Pre-Payday Pepper Pesto!

I have this rather odd notion that I am generally quite good with money. A delusion I entertain for the first 3 weeks in a month. Week 4 arrives and I gingerly peek at my bank statement from behind the sofa…it’s as I feared, not great.
After letting out a high pitched squeal I start to steady myself, starting by circling “payday” on my calendar in pink highlighter. This (and a few deep breaths into a paper bag) helps me to conclude that it’s not too far away and if I just stay indoors for a week I’ll be ok.

Don’t worry, it’s not all bad, in fact there are positives to me being grounded by my finances; the kitchen has never looked cleaner, I built a couple of temporary shoe racks, cut my own hair and I may even get around to making some cushions.

Obviously there are implications for cooking when on a drastically reduced budget, I can’t just pop down to Waitrose for a few mangos, a sourdough loaf and box of nasturtium flowers this week. Nope; it’s time to see what’s in the back of that cupboard.

Pesto is a good one. Plenty of variants, very few fresh ingredients and you have a tasty, thrifty meal in minutes.

Red Pepper Pesto

Ingredients
1 Red Pepper
50g of nuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or a mixture
4 tablespoons of olive oil
35g of parmesan cheese (or any other hard cheese you like)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika, pinch of chilli flakes (all optional)

Method
1) Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds and slice into thick strips. Place in an oven proof dish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a little black pepper.

2) Cook under a hot grill or in the oven until they start to caramelise.

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3) Leave the peppers to cool slightly whilst you grind the nuts and/or seeds (I used walnuts, sunflower seeds and almonds because that’s what I found in the cupboard). They want to be like breadcrumbs not dust or a paste.

4) Put the ground nuts in a bowl and add finely grated Parmesan. Blend the now slightly cooler peppers to a fine dice and stir into the nuts & cheese with the rest of the olive oil.

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5) Taste. If it’s lacking in sweetness add a dash of honey. I also threw in a little smoked paprika and chilli flakes. Season.

20120719-141516.jpg6) I folded my pesto through cooked wholewheat spaghetti tossed in a squeeze of lemon juice. To serve I added a bit more grated cheese and a garnish of chopped fresh tarragon and parsley but basil, oregano or chives would be great too.

As a side dish I made some of my flat bread dough and used it as a sort of pizza topped with garlic, sliced onion, rosemary, olive oil and parmesan.

What are your favourite thrifty recipes? Is there anything lurking at the back of your kitchen cupboard you don’t know what to do with?

Total London

I use greek yoghurt loads, it’s a fantastic hero of an ingredient which I use in all sorts of recipes…off the top of my head, right now, I can think of about 10 different recipes. I think that’s pretty good. Well, turns out 10 is rubbish; the people at Total Greek Yoghurt have come up with 1000 recipes using their product! Hats off indeed as they launched 1000 ways to love your total this week.

Greek yoghurt panna cotta

As well as uploading all these ideas to their website they had time to host an event at La Cucina Caldesi (which is a lovely little italian cookery school in central London). I was very excited to be invited and Chef Paul Merrett expertly guided us through making Salmon Rillette, Butternut Squash Tagine and a Semolina Sponge cake.


Salmon Rillettes

Tagine

Semolina Sponge

So, Total have come up with 1000 recipes, arranged an event (where I got to cook, eat, drink wine at lunch time and hang out with super food bloggers like Filipa Kay, Phillipa Moore, Alice Langley and Lynne Clark) and they gave me a whole bunch of yoghurt to take home….I feel utterly lazy in comparison.

To pay homage to my Total experience I decided to come up with a really special dish, something pretty to celebrate their efforts and a recipe not already covered by the 1000 ways campaign; tricky stuff. Scoffing one of the complimentary honey split pots I had a sugary epiphany and an idea started simmering in my brain.


My Total Dessert

Apricots poached in a cardamon syrup with crushed pistachios & honey, greek yoghurt quenelles (oh I love a quenelle) in a walnut shortbread sandwich with turkish delight pieces. (serves 2 with leftover shortbread!)

Ingredients
1 tablespoon of coarsely ground pistachios (plus a little extra for decoration)
1 Total Greek Yoghurt Honey split pot
1 quantity of Delia Smith’s Walnut Shortbread dough (see here for recipe)
10-12 whole cardamom pods
1 orange
200g of caster sugar
6 fresh apricots
1 teaspoon of rose water
icing sugar
2 pieces of rose turkish delight
Method
1) Mix the coarsely ground pistachios with the honey from the split pot & set aside.
2) Make the shortbread dough following the instructions in Delia’s recipe, roll out and cut into rectangles (approx 12cm x 5cm) and place on a baking sheet lined with a sheet of baking paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, they should just start to turn pale golden at the edges. Leave them to cool on the tray until you’re ready to assemble the dish.

3) To poach the apricots heat 300ml of water, the cardamom pods (slightly bashed to release their fragrance) juice & zest of one small orange and the caster sugar. Bring to the boil then carefully add the whole apricots. Cover them with a piece of baking paper and let simmer for 8 minutes.
Gently remove the apricots from the syrup and set aside to cool.
Allow the syrup to reduce for another 8-10 minutes then turn off the heat and add the rose water.

4) When the apricots are cool enough to handle gently split them in half and remove the stone, cut each half into 3 wedges
Dredge 2 pieces of the shortbread with icing sugar on one side, these will become the lids.

5) Lay an un-sugar dusted piece of shortbread on each plate. Top with teaspoon quenelles of the yoghurt with small amounts of the pistachio honey in between.

6) Then add a layer of the apricot wedges, a little of the fragrant syrup, more pistachio honey and then the sugared lid.

7) Decorate the plate with left over pistachio-honey mixture, small pieces of the turkish delight (cut up using scissors) and drizzle the plate with a bit more of the cardamom syrup.

Crab cakes and updates

I think I may have finally found a way to survive the dreaded “so what do you do?” question and the inspiration came from the depths of my childhood; the TV show Blue Peter.

I always find it difficult to say “I’m doing an assortment of food-related and profile-boosting activities with the sole purpose of one day opening a restaurant” it’s a mouthful, and generally sounds a bit odd. Then I remembered that when the Blue Peter team wanted to reach a goal they used a totalizer. On the show, every time they reached a milestone in their charity campaign the totalizer would light up a new level. I can’t build anything quite so impressive (and I probably shouldn’t as it might be disrespectful to their charity work) but I can draw a career plan with a picture of my restaurant at the end and post it on my about page. I’ll update it with each step along the way until I get there, by that time the internet will have advanced and there’ll no doubt be a widget to make it light up and fling out confetti.
Now when people ask me what I do I can say, “Hi, I’m a food blogger please read my about page”…

… and then I can leg it :-)

The rehearsals for my TV pilot are going well too; am coping ok now with the whole talking into the camera thing by pretending the lens is that Johnny five robot from the 1980s film Short Circuit, I’m not sure why this helps but I’m gonna go with it.
As soon as we get a location confirmed we’ll start filming so watch this space for updates!

The second big collaborative project is the events company, Taylor & Nice which my new business partner Bradley and I are starting up. We had loads of fun launching our website at the weekend. We hit the shops early on Saturday and spent the rest of the day (and evening) churning out countless canap├ęs and cocktails to liven up the PowerPoint presentations. I would definitely recommend giving your focus group booze and nice food they are bound to love you idea!

One of the best things about hosting a launch party/focus group for a catering venture is that the fridge is full of leftovers for quite a few days afterwards. This has led to a string of easy dinners and last nights Crab Cakes were no exception. In fact the tinned crab and curry paste were surplus items from filming rehearsals and the chilli jam and salad were from the bash. It was lovely to pull together ingredients from these two projects, an edible reminder that I have actually started making good use of my time by working and watching a little less of our Fraiser box set!

Crab cakes

  1. Take 4 medium sized potatoes and boil for 12-15 minutes or until soft.
  2. While the potatoes are boiling chop a handful of flat leaf parsley and put it in a mixing bowl with a tin of crab meat chunks, a tin of dressed crab and a little lime zest. I also added a tiny bit (about 1/4 teaspoonful) of Thai green curry paste but that’s optional.
  3. When the potatoes are ready mash them till smooth and then fold them into the other ingredients.
  4. Shape into 4 fishcakes and coat in breadcrumbs before shallow frying until golden brown
  5. Serve with chilli jam, green salad and mashed avocado.

As Taylor and Nice is just starting out we would be really grateful for your ideas and feedback, if you have a few moments please do fill out our short survey on what makes a good night out in London. xx