Tapenade #2

I am not one of those people who naturally selects olives as a nibble.  It could be because I’ve not tasted many quality olives, or that I have not had them in the right setting, although I do love them in Spaghetti alla Puttanesca – spaghetti as if made by a whore – which is absolutely delicious and a complete taste sensation.  But a slight digression from my point.

Occasionally, however, olives do find their way into our kitchen and are often left languishing in the ‘I’m going to freeze you if it’s the last thing I do’ fridge.  Which is where little things like tapenade come in very handy.

For those of you who may not be completely au fait with the tapenade, it’s a posh dip which goes very nicely with crisp breads, sticks or slithers of something crispy, and a lovely glass of something refreshing.  Yes, we have entered early evening aperitif territory.

Now as you will see from the picture, my tapenade has a slight greenish hue to it which I can explain immediately.  In the perfect tapenade recipe, you would use just black olives, but the ones we have in our fridge are combination olives – by that I mean a tub of black and green – so although I put all the black ones in first, I have added some green, just for numbers.  But don’t be put off by the colour, if you enjoy the tang of a green olive, you will enjoy them in this tapenade.

Of course if you cannot bear the thought of a green olive passing your lips then the best olives, apparently, are kalamata or nicoise.  So now you know.

You don’t need to make heaps of the stuff as, unlike other dippy bits, tapenade is a ‘less is more’ kinda food.  A complimentary twinkle rather than a main star.

So, onto business.  You will need: 200g black olives, 3 tablespoons capers *, 2 anchovies, I fat clove garlic, 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme, juice of half a lemon, 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Put everything barring the oil, into the food processor and whizz up.  Add the olive oil through the funnel whilst the processor is still on.

It is worth pointing out here that things like capers and anchovies can often be packed in a whole heap of salt.  If so, give them a wash before adding them, otherwise your tapenade will be very salty.  Although some may say this is a good thing, and a fine reason for another G & T, salt does take away from the subtleties of the other flavours.

As with all dips, indeed all food, quality controlling as you go is essential.  You may need to add a little more lemon, or indeed a shake of pepper, it is entirely up to you.  However you decide to indulge, there is one thing that never fails to hit the right spot, and that is the deep end of week feeling, drink in hand, nibble to hand and the last rays of sunshine.


*It is at this point that I realised I hadn’t actually put the capers in my tapenade so stopped writing, got out the food processor, quickly added them in to the mixture, whizzed up, washed up and sat back down to continue writing.  That’s the goddess lifestyle for you…


Red Lentil and Mint Dhal

lentil and mint dhal

To the untrained eye, this may look like the most unappetising thing since McDonalds started putting an egg-like thing in their breakfasts – little joke there, please don’t sue me, I don’t have the money or the commitment – but it is the most delicious dhal I have ever tasted.  And I’ve tasted quite a few.

Believe it or not, I first experienced it at one of the wee boy’s friends birthday parties.  The children were having the usual array of foods that squidge or crunch, but my lovely friends had made this for the grown ups.

Heavenly on two levels.

Firstly because it meant we didn’t have to pinch, under the guise of helping our child eat, the foods that squidge etc. and secondly, because it was a taste sensation I just wasn’t prepared for, and consequently stayed with me for days afterwards.  I can even remember the exact spot I was standing in, when I first tasted it.  I kid you not.

So what makes this a ‘stand out in the crowd’ dhal then?

I think it’s the mint.  There is something about it that gives the dhal a freshness whilst complimenting the heat of the chilli.  But before you switch off, already coming out in sweats from my mere mention of chilli, the beautiful thing about this, indeed all potentially hot food, is that you can add as little or as many chilli as you like.  So when I’m making it for my family, I don’t add any extra chilli at all.  The cayenne is suffice.  I know, a revelation.

Now then, you’ll need 3 tablespoons of ghee (if you don’t have this I combine vegetable oil and a knob of butter), 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped, 1/2 teaspoon of both cayenne and turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt, 185g red lentils, 750ml water, 3-4 green chilli, chopped and 3 – 4 tablespoons of chopped mint.

Melt the ghee (or oil and butter) in a pan, add garlic, chilli, turmeric, cayenne, mix together for a minute or so then add lentils, water and salt.  Bring to the boil, then simmer, until the lentils are cooked.

Add the mint.

Stir into the dhal and simmer for approximately 2 minutes.

Nip round the corner to Medina, buy, ‘made whilst you wait, 4 for a £1’ beautiful naan bread.  Come home, heat up the dhal and eat with the naan.

It is, without doubt, the most wonderful thing to have hit your palette in a very long time.  As long as you like both lentils and mint.  Although, I would suggest that it’s worth giving it a go, even if you’re not that keen.  After all, what have you got to lose, and just look at what you might gain…

Italian Tomato Sauce

Italian Tomato Sauce

We have had one of those very chilled out, gentle days where everyone has been in the same room doing different things and generally allowing time to just waft.  I love these days.

And it is on days such as these that I tend to do my catch up cooking.  Today I am making some hummus, roasting some peppers and cooking a large pot of my all purpose tomato sauce.

The thing about this tomato sauce is that, although it takes a while to make, once it’s done you can use it as a base for anything in the Italian food range, from pizza to lasagne, bolognese to cannelloni, or just as a sauce in itself, to cover spaghetti or another form of pasta.  It’s perfect.  Well, perfect for our family.  Some people get stuff in for the freezer, I make tomato sauce.

So, what I do is finely chop an onion, a few carrots, a couple of sticks of celery and a few cloves of garlic.  Pop in a pan with a generous portion of ordinary olive oil, add some salt and pepper, put the lid on and allow it to all saute, very gently, into itself. I would say if you leave it on a very low heat, keeping your eye on it, everything will be wonderfully soft within around 45 minutes.

Once the vegetable base is softened, chop up 9 or 10 large tomatoes and add to the pot.  Squeeze a good splodge of tomato puree in there and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of oregano depending on how strong you like the flavour to come through.

The next couple of ingredients are both a confession and a statement in my defence.  You see you can’t truly make a good tomato sauce unless you put in red wine and sugar.  I have to admit to having had a splosh of red wine in a bottle sitting next to my oven for about two weeks, waiting for exactly this type of day to arrive. Sadly, to my shame, I have not been able to resist putting in a teaspoonful of sugar to accompany the wine, and enhance the flavour of the tomato.  However, my logic follows that of bread making.  You cannot possible make bread without adding some sweetness as it is a catalyst to the yeast.  Similarly, with home made tomato sauce, I believe it to be imperative in order to allow the tomatoes to shine, that sugar is added.  It’s only the tiniest bit…

And on the subject of sugar, I’m not sure whether I am going through a sugar delirium having not had any for 10 days now, but everything is starting to taste sweet.  Is that what normally occurs?

Anyway, allow everything to simmer in the pot with the lid on, for another 20 – 30 minutes or until you think everything is cooked.  Turn the heat off and let it all sit in itself for a while.

At this juncture I would suggest you make a cup of tea, perhaps have a slice of cake, and put your feet up.

When the tomato sauce has cooled down you can either whizz it up in a blender, leave it chunky, or, as I do, split it and do half and half.

Whatever you decide to do with your sauce, when it’s cooled pop it in a tupperware box, an old large greek yoghurt pot, ice cream pot or whatever has a lid, and either store it in the fridge or separate into small meal sized portions and freeze.

I tell you what, if it does nothing else, it will make you feel very organised and together when you next need an Italian tomato sauce.



We are now on day four of no sugar, and my initial ‘rabbit in headlights’ approach is slowly being replaced with a more considered, less panic driven, one.

Now you may be thinking that I am revealing myself to be a bit of a numpty here, surely I should have considered the impact of giving up sugar and therefore have mentally prepared myself for the challenge ahead?  And if this is the case, what’s with the ‘rabbit in headlights’ scenario?

Well all I can say in my defence, is that I genuinely didn’t think I had so many sugar products in my life.  Yesterday I spent the day yearning for a pear.  Today I have had a coffee and, much to my chagrin, have realised that it only highlights my dependence (I usually have ‘just a spoonful’ of sugar in my coffee).

At the same time, I do not want to start going down the crisps and peanuts route simply because they don’t have sugar in them.  So I have, today, whipped up a little something which I love, and takes minutes to make.  Hummus.  Houmous. Hummous.  Spell it as you will, it all means the same.  A beautiful Levantine food comprising of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, cayenne or paprika and garlic.

Or combinations thereof.

You see the wonderful thing about Hummus is that you don’t have to use all the ingredients on the list to make a beautiful dip.  In fact, it is a very personal dish which you can, without fear of ruining the essence of it, adapt to your own desire. How splendid is that?

The other wonderous thing that has flooded the market (forgive me my slight exaggeration) is the tinned chick pea.  A joy, a pleasure and also the catalyst for the quickest Hummus making, bar none.

I whizzed up, with my trusty steed of a hand blender, one tin of drained chick peas, a clove of garlic, a pinch of cayenne and a glug of olive oil.  As the chick peas come in salted water I don’t add salt.  I don’t have any tahini in at the moment so left that out, and instead of just sprinkling cayenne on top of the dip I also added some into it and therefore decided to leave out the lemon juice.

So whilst the boys are merrily munching on malt loaf, we have had Jacob’s flatbreads dipped in hummus.


Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup

There is nothing like the taste of Heinz Tomato Soup to comfort you from the inside out on a cold winter’s day.  This recipe comes a very close second.

First things first though.  Today it snowed.  Not as much as I would have liked as I’m desperate for a snowday.  You know the ones, where you just can’t leave the house and everything feels suspended?  I long for those days in winter.  There is absolutely nothing like them.  I’ve always thought it would be a great idea, if I were a television programmer, to completely change the schedule just for snowdays.  The very idea makes me tingle with delight.  Slightly less relevant these days with the onset of smart TV, but still, makes me smile nonetheless.

Of course, on snowdays you wear layers of clothing, starting with pyjamas and add inappropriately throughout the day.   Moreover, you graze on anything and everything because snowdays are full of magic which means nothing counts as real. Watching, mesmerised, as the flakes fall silently onto the ground, willing them to create a thick carpet so that you can go out tomorrow, and build a snowman.

Whilst grazing on the most bizarre combinations of foodstuffs, the notion of tomato soup almost always pops up.  It’s thick, sweet, creamy texture just makes sense in an otherwise flurried world.

I’m not sure whether it’s still the case, but as I was growing up, every household had a tin of soup stashed somewhere in the kitchen.  A ‘just in case’ tin.  On snowdays, when we were left at home, we invariably opened said tin, which was, inevitably, Heinz Tomato Soup.  However, if you find yourself without this 1970’s prerequisite, then it is the simplest thing to make.

Firstly, chop an onion and fry in a little butter and oil until translucent.  Then, add as many tomato products as you can find, all chopped.  Today I have put in fresh tomatoes, tomato puree and sun dried tomatoes.  Add salt, pepper and of course, sugar.  It is the catalyst that allows the tomatoes to dance.

Now then, at this juncture I add my own tomato based vegetable stock which consists of carrots, celery, onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, pepper, olive oil, oregano, sugar and a splash of red wine vinegar all cooked together in a pan very slowly, until everything is soft.  If you haven’t got any of that or can’t be bothered, a vegetable Knorr stock pot will do just as well.  I would recommend adding a little oregano though, as it is one of those herbs that suit tomatoes very well.

Then add boiling water and simmer for about 20 minutes.

This next bit is crucial.  Turn off the heat and allow to sit for a while.  Drink tea, go shopping, write something interesting, go to work, watch the snow fall.  Eat the last piece of Christmas cake.

I then hand whisk the whole thing, and, if I’m feeling particularly meticulous, sieve. Although it tastes just as good without sieving, you will be doing those with false teeth a favour if you sieve.  Small pieces of tomato skin can be irritating, so I hear. So I guess what I’m saying is consider your age range and sieve, or not, accordingly.

I like to make some small bread rolls to accompany the soup, but am also very at home with hot buttered toast.  Either way, something to dip does nothing but enhance the experience.  Just before you’re ready to serve, warm up the soup, adding a good splodge of single cream.

Tomato soup.  It’s what snowdays were made for.

Potatoes Dauphinoise


We haven’t really sat down to eat a big meal since Christmas Day, so I felt it was only fitting that at the start of the year I should make an effort but keep it in the comfort zone, as our winter hibernation is truly setting in.

Also, I am loathed to pop out and buy food when there is still a plethora of things still sitting in our fridge that need using up. Albeit most of them are pickled affairs.

Anyway, all of this led me to plump for something I love, but rarely do, as we don’t often have cream in the fridge.

I have occasionally tried to keep cream in the fridge as almost all the cookery programmes i have ever watched, always seem to refer to it as an essential. However, I found that as we don’t use cream on a daily basis, once the correct amount has been apportioned to whichever recipe required it, any left over cream just lingers forlornly, slowly frosting away with no particular place to go.

I am trying to rectify this situation, hence potatoes Dauphinoise.

Officially, this is a gratin recipe as the potatoes, although sliced, are completely cooked in the oven.  But I don’t think anyone’s too concerned about semantics in this particular instance.

Anyway, put your cream in a pan and add a clove of garlic per 100ml of liquid. Grind in some salt and pepper. Bring to a light simmer, and add the potatoes which have been thinly sliced, simmering for approximately 3 minutes.

The basic rule of thumb here is that you need double the amount of potatoes to cream.  And just to let you know, it doesn’t need to be all cream.  The beauty of this recipe is that you can use up all the cream you have and just top up with milk.  Or, if you prefer, go half and half.  It’s totally up to you.

Then, strain the potato slices into an oven proof dish, fish out the garlic cloves from the warmed cream before pouring over the top.

Cook in the middle of the oven, gas mark 5, for about an hour.  Longer if you prefer your spuds with a little more of a mush.

And it is at this juncture that I feel the need to point out the beauty of potatoes Dauphinoise.  It is a wonderfully diverse dish that you can tweak to your heart’s content.  You can add rosemary, thyme, or any other herb you love, to the cream mixture. You can grate cheese on the top (Gruyere is the cheese most oft mentioned but anything light and nutty will taste great), you can even, if you’re really thinking of living on the edge, add eggs to the creamy affair.

I will just add a word of garlic caution here.  I find infusing the cream with garlic is enough to compliment the other flavours in the dish.  Those of you who cannot get enough of the garlic flavour, may wish to grate, crush or chop your garlic into the cream and leave it there.  If so, I suggest one clove per 250ml of liquid will suffice.

Whichever way you decide to cook your potatoes, they always taste divine, and although traditionally they were cooked to compliment fish, I like to throw caution to the wind and cook them to compliment whatever I fancy, or even, sometimes, just eat them on their own.

One of the most delicious classic comfort foods around.  Enjoy.

Tomato and Chilli Chutney

Tomato and Chilli Chutney

This is one of my favourite chutneys of all time.  To be fair I haven’t made that many in my lifetime, however, my childhood was full of other peoples homemade pickles, jams and chutneys which were passed around the parents, so it is always with great pleasure and fondness that I have begun indulging in the task myself.

Back to the chutney.  The recipe is one of Delia’s and will be online, but for those of you who would rather just find out what it’s got in it, here is a short synopsis.

1.8kg tomatoes – chopped small

225g sundried tomatoes – soaked in just boiled hot water for 20 minutes, drained and chopped small

225g dark soft brown sugar

4 onion, 4 red chilli, 4 garlic cloves, 2 red peppers – chopped small

1 dessert spoonful of coriander seeds and mustard seeds warmed in a frying pan and coarsely pestle and mortared – although I don’t have one of those so use a bowl and the base of a rolling pin

1 dessertspoonful of salt

750ml cider vinegar

One of the many reasons I love this chutney is because it is so darn easy to make. You literally put everything in a pan and let it simmer for 3 – 3.5 hours. Stirring occasionally.  The only tension comes when it is just about ready.  It is at this point that you pull a wooden spoon along the top of the simmering chutney.  If the juices fill the small trough you have made with the spoon, it isn’t ready.  As soon as the juices stop filling in the trough, it is.

Simple as.

And because the season of good will is almost upon us, I have bought some beautiful Kilner Jars to put the chutney in.  All I have to do now is leave it for 6 – 8 weeks, and Bob’s your Uncle, job done.

I would say however, as a slight down side, it doesn’t ever make as much as I think it’s going to, so if you are considering making this glorious chutney to give as gifts to some very lucky people, it might be best making double the amount.  Unless you only have one friend, then it’s perfect.

Oh, and by the way, we eventually had the roasted figs with goat’s cheese. Absolutely delicious.  Just a small tip, don’t forget the rosemary, it makes all the difference in the world.