Happy (somewhat belated) 2014 everyone.
Apologies for my blog silences over the past month, I’ve moved to self-hosting (more difficult and time consuming than I was expecting) and I took the opportunity to redesign. Plus of course there’s been the whirlwind of socialising with family and friends in the beautiful Cape Town sunshine. Let’s just say it’s been hectic, and so much fun.
Now it’s time to get serious and I’m ready to jump right back into full blogging mode…with plenty of lovely restaurants, recipes and adventures to share with you.
I thought I’d start with my favourite recipes from last year. It was interesting looking back to discover how the recipes I cooked were influenced by my travels. And of course the ingredients I was surrounded by at the time. These 10 dishes are all easy to make, taste amazing and have become firm favourites in our household. I hope they will be in yours too. Do try them out and let me know what you think.
Spanish-style sausage stew
I love Spain and visit as often as I can. Cooking is a joy there, a quick visit to the market for the freshest (and cheapest) ingredients you can find and a bit of imaginative thinking. So you’ll see that a lot of my dishes have a Spanish influence. I came up with this stew while I was in London – the paprika, garlic, butter beans and tomatoes add a distinctly Spanish touch.
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 sticks of celery, chopped
8 small new potatoes, halved
400g tin of butter beans
1 tsp paprika
227g tin of tomatoes
4 tbsps passata (pureed tomatoes)
400ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Fry the sausages and onion in a little oil for about 15 mins on a medium/low heat until lightly browned.
Place the sausages and onions in the bottom of a casserole dish.
Add all the rest of the ingredients and pour over the stock.
Cover the dish with foil and cook in the oven at 180C for about 60 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
Biltong, watercress and pea soup
Cooking with unusual ingredients is always a challenge. And it’s fun. So when the Chichester Biltong Company asked me to come up with some recipes cooking with that fabulous South African ingredient, biltong, I was only too happy to get creative. This soup was the clear winner in a range of (I think) inventive biltong recipes.
Biltong’s the perfect addition to a summery soup
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
Olive oil for frying
150g fresh peas
1 litre of vegetable stock
4 sprigs of fresh mint
100g wet biltong, chopped into dice-size pieces
2 tsps horseradish sauce
For the horseradish cream
2 tsps double cream
1 tsp horseradish sauce
Fry the chopped potato and onion in the olive oil in a deep pan for about 10 minutes until softened.
Add the peas and the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.
Add the chopped biltong and watercress and boil until the watercress has wilted.
Add the fresh mint and the horseradish.
Take off the heat and blend with a hand blender until the soup is thick and fairly smooth.
To make the horseradish cream, mix together the double cream and horseradish.
Serve the soup with a dollop of horseradish cream on top and a sprig of mint.
Moroccan-style roast lamb
Roasts are always a favourite in our household. A Moroccan-style marinade lifted this leg of lamb to another level.
An exotic twist on an old favourite
2kg leg of lamb, on the bone
175g salted butter, softened
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
Half tsp cayenne pepper
Place the garlic cloves into a pestle with the salt and grind to a paste. Add the other spices.
Mix together with the softened butter.
Make small slits all over the lamb, going quite deep into the meat so the flavours can infuse.
Spread generously with the butter and leave for about 4 hours.
Cook the meat at gas mark 8 (220C) for 30 mins and then turn it down to gas mark 5 (190C) for 30 mins per 450g. About two hours 40 minutes for this leg.
For the last hour add chunks of onion and carrots into the dish with the lamb and roast in the juices. Pour over 2 handfuls of dried apricots and a handful of flaked almonds for the last 10 mins of cooking.
Take the lamb out and rest for 10-15mins, covered with foil. Leave the vegetables to carry on cooking.
Carve thinly and serve with roast or mashed potatoes and the vegetables.
Summer salad with peas, prawns, broad beans and Dijon dressing
Nothing says summer like this salad – both in its appearance and taste. I love the beautiful greens combined with the pale pink of the prawns.
2 little gem lettuces, quartered
150g peas, steamed and cooled
150g broad beans, peeled, podded, steamed and cooled
Small bag of pea shoots
4 spring onions
2 handfuls of fresh mint leaves, pulled off the stem
1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, pulled off the stem
150g peeled, cooked prawns
For the dressing
3 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
Once you’ve cooked and cooled the peas and broad beans, simply combine all the salad ingredients. Top with the prawns, pour over the dressing, toss and serve. Summer on a plate!
Meatballs in a spicy pepper and tomato sauce
Another Spanish-influenced dish, these meatballs make a hearty yet light dinner.
More Spanish influences with spicy meatballs
For the meatballs
500g minced pork
1 onion, grated
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 handful chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
For the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 red peppers, finely chopped
700g fresh tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
1 handful fresh, chopped parsley
200g fresh or frozen peas
To make the meatballs, combine the pork, grated onions, breadcrumbs and parsley in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Use your hands to mush all the ingredients together until they are thoroughly mixed. Wet your hands and shape into little balls about the size of an apricot. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge to settle for about half an hour.
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the garlic, onion and peppers and fry for about 15 minutes until the peppers are soft.
Add the tomatoes and crumble the chilli into the mixture and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to as low as possible and simmer lightly, uncovered for about 45 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened. Make sure you stir it regularly to ensure it is not sticking.
To fry the meatballs, add the olive oil to a frying pan and when it is hot, add the meatballs. Turn it down slightly so the meatballs aren’t frying too furiously. Cook until browned and then turn around until browned all over.
Gently add the meatballs into the sauce, spoon the sauce over, cover and simmer lightly for 15 minutes.
Add the peas and stir through gently. Simmer for about 10 minutes to heat through.
Serve in bowls with chopped fresh parsley scattered over. Add crusty bread on the side to mop up all the juices.
Spaghetti with clams
I love Vongole – another dish with very few ingredients that delights in its simplicity. Here’s my version, used making fabulous clams from the local market in Spain.
200g dried spaghetti
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small dried chilli
2 medium plum tomatoes, skinned by immersing in boiling water for 2 minutes and then chopped
150ml dry white wine
500g small fresh clams (almejas)
2 handfuls chopped, fresh parsley
Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
Five minutes before it’s ready, add 2 tbsps of olive oil to a pan and add the chopped garlic. Crumble in the chilli and add the chopped tomatoes.
Stir together for a couple of minutes.
Add the clams and pour in the wine. Leave for about 4 minutes, shuffling the pan. When the clams open up your sauce is ready.
Drain the pasta and add it to the clams. Add the chopped parsley and toss everything together.
Asian-style prawn salad
South East Asia is another inspiration. I love the freshness and zestiness of Thai and Vietnamese food and came up with this prawn dish for a starter when I had friends round for dinner. Totally amazing.
12 large prawns, shelled but with tail still on
1 cucumber, peeled into ribbons
2 handfuls basil leaves
2 handfuls mint leaves
2 handfuls coriander leaves
6 spring onions, chopped
2 handfuls peanuts, dry fried
For the marinade and dressing
1 stick lemon grass, trimmed and thinly sliced
Half a cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsps fish sauce
2 small red chillies, deseeded and sliced
Mix the marinade ingredients together. Pour three quarters of the mix over the prawns and leave to marinate for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Save the rest of the liquid to dress the salad.
Mix all the salad ingredients together, pour over the remaining dressing and toss.
Fry the prawns in a little olive oil in a hot pan for about 3 to 4 mins until they are nicely pink.
Place on top of the salad. Sprinkle with the peanuts and serve.
Another Thai-inspired dish – I’ve been to Thailand many times and love Thai food. It was interesting making satay sauce as it comes in many guises. I was very pleased with the results.
For the skewers
500g rump steak, very thinly sliced. I ran a very sharp knife through the middle of the steak (lying flat on the board), to cut it into half before slicing it into strips.
For the marinade
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sticks of lemongrass, chopped
1 chilli, chopped
2 tsps ginger, chopped
Half a tsp of turmeric
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp dark soya sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
4 tsp brown sugar
Juice of 1 lime
Mix all the marinade ingredients together and add the thinly sliced steak. Leave to marinate for at least two hours, overnight if you have time.
Meanwhile, make the peanut sauce.
This makes a good batch for two meals. We quickly fried prawns in chilli oil the next night and dipped them into the leftover sauce. Totally delicious.
1 cup dry roasted peanuts
One-third of a cup of water
1 clove of garlic, peeled
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
Half a tsp of cayenne pepper
160ml tin of coconut cream
Place everything into a food mixer and blend until your sauce is completely smooth.
Top tip: Make sure you use dry roasted peanuts they give the sauce a much deeper flavour.
Thread the thin slices of beef in folds onto skewers. If you’re using wooden skewers, make sure to soak them in cold water in the sink for at least half an hour.
Place under the grill for about 4 minutes on each side. They won’t take long as the steak is so finely sliced.
Serve with a generous dollop of the peanut sauce on the side.
On a cold winter night, you can’t beat comfort food. This bowl of deliciousness is perfect to warm the cockles of your heart and your tummy.
400g diced braising beef
200g shallots, peeled and cut in half
8 rashers of streaky bacon, diced
250g button mushrooms, cut in half
2 cloves garlic
3 tsp dried herbes de Provence
1 carrot, peeled and diced small
2 sticks of celery, thinly sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp sunflower oil for frying
500ml Burgundy wine
Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and brown the beef. Set aside.
Add the garlic, onions and bacon and fry until softened, about 10 mins. Add the mushrooms and fry for another 5 mins. Add the carrots and celery and fry for another 5 mins.
Add the tomato paste and stir through. Pour in the wine and the water and stir through. Add the beef back in.
Simmer on a low hob for 3-31/2 hours until the liquid is nicely reduced and the meat is tender.
I served it in bowls as a cross between a hearty soup or a stew. For a more substantial meal serve with mash potato and peas
Pan con tomate
Yes, we’re back in Spain. This simple dish is one of my all-time favourites, simple, bursting with flavour and ideal eating as a snack, starter and especially for breakfast with a coffee and some sunshine.
A wonderful any-time dish that I enjoy for breakfast in Spain
1 large plum tomato
3 slices white bread/baguette
1 clove of garlic
2 tbsps olive oil plus extra to serve
Salt and pepper
Peel the tomato by immersing in boiling water for about 2 mins and then removing the skin.
Cut it up into small pieces and pour over the olive oil. Use the back of a wooden spoon to mush up the tomato a bit and leave to marinade for at least two hours, overnight is good.
Toast the bread.
Cut the garlic clove in half and rub it over the warm toasted bread, make sure you cover the toast thoroughly.
Top with the tomato topping and serve.
What’s the best thing you cooked in 2013? I’d love to hear all about it.