Thursday, 1 October 2015

Warm Blood

This is a Hallowe'en recipe, which we've successfully served for the past couple of years. It can also be served hot, as Barszcz Czerwony Czysty (Polish clear beetroot soup), with some of the beetroot left in in chunks or liquidized to make a thicker soup), and you could add cream. You could also chill it and serve it with vodka. But this recipe will concentrate on the Hallowe'en version - rich, clear, warm and tasty.. Like your blood.


  • 1kg fresh beetroots
  • 1 medium carrot (optional)
  • a few cabbage leaves (optional)
  • spices: grind together a pinch each of black pepper corns, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, juniper seeds and allspice berries
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (or vinegar from a jar of pickled beetroot!)
First roast the beetroots. Heat the oven to 180 deg C (fan) ior 200 deg C (conventional). Wash the beetroots, getting most of the dirt off, but this doesn't need to be too thorough since the skins will be discarded. Slice the ends from the beetroots and place on foil on a baking tray and put them in the oven when it has reached heat. The cooking time will depend on how big and thick the beets are. Twenty minutes will be fine for small ones, thirty for large ones. Very large ones can be cut in half, and placed cut side down on the foil. When they are cooked remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes so that they can be handled safely.

Next shred the beetroots. This is the messy part, so don't where your best white linen clothing at this stage. By what ever means you find easiest The skins should come off quite easily and should be discarded. The flesh can be sliced with a knife or in a food processor, or grated (very messy). The shape of the shreds is not important; the point is to get them sliced thinly so that they give up their juices, and they will be discarded later. 

Grind the spices. This can be done roughly in a pestle and mortar, or they could even be thrown in whole. They are there to give up some flavour, and the soup will be strained before serving.

Now we make the soup. Place 1.5 litres of fresh tap water in a large saucepan, and add the shredded beetroot and ground spices. You can add a few dried herbs at this stage as well if you prefer.  Put the pan on a medium heat on the hob and allow to come slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally. The beetroot should not become overcooked, or start to break up. We're just trying to cook it gently to get the best flavours and colours from it. When it reaches a rolling boil, turn it off and allow to cool. The beetroot will continue to give out colour and flavour while it rests.

After 20-30 minutes, pour the liquid off into a large jug or another saucepan. Pour through a fine sieve or tea strainer to leave just the clear fluid.

If you want to make it a little thicker, and maybe more like human blood, you blend some of the beetroot flesh with a little of the soup, and add it back in until the required consistency is achieved. Otherwise, discard the beetroot flesh, or give it to your pigs.

Put up a sign saying 'Warm blood served here' and serve in shot glasses at 37.2 degrees C, telling your guests that it is warm blood. That should sort the men from the boys.

Photos to follow from this year's Hallowe'en party...

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Aubergine stuffed with lamb and spices

Based on a Rick Stein recipe, this serves 2 as main course, or 4 as starter or smaller dish


Stuffed aubergine

  • 2 aubergines
  • 200g minced lamb
  • couscous
  • large handful of fresh coriander
  • manchego cheese: enough  to cover each aubergine half, thinly sliced or grated
  • 1 tsp papricón (Spanish sweet smoked paprika)
  • 1 tsp regular paprika
  • 0.5 tsp sumac (optional, if this is hard to find!)
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 small dreid red chilli
  • 0.5 tsp nutmeg
  • 0.5 tsp cinnamon

For tomato sauce base

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 large cooking tomatoes
  • 1 shallot or small onion
  • (option) 1 tbsp chopped celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • herbs: some combination of thyme, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, etc., preferably fresh
  • 2 bay leaves
The tomato sauce base can be made in advance and reheated to make the stuffing. You might also want to make extra, to refrigerate or freeze and keep for other recipes.

How to make it

First make the tomato sauce base. This can be done in advance and reheated to make the stuffing, or started when the aubergines go into the oven (see below). Heat the olive oil in a frying pan or heavy-bottom sauce pan. Chop the onion or shallot, and start to fry gently for around 5 minutes. Add the chopped celery if using after a minute or two, and the chopped or pressed garlic towards the end. Don't allow anything to brown. 

Skin the tomatoes by immersing in very hot and then cold water, then peeling off the skin. Chop roughly, and add to the pan. Stir, add the vinegar and tomato puree and stir well. Allow to cook through slowly for another 5 minutes, then add the chopped herbs and bay leaves, and cook for another five minutes or so on a low heat. Set aside off the heat if you are preparing it in advance.

Heat the oven to around 200° C, or 180 if you have a fan oven. Slice the aubergines in half lengthways, then score the flesh deeply , but be careful not to cut the skin. Place the halved aubergines skin-side down on a lightly oiled tray and put into the oven. Roast for around 20 minutes. Allow to cool a little so that they can be handled. Now is a good time to start cooking the lamb.

Heat a large frying pan and cook the lamb over a medium heat. Stir, and try to separate the pieces of meat, and cook until it is all brown rather than red. This should only take 5 minutes or so. You wouldn't cook a lamb chop until it is was brown in the middle and dried out, and you shouldn't do it to mince either! Now stir in the tomato sauce, and make sure that it is all blended well and warmed through. Leave that to heat gently and grind the coriander seeds, chilli and cinnamon in a pestle and mortar. Turn off the heat and add to the sauce, along with the papricón, paprika, lemon thyme and freshly grated nutmeg. Hold back the coriander leaves until the very last moment, but you could rinse and chop them at this point. Make sure to include as much of the stalks of the coriander as possible - this is where all the flavour is.

Prepare the couscous by adding boiling water to it in a bowl (as per the instructions on the packet). You could slice or grate the manchego cheese at this point too.

Take the roasted aubergine halves and carefully remove the flesh from the skin, trying not to tear of puncture the skin, since this will be the container for the stuffing. You can leave a generous layer of aubergine on the skin. Once you have removed the flesh, chop it roughly. You could set some aside to make baba ganoush, since there is going to be too much stuffing to fit back into the skins, once you have added the sauce. Place the skins back onto the baking tray.

Stir the chopped roast aubergine flesh into the sauce, and stir in the chopped coriander leaves and add salt and pepper. All this is done off the heat. We don't want to destroy the delicate flavours of the herbs, or to overcook the meat and aubergine, and it will all be warmed up again in the oven at the end.

Reheat the oven to 200° C (180 if fan). Now add a thin layer of couscous into each aubergine skins on the baking trays, then fill up generously with the sauce. Fit in as much as you can, then cover with a thin layer of sliced manchego cheese, then sprinkle a little papricón on top. Return to the oven, and cook for 10 minutes or so, until the cheese starts to brown. Remove from oven and serve!


Serve with salad (in the picture with green leaves in a dressing of English extra virgin rapeseed oil, Banyuls vinegar and white miso), or with more couscous (maybe mixed with some left-over stuffing).

Alternative options

Vegetarian: I've successfully made this a couple of times for vegetarian guests. It works fine without the lamb. You could add chick peas (add these to the sauce with the chopped aubergine), and some sweet pepper (chopped and gently fried in olive oil in place of the lamb).

Quinoa: instead of the couscous, you could use quinoa seeds. These take a bit longer to cook, but it's an interesting variation.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Sausage and apple casserole

It's sad to say, but I've become a bit bored with sausages and mash recently, so I'm trying a variation with similar ingredients. Serves 2.

  • 6 pork sausages
  • 2 rashers of streaky bacon
  • 1 apple (e.g. Cox's Orange Pippin)
  • 300g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 can butter beans (optional, or other beans or pulses)
  • 1 half carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 small onion or shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • sage, thyme, rosemary, mixed herbs (chopped)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • a splash of dry cider
  • 200ml chicken or pork stock
  • a dash of worcester sauce
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika (papricón)
  • salt, pepper

You'll also need some potatoes if you want to serve it with mash.

Chop the half the onion very finely and fry in the olive oil on as low a heat as you can manage in a casserole pan. After a few minutes, add half the carrot and half the celery, also very finely chopped. Chop the rest of the onion, carrot and celery into larger pieces and set aside. After 5 minutes or so cooking on a low heat, stirring occasionally add the garlic (either finely chopped or pressed), add the chopped herbs and bay leaves. Continue to cook, all the time making sure that the vegetables don't brown, for about ten minutes.

Add the cider vinegar to the pan, still on a low heat, stir well, and allow it to steam a little, then add the stock. Stir well, and now you have a court bouillon, more or less. Add the tinned tomatoes, stir, add the other vegetables (the remaining onion, celery and carrot). Add the worcester sauce and papricón, cover and allow to cook gently while you cook the sausages.

Brown the sausages on a medium to high heat in a frying pan, turning several times. It should take about 5 minutes to brown them on all sides. When browned (but not yet fully cooked through), remove from the frying pan and add to the casserole. Fry the bacon quickly for 2 minutes or so on each side. Remove from the frying pan, cut into bite-sized pieces with scissors, and add to the casserole. Pour the cider into the frying pan to deglaze it. Scrape all the porky goodness from the pan and pour into the casserole.

If you are serving with mashed potato, you can put them on to boil now.

Allow the casserole to cook gently for around 20 minutes. Adjust the amount and thickness of the sauce by removing the lid to allow it to reduce or adding water. With 5 minutes to go, take your apple. Peel, core and slice into bite-sized chunks and add to the casserole. We just want this to be warmed through.

Serve with mashed potato, and maybe some greens on the side.

Tasting notes

  • It's difficult to match wine with apple, but try serving it with a light red wine, such as a Beaujolais Villages, or beer might be easier - try a strong Belgian like Kwak, or a pale ale.
  • If you find the sauce too acidic, try it without the cider vinegar, adding more stock or water instead.  You could also deglaze with beer or water rather than cider.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


Zoque is the Málaga version of gazpacho, the popular Andalusian cold soup. It is traditionally based on a pulp made by grinding garlic cloves with rock salt, and then adding pulped red vegetables, breadcrumbs, and iced water. You can start with a pestle and mortar if you want to feel authentic, or just throw everything in a food processor.

Serves 4

2 large tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 slice of white bread in crumbs
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
400 ml water

Remove the skins from the tomato. Roughly chop all ingredients and liquidize with a hand blender or in a food processor. Pour into a bottle or other covered container, and place in the fridge. Stir well and serve very cold on a hot day. Best served in a bowl or mug which you can drink from.

Try small portions in a shot glass as an aperitif.

Variations: carrot, and other red vegetables!

Lightly curried Halibut with Fresh Tomato Chutney

This proved to be delicious. It requires restraint in the spicing of the halibut, but you can go to town on the flavouring of the spicy fresh chutney. The subtle flavouring and fine texture of the halibut contrastss with the strong, acidic, peppery chutney. Everything can be cooked in the time it takes to cook the plain basmati which complements the flavours so well. It can all be cooked in one frying pan, plus a pan for the rice. Serves 2.


  • 1 large fillet or 2-4 steaks of fresh halibut (enough for 2 people)
  • 2 tbsp oil for shallow frying (I used a blend of sunflower and groundnut)
  • basmati rice

Spicy crust for the fish:

  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 0.5 tsp ground paprika
  • 0.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • salt, black and white pepper

Fresh tomato chutney:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 10 small tasty tomatoes (or equivalent - enough for a good portion for two), roughly chopped
  • a handful of fresh coriander, including stalks, chopped (optionally also other herb leaves - try basil or mint)
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • juice of half a lemon or lime
  • freshly ground dried red chilli
  • a dash of tabasco sauce
  • a dash of worcester sauce
  • salt and pepper

First prepare the spicy flour to coat the fish. Put all of the spices in a pestle (or electric spice grinder) and grind finely. You can vary the spices to your taste. Mix with the flour. Spread the spicy flour out on a plate, and pat each fish fillet onto it, trying to get as much of the flour to stick to the fish as possible. Set aside. (Putting it in the fridge might help the flour to stick to the fish, and stop your cats from eating it, but I haven't tested this. Personally, I'd leave it out, because I don't want the fish to be too cold in the middle when it starts to cook.)

Put the rice on to cook. I prefer to do this by the absorption method in a cast-iron pan with a heavy lid. Use 1.5 times by volume the amount of water compared to rice. Bring the water to the boil. Salt, then add the rice, keeping the heat high and stirring gently and carefully with a wooden spoon or chopsticks. When almost all of the water has evaporated, stir one more time, then put the lid on. Turn off the heat and leave it until you're ready to eat it. It should be good any time from 5 to 20 minutes later. If it's longer, heat gently in the oven before serving.

Now make the chutney. Heat the oil on a low heat in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the chopped shallot and cook gently for two minutes. Don't let them brown. Now add the garlic, either chopped very finely or pressed, and the chilli. Fry gently for another minute, then, still on the heat, add the lime juice and stir well. Add the tomatoes, tabasco and worcester sauce, and keep stirring. The idea is to mix the flavours and warm the tomatoes through, not to cook them thoroughly. When thoroughly mixed, set aside in a bowl. This can be allowed to cool for a few minutes while you cook the fish, and will be served warm.

We're going to shallow fry the fish. Wipe your frying pan clean and add enough oil to cover the bottom, to a depth of a few millimetres, so that it can fry the sides of the fish a little as well as the parts in contact with the pan. Heat the oil on a low to medium flame, then add the fish, one piece at a time. Adding it all together would risk lowering the temperature of the oil too much, especially if the fish is cold. Fry the fish until browned, for about two minutes on each side. When cooked, the flakes should gently come apart with a fork, but the flesh should still look slightly transparent.

Serve as soon as the fish is cooked, with the rice and warm chutney. Delicious.

Lightly curried halibut with fresh tomato chutney
Interesting fact
Q: Why can't a halibut see you if you approach it from its left-hand side?
A: Because it's dead and in a bag in your fridge.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Spicy baked hake, baby aubergines and rhubarb

My friends Joe and Heather were kind enough to give me tasty baby aubergines, courgettes, chillis and rhubarb fresh from their garden. This dish was inspired by marvellous dishes of hake with garlic and olive oil which I was served as my first meal in a Spanish home on a visit to Valencia in 1987, although I know of no Iberian precedent for the addition of rhubarb. So perhaps I should call this Merluza y navajas al forno con berenjenas, calabacines, pimientas y ruibarbo.

Serves 2

Cooking time around 50 minutes.


  • 200g hake fillet or steaks
  • 4 razor clams
  • 3 or 4 small baby aubergines (c. 80g)
  • 1 small courgette (c. 100g)
  • 1 medium vine tomato
  • 4 small hot red chilli peppers
  • 1 stick of rhubarb
  • half a medium green pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
  • 50g olive oil (or enough to comfortably cover the bottom of your dish)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (or lemon thyme for a very strong alternative flavour)
  • papricón (smoked paprika powder)
  • salt and pepper
  • saffron (optional)
  1. Turn on the oven to 200 degrees C and pour the oil into a casserole dish. Add the garlic and one sprig of thyme, and allow the flavours to start to infuse into the oil. Put the dish into the oven when it reaches temperature.  If using saffron, crumble it into a spoonful of warm water and set aside.
  2. While the oil heats up, wash and slice the vegetables. Cut them roughly into bite-sized pieces, except for the chilli which can be sliced more finely.
  3. After the oil has heated for ten minutes or more, remove the dish from the oven and add the vegetables, tossing them in the oil and then returning it to the oven. Cook for ten minutes.
  4. Now prepare the fish. Hake steaks can be used whole, and fillets should be skinned and cut into around 4 pieces. Wash the clams thoroughly in lots of clean fresh water, then blanche them for a few seconds in boiling water. Remove the clams from the shells and trim to leave just white bits.
  5. Remove the dish from the oven and add the hake, allowing it to sit on top of the vegetables, not in contact with the surface of the dish. Spoon some oil over the hake, throw the clams in, and return to the oven for 10 minutes, until the hake is just cooked.
  6. Pour the saffron water over the fish and serve with plain rice.

Drink suggestion: We ate it with Cava, but it might be best to try it with a white Rioja

Further thoughts: Very tasty, if a bit oily. The rhubarb was very well behaved and didn't dominate, and it is certainly optional. Next time I might try it with less oil, and add a bit of fish stock or wine when the fish goes in, and cover with foil to steam a bit.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Tangy Rhubarb Chutney

I've been waiting for some months this summer to find some rhubarb, and at last I've found some. In order to prolong our enjoyment of it, I decided to make chutney.


  • 750 g rhubarb, chopped into 1 cm long chunks
  • 200 g sugar (I used demerara, but for any kind will do depending on what taste you want, or honey, golden or maple syrup, or malt extract for a less sweet taste)
  • 100 g sultanas (or other dried fruit)
  • 550 ml vinegar (any - I used a combination of cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, a splash of balsamic and 1 glass of port!)
  • 50 ml orange juice
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 25 g chopped courgette (optional, and other veg possible)
  • 1 tbsp grated or finely chopped ginger
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1 small red sweet pepper
  • freshly ground spices (1tbsp in total: black pepper, red chilli, cinnamon, cardamon, caraway, nutmeg)
  • 3 bay leaves (I had fresh, dried would be fine)
  • 1 dash tabasco
  • 25 g salt

Sterilize the jars in which you plan to keep the chutney. I sterilised them by washing in the dishwasher, and chose a selection of small jars so that I could give away a few and keep them closed and sterile as long as possible. In sterilized jars, the chutney should keep more or less indefinitely.

Choose a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the sugar, vinegar, sultanas and orange juice. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the other ingredients and add them when they are ready (except for the spices and salt). When it comes to the boil, simmer for 5 minutes, stirring regularly until all the sugar is dissolved, then add the tabasco, ground spices, bay leaves and salt, Stir in and then add the rhubarb. Bring back to the boil and simmer, for at least 10 minutes until the rhubarb has softened, but not entirely broken up, and the sauce has reduced to the required consistency. It should thicken to the point that, when you stir, you can see the bottom of the pan. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.

When it has cooled enough to handle safely, but still hot, pour or ladle into the jars, seal and allow to cool. Cooling can be speeded up by sitting the jars in a bath of cold water.

The chutney should be good to eat straight away - I ate some still warm with roast duck legs and baked potatoes, which was nice. Cold, it goes rather well with strong cheese.