Sunday 28 November 2010

One last pumpkin dance: the polish, pumpkin breakfast soup

So winter is well and truly here

And yet I still have one more pumkin recipe for you. It's the ultimate pumpkin recipe really, as it is the one I grew up with. As I am at my parents' house in Eastbourne, and there has been a pumpkin sitting in the kitchen since the last time I was here (in September!) which my mum didn't know what to do with, I thought I'd take advantage and remind her about a childhood dish that she used to always make for me at this time of year when we were still living in Poland, and for a time after we moved too. She wasn't sure if she remembered how to make it anymore, but it turned out that her hands had a memory of their own thankfully, so the Polish pumkin soup will live on after all. This is a pumpkin soup with a difference though, because it's sweet and eaten for breakfast


1 small pumpkin
150-200g flour
1 egg
700ml milk
1tsp salt
1tblsp sugar

Sorry about the photo up there, my mum decided to make the "zacierki" when I was asleep and take the photo herself, and unfortunately it turned out fuzzy. Let me start off by explaining the concept of "zacierki" - they are a cross between little pasta shapes and dumplings, and you can use them in a variety of dishes. They are an integral part of the Polish pumpkin soup. You make them by combining the flour and egg with a little water and forming a dough ball. The dough ball is ready when it stops being sticky and falls away from your hand - just add more flour if it's too sticky. At this point, you have a choice about whether to make the "zacierki" yourself by ripping little bits of the dough ball to form little maggotty shapes - sorry for the comparison, that really is the only way I can think of to exactly describe the size and shape of the thing. Or, if you have time, then you can do what my mum did and put the dough ball in the freezer. Then, once it is hard and you are ready to cook, you take it out and grate it, as shown on the photo. For the actual soup, you cook the pumpkin chunks in a little water until soft, which can take up to 20min. In a separate pan, you cook the "zacierki" in the milk, which takes about 5min. Then, you combine the two, adding sugar and salt to taste

It's a really lovely, comforting soup, but then when you have grown up with something, I guess it always is comforting. It may actually taste unusual to a different palate, especially a British one, but anyhow, if you're adventurous, then it's worth giving it a go, because it is something a bit different... I am starting a course of antibiotics today - whopee! It may be a strange thing to get excited about, but I haven't slept properly for a week, and I want my life back. There's some horrible bugs going around out there, so keep warm and look after yourself!

Monday 22 November 2010

Three things to do with brussels sprouts

You know you're ill when you nearly cry in the supermarket because you are faced with what seems like a ridiculously large choice of honeys, and all you want is just one of them, but you have no idea which one that is. OK, so decision-making has never been a strong point of mine. Anyway, I'm surprised that I got ill in the first place (it's really not fair), as I have been looking after myself - drinking my white tea (not the milky stuff), not partying too hard, and eating loads of healthy stuff, such as brussels sprouts. Which is what today's blog is about. I am trying to reinvent the humble brussels sprout. And I think I've done a pretty good job, even if I say so myself. My favourite was the salad, but we'll get to that in a bit. First, there was the risotto... I made this for some friends and it feeds four


500g arborio rice
20 brussels sprouts
1 red onion
90g smoked lardons
200ml cider
1tsp dried thyme
80g parmesan shavings
Juice of half a lemon
Vegetable stock
Olive oil 
Salt and pepper

It's dead simple to make - just fry the onion and lardons for a couple of minutes first, then add the brussels sprouts and thyme and carry on frying for another 7-8 minutes. Add the rice, stir it in, followed by the cider. Keep stirring (in one direction if possible but no need to be too religious about this, sometimes it's just too hard). Once the cider has evaporated, start adding the stock, bit by bit, as usual with risotto, until it's cooked and the rice is soft but not mushy. Somewhere in the middle, season with salt and pepper. Finish off by stirring in the parmesan shavings, squeezing in the lemon and adding more black pepper

That salad up there was amazing, it reminded me of the sort of warm salads in you get in Parisian brasseries, that are a complete meal in themselves. I used some prepared, crunchy salad leaves, and made a dressing out of olive oil, lemon juice, mayo and salt and pepper. I fried the brussels and lardons for about 10 minutes until they were nice and brown and slightly crispy, chopped some lovely tomatoes into the salad and cooked an egg for 3 minutes, so that it was soft boiled. Finished it off with more black pepper, et voila!

And finally the good ol' English classic - bubble and squeak, served with baked beans and a fried egg on top. I made that for my Polish cousin today, who lives in Greece and hasn't have the chance to sample such delights before. She actually loved it. Well, who wouldn't... so I fried a red onion and the brussels until crispy and made the mash with maris piper potatoes, butter, a little bit of milk, and sea salt. I also used a spring of rosemary from my garden and a little bit of turmeric to add some more flavour to the veg. For anyone reading that does not live in the UK, you combine the veg with the mashed potatoes. Traditionally, bubble and squeak is made with cabbage - but really you can use anything you want that you have leftover - and is the perfect comfort food

Monday 15 November 2010

Ministry of Food exhibition at the Imperial War Museum

Last weekend was pretty perfect

Amongst other things, on Saturday I went to the Ministry of Food exhibition which has inspired me to grow my own vegetables. I have toyed with the idea before, but now it's going to happen. I even raked my whole garden yesterday in preparation for the sowing, despite the rain, a killer hangover, and the fact that it me an hour to find my shoe!

I am not the most green-fingered person (that could be the understatement of the year right there), but I am hoping that when it comes to growing things that I can eat, things will be different. I'm trying to be optimistic about it anyway

I wasn't sure what I could actually grow at this time of the year, but this poster has kindly answered that question...

It was great to see how vital food was to the war effort, as that's a part of history that's often forgotten about. Unsurprisingly, this period also had a very positive impact on the nation's health too. Although, being crazy about sweet wrappers, I also loved the part when rationing came to the end, and sweet shops ruled

Pretty wrappers...

Sunday 14 November 2010

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's lamb with pearl barley

I found this recipe in the Guardian weekend supplement that someone had left on the train and liked the simplicity of it, as well as the photo, which made it look very tasty and just like the sort of thing I like to eat at this time of the year. I also liked the idea of using pearl barley, because I hardly ever cook with it, and did you know that it only costs 37p for a big (500g) bag?! I tried to follow the recipe as best I could, but of course I had to make some additions and substitutions. Hugh's recipe does not use beer, or paprika, for example. As I did not have neck of lamb with the bone in it, I used a lamb stock cube. And I decided to just add the pearl barley to the stew, rather than cooking it separately. I also didn't use anywhere near as much butter as Hugh suggests for frying the onions

So I fried the onions in the butter for about 20 minutes, then tipped them into a bowl and reserved. In the same pan as I had just used to fry the onions I browned the seasoned lamb chunks in olive oil, for about 5 minutes, before covering with cold water (there was about an inch of water covering the meat), adding the bay leaves and bringing to the boil. Once it was boiling I turned the heat down and allowed it to simmer slowly. At this point, I added the stock cube, a pinch of paprika and the cinamon. It cooked for about an hour. Finally, I added the pearl barley and cooked for a further half an hour. When the barley was soaking up all the liquid, I started adding the beer, bit by bit. I refried the onions near the end, until crispy, and then added these to the stew. I ate this for dinner the night I made it, and the next day my brother came round and I warmed this up, adding a bit more beer while it was heating, to keep it all moist and stewey, and we ate it washed down with more beer. As it's a dish of Turkish origin, next time I may have it with the Turkish drinking yoghurt that I buy from my local shop - yum! Anyway, thanks to Hugh I have another simple and delicious dish to add to my repertoire, I highly recommend


2tbsp olive oil
50g butter
2 onions
700g cubed lamb 
Lamb stock cube
2 bay leaves
200g pearl barley
1tsp cinamon
Salt and pepper
Half a pint of beer
Pinch of paprika

Monday 8 November 2010

Roast pumpkin quinoa

Perhaps I am a little obsessed with pumpkins right now

But the season only comes round once a year, right? That's not a rhetorical question - I have no idea if what I'm saying is actually true, but i assume that's the case, because it seems to be the only time of year that I eat them. I made this recipe up on my neverending journey home from work today. I don't want to moan, but I don't know what's happened with the transport system recently, it's a bit depressing, especially in gale force winds like we had today in this "green and pleasant land". I shouldn't be sarcastic though, as I do love England. It is very green. And mostly pleasant, if a little unpredictable. So, as usual, I missed my dance/yoga class, and decided to come home and cook something delicious, and healthy, to cheer myself up - I wanted to I'd try and do something a bit different with the quinoa I had in my cupboard

Ingredients (serves 4)

250g Quinoa
1 small pumpkin
Tin of chickpeas
Handful mint
60 g cashew nuts
Handful black olives
2 garlic cloves
1 large chilli
Handful sundried tomatoes
Half a lemon
Walnut oil
Salt and pepper to taste

So I scooped the seeds out of the pumpkin and roasted it on a very high heat (about 220 degrees C) for about half an hour. I cooked the quinoa according to packed instructions (more or less), which took 20min. In that time, I prepared the "pesto", which I guess isn't really pesto at all, since it has no basil or pine nuts in it... I dry roasted the cashew nuts, chopped the mint, garlic and chilli, then blended it all together with lemon juice, walnut oil and some salt and pepper in my precious pestle and mortar.A blender would work just as well I'm sure, I just love my thai pestle and mortar so much that I would rather do it the slow way. It's kinda therapeutic

Of course I made a massive quinoa mess along the way...

Once the quinoa was ready, I added the "pesto", the chopped sundried tomatoes, olives and chickpeas, and let it all steam, with the heat turned off. I peeled the pumpkin, chopped it up and added that in too. You may want to peel it beforehand, especially if you have sensitive hands. My hands seem to be made from asbestos, and I find it much easier to peel once it's soft, so I do it this way. Finally, crumble the goat's cheese in. Stir everything while heating gently for a couple of minutes, before adding more black pepper, perhaps another squeeze of lemon, and serving

I thought that all the ingredients really worked together, yet I hope you feel free to mess around with the quantities and substitute stuff if you want to. Since this recipe was literally born a few hours ago, on the bus, I can hardly be too precious about it. But you should definitely give it a go - I'm sure you know already how  ridiculously good quinoa is for you. I feel that I need to go on a bit of a health kick right now (especially after the Saturday night I had), so this is the perfect start. I also put the seeds on a separate tray and stuck them in the cooling oven once I'd taken the pumpkin out. Tomorrow, I'll add sea salt and have them as a beer snack

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Mexican bbq for Halloween

For Halloween, a small group of us left London for the village of Syston (though I called it Cistern for most of the time I was there) in the East Midlands...this is where our mate, Ed, is living before he makes the permanent move to Australia, like so many people seem to be at the moment

Ed is one of those spectacular transformations - he's gone from vegging on the couch throughout most of his twenties, to married "uncle Ed" who made us pancakes for breakfast, and prepared a Mexican bbq for dinner. It was delicious, so I thought I'd share his secrets with you

He marinated the meat for 24 hours. This is the marinade as per 1kg of meat:

4 limes
half a bunch of coriander
4 tsp olive oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar
splash of balsamic
1 tsp cayenne pepper
tiny bit of salt

The chicken was pre-cooked in the microwave for 15min, then we barbequed it on 5min each side. The beef was not pre-cooked (obviously) and after the same amount of time it was perfect, medium rare

This is the black bean salsa we made. You want to let this stand for a few hours before eating...


390g black beans
Same amount of sweetcorn (approximately)
Same amount of tomatoes
2 bunches spring onions
2 tbsp coriander
Juice of 1 lime
2 chopped chillies (or add according to taste)
salt and pepper

We also made a simple guacamole with avocados, lime juice and chopped tomatoes

We ate the whole thing with sour cream, wrapped up in tortillas, and washed down with Mexican beer, preceded by margaritas, and followed by tequila shots (of course). The weekend was fantastic - we went for walks, played massive jenga and watched films. Toy Story 3 was the most traumatic experience of the whole trip. I can't believe that's actually a kids' film - I was in pieces