Archive for May, 2009

Summer soup

I’m really not a soup person. There’s something about the texture that I find to be really lacking so that getting through a bowl is more of a chore than enjoyment. However, I’ve recently been craving a bright green soup and yes, it really was the colour that I was thinking about rather than the flavour, which I assumed would include peas, mint and possibly not much else. It seems silly, but in my mind I could just see the freshness and set about finding a recipe. I came across a recipe for 15-minute summer soup and it looked like it was exactly what I was after. I made it tonight while Rob had his lamb koftas.

I pretty much followed the recipe exactly (half quantities) but with slightly less courgette (I didn’t have enough) and with rocket instead of watercress (not a watercress fan). The final result was surprisingly watery – I didn’t really mind, but you might want to use less water and then add more as you blend to get the consistency you want. It tasted great – exactly what I was after and I got through almost the whole lot (well, at 100kcal per portion, why not?!).

I’m definitely not a soup convert, but at least this is another one that will probably work for me at times (along with Rob’s delicious mexican bean soup!)


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Lamb koftas, tortilla, onion and cabbage salad, and raita

Last Sunday we cycled a number of miles in the heat for most of the day then came home and cooked six different dishes for tapas. By the end of cooking we both felt exhausted, so with more cycling today we decided we’d both like to do something simple instead.

A few months ago I cut out a recipe from a magazine for lamb koftas with a red cabbage salad. The recipe was very simple – 500g lean lamb mince, 2tsp ground cumin, handful chopped mint, most of the juice from one lemon and lemon zest. Shape into even-sized balls then grill for about 15 minutes until cooked. For the salad simply mix shredded red cabbage (1/4 of a cabbage), a red onion (thinly sliced), more mint, the rest of the lemon juice, a pinch of sugar and salt and pepper in a bowl and serve alongside the koftas.

I made my own cucumber and mint raita to go with it – remove the seeds from a piece of cucumber (approx 3 inches), grate the flesh then use some kitchen roll to remove as much of the water as possible. Add some natural yoghurt (around 1tsp), salt, a tiny bit of lemon juice and more chopped mint then mix together and serve alongside the koftes and salad.

Everything tasted really nice but it needed a bit more mint. We’ve recently started growing our own herbs and I didn’t want to take too much from the mint plant but sadly this sacrificed on flavour a bit. Apart from that, I really like lamb but don’t have it very often so I’ll definitely have this again.

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Franco Manca Sourdough Pizza

I’ve read a lot over the last few months about Franco Manca, the wonderful pizza place in Brixton Market. It’s a bit of a pain to get to so has taken us a while to finally go there – last weekend seemed to be the first in ages that the Victoria Line was running so we seized the opportunity. As it transpired we had to get the bus anyway as the line was suspended between Victoria and Brixton!

Franco Manca make their pizzas using a 20-hour slow-rise sourdough from a starter which is apparantly 300 years old – quite a bit older than my own which isn’t even one yet. The pizza is then cooked in a wood burning oven for just enough time to cook the base and slightly melt the cheese. Having won Time Out’s best “cheap eat” in London last year and despite only opening at lunchtimes, the place appears to have a cult foodie following. Pizza at Franco Manca, Brixton Market

We arrived at about 12:30 to a packed restaurant and a queue of around 15 people. In hindsight this wasn’t the best time to turn up as we had to wait for everyone in the first sitting to finish their meal; eventually after around 20 minutes we were seated. The menu is wonderfully simple with just six pizzas and a selection of drinks (mostly organic). I ordered number 5 – tomato, cured organic chorizo and mozzarella – Erika had number 1 – tomato, mozzarella and basil.

Despite service being a bit chaotic – the head waiter was making me stressed – the food turned up very quickly and it tasted wonderful. The tomato sauce was just… wow, absolutely incredible. Erika wouldn’t stop talking about it, I think she’d have been happy to have just had a bowl of sauce! The chorizo had a spicy tang to it, the mozzarella was better than any mozzarella I’ve had before and the crust was beautifully charred at the edges – something you’d only get from a wood-burning oven. The only disappointment was that the base was quite soggy and the toppings were a bit stingy. Erika’s pizza had only one small basil leaf on it!

Two pizzas and water (free) was £10.70 which means that it probably does deserve the title of best cheap eat – reviewers often seem to complain about poor service, but we didn’t see any of that – rushed, certainly, but we felt well attended to. Franco Manca is also quite a bit better than the usual chain pizza places but once again can’t seem to deliver a crispy base. We’ve experimented with pizza at home a few times – I usually have more success than Erika – so maybe it’s time to try again (with special attention paid to the tomato sauce!).

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Griddled sea bream

We’ve used Jersey Royals a lot recently. In Tapas, salad and sautéed with tuna/steak. Need to make the most of the season as they do taste so good. However, we’ve not actually eaten them as they should be – boiled in their skins.

Tonight we did just that, serving them with a whole sea bream which was cooked on the griddle, as well as some dwarf beans. We drizzled the fish with olive oil, ground over some salt and pepper then stuck a few sprigs of thyme inside, along with a bit more oil. Unfortunately the fish stuck and so our dreams of a crispy skin (and a nice photo) were sadly dashed but the rest of it was lovely. I really enjoy griddled food – we don’t have a garden so it’s the closest we can get to a BBQ – however I’ve always been unsuccessful with fish skin for some reason. Some quick research shows that the pan might need to be hotter so I’ll have to try that next time around.

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Vegetable bhuna curry on steamed basmati rice

I never used to like curry. It was partly down to the fact that I didn’t like spicy food (that’s changed somewhat over the years, although I still don’t like things too hot) and so people would try to get me to “try something mild, have a korma”. Now, the problem with this approach is that kormas obviously have a very distinct flavour and, as far as I’m concerned, not a very nice one! It wasn’t until my housemates dragged me to an Indian buffet during my final year at university that I started to appreciate this great cuisine. At the buffet, the curry that really won me over was a chicken bhuna and I’ve been a great fan ever since.

When we were planning what to eat this week there was a chance that a vegetarian friend of mine would be joining us tonight so we decided that a vegetable curry would be in order. We’ve done curries from scratch before, but decided to try out a curry paste tonight (we’ve previously just used them for marinades).

Thinly slice 1.5 red onions and put them in a heavy-bottomed pan with a tablespoon of oil to soften over a low heat. Then added slices of a large carrot, chunks of a medium sweet potato and pieces of a whole cauliflower (we were going to use courgette too, but forgot). Add a few tablespoons of water to stop the vegetables from sticking and pop the lid on for a 10 minutes or so. Stir in 140g (half a jar) of bhuna curry paste (we used Pataks), 2tbsps tomato purée, a tin of chopped tomatoes and 200ml of water. Bring to the boil, cover and leave to simmer for 30 minutes (or until the cauliflower is getting towards the softness you like!) stirring occassionally. Add some mushrooms and tomato wedges and simmer uncovered for a further 10 minutes to thicken the sauce. We served this with steamed basmati rice (two nights in a row!) and a tomato, onion and cucumber salad dressed with lemon juice and a pinch of cumin.

We intended for this to make enough for four (we’ll freeze the rest), but there are still at least three if not four portions left!

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Griddled jerk chicken with mango salad and steamed rice

We’ve had jerk chicken a couple of times, most memorably at The Mayor’s Thames Festival a couple of years ago (along with some delicious, blackened, barbequed corn), but tonight decided to try and make it ourselves. We used a recipe for Grilled Jerk Chicken, but in hindsight I’m not sure that was the ideal recipe as Wikipedia tells me that jerk involves a dry-rub whereas this recipe uses a marinade.

We made the marinade as instructed (although with 25% less chilli) and then griddled the chicken which we served with steamed rice and a mango salad (fresh mango, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and some fresh mint). It was okay and nice to have something different, but the chicken wasn’t anything particularly special – despite all the ingredients, there seemed to be very little flavour when it was actually cooked. We’ll have to hunt out a new recipe (suggestions welcome!)

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Conchiglie Bolognese

Conchiglie bolognese

Bolognese is a staple in the Grub’s Up household. We usually cook enough to freeze, meaning there is always some for dinner if we are lacking in creativity and/or time of an evening.

I’ve never found a ‘perfect’ recipe for bolognese. I always use lean minced beef, onion, garlic, mushrooms, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs and salt and pepper and then add one/many/all of red wine, beef stock, Marmite or Lea & Perrins. Tonight’s bolognese was out the freezer and the only thing I could remember from cooking it is that I used some red wine. I find the wine gives a good depth of flavour to the dish and adds to the ‘beefy-ness’, although I’d be interested to see what white wine does instead.  As I use beef, Erika cooks a Quorn version for herself, she’s not entirely happy with it though and would love some recommendations!

Tonight we had the bolognese with conchiglie – my favourite pasta for bolognese as the shells do a great job of holding the sauce. Next time I’ll note down the ingredients I use and can hopefully build on it to find the holy grail

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