I’m often drawn to the ideas of Thomasina Miers’ The simple fix meals in Guardian Feast but seldom seem to cook them. I think it’s something to do with the fact that they look like something I might put together myself without the aid of a recipe.
This attitude has probably meant I’ve missed many a super meal. Thomasina is the queen of the unobtrusive finishing touch which turns simple into superlative. In the case of her peppers stuffed with olives and goat’s cheese it’s the transformative green sauce that steals the show.
We’ve arrived at Issue No.184 in my attempt to cook at least one recipe each week from Guardian Feast magazine.
The Husband announced that he’d bought pointy peppers from the supermarket shop so it was serendipity that Feast fell open at Thomasina’s recipe.
One of this recipe’s strengths is that you can pretty much get everything done while the potatoes cook and the pepper halves get their first 15-minute softening roast. In a sense, you’re creating a vegetarian potato hash to fill the peppers with – but the marriage of flavours in Thomasina’s Mexican inspired peppers stuffed with olives and goat’s cheese is truly sublime. The pickle-herb-heat riff rocks.
The Husband is still muttering under his breath about capers: ‘How could I let us run out? Running out of capers is practically a crime against humanity.’ Unfazed by this calamity, I used the handful of capers we had and upped the quantity of pitted green olives. We also only had three pointy peppers rather than the required five. One pepper is diced and used in the stuffing – fortunately I had a jar of roasted red peppers in stock and used one of those chopped in the hash mix.
No fresh oregano lurking in the recesses of the fridge or garden either – I used dried alongside the fresh tarragon and parsley.
While the peppers are taking their second roasting – this time fully stuffed – you have plenty of time to neck a glass of the tipple of your choice and make the green sauce. Who’d have thought that blitzing garlic, oil, capers (erm, olives), lemon juice and chilli would create the dream topping? Student Daughter declared she’d ‘happily eat this again’ – and she doesn’t even like tarragon.
Just one word of caution. This is, as billed, a simple recipe. However, it does use quite a lot of pots and implements in the creation – well worth it in my opinion but also worth knowing when you start the prep.
As for Thomasina’s suggestions for using up the leftover stuffing and sauce during the rest of the week… we wolfed the lot in one sitting!
There’s something in the air in Berwickland. It’s been hot for weeks. Our weekends have tumbled into our weekdays as muggy days roll into languid dreamy evenings. We’ve overdone it – working, gardening and, yes, eating and drinking.
So, Yotam Ottolenghi’s watermelon with pomegranate and mint sugar may sound cooling and seasonally appropriate, but it is the simple healing balm of Meera Sodha’s vegan tomato and turmeric kitchari that calls ‘eat me’ to us in Guardian Feast Issue No.183.
Kitchari is the perfect food for a Sunday soul slightly troubled by the memory of overindulgence the night before. And the fuel for a body wearied by hours of penitential garden strimming. Everything Meera says about this blend of rice, lentils, tomatoes, turmeric and cinnamon is spot on: cooking times, yoghurt and lime pickle accompaniments, suitable for all tastebuds.
‘Moroccan or Thai,’ asked The Husband as he cooked the prawns to go with my marinating peppers. I was on the phone to London daughter and gave her the choice. Thai it was. Perhaps not the obvious choice with vegan red peppers drenched in soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, sesame oil and topped with a cumin seed, pine nut and coriander crunch. The moral of the story: don’t consult someone who’s not there on your menu creation. Or, maybe, just don’t give options.
Fortunately, Yotam Ottolenghi’s sweet ‘n’ sour peppers with pine nut crumble from Guardian Feast Issue No.179 is so easy peasy and so darn delicious, you could serve them with old shoe leather and they’d still dazzle and dance around all your senses. These beauties made right pepper pigs of us!
And so my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues to surprise and delight.
I was right out of red romano peppers but Billy at Berwick market’s fruit and veg stall supplied me with some spot-on red peppers ordinaire. As there were just two of us, I halved the quantity of peppers to 500g (wish I hadn’t – so tasty!) but stuck to the same amount of nutty cuminy crumble (Yotam counsels to make double: he’s right, it’s a super crunchy, salty topping – a condiment as well as a crumble).
The only faff is peeling the roasted red peppers – but it’s worth the time. This easy vegan recipe punches above its ingredient and effort-weight in terms of flavour, aroma and prettiness.
Some weeks the urge to mix it up is irresistible. With our lockdown clan (The Husband, the two daughters and me) reunited for my birthday, this was just such a week.
We needed celebration. We needed snacking. We needed playful food. Enter Guardian Feast Issue No.178 the let me entertain you issue with Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly, Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas and Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls.
My challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues apace. This week it was lovely to have the return of the eldest daughter’s nimble fingers and strict kitchen protocol.
Read on for the usual useful insights into tackling unknown recipes and tempting mouthwatering deliciousness.
The photo of Ravneet’s beautiful pineapple and coconut jelly was simultaneously droolingly succulent and terrifying. I wanted to grab a spoon and plunge it into the photo but I wanted Ravneet to make it for me. However, part of my reason for tackling a recipe a week from Feast is to wrestle through recipes I would otherwise skip over. Here goes.
Ravneet Gill’s pineapple and coconut jelly
We only have one jelly mould in the house and I felt a tad offended that The Husband considered it ‘eccentric’ for the jelly in hand. I mean, it is ‘a great jelly mould’ as required by Ravneet, perhaps just not the one she had in mind (see below).
Since the coconut jelly (a delicious smooth, creamy panna cotta) must set before the pineapple wobble is poured on top of it, I made this over two days (I’m learning to read a recipe properly before I start it!). I used the gelatin powder I had in stock, rather than the recommended platinum leaves. It seemed fine. I ended up with more of both jellies than required – a small ramekin of the coconut and double pineapple and lime! My daughter was clearly right in her interpretation of the recipe: ‘400g pineapple, trimmed, peeled and cut into small chunks’ means the unpeeled and untrimmed weight. Oh well, double dibs on pineapple jelly? No one’s complaining.
If I were to make this gorgeous party centrepiece again – it’s a wibbly wobbly pina colada, why wouldn’t I? – I would clingfilm the surface of the coconut panna cotta to prevent it forming a slightly rubbery skin while it’s setting (although The Husband loved the ‘texture’).
The eldest daughter picked up the baton for Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls and Felicity Cloake’s perfect cheese empanadas to create a welcome home feast for the youngest daughter.
Feleicity Cloake’s the perfect… cheese empanadas
The eldest daughter ordered in masarepa (pre-cooked cornmeal) specially to make these golden cheese toasty wraps.
The biggest challenge was (as Felicity hints) handling the corn pastry. Felicity counsels ‘handling it with wet hands at all times’. The issue for us was that the pastry tore and holed really easily. Wet hands helped but the biggest breakthrough was using extra masarepa and greaseproof paper in the envelope creation. That way you barely need to touch the empanadas with your hands.
Felicity suggests a range of acceptable extras to add to your cheesy filling. To be honest ours needed a bit of flavour-plumping – the blend of mozzarella and halloumi was not the most flavoursome. We all agreed that we’d add jalapeno peppers in the mix next time and probably change the cheese combo for something with a bit more oomph. We baked ours – although I can see the appeal of deep frying!
Yotam Ottolenghi’s zingy tofu rice paper rolls
Like Ravneet’s jelly, Yotam’s vegan rice rolls look so pretty and appealing on the page. We couldn’t wait to recreate them. Yotam’s right to call them ‘zingy’. Bursting with pine nuts, sesame seeds, chestnuts, ginger, garlic and chilli, they have exactly the right balance of chew and crunch and zest and heat.
The eldest daughter took charge of prep while I got the shitake shrooms soaking and searched out the rest of the ingredients. Instead of adding the fried ingredients to the cold marinated tofu, we popped the tofu in the pan and let it warm through and soak up the soy saucy flavours. Other than that, we stuck to Yotam’s instructions. Bish bash bosh: top nosh.
It’s probably the same countrywide but I didn’t realise until we moved to Northumberland that many people judge a café purely on its scones. We’ve lived here nearly 11 years and I now know people who won’t enter the doors of certain establishments because of perceived scone quality.
Such people would surely celebrate were Yotam Ottolenghi to set up shop selling pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta on the corner of Marygate in Berwick-upon-Tweed. These gluten-free, veggie beauties are scones, Jim, but not as we know them.
My take on Ottolenghi’s pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta from Guardian Feast: they are scones, Jim, but not as we know them (in a good way)!
I’m six months into my epic challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), and the goodies just keep coming.
Some may take issue with a 16-ingredient scone. They’re wrong. But they’ve probably stopped reading already so they’ll never know. The only ingredient I couldn’t source here in Berwick was ‘powdered pectin’. After much consideration and a bit of Googling, I decided to eschew gelatin and agar agar and up the quantity of ‘finely grated lemon zest’ to a full lemon instead of 1/2 tsp. My square baking tin wasn’t quite the dimensions required by Yotam, but all was well with the end product.
My za’atar was what I’d term cupboard vintage – but it worked a treat.
Only two crisis points for me in the recipe:
Yotam says: ‘Pour in the cream mix, pulse again until the ‘crumbs’ are moist but not quite coming together’ – see picture below. Also, am I the only person who, when a recipe says ‘in a small bowl’, takes it literally and then has to upgrade to a bigger bowl? There was no way I could safely whisk my cream, yoghurt and egg in my chosen bowl.
Not sure what a ‘rough 15cm long rectangle’ looks like. I made a square – see below. The pile of cheese looked impossibly huge heaped on it, but it wrapped up just fine.
As Yotam promised, I ended up with nine scones and had 54g of dough left over rather than the predicted 80g – not bad!
The alchemy of Yotam’s scones is not only in magically making something gluten free feel light and fluffy (I know enough people with celiac disease to understand the sad hefty mouthfeel of many gluten free products), but also in the perfect balance of intense cheesy herbiness and floaty pastry.
I was inspired by an article in The Guardian Cook back in April (for recipes follow the link) about one pot of cannellini beans making four meals. I’m a great one for using tins of beans – particularly silky, creamy cannellini – but a bit lazy about soaking overnight etc. Since Rachel Roddy insists the flavour is better if you use dried beans and soak them, I went for it. Pretty delighted with the results – although my soupy-stew looks more like a gloopy stew, it tastes good. I left out the pancetta to keep it veggie but then caved in to a bit of crisped up organic chorizo on top from Peelham Farm here in the Borders. Job done!
Soup bubbling away nicely…
More ‘gloopy’ soup than soupy stew but well tasty even with the naughty addition of crispy chorizo!
Next on my list was to freeze some of the beans and cooking juice for another week (none of us is up to beans four days a week) and then on to ‘the quick dip’. I really love this dip – it’s nearly up to my absolute favourite beany dip cum meal from (you guessed it) Yotam Ottolenghi – ‘Butter bean puree with dukkah’ – which, if you’ve never made it, has to be done. However, Ms Roddy’s recipe is jolly quick and a very credible alternative.
Cannellini bean and lemon puree – creamy and dreamy.
My third meal will probably be the ‘Creamy cannellini beans with sage and sausages’ – so more sneaking away from the veggie – but once you’ve got the base bean dish I reckon you can take it just about anywhere you want to go – the world, as they say, is your oyster (mushroom oyster for vegetarians).
With thanks to Rachel Roddy for the inspiration – you’ll find her on Instagram @rachelaliceroddy.
Back in 1988 Rose Elliot told us that vegetarian eating was ‘Not just a load of old lentils’. She was right, of course. It’s Mars Bars and chips (cooked in vegetable oil, obvs) and rhubarb crumble. And, actually, it is quite a lot of beans and lentils too. But, amazingly, it’s easy to eat nice veggie food (I’m not talking vegan – that’s a step too far at the moment) – and to feel full after eating it. In fact, eating veggie two days a week has surprisingly proved to be one of the most easy and pleasurable of my five aims for 2015.
It is surprising because we are confirmed carnivores who salivate at the thought of a succulent piece of pork encased in crackling, we celebrate a plate of practically mooing steak, we crack into crustaceans with undignified lipsmacking delight and hoover up sushi as soon as it’s been sliced or rolled. Pleasurable because I have really enjoyed searching out vegetarian recipes and cooking them – and the Husband and 13-year-old have licked their plates clean. I’ve always adored vegetables but tended to think of them as accompaniments rather than the standalone star of a meal. My journey to meat-free meals has has not come out of the blue: I do believe our meat and fish should be grown and dispatched with love and respect. And sadly that’s just not the case. Most of us would be disgusted at the way the animals that grace our tables are treated.
Even without the indecent intensity of the meat business, a succulent tomato salad lavishly seasoned with salt, pepper, fresh basil and drizzled with top-notch olive oil would never be unwelcome on my table. I’m also most partial to Delia Smith’s peppers stuffed with tomatoes and anchovies from her ‘Summer Collection’ (Smith credits Elizabeth David with the original creation). The sweetness of the red peppers, tang of tomatoes, and saltiness of the anchovies delivers that wonderful umami punch that gives you the tingles from your tastebuds to your toes. I know the purists amongst you will already be screaming ‘anchovies! anchovies! They’re not vegetables’. True enough. You could always substitute capers for anchovies – they’re just not as delicious. And that is an issue. The tiny anchovy is such a brilliant seasoning – it is, I think, impossible to replace with a veggie alternative. If any vegetarian out there knows of an anchovy-alike fish/meat-free alternative – tell me, please!
Now then, the mere mention of one name in particular can set me all a-quiver… Yotam Ottolenghi. He is the main man when it comes to veggie eating IMHO. What that man can do with a sweet potato or a couple of aubergines, or some asparagus. *Sigh*. Of course, the drawback with Ottelenghi is that his recipes are not only ingredient rich (and often a little difficult to source for those of us not in big cities), they can also be pretty time-consuming to create – great for a dinner party but not always ideal for a family supper.
Spinach & ricotta cannelloni (see below) – glass of red optional!
Risottos and pasta have always featured in our family meals and that’s still the case. The 13-year-old was delighted with a recent mushroom risotto topped with roasted butternut squash and sprinkled with toasted sunflower seeds (a welcome addition to pretty much any salad, pasta or rice dish). And it’s always the season for pasta lavished with homemade pesto (I make mine with basil, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper,a dash of sugar, and a splash of vinegar to keep the colour – I leave out Parmesan so people can add to their own taste). Finally, in no particular order, here are a few recipes I’ve stumbled across that we’ve enjoyed creating and are jolly tasty to boot. With thanks to the many people on the internet who take the time to post fab recipes.
This spicy and delicious little mouth warmer is not only sustaining it’s fabulously cheap to make. As well as the cilantro (fresh coriander) I like to stir in some spinach at the end of the cooking. Just yum. My personal favourite recipe so far.
What can I say? If you’ve never piped spinach and ricotta mix into cannelloni: get to it! It’s fabulously easy and the results from this recipe are tip-top – although careful not to overcook as it can get a bit dry.
My resolve is totally soluble. The minute I make a resolution my stamina evaporates and my willpower collapses. If I decide to lose weight I am drawn moth-like to all things tooth-decaying and girth-expanding.
Which is why, this year, I decided to set aims for 2015 rather than make Resolutions. Four aims to be precise. This means that by 22nd January – the day when, apparently, the majority of us have given up on our diet, exercise, or whatever health-giving regime we adopted on Jan 1st – I was still within the boundaries of my aims, although far from fulfilling them.
It is a mystery to me why it is so hard to do things that one believes one really wants to do. Three weeks is not long in the overall scheme of things: 21 days to break or make a habit, so some say, is all you need. Well, not in my world. It took me 100 years to give up smoking. It was Allen Carr’s “Easyway to Stop Smoking” (this was pre vapes and patches), that finally helped me beat the nicotine. Hurrah!
The first of my 2015 aims was to have at least two alcohol-free days a week. I had written ‘three days’ in my notebook but, bearing in mind that goals need to be achievable, I scratched that ‘three’ out before the last midnight chime on 31st December. For me it is easy to slip into the prototypical role of middle-aged women with an evening wine habit. And I’m not alone. A recent study in Australia found that 13% of women aged 45 to 59 average more than two drinks a day – maybe a glass with the evening meal followed by a TV tipple – massively increasing our risk of alcohol-related illnesses. The thought is that our regular snifters easily sink binge drinkers under the table. Sobering. What have I discovered so far? Not having a bevvy in the evening is easy as long as there are: 1. No stressful occurrences. 2. No joyful occurrences. 3. No visitors. 4. No going out. Oh, look, it’s not easy – but I’m hanging in with one lapsed week so far.
No chilled wine for me today. Just a glass of water with that delicious piece of cod.
Eating no meat or fish for two days a week has proved surprisingly family friendly despite the fact that we’re all rabid carnivores. I’ve often written about my discomfort with the ways we produce and dispatch animals, so this was a logical extension. Eat less meat but know its provenance etc. Actually, we’ve been so delighted with lentil curries, bean stews, spinach and feta pies (if you’ve never piped spinach and ricotta into cannelloni, erm, just do it!), that we’ve surpassed the aim most weeks. Although I have been a tad naughty with a splash of chicken stock in soups and the occasional stray anchovy on a salad, I’ve become quite the carrot hugger.
I’ve become quite the carrot hugger.
Exercise five days a week – even if it’s just a turn around the walls of Berwick. The Husband and I wildly and optimistically committed to a coastal challenge walk in May. It’s 26.2 miles from Budle Bay to Alnmouth – you’re supposed to complete it in 11 hours. Today we thought we’d managed three miles but it turned out to be 2.5. We may need an extension.
Getting out and about is proving quite a challenge for us.
Finally, to rise at 6am on two days a week. I know that’s not early for many people, but it’s an hour before I usually see the sky. The three times I have managed it, I’ve got an enormous amount done in that precious hour. And, yes, you read correctly. Three times. But this, I think, is the thing about aims: unlike resolutions, aims don’t crash and burn when you slip. They sit there, waiting for you to edge towards them – even if, like Alnmouth in relation to Budle Bay, they seem more elusive mirage than attainable goal.
Rather unexpectedly, the most difficult of my aims for 2015 during this first week, proved to be number two below. The residual exhaustion of the festive season and the fact that school term only started today may have something to do with my inability to rise early (oh and the fact that I set the alarm for the wrong day!). However, the morning I did manage to rise at 6am, I was rewarded by a glorious nearly full moon lighting up our still night-cloaked garden, the pleasure of making myself a warming fire, a cup of fresh coffee and the relief of ticking off two hours of Open University coursework. All before even a mouse so much as sneezed in the house. Result. I hope I can do it a few times more before the year’s out!
1. Eat at least two meat/fish free meals a week
2. Rise earlier (aim 6am) two days a week
3. Take exercise on at least five days a week
4. Drink no alcohol on at least two days a week
Both the Husband and the 13-year-old have announced they are joining me in my folly (the veggie eating for both, plus the exercise and booze-free days for him). Though delightful to have company, it is perhaps a tad more challenging. Whilst I might choose a bowl of Tyrrells cheese crisps as my vegetarian supper, this just won’t wash as a healthy or sustaining repast for the family. Post-supper bolt-on, yes. But full-blown meal? No way. Plus, cooking vegetarian for a teenager who’s not totally over-the-moon about vegetables may prove tricky – although she was surprisingly positive about my veg crumble this evening (the Husband declared it ‘virtuous’ with it’s wholemeal & chopped almond topping and 10 different veg). There’s also the on-going debate about how pedantic to be about the vegetarian thing – is it so very wrong to have chicken stock in parsnip soup? According to some Twitterers it most certainly is, others are a wee bit more laid back…and, yes, we did have the chicken stock. But 52 weeks of being inventive with pulses and veg? I think I’m going to need substantially more recipes!
Vegetarian supper for one (perhaps with a glass of wine?)
Another area of on-going debate is what constitutes exercise. Does walking to the shop for instance? Or is that just part of daily life? What about sex (just kidding – of course it’s exercise!). The Husband was resistant to going out in the rain for a morning constitutional – but if we’re going to fit in five days of exercise…well, I’m going to have to be strict. Plus on that wet day we were rewarded by the most amazing rainbow spanning Berwick not dissimilar to the one here that I captured late last year. It’s great to reconnect with walks round Berwick and along the river and coast that were such highlights when we first moved here and that we have perhaps neglected more recently. This morning we even saw an otter eating a fishy breakfast on the lip of the river Tweed – it’s our first otter sighting in four and half years of living here. Brilliant. And it’s lovely to be enjoying some of the recently revamped park spaces.
The refurbed lily pond and shelter near Berwick Station – no time for a rest for us on our punishing exercise regimen!
Finally, I haven’t really nailed down the keeping track of it all. Do I have specific days for each aim – you know: No wine Mondays and Tuesdays; no meat or fish Wednesdays and Thursdays; exercise Monday through Friday; up early Tuesday and Thursdays? Or do I leave it to chance and risk the end of the week arriving before I’ve managed to squeeze in my free-from, early rise, active days?
One week in it’s all quite entertaining. I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t last. Only time will tell.