Saffron chicken and Herb Salad

Another epic salad from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook, this fresh plate of loveliness really hit the spot for lunch today. Wednesday’s are just meetings, meetings, meetings, and fitting in eating is a real challenge.

I think the title of this dish is a bit misleading. I think I’d rebrand it as ‘Roast chicken breast with an orange, honey and saffron glaze – served with a fennel and herb salad’. OK – maybe that is too long winded, but at least it is clearer!

In reality the chicken breast is simply roasted in the oven, and an orange glaze is poured over it when it is ready. The salad is not really just a herb salad, more a fennel salad with some herbs; definitely more fennel than anything else!

The orange sauce is the only thing that takes any time with this dish. Once that is on you can get everything else done with ease. Preheat the oven, season some chicken, roast it, rest it, break it into bits. Slice some fennel, add some mint, coriander, chilli, lemon juice and olive oil – and that’s done too.

The orange sauce is a segmented orange (take out all the pips) with some honey, as much saffron as you can spare, and a small amount of water – which you boil then simmer for an hour until it is all ‘glazey’.

Once the chicken has rested, pour over the glaze then toss it all together and eat. Really really easy.

This is a keeper and I think ANY white meat or fish or even Tofu might work with this sauce and salad. I liked it so much I will probably make it again later with the other parts of the chicken and perhaps serve it with another side.

Hummus kawarma

Hummus, (or houmous as I always thought it was spelled when I bought it pre-made from the supermarket) is one of our go to snacks. I’m really not one for sweet snacks; I’ll always choose a savoury snack over a pudding. I’ll often use up carrots or celery or leftover bread by dipping it in a very quickly prepped hummus.

When I make it ingredient proportions vary. Quantities of lemon juice, tahini, garlic and olive oil vary depending on availability. Sometimes I’ll use a different bean to chickpeas – but not very often. Sometimes I even add carrots or butternut squash but the pure unadulterated hummus is always the best. This recipe from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook calls for dried chickpeas soaked and boiled in bicarb. Suffice to say I didn’t do that – which may seem like a surprise given the amount of effort I put into the Gado Gado Satay¬†Sauce – but I have so many cans of chickpeas and for me this is an impromptu snack – not one I want to put any effort into.

What I did make properly was the kawarma topping. This is simply some chopped lamb neck with all the spices and herbs! Black and white pepper, all-spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, za-atar, mint and parsley are all mixed together with a little white wine vinegar and marinated before being fried off in butter and oil.

The recipe also calls for a lemon and green chilli dressing but I’d run out of lemons and my Ocado order wasn’t coming until the next morning. Never mind – maybe next time.

Freya made some flatbread naan to go with the hummus. She made them with some left over yoghurt and pea dressing from the pasta dish we had the day before. They were pretty yummy but I have no idea how she made them!

The addition of the lamb made this snack into a meal for us and we ended up skipping dinner. All that bread – it was pretty filling. Saying that I’m pretty sure we demolished a tub of low calorie ice-cream later in the evening!

Salt and Pepper Tofu – Two Ways – sort of…

These two dishes are essentially the same – just subtly different. Both are salt and pepper tofu, just the accompaniments differ. But why so much tofu?!

Even before lockdown we planned all our meals at least a week in advance. We had bought three packs of tofu to cook meals from the ‘itsu 20 minute cookbook’ – my favourite of the ‘really really quick’ meals books I own.

Due to skipping a couple of meals and the ‘leg of lamb that lasted 4 days’ saga we skipped the tofu meals in favour of food that was closer to expiry. Obviously you can’t do this forever – tofu has a lifespan too – and we ended up with out of date tofu!

Whilst watching Australian Masterchef Season 12 (it’s on – watch it – it is sooooo good) one of the competitors made a tofu dish where they served it cold, pressed, uncooked, raw basically. I wasn’t impressed – so I decided to come up with something myself.

All I have done here is press the tofu for an hour, toss it in white pepper, sea salt and cornflour and fried it until a little bit crispy. Using white pepper allows for a more subtle peppery flavour – black pepper can be overpowering if you use too much!

The one on the left is fried in left over pork fat (from a dish I made the other day) and the one on the left if fried in olive oil. The pork fat one was much more crispy – but obviously far less vegetarian.

The one on the left has pickled red onion (slice and leave in white wine vinegar), sushi rice, steamed broccoli, cucumber and red chilli – and a little herby sauce (left over from another meal).

The one of the right is just boiled new potatoes, hard boiled egg, cucumber, radishes, braised red cabbage, more pickled red onion – and a Satay sauce from the Gado Gado recipe from Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook. The meal is almost the Gado Gado recipe but it is supposed to have green beans, bean sprouts, croutons and crispy onions – which I didn’t have to hand. I will try it again when I next plan some meals. The addition of the crunchy stuff will definitely make this a better meal.

The Satay sauce took forever to make – and I’ll talk about this another time. Suffice to say it took at least 90 minutes to make, is very very nice – and was more spicy than I expected.

One more pack of tofu left! Let us see what we are having later today!

Spicy beetroot, leek and walnut salad

Yesterday, I suggested that the Healthy Burgers and Green Salad we had would have been better with this dish. The garlic in the green salad kind of beat the burgers into submission. This on the other hand was the perfect accompaniment. There’s a lot more effort into making them, but it is worth it in the end.

I somehow managed to forget to have my breakfast shake so burgers and salad for lunch seemed like a good plan.

I’d roasted the beetroot in foil the night before. Nice little trick, if you aren’t in a rush, is don’t roast them for 90 mins in the oven (that’s a lot of oven energy for some beetroots) – roast them for 40 mins – turn the oven off and just leave them til the oven is cold. They’ll still cook, and you’ll cut down on your energy bills. After all you’re eating the beetroot cold anyway – and you have to wait for them to be cold before you can peel the skin off. Works a treat for me – seems less messy too, as most people are impatient and start peeling before they are actually cold – and the juice just gets everywhere!

The leeks are simmered until they are tender, refreshed, then cut into chunks – and while that it going on you make a dressing of walnuts, chilli-flakes, garlic, oil, tamarind water (if you have it – I’ve used a small amount of fish sauce before, or an anchovy – something Umami will do it), and cider vinegar.

When you’re ready pop it all on a bed of rocket and sprinkle some pomegranate seeds over the top, and a drizzle of olive oil.

One thing I don’t like about whole pomegranates is you never know how plump and colourful the seeds will be (in this picture they are really pale). You can buy the seeds already popped in a plastic pot but I don’t like the plastic waste. I’d rather the wormery had the husk than worry about whether the plastic will get recycled!

This was a far more balanced accompaniment to the turkey burgers. And filled a nice little spot in my tummy until dinner time. Right – back to work! Adios!

Healthy Burgers and Green Salad

Let’s try a straight-forward title – because these two dishes combined would make for quite the long title.

The Burgers – ‘Turkey & Courgette Burgers with Spring Onion & Cumin’ – and the Salad ‘Feta, Parsley & Barley Salad’ both come from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Both were packed with flavour – if a little heavy on the raw garlic.

We chose this meal today out of necessity more than anything else. Many of the ingredients were in desperate need of cooking – or going in the bin. Especially the fresh herbs. There’s only so long you can keep cut coriander and parsley before if starts to yellow. I remember on Masterchef Australia a few years ago that George Calombaris swore that the only way to store herbs was rolled in kitchen towel – but this has never worked for me. If anyone has any great tips I’d love to know how to prolong their life.

The initial plan for today’s dinner was a Spicy Beetroot, Leek and Walnut Salad (with the Turkey burgers) but the beets needed 90 mins in the oven and we didn’t really want to wait that long to eat dinner, so we subbed in the Barley Salad instead. In hindsight, the beetroot would have been better – as the garlic and parsley did somewhat overpower the burgers. I love strong punchy flavours but Freya struggled. Fortunately we have enough for the same burgers tomorrow – this time with the beets – so we will see if the balance of flavour is better.

As much as lockdown is terrifying and frustrating, it has given me a new-found desire to cook again. It has made me plan meals better; portion control better; and it has also made me take more pride in my kitchen. I wash up as I go, have become more methodical, and leave the kitchen spotless after every meal. It is so much easier to cook in a tidy clean kitchen when you know where everything is, and what you have, and that you don’t need to clear up before you start the next meal!

Back to the food. There’s so much in these burgers; turkey, courgette, spring onions, coriander, mint, garlic, cumin and cayenne. It was hard to believe a single egg would bind it all together. But it did – sort of! You just chuck all this stuff together and fry them off in batches. I made half the burgers that were suggested – and will have the others tomorrow.

The accompanying dip is a triumph. One to keep for almost any other dish; sour cream, yoghurt, garlic, lemon (zest and juice), sumac and olive oil all mixed together and seasoned. I added some more of my preserved lemon salt for a bit more punch. This punchy yoghurty healthy sauce/dip really worked well with the burgers; I think it’d also work nicely with baked salmon, chicken and other lighter meats.

The salad was pretty simple too. Apart from the barley prep (boil it for 30 mins) everything else is raw. Marinate some feta in oil, za’atar, cumin and coriander seeds and then chop parsley, spring onions, cashews, green pepper and garlic. Throw it all together and serve with a squeeze of lemon and a little all-spice.

I definitely overdid the garlic in this. Or should I say – the garlic cloves were just massive – I should have used half as much as the hit from the parsley AND the garlic was a bit much for Freya.

This is a great healthy meal. Just go easy on the garlic!

Pan-fried mackerel with golden beetroot and orange salsa & Basmati & wild rice with chickpeas, currants & herbs

Nice snappy title! fish, salad and rice probably would have done.

We rarely have fish. In fairness before lockdown we barely had meat either. But doing the vegetarian and vegan thing is a harder work when you struggle for availability of items and also need to keep them ‘alive’ and fresh for 2-3 weeks.

So for lockdown we aren’t trying too hard to be vegetarian. There are bigger things to worry about; so meat and fish are back on the table. This is the first fish dish I’ve cooked this year (I think).

Both dishes (the rice dish is a completely separate dish) are from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. This is a great book indeed and I never tire of cooking from it.

The mackerel is marinated in harissa, cumin and salt. I used rose harissa as we seem to have 3 jars of it. While it infuses into the fish, boil some beetroots (golden ones), then when the are cold, dice them with oranges, lemons, olives, herbs and chilli flakes – and a good glug of oil.

When the salad is ready, get a pan REALLY hot and add the mackerel for less than a minute (it says longer but I disagree), take the pan off the heat, then serve it with the salad. We added the rice as it didn’t feel like a complete meal.

The rice is pretty epic. Just rice is never a good side. This rice has Wild rice (which takes forever to cook) basmati rice, and chickpeas, as well as curry powder, onions and lots of herbs. Oh and currants – the currants make this dish. The recipe asks you to cook the wild rice first then the basmati separately, but I cheated somewhat, guessed when the wild rice had 12 mins to go and chucked the basmati in with it. Obviously this could have been a fail but it worked out fine.

This rice would be perfect for any dish I think – or BBQ if we ever get outside with friends again!

Freya wasn’t a fan of the beetroot and citrus salad. I lapped it up – thought the two things went really well together. The mackerel was a triumph too. The rice I will make over and over!

We still have many meals on the list before our 10th May Ocado delivery. Watch this space for more yummy stuff!

Lamb Mezze – or the Lamb That Kept on Giving

Saturday’s slow roast Leg of Lamb kept on giving today with its third offering. This time as part of a mezze from Ottlenghi’s Plenty cookbook.

Yesterday we had Lamb Ragu with pasta. It really wasn’t worth the picture or talking about as I just boiled up some pasta and added a good amount of lamb and the red wine sauce left over from Saturday’s epic dinner.

Two types of lamb featured today; the Leg meat (simply reheated in the oven) and the spicy minced lamb (left over from the Minced Stuffed Aubergine dish we made last week). I have the say the lamb leg was just as tender and juicy as it was when it was first cooked.

Accompanying the leftovers were Fried tomatoes and Garlic from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Very little to this really; I just pricked some fancy Natoora tomatoes and all the available parsley stalks and fried them for a minute or so with olive oil and sea salt. After taking them off the heat I added some more parsley, a couple of red chillis and some grated garlic. And that was that. 10 minutes to make this max!

The salad (in the centre of the picture) we’ve had before. Also from Jerusalem it’s called Baby Spinach with dates and almonds. I love it. It conforms for Ottolenghi’s preferred ‘all salads need nuts and fruit’ rule. It’s another really easy dish which you can adapt to whatever you’ve got. I’ve made it with apricots before, added sultanas, and even dried cherries. Any nuts will do too; I’ve made it with hazelnuts and walnuts before. Chopped apple also works well.

Here some dates and some red onion are pickled for a short while in white wine vinegar and a little salt. You really don’t need those expensive Medjool dates; just get the cheap and cheerful ones and quarter them lengthways. Once they’ve been pickling they’ll soften up nicely.

While that’s pickling melt some butter and oil in a pan and tear in a couple of pitta bread (or even some regular bread that isn’t as fresh as it could be) and some chopped skin on almonds. Keep it moving in a hot pan until it gets golden and crunchy then take it off the heat and add some sumac, chilli flakes and salt. I added some more of my friend Becca’s Preserved lemon salt as it gives everything extra punch!

After letting it cool a bit – you don’t want to wilt the spinach – throw this bread mixture on top of the spinach and then the red onion and dates. Finish it off with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.

I think this is one of the best salads I’ve ever made – and it goes with just about anything.

Finally I made a quick tzatsiki by grating half a cucumber into some yoghurt and stirring in some chopped mint and a bit of sea salt.

We loved this dinner. Freya said it was the best meal to come from the Leg of Lamb; and as you can see there was way too much for 2 people to eat. Six pitta breads went into this dinner! 2 in the salad and two that we stuffed with the mezze.

We will inevitably be having it all again tomorrow for lunch, meaning we’ll have gotten 8 meals out of one leg of lamb. Now that’s resourcefulness for you!

Nigella’s Cheesecake

I’ve made this cheesecake from Nigella Lawson’s Feast cookbook more than any dessert I’ve ever made. Many reasons; I am not really into desserts or sweet things. I’m definitely a savoury person; much to my wife’s dismay.

Baked cheesecakes are the best. The whipped up cream ones just don’t do it for me – or the shop bought ones where breaking into the plastic packaging is a mission in itself. No thanks!

I think I made this for the first time ten years ago, and have probably made it five or six times since. There’s a Nigella’s Nutella one posted on this blog somewhere that I made in next to no time – but this one takes a bit longer and requires a lot more effort.

Before you consider spontaneously making it one day make sure you have a deep sprung cake tin (I still use the same one from 10 years ago despite it being on its last legs) and clingfilm – AND tin foil. If you don’t have these it probably won’t come out right.

I usually make this the same and mix up the sauce a little each time. Nigella’s recommended sauce is Apple Schapps but this isn’t the easiest to come by – especially in small bottles – so a cheesecake can end up costing you ¬£30 to make. It’s worth is – but.. probably too much!

I’ve since made it without booze, with Besos (vegan monkey nut Baileys), and most recently Chambord (raspberry and blackberry liqueur); my friends Vicky and Dan made theirs with Bourbon and raved about it.

The making is quite simple; you can actually prep everything in the same food mixer, and not even bother cleaning it between the base prep and the cheese part. The base is just Hobnobs and butter blitzed and press into the sprung tin. I went rogue and used chocolate chip Hobnobs for the most recent cheesecake – and I won’t do it again – the base went soggy, so stick to plain Hobnobs.

The baking is not so simple, and can cause issues if you don’t do it right.

Now in the same food mixer beat together double cream, cream cheese, vanilla, cornflour, caster sugar and eggs. I wouldn’t bother getting a branded cream cheese like Philly – but don’t go for the half fat own brand stuff, as it won’t come out as well. Full fat for this.

When you’ve beaten it for a while put some booze in it. Don’t go nuts with it or you’ll probably mess up the chance of the cake setting. In any case your sauce will be all over the cake so go easy!

You now need to wrap the outside of the tin with lots of cling film. The cake tin is going to sit in a water bath and if you don’t seal the tin the water will seep in to the base and ruin it. Once it’s wrapped up – I usually do three layers, pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin.

The cheesecake should now bake in the over in a bath of hot water. It is suggested that you make a nest with tin foil. When you make this for the first time you are quite diligent and have this done well in advance. When you’ve made it a few times you don’t and it can get you in a pickle. So either do this well in advance – or fill the bottom tray of your oven full of water – mine takes 2 kettles worth!

Bake it until it starts to colour and a wobble offers some resistance. I usually wait for the surface to crack. Again it doesn’t matter as you’re gonna pour sauce all over it anyway. Make sure it cools right down before unspringing it – it’ll keep cooking after you take it out anyway.

The sauce is a standard caramel sauce of butter, 2 sugars, cream, and then the booze of your choice. The most recent Chambord one I added a load of frozen dark fruits (that I usually have in my breakfast smoothie) and it was an epic sauce!

Whatever you do with it – the sauce makes it. The rest is amazing – but the sauce! Whenever we make it we are sick of it by the time is it gone – there are only two of us and it is 16 people big. Really big slices too.

Make this. You’ll definitely keep making it – despite the effort.

Pizza Bianca with potato, anchovy and sage

I think I’ve cooked every recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple cookbook. It is in my top 5 go to books for quick stuff. Itsu’s 15 minute meals is another.

During these tricky times – where we are getting our food once every 2-3 weeks – we are planning meals from one cookbook at a time. Ottolenghi’s Simple was last week’s book of choice so we made this incredibly easy pizza.

I appreciate flour is hard to come by at the moment, but this one doesn’t need much. The base is just yeast, flour and water mixed together, lightly kneaded then left under a damp towel for an hour to double in size.

The base is smeared with a paste of marscapone, anchovy, sage, lemon zest and spring onions, the thinly sliced new potatoes popped on top, and finally the grated pecorino. Go crazy with the black pepper – it really makes a difference. And cook it properly! I made 2 – the second one was so much better for leaving it in the oven for longer.

Perhaps my oven wasn’t hot enough for the 9 minutes that it was supposed to need. But it was better for having 12+ minutes – and I have one of those fancy Bake-Off ovens!

I can’t recommend this pizza enough as long as you have the ingredients. For some reason we always have left over anchovies in our fridge, sometimes 2 or 3 jars at a time, as we are notorious for always buying all the ingredients without checking what we already have!

The Pork Belly cook-along

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My birthday promised to be a very uninteresting affair with just my wife, myself and our dog (yes we now have a dog!) at home; no friends, no family – all thanks to lockdown in the UK.

Our very good friends Vicky and Dan suggested we do a cook-along Zoom call. Zoom is the new norm for 2020, web calls to friends instead of meeting them in a pub for a cheeky pint or many…

We settled on both cooking the same pork belly dish, so in the end it was more of a ‘leave it in the oven for many hours’ and just chat and catch up. 4-5 hours in fact.

This pork belly dish is from Tapas Revolution; the recipe is publicly available on their website:

https://www.tapasrevolution.com/recipesomar/2017/10/19/torreznos-con-mojo-dulce-slow-cooked-pork-belly

It is a very simple dish to make. In fact the hardest part was finding someone that sold pork belly. We had to settle for strips from Ocado (they are doing sterling work during the lockdown), and this did not spoil the dish at all.

Simply rub the pork belly with salt, pour a bottle of beer over your pork belly and leave in the oven while you go about your business. No checking required – just leave it to do its thing.

When 5 hours have passed – or somewhere in between make the Mojo Dulce sauce. This is somewhat more complicated but well worth doing properly. Throw in some new potatoes and serve when they are cooked through.

As with all cook-alongs (we’ve done a couple with my in-laws) timing is everything. Both being ready to eat at the same time is an art form. Vicky and Dan’s sauce was beautifully blended – mine was somewhat more rustic! The sauce was finished off properly on my side the next day and had with the leftovers.

I can thoroughly recommend making this if you’re prepared to sacrifice a beer to the oven gods.