Saturday, 20 August 2011

Bombay Spiced Chickpeas & Tomatoes

The monthly newsletter from Schwartz [] arrived in my inbox today. Schwartz is a well known brand of herbs and spices in the UK and I regularly use their products. They do some very good spice mixes that can be added to stir-fries for a quick meal. Their website has a wide range of recipes and is a site I rate very highly. This recipe for Bombay Spiced Chickpeas & Tomatoes was in the newsletter and I will be trying it out next week as my vegetarian meal-of-the-week.

This quick and easy vegetarian curry, spiced with a medium-heat Curry Powder, is delicious served with naan bread and Greek yoghurt, for a delicious mid-week meal for all the family. Serves 4.


  • 25g (1oz) butter
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 tbs Schwartz Medium Curry Powder
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 x 400g tin chickpeas
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 125ml (4fl oz) water
  • 6 mini naan bread
  • 200g (7oz) Greek-style natural yoghurt
  • Schwartz Sea Salt and Black Pepper to season


  1. Heat the butter in a frying pan and fry the onion over a low-heat for 10 minutes, until softened and golden brown.
  2. Add the Medium Curry Powder and fry for 1 minute to release the flavours. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, lemon juice, sugar and water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste.
  3. Delicious served with warm naan bread and natural yoghurt.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Quick Singapore Noodles

This is a quick and healthy mid-week meal which is great for using up any vegetables that are in the cupboard. I tend to use a mix of peppers, spring onions, mange tout, beansprouts and leeks, but any vegetables that can be stir-fried can be thrown in. The same goes for meat... I generally use chicken but pork, turkey, beef or prawns will do. The basic ingredient is straight-to-wok noodles - I use Amoy Singapore noodles, which contained 2 individually sealed packets and are already flavoured. It takes about 15 minutes to prepare the meat and vegetables and 10 minutes to cook. Great for when you have come in from work and are going out later in the evening.


  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 1 chicken breast, cut into small strips
  • 1/2 green/red/yellow pepper, cut into small slices
  • 4 spring onions, sliced diagonally (use both white and green parts)
  • 1/2 green/red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
  • 1 sachet straight-to-wok Singapore noodles
  • dark soy sauce
  1. Heat the oil in a wok until slightly smoking. Add the chicken pieces and stir-fry until the meat has turned white.
  2. Add the vegetables and chilli pepper. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the noodles. Stir-fry until well mixed with the meat and vegetables
  4. Add a dash of dark soy sauce to taste. Mix well.
  5. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sausage and Egg Pie

This is a childhood favourite and was always served with (Heinz) baked beans and mash. I still make it today, and it is very, very simple to cook. Always use good quality sausages - I like the Saints & Scholars brand from Sainsburys or the Paul Rankin sausages from Waitrose, both being Irish-type sausages with the flavouring familiar from home.

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 packet ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 packet good quality sausages
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • large pinch mixed herbs (I use an Italian mix, with rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil)
  • handful fresh chopped parsley
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten

  1. Preheat oven to 220 C/ Gas mark 7. Grease a pie plate with butter or margarine.
  2. Fry the onion until translucent and set aside.
  3. On a floured surface, roll out half the puff pastry to cover the bottom of the pie plate.
  4. Skin the sausages and spread the meat evenly over the pastry base.
  5. Add the cooked onion, mixed herbs and parsley to the beaten egg then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  6. Roll out the remaining half of the pastry, ensuring it is bigger than the pie plate.
  7. Give the egg mixture another whisk to ensure all the ingredients are well distributed and pour over the sausage base. Cover with the pastry lid.
  8. Seal the edges of the pastry with cold water and crimp the edges to prevent leaking. Trim off any excess pastry.
  9. Beat an egg yolk and using a pastry brush, glaze the top of the pie.
  10. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes or until the pie is golden and well risen. Avoid the temptation to open the oven door during the cooking period as this can cause the pie to sink.
  11. Serve hot, ideally with baked beans and potato mash.

*When I was a kid, George Best advertised Cookstown sausages in Northern Ireland, so this is a good excuse to post a picture of him in his prime!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Shellfish: why there is none in my food

I am allergic to shellfish. Not dangerously, life-threateningly allergic but they make me ill, usually within 20 minutes of consuming them. So I don't eat or cook with the following:

  • prawns
  • shrimp
  • crab
  • lobster
  • mussels
  • scallops
  • oysters
It is easy enough to avoid using whole shellfish in most recipes, but Thai cooking often uses shrimp paste and oyster sauce is a common  or ingredient in Chinese dishes. Vegetarian substitutes exist, usually made from fermented bean curd or mushrooms, but I tend to use light soy sauce instead. There is a useful article about vegetarian alternatives in Thai cooking here

When eating out I try to be careful. I don't order Pad Thai or Singapore Noodles, for example as I know they generally contain prawns. But many dishes contain shrimp paste which is not listed in the menu. Luckily the amount used is quite small, and so far (fingers crossed) I have been fine.

So, when I cook Thai curries, I leave the shrimp paste out and, to be honest, I don't really notice the difference. I will be cooking Thai next weekend and will share the recipe I use so you can try it out for yourself.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Creamy Ham Pasta Bake

A very simple pasta bake with ham, cream and cheese for when you don't have a lot of time to cook. 

Forget ready-made meals, this home-cooked meal is ready in no time at all, and you can customise it with leeks, mushrooms, broccoli, peas, spring onions or whatever you have to hand.

Most types of pasta are fine to use with this recipe. Personally I use bows [farfalle], shells [conchiglie], spirals [rotini], penne or macaroni.

250g pasta of choice
1 garlic clove, finely diced
125g ham, finely diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
dried oregano to taste
dried basil to taste
200ml cream
grated cheese (mozzarella, Parmesan, Cheddar etc.)

1. Preheat oven to 220 C / Gas 7.

2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta in it for about 8 minutes until al dente. Drain and put back into the pan. Stir in the garlic, ham and herbss. Pour in the cream, mix and pour into a buttered baking dish.

3. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and bake for about 15-20 minutes.

4. Serve with a side salad and/or garlic bread

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Potato and Chickpea Balti

At least once a week I have a vegetarian meal. Apart from it being a good way to have my 'five-a-day' and eat healthily, I enjoy meat-free food. However, I am quite fussy about vegetables - I will not eat cauliflower under any circumstances - so it is also a good way of trying out new ingredients. This easy to make curry is one of my favourites. It will serve 2 but I like to keep half for the next day and eat it in pitta bread or a chapati wrap.

1 small onion, quartered
1 clove of garlic
1 large red chilli, deseeded and halved
2cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp vegetable oil
175g potatoes, cubed and parboiled
200g tinned chickpeas, drained
400ml vegetable stock
1 small green pepper, deseeded and cut into squares
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
handful of fresh chopped coriander leaves to garnish

1. Put the onion, garlic, chilli, ginger and spices into a food processor and whizz to a fine paste.

2. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the paste for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to bring out the flavour of the spices. Add the potatoes, chickpeas and stock. Mix well and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Add the green peppers and cook, uncovered, for a further 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

4. Sprinkle the chopped coriander leaves over the top.

5. Serve with Basmati rice and naan bread.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Finding recipes

With the internet, finding recipes to suit every taste and occasion has become very easy indeed. Type 'green curry paste recipe' into Google and it returns about 755,000 results! Whatever you want to cook, sweet or savoury, someone has posted a recipe for it. The trick lies in filtering out overly complicated recipes or ones with obscure ingredients. While it would be great to include galangal (a root similar to ginger) in your Thai cooking, it may not be easy to buy locally.

When searching for recipes online I find the top results are often from websites I know and trust, like BBC Food or celebrity chefs such as Delia Smith. Sometimes the links go to recipes provided by commercial companies. Both Blue Dragon and Amoy sell a range of quality Asian cooking products, from cook-in or stir-fry sauces to ingredients such as Thai fish sauce or tamarind paste and they have excellent websites which provide a range of recipes using their products. Of course you don't have to stick to the brand to enjoy cooking and eating the food, but it helps to know that the ingredients for what you plan to cook are readily available!

As I live in the UK, I tend to stick to UK-based sites, especially when it comes to recipes as the measurements are familiar. US sites tend to use cup measurements - this baffles me as it is too vague. Do they mean a teacup or a mug? Anyway, I find it all a bit confusing, so unless they provide measurements in either imperial or metric, the recipe is of little use to me. Also, they tend to refer to coriander as cilantro and courgettes as zucchini - there could be other misunderstandings, hence my preference for UK-based websites.

Many of the websites I have listed in the left column have internal search functionality, where you can enter an ingredient, such as chicken or lemongrass, and it will return a list of recipes using the item specified. This is handy when you have one or two  main ingredients but are not sure what you can use them for. It helps to have a well stocked store cupboard though. I always have the following in stock:

  • coconut milk
  • tinned chopped tomatoes
  • rice (Basmati, long grain and jasmine)
  • noodles
  • several types of pasta
  • a range of herbs and spices, including dried chillies
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • ready-made curry pastes (Madras, Thai green curry, harissa)
  • soy sauce (both light and dark)
  • Shaoxing rice wine
  • sesame oil
  • olive oil

With these 'basics' available, I can always cook a dinner in the evening after work. It is easy to whip up a stir-fry with whatever fresh meat and/or vegetables I have in the fridge. Tinned tomatoes make a great sauce for pasta with the addition of garlic, onion and basil if there is no meat around. In fact, with a little bit of imagination it it easy to rustle up a quick meal from a few basic ingredients cooked with herbs and/or spices.

Moroccan stir-fry chicken with couscous

This is a quick and tasty mid-week dinner for one. Once the preparation is done, this meal takes about 10 minutes to cook. If cooking for more people, just multiply the quantities by the number of people. You can also add dried apricots, chick peas, courgettes etc. if desired. Fresh coriander leaves can be used to garnish.

2tbsp Sainsbury's Stir Fry Oil
2 tsp Sainsbury's Moroccan Style Tagine paste
1 chicken breast fillet, sliced
1/2 red pepper, deseeded and cut into small slices
1/2 red chilli. deseeded and finely sliced
4 spring onions, sliced
100ml water
1 tsp cornflour mixed with 2 tsp water
handful sultanas
handful flaked almonds
1 pack Sainsbury's Coriander & Lemon Savoury Couscous

1. Heat the oil in a wok until slightly smoking. Add the tagine paste and stir-fry for one minute until fragrant.

2. Add the chicken and stir-fry until the meat has turned white, ensuring it is well coated in the paste.

3. Add the pepper, chilli and spring onion and mix well.

4. Add the water, mix well and bring to the boil. Add the cornflour mixture and blend into the sauce. Turn the heat down and simmer until the sauce has reduced and thickened.

5. Meanwhile cook the couscous according to the packet instructions.

6. While the couscous is soaking, add the sultanas and almonds to the chicken mixture and stir.

7. When the couscous is ready, serve in a wide bowl (a pasta-type bowl is best) with the chicken mixture on top, accompanied with hot pitta bread.


Welcome to cooking -Murf style!

Living on my own, it takes a degree of motivation to cook a meal from scratch for myself. The easy option is to pick up a ready meal on my way home from work but this can get boring after a while. Plus, I'm fussy! Being allergic to shellfish rules out a lot of meals, not liking mushrooms, courgettes, cauliflower or aubergine (amongst others) limits the choices even further. So I tend to make quick and easy dishes at home during the week.

This blog is all about food - the food I cook for myself and for friends, using recipes I have found in books, magazines or online. Many have been customised to suit my personal taste. I will be sharing these recipes, but also writing about my favourite ingredients, discussing healthy options, exploring regional cuisines, commenting on the latest food trends, highlighting seasonal products, looking at the politics of food production and more. If something food-related catches my attention then I will post something about it here.

My favourite meals are generally spicy... Indian, Thai, and Chinese recipes are regularly cooked in my kitchen. I love curries and stir-fries, rice and noodles, cardamom and ginger. There is something very creative about Asian cooking, especially when you make the curry pastes and spice blends from scratch. But there isn't always enough time to cook a proper curry, which is where ready-made pastes come in very handy, particularly for after-work meals.

One area I would like to develop is baking. I haven't made bread since domestic science classes in school, although I have baked a few cakes and brownies since then, it isn't a regular thing. Given I have a sweet tooth, it would make a lot of sense to bake at weekends instead of buying cakes and biscuits from the supermarket! And the smell of freshly baked bread is always delicious.

So, this blog will be a record of my cooking experiments, and of all food-related topics that interest me. I will label all recipes with the type of cuisine along with the main ingredients and cooking method which should allow easy searching. Comments will always be welcome, especially if you have tried some of the recipes yourself. I would love to know how you got on.