Sunday, 25 October 2009

Labneh with Olives and Pistachios

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I never thought I'd be making cheese at home, but when I saw Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for labneh in the Guardian Weekend a couple of weeks ago, I knew I had to try it.

Actually, I guess calling labneh cheese is stretching the term a little. Labneh is made by straining yogurt until most of the whey has been removed and you're left with a spread that is similar in texture to soft cream cheese and lovely and fresh.

It was just the right thing for the mezze dinner we had at my flat last night. Seven people, great food, plenty of wine and loads of laughter. The perfect Saturday night.

The original recipe calls for oregano. I replaced it with coriander (cilantro) as I couldn't find any fresh oregano at my local grocers. It also uses lemon zest from two lemons, but mine were waxed, so I just squeezed the juice of half a lemon and added that instead.

Labneh with Olives and Pistachios (serves 4)

450gr natural yogurt
450gr goat's yogurt
coarse sea salt
20 black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 1/2tbsp of fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
1tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
half a lemon, juice of
1 clove of garlic, crushed
50ml olive oil
20gr pistachios, lightly toasted
20gr pine kernels, lightly toasted
1/2 tsp chili flakes
3 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 red onion, sliced thinnly

Stir both yogurts together with about half a teaspoon of salt.

Pour into a deep bowl lined with cheese cloth or muslin. Carefully bring together the corners of the cloth and tie tightly with some string.

Hang the bundle over the bowl, so that it is suspended and the whey can drain from the cloth. I tied mine to a wooden spoon which I then balanced on the rim of the bowl.

Place in the fridge for 24-36 hours.

Remove from fridge and spread the into a serving dish with the back of a spoon.

In another bowl mix the olives, coriander, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and chili flakes.

Put your toasted pine kernels and pistachios in a pestle and mortar and crush them roughly.

Add to the olives and combine.

Spoon the mix over the labneh.

On a separate plate mix the tomato wedges and onion and drizzle with some olive oil.

Simply serve the labneh and the tomatoes with some fresh bread.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Proper Onion Gravy

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When I saw the first brussel sprouts at the grocer on Saturday I couldn't help myself, I had to have some. Some people really hate them, but they are amongst my top ten vegetables. The decision was made, brussel sprouts with bangers, mash and onion gravy were quickly added to this week's menu!

I guiltily admit to sometimes reaching for the packet of Bisto to make onion gravy to have with bangers and mash or chops. Especially if it is a midweek dinner and I want something quick, because making proper onion gravy takes time, but nothing comes close to real onion gravy.

It's all about slow cooking the onions, letting them brown over low heat for an hour and watching them slowly soften and then caramelise. I know some people say you can speed it the process up by adding some sugar for the onions to colour faster, but there is no need as they are full of natural sugar and all you need is a little time and patience. The reward is amazing and turns something that is a simple meal into a comforting, delicious feast.

Onion Gravy (serves 4)

large knob of butter
3-4 large onions, thinly sliced (I mix standard and red onions)
400ml beef stock
100ml red wine or bitter (optional)
2tsp wholegrain or French mustard
1tsp Worcestershire Sauce
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a heavy based frying pan.

Add the sliced onions and fry for about 20 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently until soft.

Turn the heat down low and continue to fry the onions. Don't cover them with a lid.
Continue to cook for about another hour, stirring occasionally until the onions are well browned.

Add the liquids and seasoning and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer, stirring regularly until the gravy has reduced a little. Check the seasoning.

Enjoy with bangers and mash or over pork chops.

Monday, 12 October 2009


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Surely flapjack is something everyone likes, isn't it?! I don't mean American flapjacks (even though I guess most people like them too), but the chewy, crunchy, oaty English kind.

I'm trying not to reach for a chocolate time every time I have a little slump and have other snacks instead. I know flapjacks are still laden with calories, probably more so than some chocolate bars, but being packed full of oats, and as in this case fruit and seeds at least the energy will sustain me for a while. Plus of course I knows everything that goes into them and they are sugary enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. In fact this recipe was a little on the sweet side and I'd probably reduce the amount of syrup or sugar next time I'll make them. Whether you make them with just oats or you play around with various additions is up to you. I like varying between different combinations of dried apricots, cranberries, nuts and seeds.

English Flapjacks

8oz (jumbo) porridge oats
4oz butter, unsalted
4oz golden syrup (you can use corn syrup or maple syrup if you can't find corn syrup in the US)
4oz brown sugar

optional ingredients

2oz craisins or raisins
2oz chopped dried fruit
2oz nuts or seeds
2oz chocolate chips

(I used a combination of craisins and vanilla flavoured sunflower and pumpkin seeds.)

Preheat your oven to 180C.

In a sauce pan melt the butter, together with the syrup and sugar over low heat, stirring to combine.

Remove from heat and add the oats and any of the optional ingredients you are using.

Spoon into a square, paper lined cake pan or oven dish. Spread out and smooth with the back of a spoon.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.

Leave to cool for about half an hour, cut into squares or slices and leave in the pan until cooled completely.

The flapjacks will keep for about a week or a little longer if stored in an air tight container, but they won't last that long!


Thursday, 8 October 2009

I've got flu

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I've been in bed with flu all week and am only just starting to come around today. So it's been another week without any cooking. Big, big thanks to my wonderful friends E, JM and J who've been delivering an amazing meals-on-wheels service to my front door. Another big thank you to A, B, H, L and J who've all been asking what I need and offering to get me anything from aspirin to zwieback.

All of you, you are amazing and I feel very blessed and humbled by your care!

Before I go, here's something I signed up to quite a while ago now, but maybe you could do so today, if you haven't already done so!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Getting stuck in again

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I know I have been an extremely lazy blogger for the last eight or so weeks. I'm trying to get stuck in again. Autumn is definitely here now. I'm feeling like soups, stews and other comfort foods, so I'll be trying new recipes and sharing all the old favourites.

No recipe yet for today, but I'll leave you with a few photographs from my weekend in Paris. L and I only had a hotel for one night and spent the second night walking the city for La Nuit Blanche with E, J and JM until 4.30am before catching the first flight back to Manchester. It was fabulous and I want to do it all over again.