an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Coriander and peanut pesto, for noodles

Noodle pesto!! This is definitely one of the most exciting things I have come across in a while. This recipe is my invention, but was inspired by Niki Segnit’s coriander pesto concept in the wonderful Flavour Thesaurus, under the paragraph on coriander/peanut. The Flavour Thesaurus is a truly wonderful book and I highly recommend it as gifts for creative foodie people.

This Vietnamese style pesto has the same wonderful consistency and richness of regular pesto, but with a flavour profile that works wonderfully with noodles. It would also be a good way of using up fresh coriander – it always seems to come in bunches that are just impossible to get through before they go soggy and soapy. Just make a load of pesto and freeze it.

When cold this pesto will be a little more solid than regular pesto because the coconut oil solidifies, but don’t fret - it will absolutely behave like pesto in all its wondrous ways once you introduce it to some hot noodles.


Makes enough for 2-4 portions of noodles (depending on how you like your noodle:pesto ratio)

1 handful roasted salted peanuts
2 cm lump fresh ginger, roughly chopped
1 medium sized fresh red chilli, roughly chopped – don’t remove the seeds
1 handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
2 handfuls fresh coriander, roughly chopped (pick out particularly woody bits of stem)
3 tbsp coconut oil, melted.


You could, I suppose, just put everything but the oil in a food processor, blitz to pesto consistency and then add the oil. But here is how I made mine:

Pound the peanuts in a mortar and pestle until they form a coarse crumb, then add the chilli and ginger and pound to a dry-ish paste. Add this to a large bowl with the herbs and blitz a bit with an immersion blender. Add 2 tbsp of oil and blitz again until it looks more or less like pesto. Stir in the rest of the oil, taste and see if it needs extra salt (depending on how salty the peanuts were). You might want to add a bit more oil too.
What I then did with it

I boiled up some soba noodles with frozen peas, and stirred in some of the noodle pesto, and a splash of lime juice. This was then mixed into a salad with quorn fake chicken pieces, shredded lettuce, some peanuts, chopped mint and coriander. And it was delicious.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Lentil and chestnut soup

For the past few months I have been followed around by really perfect pulse and chestnut soups. My stalkers tend to be inanimate – I was once stalked by a £10 note.

The first time I encountered a perfect pulse and chestnut soup was in Italy on Silvia Nacamulli’s fabulous cookery course (see here for more superlatives). It was a chickpea and chestnut soup, flavoured with garlic and rosemary, and it was astounding. I had never experienced so much flavour coming from a bit of lumpy broth before. I tried to recreate it when I got back home, but it just wasn’t the same.

The second time I encountered a perfect pulse and chestnut soup was at my work’s Christmas lunch at a fabulous gastro-pub called the Anglesea Arms in Hammersmith. It was a lentil and chestnut soup, thick and dark, butter-rich, and swirled with buttermilk and herb oil.

With these two perfect pulse and chestnut soups now inspiring me, I set out to try and create something on my own. So here is my version. It is thick and rich, and although it is long past Christmas, while it keeps raining like this I’m sure that hearty soups will stay welcome.


275g brown lentils – approx 1 and a half cups.
250g peeled chestnuts, not frozen. 
1-2 tbsp olive oil 
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 sprigs rosemary
1 carrot, peeled and diced
vegetable stock cube
salt and black pepper

To serve:
yogurt or crème fraîche in fancy swirls or drizzles
olive oil
toasted pine nuts, pumpkin seeds or almonds
sherry vinegar, a few drops

Makes about 8 servings


Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onion, carrots and rosemary and fry on a medium until the onion is golden and the rosemary fragrant. Be patient, it might take a while. Add the garlic and fry for a few minutes more.

Add the lentils, chestnuts, and carrot bits, together with the vegetable stock dissolved in one litre of hot water. You will need more water, but I find it better to just top it up as needed, as opposed to putting too much in to begin with.

Bring the soup to the boil, put the lid on and simmer for about 40 minutes until the lentils are soft. Add more water as needed.

Remove the rosemary stalks, add some salt and pepper and blend with a hand blender until more or less smooth, with a  few lentil-y lumps. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. 

Please note that this soup needs a bit of developing time – it tastes much better if made ahead of time and reheated than fresh.

Serve with all or some of the suggested serving flourishes.

Accompany, as I did (on all pulse and chestnut soup occasions), with a lot of wine.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Not Duck – Slow cooked turkey legs for Chinese pancake joy

Here is another guest post, this time from my Mum. She contributed the wonderful Panzanella recipe a while back, and also taught me how to cook, so I think she is pretty brilliant. She also doesn’t get too miffed when I claim credit for her recipes…

She has made Not Duck a few times, and it works fantastically every time. It makes a really excellent Shabbat meal, especially if you have a lot of people to feed. Turkey legs are much cheaper (and bigger) than duck, so it is also an economical way to have a full-on feast.

Here are her words:

One of the things I love to eat the most is Crispy Aromatic Duck – this is not it; but it comes close! I was introduced to this recipe by my niece Michelle, who I believe got it from her sister in law and on it goes.

I am convinced that one of the reasons that this is so successful is due to the theatre of the dish. All of your senses are involved.  It couldn’t be easier to make but you do need to use a slow cooker.


2 turkey drumsticks (or more if you have a big enough pot)
Vegetable oil
Duck sauce or Hoisin sauce, whatever kind you like

To serve:
Duck pancakes
Spring onions, cucumber
More Hoisin/Plum sauce


Massage a thin coating of oil onto the turkey drumsticks and put them in the slow cooker cook on low for at least 7 hours. I tend to put it on before I go to bed and turn it off when I get up the following morning. It feels very scary not to put in any liquid, but I promise you it does work.

Leave the drumsticks to cool in the liquor they have generated for a short time. Then remove them and shred the meat finely, throwing away any bone, skin and yucky bits. I have tried to do this elegantly with forks, but really you will get the best results by using your hands to do it also make sure that the turkey is still hot when you do it. The meat should fall apart into long luscious strands.

Having shredded all of it, put in a suitable baking dish and moisten with a little of the turkey juice. Then come the magic, add about 3 tablespoons (or so, sorry I don’t use precision for this bit) of your duck/hoisin sauce. Mix well and bake in a hot oven (200⁰) for about 20 mins until turkey is warmed through and has gone a bit crispy on top. If you aren’t going to use it all, freeze it at this stage.

Serve with warm duck pancakes and the usual accompaniments of plum or hoisin sauce, shredded spring onion and cucumber. Assemble, roll up and enjoy! 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Peanut butter and cherry cookies

Adapted from a recipe I tore out of a Sainsburys magazine

There is something completely cathartic and magical about baking, and I don’t do it anywhere near as much as I should. Cookies are actually really quick to knock together, and oh so satisfying. As the winter carries on and gets even more damp, dark and relentless, treats like these are always welcome.

As you may have noticed, I love cooking with peanut butter. Peanut butter and jam on toast is one of my guilty pleasures. I practically lived off it when I was at university. For me the jam has to be a purple kind as opposed to red – blackcurrant or cherry, never strawberry. Classy people may turn their noses up at ‘pb and j’, but really, it is just another example of how sweet and salty can be the best of friends.

These cookies are absolutely fantastic - they echo the ways in which peanut butter and jam work, but in a more sophisticated and less sticky way. I have reduced the sugar a lot from the original recipe, but they are sweet enough, with delicious bursts of sweet and sour from the cherries.

Makes 24 ish


100g unsalted butter, softened
125g light muscavado sugar (this is les sugar than the original recipe)
200g crunchy peanut butter – I use Meridian brand, which contains no added sugar, salt, palm oil, or anything else other than peanuts - I recommend using it for cooking, but for just eating it on toast it takes some getting used to.
1 large egg
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g plain flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
125g dried cherries – I used dried morello cherries


Preheat the oven to 160 c with fan, and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Mix the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until creamy and amalgamated. Mix in the peanut butter and egg, and then sift in the bicarbonate of soda, flour, and salt. Stir well and add the cherries and vanilla if using. Mix everything together until a soft dough forms.

Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and space them evenly on the baking sheets, use a fork to flatten them a bit and make some cute groove shapes in the top.

Bake for 12 – 14 minutes – it is a little tricky to tell if they are done because the dough is brown-ish anyway from the peanut butter. They will be soft when they come out of the oven, but will harden up as they cool down.