Wednesday, 28 January 2015

chunky cucumber, feta and fennel dip

... what a funny month this January has been.  Usually January can be quite a gloomy month - back to work... the post-Christmas blues... dealing with the diet and those pesky resolutions... but this year for me at least it all seems to have whizzed by in a blur of craziness... work has taken me up and down the country already - i've seen more of the UK in the past 28 odd days than I did for much of last year and so i've been thinking that I may start the 'keep busy in January' life-style plan.  Either that or hibernation.... these seem to be the best two ways I know of getting through January and i'm sticking to them!

chunky cucumber, feta and fennel dip with toasted fennel seeds and torn coriander
new year, new you and all that - the problem is that that's all very well and good but as we all know, in practice it doesn't always work that way and we're all too soon slipping back into old eating habits.  So this year I thought i'd try a different approach and with a little help from my good friends at popchips, the innovative popped snack company, i've developed a healthy treat that delivers that naughty flavour you want but with less calories.  You see, my thinking is that rather than cutting out the stuff that's not so good for you, simply eat healthier versions of it... we all love to veg-out and  munch on chips and dips in front of a good film, particularly on a miserable January evening and with these lovely salt and black pepper popchips which are less than half the fat of regular fried chips and less than 100 calories per serving served alongside my chunky dip, packed with the deep roasted flavours of toasted fennel seeds how can you say no... you can't, you can say yes with a clear conscience!

1 cucumber - peeled and diced into mini cubes
1 block of feta cheese - finely crumbled
1 fennel bulb - very finely chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 bunch of fresh coriander
3 tablespoons olive oil
the juice and zest of one lemon

the idea here is to chop the vegetables as small as possible, I find this pretty easy but a sharp knife helps although feel free to use a mixer with a fine dice attachment or a mandolin

gently heat a small frying pan, then add the fennel seeds and toast for a minute or two to release their aroma, being careful not to burn them

place the chopped cucumber and fennel into a large bowl, add the toasted fennel seeds and crumble in the feta... you could grate the feta in if you like a finer more even texture, then add the lemon zest and juice and torn coriander, then drizzle over the olive oil... I like a lot of oil but you can hold back if you're feeling you need to

stir it all well together and divide into bowls to serve

eat and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 26 January 2015

blueberry, star anise and beetroot leather

... it's quite incredible how both life-sustaining and life-threatening fire can be... we return home to the cottage after two weeks in the big city and the house is so cold the very air itself hurts my head like an ice-cream headache on the outside.  When we first moved to the cottage over ten years ago now we were never sure if it was going to be a weekend holiday cottage or a permanent residence, I guess it's become something in-between over the years but way back then we decided not to install an oil-fired central heating system like the rest of the village preferring the romantic notion that the one fireplace would sustain us through the cold winter months... bollocks to that.  To be fair we have installed a wood-burning stove with a back-boiler which sends hot water to radiators around the house to keep it nice and cosy but you have to light a fire for this to work and when your hands are blocks of ice and you'd rather stay in the car to keep warm it's not so fun.

Plus our wood-burner seems to have given up the ghost.  Time for a new heat-source at Belleau Cottage...

blueberry, star anise and beetroot leather
not being a mum i've never had an issue with little ones nagging me for sweets that I know are not particularly healthy for them, not that I particularly worry about candy and sugar when the evils of McDonalds still exists but I get it... i'm also not the 'craftiest' person in the blogoshphere but The Viking and I have been trying to eat more superfoods recently but then I read this interesting article about the nonsense that is 'detox' which kind of puts the kibosh on all that too... so what are you gonna do?  Well we're not going to do anything, we're going to try to eat more green things more regularly, reduce our calorie intake if we can help it and get off our arses for perhaps more than it takes to walk from the computer to the kettle each day... oh and snack on these truly natural beauties...

i've used some lovely Clarks Carob Fruit Syrup in this fruit leather to add a little sweetness... you could use sugar but this stuff is made from fruit sugars and so I suppose it's less toxic than regular sugar... the stuff is great for sweetening tea and coffee too.

i'm under the impression you can use any fruit and spices for this as long as you weights are roughly as laid out below (for one tray of fruit leather)... the added beetroot and star anise makes this more adult-friendly than most and they were the perfect balance of sharp, sweet and earthy... we loved them.

400g blueberries
150g raspberries
1 small raw beetroot (roughly 75g) - finely grated
2 small cox apples - peeled, cored and chopped
two tablespoons water
the juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon carob fruit syrup (not essential)

line a shallow baking tin with microwave-safe cling film... my tin is 23cm x 32cm and worked well as a good size

pre-heat the oven to 50C or its lowest setting with the fan on

place the berries, apples, star anise and grated beetroot into a pan, add the water and let it gently bubble away for about 10 minutes until soft - use the back of a fork to burst the blueberries

add the lemon juice, stir and carefully taste... if you feel it needs a little sugar or carob syrup then add it, then let it bubble away for another few minutes then take it off the heat and let it cool slightly before whizzing with a hand blender until thoroughly pulped

pass it through a sieve to remove those pesky bits of skin and pips and then pour into the lined baking tray

bake for 8 to 12 hours but check it regularly... if it's still sticky to the touch then it's not ready

once ready take it out of the oven and carefully peel off the cling film, it should come away really easily but if you're struggling then cut the leather into a neater rectangle using scissors and then find the corner of the cling film and peel back

roll the whole sheet up in some greaseproof paper and cut into strips - should keep for at least a week in an air-tight container

eat and of course, enjoy!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

kale and avocado breakfast muffins

... what I adore about holidays - other than the sun and the sea and the salsa - is the inspiration I get for food ideas.  No matter how convinced you are that breakfast is breakfast is breakfast there's always a culture or cuisine that will knock your socks off your traditional ideas of eggs and bacon.  I remember a work trip to Singapore where we were served a dim sum style breakfast which was rather fabulous but not what I was used to at all but you know me, i'm really not fussy about what I eat or when I eat it.  I have a friend who doesn't understand how the Europeans eat cheese for breakfast - again, I don't see an issue with this... It doesn't seem to matter how many times I go to California I am always surprised about how influential Latin American cuisine is on the every day... I will never look at breakfast in the same way now that i've had chipotle spiced potatoes with my huevos rancheros...

... with the start of the year being the time when we all start thinking about planning our holidays the good folk at ebookers have recently launched their Bonus+ programme... they are the first online travel agent that will allow customers to earn rewards on flights, hotels and packaged trips all in one place with both business and leisure travellers being rewarded with meaningful discounts, bonuses and exclusive added value services. The launch of Bonus+ coincides with ebookers’ new brand proposition and website refresh, highlighting ebookers’ commitment to always give it’s customers a more rewarding travel experience... so now it's even easier to travel and stuff your face with food - oh, of course I mean be influenced by all the incredible cultures...

kale and avocado breakfast muffins
to me these egg 'muffins' sum up the California breakfast experience in every mouthful.  To start with they're not really muffins at all, they're just muffin-shaped omelettes, carb-free and nicely healthy, like all well behaved Californian food, secondly they have a pinch or two of chipotle spice in them which adds this wonderful depth and punch, most unexpected to us Brits and finally they contain both avocado and kale, two of the Californian superfoods of the moment...

100g baby kale or curly kale
1 large ripe avocado - finely chopped
a handful of cherry tomatoes - finely chopped
100g creamy goats cheese
2 large free-range eggs
1 egg white
salt and pepper
a pinch of chipotle seasoning (optional of course...)
100g strong cheddar - grated

pre-heat the oven to 170C

i've used my 6-hole deep muffin tin but this would work in a 12 hole mini tart tin, which I sprayed generously with some Lurpak cooking mist

steam the kale until tender, then once cooled place this into a bowl with the goats cheese, chopped avocado and tomatoes.  Season well and stir together

in a large bowl beat the eggs for a couple of minutes then in another bowl beat the egg white till it reaches soft peaks and gently fold the egg whites into the beaten eggs

place two tablespoons of the kale and avocado mix into each muffin hole and gently pour the egg mixture on top until each muffin hole is filled about two thirds full.

sprinkle each muffin with a little grated cheese and bake in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes

i'm working with ebookers to develop recipes inspired by my travels and have another post coming soon... and to help inspire you my dear readers, ebookers have generously given me £100's worth of Bonus+ travel points to give away to one lucky Belleau Kitchen reader... so watch out for that giveaway coming soon on the blog...

eat and of course enjoy!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

salted caramel and peanut butter 'stuck-on-the-bottom' cake

... and suddenly the UK is gripped by freezing weather, snow and high winds... it's quite incredible how it just suddenly happens.  One minute we're enjoying a mild winter where every single person I know has either suffered from or is about to suffer from a stinking cold because the weather has been too warm and there are just too many bugs in the air and the next minute, bam... that cold front slaps us across the face and in true British fashion we get snowed in with one inch of snow, the rail networks breakdown and the roads become impassable... it just wouldn't be the same country without one of these weeks at some point between November and March.  For me it means staying close to home with the heating on full whack and slowly eating my way through the house.  All the obvious edibles go first and then whatever's left gets made into cake...

salted caramel and peanut butter stuck on the bottom, almond and honey banana cake
you know when you sneak those teaspoons of peanut butter from the jar in your cupboard and the peanut butter gets stuck on the top of your mouth, well this cake is like that, but the peanut butter gets stuck on the bottom of the cake... it's also one of those cakes that's made from the stuff in your cupboard that's probably well past its 'best-before' date but you just don't want to throw it away.  My weekends are usually back at the cottage but this weekend we're down in London and I thought that the cupboards could do with a bit of a clear out... this is always a big mistake because there's just so much stuff to get through and I always feel guilty by the amount of stuff that's past its best.  Although the half pot of Tesco Finest Salted Caramel Chocolate Spread and teeny slither of chunky peanut butter stuck to the bottom of an old jar did inspire me to bake, so it can't be all bad...

200g self-raising flour
100g salted butter
80g dark brown sugar
100g caramel chocolate spread (could use nutella)
50g chunky peanut butter
50g almond slithers
2 tablespoons honey (i'm using some gorgeous Clarks Honey)
2 ripe bananas - mashed
3 large free range eggs

grease and line a large loaf tin - mine is a 2lb tin and pre-heat the oven to 170C

mix together 1 tablespoon honey, the chocolate spread and peanut butter and spread this into the bottom of your loaf tin - set aside

place the flour, sugar and butter into a large bowl and rub together with your finger-tips until it resembles breadcrumbs, stir in the almond slithers

in another bowl, beat the eggs, add the mashed banana and 1 tablespoon honey and beat together then pour onto the flour mix

stir the flour mix together with a rubber spatula until you have a thick batter and then pour into the loaf tin

bake for 40 minutes in the oven on 170C or until a skewer inserted comes out clean

set aside to cool in the tin for 10 mins then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack until completely cool - be careful here as it will be a little runny, so place a plate beneath the rack

the peanut butter and caramel stuck on the bottom adds just the right amount of nastiness to a very simple cake...

eat and of course, enjoy!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

omelette arnold bennet

... i've just got back from a work trip to Belfast and Dublin and a jolly old time I had too... it was full-on work so there was very little actual time for seeing either beautiful city but I did get to meet some adorable folk who were so welcoming and I ate the most incredible sushi in Belfast at a restaurant called Zen... it was so fresh and quite sublime and even though the restaurant was having their Christmas party and we arrived quite late they insisted that we stay and eat... on the other hand we stayed at the most pretentious hotel in Dublin called The Gibson which had a proper case of the Emperors New Clothes... it was cold and un-inviting, the food was bad and it took the bar staff 30 minutes to look-up and then make a whiskey sour... not good.  It still amazes me how, as guests, we seem to pander to the whim of the chef when surely we should be the one's who should be looked after?  How difficult is it to make a decent caesar salad?... One day I shall be held in reverence at one of these establishments and have a dish named after me... much like Arnold Bennet...

omelette arnold bennet
who'd a thunk you could cook an omelette in a slow-cooker - and who'd have thought you'd want to spend 2 hours cooking an omelette - but cook and omelette you can... and no ordinary omelette, indeed the arnold bennet is the king of omelettes... the writer Arnold Bennett was so delighted with the egg, smoked haddock and parmesan concoction that chefs at the Savoy hotel created for him, he insisted on it being made wherever he travelled.  At the Savoy, Omelette Arnold Bennett remains a standard dish to this day... i've not actually been down to the Savoy to try it but after eating my home-made one I am sorely tempted.

3 large free-range eggs
150g smoked haddock - cut into chunks
fennel tops - thinly sliced (traditionally it would be spring onions but I didn't have any and the fennel worked soooo well)
25g parmesan - finely grated
3 large free-range egg whites
salt and pepper

line your slow-cooker with greased proof paper... I went down the fiddly route of cutting and shaping but apparently you can buy slow-cooker liners

in a large bowl, beat the whole eggs then add the haddock, spring onions and parmesan and stir together

in another clean bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks are formed, then gently stir this into the beaten egg mix and season

pour into the slow cooker and cook on low for 2 hours... the bottom will brown and crisp slightly but the top will remain pale and interesting, just how I like it... you can pop it under the grill for a few moments if you prefer

my inspiration comes from the brilliant book Slow Cooked by Miss South - the Queen of the Slow Cooker and of course I am entering this recipe into the Slow Cooked Challenge hosted so beautifully by Janice from Farmersgirl KitchenThe theme this month is soup but i've bent the rules of this challenge so many times I think Janice has given up caring... I will no doubt be making a soup at some stage this month but until I do...

eat and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 12 January 2015

dried apricot, fig and fennel seed flapjacks

... this is my first sweet treat of the year and seeing that we're two weeks in already I think I can safely post something a little naughty so try not to shout me down... plus I'm off to Ireland today for work and it looks as though it's bloody freezing over there so i'm going to need fattening up - well probably not.  I took a look at myself in the mirror last night and I look like i've melted, which I'm not sure is the ideal look for a man in his very late thirties, although i'm starting to think I may start telling people i'm 10 years older than I really am and then people might start thinking I look more fabulous than I do. I think part of the problem is that I work in an industry which is quite youth orientated so i've decide that when it comes to activities outside work I can only socialise with people older and fatter than me although I would worry that this would only work like a goldfish... you know, the fact that a goldfish grows to the size of it's surroundings, so if you keep it in a small bowl it stays small but if you put it in a large pond it has room to grow and therefore grows bigger... so old skinny people it is then...

dried apricot, fig and fennel seed flapjacks
you can pack up your Christmas decorations and clear the house of cards and baubles but it seems that the cupboards are still full of packets of dried fruit as though they are a final reminder of the festive period... obviously we really don't mind, they seemingly last forever anyway but these flapjacks are a great way to use anything up that's taking up too much room - an excuse for an early Spring clean if you will... the fennel seeds add a sophisticated aniseed flavour that cuts through all the sweetness too.

makes 12 large flapjacks
6oz butter
8oz soft brown light sugar
6 tablespoons golden syrup
1 heaped teaspoon fennel seeds
8oz mixed dried fruit - I used apricots, figs and dates - chopped
12oz rolled oats

pre-heat the oven to 180C and lightly oil a traybake tin - I used a classic Swiss Roll tin.

melt the butter, sugar, syrup and fennel seeds in a pan and then once melted take it off the heat and add the oats and dried fruit and stir well

pour into the baking tin and bake for 20-25 mins until golden

cool on a wire rack but cut them into squares whilst they're still a little warm

i'm entering these flapjacks into the Tea Time Treats bloggers challenge hosted by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Jane from Hedgecombers.  The theme this month is packed lunches and these little beauties will be making their way into my lunch box all week...

eat and of course, enjoy!

Friday, 9 January 2015

kale, mushroom and beetroot lasagna with mozzarella béchamel

... if you know anything about California you'd be able to tell instantly from the title of this post that i've just returned from the annual winter sojourn to the sunshine state... Kale is like a culinary rash over there. A superfood that to my mind has turned into a bit of a super-villain... from burger bar to sushi restaurant, from vegan brunch to traditional Mexican, it's on every menu in town... and it seems to be heading this way over here too. It's absolutely hysterical - and of course the Californian's don't see the irony - and most times i've ordered it it's been absolutely disgusting. Some of the kale 'salads' were literally huge piles of steamed kale tossed in some kind of dressing with a few other things thrown in but the proportions are so out of balance that for 30 minutes you're eating nothing but kale... not fun. I realise it's super-healthy and we did have an incredible kale smoothie that tasted great but that was only because of the added ginger and lime... and if I refer you to the comments from my last post it seems that many of you agree with my thoughts... so hopefully here's something nice with just a little kale...

... hysterically on popping out to the shops today my local market actually didn't have any kale - shock horror - so i'm using some left-over pre-chopped kale and some cavolo nero which is working just as well...

kale, mushroom and beetroot lasagna with mozzarella béchamel 
when I first started to think about this lasagna I knew I wanted to create something healthy with layers of vegetables and sauces but I wasn't sure exactly how the construction would come together. At first I was thinking i'd do something classic with pasta and béchamel alongside a rich tomato sauce but then I thought that perhaps I should do away with the layers of pasta altogether and use the kale as a substitute which i've done here, also adding a sliced beetroot layer for colour... it also means I can use a very small amount of mozzarella béchamel and not feel too guilty... it's worked really well and I must say i'm very pleased with the outcome. It's a little time consuming but well worth the effort.

100g kale / cavolo nero / cabbage at a push
2 or 3 beetroots - thinly sliced
100g portobello or field mushrooms - thickly sliced
fresh rosemary and fresh thyme
1 large teaspoon of orgeno - dried or fresh
olive oil and butter
salt and pepper

for the tomato sauce
this sauce needs a minimum of two hours, longer if possible
2 medium onions - finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic - crushed
butter and olive oil
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1 x tin's worth of half white wine, half stock or water
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
fresh basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano

for the mozzarella béchamel
750ml full fat milk
75g unsalted butter
2oz plain flour
250g fresh mozzarella
salt and freshly ground pepper

pre-heat the oven to 160C and line a baking tray with parchment or foil

make the tomato sauce first, or if you have time, make the sauce the day before for extra flavour - add the onions to a large hot pan with olive oil and a little butter and gently saute them for about 20 mins on a medium heat, with a pinch or two of sugar and some chopped fresh herbs... keep your eye on them, they want a little golden colour but you don't want them to stick, add the garlic and sauté for another 10 minutes

add the tinned tomatoes, wine, vinegar and stock to the onions, turn the heat to it's very lowest and let them plop away gently for at least an hour and a half if not longer.

steam the kale until al dente then set aside

lay the sliced beetroot onto the baking tray and either drizzle with a little olive oil or spritz with an oil or butter spray, season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle with a little thyme - bake for 30 mins or until beginning to soften, you don't want to over-ook this, you still want a little bite - once cooked, set aside

in a large pan, heat some olive oil and butter and then saute the mushrooms with a little oregano until soft, use a medium heat and let them really gently sweat down, after about 10 minutes add a lot of freshly grated pepper and then cook for a further 5 mins or until soft and golden - set aside
to make the béchamel sauce, heat the milk until hot but not boiling, then remove from the heat
in another saucepan, melt the butter, then remove from the heat and stir in the flour. Put the pan back on a gentle heat and cook the flour, stirring continuously for about a minute

take the pan off the heat again and add a little of the milk, continuing to stir. Adding the milk slowly and stirring like this will ensure no lumps form. Continue to add the milk a little at a time until it is al encorporated, then return the pan to the heat and cook until the sauce comes to the boil, season, turn down the heat to its very lowest and cook gently for another 15 minutes, making sure to stir often... add the mozzarella and stir until melted

now it's time to construct the lasagna... I started with a layer of kale followed by a layer of tomato sauce, then mushrooms, then béchamel and then beetroot and repeated as I went... finish off with the béchamel and perhaps a sprinkling of grated parmesan

bake in the oven for 20 mins until piping hot and serve immediately

eat and of course, enjoy!



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