Cinnamon

A little bit of comfort – golden turmeric milk

tumeric-milk-2

“Be good to yourself”.

This is what my yoga teacher says and it usually goes in one ear and out the other.

But this month I’m taking her advice, jumping on the bandwagon and trying to embrace the Danish concept of hygge. This involves attempting to create a general vibe of relaxation and wellbeing i.e. lighting lots of candles, cuddling up under warm blankets, drinking warm drinks…eating stews. I’m relaxing my punishing exercise regime (which sometimes enters the realms of self harm), letting some dust build up, and trying to ignore my ‘to do’ list.

I am also NOT having a dry January.

This recipe for warm, spiced milk, slightly sweetened with honey encapsulates the feeling that I’m trying to achieve. Although you may argue that hot chocolate laced with brandy would be better.

Waterstones was packed with books about hygge over Christmas and so it’s not surprising that I received one as a present. I really enjoyed reading it because it was entirely readable and intellectually unchallenging – which in itself is very hygge (have I annoyed you with my italics yet?).  My honest view though is that we already have a perfectly good English version of this concept – it’s just that our word for it is ‘cosy’. An open fire, a cup of tea, a good book – who doesn’t love that!

This is a very good article on the matter but it is not short so you will need a good attention span and at least 15 minutes spare to read it (The hygge conspiracy).

Golden turmeric milk (Anna Jones writing for The Guardian)

Makes 2 cups

  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 400ml of unsweetened milk (regular dairy, oat, coconut, almond)
  • ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of runny honey

Bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar and put them into a small saucepan with the milk, turmeric and cinnamon. Heat gently until almost boiling.

Strain into mugs and stir in the honey once it has cooled a little.

NOTE: I’m cooking meatballs in gravy tonight from a Tom Kerridge recipe. I’m hoping that this will supply further comfort and feelings of wellbeing. If they’re good I’ll post the recipe here next week. I’m just trying to decide whether to have them with mashed potatoes (the obvious accompaniment) or chips (what I really want!).

 

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Beef tagine

beeftagine2

I’m a bit late to the game on the ras el hanout front. This ingredient has always seemed a bit too ‘Yotam Ottolenghi’ for me (meaning that it can’t be found easily in suburban Nottingham). But Tesco now stock it in their own brand spice range – a sure sign that it has entered the realms of commonplace.

Anyway, my sister gave me a little bag of it to try recently and so I set about finding a recipe.

Ras el hanout is a North African spice mix which translates as ‘head of the shop’ – as in the best spices the shop keeper has to offer. I have no idea exactly what was in my little unmarked bag, but according to Wikipedia, cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dried ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn and paprika are all commonly used.

I’m not sure why this recipe (a bastardised version of one of Jamie Oliver’s*) uses additional cinnamon, cumin, paprika and ginger if the ras el hanout is likely to include these already. Purists would probably insist of making up their own spice mix from scratch in any case, as with garam masala, curry powder, jerk seasoning, five spice and the like.

All I can say is that the final dish was delicious and very easy (if time consuming) to make.

When I was frying off the beef my son asked me if I was making mince pies. I can see why he said this because the cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg in the spice mix does make it smell very Christmassy. I’m being a complete Grinch about Christmas at the moment so this is probably about as festive as my recipes on this blog will get this year.

*the original recipe can’t be trusted in any case. The comments section on Jamie’s website bought my attention to the fact that he uses teaspoons of spices in the TV series but tablespoons on the web.

Beef tangine

Serves 4-6

  • 1kg lean stewing steak cut into large (approx. 2.5 cm sq) chunks

For the marinade

  • 1 tablespoon of ras el hanout
  • 2 teaspoons of ground or whole cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

To cook

  • A little oil
  • 1 onion roughly chopped
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • A knorr vegetable stock pot (or equivalent vegetable stock cube)
  • 1 ½ cans of water
  • 100g of dried apricots cut into quarters

To serve

  • Toasted flaked almonds
  • A good handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • Couscous (recipe here)

Place the beef in a bowl with all the marinade ingredients and mix them in with a wooden spoon or massage them in with your hands. Cover and place in the fridge for 12-24 hours.

When you are ready to cook, heat a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat and brown the meat all over. It is worth taking the time to make sure you get a really good dark brown colour on both sides as this helps with the final flavour. You will probably need to do this in a couple of batches depending on the size of your frying pan.

Fry off the onion in the same pan until brown.

Place the beef and onion in a lidded casserole dish along with the can of tomatoes, apricots, chickpeas and stock pot/cube. Cover with 1 and a half tins of water (using the tin from either the tomatoes or chickpeas to measure). Bring the mixture to the boil on the hob and then cover.

Place in an oven preheated to 180oC for 1 hour.

Then reduce the temperature to 150oc and cook for a further 2 hours or until the meat is tender.

Make sure to check the pot at regular intervals (about every 30 mins) to give it a little stir and add a little extra water if the sauce is becoming too dry.

Just before serving mix in a good handful of chopped, fresh coriander.

Serve over a steaming bowl of cous cous or rice and garnish with more coriander and lightly toasted flaked almonds.


PS. If, unlike me, you are feeling the yuletide spirit then you may like to try one of my Christmas recipes from previous years.

Bread sauce
Easy chocolate biscuits (decorated for Christmas)
Homemade mincemeat
Christmas fudge
Mincemeat filo cigars and no nonsense mincemeat tart
Christmas pudding
Prawn cocktail

Pasta with caramelised onions and yoghurt

pasta with onions

This recipe sounds a bit weird but I promise you it’s absolutely delicious.

The first time I made it I had a rather strange conversation via twitter with the writer Diana Henry.

@DianaHenryFood Help please! Part way through your pasta with onions recipe but have realised I forgot to buy dill. What else could I use?

@DianaHenryFood PS. I also realise that this is a long shot – sure you have much better things to do on a Thursday night. I’ll go away now.

@Shelton_Zoe is that the Turkish one?

@DianaHenryFood Yes. Thanks for the reply (couldn’t fit the whole title in). 5 minutes from serving up.

@Shelton_Zoe oh dear. Too late. Not at all the same but parsley would do, or thyme. For future ref 😉

@DianaHenryFood amazing dish even without dill – thanks for the recipe. I’ll try thyme next as it’s in my garden.

@Shelton_Zoe get dill!

@DianaHenryFood Yes, of course. Golden rule – always follow the original recipe exactly first BEFORE tinkering. I’ll leave you in peace now.

I hasten to add that the next time I cooked this dish I bought dill. It was nice without, but even nicer with.

It was kind of Diana Henry to answer my stupid question but why on earth was she on twitter on a Thursday evening?

But then again why was I?

Diana Henry’s pasta with caramelised onions and yoghurt

Serves 2

  • 425g onions (about 4 medium ones), very finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A 5 cm piece of cinnamon stick
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 145g tagliatelle (I probably used more than this because I’m greedy. If you want to make your own tagliatelle, here’s my tried and tested recipe)
  • 50g Greek yogurt
  • 1½ tablespoons of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh dill, chopped (or thyme, or parsley, or nothing)
  • 15g butter
  • ¼ teaspoons of ground cayenne
  • finely crumbled feta to serve (I didn’t bother with this because I don’t like feta)

Put the onions in a heavy-based pan with the olive oil, bay and cinnamon. Cook over a medium heat, stirring the onions, until they start to turn golden. Then add the garlic and cook for a further two minutes.

Add a splash of water, cover the pan, turn the heat right down and leave until the onions are almost caramelised (about 35 minutes). Open the lid to check them every so often and add a little more water if they look dry.

When the onions are cooked, uncover, season with salt and pepper and boil away any excess liquid.

Cook the tagliatelle according to the packet instructions. Drain and toss it into the pot with the onions and stir in the yogurt, milk and dill.

Very quickly melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the cayenne. Cook for about 20 seconds.

Serve the pasta with the spiced butter drizzled on top (and, if you like, the feta on the side).

Nigella’s crispy cornflake chicken

cornflake chicken

I’m really enjoying ‘Simply Nigella’. I am a sad case but I look forward (with great anticipation) to my Monday night escape into her wonderful world of liquorice treasure boxes, giant walk in pantries and pretty pink tableware.

But the best bit for me is that she makes food that I actually want to eat.

Now I’m a huge fan of Carluccio’s Chicken Milanese (if you haven’t come across this it’s basically a giant middle-class chicken nugget), so when I saw Nigella make crunchy chicken cutlets (that looked very similar) I knew I had to give them a go.

First my daughter played guinea pig and I used the cornflakes as a coating for chicken without the mustard/cinnamon/garlic seasoning. She loved it. Then I followed the recipe almost to the book (but with a little less mustard) and fed it to my husband. He declared it ‘surprisingly delicious’. He was surprised because in his eyes Nigella is a crazed mad woman and he can’t get past the programme’s introduction before he has to leave the room.

The mustard and cinnamon tasted amazing and I’m going to use that idea again even if I do opt for proper breadcrumbs. There’s something gratifying about turning old bits of bread into breadcrumbs for dishes like this, but in our house of hungry gannets bread is rarely leftover any more so this makes a good (and cheap) alternative. Shop bought panko breadcrumbs are so expensive.

PS. I’ve also made Nigella’s fish tacos (8/10).

Nigella’s crispy cornflake chicken

If you want the real recipe go to http://www.nigella.com/recipes/view/crunchy-chicken-cutlets or ask Santa to bring you the book (Santa it’s only £12 in Tesco!)

  • 2 chicken breast fillets battered out with a rolling pin to about 1cm thickness
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 75 grams cornflakes
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • a big pinch of salt
  • Oil for frying (Nigella uses 2 tablespoons but I needed more)

Crack an egg into a shallow dish that you can fit both the chicken breasts in and whisk in the mustard, cinnamon and garlic. Add the chicken breasts and spoon over the mix. Leave to marinade while you prepare the coating.

Put the cornflakes into a bowl and crush them by hand with your fingers until they look like coarse bread crumbs, you don’t want dust. Add the salt, paprika and cayenne.

Take the chicken breasts out of the egg mixture one by one and toss them in the cornflakes until they are really well coated on both sides. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and when medium hot, fry for 3 minutes on the first side, then turn them over carefully and give them another 3 minutes. By this time the chicken should be cooked through but do check.

Serve with salad.

Baklava

baklava 2

I’ve been meaning to make baklava for months and I spent so long dithering and researching recipes that when I came to make it I completely bamboozled myself with the options. I’m amazed that everything ended up OK because in the end I cobbled together a recipe by taking bits from Nigella, Jamie, Felicity Cloake AND the recipe on the back of the filo packet.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my 37 years it’s that you should get on and face the things you fear because most of the time they end up not being so bad after all. Making baklava was a case in point. I put off making it because I thought it would be tricky but it was actually pretty straightforward.

You could easily tinker with this recipe to get it just to your liking. You could vary the mix of nuts depending on what you have to hand/what you like/what you can afford. And if you don’t like too much spice then it’s not necessary to include as much/or indeed any cardamom, ground cloves or cinnamon.

I didn’t have a sweet tooth until I breast fed my children but I developed a sugar fixation then which has never left me. Just a tiny square of baklava is usually thought to be enough but I think I could easily eat several pieces in one go – no problem.

Baklava

  • 1 pack of filo pastry (I used Theos ready rolled which comes in a 250g packet with 12 sheets)
  • 100g of melted butter (or more if needed, I melted 200g but only used half)

Filling

  • 500g of mixed nuts (you can play around with the types depending on your taste but I used 250g of walnuts, 150g of almonds and 100g of pistachios)
  • ¼ teaspoon of cardamom seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • The zest of 1 orange
  • A good pinch of salt

Syrup

  • 125ml water
  • 250g caster or granulated sugar
  • A tablespoon of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of rosewater
  • 100g of greek honey

Preheat the oven to 160oC.

First chop the nuts. I did this in a mini food processor. Don’t over chop so that they’re like dust, it’s nice to have some larger pieces for bite.

Put the nuts in a bowl and add the cardamom, ground cloves, cinnamon, orange zest, salt and mix well.

Line a deep baking tray 24cm by 34cm and at least 4cm deep with baking parchment so that it comes up the sides of the tray and butter liberally.

Unwrap the filo pastry and trim to the size of the baking tray (I used scissors to do this). Put one layer in the bottom of the tray, then liberally brush another filo sheet with butter and put this on top as lightly as you can. Repeat until you have used four sheets and then spread over half the nut mixture.

Now butter and layer up four more filo sheets, then add the remaining nuts and top with four more sheets of filo (buttering in the same way as before).

Cut into squares or diamonds as neatly as you can with a sharp knife. My technique needs some work (I tried following Nigella’s instructions for traditional diamonds, in her book ‘Feast’, but I think I might do simple small squares next time).

Bake for one hour.

Meanwhile make the syrup by adding the sugar, water and lemon to a small pan, heat over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then turn up the heat to medium and simmer (without stirring) until the syrup thickens (10-20 minutes, for me it was more like 20).

When an hour is up take the baklava out of the oven and turn up the heat to 180oC. Pour over the syrup being particularly liberal along the cracks and drizzle over the honey (again putting more down the cracks).

Once the oven has come up to temperature put the baklava back in for just 5 minutes.

Leave to cool completely before prizing from the baking tray and storing in an airtight container.

I think baklava is best after a couple of days (if there is any left by that point).

Cheat’s chilli and a New Year’s resolution

cheats chilli

Flicking through my past few posts I see a bias towards quick and simple dishes. It seems I’ve entered into a rut whereby I lazily wheel out easy recipes I know almost by heart and shy away from anything too challenging.

So one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more adventurous in the kitchen, to try at least one brand new recipe a week and to not always go for the easiest sounding option. My other resolutions are pretty standard – drink less wine, eat more greens, pay my family more attention, clean the house, turn off the computer, do more yoga…blah, blah, blah.

But before I launch into this new realm of extra special effort in the kitchen, I want to quickly tell you about another cheat’s dish (my excuse being that I drafted this post in 2014).

Spaghetti bolognese is one of Britain’s most popular dishes and most people I know can cook it (even those who claim to be hopeless in the kitchen). I’m not going to insult you with a recipe here because you know the thing – garlic, onion, minced beef, a tin of tomatoes, beef stock perhaps a good slug of red wine and some fresh oregano. What I would like to share with you is my trick for turning leftover bolognese into  a chilli-con-carne for day 2 or 3.

All you have to do is add a few bits from your store cupboard and as if by magic you have an entirely new dish.

Cheat’s chilli-con-carne

Serves 4

  • About 700g of leftover bolognese (give or take 100g or so)
  • 1 tin of kidney beans, drained
  • 1 x 10g square of dark chocolate
  • ½ a teaspoon of cumin
  • ¼ a teaspoon of cinnamon
  • ¼ a teaspoon of fresh or dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ a teaspoon of sugar
  • Chilli, either dried chilli flakes or chopped fresh chilli, amount will be according to how hot you like it with 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes resulting in a fairly mild chilli that my children and husband will eat (with yogurt).

Put all the ingredients above into a saucepan, heat slowly and let the mixture bubble away over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Serve with rice.

PS. This only works if you’ve made a pretty standard bolognese. If yours is laced with pancetta, chicken livers or similar fancy ingredients I wouldn’t suggest trying this (but then if you’re making that extra special effort you probably wouldn’t appreciate the cheat’s tip anyway).

PPS. I’m off to yoga now.

cheat's chilli

Alchemy

Lamb flatbreads (Lahmacun)

Lahmacun

Lamb flatbreads (or Turkish pizza as they are sometimes called) are my new obsession. They are aromatic but not too spicy and great if you love pizza but can’t eat diary like my two sisters Gemma and Laura.

So this recipe, my lovely sisters, is for you. PS. That means that you’ve got to try it (said in a bossy older sister voice).

A little lamb mince goes a very long way in this recipe ,which is good because it’s very expensive these days (said in my best old lady’s voice).

Lamb flatbreads

Makes 4 flatbreads, roughly 28 cm square, to feed 2-6 adults (depending on appetite)

Base

  • 350g strong white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons of yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Water to mix (200 – 250ml)
  • A sprinkling of semolina

Topping

  • 300g of lean minced lamb (buy the best quality you can)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 2 tinned plum tomatoes, drained and finely chopped, or use two fresh ones
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh flat leaf parsley
  • ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • ½ teaspoon of paprika
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 4 small green chillies, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • lemon wedges to serve

To prepare the topping simply add all the topping ingredients into a bowl and mush up with your hands until everything is incorporated. I like to leave the mixture for a few hours to allow the flavours to mingle but you don’t have to do this.

For the pizza base put the flour, salt, yeast and olive oil in a mixing bowl and add the water gradually mixing with your fingers. You want to bring the mixture together into a fairly wet dough – you may not need the whole 250ml. If you add too much, and the dough is too sticky to work with just sprinkle on a little more flour.

Tip the dough on to the work surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Ideally you should knead for 10 minutes. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film, and rest for 2 hours.

When you’re ready to cook the flatbreads first set your oven to its highest temperature (mine goes up to 270oC) and place a flat, square tray into the oven to heat up.

Take your dough and give it a good punch to knock out the air. Transfer to the work surface, knead lightly for a few seconds and divide into four.
Roll the first portion of dough out as thinly as you can without getting holes (this will be somewhere between 25 and 30 cm square).

Take the hot tray out of the oven and sprinkle with semolina. Transfer your rolled out dough to the baking sheet and spread a couple of handfuls of the lamb mixture thinly over the base with your hands as evenly as you can.

Bake the flatbreads for 6-8 minutes until the edges are brown and crispy.

Remove from the oven sprinkle over some sea salt and serve with wedges of lemon to be squeezed over the top just before eating.

Repeat the process with the other 3 portions (this is where you feel a bit like a pizza slave but I assure you it’s worth it).

NOTE: An Iraqi friend of mine made me something similar using ready-made tortillas so this is an option if you don’t have the time or the inclination to make pizza dough from scratch.

You will probably find that you have a handful of topping left over. It’s not really worth scaling down the quantities so you can make it into little meat balls or fry up with some left over rice and an egg which is especially delicious and a winner with my children.

my sisters copy

My sisters.

Preparing for Christmas – homemade mincemeat

mincemeat

If you can stand to start thinking about Christmas this early then please read on. If you can’t then just ignore this post or I’ll really annoy you.

About this time last year I posted Delia’s brilliant Christmas pudding recipe and in case you missed it here’s the link – A job for a rainy weekend – Christmas pudding. Please note that I’ve amended the post to include figures for making smaller quantities. This year I need one large and one small pudding (3/4 of the recipe) so I rather painfully did the maths (never my strong point).

If you’re a glutton for punishment, like me, and are going to make your own Christmas pudding, then it makes sense to make homemade mincemeat at the same time because many of the ingredients are the same. I made my own mincemeat for the first time last year (again from a Delia recipe) and it was fantastic. Once you’ve bought all the ingredients it’s really simple but I would recommend chopping the apple using a mini chopper or food processor as this did take a while by hand.

Homemade mincemeat

Makes 6 x 350ml jars (according to Delia on-line) OR enough for two large gherkin jars, one chutney jar and one small jar of mayonnaise (as pictured)

  • 450g cooking apples, peeled cored and finely chopped
  • 225g shredded suet (I used vegetarian suet)
  • 350g raisins
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 225g mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 350g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 oranges, grated rind and juice
  • 2 lemons, grated rind and juice
  • 50g whole almonds cut into slivers
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons of mixed spice
  • Half a nutmeg grated
  • 6 tablespoons of brandy

Simply mix all the ingredients, except for the brandy, in a very large mixing bowl.

Cover with a cloth and leave for 12 hours.

Cover the bowl with foil and place the mincemeat in an oven heated to 110oC for 3 hours.

Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then stir in the brandy.

Spoon into sterilised jars then place in a cool dark cupboard until needed. I think you could actually use it straight away as I had a sneaky spoonful and it was divine. Delia says she has kept hers for up to 3 years but I know mine won’t last that long because I love it too much.

NOTE: For recipes that use mincemeat see my post Christmas is coming – two ways with mincemeat. Last year I also experimented with an apple and mincemeat crumble (I just added a couple of spoonfuls of mincemeat to the cooked apple before adding the topping) and it was very good indeed.

What spices make up Chinese Five Spice?

I like to grind my own Chinese Five Spice as I think it tastes fresher than bought stuff but I always forget the five key ingredients so I wanted to make a note of them here.

Chinese Five Spice

Equal quantities of:

  • Star anise
  • Sichuan peppercorns
  • Fennel seeds
  • Cloves
  • Cinnamon

Grind up the above ingredients in a spice grinder and store in a jar. You don’t need to make up too much at a time as the flavours are very strong and a little goes a long way.

Related recipe: Chinese flavoured rice in my post ‘Nice Rice’.

spices