Hamilton Squash

I went out for lunch the other day and had a very delicious stuffed butternut squash, which reminded me of a similar dish eaten many years ago courtesy of Jamie Oliver. It was so long ago, Jamie was pre-Sainsbury’s, pre-kids, pre-school lunch crusading and pre-paella controversy. Love him or hate, he does keep himself busy.

Anyway, I decided to dig out said recipe and cook it for a friend who was coming over for supper. She’s watching the calories too, so I thought this was a pretty healthy, but filling meal. We won’t mention the accompanying wine which, as we all know, is calorie-free on Friday nights.

It can be served on its own (I’m working on how to present it elegantly…will keep you posted) or as a side dish if you have more friends than me. Think of it as a risotto in its own serving case. I’m sure some fancy London restaurant wouldn’t bother with crockery and serve it as is, or on a piece of bark or something. I’m sticking to bowls and a smile.

Hamilton Squash


A smallish handful of dried porcini mushrooms
1 butternut squash, halved lengthways and seeds removed
Olive oil
1 red onion
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon pummelled coriander seeds
A pinch or two of dried chilli flakes
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
5 sun-dried tomatoes
Salt and pepper
100g basmati rice
1/2 a handful of lightly toasted pinenuts

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 220ºC (200º for fan oven, but they do vary)

Soak the porcini for about 8 minutes in half a mug of freshly boiled water.

Using the sturdiest small spoon you can find (I actually use an ice-cream scoop — a proper one, not one with the half-sphere on it), score and scoop out some of the flesh the squash, leaving two hollowed-out halves.

fullsizerender-4Hamilton Squash







Because I’m too lazy to ‘finely chop’ the onion, I put the scooped flesh, the onion, garlic, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, the coriander seeds and the chilli flakes into a blender and blitz them, before frying them for about 4 minutes with a decent drizzle of garlic oil (plain olive oil will do, of course).

When they are softened, add the porcini with their soaking water and also the rice. Cook for a further 5 minutes before adding salt and pepper to taste.

Rub the skin of the squash with a little olive oil and place the halves on a large piece of foil. Stir the pine nuts through the mixture and then pack it tightly into the 2 halves of the squash. Press them together, like a big sandwich.

Wrap it in foil and bake in the preheated oven for about 1hr and 15 minutes.

As usual, I completely forgot to take a photo of the finished dish because I was too busy scoffing it. It’s not pretty, but it is very tasty.


Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet

anna jones a modern way to eatRecently, I was sent some recipes from a new vegetarian cookery book that is going to be published this week. It is called ‘A Modern Way to Eat’ by Anna Jones. Anna trained with Jamie Oliver at Fifteen and has an impressive CV. Her book sounds right up my street as it has lots of healthy, tasty vegetarian recipes that are easy and quick to make. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, I think more and more people are eating veggie once or twice a week for health and cost reasons and there is always the quandary of what to cook for the veggie guest who comes to dinner. For this reason alone, and the thought of not having to have pasta/risotto/peppers again, I am thoroughly excited to see what the rest of the recipes are and might gently direct my friends and local bistro pubs to its contents. To whet your appetite, some of the recipes in the book are popcorn tacos, pistachio, mint and courgette polpette, cherry poppy seed waffles, full of greens fritters, double chocolate cloud cake and banana, toffee and coconut cream pie.

Anyway, the recipe I chose to cook, from the ones I was sent, was Tomato and Coconut Cassoulet. I have recently returned from a visit to France and so the cassoulet caught my eye and my taste buds!


The recipe was not fussy – not too many ingredients and not a lot a cooking skill required (phew!). However, I did manage to mess up the beans on first attempt. Regular readers will know that whilst I love cooking, it doesn’t always love me.  First of all Waitrose didn’t have any tinned haricot beans *tuts* so I had to buy dried beans. Which you need to soak overnight. They are basically baked beans without any sauce and NOT haricot verts as my husband thought…

Ah, first attempt, thwarted.

Having soaked said beans; the next evening I started again and managed to let the beans boil dry (much to the mirth of my children). I now have one very blackened Le Crueset pan and no credibility with the kids…

Second attempt, thwarted.

Third time lucky, more bean-soaking and three days later I was finally to task! (note: this is all my fault. And Waitrose. Grr) It really was a very simple dish to cook and, for the diet-driven amongst you, easy on the calories. It involves tomatoes, beans, some veggies, coconut milk and sourdough bread which is cooked within the dish and absolutely divine for it. Really tasty as a meal and great for a Saturday supper with friends. It serves six easily and looks great on the table to be served up. It also is baked for half an hour in the oven which means you don’t have to be tied to the kitchen, cooking, while all your friends are quaffing wine and chatting.


My husband and I had it for supper and then I popped in some more sourdough and basil and reheated for Saturday lunch where we absolutely did not polish the entire lot off in one go.*

To make Anna’s Tomato Cassoulet:

You will need:
1 leek, washed and roughly sliced
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1cm thick piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
400g tin of tomatoes
4 tablespoons of coconut milk
400g jarred/tin haricot beans, drained. (or DIY from dried beans like I did)
500g vine or cherry tomatoes, halved
Bunch of fresh basil
4 slices of sourdough bread (I prefer a grained one but white is good too)

To make:

Preheat oven to 180°C

Heat an ovenproof wide pan on medium heat and add a glug of olive oil. Put in the leek, garlic, chilli and ginger with a pinch of salt then turn the heat right down and cook for 10 minutes (checking that nothing is burning!), until the leeks are soft. Add the tinned tomatoes, milk and beans and simmer for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat.

Scatter over the fresh tomatoes, then the basil and next tear up the bread and push chunks of it in between the tomatoes. Drizzle the whole lot with olive oil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes – the tomatoes should have shrunk and the bread crisp and golden. Serve with green salad.


*We did.


How do I make…..Pesto?

DSCF5242I know, I hear your cries. Pesto Schmesto.  I make that all the time.

Well, I don’t.  I tried it once before, forgot to secure the lid on the liquidiser and had bloody pesto EVERYWHERE. Over the ceiling, the worktops, the carpet (yes, IN the kitchen – it was my first flat) and pesto all over me.

It’s a bugger to clean up and very easy to buy in a jar, so since then I have never tried.  Until now.

I bought a tub from M&S and thought…hang on a minute, surely I could give it a go….again.

So, I researched recipes and OMG are there lots! Salt, no salt. Garlic, no garlic. Parmesan, Pecorino. Extra virgin olive oil, or normal?

So I went with a basic recipe from Felicity Loake and adapted it to what I had. As such, I do NOT attribute this to her, or anyone.  But, this is how it went:



2 tbsps pine nuts

Pinch (or 3) of salt

125g basil leaves

30g Parmesan

125ml Extra virgin olive oil

First of all you need to lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry pan and leave them to cool.  Now, I was supposed to crush everything up in a mortar and pestle, but I gave up within 2 minutes and switched to the food processor. Sorry.

So, add the pine nuts, basil and cheese to the food processor and whizz up (I pulsed).  Through the funnel thing, dribble in the olive oil until you have….well, pesto!  Hey Pesto!  (Sorry. Again)

Pop it into a jar and drizzle a little oil over the top to seal.  It should keep in the fridge for up to 6 months.



Well, mine tasted like it needed more salt.  Perhaps because half the cheese was meant to be pecorino and I didn’t have any.  Well, my Tesco local didn’t sell any.  So, I added a couple of pinches more and it was better. BUT still not as good as the pot I bought from M&S.  Also, next time I would use regular olive oil rather than extra vrigin as the taste was strong.

So, when I have harvested a bucket load more basil I will try a variation.  However, it is perfectly nice and will be scoffed on some beautiful, home-made pasta BUT it could be better.  But, hey. If this blog was all about how marvellous I am at cooking…well, it would be a big fat lie.  I am ‘adequate’ at cooking, but trying to get better.  That’s what this blog’s about.  Share and share alike.

On that note, if anyone has any pearls of wisdom or better recipes, PLEASE post in the comments or email me.  I would be very grateful for any tips and happy to credit you, of course!

Oven-dried Tomatoes

oven dried tomatoesI am a lover of tomatoes, in all forms, but I must admit I prefer them cooked.  And yes, I was one of those people who had sun-dried tomatoes with/on everything a few years ago.  I’ve been having a play with a few suggested recipes for a sort of DIY version and wanted to share.  There’s not a great deal of skill or cooking involved (perfect for me then!) and it is the sort of thing you have to fine-tune according to your own tastes and oven.  My oven is a fiery little beggar and cooks like a demon in the blazes of hell.  Yours might be somewhat more tempered or, if you are very lucky, you might have an Aga.  Something I fear will still be on my wish list when I hit 80.

Anyway, I made oven-dried tomatoes which, after many hours, delivered scrummy, squishy but still firm, tasty little scarlet morsels for me to throw into a salad with a carefree nonchalance that did not belie my impatient waiting for about 12 hours for them to be ready.

I used vine tomatoes, because I think they are more flavoursome.  I simply halved them and laid them in an oven-proof dish, flat side up. Then I sprinkled them with 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 tsp salt.  Over this I had strewn about 1 tbsp dried oregano (but I might try fresh thyme next) and then drizzled them with about 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil.

Having heated the oven to about 200ºC I popped them in and after 10 minutes turned the oven off BUT did not open the door until the next morning.  No, not even for a little peep.

Hey presto! Next morning I had my very own orbs of oily beauty to add to salad, pizza or just scoff as they are.  I added them to some salad leaves and chunks of torn mozzarella.  Then I add 1 tbsp of lemon juice to the leftover oil in the dish they cooked in and dribbled that over the salad.  We ate it with my homemade pizza until our bellies were about twice the size they should be!

oven dried tomato mozzarella salad

Eggs in Purgatory

Nigella Lawson, you are truly wonderful.  Having seen you make Eggs in Purgatory on ep.1 of Nigellissima I then laughed so much at your preamble in the book, I had to read it out to my OH.  Then, this morning, I made it (and I don’t even have a hangover).


If Greg Wallace likes his chilli kick, then this is the dish for him.  It was heavenly (literally).  And I almost want to get a bit drunk tonight just so I can eat it again tomorrow and try out its hangover curing possibilities*.

For those of you who have NO idea what I am going on about, Eggs in Purgatory is (in my opinion) a kind of mix between bloody mary and raw egg hangover cure, but very delicious as a dish on its own.  My OH screwed his nose up when I told him what was in it, but looks can be very deceptive….

And all you need can be found in the cupboard! Garlic, chilli flakes and a tin of chopped tomatoes!

Eggs in PurgatoryDrop in an egg and grate about 3 teaspoons of parmesan over the top.  Cover and cook for about 5 mins.

Sprinkle over a little more parmesan and serve with toast/crusty bread.  I served it straight from the pan (Philistine) and so I could just dig in with the bread. Well, nobody was looking….

The eggs might be in purgatory but they are definitely in a place that is divine.


* I did


DIY Curry Powder & Cashew Nut and Pea Curry

You know when you go to the doctor/dentist etc. and flip through a magazine only to find some swine has ripped out the article you wanted to read?  Erm, well, that might be me….

I cannot for the life of me remember which magazine I *stole* this from but maybe you’ll recognise it?  (Unless you were the person coming in after me…)

Anyway, this is a bit of a two-in-one because I am here to extol the virtues of the curry powder and go ‘Booooo!’ to the actual curry.

Since making these recipes I have gone out and bought a mortar and pestle (A bargain £7.50 in M&S).  This is because the muscles on my right arm are now larger than the left due to over an hour’s grinding/bashing/pummeling/rolling with my wooden rolling pin.  Talk about hard work!  Still, it was worth it and I have proudly made a really nice Sri-Lankan curry powder which has a lovely taste and just enough kick.  I also recommend trying to get the ingredients from a local whole-food type store rather than the supermarket as the spices are so much cheaper, having been bought wholesale and packaged up in-store.

sri lankan curry powder

Sri-Lankan Curry Powder


1tbsp coriander seeds
1½tsp cumin seeds
¼tsp fenugreek seeds
½tsp fennel seeds
2½cm piece of cinnamon stick
3 cloves
5 green cardoman pods
1 dries bay leaf
2 hot dried chillies

To make:

Heat a heavy-based pan over a medium heat.  Add all ingredients except the bay leaf and chillies.  Fry until well-browned, stirring all the time.  Add the bay leaf and chillies and continue stirring until they also go brown and the other spices are a dark brown colour – but don’t let them burn!

Then allow to cool for a few minutes and grind into a powder.  I STRONGLY recommend you use a mortar & pestle (see my above comment!).  Allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container.  When I made it I had 2/3 tbsp of powder.


Cashew Nut & Pea Curry

The curry was not a great hit – in fact Husband and I only ate a few mouthfuls each.  There were just far too many cashew nuts in it.  It tasted really nice (from the above curry powder) but the texture was all wrong, especially for a main dish.  The reason I am including the recipe is because it has potential with a few less cashews, a few more peas and as a side dish.  A dollop on the side would be perfect.  I might have another go one day, but in the meanwhile I’ll let you take it, leave it or amend it as suggested!

cashew nut pea curry


300g cashew nuts (soaked in cold water for 2 hours)
½tsp ground turmeric
2tbsp oil
2 onions, halved and sliced
2 chopped cloves garlic
½ cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
¼tsp cayenne pepper
½tsp mild paprika
1tbsp Sri-Lankan curry powder
300ml coconut milk
150g frozen peas

To make:

Drain the cashews then add the turmeric and simmer in salted water for 30 mins.  Make sure they don’t get mushy.  Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok and fry the onions for 5 mins.  Add the garlic, cinnamon and bay leaves and fry for another 5 mins.  Then sprinkle in the cayenne, paprika and curry powder and fry for 30 seconds.

Add the coconut milk and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 5 mins.   Add the peas and simmer for a further 2 mins.

Savoury Tart (or cheat’s pizza!)

The other night I opened the fridge door with a heavy heart, wondering what I could rustle up for the old man’s supper….There were the left overs from making the kids’ pizza and half a sheet of jus-rol puff pastry.  So I went for Cheat’s Pizza or as I sold it to Husband ‘Savoury Tart’.

savoury tart cheats pizza

Take a sheet (whatever size!) of puff pastry and score the edges about 1cm in.  Spread passata over the middle section then scatter grated mozzarella over the top.  Adorn with whichever topping you please – I chose black olives and fresh basil leaves (oil them first so they don’t burn).  Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and pop onto a preheated baking sheet and into a hot oven for about 20 mins.

It is basically pizza on puff pastry but tastes lighter and just as yummy.  If you pimp it up with a little salad it makes a nice supper or make little circles of it as a starter/kids’ food!  Best thing is you can eat it cold too!