Fridge Pasta

Ever since the advent of Atkins, low carb regimes and the ‘carbs will make you fat’ manifesto of the protein only brigade, poor old pasta has received a rather (and, quite frankly, undeserved) press. Bit of a shame, really, especially as we have come such a long way in Britain since the days of spaghetti hoops being the sole example of what many believed to be the only type of edible pasta in an era when anything foreign was perceived as, to quote my dear late granny, ‘foreign muck’.

Thankfully, pasta is neither a suspicious nor esoteric entity like it was many years ago and like many others, I absolutely love it. Pasta reminds me of being a kid with a bolognese covered face. It reminds me of Lady and the Tramp and reminds me never, ever to order spaghetti bolognese on a first date. It reminds me of being a student and of spending time in halls of residence kitchens concocting dubious combinations of pesto, pasta and whatever veg was lurking at the back of the fridge drawer. It reminds me of being so hungry that only an enormous, steaming hot plate of pasta will do. Preferably featuring bacon.

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Of course when it is done badly, like most foods, pasta is bad. Like, really bad. Congealed, hard pasta does not a satisfying meal make. Just ask whoever is in charge of catering for economy class on British Airways. Never has a plate of pasta activated my gag reflex like British Airways pasta. I am still convinced that a vat of PVA glue mistakenly makes its way into the pasta on the Heathrow – Dubai flight. Sorry, Willie Walsh, but your economy pasta is crap.

When done well, however, pasta is a beautiful thing and it can’t be denied that we are utterly spoiled nowadays with such a variety in our supermarkets and delis. A personal favourite of mine is pappardelle whose thick, silky ribbons go so well with nutty, buttery chestnut mushrooms and parmesan. I also love penne and fusilli whose bite size pieces make them ideal on those occasions where one does not want a smattering of pasta sauce decorating one’s face in a public place.

Another favourite of mine is gnocchi. I had never had gnocchi until adulthood and it was most certainly not a staple in my student kitchen, nor was it something I ate when I first entered the real world and got a real job. In fact, the first time I ate gnocchi was around a couple of years ago, mainly because I saw Nigella cooking it on TV and its two minute cooking time seemed ideal when coming home from a job that, quite frankly, despite its perks, often leaves me feeling comatose. I was also attracted by the idea that you know it is ready when it floats up to the surface of the pan, bobbing contentedly. While I have watched many a Masterchef contestant make gnocchi, I have never attempted it myself, mainly because quite honestly, I’d rather spend time making a cake. In fact, I have never made fresh pasta and while I know I’d have a great time doing so in a cooking class, I know for sure that I would most likely never do it at home, especially on those days when even my best under eye concealer is failing to work its magic.

Here’s a quick gnocchi dish of mine that I made up one evening using what was in my fridge. This dish is so versatile you really can use whatever is in your veg drawer. This would also work with other types of pasta.

Fridge Pasta

Serves 4

1 bag of gnocchi (approx 500g)
80g pancetta/bacon (omit if you are vegetarian and replace with mushrooms)
2 peppers, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
A pinch of chilli flakes (leave out if you don’t like spice)
2 tsp dried oregano or Italian herbs
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
1 ball of mozzarella
Salt and pepper to taste
Caster sugar (optional)

Heat up a pan over a medium heat. Add the pancetta. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 180C.

Once it starts to cook and releases a little of its fat, add the peppers and the garlic. If you are using bacon with the fat trimmed off or not using bacon at all, add a little olive oil to the pan.

Add the chilli flakes and oregano/Italian herbs. Stir.

Add the tomatoes. Reduce the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the tomatoes taste bitter, add half a teaspoon of caster sugar. Leave the sauce to reduce. Don’t let it reduce too much as you don’t want the final dish to be dry. I left my pot of sauce for around 10 minutes on a fairly low heat.

Meanwhile, put the gnocchi on to boil. It is ready when it starts to float up to the surface.

Drain the gnocchi and add to the sauce. Stir. Put into a baking dish and tear over the ball of mozzarella. Leave in the oven until the mozzarella has melted to your liking. In my speedy oven, this took around 15 minutes.

gnocchi

As you can see from the photo, this dish is not overly pleasing on the aesthetic front. However, once you have that first mouthful of salty mozzarella, you’ll soon be reminded of that old adage “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”.

Buon appetito!

Cake

As a child, I wasn’t the biggest fan of cake. Gasp! Indeed, my favourite “cake” was probably Betty Crocker with its gloopy, saccharine and alarmingly shiny chocolate icing. I hated anything with jam. I hated anything with icing other than chocolate frosting. I especially hated anything containing cream. I did, however, love my 11th birthday cake with Liam and Noel Gallagher on the front circa 1996 – an era when “She’s Electric” blasted from my Philips boombox on a daily basis – but I am not sure I actually ate any of it. Don’t be fooled by an 11 year old having the musical maturity to listen to Oasis and have it on a cake, by the way. At that very birthday party I got given Celine Dion’s album and loved it from the minute I tore off the cellophane wrapping. She never did quite make it onto a cake, though, even during the days when my £3.99 ‘My Heart Will Go On’ CD single took pride of place in between the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys.

There are still certain cakes I don’t like today. I hate artificially coloured icing and I have never, ever added food colouring to any cake I have ever made. This is not because I am part of the ‘anything-artificial-is-evil’ brigade, convinced that food colouring will laden my body with chemicals that will give me some godforsaken illness. I just don’t like it. For some reason I shroud coloured icing in a mysterious world of rather unfavourable imagery. For example, when I see green icing I think immediately of Shrek. And as much as I like the loveable ogre with the questionable Scottish accent, I don’t particularly want him permeating my thoughts as I tuck into a cupcake. Of course, coloured icing and sugar paste has its place on novelty cakes that look like medieval castles featuring standard moat, drawbridge and cavalry horses guarding the castle’s sugary entrance, and I know that recreating the Gallagher brothers out of a simple buttercream icing wouldn’t yield the same success as food colouring and sugar craft, but it just isn’t for me. Mary Berry says she is a home cook and I like to think I am a home baker whose Victoria sponge may ooze jam down the side and be a little wonky, but hopefully tastes nice with a cuppa. I think the baking euphemism for that is ‘rustic’, n’est-ce pas?

Recently a friend of mine, Jackie, asked me to make a birthday cake for her 16 year old son. My immediate response was that it wouldn’t be fancy, but I quickly realised that this wasn’t what Jackie was expecting and that, in fact, her son would be perfectly happy with a good old chocolate cake. How delighted I was at not having to venture where someone with the dexterity of an elephant should never, ever go – the world of fancy cake decorating! Of course, because it was a birthday cake I didn’t want to ‘just’ hand over a chocolate cake, but decided to stick to decorations made by my good friend Mr Cadbury. I also created my own frosting, the recipe for which I have posted below. Here is what the cake turned out like:

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I have to say, I had a bloody good time making it and it was a perfect task for someone who just loves baking for what it is. I have never had any aspirations to go on a cake decorating course and while I wanted the cake to have some aesthetically pleasing qualities, I really, really wanted it to taste good. I have to admit that I was a little nervous handing it over. What if it was dry? What if the frosting didn’t quite go with the sponge? Thankfully it went down a storm and I will admit to feeling pleased as punch at the result. That is why I bake. I love cake, but I particularly love seeing people eating and, most of all enjoying, cake.

So, if you want a homemade cake or tray bake, perhaps for a coffee morning or a birthday, just holler. You can even say you’ve made it yourself.

Just don’t say you got it at M&S ;-).

Chocolate Frosting (ices approx 24 cupcakes or the inside and outside of a double layer chocolate sponge cake).

100g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
2 packets chocolate buttons
125g butter
2 generous tbsp golden syrup

Melt the above in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.

Stir occasionally with a palette knife while it sets. It is definitely worth buying a palette knife for icing big cakes as it makes the job much easier! To speed up the setting of the frosting, put it in the fridge.

Lick the bowl. You know you want to.

When Time is at Steak…

It is safe to say that most people who like steak REALLY like steak. When discussing steak, you don’t often hear people saying “oh it’s alright” or “it’s quite nice”.  Indeed, unless you are talking to a vegan, vegetarian or the rare ‘steak is ok but I prefer chicken’ camp, in my experience, discussions about steak are very often laden with superlatives. However, rather than churn out a list of synonyms praising steak, I will stick to that well known Glaswegian expression ‘pure dead brilliant’. That’s what I think about steak.

Perhaps my opinion of steak stems from the fact that for the majority of carnivores, it is something special. It is a treat enjoyed on special occasions. It is something whose double figure price tag may burn a hole in the credit card and slightly raise the bill payer’s blood pressure, but on such an occasion, a little abuse of the bank balance in the name of a medium rare bit of sirloin is, well, ok. When I think of steak, I think of crisp, linen table cloths; gleaming, stainless steel knives with shiny serrated blades; a candle in the middle of the table; slightly darkened lighting; rich red wine; crispy peppery onion rings and thick, hand cut chips. Perhaps the posh table cloth, merlot, accompanying candle and pretentious chip description is an over romanticised view of what is essentially the end result of the cows that graze our pastures, but for me, steak is dinner date food. Prospective dates, take note!

And when you take the first bite of a perfectly cooked steak…well. Perhaps your eyes close or roll heavenward. Perhaps, like me, you are rendered nearly mute and are taken back to being eleven at your first Boyzone concert, reduced to a vocabulary of just three words – ‘oh’, ‘my’ and ‘god’ (notably WITHOUT hysterical tears and marriage proposals. Even I don’t love steak that much). I would like to think, however, that if all steak lovers in a restaurant got served a perfectly cooked steak, the reaction would not mirror that of an eleven year old holding a banner saying “MARRY ME RONAN”. Instead, I like to imagine that instead of a ‘this is frigging amazing’ air of hysteria permeating the candlelit atmosphere, a ‘first bite silence’ would ensue, because when perfectly cooked steak is involved, silence really does speak a thousand words.  I only have to watch my mum eating a steak to know how happy one can feel with a bit of medium rare. I love watching my mum eat a good steak.

Of course when cooked badly, steak can be like eating a welly boot. And nobody wants to eat wellies. In my experience, this is far more likely to happen at home than in restaurants and, although I have prattled on about table clothes, candles and steak being for special occasions, I do enjoy having it at home now and again. It is also very quick to prepare which is ideal when like me, all your Friday night brain is capable of is reading stories about love rats in ‘Real People’. Here is a quick steak dinner of mine that involves minimal effort and time. It won’t be the most incredible steak dinner you have ever eaten, but it may help lift those January blues. Detox schmetox.

Table cloth, candle and merlot optional.

For tips on cooking steak properly, go here.

Frying steak with crispy gnocchi and green beans.

Serves 1, adapt quantities to suit numbers.

Cooking and prep time – 10 minutes.

1 frying steak
Handful of gnocchi
Handful of green beans
Olive oil

1) Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and, in a separate pan, put some water on to boil.

2) Once the frying pan is hot, add the gnocchi. (I will not take credit for coming up with the idea to fry gnocchi. Merci, Nigella).

3) Meanwhile, heat another frying pan over a high heat until it is extremely hot. While waiting for it to heat up, season the steak with salt and pepper.

4) Turn the gnocchi after roughly 3-4 minutes. Put the green beans in the pan of boiling water. Then, start frying the steak.

5) Turn the steak. I cooked mine for about 1 minute on each side. Remember that frying steak is a bit thinner than other types of steak.  When done on both sides, leave to rest for 3 minutes. This is really important, don’t leave this step out!

6) Drain the green beans and serve the gnocchi and steak alongside them. Season the gnocchi with a little sea salt if desired.

Bon appetit!

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Still here. Still eating!

Happy new year! You may be wondering where the hell amateurfoodramblings disappeared to last year, given that my blog appears to have taken an extended sabbatical since, erm, April. Pardon the cliche and poor excuses, but life just got a bit too busy in 2013 and any blogging motivation I had always seemed to be eclipsed by something or other, not to mention being undermined by a fundamental lack of creativity on my part. I could bore you with ‘predictable busy’ excuses like work, or ‘crappy busy’ excuses like illness, drips and Smash ‘potatoes’ at Hotel Royal Berkshire, but quite frankly the ‘good busy’ is far more worthy of a mention. Afternoon Tea at Claridges and The Ritz, lunches with lovely friends, proper Tapas and pouring alcohol (unintentionally) over my head in Spain, poached eggs at Liberty, homemade soup and cake at my favourite cafe in Aberdeen, toasting marshmallows at my friend Helen’s wedding, houmous and halloumi in Dubai, chocolate cake, pink fizz and children’s laughter with my family and takeaway from Harrods with Jenny are just a few of the ‘good busy’ bits of 2013. I like ‘good busy’.

However, a couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me what the name of my blog was. A simple question indeed, but for the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I then went home, read nearly the whole thing and felt a guilty sense of neglect. True, it is only words on a page among millions and millions of other websites out there -the internet metaphorical equivalent of a microscopic dot invisible to most eyes apart from those who know it is there – yet turning this dot into something bigger wasn’t really why I started amateurfoodramblings in the first place (however I will be the first to confess that if it were to actually get ‘noticed’, the prosecco would be opened and poured liberally! I would then hope for a lunch invite from Mary Berry, Michel Roux Jr or Nigel Slater. Unrealistic? Moi? Never!). Anyway, to put it simply I started it because I love food and I was really missing my little area of cyberspace, hence it is my resolution this year to try and keep writing, even if it is only once a month. That’s right folks, amateurfoodramblings is back and in 2014, it is back with a focus – timesaving cooking. Indeed, this focus is undeniably underpinned by mild sense of irony, given that it was my continual lack of time which caused me to stop blogging for 9 months in the first place, but I hope it is this that will keep me motivated and encourage me to try and test recipes ideal for time poor people like me.

Seeing as it is January and the mere sight of a Quality Street wrapper and a grinning Mr Pringle immediately result in my fellow shoppers turning their trollies in the direction of the fruit and veg aisle, here is my first offering of 2013 – Veggie Chilli. It’s a one pan job, so more time can be spent watching Coronation Street and wishing David Platt would emigrate. And don’t even get me started on Peter Barlow! No, I’m not ashamed.

Don’t be put off by having to chop veg by the way. Chilli isn’t supposed to look pretty. I chop my veg with the dexterity of an elephant. This way, it really doesn’t take much time at all.

Serves 4

1 onion, roughly chopped (to save even more time buy frozen, ready chopped onions and use the equivalent of approx 1 onion)

2 peppers, chopped (to save even more time, buy ready chopped frozen peppers)

Handful of green beans, halved (if you don’t like them, leave them out)

1 garlic clove, crushed (I cheat and use 1/2 tsp of garlic from a jar. Less chopping = more time)

1 heaped tsp cumin

1/2 tsp chilli flakes

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tin kidney beans, drained

1 packet of ready to eat puy lentils OR 1 carton/can of black beans, drained

1 tin chopped tomatoes

Pinch of caster sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

1) Fry the onion, peppers and green beans (if using) for 3-5 minutes over a medium heat and add the cumin, chilli flakes and cinnamon. Stir briefly. Add the garlic.

2) Add the kidney beans, lentils and stir. Then, add the chopped tomatoes. Fill a little of the tin with water to ensure none is wasted and add to the pan.

3) Add the sugar, a little salt and pepper. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary. Turn the heat down to very low and leave the chilli to reduce to your liking. I always check mine after approximately 15 minutes.

4) Serve with grated cheese (optional) and rice (use microwave rice if you don’t want to wait for rice to boil, it is perfectly nice and a good timesaver).

This often tastes better the next day and, if like me you are not cooking for four, freeze it ready for those nights when you are so knackered chopping may result in five fingers becoming four.

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Magpie Musings

A couple of years ago, I went on a teaching course led by the enviably creative Literacy guru Pie Corbett. Please note, before you put the RSBP on speed dial, despite his name and the ‘magpie’ focus of the course, there was not the bird equivalent of Sweeney Todd’s pies on offer with token feathers poking out the pastry. There were mini pastries with coffee, but a hungry teacher being in the same room as FREE hot drinks and FREE vienoisseries in a HOTEL is an entirely different story*. Anyway, on this course, Pie taught us the concept of allowing children to ‘magpie’ ideas to improve their writing. Perhaps they could ‘magpie’ a word or two from a book or feel inspired by the way in which an author describes a setting. Perhaps they could ‘magpie’ an idea of their friend’s to use in a story, or use imagery created by the teacher to give their writing that ‘wow’ factor. Two years on, I still raise a smile when a child says “can I magpie that Miss Taylor?”

I suppose it could be argued that ‘magpie’ is a euphemism for stealing, but I prefer to think of it as a term which is largely underpinned by inspiration. Of course, I would never encourage a child to magpie an entire poem, story or paragraph, for this simple exercise of copying would be fruitless in terms of progression of learning, but using the ideas of others to help create an impressive something of our own is an ideal way of igniting that creative spark within us all. For me and many others, this is not only applicable in the classroom, but very much relevant in the world of food and cooking. In the recent 20th birthday issue of Sainsburys magazine, Nigel Slater states that “TV cooks (…) are inspiring and empowering people”, not necessarily because they are teaching us to cook, but because the simple act of watching them do their work makes us want to get up, cook our socks off and eat delicious food. Us amateurs may not produce exact replicas of what we see on our TV and read in our recipe books – our piping on our cupcakes may be wonky, our mash may be slightly lumpy and our presentation is more home kitchen than Michelin – but we are empowered by the range of ideas given to us by chefs and cookery writers.

Of course, unlike in the classroom, it is far from a ‘sin’ to copy a lot when cooking. Indeed, it is from copying others and reading recipes that I have learned how to cook, and it is an impressive skill being able to reproduce a recipe really well in a home kitchen. Nevertheless, there are times when I don’t want to follow a particular recipe, but instead magpie the ideas I have come across in recipe books, from watching others and from the TV, to make my own dishes. Yesterday, when Spring had finally sprung in the form of “you don’t need your winter jacket” sunshine, I decided to make cookie dough ice cream by magpie-ing two recipes which I know always work. For the cookie dough, I used the lovely Joanne Wheatley’s Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe, which can be found on page 183 of her wonderful book, ‘A Passion for Baking’ (a must-have book for home bakers). For the ice cream base, I used Jim Fisher’s foolproof techniques and ingredients which I learned about on a cooking holiday in France. This was the result:

Cookie Dough Ice Cream (double quantities if you’re feeding more than 4)

  • 300ml double cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or seeds of 1 vanilla pod
  • Joanne Wheatley’s cookie dough

1) Put the cream, sugar and vanilla in a pan over a medium heat. Meanwhile, make sure the egg yolks are ‘waiting’ in a heatproof bowl.

2) When the cream mixture has reached boiling point, pour over the egg yolks and whisk like you have never whisked before!

3) To test if the custard base is ready, turn the bowl slightly in a clockwise direction. If the mixture ’tilts’ then goes back into position, it is ready. Leave to cool.

4) Once cool, add small chunks of cookie dough (as much or as little as you like. You won’t use it all – use the rest to make cookies!). Churn in an ice cream maker and enjoy.

Note – you don’t have to fork out on an expensive ice cream maker. I promise you, homemade ice cream is better than shop bought and this little beauty from Lakeland, which I use, won’t break the bank!

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So, if you are stuck for inspiration in the kitchen, a little magpie-ing goes a long way. Figuratively, of course. Even Masterchef doesn’t go beyond pigeons. ;)

*I pay nine quid a term for instant coffee and digestives. Free carbs and caffeine in a hotel will always, always be exciting.

Sultana and Ginger Drop Scones

Those of you who know me will most certainly be able to confirm that while my baking (hopefully!) delivers on taste, it would be awarded the wooden spoon in a beauty contest. When I bake, there are no sugar butterflies or flowers. There is no edible gold or glitter. Icing is not beautifully piped in aesthetically pleasing swirls, nor is it a beautiful calligraphy of letters, numbers or anything that defines the ‘special’ on a special occasion. There are no cakes that look like shoes, handbags, trains, caterpillars or beach scenes. Indeed, if I even attempted any of these, one would imagine that I had recreated a scene from the apocalypse. Instead, the words ‘dollop’, ‘slathered’ and ‘wonky’ come to mind, not to forget the euphemistic adjectives ‘wholesome’ and ‘rustic’. It may be a clichéd expression, but with my baking, it really is what’s on the inside that counts.

Admittedly, while I am no cake decorator, I still prefer it if my cake sponges are at least a little bit even and look mildly acceptable on the aesthetic front. Nevertheless, there are times when no fuss baking is the order of the day and there are certain bakes where having the manual dexterity of an elephant doesn’t matter a jot. It makes no difference whatsoever if these bakes are wonky or if one is bigger than the other. In fact, they may even resemble something you made years ago at primary school which inevitably got bashed on the way home, but was always devoured by 5pm leaving a smattering of crumbs at the bottom of the tin.

A few weeks ago, feeling tired and grumpy, I decided to engage a little bit of no fuss baking by making that primary school favourite – drop scones. In addition to indulging my love for anything remotely like a pancake, drop scones are very easy to make and epitomise versatility due to the fact that they can be made with a variety of ingredients such as dried fruit, chocolate chips or even a little mashed banana. I decided to opt for sultana and ginger, mainly because this was what I had in the flat and consequently meant I didn’t have to change out of my spotty M&S pyjama bottoms to take a trip to the Co-op. I may show my pyjamas a bit too much love from time to time, but shopping in them is a step too far. Anyway, I had mine (my drop scones, not my pyjamas) with golden syrup, but a little honey, butter and jam, fruit compote or (if you’re feeling decadent!) clotted cream, are also ideal accompaniments.

Sultana and Ginger Drop Scones (makes approximately 6 although you can make yours bigger or smaller)

  • 70g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Small pinch of salt
  • 10g caster sugar
  • 1.5 tsp ground ginger (use less if you find ginger quite strong)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 15g butter, melted
  • 50ml milk
  • Handful of sultanas

1) Put the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and ginger in a bowl.

2) Make a ‘well’ in the middle and pour in the egg and the melted butter.

3) Start whisking and gradually add the milk until you have a smooth batter that ‘drops’ off the spoon. If your mixture is too thick, add more milk. If it is too runny, add a little more flour.

4) Add the sultanas and stir gently.

5) Heat a frying pan over a medium-low heat. Grease with a little butter. ‘Drop’ the mixture in little dollops into the pan. They will spread when cooking, so you will have to cook them in batches. When the surface starts to bubble, flip them over and cook until the other side is brown.

6) Serve with an accompaniment of your choice such as butter, jam or golden syrup.*

*There is no shame in eating these in your pyjamas. Just make sure you put your jeans on to buy the ingredients. ;)

drop scones 2

drop scones

A Chilli Spring

I have always loved chilli. When I think of chilli, I imagine it bubbling away in a cauldron; its rich, copper tones creating an aesthetic sense of warmth. I think of fireworks; an exploding palette of colours lighting up a cold, dark atmosphere.  Chilli also reminds me of bonfires; their orange flames licking the sky while a homemade Guy Fawkes perishes to the sounds of shrieking, rosy cheeked children holding sparklers. I was never one of those children. While I always felt a distinct sense of pride at my homemade Guy whose limbs were constructed from newspaper and whose head was made from a balloon complete with facial features etched on with permanent marker, I secretly hated holding sparklers. I still do. In fact, I would much, much rather eat a bowl of chilli.

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Dressed for “Spring”…

Clearly, chilli reminds me of November. And, at the moment, as I wake up to face numbing (what I like to call weather ‘botox’) temperatures and a car windscreen covered in an almost impermeable frost, I could be forgiven for thinking that it was, in fact, November. Except November it ain’t. It’s March. Nearly April, in fact. Moreover, in just over 3 weeks time, it’ll be “Summer” term at school. I cannot help but laugh at this when the trees outside my living room window have yet to bare a single leaf, their bare branches shivering in the Spring “breeze” (ahem). However, while Jack Frost has most certainly overstayed his welcome, there is no better excuse than an extended winter to make chilli.

Chilli purists, avert your eyes immediately. This chilli contains no beef. It is even suitable for vegans. Those of you who know me are acutely aware of the fact that veganism and I would most certainly have a tumultuous relationship, were we to be a reality. Indeed, I am as likely to become vegan as a value burger is to contain 100% beef DNA. Nevertheless, equine jokes aside, there are times when only vegetables will do. And, after a week of long working days fuelled by pizza, Skips and Tunnocks caramel wafers, becoming a vegan for an evening and feeding my soul with the fruits of Mother Nature’s labour seemed rather appealing. Best of all, the majority of this was made from store cupboard ingredients. However, if the idea of a chilli with no meat fills you with abject horror, replace the beans with good quality minced beef.

Don’t be put off by the large list of ingredients. Most of the cooking of this dish involves chucking the ingredients in the pan and leaving it. Of course, ‘chucking’ and ‘leaving’ may not be in the lexicon of the professional chef, but professional I am not. Also, it gave me more time to catch up on Bondi Rescue and imagine I was on the receiving end of sunshine and a tan instead of blizzards and winter pallor.

Black Bean and Butter Bean Chilli

  • Olive oil
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp chillies from a jar (I use lazy chillies. You may use more or less depending on how hot you like your food!)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 small mug of coffee
  • 2 tbsp dark muscovado sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 peppers, chopped
  • 1 400g tin/carton tomatoes
  • 1 400g tin/carton black beans, drained
  • 1 400g tin/carton butter beans, drained
  • Salt and pepper to season
  1. Put a large casserole type pan/pot over a low heat. Add a glug of olive oil, the onion, paprika, oregano and bay leaves. Fry for ten minutes.
  2. Next, add the chillies, cinnamon, cumin seeds, coffee, sugar, garlic, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer this chilli ‘base’ for around an hour on a low heat or until it has started to sufficiently reduce.
  3. Once the base has reached this stage, add the peppers, black beans and butter beans. Taste and add seasoning (including more of the spices if need be) and leave to simmer for around half an hour or until you are happy with the chilli’s consistency.
  4. Serve with rice, potato wedges, mash or sweet potato mash.

chilli

So, while the interminable cold snap continues to chill us to our inner core, it is comforting to know that when eating this, 2013′s British Spring need not be so chilly after all. Just leave the sparklers in the drawer, please.  ;)