Helpful Hints

The Potted Prawns make a good topping and sauce for salmon and white fish.  Just warm through and tip over the top of the fish.  Lovely in jacket potatoes too

Potted Prawns

These Potted Prawns are oh, so lovely; delicious and elegant as a starter or light lunch.

Enough for 4 small ramekins

300g prawns

50g butter

half. tsp. cayenne

Grated Nutmeg (about half)

  • Rinse the ramekins with water and line with a double layer of wet cling film allowing it to flop over the edges of the ramekins

  • Dab the prawns dry with kitchen roll

  • Gently melt the butter and add the cayenne and nutmeg

  • Combine the butter and prawns and mix around

  • Press firmly into the ramekins

  • Fold the overhanging cling film over the top and press down again

  • Leave to set in the fridge at least 2 hours, preferably over night.  

  • Turn out with the help of the cling film

Labneh

Super useful to have stashed away in your fridge, Labneh accompanies and makes a light, healthy meal of so many things. 

 

Popular in the Middle East, this ultra creamy strained yoghurt is rather like cream cheese but with fewer calories and a more refreshing taste.  It is extremely easy to make, feels silky in the mouth and has a delicious tang which cuts through richness. 

 

Extraordinarily versatile, it can be made savoury or sweet.  Take a look at my list of some of the many ways to use and love it.

Labneh

Plain Labneh

Try labneh:

 

- With fruit for breakfast

- In a sandwich with cucumber and lots of chopped fresh herbs - or try adding to almost any other sandwich filling

- As part of a mezze, drizzled with olive oil and topped with dukkah, with prawns, roast vegetables or olives

- It can be stirred into cooked dishes in place of sour cream

- It can be rolled into balls and eaten as a canapé, served softer as a dip or, dredged with icing sugar, it goes wonderfully with Summer berries - you could add chopped stem ginger, or vanilla.

500g full fat Greek yoghurt

1 tbsp. olive oil

squeeze lemon juice

Half tsp. salt

Tomato and Avocado Toast with Labneh

  • Take a new dishcloth and, using scissors, cut off one of its stitched sides, you will now have a large bag, perfect for straining.  Drape it over a sieve or colander and sit it on top of a bowl to catch the drips.

  • Mix the ingredients together and spoon into the dishcloth

  • Gather the cloth together and twist it around the yoghurt to form a ball and leave to strain in the fridge for 12 to 48 hours.  The longer you leave it straining, the thicker the labneh.  Yoghurts vary and your labneh may be silky and soft, perfect for dolloping and spreading after as little as 6 hours.  After 36 to 48 hours it should be solid enough to roll into balls which may be submerged in olive oil and kept in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

 

 

Additional flavourings such a crushed garlic, chilli, chopped herbs, lemon zest or grated root ginger may be stirred in before straining.  More flavourings, for example bay leaves, whole garlic cloves, coriander seeds, can be added to the olive oil with the balls. 

 

Furthermore,  the balls may be rolled in spices or herbs to serve.

Tomato and Avocado Toast with Labneh

This is well known healthy bliss which will take you back to balmy summer days with sun on your cheek and water lapping nearby.  Of course, it's best with tomatoes straight from the garden or warmed by Mediterranean breeze, but we can't have everything.

  • Toast some thickly sliced good bread, preferably sour dough

  • Cut a clove of garlic in half and firmly rub the cut sides all over the toast

  • Cut the top off a fairly large tomato and using a grater on its coarsest side, grate the tomato onto the toast (you should end up with just the skin left in your hand)  Season the tomato.

  • Using a teaspoon, scoop whorls of avocado on top of the grated tomato.

  •  Dollop the labneh here and there around the avocado

  • Season again if necessary and drizzle with olive oil

  • You could add to this by topping with a poached egg.  Breakfast Heaven.

Labneh with Wild Rice, Beetroot, Puy Lentil and Pomegranates

Served at room temperature, this salad compliments some of the chicken thigh dishes perfectly.  Puy lentils are available in packets, ready prepared, so not much labour there then.

  • Wrap fresh beetroot in foil and bake in the oven for approximately an hour, or until the skin will rub off easily.  Allow to cool, then peel 

  • Rinse the wild rice and simmer in salted water for about 35 minutes, or until it has popped.

  • Rinse the puy lentils and wild rice in cold water

  • Dice the beetroot and put into a bowl with the rice and lentils

  • Stir in pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds, olive oil and finely grated garlic, taste, season.

Rich Smoked Salmon Custard

This is enough for 8 small pots:

180g full fat cream cheese

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons, juice of 1

3 egg yolks

284ml double cream

180g smoked salmon, chopped but not too finely

Pinch cayenne

60g fresh soft white breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper

  • Put the cream cheese, egg yolks and finely grated lemon rind into a bowl and mix together until smooth

  • Add the cream and stir to combine

  • Sit the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until the mixture begins to thicken and coat the sides of the bowl, approx. 8 minutes

  • Remove from the heat and cool for 15 minutes or so

  • Stir in the smoked salmon, lemon juice, dill and cayenne.  Taste and season then add the breadcrumbs

  • Spoon into tiny pots and leave to set in the fridge, preferably over night.  Drizzle with a scrap of melted butter and adorn with alluring garnish; I used fresh bay leaved wiped with oil for shine, rosemary, thyme, dill, lavender and black onion seeds.

Labneh with Broad Bean Purée

Broad bean purée is good on toast and makes a wonderful dip too.

  • Add frozen broad beans to boiling, salted water, return to the boil then drop into cold water to refresh.

  • Pop the beans out of their grey skins

  • Blitz to a puree with finely grated garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and a glug of olive oil.  Go carefully, you want it to retain some texture.

  • Taste and season.

Rich Smoked Salmon Custard

Make no mistake, this very retro starter is unashamedly rich and unctuous. 

 

It's a recipe I found in Good Housekeeping when I was a very inexperienced cook and I remember stirring and stirring, vaguely expecting something akin to the Birds gloop of school days to appear, rather than the sophisticated real custard of this recipe. 

 

I have never forgotten how utterly scrumptious I thought it was at the time.

 

Serve in little pots topped with a generous twist of smoked salmon, or fresh bay leaves rubbed with oil to make them shine, pretty herbs 

and nigella seeds. 

 

Eye appeal is so important and that brief moment before plunging your fork into something that looks irresistible is one of life's great joys.

Helpful Hints and Avoiding Stumbles

If you'd like to turn the custards out, line your pots with a double layer of cling film - wetting both the cling film and the pot makes this easier.  It's a simple task to lift out the custards using the cling film.

Grate the lemon rind very finely because the sensation of "bits" in the mouth is unpleasant and spoils the custard's texture.

Allow the custard to cool before adding the smoked salmon to prevent it from cooking. 

The custard firms up as it cools.

Roast Romano Peppers with Cherry

Tomatoes, Yoghurt and Feta 

These peppers are absolutely stunning.

 

They add a pop of beautiful colour on a buffet or as part of a mezze; they are wonderful and a starter or light lunch,  make a great accompaniment to a main course and particularly easy as they are best served warm or at room temperature. 

 

The recipe is for those lovely long, pointy red peppers with rather thinner flesh and skin than the more usual bell peppers, but if bell peppers are all you can find, that's fine, but see my Helpful Hints below.

4 long, pointy peppers

200g cherry tomatoes, halved

Olive oil to drizzle

Dried chilli flakes

Full fat Greek yoghurt

1 clove garlic

Fresh herbs: dill/parsley/fennel fronds

Feta Cheese

Chopped pistachios

  Oven 180c, gas 6

  • Halve the peppers straight through the stalk and remove all seeds and white pithy bits

  • Put the peppers halves in a single layer in a roasting pan, throw the cherry tomatoes on top and sprinkle over the chilli flakes

  • Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper

  • Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the peppers are soft and tender

  • Stir any delicious juices which may have oozed out of the peppers during cooking into the yoghurt

  • Finely grate the garlic and stir it with some salt and pepper into the yoghurt which should be a drizzling consistency.  Add a little milk if it is too thick.

  • Drizzle the yoghurt over the peppers and generously crumble over feta cheese.

  • Sprinkle over chopped pistachios and your chosen fresh herbs.

Helpful Hints and Avoiding Stumbles

  • If using thicker skinned, coarser fleshed bell peppers, place the whole peppers just as they are on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 40-45 minutes until collapsing and soft.

  • Transfer to a bowl and seal the bowl with cling film allowing the peppers to cool in their steam

  • Sprinkle the halved cherry tomatoes with a few chilli flakes, then roast in the oven for 10 minutes and allow them to cool too

  • Slide the now loose skins off the peppers, de-seed and de-gunk them, catching the delicious juices.

  • Transfer the pepper onto a serving dish, scatter the tomatoes on top and season

  • Stir some of the pepper juices which oozed out during cooking into the yoghurt to bring it to drizzling consistency and pour any remaining juices over the peppers.

  • Grate the garlic into the yoghurt, stir in seasoning and drizzle it over the pepper pieces

  • Generously crumble over the feta and sprinkle the chopped pistachios and fresh herbs on top.

8 large tomatoes

Generous shake Worcestershire sauce

3 cloves garlic, very finely grated

2 tsps. dried chilli flakes

salt and pepper

2 heaped tbsps. panko breadcrumbs

1 tsp. coconut oil or olive oil

2 heaped tbsps. finely grated pecorino cheese

Oven 180c, but almost any temperature is fine

Spiced Tomatoes with Pecorino

Juicy and colourful Spiced Tomatoes with Pecorino can be prepared and cooked ahead, at the time you want to eat them, or not cooked at all; they can be served warm, at room temperature or cold; quantities are flexible, just a matter of taste really, so these gorgeous tomatoes are perfect and reassuring for a lazy, haphazard or just "can't quite be bothered today" cook.

They are a truly wonderful partner for a steak, rack of lamb or pork chops, indeed almost any main course; they are great as a starter or light lunch cooked in individual pots and served with burrata, black olives and crusty bread to soak up the delicious spicy juices. 

 

I love them for lunch served very cold on a thick slice of warm sour dough toast and topped with a freshly poached egg - I particularly like that hot/cold combination, but curiously not for breakfast when I have exactly the same thing (easy on the garlic) when the tomatoes have to be hot. 

 

Try them on rice topped with crumbled feta, try them whole with their tops taken off like a boiled egg, try them raw as a salad with herbs strewn on top or chopped and mixed in with the breadcrumbs and pecorino, the thing is, try them.

  • Thickly slice the tomatoes (if you are keeping them whole, cut the tops off) and put into an oven to table dish which fits them closely because this will prevent them from floating around too much.

  • Drizzle with Worcestershire sauce (I am liberal)

  • Sprinkle with chilli flakes

  • Distribute the grated the garlic over the top and season with salt and pepper.

  • Dissolve the coconut oil in a small saucepan, add the panko crumbs and toss around over the heat until the crunchy crumbs become a light golden colour, about 2 minutes

  • Remove from the heat, stir in the grated pecorino and sprinkle over the tomatoes.

You now have several alternatives:-

  • Serve them just as they are

  • Store in the fridge and roast them later for 10 minutes or so and serve immediately

  • Roast them, then cool and reserve in the fridge.  Serve later warm or at room temperature drizzled with a little olive oil.

Helpful Hints

The tomatoes are very moist after cooking so resist the temptation to drizzle them with olive oil

at the preparation stage.

I absolutely love crunchy Panko crumbs.  They are a very expensive version of breadcrumbs, I know, but the extra crunch they give is on another level - and worth every penny.

Chicken Liver Paté

This velvety Chicken Liver Pate is velvety smooth and moreish.   I wanted it to look slightly different because appearance, or rather temptation, matters and it cuts beautifully rather like a cake 

380g chicken livers

300g butter

1 tsp. redcurrant jelly

1 fresh bay leaf (+ more for garnish)

2 cloves garlic

1 big tsp. mixed spice

2 big tbsps. brandy (optional)

3 tbsps. double cream

Salt and Pepper 

Extra butter to seal the pots/pour over the paté

Herbs to garnish

Makes 400ml or about 14 fl.oz.  Enough for 6

small ramekins

  • Melt 50g of the butter in a frying pan, stir in the mixed spice and grate in the garlic

  • Add the livers, redcurrant jelly, bay leaf and seasoning

  • Cook the livers on a medium heat until all the bloodiness has gone and just a blush of pink remains

  • In a separate small pan melt the remaining butter and set aside

  • Transfer the livers to the goblet of a food processor, but keep all liquid in the frying pan

  • Remove the bay leaf and bubble the liquid in the frying pan on a high heat to reduce down to about 4 tablespoons.  

  • Add the brandy, warm for a moment or two then set alight to burn off the alcohol.  If you prefer not to do this step, that's fine.

  • Add the frying pan's liquid to chicken livers in the food processor and whizz to smooth

  • With the processor running, gradually add the melted butter you set aside to the pate and then add the cream.  Whizz until silky smooth.  Taste and season

  • Now simply pour into individual ramekins (enough for approx. 6) or pot

  • For the pudding shape, simply  line a bowl which will hold 400ml/14 fl.oz with a double layer of wet cling film and pour in the liquid pate.  Allow to set, preferably over night.

  • Turn out from the bowl with the help of the cling film 

  • Pour over the melted butter and decorate with fresh herbs.

Helpful Hints 

If the pate is completely sealed in a pot with butter if will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

The redcurrant jelly neutralises the slight bitterness chicken livers can have.

When using fresh bay leaves for garnish, wipe them with a kitchen paper dipped in a little oil to give a fresh looking shine.  For my garnish I used rosemary, bay, thyme, paprika and black onion seeds.

Sformato

This is my version of a sformato.  It is almost a quiche, but without pastry, a different custard and somewhat taller; almost a frittata but less eggy and much, much more depth.

It usefully creates elegance out of those slightly tired looking little bowls of leftover vegetables hanging about in the fridge.  You could of course add say, cooked chicken or ham; exact quantities of vegetables and cooked meats are not really applicable here, but I do think cooked potato is an important ingredient because it adds substance, good for the sformato and, in this case, your tummy too.

50 g butter

50 g plain flour

400 ml milk

100 ml cream (either double or single)

1 onion, diced

2 leeks, halved lengthways then cut up, medium

Half a cooked cauliflower, separated into florets

Half a large head of cooked broccoli, in florets

200 g cooked new potatoes

100 g spinach

250 g ricotta

4 eggs

Salt, pepper, good pinch cayenne (optional)

180g pecorino or other hard cheese, grated

Handful of breadcrumbs

Oven 180c

20 cm spring release cake tin, deep lined - see photo.

I have pulled the parchment slightly apart to show how the sformato rises above the tin.

  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the diced onion with a pinch of  salt and cook gently until translucent.

  • Add the leeks to the pan and continue to cook gently until soft.

  • Add the flour to the pan and allow it to cook for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time.

  • Gradually add the milk little by little, stirring vigorously to smooth with each addition to make a thick white sauce generously flecked with cooked onion and leeks

  • Stir in the spinach; the heat of the sauce will quickly make it collapse so that it can be easily incorporated.

  • Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cream

  • Allow the sauce to cool down considerably

  • When the sauce has cooled - it should be no more than tepid - beat in the ricotta

  • Whisk the eggs (a quick way is to crack them into a jam jar and shake vigorously - make sure the top is secure!).  Beat the eggs into the sauce.

  • Stir in all the rest of the cooked vegetables + ham or chicken, etc. and most of the grated cheese, reserving a little to sprinkle on top and season well.

  • Pour into the spring release cake tin, sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese mixed with the breadcrumbs and bake 180c for approximately an hour to an hour and a quarter, or until the sformato is puffed up and golden

  • Allow to settle before releasing the sformato from the tin, although it should be possible to do this whilst it is still warm.

  • This is wonderful served with a simple salad

Beetroot and Vodka Cured Salmon

I like to serve this pretty Beetroot and Vodka Cured Salmon with my Potted Prawns, partly because obligingly they go very well together and partly because they just look so good together; the perfect couple.

I confess I am just a bit more comfortable with cured fish when there is alcohol involved.  It's true, I eat it whenever and wherever I come across it, but when I'm the one responsible for the cure, then the extra

security of having alcohol in the equation is slightly reassuring.  

Beetroot and Vodka Cured Salmon is very healthy and another good thing about cured fish is the fact that it has to be prepared way ahead of when you need it. This will therefore be sitting in your fridge ready to be consumed giving you a bit of extra time when you are flying around with other last minute preparations.

500 g Boneless fillet of salmon, skin removed

1 medium raw beetroot, peeled and grated (gloves!)

3 level tbsps. sugar

3 level tbsps. flaky sea salt

3 tbsps. vodka

  • You will need a lipped tray or roasting pan which is large enough hold the salmon snugly.  Lie a large piece of foil on top of it.  The foil should be large enough to completely wrap up and enclose the salmon with ease.

  • On top of the foil lie two pieces of cling film one on top of the other, again large enough to completely enclose the salmon.

  • Mix together the sugar, salt and vodka in a bowl and stir in the grated beetroot

  • Now spread about half of the beetroot, salt etc. mixture on the cling film in a shape similar to your piece of salmon.   You want the beetroot mix to cover all of the underside of the salmon 

  • Sit the salmon on top.  Run your fingers over the fillet just to make sure there are no remaining bones (use tweezers to remove them if necessary).  Now cover the salmon with all the rest of the beetroot mixture; so the salmon should now be covered completely, top and bottom, with the beetroot curing mixture. 

  • Draw up the cling film around the salmon and seal it completely, then draw up the foil around it to make a tight parcel and scrunch to seal.

  • Pop the salmon still sitting inside the tray into the fridge.  Put something heavy on top (tins of beans?) to weigh it down.

  • After 24 hours the salmon will be beginning to be stained pink around the edges.  After 48 hours it should be getting nicely pink (my photograph is after 48 hours curing).

  • After 48 hours remove the salmon from all the juices and rinse it under the cold tap to wash off all the salt, etc.  Pat dry with kitchen roll.  Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Hints and Avoiding Stumbles

The usual advice is to slice this thinly holding the knife at an angle to create slices similar to D shaped smoked salmon slices.  The easiest way of doing this is to put the salmon into the freezer for 20 minutes or so, this will firm it up making thin slices easier to achieve.

However, for a change, try serving cut more thickly and straight down rather than diagonally.

 

Very good served with Horseradish Créme Fraiche:  simply full fat créme fraiche with a little good quality horseradish sauce stirred into it and seasoned.  You can also do the same thing with full fat Greek yoghurt.  Reduced fat will give a watery result.  Try stirring in chopped parsley, chives, dill or a little grain mustard.

Serve the Thai Fish Cakes with Sweet chilli dipping sauce, or swirl the dipping sauce prettily through thick Greek yoghurt,  Do not use half fat because the result will be watery and thin.  They can also be served with lemon mayonnaise.  

This quantity makes about 25 canapé sized cakes, 6-8 starter sized fishcakes and 4 larger fishcakes.  Remember they shouldn't be thick. 

Thai Fish Cakes

Thai Fish Cakes are hardly new but this is a cheat's version; the fishcakes are light and bright and extra healthy too.   Small ones make lovely canapés, medium ones are great as a starter or light lunch and large ones any time.   It's important in this recipe to use salmon because the oil in it binds the fish cake together banishing the need for egg.  

 

260 g boneless salmon fillets

Half a thumb of root ginger, peeled

1 tsp. Red Thai curry paste (good quality)

Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped or chives, snipped (opt)

  • Remove the skin from the salmon, check for bones, cut into chunks and put into goblet of food processor

  • Grate in the root ginger

  • Add the tsp. red Thai curry paste and the , coriander or chives, if using.

  • Pulse.  Be very careful because everything will happen very quickly and you want some texture left in the salmon.  Finish stirring together by hand.

  • Form into patties of your chosen size but I feel they should be fairly flat, somehow then rest in the fridge for half an hour, no less.  This is an important step!

  • Wipe a frying pan over with minimum oil and fry the fishcakes approx. 3 minutes per side, but less for the canapé sized ones.  This may be done in advance and the fishcakes briefly warmed through in the oven before serving. 

Mushroom Soup with Bacon, Leeks, Sweet Red Onion and Gruyere Cheese

Thickened with Sour dough bread this soup becomes velvety soft and oh, so delicious and comforting.  I could happily eat it every day for weeks without becoming bored with it.  A meal in itself too.

6 rashers of streaky bacon

1 tbsps. olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and chopped

4 cloves of garlic

Thyme leaves

1 leek, roughly chopped

300g mushrooms

200g good sour dough bread

1 litre stock (2 x oxo cubes is fine)

2 fresh bay leaves

90g Gruyere cheese, grated

  • Use scissors to snip the bacon into little pieces and fry (no oil necessary) to golden in a large pan.  Save to one side.

  • Add the olive oil to the same (unwashed) pan and gently fry the onions with a pinch of salt until soft.

  • Grate the garlic into the onions and add the chopped leek.  Stir around and keep on the 

      gentle heat until they soften a bit.​

  • Chop or slice the mushrooms - keep the pieces fairly big because they will shrink - and add to the pan.  Now pour in the stock and bring to a simmer.

  • Tear the sour dough bread into fairly large pieces and submerge them in the soup.  Add the grated Gruyere, the bay leaves and most of the bacon, but save a little to sprinkle on the top to serve.

  • Bring back to simmering point, taste and season; pepper may be all that's needed.  You can now either transfer the pan with a lid on to your oven set at 180c and leave the soup there for about 30 minutes to magically become a thing of beauty, or you can continue to simmer very gently on the hob,again with a lid on, but keep your eye on it.

  • Give the soup a good stir, sprinkle with the reserved bacon pieces and serve.

Helpful Hints

When cutting up the onion, leek and especially the mushrooms, keep them quite large; it is good to be able to see them as you eat the soup