Sussex pie

March 26, 2010

Sussex pie – which I’ll admit I’d never heard of – is a variant of shepherd’s pie where the meat is bulked out with lentils, but this is a vegetarian all-lentil version. In our house we had shepherd’s pie on a regular basis to use up the lamb after a roast, as is traditional. And while I do enjoy good shepherd’s pie once in a while, in order to really spend a week eating all of the things I used to eat when I was younger, I would have had to have eaten a lot of meat, and that’s just not how I roll these days. So, a compromise. This is super cheap, filling, and also pretty good for you. It’s not the most photogenic meal, but when spring gives you thunder and lightning storms you can be glad you’ve got a pie in the oven.

A further bonus is that this pie uses a small amount of beer, so you will be obliged to finish the rest of the can/bottle, which gives you something to do while it’s in the oven.

Sussex pie  Serves 2

If you’re not vegetarian, feel free to add any leftover meat to the recipe.

1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 sticks celery, finely sliced (too much, I’d say use 1 stick)
1 carrot, diced
1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped (I used a thyme sprig)
100g lentils (the basic green ones are good for this)
500ml vegetable stock
150ml beer (preferably bitter)
350g potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed with a little milk and butter

Heat the oil in a large pan. If you have a casserole dish that goes in the oven and on the hob, use that. Gently fry the onion, garlic, celery, carrot and thyme or rosemary until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the lentils and stir to mix. Pour in the stock and beer and leave at a low simmer for about 30 minutes. The lentils should be done, but if they’re not, you can always add a little more water. Season.

Arrange the mashed potato over the lentil mixture, transferring everything to an oven-proof dish if you need to. It’s good to use a fork for this, so you get those little fork-tine marks that go all crusty. If your mashed potato is recently made and still hot, you can just put the whole lot under the grill to brown the potato and eat straight away, otherwise heat the oven fairly hot, about 220c, and put the pie in until the top turns brown – about 20 minutes.

From Tom Norrington-Davies’ ‘Just Like Mother Used To Make’.


Macaroni cheese

March 25, 2010

I was quite excited by the prospect of spending a week cooking from a book of traditional British childhood favourites. So many of the things in this book I remember well, the fond glow of nostalgia illuminating their former unremarkableness: corned beef hash (although it should not contain tomatoes!), liver and bacon, shepherd’s pie. I never eat these things anymore, and it suddenly occurred to me that I wanted to. Although there are a few things I never liked and still can’t stomach (gammon and cod and parsley sauce, bleugh). There are also a couple of glaring omissions, to my mind: where is the steak and kidney pie recipe? Chicken and mushroom pie, even? There are no pie recipes with pastry at all. And I would have liked a sausage casserole, but maybe that’s just me.

Macaroni cheese was the staple fallback meal of my childhood. Whenever my parents wanted to eat something that my brother and I would have shunned with our unsophisticated palates (or they just didn’t want to share with us) or time was short, macaroni cheese it would be. It was the only thing I really knew how to cook when I went to university, and I probably haven’t eaten it in ten years. Well, I’m not going to wait that long again. I felt comforted just looking at it coming out of the oven, all browned and crusty on top. With the first forkful I fell happily silent. Macaroni cheese is like the hot bath of foodstuffs – it’s impossible for it not to make you feel better.

The recipe below is for macaroni cheese as I remember it – no fussy additions, no breadcrumbs on top, just cheese sauce and pasta. As Norrington-Davies says, “Nothing should leap out at you except a clumsy, gooey richness.” Oh, there are a few tomatoes, which were never a feature when I was a child, but I thought I’d add them now I’m an adult and voluntarily eat vegetables. You could leave them out. Also, this is a mild-tasting sauce, not aggressively cheesy, which is right, I think, but you could of course use more cheese.

Macaroni cheese  Serves 2

200g macaroni
25g butter
25g plain flour
25g mature cheddar, grated
400ml whole milk
handful of cherry tomatoes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to its highest setting, or if you have a grill in your oven turn that on high.

Put on a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook the macaroni according to packet instructions.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over a medium heat in a saucepan big enough to hold all the milk. When it has melted and is bubbling, stir in the flour. Leave to cook for a minute. Pour in a third of the milk and stir – you may need to switch to a whisk here to stop lumps forming. Then pour in the rest of the milk and cook for a few minutes, continuing to whisk, until the sauce thickens. Stir in two thirds of the cheese, season and turn off the heat. If the pasta is not ready yet, put a lid on the pan to keep the sauce warm.

When the pasta is cooked (it should be quite tender, not al dente), drain it and stir it through the sauce. Pile into a casserole dish and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Dot with the cherry tomatoes, if using, and give the top a final sprinkle of black pepper.

Put the macaroni cheese into the oven until the top is browned and crusty.

From Tom Norrington-Davies’ ‘Just Like Mother Used To Make’.

Mini banoffee pots

March 24, 2010

After making my millionaire’s shortbread, I had half a tin of condensed milk left over. I also had half a pot of cream in the fridge from a toffee sauce I’d made at the weekend to pour over sticky date cakes. There were bananas in the fruit bowl and there were biscuits in the cupboard. If I believed in a god, it would be the god of kitchen synchronicity, and he was clearly telling me something: child, go forth and make banoffee pie.

Now, generally I am not in favour of daintying up puddings into dining table desserts. The banoffee pie is resplendent in its tackiness, and that’s how it should stay. However, I only had the ingredients for half the quantity of a full-sized pie, and while I own much marginally useful kitchen equipment, I do not own a very small tart tin. Out of such adversity an idea was borne: why not construct the layers into ramekins, creating individual sized banoffees?

Actually, I was quite pleased with the result. They’re pretty cute, as mini things generally are, and are highly edible, rich and satisfying while feeling almost restrained – perfect for a mid-week pudding.

Mini banoffee pots  Makes about 4 ramekins, depending on the size of yours

For the base:
125g biscuits (I used a combination of ginger nuts and plain chocolate digestives, which worked fine)
25g butter

For the toffee:
65g butter
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp golden syrup
1/2 tin condensed milk (about 200g)

For the rest:
1 – 1/2 ripe bananas
125ml double cream
1/2 tsp honey
cocoa for dusting

Crush your biscuits into crumbs – I used the time-honoured and highly satisfying method of putting them in a plastic bag and bashing them with a rolling pin. Melt your butter and stir in the biscuit crumbs thoroughly. Press the biscuit mixture into the base of 4 ramekins or other individual sized pots, glasses etc.

For the toffee, melt the butter and sugar together over a gentle heat. When the sugar has dissolved, stir in the syrup and condensed milk. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer, stirring constantly, until it turns the colour of toffee. This took about 10 minutes for me (I don’t know what I did wrong last time). Pour the toffee over the biscuit bases and leave to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

When the toffee is set, slice the banana/s and layer them over the top. Whip the cream with the honey (apparently this makes it impossible to overwhip) until thick and spread roughly on top of the bananas. Finish with a sieving of cocoa powder.

Adapted from Tom Norrington-Davies’ ‘Just Like Mother Used To Make’.

Millionaire’s shortbread

March 24, 2010

This week’s book is ‘Just Like Mother Used To Make’ by Tom Norrington-Davies, and I don’t know what it was about the full page photo of Millionaire’s Shortbread on page 71, but it was calling to me. I had to make it. It’s not something I associate in any way with my mother or my childhood – jam tarts, peppermint creams and gingerbread men, yes, sticky layers of biscuit-toffee-chocolate, no. It might be a caramel thing. Ever since I discovered salted caramel and obssessed over the Ottolenghi caramel macadamia cheesecake until finally making it at Christmas, I’ve been a little bit crazy about caramel, and I could see a thick, amber layer of it gleaming sweetly at me from between two slabs of chocolate and shortbread.

Luckily, I had the perfect excuse in the form of a work birthday which I’d been tasked with making cakes for. The person in question had told me quite specifically that she liked fruit-based cakes best, but I brushed that little detail aside. Fruit, schmuit. I was almost certain that this would probably be her second choice, if she had one.

Not everything went exactly to plan – I thought I’d make them in advance on Sunday to give me plenty of time to, you know, check they tasted alright (don’t worry, this recipe makes a lot of shortbread). This is not a quick afternoon tea treat – there are several stages of cooling involved, and if you’re me, an extra trip to the shop when you overheat the chocolate and it goes grainy and you have to buy more. Although, if you do do this, know that you can bake the overheated chocolate into brownies and it will be fine and no-one will be any the wiser (um, unless they’re reading this). Also, my caramel took much longer than the 3 minutes specified in the recipe (I might have been a bit over-generous with the condensed milk in my excitement.)

Don’t let any of this put you off – I may have had to take my first bite after dinner, several hours after the caramel craving first hit, but it was worth the wait. Oh yeah, they went down pretty well at work too.

Millionaire shortbread  Fills a 20cm x 40cm tray

A couple of notes: first, I would advise cutting these into small squares. That way, you can have one and not feel too bad when you have another one later. My first wedge was a bit hefty and I almost struggled to finish it.

Secondly, the recipe asks for milk chocolate, which I thought would be a bit sickly, so I used Bourneville as a compromise. In retrospect, I can see milk chocolate working, so I think go with whatever chocolate you like best. Also, Tom felt that there was not enough chocolate. I think he’s wrong, but have duly noted his comments.

For the shortbread:
125g butter (salted is best)
50g caster sugar
175g plain flour

For the caramel:
125g butter
100g caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1/2 tin condensed milk (about 200g)

For the topping:
200g chocolate

Preheat the oven to 170c. Grease and line a 20 x 40cm baking tray with baking parchment.

Rub all of the shortbread ingredients together with your fingertips as if you were making crumble or pastry, but keep going until a dough starts to form. This might seem at first like it’s never going to happen, but it will. You’ll know you’re there when you can squeeze it into a ball and it holds together. Press it evenly into the base of the tray. Now, it may look as if it won’t cover the base of the tray, but it will honestly turn out quite thick, so just keep squidging it in. Bake it for about 20 minutes and then leave to cool – it should still be pale.

For the caramel, heat the butter and sugar in a saucepan. When the sugar has dissolved add the syrup and condensed milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes, stirring it constantly, until it thickens and turns a toffee colour. For me this took more like 30 minutes – just remember to keep stirring and don’t let it get too hot. It firms up a lot as it cools, so don’t worry if it seems a little runny. When it reaches the desired colour, pour it over the shortbread. Put the whole lot in the fridge to set for an hour.

Now for the chocolate. Norrington-Davies melts the chocolate with 4 tablespoons of water to make it easier to pour and so the topping is smooth and doesn’t set completely hard. Having done this, I realised that I prefer my chocolate toppings to be hard and shattery rather than soft and smooth, so I would leave out the water next time. Whichever path you take, break the chocolate into pieces and melt it either over a pan of hot water or in the microwave (carefully!) Pour it over the toffee and biscuit and smooth it out. Put it back in the fridge for at least an hour before you go at it with a knife.

It will last in the fridge for about a week.

Adapted from Tom Norrington-Davies’ ‘Just Like Mother Used To Make’.

Gujarati dal

March 15, 2010

I realise that I have already probably far exceeded the normal quota of bean recipes in the short time that this blog’s been running, but I haven’t actually written up a straightforward dal. And this seems to me like an oversight. Dal is so good – just a big plateful on its own is a fantastic cheap dinner, with chappatis or rice, sometimes hard-boiled eggs, sometimes just yoghurt – but it’s also one of the best side dishes ever. Knowing that I have a tupperware of dal tucked away in the fridge makes me look forward to mealtimes more. I actually made this recipe twice this week, and apparently it serves 6-8 people, so that’s a potential 16 helpings of dal in total. And I only live with one other person (and a cat, but he prefers fish-shaped biscuits).

I would normally fall back on Madhur Jaffrey for a recipe like this, and initially this dal seemed a little fussy with its giant list of ingredients (although it’s still essentially just boiling lentils and adding spices so it’s not exactly back-breaking work.)  Strangely, the first time I made it I used mung dal and thought it was okay, but the second time I was out of mung dal so I used toor dal and thought it was brilliant. I’m not sure if there was some magic scientific ratio of surface lentil size to spice absorption going on, or if it was just coincidence, but I thought I should pass it on.

Gujarati dal  Serves 6-8, or 3-4 if you eat it in the quantities I do

I halved the quantities of water asked for as I like my dal like I like my porridge: wallpaper paste thick. Add more if you prefer a soupy dal.

350g mung dal or toor dal
675ml water
1 tbsp sunflower oil or ghee
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp hing (asafoetida)
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp brown rice syrup
1 1/2 tsp lime or lemon juice
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp curry powder
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

The book asks you to soak your mung for 2 hours, but I didn’t bother.

Heat the oil or ghee in a large saucepan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop, add the dal, water and all of the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and cook until the dal is soft and the liquid has reduced to the consistency you like – from around half an hour to an hour.

*Note: fine for all doshas.

Adapted from Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai’s ‘The Ayurvedic Cookbook’.

Sesame sweets

March 11, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I felt the need for something sweet, as I often do in the hours between lunch and late afternoon. I sort of wind down in that period and sometimes only the thought of something else nice to eat rouses me. Leafing through this week’s book, these sesame sweeties caught my attention – of course, I’m a sucker for anything with tahini and the deal was sealed with honey and coconut. They fall within the realm of a healthy snack, if you count using no refined sugar and two kinds of seeds, but they’re still fairly treat-like. Imagine what would happen if a Sesame Snap got in a fight with some fudge, and you might be close: sticky-sweet and dense and a little bit gritty and chewy, but not in a bad way.

Sesame sweets  Makes 7-10 delicious balls (their words!)

30g sesame seeds
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp tahini
30g toasted wheat germ, or substitute more sunflower seeds
pinch of salt
30g shredded coconut, plus more for rolling
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Grind the sunflower seeds into a rough powder in a blender. Combine with all the other ingredients into a bowl and mix into a stiff dough – this will be messy and sticky, but you should have a consistency you can form into balls. (Add more of the wet or dry ingredients as needed.) You may find it helps to wet your hands. Shape into walnut sized balls and roll in shredded coconut. I’ve been keeping mine in the fridge.

*Note: these are suitable for vata only.

From Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai’s ‘The Ayurvedic Cookbook’.

Ginger mung sprouts

March 10, 2010

I’m still very much in love with my ghee. It smells amazing – so much so that one of the first things I said to Tom when he walked through the door the other day was, “smell my ghee!” He thinks it smells like cake, and it does have a particularly entrancing caramelized sugar smell. I can’t wait to bake something with it.

But from butter to beansprouts we go (could this be the name of my first cookbook? From butter to beansprouts? On second thoughts, maybe it’s more of a sub-title). I’ve written before about sprouting your own mung beans, but I often find myself with more than I need and it pains me to see them wither having tended them so carefully over the course of days. The problem is, the slightly grassy fresh taste becomes a bit overwhelmingly roughage-like in large quantities.

I was vaguely aware that you could cook them, but never really considered it until I saw this recipe. Ayurveda is like the antithesis of the raw food movement – almost everything should be cooked; raw food is cooling in quality and can be difficult to digest (this is also held to be true in Traditional Chinese Medicine). This particular recipe also included ginger and almonds, two of my favourite ingredients. To make things even easier, my local farmer’s market was selling big packs of sprouted seeds, so I picked one up at the weekend and I was ready to go.

We had this with dal, rice and potatoes: a slightly odd contrast, but I liked it.

Ginger mung sprouts  Serves 4 as a side salad

1 400g bag of sprouted mung beans (or any other sprouted beans). About 50g dry beans will give you 400g when sprouted.
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp tamari/soy sauce
1 tbsp sunflower oil (I didn’t have any so used British rapeseed oil)
1 tsp honey
handful of almonds (you could also used flaked almonds and/or toast the almonds beforehand)

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok. When hot, tip in the sprouts and ginger. Stir fry for 2 minutes over a medium-high heat. Pour over the soy sauce, mix well and add the almonds. Stir fry for a further minute. Take off the heat, stir through the honey, and serve.

*Note: this is fine for all doshas, though pitta should omit the honey.

From Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai’s ‘The Ayurvedic Cookbook’.


March 8, 2010

This week, we enter the world of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is usually translated as ‘the science of life’ and it’s an ancient Indian system of wellbeing, around 5,000 years old, thought up by some ancient sages who went and sat in the mountains for a bit. I won’t delve into it too much here as it’s actually pretty complex and, you know, what’s Wikipedia for? Suffice to say, it’s connnected with yoga and food, two of my favourite things, and thus I like it.

In order to follow an Ayurvedic diet, you first have to find out what your dosha is. There are three doshas which correspond to three basic physical types – most people are a fairly equal mix of two doshas, but you might be predominantly one, or more rarely an equal mix of all three. There are many quizzes out there to help you find your dosha like this one or this one if you’re curious/like quizzes.

For the more cynical among you, I realise this may seem to veer dangerously close to new age hippy gubbins, but what do you expect from someone who last week brought a book all about eating according to the full moon? (It’s fantastic.) Anyway, if you’re still with me, I’m about to talk about butter.

Ayurveda thinks very highly of ghee: it’s thought to have healing qualitities and to build up strength in the body, including increasing digestive strength. It has a pacifying and grounding effect because its qualities (all food in ayurveda has qualities) are heavy, slow, oily, liquid, dense and soft.  It also, of course, tastes good, and unlike butter it will last almost indefinitely at room temperature (if you’ve done it right – I need to watch mine).

I was slightly nervous about making my first ghee, seeing as I’d been led to believe it was little short of a magical substance, and I don’t think I’ve ever even eaten it before. Turns out, it’s really very easy: all you do is melt some butter over a low heat so that the water evaporates and the milk solids rise to the top (clarifying the butter) and then strain it into a jar. It will be liquid and golden coloured at first, but as it cools it will set and turn a pale lemon yellow.


You want to use a good butter for this – good butter will make good ghee, as you might expect. It should be unsalted and preferably organic.

Melt as much butter as you plan to use in a pan over a low-medium heat. I started with one block, which gave me one small jar of ghee, but you might want to do two or three at a time if you’re planning on eating a lot of ghee.

The butter will start to bubble and fizzle – it should be quite noisy. Turn the heat down to low and continue to cook until the fizzling sound dies down and the middle of the liquid looks clear. There will be a white foamy substance on the top and you may be able to see debris on the bottom. This only took about 10 minutes for me, though some sources suggest cooking it for much longer. I read that while it’s cooking it smells like croissants, and it does. You can brown it slightly for extra flavour, but make sure it doesn’t burn (according to my book, it will start bubbling madly again if it’s burning).

Cool the liquid and strain it into a jar, either through a very fine-meshed sieve or a piece of muslin or cloth. That’s it – it’s ready to use as you would other cooking fats.

*Note: ghee is recommended for all doshas, though kaphas should use it in small amounts.

From Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai, ‘The Ayurvedic Cookbook: A Personalized Guide to Good Nutrition and Health’.

PS – my favourite Masterchef contestant got knocked out, so I guess it’s all down to Tim, the ‘children’s doctor’ (er, paediatrician?) now.

One chicken, two ways

March 5, 2010

Does anyone else have fantasies about what they would be like on Masterchef? Including awing the judges and never ever using the phrase ‘one hundred and ten percent’? Well, someone has stolen mine. Aliya, on last night’s programme, made exactly the sort of food I would want to make (chicken in a walnut and pomegranate sauce, flourless chocolate cake with ginger and cardamom), didn’t break a sweat in the professional kitchen, and she’s a nutritionist with an interest in writing a cookbook about healthy eating. And she got through to the quarter-finals. It’s an odd experience for a stranger to incarnate your very specific (and implausibly calm) Masterchef dream personality, let me tell you.

Anway, this has nothing to do with chicken. Actually, this one’s a bit of a misnomer: one chicken one way with many uses would be more accurate, if less snappy.

The disadvantage of poaching a chicken over roasting it is that you don’t get nice crispy skin, but there are several advantages to using this method which I particularly like:  it’s much quicker (at least it is if you have a pan big enough), you don’t need to be as precise about timing as there’s no danger of it drying out, and you get the bonus of the big pot of chicken stock created by the cooking. If you quickly chop some vegetables and throw them in the still-bubbling stock, with some rice or noodles on the side you have dinner made. Of course, the fact that the skin is so unappealing that you don’t want to eat it and thus save yourself from the fattiest part of the bird could also be considered an advantage (although my Scottish roots don’t like having to throw it away).

This is fairly austere food as it is, so you’ll want plenty of extras on the side: soy sauce, chilli sauce, pickled ginger, togarashi, slivers of nori, whatever Oriental accoutrements float your boat. There’s a certain childlike delight to be taken in customising your meal, I think.

One chicken, two ways  Serves 4-6

One whole, free-range chicken, around 2kg
2 slices ginger
1 spring onion, sliced
small handful coriander

To serve:
soy sauce, chilli sauce etc.
thinly sliced/chopped vegetables
rice or noodles

Bring a kettleful of water to the boil and pour into your biggest pan. Put the chicken in the pan with the slices of ginger and a little salt. The water should cover the chicken, but if not don’t worry – you can turn it over halfway through cooking.

With the heat at a gentle simmer, cook the chicken for 30 minutes. Test to see if it’s cooked all the way through, and if it is, take it out and set it aside to rest for 20 minutes. If not, turn over and cook for another 30 minutes or so.

Keep the chicken stock which is now in the pan at a simmer and throw in your vegetables – I used cabbage, mushrooms and a leek. You could also cook your noodles or rice in the stock (do that first), or cook them separately.

Peel the skin from the chicken and carve it, or if you have a sharp enough knife you can just hack through the bones and cut it into pieces. If you’ve taken the chicken off the bones, you can add the bones back into the stock and keep simmering to make a richer broth.  

Serve the chicken scattered with the spring onion and coriander with the vegetables and starch on the side. Let everyone help themselves to sauces at the table.

From Deng Ming-Dao’s ‘Zen: the Art of Modern Eastern Cooking’.

Tomato-miso soup

March 3, 2010

This week’s book is ‘Zen: The Art of Modern Eastern Cooking’ by Deng Ming-Dao (which, now I come to think of it, should probably be under D and not M). It’s divided into three sections: classic flavours, east-west combinations, and tea menus. Most of the things I’ve earmarked to cook are from the first section – the tea menus are ridiculously complex even for me and the  fusion dishes are mostly unappealing (mango and olive pasta anyone?). However, there was one thing that caught my eye as I flicked through which seemed as if it could work, and this is it: a fairly classic tomato soup with onion, garlic, lots of celery, carrot and tomatoes, simmered slowly and gently. The only unusual additions are a nub of ginger and a fair dollop of brown miso paste.

And it does work, I’m pleased to report – the miso gives it a solid depth, but isn’t overwhelming; it contributes a savoury note without being clearly identifiable as a flavour in its own right. This is a good way of perking up a fairly ordinary tinned tomato soup which would be equally at home, I imagine, with a noodle salad or a cheese sandwich.

Tomato-miso soup  Serves 4

1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
half bunch celery (about 5 sticks), finely sliced
1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
20g butter
60ml mirin
2 x 400g tins tomatoes
375ml veg stock
60g miso paste

Melt the butter in a large pan and fry the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and ginger for 15 minutes or so over a low heat until soft (don’t let the vegetables brown).

Stir in the mirin. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 15 minutes.

Add the miso, stirring thoroughly. Pour in the stock and bring to a low simmer, leaving to cook gently for a further 45 minutes.

Blend the soup until smooth. You can garnish with chopped spring onions, ginger and/or creme fraiche, if you like.

Adapted from Deng Ming-Dao’s ‘Zen: The Art of Modern Eastern Cooking’.