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A little taster of what's cooking...


  • Don’t underestimate nettles, try them in Nettle & Paneer Koftas!

    Nettles, to my way of thinking are one of the most underrated free vegetables that we have. They contain 10% protein which is more than any other vegetable, they are packed full of iron, contain vitamin A, C and D, along with potassium and calcium.

    They’re also a natural antihistamine. So if you suffer with allergies including hay fever, it makes sense to try and include as much nettle into your diet as possible. Now that you know all of this, please don’t dig them up out of your garden without at least pinching the crown out of each one and giving them a try. If you like the irony taste of spinach, you’ll feel the same way about nettles.

    Before you know it, buying spinach at the green grocers will be a thing of the past and you’ll be cultivating that patch of nettles rather than digging them up!

    The best time to harvest nettles is when the first delicate growth makes an appearance in May, after that the stalks become woody and tough and the larger the leaf the more bitter it is and once they flower, you’re better off leaving them alone. Before the flowers appear, just pinch off the very top leaves to use. If you have a patch of nettles, as long as you regularly chop them down (maybe with a strimmer), new growth will keep appearing for you to pick.

    I made some lovely Nettle and Paneer Koftas last night and thought that you might like to give them a try. Please don’t do what I did though – I forgot that I’d used nettles and tasted a spoonful of the raw mixture to check that there was enough salt in the mixture! After that, I wasn’t sure if I’d used too much chilli or that I’d stung my tongue! Taste the mixture BEFORE you add the nettles – ouch.


    Collect around 10 nettle tops (using rubber gloves) and chop them finely along with a handful of fresh coriander. Put the coriander in a large bowl, but put the nettles to one side to add at the end!

    Chop the nettles, but don’t forget to keep the gloves on if you’re moving them around the chopping board!

    To the bowl add half a block of grated paneer (you can buy it from most supermarkets now, or have a go at making your own – the recipe is on this blog), 1 small onion finely chopped, a 5cm (1″) piece of ginger grated, 1 clove garlic crushed; chilli to taste (use fresh, ground or flakes) along with 3tblsp chickpea flour (also known as gram flour, this is available from most supermarkets in the world food section). You could add 3 tblsp processed canned chickpeas instead with 1tblsp normal flour added to the mixture.

    Spices – 1/2 tsp of ground coriander and cumin and 1/4 tsp turmeric and garam masala. If you haven’t got all of these, just add the ones that you have.

    Add 1tsp salt (or to taste), 1tblsp oil and the juice of half a lemon.

    Mix well and taste at this point so that you can add more salt/chilli/lemon juice. Finally add the stinging nettles and a little more flour if the mixture seems overly wet. Give everything a good stir. You want a mixture that holds its shape.

    Thick mixture

    Take desert spoons of the mixture and put them onto greaseproof paper. Try and make them into some sort of shape so that they hold together during the frying process. I made quenelles with mine using 2 spoons.

    Fill a wok/deep pan half full of oil and heat. The oil is ready when you drop a piece of bread in, it will sizzle gently.

    Gently and carefully slide the kofta into the oil, not too many at a time so as not to reduce the oil temperature too much and fry until golden.

    These can also be baked in the oven if preferred, just make sure you spray/brush each kofta with oil before putting in a medium oven until golden.

    Draining the kofta after frying

    I served mine with a mushroom curry sauce and rice. They are also good served with cucumber raita with drinks.

    Nettle and Paneer Kofta – worth leaving the nettles in the garden for!

  • Corn Tortilla

    Stef has been telling me all about how good the authentic corn tortilla taste in Mexico, hot from the pan and so I thought we should all be able to experience them, in the comfort of our own homes!

    You’ll need to find Masa Harina flour which is flour that is made out of corn. DON’T use the type of cornflour that you get in the baking section at supermarkets that you’d use for thickening, or putting into shortbread – it’s completely different! Also, don’t use polenta as that’s also different. You can find Masa Harina on line or from some delis.

    There is no gluten in corn which means that if you grind it up, it won’t stick together to become a dough. It has to go through a process in which lime is added to the cooked, soaked corn so that when it’s dried and ground, it will form a dough when water is added.

    In a large bowl add 2 cups of masa harina flour, 2 tsp oil and a good 1/2 tsp salt.

    Add 1 1/2 cups of hot/warm water (you may need a little more or less) to the dough and squish it all through your fingers to mix. It’s best not to use a spoon as you get a feel for how the dough should be. As you squish it, you’ll find it’s not like normal dough – it seems a little ‘cleaner’, in that it doesn’t stick as readily to your fingers. Keep mixing until the dough is soft and feels exactly like play-doh (I think it smells similar too!). Put into a plastic bag and leave for 15 minutes so that the corn can absorb the water.

    After 15 minutes, take the dough out of the bag and check that it still feels like play-doh. If it’s a little firmer add a splash more water and squish it through with your hands until it’s mixed in. Don’t be afraid to add more water, the secret with this dough is to keep it soft. You can always add a little more masa harina if you’ve gone too far with the water. It should look like this:

    Take a large, good quality zip lock bag and cut it open, so that you have to pieces of plastic. Take a small golf ball sized piece of dough and roll it into a ball and put on top of one piece of the plastic. Cover with the other piece of plastic and squash down.

    Roll out the dough through the plastic. If you try and roll the dough without a plastic covering it will just stick to the rolling pin. You can’t dust with flour to stop it sticking because it makes the dough too dry. You can use a tortilla press to make the process quicker, but I think you can roll the tortilla more thinly this way, which gives more of a chance of your tortilla puffing up during cooking. Heat a frying pan (non stick if possible) up over medium heat while you’re rolling out your dough. Don’t add oil to the pan.

    Peel the rolled tortilla off the sheet of plastic (it may tear if you’ve rolled it too thinly, in which case you need to squash the dough together and start again) onto your hands and put it onto the hot dry frying pan.

    The tortilla should start to cook at the edges straight away, you’ll see the tortilla start to whiten. If you’re lucky, you’ll then see that it starts to puff up. This is ideal (though certainly not essential) as it cooks the dough thoroughly in the middle. You can encourage this puffing up by pressing firmly with a fish slice all over the tortilla. Keep looking under the tortilla until you see brown speckles forming and then turn it over.

    Keep pressing down on the tortilla with the fish slice so that the other side cooks evenly and to encourage puffing. When you have brown speckles form on the side nearest the pan, you can take it out. Put in foil to keep them warm and serve straight away.

    If you have any left, you can brush them with oil, sprinkle with cheese and bake them in the oven to make home style Doritos!

  • Cooking in the woods – a foraged feast of Pignuts and Fungus!

    My Dad used to talk a lot about the Pignuts that he ate as a child, telling me about them tasting like a cross between celery, parsnip and fresh nuts and that he used to carefully find his way down the plant with a stick, to find the tasty buried treasure, hidden in the soil below. I found out a lot about wild food from my Dad, but never got round to finding pignuts with him.

    A couple of weeks ago, I asked my local Countryside Rangers if they knew of anywhere that pignuts grew. I was really excited when I found out that not only had they found some, they’d also got permission for us to dig some up! Pignuts are protected, so you need the landowners permission to dig them up and don’t forget that every bit of land in the UK is owned by someone. You could have a look in your own back garden to see if there are any lurking there – then you can give yourself permission to dig!

    We decided to make a morning of it and meet up at the ‘secret location’ (very James Bond) with equipment and ingredients so that we could cook up a feast in the woods!

    The pignut plant is very similar to other species of umbellifer (such as hemlock and fools parsley), some of which are poisonous – so it’s important that you correctly identify it. Even though it’s called a pignut, the part you unearth and eat, is actually a tuber.

    We found a patch of ground that had a lot of pignut plants on it, which unfortunately were growing in heavily matted grass weed. This was going to make digging down for the pignuts a lot more difficult!

    Our first sighting of a patch of pignut flowers

    I understand why my Dad told me that he needed a solid stick to assist in the digging – I looked around for a stick to help us carefully dig out the fragile stem, but could only find deadwood which was no help at all! Luckily, Morgan had brought some cutlery to use and along with a sharper knife, we were able to dig our way down. It’s important not to cut through or break the stem as you will lose your way down to the tuber. We dug down as carefully as an archaeologist unearthing a piece of history!

    A close up of the ‘umbels’ of the pignut – the flower formations are called umbels.

    After clearing some of the grass away so that we could see the stem more clearly, we started to dig carefully down with a knife.

    Carefully digging down

    The stem twists and turns like a twisty, turny thing making the journey down to the nut, perilous! We had a couple of shouts of ‘yesssss!’ only to pick out a stone which looked like it might have been tuber treasure. Finally, Nige pulled out a dry clump of soil which promised great things!

    *squeal* it’s a pignut!

    After some gentle dusting off, we’d found a lovely heart shaped pignut. Not all pignuts are heart shaped, we liked to think that this one was special – just for us!

    The outer skin peels off very easily to reveal a milky white nut.

    Our heart shaped pignut still attached to its stem.

    We decided to cut the pignut into three so that we could all try a piece before we dug any more up. If we didn’t like them, we were going to leave them there! The texture was similar to a raw chestnut – quite mealy but pleasantly crunchy. The taste was celery straight away, leading on to nutty parsnip and then a lovely sweet ‘cake’ kind of taste. We decided to crack on and dig some more up. Soon, we had a few to take away with us for our woodland feast.

    Our pignut harvest

    Morgan had previously spotted some ‘Chicken of the Woods’ which she took us to see. She’d already cut a small amount off for her supper a couple of weeks earlier, but had left the rest there for another day! Chicken of the Woods is an edible fungus that grows on trees. It’s one of the few fungi that is easily recognised as being edible, it’s very difficult to confuse it with anything else. It has layers of yellowish white structures, which grow out of trees. Don’t eat any Chicken of the Woods that you find growing on Eucalyptus, Yew, Conifers or Cedar Trees as these can upset delicate tummies – any other trees are fine. It’s supposedly called Chicken of the Woods because of it tasting rather like chicken.

    Chicken of the Woods hiding behind a piece of holly!

    We spotted another one, although it was a little bit too far up for us – but it looks so tasty!

    The lower down clump was soon cut off and put in the basket for our lunch!

    We set up the tiny camping stove in a clearing with a fallen down tree to act as a place to sit. There, we chopped up the Chicken of the Woods and our Pignuts and started to cook. If you’ve never cooked outdoors before (other than in your back garden when you’ve got the barbecue out – that doesn’t count!) you should give it a go. It’s something that connects you with nature and feeds your soul as well as feeding your body.

    We melted some butter in the pan and added the Chicken (otW) with some salt and pepper. We cooked it quite a bit longer than you would mushrooms and then added a splash of cream and some Wild Garlic and Walnut Pesto along with the chopped Pignuts. The fungus was lovely, it has the same smell as mushroom but has a chewier texture and is a lot like chewing a piece of Quorn and the crunchier texture of the pignuts was a perfect accompaniment. I certainly didn’t get the ‘like chicken’ taste, but can imagine that if you’re down on your luck meat wise, finding a piece of Chicken of the Woods would certainly give you something meaty to chew on for your supper.

    I’d brought along some Wild Garlic and Cheese scones which was great to mop up all of the wonderful juices left in the pan.

    Woodland Feast? DONE!

    The texture of Chicken of the Woods makes it a perfect sponge for absorbing different flavours. It soaks moisture up in the same way as an aubergine. When I got home, I cooked the rest of the CotW and this time pan fried it very gently with some butter and garlic. Then to give more moisture to the cooking Chicken of the Woods, I cubed a courgette to add to the pan. I put the lid on and left it all to braise together. When the lid came off, the Chicken of the Woods had turned a beautiful golden colour which looked just like perfectly roasted chicken. It had absorbed all of the butter, garlic and courgette juices and was delicious. If you find a clump of Chicken of the Woods on your walk, I’d recommend that you cut off what you need and take it home, or better still go back the next day armed with a camping stove and cook it just where it grows.

    Chicken in the Woods really is a funghi to be with :-/

  • Chowder and Soda Bread

    My lovely sister Sue and one of my nephews, Paul and his family live in Southern Ireland (far too far away) right by the Atlantic Ocean, where the days are long (unless you’re my sister) and the nights are lively in the local pubs with music and Guinness.

    Being right by the sea, there is an abundance of fish and sea food which is taken for granted in a spectacular way. In every pub, there is a version of seafood chowder. It will always be different from the chowder that you ate in the pub 100 yards down the road, but it will always be served with fresh soda bread. When the chowder arrives at the table, you dip your spoon into the deepest corners of the bowl and bring it to the surface to see what treasure it holds within its savoury pockets. You don’t always recognise some of the creatures that are in some of the bowls, but the broth that had become the creature’s murky habitat is always a joy to behold! Some of them were rich, creamy and opulent with mussels, crab and white, flaky fish; others were vaguely gritty with tiny unrecognisable sea creatures and smaller flakes of grey fish. Both of them delicious and special in their own way.

    I don’t get over to Ireland nearly enough and miss my family there so much. I therefore make Chowder as often as I can and each spoonful takes me straight back there with a great big flavoursome hug.

    Here is my version of Sea Food Chowder and Soda Bread. It’s really easy to do after the basic preparation so I hope, if you love fish and seafood as much as me, you’ll give it a go. It will serve 4.

    Make the Soda Bread first and you can start the Chowder while it’s cooking.

    You can add fresh mussels to this recipe if you like them. You can cook them ahead of making the soup. Don’t be afraid of preparing fresh mussels – just ask for a few from the fishmonger. When you get them home, put them in your clean washing up bowl with cold water. Using a fresh scouring pad, give each mussel a scrub and then pull off the ‘beard’ using your fingers or a small knife. The beard is just what the mussel uses to hold onto the ropes/rocks that they live on. Put into a small saucepan with a small mug of water. Put the lid on and bring to the boil. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes until the shells have opened up. Throw any away that don’t open. Drain, but keep the cooking water.

    Cooked mussels – make sure they’re all open

    The only ‘different’ thing that you have to buy for Soda Bread is buttermilk. It’s easy to find in all supermarkets now – usually by the cream and it’s only about 50-60p. If you really can’t find it, you can use plain yogurt, diluted with a little milk.

    If you have a large casserole pot, you can cook the bread in there. Traditionally Soda Bread was made in a cast iron pot suspended over fire. This kept steam around the bread and keeps it moist during cooking. If you haven’t got a pot, you can just put the bread dough on a baking tray.

    Soda Bread

    150g plain white flour 150g wholemeal flour (or any other type of wholegrain flour – spelt, rye, fine oatmeal, multigrain etc), 1/2 tsp salt, 1tsp bicarbonate of soda, 250ml buttermilk – you may need a little more or a little less depending on your flour, but use milk/yogurt if you need more, rather than buying two pots of buttermilk.

    I like to add a handful of fresh chopped herbs (dill, parsley, basil etc) but this is purely optional. You could also throw in a handful of grated/chopped cheese if you’d like to.

    Heat the oven to 200C, 400F or gas mark 6.

    Throw a small amount of wholegrain flour into the bottom of the casserole dish, or onto a baking tray.

    Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda together (adding any bran in the sieve to the sifted flour). Add the salt. Stir in chopped herbs and/or cheese if using.

    Stir in enough buttermilk to make a soft, sticky dough that sticks to your fingers. Handle the dough as little as possible as this keeps it light. Just stir with a wooden spoon until everything is mixed thoroughly and then tip onto a floured surface.

    Don’t knead, just bring the dough together in a ball and put it in the casserole dish or on the baking tray. Score a cross into the top of the bread with a sharp knife and put straight into the oven. If using a casserole dish, put the lid on the casserole dish.

    Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and risen slightly. The base should sound hollow when tapped. Leave on a wire rack to cool while you make the soup.

    This is my recipe for Seafood Chowder – the ingredients are just a rough guide, feel free to omit or add to the various vegetables, herbs and fish as you think. Just go with it in the true Irish way.

    Start off by poaching the smoked fish and preparing the fresh fish. You’ll need:

    1kg of fish including (or not) seafood – around 300-400g of that should be smoked white fish (see if you can get the natural coloured smoked fish rather than the vivid yellow one). Get small amounts of lots of different types of fresh fish like: a few (a couple each) raw prawns, some mussels, cheap white fish such as River Cobbler, Pollack etc (or expensive haddock/cod), salmon etc.

    To poach the smoked fish:

    In a small saucepan place 1 large onion quartered. 1 or 2 ribs of celery cut in half length and width ways, the stalks from a bunch of parsley, a sprinkle of peppercorns and 1 bay leaf.

    Add just the smoked fish and add enough milk to nearly cover the fish.

    Cover with a lid, turn up the heat until the milk is hot and then put on the lowest heat possible. Leave until the fish is cooked (e.g. it’s flaky, around 10 minutes) and then turn the heat off. When the milk has cooled a little, remove the fish gently onto a plate and strain the milk through a sieve, reserving the milk. Discard the vegetables.

    Remove any skin and bones from the fish and pull apart into big chunks.

    Cut the rest of the raw fish into chunks and de-vein raw prawns if using.

    To make the base of the soup: 1 medium onion finely chopped, 1 leek, washed and finely chopped, 1 large potato, peeled and finely chopped, 1 stick of celery, finely chopped, 1 bay leaf. Some fresh parsley/chives/dill.

    Melt a large knob of butter and a splash of sunflower oil in a large saucepan and add the onions. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add the leeks. Cook for another couple of minutes and then add the rest of the prepared vegetables. Cook on high for a couple of minutes and then turn down to low, cover with a lid and cook until the vegetables (particularly the potatoes) have started to soften (around 5-10 minutes). Add around 1.5 litres of water along with 1 tsp salt. Cook for 20 minutes until all of the vegetables are very soft. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Using either a stick blender or food processor, puree the vegetables OR if you prefer a chunkier soup, take out a good 1/4 of the cooked vegetables and leave them to one side before blending the rest. Put the reserved vegetables back in once the rest have been pureed.

    Taste and add pepper but not more salt at this point.

    Add the milk that the fish cooked in, to the soup base along with the water that the mussels were cooked in if you’re using them. Turn the heat up and then add the raw fish. Cook without boiling, for 5 minutes or so until the fish is cooked through. Then add any raw prawns that you have. Keep the heat on low and gently stir in a handful of chopped parsley/chives/dill (dill is my all time favourite herb – it makes me hungry just thinking about it!).

    Taste and add more salt and pepper until you’re happy with the seasoning.

    Serve in warm bowls with an extra sprinkle of chopped herbs and a wedge of soda bread.

    Hope you like it!

  • Chilli and Garlic slow roast chicken

    Every winter, I fall in love all over again with my slow cooker. Walking in after a tough day at work, I’m greeted by the olfactory equivalent of a big hug. It’s like someone has got in before me and started cooking, leaving me just to put the kettle on and sit down with the paper for half an hour before I start on the side dishes.

    Slow cooking is as old as cooking itself. It’s origins are from when fires used to be kept alive 24 hours a day not only for cooking, but for warmth and protection. Beans and pulses collected and dried during late summer, were put into a cauldron over a fire with water (or beer!) and herbs and left to bubble away all day. Sometimes this soup would be flavoured with a small piece of gammon or some bacon fat being lowered into it which was also left to cook – this was our early soup, known as pottage and was devoured by hungry people as their main meal of the day. Slow cooked meat was cooked on the embers of a fire from the day before – a hole was dug and lined with bricks and all of the embers were put on the bricks. The meat was wrapped in large leaves and put on top of the bricks and then the dry soil/sand was put on top of the meat and left all day to cook underground. A lot of hassle for slow cooked meat! Hurrah for slow cookers!

    The best tasting meats take a long time to cook, making them release their natural fats, flavours and juices – melting away any fat which flavours the meat, basting as it goes ensuring that the whole joint is flavoured as it makes its lazy way out. The resulting meat falls apart and is definitely not for carving – rustic meals rule!

    I like to add a bit more to our roast chickens to make the meat super tasty for left overs during the week and I like to use butter to emulate the fat that would melt through a fatty cut of meat. This week we’re having Chilli & Garlic chicken because everything tastes better with chilli!

    Take a couple of cloves of garlic, around 50g – 100g butter, 1/2 tsp salt, 1-2 cloves garlic crushed, 1tsp fresh ground pepper and 1 or more tsp Aleppo chilli flakes (turkish chillies are semi dried and flaked without seeds or membrane, making a sweet semi hot chilli flake, substitue with normal chilli flakes if you can’t find them but use less as they will be hotter).

    Blast the butter in the microwave to soften and mash the other ingredients into it.

    Using your hands (or a spoon if you’re squeamish) paste the flavoured butter inside the cavity of the chicken, making sure you cover all areas, reaching in as far as you can. If you have a lemon, cut it in half and squeeze half of it inside the chicken then place both halves of the lemon inside the cavity along with the top leaves of some leeks if you have them, or some parsley stalks or the outer peelings of onion skin (not the papery part). You can use an onion that has started to go a little soft if you need to use it up, or some dried out spring onions! Or you can just leave it at the flavoured butter. There is no right or wrong. Place a piece of silicon paper in the base of the slow cooker and smear any leftover butter from your hands or spoon onto it.

    Place the chicken breast side down onto the paper in the slow cooker. The paper is there to protect the chicken from the base of the slow cooker – you could use a couple of celery sticks if you prefer to lift it away from the base.

    Tuck another piece of silicon paper around the chicken – this creates another seal, apart from the lid which will keep all of the precious flavoured steam underneath.

    Cook for 4-6 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Half way through cooking you can turn the chicken the right way up, so that the meat underneath is flavoured too.

    When your chicken is cooked, baste it well with the juices at the bottom of the pot and lift it carefully into a heated dish.

    Pour the juices from the pot into a casserole dish and add some peeled new potatoes. Toss them around. Put the lid on and cook them in a hot oven 200C for around 30 minutes. Take the lid off and gently turn them over. Cook them for another 20 minutes (or until done) with the lid off. These won’t be crispy roast potatoes because they are a super tasty version of fondant potatoes – waxy and deeply savoury, which instead of being cooked in butter and stock are cooked in butter and chicken juices. Believe me, they’re delicious!

    Enjoy with veg of your choice, or just with crusty bread!

  • A taste of Mexico

    The holiday photos that Stef is sending back from Mexico are making us yearn for some spicy, smoky Mexican dishes. I decided to have a play with our Mexican Fajita Marinade kit and came up with a lovely dish that you can feed a crowd with.

    Faja means ‘belt’ in Mexico and traditionally Fajita were made with skirt steak which is a long thin strip that presumably looks like a belt! Skirt is a cheap cut of meat which is best either flash fried (which is how it’s used as fajita) or cooked long and slow. Nowadays, the meaning is blurred, meaning we use any type of meat or fish which is quickly cooked with spices and served with tortilla and call it fajita.

    We’ve also got used to fajitas being made with quick sprinkle out of a packet but traditional, authentic fajita is made with a paste using dried mexican chillies, fresh chillies and spices – exactly what we put into our kits. It takes a little more effort than ripping open a sachet, but as I show you below the effort can be put in when you have more time (at the week end maybe?) and then used as a quick meal during the week. Once you’ve tasted the real thing, you won’t want to turn to a sachet again!

    You start with one of these which you’ll find in our on line specials section:

    Open up the dried mexican chillies and empty out the seeds and then using scissors, cut them up into pieces before soaking them.

    Pierce the fresh red chilli with the point of a knife before putting it with the un-peeled cloves of garlic onto a hot, dry frying pan and toast until scorched.

    Peel the scorched skins off the now soft garlic and chilli. Open out the red chilli and scoop out the seeds with a spoon if you want less heat.

    Chop up the soft chilli and garlic, along with the soaked dried chillies and add them with the rest of the ingredients on the instructions to a stick blender cup.

    Whizz to a smooth paste. When you’ve made the paste, you can use it straight away or put it in a jar in the fridge to use another day. It will keep for a week, or longer if you freeze it.

    Pack the paste into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

    Slow Cooked Mexican Chicken and/or Pulled Pork

    I used a shoulder of pork (around 1.5kg). Any fat melts away to give soft, delicious meat. Cut the meat into 4 and then smother with paste before adding to the slow cooker. If using a whole chicken, spatchcock it and cover back and front with marinade before placing on a bed of onions.

    In a slow cooker, cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 5-7 hours before pulling apart with two forks. I cooked the chicken in a low oven 140C for 4 hours. I wrapped it in greaseproof paper and 2 layers of foil.

    Soft, spicy Mexican pulled pork
    Soft, spicy Mexican pulled pork

    Spicy Mexican slow cooked chicken

    Serve with tortillas (learn how to make them yourself, here) and your favourite Fajita toppings – cheese, soured cream, pickled chillies, fried onions and peppers, avocado etc! Get your friends to bring the Mexican beer and sombreros and you can pretend…

  • Authentic Mexican Nachos

    Nachos are one of my all time favourite meals. Served with chilli, topped with lots of guacamole and cheese. On my recent trip to Mexico I tried ‘PROPER nachos’ – they’re not really nachos as they are more of a baked tortilla in a sauce (called Chilaquiles) but they are just so good! You can make this dish using flour tortilla wraps,corn tortilla wraps (homemade or shop bought if you’re short on time – flour tortilla recipe here) or if you’re even more short on time you can use shop bought tortilla chips but for best results, make it all yourself!

    You will need:

    3-4 tortillas cut into 8 triangles per wrap

    5 tomatoes

    1 onion

    1 small chilli

    1 clove of garlic

    1/2 tbsp oil

    Cut the onion into quarters and prick the chilli with a knife. Put the onion, chilli, tomatoes and unpeeled garlic into a dry frying pan (no oil) and turn the heat up to high. The aim of this is to char the outside of the vegetables so move them around so they cook evenly. You won’t eat the skins so don’t worry if they look a bit black! Once cooked, leave to cool for 5 minutes.

    Tip all of the veg into a blender (skins and all). Whizz until combined. (1-2 minutes). Tip the contents into a sieve placed over a bowl so the bowl will catch all of the liquid. Push the contents of the sieve with the back of the spoon to try and push more liquid into the bowl.

    Put a small saucepan on a medium heat and add 1/2 tbsp oil. Once hot,, add the sauce from the bowl and a pinch of salt and simmer until thickened, stirring regularly. (around 15 minutes)

    If using tortilla wraps for your nachos instead of pre made tortilla chips, you will need to fry these now in plenty of oil until golden brown all over. Drain on kitchen paper.

    To assemble the nachos, place half of the tortilla chips into an oven safe ceramic dish. Spoon over a couple of tablespoons of the salsa from the pan andsprinkle with cheese (I use half mozzarella and half cheddar). Layer the rest of the tortillas on top and sprinkle with the salsa, (use sparingly hhere or the nachos can get quite soggy) soured cream and more cheese.

    Bake in the oven at 200C for 8-10 minutes until melted and browned. Add any other toppings such as guacamole, fried onions and peppers, spring onion, coriander, refried beans etc…the options are endless but OBVIOUSLY the best way to serve them is with a Tastesmiths Tex Mex Chilli Con Carne!

  • Crunchy Samosa

    I love samosa, but they’re one of those things – if you have an amazing local Indian shop that sells them hot and crispy for breakfast (can’t recommend Harguns in Caldmore highly enough!) and you can resist buying more than 2 at a time, then why make them yourself? I’ve dabbled before when I have enough people at my house to warrant making a whole batch, but the pastry is something that I can’t seem to get right. It’s crispy when it’s just out of the frying pan, but starts to go soggy straight away. They taste good, but ‘not quite right’. Stef makes them with samosa pastry/spring roll pastry which you can buy in frozen sheets from Indian/Asian shops and bakes them in the oven. They’re good too, but I’m a sucker for doing things in the traditional way!

    I’ve tasted a good few samosa that have been home made and they all seem to be different – some crunchy inside from whole seeds, some rich and meaty, some have pastry flavoured with ajwain or onion seed, but not all of them don’t have the lovely crunchy pastry that comes from the ones that you can buy. The crunchy pastry seems to come from experience, from making them each and every day in large quantities. I’ve had crisp samosa in Sikh temples for breakfast, which again says that making lots of them gives you the experience you need.

    I’ve been on a mission to find out the secrets to good samosa pastry for the past couple of months, I’ve spoken to people, read lots about the traditions of samosa and watched people making them and I think I’ve come up with a couple of top tips to make crunchy samosa! I made them last night and was really pleased with the result. We served ours with a Chana Dhal to dip in to.

    The filling is really tasty and can be used to fill this pastry or if you want to use it with samosa/spring roll sheets, you can.

    Potato & Pea Samosa (makes around 16)


    4 large potatoes, boiled until tender, chopped into chunks

    2 handfuls of frozen peas

    2″/5cm ginger, grated

    2-5 green chillies chopped finely (you can substitute 1/2 – 2tsp chilli powder)

    1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 1/4 tsp turmeric, 1 1/2 tsp amchoor, 3/4 tsp ground cumin, a good pinch of asafoetida (if you haven’t got all of these, miss out the ones you haven’t got)

    Salt to taste (I used about 2tsp, but I like salty things!)

    Fresh chopped coriander and a squeeze of lemon/lime juice to add just before filling the samosa

    In a frying pan, heat a glug of flavourless oil. Add the cumin seed and when they start crackling, add the green chilli. Stir around for a minute before adding the ginger and rest of the spices. Stir for a few seconds and then add the potatoes. Stir with a large wooden spoon and if you like a more mashed potato texture in your samosa, crush the potatoes with the back of the spoon while mixing. Add the peas. Taste for salt and chilli. Add more of both if needed or add chilli powder. Set to one side to cool completely.


    Put 4 cups plain flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt into a large shallow bowl and mix together. Add 1tblsp ghee (if you have any, if not, use flavourless oil) and 2tblsp oil and rub everything together. This is the important bit – even though you can’t really see the oil, you must make sure that it’s completely distributed through all of the grains of flour. The best way to do this is to scoop it up in your hands and rub your hands together.

    Do this with all of the flour. You may need to add more oil into the flour, the way to find out if you already have enough is to squeeze a handful of the flour together and when you open your hand, the flour should stay clumped together in a ball. If it doesn’t, add another tblsp oil and repeat the rubbing in process.

    If it does, crumble it back into the bowl and add water a little at a time until a tough, tight dough is formed. You don’t want it to be soft or sticky, so go carefully with the water – around 1/2 a cup should do it.

    The dough should come together but still look quite dry

    Knead for a couple of minutes and then put in a plastic bag to rest for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, knead for a few more minutes until the dough looks smooth. Rest for another 15 minutes. When the dough comes out of the bag, it should be quite springy when you prod it.

    Bring out your cooled filling and add a squeeze of lemon juice and some fresh chopped coriander. Set next to where you’ll be rolling out. You’ll need a dessert spoon.

    Divide the dough into 8 balls and place 7 in the plastic bag so they don’t dry out. Roll out the ball into about a 6″ (12cm) circle. Cut the circle in half. You want the dough not to be too thin, but mine was a little thick, so just a little thinner than mine in these pictures.

    Take one half of the circle and using your finger, moisten all around the edges with a little water. Bring up both edges to the middle, overlapping slightly and press gently to seal (not so much that you make the inside stick together, though!). Pick the dough up and hold it in your hand like a cone. Fill the cone with a couple of tablespoons of filling and push it down with your finger.

    You want to expel as much air from the filling as possible, otherwise it will balloon up when you fry. Make a little pleat opposite the join to allow for expansion and then pinch together sealing right up to where the filling ends. Sit the samosa down so that the sealed end is bent.

    Carry on with the rest of the dough and filling until you have used it all up. Line them up on a tray.

    The last secret to crispiness is to not have the oil in your pan too hot. This will cause the samosa to darken too quickly while the filling doesn’t heat up. You need to look for when you put the handle of a wooden spoon in the hot oil, little bubbles form around it, or a cube of bread goes golden brown after 60 seconds.

    Gently slide 3 or 4 into the hot oil (depending on the size of your pan) and keep the heat on medium to high so that they’re cooking very gently. Turn them frequently.

    Let them go as deep a golden brown as you dare before they take on a burnt colour. You want them deep golden, not brown. The longer you cook them, the crispier they will be.

    Drain on kitchen paper and repeat with the rest of your uncooked samosa. Best served straight away, but you can heat them up in the oven if you leave them to cool.

  • Grey Peas & Bacon – Bostin’ fittle

    As a business based in The Black Country, Tastesmiths have been asked to take part in #MadeInTheBlackCountry on Twitter, celebrating everything made in this brilliant part of the world. Stef and I are Walsall born and bred which is a step away from the Balti triangle, so it only seemed right that the dish we wanted to introduce everyone to was our Balti Masala.

    Way before the Balti came to the Black Country, food was a much simpler affair. It had to feed hungry tummies and be really cheap to make. Grey Peas & Bacon was something that ticked both of those boxes and it was made to taste good by adding either saved bacon fat or any bits of bacon that were going spare.

    For one day only, tomorrow (Tuesday 14th July 2015), with any 4 kits ordered from our website (why not include a Balti kit?), we’ll send you a FREE Grey Peas & Bacon kit so that you can try them out yourselves! Just make sure that you put #MadeInTheBlackCountry in the notes section at the checkout to qualify.

    The instructions in our kit gives you the opportunity to make them in the traditional Black Country way, or by adding a couple of other ingredients, you can make it into a different but equally delicious dish!

    The Grey Peas & Bacon kit doesn’t include any fresh ingredients, so it will happily sit in your cupboard until you want to use it. The other kits with fresh ingredients included will happily sit in your freezer until you want to use them.


    Sally & Stef

  • Halloumi and Sweetcorn Fritters

    I made these lovely fritters when I needed a new way to use up my halloumi. Usually, I use the Tastesmiths Piri Piri kit to create a lovely salad but I fancied a change, and these are definitely my second favourite now! They’re super quick and easy to make – I had mine for tea with an avocado salad but I reckon they’d be great for brunch too!

    You will need:

    1 large tin of sweetcorn or around 275g frozen sweetcorn, left to defrost

    Half a packet of halloumi, diced into small cubes

    1 red chilli, finely chopped

    2 spring onions, finely chopped

    a small bunch of coriander/parsley/basil (I used half parsley/half basil)

    2 eggs

    90g plain flour

    75ml milk (I used almond milk but whatever you have is fine)


    Pour half the sweetcorn into a food processor and whizz until combined (it doesn’t have to be smooth!)

    Combine the whizzed sweetcorn, the whole sweetcorn, cubed halloumi, chilli, spring onions and herbs in a bowl and mix until combined.

    In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and eggs, then gradually add the milk to make a pancake mix sort of texture.

    Add this to the bowl with the sweetcorn and cheese mix and season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Add a tbsp of oil into a frying pan on a medium/high heat, swirl the oil round in the pan until it’s coated then pour a ladle of the mixture into the pan (if you want large fritters it will make around 6, or if you want smaller ones it will make about ten)

    Cook for 2-3 minutes until dark brown underneath then turn over and cook for another 2-3 minutes until cooked through. Drain on kitchen paper and repeat the process for the others.