Saturday, October 29, 2011

Baked rice with egg and vegetables

Over the years, the contents of any individual cook's repertoire shift and change. Along with newly acquired knowledge and influences, individual dishes come and go. And tracking these changes in my own cooking was one of the reasons for my starting this blog in the first place.

2 cups of white basmati rice
2 courgettes
1 bulb of fennel (or use onion or leek)
6 rashers of streaky bacon
6 eggs
plenty of salt and pepper

  1. Cook the rice according to your preferred method. I microwaved it this time, which worked well.
  2. Finely chop the courgettes and fennel, and fry gently in plenty of olive oil.
  3. Fry the bacon. When it is done, cut into little strips.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the cooked rice, vegetables and bacon.
  5. Beat the eggs and add them to the mixture.
  6. Season with plenty of salt and pepper, stir well, and transfer to a large ovenproof dish.
  7. Cover with foil and cook for about 20 minutes, until the egg has set but is not too dry.
Caledonia's everything I've ever had
This is a dish I made frequently during the not entirely happy year that me and Gemma spent living in London (1997). She was finishing off her Political Science degree through Spain's equivalent of the Open University, and I was managing a publishing programme for a pair of incurable optimists at an outfit called the Open Learning Foundation. It was the year of the Labour Party's first election victory under Blair, the year of Lady Di's death, and the year when Chick Charnley (the white Pele) briefly set the Scottish Premier League alight.

It was also the year of commuting daily on a pre-refurbishment Northern Line, the year of working alone in a large Victorian building from which my colleagues were permanently away on business trips, and the year of a shabby rented flat in Archway where the living room was permeated by the smell of goat curry from the West Indian domino club camped out in the empty hairdresser's salon below. Comfort food was needed, and this was one of the forms it took.

Fortunately, by the end of the year we had managed to work out a route back to Edinburgh. I even had a little Caledonia moment of my own at King's Cross, with a dialogue which went as follows:

Me: A single to Edinburgh please.
Clerk: You might as well get a return. It's only 50 pence more than the single.
Me: I'm not coming back.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Microwave basmati rice

Like most microwave owners, I use mine almost exclusively for reheating cold coffee and for warming up leftovers. Tonight, though, I decided to branch out and see if I could cook rice in it. I googled around for a bit and, after looking at a couple of recipes, realised they were replicating my usual method of cooking rice by the absorption method in a tightly-covered pan. And indeed it seemed to make sense to do the same thing in a microwave, which should have more even heat distribution than a saucepan.

16 fl oz basmati rice
24 fl oz water
a glug of oil
1/4 tsp of salt

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large pyrex bowl, cover with a plate, and cook at full power for 10 minutes. The water should now be more or less at boiling point. Remove bowl from microwave (being careful not to burn yourself with the steam) and stir the rice gently with a fork.
  2. Return covered bowl to microwave and cook for a further 15 minutes on medium-low. Remove from microwave, check to see if rice is done, and stir.
Pop shot
I was perversely pleased with the awfulness of the photo below. Bad enough to be included in a microwave manual, eagerly extolling the virtues of "cooking from the centre out". Just remember not to use it to dry off your chihuahua after a walk in the rain.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Caramelised onion chutney

I'm too tired to write a proper intro for this recipe. Why? Today I have been on a canal trip with our home educating friends, spent the afternoon in a couple of chilly playgrounds (thank the Lord for long johns!), followed by a lengthy game of football in the park. On arriving home, I had to carry two flatpack beds up two flights of stairs, help to assemble them both, then make supper. And somewhere in the middle of all that I made some onion chutney too.

Ingredients (makes 2 or 3 jars)
1.25kg onions
olive oil
4 tsps minced ginger
2-4 tsps minced red chilli (depending how spicy you want it)
4 tbsps tomato puree
100 ml red wine
2 cinnamon sticks
pinch of salt
200 ml balsamic vinegar
200g dark brown sugar

  1. Peel and roughly chop the onions. In a large pan, gently fry the onions in plenty of olive oil. When they have softened, add the ginger, chilli and tomato puree, and continue to fry until the onions are well done.
  2. Add the wine, cinnamon, salt, vinegar and sugar, bring to a boil, reduce to minimum and cook for an hour or so, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to get a jammy consistency.
  3. Transfer to sterilised jars and store for at least 4 weeks (if you can wait).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Banana and apple cake

Autumn is definitely here, and yesterday we went for a lovely long walk around Roslin Chapel, where we collected lots of sticks for wands, together with a selection of leaves and nuts. It's seven years since I have been in Scotland at this time of year, and I had forgotten how beautiful it can be. (We've been lucky, with reasonably mild temperatures and a lot of dry days.)

I usually make this with bananas only, but today is Wednesday, which means it's time to finish off any leftover fruit and veg before our new veggie box arrives. In addition to two very ripe bananas, there were also some delicious little russet apples, so I added them to the mix.


275 g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
110 g margarine
225 g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 tart apples, peeled, cored and diced
75 ml milk
1.5 tsps lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
50 g raisins

  1. Set the oven to 180oC and grease a loaf tin. (Mine is stuck in the cellar at the moment, hence the round cake tin in the photo above.)
  2. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar. Add the bananas, milk, eggs, lemon juice, vanilla extract, cinnamon and raisins to the margarine and sugar mixture, and mix well. Fold the flour into the resulting batter.
  4. Pour the mixture into the tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes until golden.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Orange polenta cake

I first made this cake a few years ago, and have baked it intermittently ever since (whenever my children allow me to make something other than chocolate cake).

I took this cake along to the book group I have just joined (at Blackwell's on South Bridge, in Edinburgh). My cake was finished off almost instantly, which is more than can be said for this month's book - the diaries of Sofia Tolstoy, in which the wife of Lev Tolstoy spends 40 years complaining about her husband.

for the cake batter
2 large oranges
1 cup of strong green tea
6 green cardamom pods
6 eggs
150 g quick-cook polenta
150 g ground almonds
250 g golden caster sugar

for the syrup
1 orange
50 g caster sugar
50 ml water

  1. Place two of the oranges in plenty of water, bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. Drain the oranges, cut into quarters and allow to cool.
  2. Make a cup of strong green tea, and add the cracked cardamom pods to it.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line and grease a springform cake tin.
  4. Peel the orange quarters, remove the pithy centre and any pips, and puree in a food processor.
  5. Transfer the orange puree to a mixing bowl, add the polenta and 50g of cardamom-infused green tea, stir well and leave to sit for 5 minutes or so.
  6. Add the eggs, almonds and caster sugar and beat well. Pour the mixture into the tin, and bake for about 45 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, zest the remaining orange. Make a syrup by heating the caster sugar, zest and water until the sugar is dissolved. Strain through a tea strainer to remove the zest.
  8. Allow the cake to cool before removing from the tin. Prick it all over with a toothpick, and pour the syrup over it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Roasted tomato and pumpkin

My soups are still a little hit and miss with my kids, so I thought I'd try roasting my veggie box tomatoes and a butternut squash before making soup with them. For the second entry in a row, no recipe, just a photo of some red and orange roasted veg.

In the background, I can hear "Ruby, don't take your love to town" playing on Gemma's computer. For anyone who doesn't know it, this is a song about an impotent, disabled veteran of the Vietnam War, who stays at home nursing murderous sentiments towards his wife, who has painted herself up and gone out on the town in search of some action.

Grilled vegetables

With two self-employed adults and two home educated kids in the house, we get through a lot of food at home. If boredom, poverty or obesity are not to set in then we need to find some quick, cheap and healthy ways of providing three meals plus numerous snacks every day. As a result, I've been making a lot of soup, and have also rediscovered the joy of grilled vegetables. The trick, I think, is to cut them reasonably thick and to resist the temptation to overcook them, as they need to be able to withstand a day or two (or more) quietly marinating in olive oil. This time, I discovered some fresh basil in the fridge, and also added a couple of drops of raspberry vinegar.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Apple and pear chutney

"Not impedimenta, sweetie. Expulso is the best!" Gemma is sitting on the sofa with her laptop, helping Sammy get to the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the Wii, Carmela is measuring herself against the doorpost to check whether she has grown in the last 3 days, and I am in the kitchen making chutney and listening to Fabrizio Andre singing Bocca di Rosa. (Si sa che la gente da buoni consigli se non piu puo dare cattivo esempio. People only give good advice when they can no longer set a bad example.)

Ingredients (makes slightly over 1 kg, enough to fill three 1 lb jars)
350ml cider vinegar
350g brown sugar
250g sultanas
4 tsps minced ginger
1kg cooking apples
400g pears
1 large onion
good pinch of salt
8 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
20 coriander seeds
20 allspice berries

  1. Put the cloves, cinnamon, coriander seeds and allspice berries in a muslin bag.
  2. Combine the vinegar, sugar, sultanas, ginger and salt into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and add the spices in their bag.
  3. Peel and roughly chop the onion, and add to the saucepan.
  4. Core and peel the apples and pears, chop roughly, add to the saucepan and mix well.
  5. Bring to boil, reduce heat to minimum and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, stirring frequently. When the chutney can be parted with a wooden spoon to reveal the bottom of the saucepan, it is ready.
  6. Transfer to sterilised jars, seal and store for at least 2 weeks (longer if possible).
Apple source
The apples for this recipe came from Bernie and Bruce, the parents of Sammy and Carmela's friend, Callum. They were knobbly little things (the apples, not Bernie and Bruce) but taste great.