Sunday 30 August 2009

Baked aubergines with cinnamon, pinenuts and coriander

We spent the day yesterday at friends for a big family party, all cooking in the kitchen together. My contribution was a couscous salad and a vaguely middle-eastern baked aubergine salad which everbody seemed to like and as aubergines are at their best right now I thought I'd share it. I used an interesting cinnamon, apricot and date seasoning mix they happened to have in their storecupboard but cinnamon would work equally well

Serves 8-10
1 kg of aubergines
6 tbsp olive oil
3 medium-sized onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ras el hanout (optional)
1 heaped tbsp of tomato paste or red tapenade
600g fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped or 1 1/2 400g tins of tomatoes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (optional)
50g toasted pinenuts
About 3 tbsp each of finely chopped coriander and parsley
2 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the aubergines into cubes, sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander for about 30 minutes. Rinse, pat dry and tip into a large roasting tin. Drizzle over some olive oil, season with pepper and roast at about 190°C/Gas 5 for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile cook the chopped onions in the remaining oil for about 8-10 minutes until soft, add the chopped garlic, cook for a couple of minutes then stir in the cinnamon and ras el hanout if using and the tomato paste or tapenade, Cook for a minute then add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down. Add a splash of red wine vinegar to sharpen if needed. Tip the sauce over the aubergines, adding a couple of tablespoons of water and return to the oven for around 30 minutes until the aubergine is lightly browned, stirring it half way through. Remove from the oven and stir in the pinenuts and fresh herbs, saving a few for decoration. Leave until cool and check the seasoning adding salt and pepper to taste if you think it needs it. Scatter with a few more herbs before serving. This makes a great vegetarian main course but is also very good, as we had it, with grilled lamb and couscous salad.

Monday 24 August 2009

Why it's easy for the French to eat healthily

As you know I was going to give the blog a break but I've been overwhelmed at the quality of the produce in the south of France since we've been here. The apricots and grapes above come from a marvellous greengrocer in the small seaside resort of Le Grau d'Agde. It's open year round but is at its peak at this time of year. Our lunch yesterday consisted of tapenade and goats cheese, bought at the daily market, a bunch of hot peppery radishes (1 euro or 87p at current exchange rates) a couple of huge, misshapen but sweet, sweet tomatoes (€1.20/£1) and 5 fat figs (82 cents/71p). 4 out of our recommended 5 a day in one meal.

It's so easy to eat healthily - and the weather so hot you don't feel like doing anything else. Cooked food, especially meat, loses its appeal. All I want to eat is salads, fish, the occasional bit of cheese and fruit. Endless fruit.

Every stall in the market is laden with peaches - you can buy them for as little as 5 euros/£4.34 a tray (about 3 kilos I would guess) They're so ripe you can barely touch them without bruising them. You're lucky if they survive till next day - which is why, of course, we don't get fruit of this quality at home. They have to be picked earlier, refrigerated, transported the 600 miles or so across France and however many miles to a depot then distributed across the country. No wonder they don't taste of anything and cost three or four times as much.

What I can't understand is why we pay so much for fruit and vegetables we can grow perfectly well. Lettuces for example. In the greengrocer here they have five or six varieties - at around 90 cents (78p) and they're huge. Of course you have to wash them which people are no longer prepared to do back home but the flavour is wonderful - crisp, crunchy and sweet.

It is actually possible I might lose weight on this holiday (though I wouldn't bet on it given the amount of baguette I also manage to stuff down). I'll certainly end up a great deal healthier.

Thursday 20 August 2009

The frugal cook is away

Taking a break from the blog for a couple of weeks while I'm on holiday in France - unless I come across an impressively frugal dish. Enjoy the rest of August!

Thursday 13 August 2009

Gorgeous grape, honey and cardamom compote

I made the best recipe for a while the other day. By accident from virtually free ingredients and it was so ridiculously simple. My chef friend Stephen gave me a big bag of seedless black grapes to take home from a tray that were about to go over. We nibbled a few then I realised I would have to cook them to save them. I destalked them and put them in a saucepan with about a tablespoon of honey I'd rescued from the tail end of a pot and shaken up with boiling water to dislodge it and about 6 cardamom pods, brought the whole lot to the boil and simmered them for about 7 or 8 minutes.

Result: an exotically aromatic, sophisticated-tasting fruit compote that you could either serve as a light dessert or with yoghurt and granola as we enjoyed it the next day for breakfast. It was just fantastically satisfying to make something that tasted so good from produce that could easily have gone to waste. Who said frugal food was boring?

Thursday 6 August 2009

Our new student cookbook

It’s always a great moment when you finally hold a copy of a book you’ve written in your hands. It makes all the hard work - and believe me it is hard work - worthwhile.

This time it's been a particular thrill because I've worked with three of the students who have collaborated on my student website Beyond Baked Beans: Signe Johansen, Guy Millon and James Ramsden. By luck I stumbled across three students who could not only cook but cook really well. Sig and James have done cookery courses (Sig at Leith's, James at the famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland) and Guy's father Marc is a food writer so he's been brought up in the kitchen.

As you can see from our Facebook page they've been making videos and posting recipes all year and now all have blogs of their own (here, here and here) They've all been students this past year - Sig at SOAS, Guy at Nottingham and James at Bristol so they've had first hand and recent experience of having to cook on a budget

What we've done with the book - and this is why we're bold enough to call it The Ultimate Student Cookbook - is pick the best recipes from the three Beyond Baked Beans books and get them to add their own tips to them as well as add some of their own favourite recipes. Because Sig's a keen baker there are more cake recipes than there were in the original books. James has added some sophisticated recipes for when you want to impress and Guy some great basics like his family's favourite chilli con carne. Their knowledge, humour and enthusiasm shines through every page

As if that wasn't enough we've got an endorsement from the great Heston Blumenthal, a chef we all really admire

So if you know anyone who's going to uni this autumn - or even who's already there - do buy it for them. It's only £10 for a whopping 288 pages and loads of lovely pix - still less if you buy it on Amazon. It should be in the shops now if you want to take a look at it before you buy it - if you don't see it do please ask for it.

Saturday 1 August 2009

Steak and onion baguette

It's a strange world out there in supermarketland. We were shopping last night and picked up a 400g pack of Somerfield's 'Best Ever' thin cut steak on a half price offer for just £2.83. That's roughly the same price as a pack of premium mince.

I reckoned it probably wouldn't be that tender so bashed it thoroughly with a rolling pin then marinated it in a small glass of red wine, a couple of tablespoons of oil and a good pinch of Herbes de Provence for half an hour.

In the meantime I cooked down 4 sliced onions in good slosh of olive oil for about 15 minutes then added a knob of butter and kept on frying them until they were soft and sweet (another quarter of an hour) then seasoned them with salt, pepper and a few drops of balsamic vinegar. (I could of course have used a jar of onion marmalade but that would have cost at least three times as much)

I drained the steaks, patted them dry and rubbed them with a little oil then cooked them on the highest setting on my double-sided electric grill for about a minute and a half each then stuffed them into the split baguette with a good dollop of onions.

The steak was a bit tough which could be remedied by marinating it a couple of hours longer, possibly even overnight, but it was really tasty. And could easily have served 3 or even 4 if we hadn't been so greedy. A bit of crumbled blue cheese (Stilton is good value) and a few rocket leaves would have been good additions which would have made the meat stretch further.

As I've noted before it's not the so-called 'cheap cuts' that are a bargain these days but the prime cuts. Weird or what?