Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Chorizo, Aubergine and Red Pepper Pasta Bake

I have to confess that I made this weeks ago but I hadn't blogged about it yet. The photos have just been sitting there all forlorn, looking up at me with hopeful eyes as I get distracted by exotically-named fish, or creamy smoked salmon. What's wrong with us, they seem to whimper? Why don't you write about us? I never knew computer files could make you feel so guilty.

The answer, which I'll whisper quickly so I don't hurt their feelings, is that the meal was just a bit...blah. Nothing wrong with it, I hasten to point out. Chorizo, roasted vegetables, cheese, pasta - all present and correct. But you know how some things come together to make something so much greater than the sum of its parts? This was pretty much exactly the sum of its parts. 

There was no magic, no wow, no "oh my god, this is so delicious". It just tasted like exactly what it was. And that was nice and everything, but not very exciting. You roast some chorizo and vegetables and combine them with pasta in tomato sauce and mozzarella. Then bake the whole lot with more parmesan on top. Then eat, and enjoy it, but feel under no compulsion to ever make it again.

I hate to be so downbeat but you know, we tell it how it is in the Dine at Mine household. It's a fact of life that while some recipes are amazing, some are just...blah. At least these damn photos have been blogged now. That's one more thing off my to-do list - and one more recipe that's not going back on the to-do list. 

Chorizo, Aubergine and Red Pepper Pasta Bake
Adapted from a recipe in Waitrose Weekend - you know, the little free paper they give out by the tills
Makes 3 large portions

- 1 aubergine
- 1 long red pepper
- about 20cm of chorizo sausage
- 3 portions of any dried pasta you like (we used about 275g of fusilli)
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- an onion, red or white, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- a tablespoonful of dried oregano
- a splash of balsamic vinegar
- a ball of mozzarella, torn into small pieces
- parmesan to grate over the top

Heat your oven to 200C and cut the aubergine, pepper and chorizo into chunks. Toss with a little bit of oil and roast in the oven for about half an hour, shaking once or twice.

While that's roasting, cook the pasta as normal in boiling water, and drain once done. Sweat the onion and garlic in a saucepan until softened, then add in the tin of tomatoes, seasoning, oregano and splash of balsamic. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes into a thick sauce.

Everything should be ready at about the same time so just mix together the roasted vegetables/chorizo, tomato sauce and pasta, add in the bits of mozzarella and decant to an oven-proof dish. Grate more parmesan over the top, then bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until the mozzarella has melted, the sauce is bubbling and the parmesan on top is golden and crunchy.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Smoked Salmon Pasta

I'm a bit embarrassed to be blogging this. It's ludicrously basic - pretty much the equivalent of putting up a recipe for peanut butter on toast. 

Although having said that, for years I used to spread the toast with normal butter before even adding the peanut butter, which now seems totally insane. I suppose i was working on the jam and marmite analogy. And actually, peanut butter on toast is best with sliced banana on top - don't knock it 'til you've tried it, it's delicious - but too few people in the world even know about that combination, let alone eat it. Someone needs to evangelise for peanut butter and banana! Come on Jamie Oliver, spread the word! 

So I think it turns out that yes, I would be able to blog a recipe for peanut butter on toast. And, clearly, for pasta with smoked salmon. I know that this is simple but it's delicious, a bit luxurious and quick and easy for busy evenings. There's a place in all our lives for something idiot-proof and tasty which doesn't require anything in terms of skill or effort.

I can guarantee that it'll go down very well on dark nights when you're tired and need a treat. Or when you've been packing your flat and your life into boxes all day and you want something comforting and easy because you can't believe how many bloody books you own, and how expensive basic cardboard boxes are, and you've been tangled up in parcel tape all day. You know, just to pluck a hypothetical situation out of the air. And some parcel tape out of my hair.

Smoked Salmon Pasta

- a few slices of smoked salmon per person
- selection of green vegetables - I'd say the ideal is a combination of leek, asparagus, spinach and peas
- any dried pasta
- lemon, black pepper, maybe some fresh herbs - parsley? Dill, chives?
- some kind of creamy substance like creme fraiche, single or double cream, even natural plain yoghurt at a push

Cook the pasta as normal in boiling water, and cook the veg either in the boiling water (anything like peas, broad beans or broccoli), or in a frying pan (sliced leek, chunks of asparagus etc). Slice the salmon into bite size bits, and turn in the hot frying pan for a minute or so until it starts to flake and look cooked  - you can see this happening in the photo above. 

Once the pasta and veg are done, combine together with the cream, a good squeeze of lemon juice, and plenty of black pepper. If you're using fresh spinach, stir it through at this stage - it will wilt in the heat. Eat while patting yourself on the back for a good day's work and a good night's supper.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Roasted Tilapia with Smoky Bacon and Leeks


It's hard, as an adult, to get out of your comfort zone. Once you grow up and find that you are no longer subjected to competitive sport or double geography, the giddy feeling of freedom can tempt you into complacency. You can very easily settle into a life where you avoid anything that is challenging or uncomfortable. Don't like speaking in public? Just refuse to do it! Hate doing mental maths on the spot? Carry a calculator! Once you've got a driving licence, your own flat and your own rules, there's nothing to stop you making your life exactly the way you like it. And then keeping it that way.

Except that life doesn't seem to work like that. Even if you think you're safe, even if you're happy and comfortable and secure, something can swing out of nowhere and slap you upside your head. Before you know it, your comfort zone is a thing of the past, and you don't know how to cope. When double netball was a weekly horror, we all developed techniques to get through it. As pampered, pusillanimous adults, we lose that resilience.

When people are told to try things outside their comfort zone, it can be hard to know what to recommend. You could try something massive, like moving abroad, or something dangerous, like paragliding. But there's normally a reason why neither of these is in your comfort zone already - like you're over 70, or afraid of heights. For some people, even combing their hair the other way or wearing an unaccustomed colour can seem daunting.

In the Dine at Mine household, we're starting small. With all the Fearnley-Whittingstall fish propaganda drummed into my skull, I now feel massive guilt at buying anything like cod, salmon or tuna and have started looking for odd, unusual fish with unpronouncable names. This week, it's tilapia. TiLAPia? TilapIA? No idea. Anyway, non-cod-or-haddock white fish with impeccable marine credentials which I've never tried before.There's a first time for everything.

We used a recipe from Jamie At Home and like almost everything he does, it was quick, easy, healthy and delicious. The smoky bacon, soft leeks and delicate fish were all brought together with herbs and lemon to make something that tasted so much more than the sum of its parts. Tangy, aromatic, succulent and savoury, this was a perfect introduction to tilapia and we will definitely do it again. I love Jamie. And he's an example of someone who keeps trying things outside his comfort zone - not just oddly-named food, but saving a generation of children, changing the world, that sort of thing. Bet he couldn't cope with paragliding though. We've all got our limits.

Roasted Tilapia with Smoky Bacon and Leeks
From Jamie At Home, slightly adapted 
Serves 2

- two boneless fillets of white fish (we used tilapia but you could also try pollock or (gasp!) cod)
- four rashers of smoked bacon
- two big leeks, quartered lengthways, or eight baby leeks
- a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
- a sprig of thyme
- a bay leaf
- half a lemon
- olive oil, salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C, and boil or steam the leeks for about 5 minutes before setting aside to steam dry. While the leeks are cooking, make the marinade by crushing (in a pestle and mortar) or chopping together the leaves from one of the sprigs of rosemary, the thyme and the bay leaf. Mix with a pinch of salt and pepper, a glug of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. Once you've squeezed out the juice, cut the squeezed out lemon half into slices.

Combine the leeks, fish, two sprigs of fresh rosemary and lemon slices In a big ovenproof dish, and pour the marinade over the whole lot. Toss around carefully with your hands until everything's coated, arranging so that the fish is on top. Drape two slices of bacon over each piece of fish and bake the whole lot for 15 minutes or until the bacon is crispy and the fish is flaky. Don't miss out on the juices at the bottom of the dish!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Sweetcorn Hot Cakes

I'd like to apologise for two things. Firstly, for the fact that today's photos are so monochrome. Sweetcorn, polenta, eggs - it was just a symphony in yellow and there was nothing I could do about it. Wait until you see the picture of the raw batter, I think it might actually be the most disgusting, looks-like-vomit photo ever shown on this blog.

Secondly, I'm sorry for the fact that I just don't seem to have good pancake karma. Following on from Nigella's repulsive cottage cheese pancakes, these are at least edible - I'd even go so far as to say tasty. But I just don't really get the point of them. They're nice and everything, but would I make them again? Well, not really, not unless someone can tell me exactly when I should eat them and what I should eat with them. 

I spotted the recipe in the Waitrose magazine (which I love with a passion) and we gave them a whirl alongside sausages, roast onion and plentiful ketchup. In my head, it had been a kind of indoor barbecue - the only sort of barbecue we have a hope of enjoying this week, given the torrential downpours - but the corn cakes were just a bit... odd. 

I think my main problem with them was that they were very bland. Although one school of thought says that's what you want in the carb-component of a meal (see: mash), it can't be denied that they were a lot more faff than other carbs which are also much more delicious (see: mash).

They were also very sweet - duh, because of the sweetcorn - but to the extent that it felt like we were eating breakfast. Maybe they'd be better for breakfast? With some bacon and syrup? Maybe. But then why wouldn't you just do normal pancakes without the sweetcorn? I'm not sure it really added anything.

As you can see, these corn cakes have filled me with indecision, uncertainty and rhetorical questions. I think that's the third thing I should apologise for. Well, that and the repulsiveness of that batter photo. Here's hoping my beautifully manicured nails in the photo below provide a distraction. Look! Something that's not yellow!

Sweetcorn Hot Cakes
From a recipe in this month's Waitrose magazine
Makes about 30 little fritters

- 250g cooked sweetcorn (I used frozen, which I zapped in the microwave)
- 50g polenta
- 50g plain flour
- 75ml milk
- 3 eggs
- 40g butter, melted
- pinch of salt and pepper

Basically, bung it all in a food processor and whizz until combined but still chunky. Then fry spoonfuls of it over a medium heat in a frying pan with a bit more butter. Ta-dah! Little fritters filled with corn. Now what do you do with them?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Spicy Sweet Potato, Lentil and Feta Salad

Ho hum, the holiday's over. No more long pub lunches or floating around in a punt, no time for National Trust afternoon teas or non-National Trust afternoon naps. It's time to go back to work and back to packed lunches. The unceasing rain is echoing my mood.  

I should point out that I do actually like my job, as jobs go. It's just...well, work. Sitting at a desk and staring at a screen for hours on end, occasionally enlivening the tedium with such thrilling interludes as a trip to the water machine, a visit to the loo or, in extremis, just a walk around the floor. Waiting for the clock to tick towards home time. Oh, humans were not built to engage in soul-destroying office work.

Right, now that I've indulged that little pity party, let's get to today's recipe, shall we? To be honest, the name says it all - spicy chunks of roasted sweet potato, earthy lentils, crumbly feta and a few green bits to make it feel like a salad. I adapted this from a recipe on Smitten Kitchen, swapping her goat's cheese (blurgh) for feta, her squash for sweet potato (just what we had in the fridge), adding in some leafy greens, being lazy with ready-cooked lentils, skipping the celery and punching it up with some spring onion. Easy to make, withstands the tupperware test with aplomb, and isn't too antisocial as an office lunch (ahem, in comparison with smoked mackerel or raw garlic).

I can't get too enthused about it, because I can't get too enthused about lunchtimes at the moment. The boredom that leads you to start eating before 12. The mandatory piece of fruit and joyless nut'n'raisin for "pudding". The desultory poke around the shops. Or worse, the massive queue at the post office/bank/doctors (delete as appropriate). Not to mention the hours stretching ahead of you until home time, when a few short hours where you can call your soul your own pass swiftly before you're back yawning on the tube to work.  

Sorry, got grumpy again there. In summary, this recipe? Yes, very nice, try it. But it's no crumble, is it? It's not fish and chips, or scones with clotted cream and jam, or a nice crisp vodka and tonic while you peruse a posh menu? God, I miss holiday.

Spicy Sweet Potato, Lentil and Feta Salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 1
- a big sweet potato, scrubbed (not peeled) and cut into chunks
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- smoked paprika
- cumin
- feta (about a third of a pack, crumbled)
- lentils - I used a vacuum pack of ready-cooked ones, but you could try tinned or even boiling your own
- baby spinach
- 1 tablespoonful of red wine vinegar
- a spring onion, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 200C, and toss the sweet potato chunks around with a spoonful of oil and a few good sprinkles of salt, pepper, smoked paprika and cumin. Roast for about half an hour or until tender with caramelised edges, shaking them around half way through, then let them cool.
If you're going to eat this straight away, mix the sweet potato chunks with everything else and then taste to see if you want more vinegar, or if it needs an additional drizzle of oil or bit of seasoning.
If you are also a wage slave, you might want to consider going to the depths of mania like me and mixing together everything EXCEPT the vinegar, packing it all into a lunchbox and taking a ludicrous mini tupperware of vinegar, then dressing it just before eating. No one needs a soggy salad.
Either way, eat, enjoy and plan your weekend.   

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Apple and Blackberry Crumble


Something truly shocking has come to my attention. I have been writing this blog for five months now - and completed over 63 posts - and yet not once, not one single occasion in all that time, have I made my favourite pudding! Crumble! Food of the gods, light of my life, all time top pudding! I don't know what I've been doing with my time.

As soon as this startling revelation flashed across my consciousness, I knew that the situation had to be rectified with all speed. And it couldn't just be any crumble. Although I find it almost impossible to choose a favourite - rhubarb, pear, apple and pear, apple and raisin, apple and mincemeat, plain apple, all delicious - I always hold a sneaking suspicion that apple and blackberry is the ultimate crumble. 

What's more, we had all the ingredients and it was raining too hard to go out as planned. The Fates seemed to be conspiring to put crumble in my oven, on my table and in my belly, and as any good Classicist will know, we are all powerless in the hands of the immortals. So I surrendered. And then I scoffed.

I say that crumble is my favourite pudding but my devotion to it goes further. When I was little (and maybe even now?), raw crumble mixture was my favourite thing to eat in the world, bar none. Half the joy of making crumble - maybe more than half, to be honest - was in scooping up furtive teaspoonfuls of crumble mix when my mum's back was turned. Sometimes it seemed to be touch and go whether there'd be enough left to bake on top of the fruit. There was just something about the delicate golden crumbs, crunchy with crystals of vanilla-scented sugar, soft with butter, liberally interspersed with oats. I used to think it was the food which fairies would eat.

Now, I'm a grown-up and don't believe in fairies any more (clap clap clap clap clap!). But I still love crumble - raw and cooked - and I can't believe that it's been so long since I made it. In my defence, I've eaten it a lot in restaurants in the intervening months, but everyone knows that restaurant crumble isn't the same as the homemade stuff. It's gloopy, or not crunchy enough, or too crunchy. Too much fruit, too little fruit. And, most disappointingly of all, you don't get to eat the raw mixture straight from the bowl.

It may still be raining ridiculously hard outside, but in here it is warm and cosy and vanilla-scented. Crumble, I've missed you! Luckily, I made such a massive one that we've got enough to last the week. Well, theoretically.

Apple and Blackberry Crumble
There's no recipe, as such - I just go by look and feel. But if you want a base recipe to use, I'd suggest Nigella.

- butter
- flour (either self-raising or plain, Nigella recommends the former)
- sugar - I tend to use a mixture of vanilla caster sugar, and crunchy demerara
- if you like, you can add spices (cinnamon, allspice?), chopped nuts etc - but I tend to keep it plain and just add porridge oats
- 2 cooking apples, peeled and chopped into chunks
- a few handfuls of blackberries

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Like I say, I'm afraid I don't tend to measure - just rub together butter and flour (a bit more flour than butter) until you've got clumping crumbs. Stir in a few heaped tablespoonfuls of sugar, oats and whatever other bits you fancy, then taste and adjust it until you think it is physically impossible for it to taste better. 

Arrange the fruit in a big dish, scatter with more sugar then pour the crumbs over and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Serve with custard, ice cream, cream, yoghurt, creme fraiche or just straight from the dish with a spoon - however you eat it, enjoy.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

Apologies for the few days of radio silence, but I have an excellent excuse. The Dine at Mine household has been on holiday! A brief and modest holiday in the UK, admittedly - after all, it's only a few months since we got back from honeymoon. But we were still away from home, not at work, getting a bit more sleep, not listening to the Today programme, drinking every night and scoffing our faces every day.  We really needed it.

Actually, I love going on holiday in Britain. You get to indulge guilt-free in all kinds of greedy food behaviour - proper afternoon tea, fish and chips by the sea, an afternoon ice cream if the sun is even half-shining. You can go to National Trust properties for a quick bit of culture and a whole lot of cake, then spend the evening in the pub. You can have long lunches, afternoon naps and big fry-up breakfasts reading the newspaper, which (unlike abroad) you can actually understand. The weather can be iffy, I admit, but so what? All the more reason to spend time in the pub.

But whenever I've been on holiday, even if just for a few days, I start to feel really unhealthy. Stripped of my normal routine, with licence to give full rein to my greediest impulses, I eat anything and everything and then start to crave vegetables. After days of chips, batter, bacon, scones, fried eggs and rhubarb crumbles (no, not in that order), I came home with a hankering for something green and steamed. Something with a crunch which hasn't come from the deep fat fryer.

Until Mr Ocado brings our food this evening, we were all out of fresh green vegetables but our fridge did offer up an old butternut squash and an onion. Presto changeo, a very healthy, quick and easy soup for the returning travellers. Although it might seem a bit autumnal for August, the windows were streaming with what the papers are calling MONSOON BRITAIN, so a thick and creamy soup seemed to be just the ticket. 

It did feel good to receive some nutrients which hadn't been dipped in tartare sauce or covered in custard. Although, before you ask, no I'm not sorry for any of my greedy eating. After all, we were on holiday! People of the internet, I raise my Mr Whippy to you and toast you with a vinegar-sodden chip. May you be enjoying delicious, greedy and perhaps even sunny Summer holidays!

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from an Ocado recipe
Serves 2

- 1 butternut squash, peeled and finely diced
- 500ml of stock (I used home made chicken stock, but a vegetable stock cube would be fine)
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- a few chives, finely snipped

Fry the squash in a splash of olive oil in a large sauce pan for five minutes, then add the onion and garlic and fry, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes. Add the stock and some seasoning, bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer it for 10-15 minutes until the squash is tender. Blend it until smooth (and at this stage you can also add a swirl of cream, if you want to make it richer) then serve scattered with the chives.

Spiced, Crunchy Butternut Seeds

- the seeds from the butternut squash, without any of the creepy fibrous membrane
- salt, pepper, olive oil
- a shake of smoked paprika
- the leaves from a sprig of rosemary, finely chopped

Simply toss all ingredients together and toast in a hot, dry frying pan until they start to scorch and pop. Sprinkle over the soup, or just pick at them when you're hungry and trying not to eat crisps. 

Sunday, 14 August 2011


The food of the American South is totally culturally alien to me. I have never tasted collard greens, and I'm not even sure what grits are (are they like porridge?). I hate tea, so I'm thinking iced tea will be even more disgusting. Tex Mex, I can understand - fajitas, chilli, all good - but other than that, it's a mystery to me.

But I do like flicking around the interweb and looking at other people's blogs, and I keep seeing cornbread. With chilli, with butter, sliced, toasted, muffined and stuffinged, I seem to see cornbread everywhere I turn. So I decided it was time to plunge into an experiment. After all, how wrong could it go? I like corn, I like bread - could this really be bad?

I turned to Nigella for the recipe, who is obviously such a fan that she has two recipes in "Feast" alone. The one I chose comes from the Christmas and Thanksgiving chapter, where she recommends making cornbread just to crumble it into stuffing alongside cranberries and melted butter. I tried this out to accompany chilli and it did match brilliantly, sweet and crumbly and perfect for soaking up the spicy sauce. Am I converted to the Deep South yet, though? I'm not sure, y'all. See that lingo? I'm working on it.  

From Nigella's Feast

- 175g polenta or cornmeal
- 125g plain flour
- 1 tablespoon of baking powder
- 45g caster sugar
- big pinch of salt
- 250ml milk (she says full fat, I just used our normal semi-skimmed)
- 45g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 200C and butter a tin (she uses 23cm square), although I used a silicon tin so didn't bother buttering it. 

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl and the wet ingredients in a measuring jug. Then stir them together with a wooden spoon until just combined, not fretting about any lumps. Pour into your tin and bake for 15-20 minutes or until it comes away from the sides and is starting to brown on top. Slice and serve warm, spreading with butter if you fancy. 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Beetroot, Smoked Mackerel and Horseradish Salad

Good people of the internet, your insatiable interest in smoked mackerel amazes me. Until very recently, my version of Jamie Oliver's smoked mackerel pate was far and away the most popular recipe on this site - only recently ousted by Spring Vegetable Lasagne with Tuscan Tomato Salad. I thought no one liked smoked mackerel pate! I always felt a bit embarrassingly retro, making it and scoffing it and loving it! But it turns out that the world adores whipped, smoked fish, and I'm thrilled to see it. If you liked that, you'll love this.

I'm afraid this week is pretty salad-heavy in the Dine at Mine household. You see, the Roasted Mushroom, Butternut Squash and Walnut Salad kick-started my dormant enthusiasm for taking my own lunch to work, and I got on a bit of a roll. Salads are the most flexible and convenient way to use up any old vegetables and protein from the fridge, and this particular combination appeals greatly to my Polish heritage. Beetroot, horseradish and smoked fish! This is the food of my ancestors.

Anyway, this was gratifyingly healthy and very quick to put together. I adapted it loosely from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe in the Guardian which I found online, using pre-cooked beetroot instead of roasting my own. This lazy innovation meant that the only work was preparing a light dressing made with natural yoghurt, horseradish and chives, which I then dripped over the chopped beetroot, a base of salad leaves and some torn chunks of smoked mackerel. Wrangled into a tupperware, the colours tended to merge (by which I mean that the beetroot turned everything pink, the big bully) but the flavours arrived unscathed - sweet, smoky, fiery and sharp. 

This may even be my new favourite way to eat smoked mackerel - perhaps even nicer than the pate. I know, that's a bold declaration. I can feel shock waves rippling through the air at that statement. But what about you, dear readers? How do you like your smoked mackerel? Only time and Google Analytics can tell. As for me, I'll be celebrating beetroot - but hopefully next time, I won't be wearing a white dress. Let's not dwell on the end of that story.
Smoked Mackerel, Beetroot and Horseradish Salad
For one portion 
Salad leaves (I used baby spinach)
- 1 smoked mackerel fillet, torn into bitesize bits
- a cooked, peeled beetroot, chopped into chunks 
- 2 teaspoons of natural yoghurt
- half a teaspoon of horseradish sauce
- a tablespoonful of chopped chives
- squeeze of lemon juice
- salt and pepper
To make the dressing, whisk together the yoghurt, horseradish, lemon juice, salt, pepper and chives and taste it so you can tweak the flavours as necessary. Then simply plonk the beetroot and mackerel on top of the salad leaves, and drizzle over the dressing. Eat, try not to spill beetroot on yourself, and enjoy.

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