Spinach Falafel

Sometimes if you’ve been overindulging your body tells you to eat something healthier. When that happens, this what you should be eating. Packed full of flavour and protein these little falafel are great as the protein element of a main meal or in wraps for a tasty and filling packed lunch. These falafel are baked rather than fried, which helps make them even healthier.

I made these with cannelini beans, (I thought I had chickpeas in the cupboard, but you could probably use any type of tinned beans). These are also gluten free and suitable for vegans.

Ingredients

400 Gram Can of cannelini beans or chickpeas

2 Tablespoons Porridge oats

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 Tablespoon Tahini

2 Cloves of garlic (roughly chopped)

100 Grams Spinach

1 Teaspoon Salt

Handful of Coriander or parsley (toughly chopped)

Tablespoon Sesame Seeds (optional)

Oil for spraying

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius)
  2. Add all ingredients (except the sesame seeds) to a food processor and blend until you have a smooth mix
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment, the falafel mix should be quite soft, so I used a tablespoon to scoop the mix on the baking sheet.
  4. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you are using them and bake for 15 minutes before turning them and bake for another 15 minutes

Blackberry Ganache Tart, with Meringue Shards

If you have read this blog for a while you’ll know I enjoy a good forage.  Collecting blackberries always takes me back to being a kid.  Wild blackberries also have a much more intense flavour than the farmed variety.  So with a glut of Autumn berries I had to come up with something delicious. If you can’t get hold of blackberries, frozen blueberries also work really well.

I don’t do fancy desserts that often, but for things like birthdays it’s nice to push the boat out.

I have included some meringue shards for decoration but this is totally optional.  I only made this because I had egg whites left from making the pastry and I didn’t want to waste them.  Full disclosure, they were meant to be little meringue kisses but I was beaten again by baking nemesis, meringue!  When I tried to pipe it everything just spread, so I decided to make free hand swirls and ended up a kind of meringue bark.  It still tasted fine.

When your meringue decides not to behave, just go abstract.

Ganache sounds complicated, but its really only chocolate and cream.  I made a rich sweet biscuit pastry for the base, but you can use shop bought short crust pastry or even a ready made pie case if you’re short on time.

Ingredients

For the pastry

200 Grams Plain flour

80 Grams Icing sugar

100 Grams Butter (chilled, and cut into cubes)

4 Egg yolks

For the ganache

300 Grams White chocolate

300 ml Double cream

150 Grams Blackberries

For the meringue (optional)

4 Egg whites

200 Grams Caster sugar

1/2 Tsp Food colouring (optional)

Method

  1. Put the flour and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the cubed butter and blitz until it looks fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks one a time and pulse until the pastry starts coming together
  2. Turn the pastry out until a floured surface. Form into a ball and wrap in cling film, refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Grease a 9in loose base tart tin, and preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius).
  4. Because the pastry is so rich I think it’s easier to roll the pastry out between two sheets of grease proof paper. Roll out the pastry out until it’s approx half a centimetre think. Remove the top layer of paper and flip onto your tart tin. Make sure to press the pastry into the edges of your tin, pierce the base of the tin all over with a fork and refrigerate for 30 mins
  5. Put a sheet of grease proof paper across the pastry base and top with baking beans (I just keep a jar of old rice that I reuse). Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the grease proof paper and baking beans, return to the oven to bake for another 10-15 minutes (Be careful, because of the sugar in the pastry it browns very quickly). Remove from the oven when brown and allow to cool.
  6. For the meringue, whisk the egg whites until double their size, gradually add the caster sugar, and spread on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. With a cocktail stick swirl the food colouring through the meringue
  7. Bake for an hour at 120 degrees (Celsius), although to cool and then break into shards
  8. For the ganache, break the chocolate into chunks in a large bowl.
  9. Add the cream and blackberries to a pot and heat until just before boiling. Pour the cream and blackberries through a sieve onto the chocolate, press the berries with the back of a spoon until only the seeds are left (then discard). Whisk the chocolate and cream together until it melts. Allow to cool a little before pouring into the cooled pastry shell. Refrigerate until the ganache has firmed up.
  10. Before serving, top with chards of the meringue. You can also use other toppings like fresh blackberries, or white chocolate curls

Krakow – Jewish Quarter Food Tour

Just one of the little courtyards serving fantastic street food.

I have been seriously jonesing to travel again.  Having been fully vaccinated and gone through enough paperwork to keep a small government department busy, I was eventually able to set off.

I had heard great things about Krakow from anyone who had visited before, but wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.

With this in mind my travelling companions and I booked a food and history tour of the Kazimierz or Jewish quarter.  We placed ourselves in the very capable hands of George.  A trained chef originally from Turkey, he gave us a great tour discussing the history of the district and it’s up and coming food culture.

Hebrew street art

Before the second world war about 25% of those living in the district were Jewish having originally been encouraged to settle on the city by King Kazimierz centuries earlier.  The Jewish population was forced into a ghetto when Germany invaded and unfortunately we’re all aware of what followed.  Auschwitz concentration camp is within travelling distance of Krakow.  While I think it’s important that what happened at the camp shouldn’t be forgotten, honestly I’ve had a really tough year and just didn’t feel up to visiting.

Poland’s oldest synagogue

The Jewish population of the district is now less than 1% but the district still maintains it’s Jewish identity and the oldest synagogue in Poland is still located there.  In the main square there are lovely restaurants serving kosher food and drinks and offering traditional Jewish folk music at weekends.

After the war many of the buildings stood empty, so students and artists eventually moved in due to the low rents.  The area now has a bohemian feel and is becoming gentrified.

With such a young population the area is full of great places to eat and drink.  Our first stop was at a popular perogi shop.  If you haven’t had these before, they are little dumplings. The most common filling is potato, cottage type cheese and fried onion (my personal favourite).

Perogis with spinach and cheese.
Blueberry perogis with sour cream.

We also tried other versions including suarkraut and mushroom (traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve), spinach and cheese, and a sweet version made with blueberries and topped with sour cream.  Perogis are really common with most restaurants offering several different kinds.

The district has some great street art as well food.

Small courtyards with little food trucks are popping up across the area, serving everything from traditional Polish pork dishes to Asian ramen bowls.  It was at one of these courtyards we had excellent traditional pulled pork rolls with pickles and fantastic bread.

The new square has a central hub of red brick buildings selling a range of different street foods.  It was here we tried the Polish version of a French bread pizza topped with spicy ketchup and lots of chopped chives.  Apparently these were made my Mothers who couldn’t get theirs kids to come in from playing outside, to make sure the didn’t starve.

Polish pizza

If you have sweet tooth, we also enjoyed excellent apple fritters at Kuchina Doroty.  Rich with vanilla these probably had 1 million calories, but were worth every single one.

Krakow has great bars everywhere, these range from very dark but not unwelcoming local dive bars through to sophisticated cocktail bars. The most common beverages seem to be beer and vodka. Lots of bars are introducing small batch artisanal beers often brewed in people’s sheds (they are well worth trying). I’ve always had an aversion to vodka, (I think it tastes like hairspray). However, George our tour guide got us to try a shot of bison grass vodka which is popular in Poland, and it’s much more a agreeable than the normal stuff. If vodka is your thing there are several different tasting experiences available in the area.

Bison grass vodka, tastes fresh and almost sweet. It reminded me of the smell of hay.

To sum it up the area is well worth a visit, great food, lots of history and movie buffs can spot the different streets where Schindler’s List was filmed.

Wonton Soup

I’m seriously missing being able to travel. With this in mind I decided to recreate one of my favourite dishes. I first ate this in Hong Kong. I first ate this in a hole in the wall cafe. It was a revelation and probably the best thing I ate the whole time was there.

Food in Hong Kong is amazing but this just hit the spot. If chicken soup is the ultimate Jewish comfort food, this is probably Hong Kong’s version.

You can find wonton wrappers in the freezer section of most Asian supermarkets, or larger supermarkets. This may seem like a lot of wontons, but I also freeze half so I can pull them out of the freezer without any fuss.

These are also great to make with kids, (a little bit of child labour never does any harm). But I also like to stick the music on and switch off, making these can be quite therapeutic. For the soup I usually use shop bought good quality chicken stock. So if you have some wontons in the freezer and some ready made chicken stock this can be a really quick meal.

Ingredients

For the dumplings

500 Grams Pork Mince

4-5cm Piece of ginger (finely grated)

2 Cloves of garlic (minced)

2 Scallions/spring onions (finely chopped)

1tsp Cornflour

1tsp Sesame oil

1tsp Soy sauce

1 Red chilli (finely chopped)

1 Pack of wonton wrappers

For the broth

1 Tbsp Sesame oil

1 Litre Chicken stock

1 Tbsp Rice wine vinegar (I didn’t have this and used cider vinegar and it was fine)

2 Scallions/spring onions (ends removed and cut in half)

3-4 cm Piece of ginger (cut into 3-4 pieces)

1 Red chilli (cut on half, and seeds removed)

2 Cloves of garlic (cut in half)

Garnish with finely chopped scallions and coriander

Stock infused with garlic, chilli, ginger and scallions

Method

  1. Put all the ingredients for the filling of the wonton filling in a bowl, and get your hands in and mix well until all ingredients are combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes
  2. Open your pack of wonton wrappers and like filo pastry, you’ll need to cover it with a damp cloth to prevent it drying out. Keep a small bowl of water beside you, as you’ll need to wet the edges of the wonton so they stick
  3. Take a square and put a small teaspoon of the filling in the centre. Wet the edges of two sides of the wonton and fold over to make a triangle. Make sure to press the edges together well (or else water will get in when you cook them). Dab the two long edges of triangle with water and fold the edge together and press (it should look like a tortellini). Place on a tray and continue doing this until you have either run out of filling or wrappers
  4. Add 7-8 wontons at a time to a pot simmering water, and cook for 5 minutes or until the wontons float to the top. Drain and set aside, I usually freeze half the batch. If you’re going to freeze these, let them cool first and spread them out on a tray lined with cling film that you have rubbed lightly with oil to prevent them sticking. When they are frozen, split into batches and transfer into freezer bags
  5. For the broth, add all the ingredients to a pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the ginger, garlic, and scallions from the both and discard
  6. Add the wontons to the broth and sprinkle with finely sliced scallion and coriander

Cheese, Corn and Jalapeno Fritters

I’m not always super organised when it comes to planning meals (how many of us actually are).

There are dishes I love that need mashed potatoes, and I don’t always remember to make some the day before, or don’t want the fuss of making it.

The lovely people at Mash Direct were kind enough to send me some of their products to try. I was reminded that I hadn’t made these little flavour bombs in ages. Having ready made mashed potatoes was really handy.

I served these fritters with a fresh tomato salad and they were delicious. I can also highly recommend them for breakfast along with eggs.

Serves 4

Ingredients

400 Grams Mashed potatoes (I used a pack of Mashed Direct mash, it also works really well with their champ)

150 Grams Sweet Corn (frozen or canned is fine)

1 Onion (finely chopped)

1 Jalapeno pepper (finely chopped, with the seeds removed, if you like these super spicy you can add more)

100 Grams Mature cheddar cheese (grated)

1 Egg

1 Tbsp Plain flour

3 Tbsp Oil

Method

  1. Fry the onion with 1 tablespoon of oil to a frying pan over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes allowing the onion to brown and caramelise, add the jalapeno pepper and cook for 5 mins
  2. Add the potatoes, corn, onion, peppers, egg, flour and cheese into a large bowl and mix well
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on a large frying. Add a tablespoon of the fritter mix to the pan at a time, and press flat with a spatula. Don’t try to cook more than 2 or 3 at a time
  4. Cook for 5 minutes or until brown before turning (you need to let a brown crust form first or else they’ll be difficult to turn). Drain on kitchen towels before serving

Michael’s Easy Cannelini Bean Soup

My brother made this soup for me and I loved it.  He only gave me the recipe on condition of a name check, so thanks Michael.

This is proper comfort food, and while the recipe is Vegan friendly it’s a really hearty stick to your ribs meal in a bowl.

I’m not vegetarian, so I topped the soup with some bacon I had left.  But in fairness it’s equally delicious with out it.

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

400 Gram Tin of cannelini beans

2 Stalks of celery (fine chopped)

2 Carrots (grated)

1 Onion (finely chopped)

1 Vegetable stock cube (or tablespoon of buillion powder)

2 Cloves of garlic (crushed or very finely chopped)

1 Tbsp Oil

500 ml Boiling water

Method

  1. Add the oil to a deep sauce pan and heat over a medium heat
  2. Add the onion and fry gently for 5 minutes until the onion softens but doesn’t colour
  3. Then add the carrot and celery and cook gently for an other 10 minutes
  4. Stir in the garlic and beans (including half the water they came in), crumble in the stock cube, add the boiling water and stir well.  Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper if you feel it needs it
  5. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the the vegetables are soft and then serve with crusty bread

Jollof Rice and Chicken

There are countless versions of Jollof Rice and Chicken across Africa and the Caribbean. The are many reasons why it’s so popular, it’s quick and easy to make, it’s a one pot dish that can feed a family cheaply, and most importantly it’s really delicious.

I mean, tender chicken and really well flavoured rice with vegetables, where could you go wrong. This is also a great dish for using up odd bits of vegetables you have in the fridge

Serves 4

Ingredients

4 Large chicken thighs or 8 small ones (I use the ones with the bone in, as I think it keeps the chicken tender)

1 Tbsp Oil

2 Red peppers (cut into 1-2cm pieces)

1 Onion (cut into 1-2cm pieces)

1Tbsp Tomato puree

400 Gram Tin of chopped tomatoes

1 Red chilli pepper (finely chopped) or 1 tsp chilli powder

1 Tsp Smoked paprika

3 x Cloves of garlic (finely chopped)

Thumb sized piece of ginger (grated, I always keep ginger in the freezer. It stops it going to waste and it’s easier to grate)

250 ml Vegetable/chicken stock (I used a stock cube to make it)

325 Gram Long grain rice, dry weight (I use basmati, but other types are fine)

2 Tbsp Chopped coriander (optional)

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large flat bottom pan. When hot, add the chicken thighs and seal on both sides
  2. Add the vegetables and tomato puree to the pan and cook for 5 minutes
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan and cover with a lid. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer for 15-20 minutes, adding more water if the rice dries out before it’s cooked
  4. Check the chicken is cooked through and the rice is soft
  5. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve

Miso Sesame Chicken

The cracking recipe comes from the national treasure that is Nigella Lawson.

I have tweaked it a little, leaving out the fish sauce (only because I didn’t have any). I’ve used chicken thighs, she used a spatchcocked chicken (whole chicken with the backbone removed and pressed flat), but again this was because this what I had.

The chicken is best if you can let it marinade overnight. So if you can be organised, you’ll have an amazingly tasty weeknight dinner. This is also delicious enough to impress friends if you’re cooking for them. If you’re feeding vegetarians/vegans this marinade is also fantastic spread on slices of aubergine before roasting them.

Serves 4

4 Large chicken thighs or 8 small ones

1 Tbsp Vegetable oil

1 Tbsp Soy sauce

2 Tsp Sesame oil (use one day in the marinade and reserve one for later)

4 Tsp White Miso paste

1 Tbsp Grated ginger

1 Clove of minced garlic

1 Tbsp Sesame seeds (reserve for during roasting)

  1. Add the marinade ingredients to a bowl and stir until well combined
  2. Put the chicken thighs in a large freezer bag, pour in the marinade and seal the bag. Rub the marinade onto the chicken to make sure it’s well coated and then refrigerate over night
  3. The next day if you have time, take the chicken out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you intend to cook it and allow the meat to come to room temperature
  4. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees, empty the chicken thighs into an oven proof dish (skin side up) and empty any remaining marinade from the freezer bag over the chicken
  5. Cover the dish with tin foil and bake for 25-30 minutes (depending on the size of the chicken thighs)
  6. Remove the tin foil and baste the chicken with any juices in the dish, drizzle over a teaspoon of sesame oil (a little goes a long way), and then sprinkle with sesame seeds before returning to the oven for another 10 minutes (check they are cooked by sticking in a fork and making sure the juices run clear)
  7. Remove and serve with your favourite side Asian slaw or spicy cucumber salad or just plain potato salad goes brilliantly with this

Herb Crusted Hake

Fish is something most of us don’t eat enough of, mainly because we think it’s complicated.

I was lucky enough to attend a fish masterclass at Belfast Cookery School a couple of years ago (I would definitely recommend it for anyone who is a little intimidated by fish) and this is one of my favourite dishes I learned how to make and I love it.

This is super easy and quick enough for a mid week family dinner, but is tasty enough to impress guests if you’re cooking for friends.

I used hake, but any firm white fish will do. One of my kitchen hacks I bore people with is to make and keep a big bag of breadcrumbs in the freezer, as breadcrumbs can be used in so many dishes.

If you want to switch up the flavours you can try different herbs, or try adding a little lemon zest or finely chopped chillies if you enjoy a little bit of heat. This is also a great dish to get kids cooking.

Serves 2

Ingredients

250 Grams Hake (I used steaks, but fillets work too)

50 Grams Breadcrumbs (thaw them first if you are using frozen ones)

25 Grams Parmesan cheese (finely grated)

2 Tbsp Herbs (I used parsley and coriander, but use the herbs you like)

2-3 Tbsp Oil (a neutral oil like rapeseed is good)

Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees (Celsius), take your fish out of the fridge (like meat, fish is best when it is not introduced to heat while its still “fridge cold”), try to let it come up to room temperature. Run your finger along the fish and remove any bones you find (if you’re using a fish monger, you can ask them to do this)
  2. In a bowl, add your breadcrumbs, herbs and parmesan, gradually add the oil and combine until the breadcrumbs are lightly coated but not greasy (different types of bread will absorb different amounts of oil). Taste a small amount and add salt and pepper if you feel it needs it.
  3. Place your fish on baking parchment in a baking try and pat the breadcrumbs on top. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the breadcrumbs are brown and toasted. If you’re cooking a particularly thick piece of fish you make need to give it a little longer but be careful not to over cook

Herby Potato Salad

Potato salad is lovely summer dish, but not everyone is a fan of mayonnaise.

This version is a little bit lighter and can be enjoyed by vegans too.

Waxy potatoes are probably best, but either is fine. This is such a great side dish, it goes with virtually everything.

Ingredients

750 Grams Potatoes (cut into 4-5cm chunks, I like to leave the skins on but peel them if you prefer)

1 Tsp Salt

1/4 Red onion (finely sliced)

2 Tbsp Olive oil

1 Tbsp White wine/cider vinegar

1 Tsp Mustard (I like to use grain mustard but Dijon mustard is fine too)

4 Tbsp Chopped herbs (I used coriander and parsley because it was what I had, but dill or mint or a mixture will also work)

Salt and pepper

Method

  1. Add the potatoes and salt to a pot and add enough cold water to cover the potatoes. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are soft, and drain the cooking water (Hold back 2 Tbsp of the cooking water)
  2. In a large bowl add the onion and sprinkle with the vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes (this will help stop that harsh raw onion flavour). Add the oil, mustard, herbs, and cooking water you held back from the potatoes and stir
  3. Add the potatoes while they are still slightly warm to the bowl and mix well to ensure they are coated with the dressing, this will allow them to help soak up the flavour