Simple

by Diana Henry

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At the beginning of this year I started using Instagram (to which I’m now slightly addicted…).  I ended up following Diana Henry’s Instagram feed although I’d never heard of her at that point; now that I do know more about her I’m amazed that I didn’t know her before!  Not to mention the fact that she owns more than 4000 cookbooks (makes my collection of 200 look embarrassingly modest; I was sure to let my husband know that!) she was also a winner at the 2016 James Beard Awards.  I’m happy to report that I am now the proud owner of two of Diana Henry’s books – “Salt, Sugar, Smoke” which is a book on preserving (I haven’t used this book yet) and “Simple” which she published just last month.

The first recipe I cooked from “Simple” is Lamb with Preserved Lemon, Dates & Cumin Butter…and yes, it does taste as good as it sounds.  The lamb is stuffed with a mixture of kale, chili, dates and preserved lemon before being slathered in cumin butter and roasted until it has a gorgeous crust.

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Straight out of the oven looking gorgeous in it’s golden pool of butter and lambiness

I don’t often make a stuffed roast but it looks amazing when it’s sliced; I was very happy to see that the lamb had retained some pinkness (phew!)  One very sad error I made was forgetting to pour the cooking juices over it at the end – what a mistake!  The greens are out of the garden and dressed in butter, lemon juice and shaved parmesan.

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If only the cooking juices were on that lamb…

I’m always a sucker for Spanish flavours and anything with chorizo and beans, so I couldn’t resist making Diana’s recipe for Spanish Rice with Chorizo, Beans & Pumpkin.  This is a good one for a weeknight because it doesn’t take too long and it doesn’t require lots of stirring.  Saffron is used to add an earthy flavour to the rice…I have to admit to cutting back substantially on the number of chorizo – the recipe calls for 10-12 chorizo! I used half that. I also had to use quite a bit of extra stock to get my rice to cook through (so actually…when I say it’s a good weeknight meal, it did end up being quite a late one!).  Other than the laborious task of cutting up the pumpkin everything else is quick to prepare and it all gets cooked in the same pan which is great for those on washing up!

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I had some leftover roasted red peppers in the fridge so I added those to the pan as well…great decision 🙂

Probably my favourite of the recipes I’ve made from this book so far is Chicken Piccata with Lemon & Parsley Orzo.  The chicken is cooked in oil and butter over a high heat so that it becomes crisp and golden and then a quick sauce is made with vermouth, lemon juice, capers and herbs.  I made some slight adjustments to my sauce – instead of capers I used nasturtium capers that I made from the nasturtium berries in our garden last summer and I added a few green peppercorns (so good!).  The orzo with lemon and parsley is a great side dish to the chicken as it contains similar flavours, is quick to make and has a satisfying texture.

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It doesn’t look very impressive…but trust me, it’s good

The most recent recipe I’ve made from this book is Persian Inspired Eggs with Dates & Chilli.  Mine doesn’t look anywhere near as good as Diana Henry’s version (which my husband kindly pointed out to me) but it still tasted amazing.  It’s basically fancy scrambled eggs with cumin, spinach and dates added (among other things).  It makes me realise that while basic scrambled eggs are definitely a winner there are so many other possibilities! For this particular recipe I didn’t have fresh dates so I used some gorgeous black dried figs instead…too good.

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So I’m very happy to know of Diana Henry now that I’ve cooked some of her recipes. I’m looking forward to working my way through more of her recipes in this and her other books.  I’ve also discovered another cookbook author through Diana Henry’s Instagram – Naomi Duguid – I now own two of her books as well…but hey, as long as I own less than 4000 cookbooks then I think I’m doing ok 🙂

Eggs are Good for Hangovers

I may have slightly over-indulged on wine and cocktails last night…as a result, I over-indulged on eggs today.  I don’t know about you but I always find myself reaching for the eggs when I have a hangover…comforting and easy to digest, they also provide a good protein hit and if need be, they can provide the “must-have” of the more advanced hangover…they can be fried.

At lunch time I was still in the denial stage…”my hangover’s not too bad, I feel pretty good”.  So for lunch I had Eggs en Cocotte using Elizabeth David’s method with a bit of butter and cream…really good with the toast fingers dipped in!

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But as the day wore on I was forced to admit that maybe I was feeling a bit worse for wear than I’d previously hoped.  To deal with this I needed to step the eggs up a notch and get the frying pan out.  Using an idea that I saw on instagram recently, I sprinkled some za’atar into the pan with the butter.  I served my fried egg with another piece of toasted vogels, avocado and plenty of salt…this definitely hit the spot.

Eggsv2However, despite the best efforts of the eggs I have to accept that I’m not going to feel better until tomorrow…or at my age…maybe the next day!  I hope you all had a good weekend and that it was a hangover free zone 🙂

Eating Through the Days

My standard breakfast fare consists of untoasted, unfruited muesli and to be honest I’m quite happy to eat that every day.  Even when I go out for breakfast I’m quite often tempted to get the muesli (except usually the muesli is a bit too elaborate for my taste).  However, lately I’ve been trying some alternatives to muesli in an attempt to vary my diet and nutrition and I’ve been enjoying them very much.  Below are some images of the breakfasts I have partaken recently…

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Steel cut oats topped with banana, activated sunflower seeds, cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup (inspiration from the Deliciously Ella Everyday cookbook)
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Chia Breakfast Pudding topped with…yes…untoasted, unfruited muesli!  Very tasty, from the Deliciously Ella cookbook
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Apple Pie Smoothie Bowl topped with…toasted and fruited muesli (I’m really branching out now!).  From the Simplicious cookbook by Sarah Wilson.  It wasn’t quite thick enough initially so I added some rolled oats and chia seeds.
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Go-to-Green-Smoothie from the Hemsley & Hemsley cookbook.  Very zingy and full of goodness (almonds activating in the background!).

I’ve been cooking a few more healthy snacks as well for my morning tea…

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Cinnamon and Raisin Cookies from the Hemsley & Hemsley cookbook.  These are gluten free with very little sweetener (other than the raisins).  They taste really good but have a very crumbly texture from the almond meal.
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Broc Bites from Sarah Wilson’s Simplicious cookbook.  These are little savoury bakes filled with broccoli and tons of cheese.  I added a sprinkling of cayenne pepper and parmesan cheese on top which give them a lovely heat and crispy outside with a gooey cheesiness to the dough.

I’ve been making more interesting salads for my work lunches too and trying to get the ingredients organised in the weekend so they don’t take so long to put together.  This consists of cooking grains in advance, boiling eggs, rinsing and drying lettuce etc…

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This was my own concoction inspired by the various healthy cookbooks I’ve been reading lately.  This salad consists of quinoa, butter crunch lettuce, avocado, green sicilian olives, red cabbage and green peas.  After this photo was taken I also added sauerkraut, home made japanese-style pickled beetroot (from the Momofuku cookbook) and some powerhouse dressing (from the Simplicious cookbook).
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This salad was really good.  It’s also out of Simplicious and is called Puttanesca Festival Abundance Bowl.  Julienne carrots, radish leaves (instead of rocket), leftover chargrilled courgette, tomato, olives, tuna and powerhouse dressing.  It was supposed to have pesto in it but I already had powerhouse dressing made up in the fridge.  I heated it up a little bit which was very pleasant.
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These are Power Up Salad Bowls from Anabelle Langbein’s Endless Summer book.  Beans, roasted kumara, kale, cranberries, grapes, seeds and nuts and a chia seed dressing.

Following on from all these lovely salads I need a good hearty dinner.  Recently I’ve been trying to use up all the white rice and pasta that we have in the cupboard…as part of my healthier eating I want to change over to wholemeal pasta but in the meantime I have to make do with white…

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Pasta with Lamb Ragu from the Nigellissima cookbook.  We had leftover roast lamb in the freezer so I used that instead of lamb mince.  It’s flavoured with Worcester sauce, chilli, oregano and dried mint which gave it a wonderful tang/heat/freshness.
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I’ve had a box of half-used pasta sheets in the cupboard for more than a year now so I decided to be really clever and made the same ragu sauce but this time layered it into a tin with the lasagna sheets and grated cheese…so delicious and some might say improvisational!
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While I was in an improvising mood I decided to get a bit intuitive as well (see goals)! I produced this meal by combining onion, tinned tomatoes, grated courgette, leftover roast kumara, chickpeas, cumin, and chilli flakes all served on a bed of barley.  I’m not sure how I achieved it but it had a lovely tang almost as though it had lemon juice in it…really tasty.

And to finish…a pudding…rice pudding to be exact to try and use up some of the rather large quantities of short grain rice I have in the cupboard.  This was a very quick and easy recipe to make (compared to some recipes).  It is a Nigel Slater recipe that we found online…grease the dish, bung everything in, stick it in a hot oven for an hour and Bob’s your uncle!

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I don’t need to tell you how good this was…(soooo good!).

Balls, Bowls and Smoothies

Another week has passed of making healthier meals!  I bought both of Ella Woodward’s books to assist me with this – “Deliciously Ella” and “Deliciously Ella Every Day”.  Below is a delicious smoothie that I’ve had for breakfast a couple of times lately.  It is based on recipes from the Deliciously Ella cookbook and consists of almond milk, raw cacao powder, banana, rolled oats, date syrup and peanut butter…delicious!

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During my smoking frenzy last weekend I made Fleur’s Smoked Fish Pie recipe from The Great New Zealand Cookbook.  I used my home smoked fish in this but I made the mistake of adding some of my home smoked mussels that hadn’t worked out so well…I also added a bit too much lemon juice so it wasn’t as good as it could have been.  The greens were supposed to be spinach but I used some beetroot tops that I had in the garden which were pretty tasty.

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As a healthy snack for my lunches I made some Superhero Balls from Annabel Langbein’s “Endless Summer” cookbook.  This is another reasonably healthy cookbook and these balls contain dates, almonds, coconut, orange zest, raw cacao powder and salt.  They were really easy to make and a totally satisfying sweet treat.  The nuts give them a nice texture against the smoothness of the mixture.

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We got a lot of plums from our tree this year (first year ever!) so I made a big batch of plum jam…this was a desperate move because we still had so many and they were starting to get soft.  As a result I ended up with much more jam than I could handle!  I did the usual ratios of 1:1 fruit to sugar and this actually ended up too sweet.  I’m going to need to use this jam for a range of desserts in order to use it all up…probably a few gifts as well!

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The below image shows a very productive day I had last weekend where I made a batch of kombucha, 5 large jars of plum jam and a jar of preserved lemons…yummy.

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Another recipe from Endless Summer was this Energy Boost Salad Bowl – my first salad in a jar!  This improved as it warmed up, when I first ate it from the fridge it didn’t seem to have much flavour but by the time I got towards the end of the salad it was really good (I’ll get it out of the fridge earlier next time).  I like the fact that the layers mean that you can make it in advance and it doesn’t go soggy.  Very convenient 🙂

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First day back…

Tuesday was my first day back in the office after the Christmas break.  I tend to take the same food to work all the time so I wanted to make something nice to take for lunch this week.  For my “first day back” treat I made some Turkish Lentil Koftes out of Annabel Langbein’s book “Through the Seasons”.  These are pretty easy to make, vegetarian, and are served at room temperature wrapped in a lettuce leaf with some yoghurt dip.  A perfect lunch-type food which partly soothed my “first day back” blues.

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One of my goals for 2016 is to reduce my food wastage.  Something that can happen at our house is that I’ll buy an ingredient for a specific recipe such as bamboo shoots, then I’ll only need a small amount of it so the rest of it sits in the fridge for the next month before I throw it away – very naughty!  From now on my intention is that if I need to buy something like that then I have to find another recipe that will use up the rest of the item.  So today I happened to have most of a packet of pickled mustard greens that I bought to cook a Thai dish the day before New Years Eve.  To keep with my new regime I cooked another Thai dish tonight, again out of David Thompson’s “Thai Street Food”.  The recipe is called Chiang Mai Curried Noodles and Chicken. You start by making a curry paste called Kao Soi which is made into a broth with coconut cream, soy sauce and stock to poach the chicken in.  It is then infused with a pandan leaf before being served on top of egg noodles with a range of accompaniments.  The aroma and flavours of these Thai dishes are incredible.  The coconut cream creates a rich broth which is richly flavoured with chilies, coriander root, ginger, soy sauce and a squeeze of lime.  We really enjoyed this meal although I found it slightly too creamy.  The disappointing thing though…I still have masses of pickled mustard greens in the fridge!  Hmmm…what else can I make with them?!

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We’re getting quite a few courgettes in the garden at the moment too so at this time of year I’m generally looking for imaginative ways to use them.  A very nice way I found is a recipe called Griddled Courgette Carpaccio, Chickpea Salsa and Pistachio Dressing from “Anjum’s Indian Vegetarian Feast” by Anjum Anand.  As suggested in the title, the courgettes are sliced and chargrilled on a griddle pan which gives them a really nice smokiness.  For the dressing, I didn’t have pistachios so I used a mix of hazelnuts and walnuts which is ground up with vinegar, garlic and oil and drizzled over the grilled courgettes.  This is all topped with a lovely chickpea mix including tomato, red onion, cumin and feta…YUM!!  I served this with chargrilled steak with a small amount of cumin so that the cumin and smoky chargrilled flavour tied in nicely with the salad.  This was a very simple but delicious meal and a great way for using lots of courgettes!

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Quick goals update (see my page “Cooking Goals for 2016“)

To improve my intuitive cooking skills I’m trying to pay more attention to the recipes I use and the ingredients that go into them.  After each recipe I cook I see whether I can remember the bare bones of the method and I’ve been surprised to find that I can remember them.  Now that it’s been a few days since I cooked some of these recipes I had a go at writing down three that I’ve cooked in January (La Ribolitta, Chiang Mai Chicken and Lentil Kofte) and I’m very excited to report that I was able to remember all three of them!  Obviously the real test will come later in the year but it’s a great start to the Thomas Keller method that I talk about on my goals page and on my blog of the same name 🙂

 

 

 

Fun in the Mediterranean!

After eating so much lovely food in Melbourne last week I couldn’t bring myself to have a boring old sandwich for lunch on my first day back, that just wouldn’t do! So I put together something that is becoming a bit of a favorite of mine in its various forms – I cooked up some sweet corn & tomatoes with salt and pepper until thick & flavorsome then stirred through some chipotle sauce & fresh coriander. I served this on a toasted pita bread with a dollop of sour cream & a bit more chipotle…delicious! I was so pleased with my lunch that I emailed a photo of it to my husband who…unfortunately for him…was back at work a day earlier than me!

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There’s a bit of homegrown spinach on there as well…yum

That night I wanted something quick & easy to prepare for dinner (still tired from all the shopping and eating!) so I made pasta with a Napoletana sauce out of my “Southern Italian Home Cooking” cookbook. It is so easy to make but so so tasty, I forgot to take a photo of this one…I must have been too hungry!

On Saturday morning I was looking through my cookbooks and wishing I had more time to cook (a common wish!) so that I could become more proficient in certain cuisines.  Another thought followed closely on the heels of this one…I decided that I will spend the next 1-2 months concentrating on Spanish, Portuguese and Italian recipes (my current favourites) so that I can immerse myself in these cuisines…sounds like fun!!

The first things I cooked under this new regime were a few recipes out of my book “Flavours of Tuscany”. I made Meatballs with Porcini Mushrooms and Pecorino in a tomato sauce,  Pumpkin Roasted with Sage and Onion and balsamic vinegar and Tuscan Saltless Bread.  The meatballs and sauce had a lovely deep flavour and the balsamic vinegar gave the pumpkin a lovely tang while still complementing the sweetness.  I have mixed feelings about the bread – it had a great texture and was cooked well but the lack of salt did make it bland.  The theory is that Tuscan cooking is very salty and so the saltless bread complements this, however I cooked the food to my salt palate and therefore the bread fell a bit flat.  I think I would make this recipe again but next time I will add salt. I almost cooked a sweet and sour cabbage as well but I ended up cooking that on a different night – no photo unfortunately but very easy and delicious.

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I love getting the opportunity to use our platters!
Saltless bread
Looks good but definitely needs salt
Porcini meatballs with pumpkin and cabbage
The full ensemble of meatballs, pumpkin & not sweet and sour cabbage

Another one I didn’t photograph was a spaghetti omelette that I made for my Sunday lunch, loosely based on a Rachel Khoo recipe. I needed to use up some left-over spaghetti so I put it in a bowl with an egg, pepper, salt, olives & roast capsicum. I heated some olive oil in a pan and fried it until it was crispy on both sides & ate it with some chutney…lovely. It would have been nice with a salad as well.

According to my recipe book, a lot of Tuscan recipes make use of day old bread so I was keen to follow this tradition.  As well as the bread I also had the last tomatoes from our garden to use so I made a Tuscan Creamy Tomato and Bread Soup with Basil Oil to take for my lunches during the week.  This soup has quite basic ingredients; the tomatoes and onion are softened in a pot before pureeing them and then adding quite a lot of bread and other seasonings.  For serving the soup you make a herb oil by whizzing up some fresh rocket and basil with some olive oil which is poured onto the soup once served.  I followed these instructions on the first day and I did not enjoy the oil at all…it made me feel sick for the rest of the day with a terrible taste in my mouth!  I have just eaten my second serving of the soup and this time I made a few adjustments…I added some red wine vinegar to give it a bit of tang, ripped in a couple of fresh basil leaves, added quite a bit of salt and pepper and – most importantly – left out the oil!!  It was much better today and I enjoyed it a lot more!  However I’m still not sure that I like the volume of bread in the soup – I’ve had other soups with bread in them and really enjoyed them but this one is just a bit too thick and…gloopy.

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I added a few basil leaves in an attempt to make it look more attractive…failed!

For Sunday night I sort of stayed within the Spanish/Portuguese/Italian theme (let’s call it the SPI theme!) because the ingredients were very Spanish (chorizo sausage, smoked paprika, capsicums…) but the recipe was not Spanish, it was Creole…it was a Chorizo Jambalaya from my Julie Le Clerc recipe book called “Viva Food”.  I don’t know if it’s just me but I always struggle to find recipes that use chorizo which aren’t just a side dish or a tapa, so while I thought it would be easy to find a Spanish dish for my chorizo, I didn’t mind stepping slightly outside of the SPI theme to make this dish because it was so delicious!

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Yes I had started eating this before I took the photo (in fact it’s almost finished)!

So a good start to my month (or 2!) of SPI! The question is…will I be able to resist dipping into other recipe books?!

So Much Yummyness!!

Recently I did some research on lunch ideas for work and one of the things that grabbed me were quesadillas.  In the last couple of weeks I’ve made a few of them…the first one I made I had no idea what to put in it so I had a quick look at my Annabel Langbeign “Great Food for Busy Lives” to get some ideas for salsa recipes.  As a result I chucked some frozen corn in a small pan and added a few chopped tomato, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper and cooked it until the liquid had almost evaporated.  I then grated cheese on to my tortilla, spread my tomato mixture on top, added a bit more grated cheese, topped it with another tortilla and toasted it in our sandwich press.  This was incredibly delicious!  A couple of days later we bought some chipotle tobasco sauce which has a lovely smoky flavour so for lunch last Saturday I repeated the above fillings but I replaced the cayenne with chipotle tobasco and O…M…G…it was to die for!!  Such a tasty lunch or snack…definitely adding these to the regular lunch repertoire!

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My new favourite ingredient in the background…gotta love chipotles!

Keeping with the Mexican theme, I also have some tins of chipotles in adobo sauce in the cupboard which I’ve been dying to use so I searched through my recipe books and decided on a Moosewood recipe for Tortilla Tomato Soup which is thickened with tortilla chips that have been whizzed up in the food processor…really yummy…I may have added a couple more chipotles than the recipe suggested (well it did say “to taste!”).  It suggested serving the soup with Bean and Cheese Quesadillas which I did (how lucky was I to get quesadillas twice in one day!).  These ones contained refried beans, grated cheese and homemade salsa…so scrummy and went really nicely with the soup.

Tomato tortilla soup with quesadilla
Quesadilla and chipotle madness!

One of the reasons for choosing a light(ish) meal was to leave room for Apple Pie.  We have a large number of apples to use from our apple tree as well as some apples from a friends tree so apple pie seemed like the perfect way to use some of them up.  I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe from “Jamie’s Dinners”…very very nice with some lovely creamy vanilla ice cream that my husband Andrew made.

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Love that rustic look!

On Saturday evening we watched an episode of Jamie at Home where he made a Spicy Pork and Chili Pepper Goulash…it looked absolutely amazing, porked slow cooked until it falls apart in a peppery, paprikary, tomatoey sauce…it was too much to resist!  So Andrew immediately got a pork shoulder out of the freezer in preparation of Sunday’s dinner.  This was such a pleasure to cook…the colour and variety of the peppers and chilis and the beautiful aroma of smoked paprika made it a full sensory experience.

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So colourful!

It was also quite straightforward to get it in the oven and then nothing more needs to happen until it’s ready to serve.

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Looking nice and cosy in its bed of veges before going in the oven…
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The finished product…still so colourful and it smells amazing!
Spicy Pork & Chilli-Pepper Goulash - tummy ready
And to add to the happiness…there were leftovers!!

I served this with some bread that I made earlier in the day out of my “New Zealand Bread Book”.  I was planning on making a kibbled loaf until I discovered after much searching in the cupboard that I don’t have any kibbles!  So instead I made a Five Grain Loaf which was very nice.

Five Seed Bread
Mmmmm…I couldn’t wait until after I’d taken the photo before I took a bite!

We still have a lot of courgettes which we’re always trying to find new ways of cooking and on Monday I thought I would cook pasta with a courgette sauce…but then on the way home from work on the bus I happened to be reading a cookbook called “The Fish Store” by Lindsey Bareham and in there I saw a recipe that sounded very appealing so I had a quick change of tack.  So instead of the courgette pasta we had Middle Eastern Lamb Burgers with Lime Couscous and Courgettes…a great last minute decision!  But to say that the recipe is “…and courgettes” is really to underplay the importance of the courgettes to the dish which my husband went so far as to say were his favourite part!  They were cooked very simply…sliced lengthways, brushed with olive oil, chargrilled on a griddle pan, piled on a board, seasoned with salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, fresh coriander and goats feta…so simple but so delicious!  The courgettes are still al dente and the lemon juice adds a lovely zing. Will definitely cook courgettes like that again…I wish we’d known about this method sooner.

Middle Eastern Lamb Burgers with Lime Couscous and Courgettes

Given that we missed out on pasta on Monday I decided to cook some on Tuesday from my “River Cafe Cook Book”…a recipe called Conchiglie con Broccoli (or the boring name…pasta with broccoli!).  I thought this was going to be really nice but it was slightly disappointing.  I think a few adjustments would improve it…it was a bit too dry/thick but adding pasta water only diluted the flavour so adding some stock would probably help…and I didn’t have the correct type of anchovies which may also have made a difference.  “Nigellissima” also has a similar recipe and looking at hers I think it might have been better.

Conchiglie con Broccoli
I also served up rather too much…!

And my final cooking for the week was to use up some courgettes, the feta I had opened on Monday night and some filo pastry we’ve had in the freezer for quite a while.  This was also out of “The Fish Store” and is a Courgette and Pine Nut Spanakopitta…normally made with spinach but this is a courgette version.  This had a beautiful flavour and a lovely flaky texture from the filo pastry.  A very nice Friday night dinner 🙂

Courgette and Pine Nut Spanakopitta
So crispy…
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So scrummy…