Beautiful beetroot dip, Stuffed Vine Leaves Saved my Life, Nadia Sawalha

Spellcheck does not like the word ‘beetroot’. Every time I write it, be it in Word, on Twitter or in this blog, those annoying little red dots appear beneath it, signaling that I’ve made a terrible error. I start to doubt myself, check the dictionary, and find I was right…again!

I have made this dip a number of times, it is great served with meat, fish, in chunky ham sandwiches, in wraps, burgers…the list is endless! So I had no problem in making it again for this challenge. What always amazes me is the colour. You mix the tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, water, salt and garlic in one bowl, and mash the beetroot in another (I like to leave some chunks in there rather than purée it). Once you combine the contents of both bowls, the colour that’s created is amazing, just don’t get it on your clothes whatever you do!

In the past, I’ve always made my own tahini by blending sesame seeds into a paste with a little oil. This time, I bought some tahini in a jar. To be perfectly honest, I prefer it when I make my own. The tahini I used this time was much too overpowering. I’m not suggesting that you should all start making your own tahini, but I would advise you to add less than the recipe suggests until you get the strength of flavour you desire.


A million and one apologies

I was away on holiday for 3 weeks, but somehow haven’t blogged for nearly 2 months! Not quite sure how that happened! I now have a backlog of dishes to share with you, along with an additional extra to my challenge – a weekly shopping budget of £40. A honeymoon and holiday in the space of 5 months has led to this inevitability…

Having such a tight budget is certainly making me think more about what I buy. I would always buy branded produce before, but now, I’m shopping around for the most economical options. Plus, this means barely any treats – liquid or solid – Christmas can’t come quickly enough!

Thank you for bearing with me and my latest dish will be up here soon!

Grilled chicken with honey-glazed figs, Phil Vickery

Around 8 years ago, I followed a strict gluten-free diet for a few months and felt great. I’ve been meaning to follow this type of eating plan again but keep being tempted by gluten-laden treats. I bought Phil Vickery’s ‘Seriously Good Gluten-Free Cooking’ book a couple of years ago but have never cooked anything from it. Until now.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I often overlook recipes which don’t feature an image of the final dish. It must be a psychological thing. This recipe didn’t have an image attached so I was about to put all my trust in some words on a page (oh, and I couldn’t find this recipe online).

First off, I had to marinate the chicken in a concoction which included Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and lemon juice. It says to leave it overnight if possible but this was our supper and we were hungry. I then had to marinade the figs in honey and sherry vinegar for 20 mins. Easy enough.

Once marinated, you cook the chicken first, then the figs. Both under the grill.

I quite liked the taste of the chicken, but I think the figs would have benefited from being marinated in a more intense balsamic vinegar rather than sherry vinegar.

This is great with salad but keep it as a green salad, as the acidity of the tomatoes we used interfered with the subtlety of the figs.

Caesar Salad Cornets, Nigella Lawson

So far in this challenge, I think this is the recipe I have least to write about. It’s quite straightforward. I couldn’t find the exact recipe online but if you just mix all the ingredients for a caesar salad and use it to fill some tortilla wraps, that’s pretty much it. Nigella does go into detail about how to wrap them properly to keep filling spilling out which may help some people.

Do you ever get a burning sensation at the roof of your mouth when you eat parmesan? I sometimes do. Not sure why.

The post I’ve been dreading

I’m going to get my apology in first with this post. I love Nigella. I often wish I could be her, but there is one recipe that I tried a while ago which I won’t be recreating, not even for the sake of my challenge as it’s a waste of ingredients. Her chef’s salad.

In doing this challenge, I wanted to provide as much guidance based on my own experiences as possible so if you attempt any of these recipes, you can avoid any pitfalls. My advice with this recipe is, don’t bother.

I made this salad for my boyfriend (now husband) while living in London. It seemed straightforward, and I love any salad that contains plenty of meat and cheese. However, to this day, we both shudder when we recount our experience of this.

Somehow, none of the ingredients mesh – the iceberg lettuce is too watery and rigid, ham is just ham (get nice ham, but it won’t guarantee a nice salad), emmental is one of my favourite cheeses but just doesn’t work, there’s too much sweetcorn in it and avocado…again, love avocado, but all these ingredients just stand alone in this dish and don’t seem to complement each other. Even the dressing can’t help bind them together – the mustard vinegar dressing is just too tart for ingredients that all have quite subtle flavours.

I couldn’t find a link to the recipe online, but as you may have gathered, that’s no bad thing. Nigella, I’m sorry, so far I have loved all your other recipes but this is one that is firmly banished to the history books.

Quick chilli that turned into a curry…

Ah summer, with its salads and sorbets…the summer of 2012 however, brings with it the need for comfort food. Chilli! After finishing work, I just wanted to be wrapped up on the sofa under a blanket (I’m desperate to put the heating on but trying to save our oil for the official winter), so I didn’t want to slave in the kitchen for hours. I turned to the Nigella Express book for inspiration, here is the recipe and this is what happened…

I never buy pre-prepared sauces (apart from pesto), so this recipe was taking me out of my comfort zone somewhat. It requires one can of mixed spicy beans and a jar of chunky vegetable sauce for pasta. This is meant to help speed up the cooking process. Luckily there are plenty of good quality pre-prepared sauces out there.

You don’t need to add any oil as the first thing you do is fry some chorizo – these release enough of their own rich, spicy oil to accommodate the minced beef.

You really need to be a meat lover to enjoy this…

After cooking the meat, all the other ingredients go in and are left for 20mins. Now, everything was going to plan until I realised that my other half had bought curried beans rather than spicy beans (I have noticed from my last few posts that I do complain about his shopping skills, but I am grateful that he does the shopping while I work from home). I added some chilli flakes to ensure it would be spicy, but this chilli had suddenly turned into a curry.

Nevertheless, served with rice, it was delicious. And there’s plenty leftover for lunch tomorrow!

A feast of desserts (2 in fact)

I know, I know. It’s been a while and I won’t make excuses, I’ve just been lazy! So let’s get back on track…

We were invited over for dinner at friends’ and in passing, I said I’d make dessert. However, I deliberately forgot about this until our host texted me on Saturday morning to double check this was still the case. I didn’t have the heart to say no, so a quick text to my husband to do a quick food shop and I was making lemon meringue cake and sticky semolina cake from Feast, Nigella Lawson.

Now, we had been for dinner with these friends before and been blown over by the cooking skills. We had high hopes for the starter and main so the dessert would have to live up to them. Not wanting to risk the dessert being a flop, I decided to make two so I’d have a back up!

Lemon meringue cake
Click here for the recipe.

This should come with a warning – if you make it, you will not want to go back to lemon meringue pie. So give careful consideration to whether you want to go ahead and bake this.

What makes this such an amazing dessert is that it includes sponge. When I first read the recipe, I was worried this would make it too dry, but it somehow adds to the moistness of it. Plus, no need to make pastry!!

The only problem I encountered was that, once you have baked both cakes with the meringue topping, you need to be very careful in assembling the final product. With the first layer, it doesn’t matter if the meringue cracks and crumbles as it can form the base, by the top layer has to stay in tact. Just try not to touch it! I carefully teased it out of the tin from underneath, then removed the bottom of the tin and greaseproof paper with a large steak knife…you may discover a better way!

Spreading cream and lemon curd in the centre is very satisfying, but eating it, even more so. There was none left, I forgot my camera and here is the pitiful image I took…

Try it. I promise, you will love it!

Sticky semolina cake
No recipe link I’m afraid.

I chose this purely because I had rosewater and orange blossom water at my disposal and the recipe seemed straightforward enough. Now, when I asked my husband to buy semolina, I didn’t bank on this. Luckily, I had some dry semolina in the cupboard (it was a bit out of date but still in its sealed packet so thought it would be ok).

From the picture you can see I don’t have a suitable baking tray…

Again, very easy to make the cake itself, plus the rosewater and orange blossom syrup. The best part is, when you take the cake hot out of the oven, you pour the syrup over it. Don’t be scared, it looks like a lot but it will all eventually absorb.

I cut these up into squares and we had them with coffee after our meal. They have a hint of turkish delight but what really sets the taste buds going is the ground cardamom. It wasn’t too overpowering, but gave it a different dimension somehow.

All in all, a great success, and we had lobster (locally caught) thermidor for starter and slow barbequed lamb for main. Delicious!