Category Archives: Snack

Chestnuts

Chestnut vendor When we were on holiday in Madrid a few years back I remember buying the most amazing roasted chestnuts (pictured right) – freshly roasted in vast cauldrons – from the many street vendors around the city.

They were dished out to us piping hot in small paper bags – often selling for as little as 1 Euro per 100g (a large handful).

Here in the UK, since the chestnut season is so brief (September to December) I think it’s always useful to take advantage whilst we can.

Types / availability

· Whole peeled chestnuts, canned or vacuum-packed, are available from most UK supermarkets. 450g fresh chestnuts (weighed in their shells) are equivalent to 175g dried, reconstituted chestnuts or 350g tinned or vacuum packed nuts.

· Canned chestnut purée, plain or sweetened, available in tins, is a godsend as it saves hours of preparation for use in pudding recipes.

· Chestnut flour (gluten-free and with a slight earthy smokiness) is often available from speciality food stores and delicatessens. This is useful as a substitute for flour in cakes (see below), pancakes or as a thickener for soups and stews.

Chestnuts roastedCooking with fresh chestnuts

Fresh chestnuts should be cooked and never eaten raw – due to their high acid content. I find the oven to be the most effective way of roasting them.

First, pre-heat the oven to 200 C / 390 F.

If you are using fresh chestnuts which contain the outer shell / husk then one of the most important steps before roasting is to cut an incision in the shell using the end of a sharp knife.

Alternatively you can roll your foot over them until they crack slightly. This prevents sudden explosions of chestnut shrapnel from inside the oven due to a pressure build up in the shell.

Next, place approximately 200g chestnuts on an oven tray and roast for 20-25 minutes.

Once cooked, peel off the tough shell and the papery thin skin underneath. Peel the nuts whilst hot – it’s impossible to peel a cold chestnut – to ensure the complete removal of the inner brown furry skin, called the ‘tan’, which is bitter.

Alternative recipes

A great cake recipe of Italian origin is Montebianco – using chestnuts, chocolate and coffee, with layers of mousse, praline and almond meringue. Who could say no to that?Chestnuts aerial view

If you prefer something a bit more homely then I cannot think of anything more inviting than steaming ladlefuls of hot chestnut soup.

First, take 1kg fresh, cooked and peeled chestnuts (or 600g pre-packaged and vacuum-packed), 1 onion, 1 garlic clove (finely chopped), 25g butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 litre stock and 1 tbsp brown sugar.

Next, In a saucepan, heat a the butter with the olive oil over a medium heat, then add the garlic and onions. Cook them for about 5 minutes or until they become soft and begin to brown.

Add the stock, brown sugar and bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and blitz with a hand blender until smooth, then adjust the seasoning to taste.

The soup is naturally creamy so there is no need to add cream.

Serve into soup bowls and enjoy.

Autumn reflections – with a comforting hummus dish

I think the Autumnal time of year is a great opportunity to cosy up with friends and family and share food which is a little bit more comforting than we might do in Spring or Summer – foods like mackerel, chicken casserole, spinach, kale, beetroot, pumpkin and other root vegetables (oven-roasted).

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Autumn for what it is, especially the vibrant orange colours of the leaves on  the trees against the dusk skies – see below – and the briskness, crispness and freshness that we experience most mornings in the UK. Autumn skies

I recently posted a blog on how to make homemade falafel and I posted another blog on making your own dips for entertaining a crowd.

The purpose of this blog is to delve, once more, into Middle Eastern cuisine, with a recipe for creamy hummus – something I’ve always found to be a good accompaniment to vegetable or meat dishes.

Homemade courgette (zucchini) hummus with spices

Grilled courgette (zucchini)

Grilled courgette (zucchini)

I was fumbling around in the vegetable box receently thinking what might make a decent hummus recipe. Courgette’s (Zucchini) are one of my favourite vegetables and are pretty versatile – so I settled with that.

Grilled, fried or roasted, the courgette is blitzed in a food processor with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), aduki beans, fresh garlic, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, herbs, spices and extra-virgin olive oil.

It can be eaten hot or cold.

You can use it as a dip for pitta bread, spread it on a wrap or pair it with roasted vegetables and any meat dish.

Hummus complete

Hummus

It’s gluten-free, low-carb and vegan friendly. Nutritionally, it also has a decent amount of protein and fibre.

Ingredients

Chickpeas (garnazo beans), aduki beans and tahini

Chickpeas (garnazo beans), aduki beans and tahini

  • 1 courgette (Zucchini) – grilled, fried or roasted
  • 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 400g can aduki beans, drained
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 4 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
  • ½ tsp salt, more to taste
  • ½ tsp cracked pepper

    Ingredients for hummus (clockwise from top - chickpeas and aduki beans, courgette, spices, lemon, garlic and coriander leaf)

    Ingredients for hummus (clockwise from top – chickpeas and aduki beans, courgette, spices, lemon, garlic and coriander leaf)

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 tbsp coriander or more fresh herbs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

 Directions

  • Cut courgette into ½ inch thick strips, brush with a little olive oil and grill on medium heat until charred and tender.
  • (Alternately courgette may be roasted in the oven until tender. If you have very large zucchini with thick skin, you can half it lengthwise, roast in the oven and then scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin out, if necessary)
  • Place the grilled courgette along with the rest of the ingredients (except the oil, coriander herb and 2 tbsp of the chickpeas and aduki beans) in a food processor, and puree until relatively smooth.
  • Serve it in a bowl, making a little circular “well” using a spoon, and drizzle a little olive oil in the well.
  • Garnish with the 2 tbsp chickpeas and aduki beans and mix in the coriander herb.
  • Serve either warm or chilled.
Blitz hummus

Blitz hummus

Blitzed with coriander

Hummus blitzed with coriander

 

How to make homemade (baked) falafel

Falafels are a handy “store cupboard” meal for an easy weekday lunch or dinner. You can make a large batch and demolish them whenever takes your fancy – which, for me, would be for every meal.

Falafel Salad

The falafel patties will keep for several days in the fridge. Having said that, they do start to crumble and dry out the longer you leave them. If this happens just drizzle some extra oil over the patties before baking.

The recipe below is for a colourful salad – but you can easily turn the patties into mini burgers and stuff them into pitta bread with sliced tomato, rocket and fried red onion. Just a suggestion.

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the falafelHomemade Falafel

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 x 400g can chickpeas
  • 1 x 400g can mixed beans (kidney, borlotti and black eyed beans)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 lemon, zest grated
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander (herb)
  • Salt and pepper,
  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour OR 1 egg (for binding the ingredients together)

For the salad

  • 2 tbsp red cabbage mayonnaise
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 2 x red and yellow pepper, sliced
  • a handful of rocket
  • 1 tomato, sliced thinkly
  • 1/2 small cucumber, chopped
  • 1 tspb jalepeno peppers

Directions

  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small pan. Fry the onion over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for a further two minutes and remove from the heat.
  • Drain and rinse the chickpeas and mixed beans and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the sautéed onion and garlic and crush together with a potato masher until the mixture is broken down.
  • Add the cumin, mixed herbs and lemon zest and mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the flour / egg and mix together.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C. Divide the mixture into 16 walnut-sized balls and place on a non-stick baking tray.
  • Rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  • Remove the falafel from the fridge, drizzle with the remaining oil and bake for 25 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown. Turn occasionally to ensure even cooking.
  • For the salad, arrange the ingredients on a plate with sliced (cooked) falafel placed on top.

Warm new potato and mackerel salad recipe

I’ve featured mackerel a few times on this blog – only because I love it and because it’s such a nutritious source of food; packed with protein, vitamin D, selenium, niacin (vitamin B3) and vitamin B12.

This recipe provides good all-round combination of energy, texture and flavour. I love the warm and waxy new potatoes, the crunch of the gem lettuce, the slight acidity of the red onions and the saltiness of the smoked mackerel.

Bon Appetite!

Grilled mackerel, red onion and potato salad

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 200g new potatoes
  • 2 smoked mackerel fillets (about 200g weight; skinned and flaked)
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 baby gem lettuce, chopped
  • a small handful of dill or chives, chopped

Directions

  • Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes or until tender.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, mix the red onion with the lemon and add small a pinch of salt. This helps to tenderise the red onion.
  • Drain the potatoes, halve and set aside to cool down for a few minutes.
  • Add the smoked mackerel and gem lettuce to a serving bowl and toss gently together. Then add the new potatoes with the olive oil, red onion (including the lemon juice) and dill. 
  • Toss together to mix thoroughly.
  • Pile on two plates and serve warm.

Summer canapes

A few months ago I published a blog on “entertaining a crowd” which focused on a variety of dips for canapes / appetisers. I’ve decided to revisit this subject – this time focusing on something a bit different.

What comes to mind when you think of “Canape” ?

For me, it brings to mind large prissy platters at fancy parties that quite simply overdo things – like thinly sliced carpaccio of beef with quail’s eggs or weird shot glasses filled with foam – who has the time for that?

Well, I like to keep things simple.

The Recipes

These recipes are great for appetisers, breakfast, brunch, lunch or just as a snack or appetizer. All you need is any type of crisp bread, flat bread (e.g. pitta), oatcake, sliced baguette, crackers or you could use a pizza base, sliced into bite-sized portions, toasted, fried or grilled until crispy and topped with the ingredients.

Once assembled all that’s required is a quick drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Flaked salmon crisp breads

I’ve used Peter’s Yard rye flour crisp breads for this recipe. Utterly delicious.

Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 200g hot smoked salmon, flaked
  • 4 – 6 Peter’s Yard crisp breads
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Arrange the crisp breads into “half moon” shapes and top with the salmon.
  • Drizzle over the lemon juice/zest, olive oil.
  • Serve on a plate in the sunshine!

“Tricolour crisp breads” of tomato, basil and mozzarella

You can grill these crisp breads for a couple of minutes to warm and soften tomatoes and mozzarella.

Tri colour crisp breads

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 100g mozzarella cheese, sliced into small chunks
  • a handful of fresh basil, torn
  • 4 – 6 crisp breads
  • extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Brush the tops of each crisp bread with olive oil.
  • In a medium bowl, toss tomatoes, olive oil and mozzarella cheese, salt and pepper together until combined.
  • Drizzle each crisp bread with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped basil. Serve.

(For grilling)

  • Heat the grill to a medium-high heat and grill the crisp breads, on a heat-proof tray, for 2-3 minutes . Serve.

Crackers and Camembert

An old classic. Slightly less colourful than the previous recipes but just as appealing.

Crackers and Camembert

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 round of Camembert (you can also use Brie), sliced into chunks
  • 6-8 crackers
  • Butter, for spreading

Directions

  • Spread each cracker with butter and top with cheese.

Smashing Pumpkins: 3 ways with pumpkin seeds

When I have an inevitable energy slump in the afternoon, usually around 3 o’clock, I always need to go foraging for food. For instance a slice of hot toast smothered with crunchy peanut butter with a few berries or a mashed banana on top. Oatcakes with roasted nuts are another option, or perhaps a chunky granola bar, encased in sugar syrup and smothered with seeds. Pumpkin seeds

I think you can see where I’m going with this… Pumpkin seeds also fall into this category.

As far as all-round health benefits are concerned they’re pretty hard to beat. Their nutrition is, shall we say, “brain boosting” – with zinc, magnesium and Omega-3 in abundance, all of which are beneficial when it comes to improving memory and critical thinking skills.

This is definitely a good choice for the afternoon cognitive deficit.

As well as for snacking pumpkin seeds are great for general cooking purposes; such as garnishing sweet and savoury bakes; blitzing into a pesto sauce for pasta or pureeing into a smooth and creamy seed butter or for toast.

For the recipes below I’ve opted for a selection of 3 of the best (and indeed simple) uses for pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin seed breadPumpkin seed bread

Seeded bread recipes often call for different seed varieties like linseed, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin. This loaf uses only the latter of the four – which I find the most flavoursome.

Ingredients

  • 20g fresh / 14g instant yeast
  • 500g strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 5g salt
  • 10g unrefined sugar i.e. brown cane sugar or demerara
  • 50ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 275ml/9fl oz warm water
  • 150g pumpkin seeds

Directions

  • Heat a small pan to a medium-high heat and spread the pumpkin seeds out evenly. Toast for around 7-10 minutes, shaking the pan so they do not catch or burn. Remove from the heat and leave to cool
  • In a bowl mix together the yeast, flour, salt, sugar and oil until well combined. Add the warm water and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together as a soft dough.
  • Add the pumpkin seeds and knead gently for 5-8 minutes, or until the seeds are combined and the dough is smooth and elastic.
  • Place the dough into a large bowl and cover with a clean tea towel.
  • Set aside in a warm place to prove for 2 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C
  • When the dough has proved, transfer to the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until the bread has risen and is golden-brown.

Porridge with pumpkin seeds and maple syrup blackberries

There are countless recipe variations around for porridge – what can you expect for something that’s Porridge with pumpkin seeds and blackberriesbeen around since 1000 BC..

This is my take on it.

Ingredients

  • 50-75g steel cut oats
  • 250ml water or milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • a generous drizzle of maple syrup

Directions

  • Put the oats in a saucepan with the water (or milk) and salt.
  • Slowly bring to the boil over a low-medium heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring from time to time and watching carefully that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Before serving, pour some boiling water into your serving bowl, leave for 10 seconds, then pour out. This warms the bowl in preparation for the porridge.
  • To serve: Pour into the warmed bowl, spoon the pumpkin seeds on top and drizzle with honey.

Spice-roasted pumpkin seeds with cumin, coriander and cardamom

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Ingredients

  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp each ground cumin, coriander, cardamom and salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Directions

  • Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add seeds, lower heat and boil gently for 10 minutes. Drain well then transfer to a paper towel-lined tray and pat dry.
  • Meanwhile, mix the oil together in a bowl with the ground spices.
  • Transfer the seeds to a medium bowl, toss with the flavoured oil and spread out in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
  • Roast the seeds, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until just crisp and golden brown, about 1 hour total. (They will become crispier as they cool.)
  • Set aside to let cool completely then shell or eat whole.

Related:

Peanut Butter and date flapjacks recipe

Homemade cashew, cocoa and date ‘Nakd’ bars

Nuts about Almonds!

That’s a wrap!

Recently there have been a spate of recipes in foodie magazines encourageing us to ‘put this together at work’, by taking lunch ingredients with us to the office; thus perpetuating the myth that “nobody has any time” anymore to prepare lunch at home.

Chicken, chilli and hummus wrap with tomato and watercress (wrapped)

Chicken, chilli and humous wrap with tomato and watercress

This, of course, turns out to be bogus. We do have time, we do have the choice of preparing our own lunches well in advance – many of us just choose not to. How about the evening before? Surely we can pull ourselves away from the latest TV drama to russell up a healthy wrap, sandwich or salad for the next day.

For me, ‘wraps’ provide a useful modern convenience food which can be put together in little time at all. They are great vessels for stuffing with hot food, cold meats, fish, salads and a variety of vegetables.

There is also a great market in the UK for healthy ‘fast food’ options and companies selling wraps seem to be filling this with aplomb.

Not only can you be creative with the fillings but dressings and sauces are useful too; lashings of extra-virgin olive oil, mayo, mustard, tahini or a simple squeeze of half a lemon should moisten the wrap on the inside. For extra crunch, just add some chopped red and yellow peppers, sliced cabbage, carrot, onion or baby gem lettuce.

Here are some great recipe ideas –

Falafel pitta wrap with red onion, red cabbage, yoghurt, herbs and tomatoes

Middle Eastern inspired recipe with plenty of flavour and textures running through it.

Falaffel wrap at Borough Market

Sweet potato wrap with goats cheese, pumpkin seeds and parsley

This is one of my own creations. It’s quite starchy but the taste really hits the mark.

Sweet potato quesadilla with goats cheese (1)

Chicken, chilli and humous wrap with tomato and watercress

Another eclectic home-made creation which packs a decent amount of flavour.

Chicken, chilli and hummus wrap with tomato and watercress (3)  Chicken, chilli and hummus wrap with tomato and watercress (2)