Archives for the month of: November, 2011
Rose hips, see also Rose hip

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I have a cold again. I feel as if I’ve had a cold constantly since autumn arrived – sometimes it’s been on standby, but it’s always been ready to send me running for the tissues at a moment’s notice. And this time I’m feeling particularly self-pitying about it. Good news, then, that rosehips have twenty times more vitamin C than an orange – according to my Richard Mabey  – and that I had picked a whole stash of them in a more energetic point in the cold lapse.

I made a rosehip syrup last year but found it disappointing on the flavour front. I’ve since had it pointed out to me that I probably picked my hips too early – this may seem blindingly obvious, but like any other fruit, they ripen. While they appear from late August, at first they’ll be hard; later on they’ll soften and have more flavour. You can eat them raw if you want to see how they taste, but avoid the little seeds which are not good for your insides.  Be careful, also, if you’re picking them at the squishy stage: they have tiny inner hairs which will itch like crazy if you get them on your skin. I speak from uncomfortable experience.

This year I used the recipe in Mabey’s book, which is in fact an old Ministry of Food recipe used when citrus fruit was scarce and the aforementioned vitamin C status of rosehips became particularly valuable. It’s more time consuming than the one I used last year, so best to do it on a day you’re planning to stay in, but the results just about capture the flavour – something like a cross between apple and rose. It’s also recommended that you bottle the syrup in small portions as it will only last a couple of weeks once it’s open. Since this recipe yields a lot, you will end up with several small bottles of syrup. In other words, that’s a few Christmas presents sorted.


Rosehip syrup

Makes about 750ml

1kg rosehips
900g sugar

Wash and drain the hips (they can be frozen if you don’t want to make the syrup straight away). Bring 1.5 litres of water to the boil and roughly chop the hips in a food processor. Toss them into the boiling water, turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 minutes. Pour everything into a jelly bag or piece of muslin or clean tights and leave it to drip into a bowl until just about all of the liquid has dripped through. Put the hip residue back into the saucepan, add another 750ml boiling water and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Put it back into the jelly bag and let it drip through a second time. Put the first cupful of liquid back through the jelly bag for a final time (to make sure you don’t get any of the tiny itchy hairs in your syrup). Measure the final amount of liquid and put it back into a clean saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce until you have about 750ml left (measuring it first makes this easier to judge). Add 900g sugar and boil for 5 minutes. Pour straight into sterile bottles and seal. Store in a dark cupboard.

The syrup can be used as a cordial or flavouring for milk puddings or ice-cream – the flavour is quite delicate so it needs to be paired with something subtle.

From Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’


When I was little, my favourite cereal came in the form of big clusters of satisfyingly hard, sweetened oats with raisins in. We called it ‘crunchy’. It was made by Jordans. Nowadays crunchy seems to have been replaced by its US cousin, granola; and OK, it has a proper cereal name and not just an adjective, but I nevertheless stand by the fact that granola should be crunchy (in texture) and it should come in clusters. I’m always disappointed by cereals that purport to be granola but are actually nothing more than toasted muesli. I’ve made a few uninspiring batches myself, the problem being, I think, that in order to get enough of a sticking, hardening quality you need to use quite a lot of oil and/or syrup and therefore the less healthy and the closer to a flapjack your breakfast becomes. Well, this recipe produces the perfect (for me) consistency and uses only a bit of oil and OK, quite a lot of maple syrup, but at least it comes from a tree. I like to put it on top of fruit and yoghurt for extra virtuousness.

I first had granola with garam masala in it from a little stall at a farmers’ market in Ireland and I loved it. Not everyone loved it, because we ended up with another pot of it in our house that someone else had relinquished in disgust. That one had lime juice and jaggery and goji berries in it as well; I know, because I kept the tub so I could look at the ingredients list. My version adds in some of the things I most like to put in granola: nutmeg and coconut. If you don’t like them, or anything else, leave them out or substitute for something you do – as long as you keep the ratio of dry to wet roughly the same, you will end up with crunchy.

Indian-spiced granola

Makes about 450g

10og oats
50g barley flakes
50g rye flakes
75g almonds
4 tbsp sunflower seeds
4 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
50g dessicated coconut
175ml maple/agave syrup, or a mixture
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
75g chewy banana chips

Preheat the oven to 180c.

Mix all the dried ingredients together (except the dried fruit). Mix the syrup and oil and pour over, stirring well to combine. Tip the whole lot onto an oiled baking tray or two and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring a couple of times, until the granola is golden brown. Leave it to cool before breaking it into small chunks and mixing in the banana chips. Store in an airtight container.

I thought I’d pretty much covered Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook in my last post, but then I had these for dinner, and I enjoyed them so very, very much that I had to share. These are some seriously delicious burgers. Juicy and zingy and fresh tasting and really, really quick and easy to put together. The perfect TV dinner. We ate them with sweet potato chips and a rocket salad, which was entirely great, but you could also do the bun thing, and Gwyneth has a little recipe for a soy and sesame mayo which I wasn’t about to go anywhere near (me and mayo…let’s just say we don’t see eye to eye). Either way, whatever you eat them with, eat them. The only thing that’s going to stop me making these burgers on a near constant basis is the fact that tuna is rather expensive, justifiably, since there isn’t too much of it left, and I’m a long way short of a Hollywood star’s salary.

Tuna and ginger burgers

Serves 2

The recipe calls for you to marinate the burgers for at least an hour, which I didn’t have time for, and I can’t see that it would make a huge difference. If you did want to make them in advance, though, know that you can do this as early as the night before.

1-2 tsp wasabi paste, or to taste
black pepper
small knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp rapeseed oil, plus more for cooking
2 fat tuna steaks, cut into chunks
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
accompaniments of your choice: burger buns, rocket, sweet potato chips, etc.

Put the wasabi, ginger, garlic and oil in a food processor. Add a good dose of salt and pepper – it depends how much tuna you have, but you want around 1/4 tsp sea salt per 225g tuna. Pulse together to make a paste. Add the tuna and pulse carefully to combine, just so the mixture will come together as a burger but making sure the tuna still has some texture. Form 2 burgers, which at this point you can refrigerate. If you want to check the seasoning, you can fry a small amount in a pan (or you could taste it raw if you’re confident in the quality of your tuna).

When you’re ready to eat, saute the sliced shallots for 10 minutes or so, until soft and golden. Heat a frying pan or griddle over a high heat, rub the burgers with a little oil, and cook for a couple of minutes a side. You have a bit more leeway than when cooking a tuna steak, which you definitely want rare – I’d say these can be just cooked all the way through, but obviously don’t let them dry out. If using buns, you can grill them alongside.

Serve with the shallots on top and serving suggestions of choice.

Adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Notes from My Kitchen Table’

The other day I was in TK Maxx looking for a new coat rack. I generally have a good official reason to go to TK Maxx, but the subtext is always that I want to look at the cheap cookbooks. I initially picked up Gwnyneth Paltrow’s ‘Notes from My Kitchen Table’  thinking it would be an amusing source of derision (I know, judging the efforts of others is not the most edifying way to entertain yourself, but so it goes sometimes). Well, the joke’s on me, because I ended up buying it. It turns out Gwyneth and I have similar taste (not in men, I hasten to add) – we both like food which is healthy without drawing attention to itself as health food; in other words, it’s tasty first and healthy second. I may have some issues with her obsession with something called Vegenaise and her objections to red meat, but I like the fact that she includes some baking recipes without refined white flour or sugar and suggests more natural sweeteners and wholegrains often, without being fanatical about it. It’s mostly quite simple stuff, but I like simple; lots of pasta, burgers, salads – everyday food, mostly, although there’s a recipe for perfect Chinese crispy duck I’ve got my eye on as a weekend project.

And it was from Gwyneth that I got the idea of making cavolo nero into a pesto, which I seized on because I often like the idea of eating things like cavolo nero more in theory than in practice. Combine it with anchovies, garlic and parmesan and it tastes a lot less bitter and good for you and a lot more salty and delicious. It also makes your pasta a glorious shade of green.

Cavolo nero pesto

Serves 4

Gwyneth suggests serving this with penne and peas, but I’m not sure I really felt the peas fitted in. When I had it again I put in some chargrilled purple sprouting broccoli which seemed a bit more harmonious (and another way of fitting in some healthy greens). It is more work, though. I say the mascarpone is optional because I left it out, simply because I didn’t have any, but I’m sure it would be a nice addition.

1 bunch cavolo nero (about a handful)
10 anchovies
1 small clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
80g mascarpone (optional)

To serve:
350-400g penne or other pasta
150g frozen peas (optional)

Steam the cavolo nero for 7 mins, or until tender. Put it in a blender with the anchovies, garlic, olive oil and pepper and whizz to a smooth paste. Stir in the mascarpone, if using.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta. If adding peas they can go into the pasta water for the last minute or two of cooking time. Reserve a little of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and combine it with the pesto. Use a little bit of the water if it’s too thick. Grate lots of parmesan on top to serve.

From Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Notes from My Kitchen Table’

OK, so Nigel calls this a ‘beetroot seed cake’ but I find seedy beetroot cake more amusing, like it wears a stained mac and hangs around in dark bars. Which is in fact completely inappropriate, because this is one of the most wholesome cakes you could hope to come across. Not only does it have seeds in it, and a vegetable, but you can swap some of the white flour for wholemeal or spelt quite safely. If you wanted to make it almost completely healthy, you could leave off the icing, but I think the sugariness is a nice contrast – as Nigel points out, the cake itself has a fairly muted sweetness. If it sounds so far like a cake you’re not really going to get excited about, let me tell you, it is delicious. Usually when I bake things I send the leftovers off with Tom to work so I don’t have to eat them all, but this cake I cut in half first so I’d have a few slices left to look forward to with a cup of tea. This is definitely a cup of tea cake. It’s not going to give you a sugar high and then dump you, it’s going to provide you with the gentle reassurance of a warm and well loved jumper.

A couple of notes on the method – the main drawback of this cake is the amount of mess it creates. I recommend wearing an apron so you don’t spatter yourself in beetroot juice. Otherwise, the cake is quite forgiving – I used different flour, different sugar, different oil and lime juice instead of lemon and didn’t whisk my egg whites properly (did I mention I was a bit hungover?) and it turned out more than fine. One thing though, that I don’t recommend: I used some hemp seeds in my seed mix and they were a bit too hard and crunchy. So stick with the more traditional seed varieties.

Seedy beetroot cake

Serves 8-10

225g self-raising flour, or 150g self-raising flour and 75g spelt/wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
a scant tsp baking powder (use a heaped tsp if using spelt or wholemeal)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
180 ml sunflower oil (can be swapped with half nut oil – I used half olive and half walnut)
225g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs, separated
150g raw beetroot (about 2 medium sized beetroot)
juice of half a lemon or a whole lime
75g sultanas or raisins
75g mixed seeds e.g. pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, linseed

for the icing:
at least 8 tbsp icing sugar – I found I needed about 12 for a good covering
lemon juice or orange blossom water
poppy seeds (optional – I didn’t have any)

Heat the oven to 180c and grease a standard sized loaf tin.

Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Beat the oil and sugar in a food mixer (or food processor, or by hand) until well creamed, then beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Grate the beetroot and fold it in, then add the lemon/lime juice, sultanas/raisins and seeds. Fold in the flour mixture.

Beat the egg whites until fluffy but not quite at stiff peak stage. Fold gently into the mixture and pour into the tin. Bake for 50 mins – 1 hour, covering the top with a piece of foil after the first 30 mins so it doesn’t burn. Leave it to cool for 20 mins before turning out of the tin.

Make the icing by sifting the sugar and adding enough juice/orange blossom water to make a runny consistency – but thick enough so most of it stays on the top of the cake. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake and sprinkle over the poppy seeds, if using.

Adapted from Nigel Slater’s ‘Tender: Vol. 1’

I used to have an allotment, and every year I would grow beetroot because they seemed to be the only thing guaranteed to survive my inept gardening. They also have a very long season. Consequently I would have to eat beetroot a lot, for months, and by the time I handed in the keys to my plot, about a year ago, I felt like I’d eaten my beetroot quota for life. But then I was at the farmers’ market at the weekend and they had these bunches of beetroot, and they looked so stylish with their glossy purple-tinged leaves and matt burgundy skin that I found myself putting some in my basket and taking them home.

The first of the beetroot I ate for lunch, cut into wedges and roasted with some maple syrup and thyme and balsamic vinegar, with griddled halloumi. It was very good. I was a bit hungover and it made me feel a lot better; I think beetroot is so vividly coloured that it seems as it it must be incredibly good for you. In the afternoon I made a beetroot cake with most of the rest of the beetroot (the recipe for that will follow soon). And for dinner I made an impromptu pasta dish with the leaves, based on the limited contents of the fridge/cupboards. Usually whenever I have beetroot leaves I do a Nigella thing with lots of soy sauce and soba noodles, but since I was out of soba and had expended all my energy on the cake I came up with something else with the requisite strong flavours and earthy savouriness to match the bitter leaves.

Spaghetti with beetroot leaves and toasted garlic breadcrumbs

Serves 2

If I have bits of stale bread I make them into breadcrumbs and keep them in the freezer – they can be used straight from frozen. I would have liked to put some anchovies in with this, except I’d run out, but they could go in with the garlic. Some chilli might also be good at that point.

200g spaghetti, wholewheat or spelt would work well
olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
100g or so breadcrumbs (a couple of big handfuls)
leaves from one bunch of beetroot (about 5 beetroot)
parmesan, to serve

Put the spaghetti on to cook. Heat a decent amount of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the garlic until it starts to smell garlicky. Add the crumbs and a pinch of salt and stir, frying until the breadcrumbs turn crispy. Meanwhile discard and yellowy or not so nice looking beet leaves, give them a rinse, and separate the leaves from the stalks. Roughly shred the leaves and finely chop the stalks. Throw them in with the spaghetti for the last couple of minutes of cooking time.

Drain the spaghetti, reserving a couple of tablespoons of pasta water. Mix in the breadcrumbs, grind over some black pepper and grate over lots of parmesan. Add a bit of the pasta water if the pasta looks too dry.