter (instead of veg lard or marg) helps lift the flavour to provide a richness that seems thoroughly unwholesome without overpowering the flavours of either the rye or the mince meat. As rye flour is rather grainy I added a tablespoon of gram flour to help everything hold together a little better. You'll find the raw dough a little off-putting - it looks (and feels) like a ball of concrete, but once cooked it goes a tasty-looking golden brown and is surprisingly delicious.

You can make plain flour pastry versions in exactly the same way, just replace the rye with plain flour and omit the gram.

You'll need a mince pie tray (the one I used had 15cm wide moulds) and two fluted cookie/pastry cutters, one for the bases and a slightly smaller one for the lids (I used an approx 7cm and approx 6cm pair).

Makes 15 small mince pies

6oz rye flour
3oz cold, salted butter, cut into approx 1 cm dice
1 tbs gram flour
cold water
Mincemeat (make sure it's made with veggie suet, double check there's nothing else meating it up or introducing any extra gluten if these are for someone with a gluten intolerance)
Milk for brushing (I used Koko)
Caster or demerera sugar for dusting

 First, make the pastry. Mix the rye and gram flours together in a bowl, then rub the butter into the flour using your thumbs and first two fingers. It will start to create a breadcrumb-like consistency. Make sure there's not too much loose flour left, but don't rub all the butter in fully - leave some lumps so that as the pastry cooks it will flake and puff a little. Add cold water a little at a time, and initially combine with a knife so you're not handling the dough too much and melting the butter - you need less water than you'd imagine, so go carefully, don't let it get soggy or gooey. Once the mix looks like it's coming together, get your hands back in there to form a tight ball of dough, then wrap it in cling film and stick it in the fridge for at least half and hour. It can be left overnight if you wish.

Pre-heat the oven to approx 200C/gas mark 6-7. Lightly grease your mince pie tray with butter (use the butter wrapper, you don't need much).

Lightly dust a clean, smooth surface with flour and roll out the pastry to about 1-2mm thick. Don't worry too much if edges crack and it seems much heavier and less elastic than normal pastry - this is just because of the lack of gluten. Use the cookie cutters alternately to cut out lids and bases until you have the right amount for your tray. Any leftovers can be pressed back together and re-rolled to make more if you like.

Take the larger rounds and gently press them into the pie moulds, ensuring they're fairly straight (if they're too wonky, the mincemeat juices will run out as they cook and burn onto the bottom of the pan, which creates an unholy mess that's impossible to clean up and ruins your pie.) Then use one teaspoon to scoop out mincemeat from the jar and a second to portion it out. A teaspoonful should serve two pie cases. It may seem like it's not enough but, it spreads out as it cooks. When each case is filled, brush one of the smaller rounds with milk and place it, milky side down, onto a filled case, gently pressing around the edge to secure it to the base. Do the same with all the rest, then brush each top lightly with milk and sprinkle with a little sugar. Using a sharp knife, poke a small hole in the top of each one and wiggle the knife gently from side to side to enlarge it a little. You may need to hold the lid lightly with one hand to stop it coming unstuck.

Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 10-15 mins or until they've gone golden brown on top and the bottoms are firm.

Immediately remove from the pie tray (you might need to use a knife to pop them out) and allow to cool on a wire rack. Get the fairy lights up, make some mulled wine or cider, and scoff the lot.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Stone Soup (or A Wholesome Veggie Broth)

My partner requested this for lunch the other day, before he took himself to bed with a cold. When your head is fuzzy and full of grossness, and you can't bear the thought of trying to swallow anything rougher than a pea, you need a good, warming bowl of soup. And what better than a wholesome broth, full of nourishing veg and hearty flavours? Remember the story of Stone Soup? It was one of my favourites when I was little, and this broth is exactly what I imagined the final outcome would have been.

                                                                                                                  (c) Becca Thorne 2014

This recipe is quick and super easy to make, there's no noisy blending to upset weary heads, and the addition of the toasted sesame oil really lifts the flavours and helps your poorly taste buds find something tasty to latch onto. It's also perfect for ladling into a Thermos or mug to warm your cockles while you stand around the bonfire waiting for the fireworks to start.

Serves 4

1 tbs butter
1 large leek, halved lengthways and cut into 1-2cm slices. Include as much of the green as possible.
1 large carrot, halved and quartered lengthways then diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 large onion, halved and finely sliced
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs of sage, finely sliced
2 tsp bouillon powder (or a mild veggie stock cube)
2 tsp mushroom ketchup (or other veggie Worcester-type sauce)
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp brown sugar
Boiling water

Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add all the veg, plus the bay leaves and chopped sage. Allow to cook over a medium heat, stirring often, until the veg is starting to soften. Add the brown sugar and stir to coat, allow to continue cooking, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the veg is fully softened but still holding together and the sugar has caramelised a little.

Add bouillon and enough water to cover the veg, stir and turn up the heat to med-high. Allow to simmer for around 10 minutes. Season with black pepper and stir through the mushroom ketchup and sesame oil.

Serve immediately with a good flavoursome bread like sourdough, walnut or olive.