Poached Egg and Avocado on Toast

Avocado and egg on toast

There’s less than two weeks to go until Christmas and it seems like every minute of every day is focussed on food.  Television is full of celebrity chefs each showing you the perfect way to roast a turkey and demonstrating the 300 essential side dishes you must serve up with it.  Magazines are chock-a-block with Christmas recipes and photographs of the most gloriously set tables.

In my own kitchen I am spending my spare time cooking for Christmas too; the freezer is already full of cranberry sauce, spiced red cabbage and mince pies – all to save time on the big day so I can actually spend time with my family like a normal person.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this – I seek out the Christmas food channels and I buy those magazines – but sometimes it can seem a bit too much.  This weekend alone we will be going to three Christmas parties and two of those involve a three course dinner.

So, in between the excesses of the season, I like to make simple, light and tasty food.  The joy of eating a simple supper whilst curled up by the fire is the best antidote I know to winter.

This particular dish of poached eggs and avocado on toast is a perfect example.  The bright greens combat the wet, wintery grey outside, the rich textures belie the healthiness of the dish and you can be sitting down to eat it ten minutes after you get in from work.

The dish needs a little sharpness to lift it which is why I have included French dressing in the recipe but I actually prefer to give it a bigger flavour boost by adding chimichurri.  You could also try pesto but swap the coriander for basil if you do.

All in all it is the perfect simple but indulgent dish for a December full of excess.  I hope you try it.

 

Toast with egg and avocado

Ingredients (serves 2)

1 large ripe Avocado

2 fresh free-range Eggs

Crusty Bread for toasting (I used Sour dough)

Leftover Green Veg (spinach/cabbage/cavolo nero etc.)

A large handful of Fresh Coriander (or basil)

1 tbsp French Dressing (or pesto or chimichurri)

Method

Toast a thick slice of bread for each person.

Heat a pan of water for the egg.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the stone.  It should slip easily from the peel if it is ripe enough.  Slice the avocado.

Poach the egg.

Warm the green veg through in a little melted butter.  Pile it onto the toast.  Top with the avocado and drizzle with the dressing (or an alternative – see above).  Place the egg on top, sprinkle with the chopped coriander and enjoy.  It’s as simple as that.

Courgette and Ricotta Rolls with Red Pepper Coulis and Basil Oil

Courgette and Ricotta Rolls with Red Pepper Coulis and Basil Oil

These courgette and ricotta rolls make beautiful canapés on their own but can also be turned into a stylish vegetarian starter with the addition of a tasty sauce.

I made them as one course in a 5 course vegetarian feast for friends so the portions are quite small – feel free to scale them up if you are hungry.

The recipe might look a bit fiddly at first glance but it is really quite straight forward.  You could speed things up by buying ready roasted and peeled peppers and by using pesto instead of basil oil.

Ingredients

Serves 4

For the Courgette Rolls

3 small Courgettes

3-4 tbsp Olive Oil

3-4 tbsp White Balsamic Vinegar

250g Ricotta

Grated zest and juice of 1 Lemon

A handful of fresh Basil Leaves

50g Pine Nuts

For the Red Pepper Coulis

2 Red Peppers

2 tbsp Olive Oil

For the Basil Oil

A handful of fresh Basil Leaves

2 tbsp Olive Oil

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6

For the Red Pepper Coulis (can be made in advance)

Put the whole peppers on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast in the hot oven for around 40 minutes until soft and beginning to collapse. The skin should be a little charred in places. Place the hot peppers into a glass bowl and cover tightly with cling film. Let them gently steam in their own heat and then leave until cool. This steaming process helps to loosen the skin.

Remove the peppers and cut each one in half. Remove the stalk and seeds (wiping with kitchen paper helps – don’t be tempted to rinse them as you will lose flavour).

Peel off the skin – this may require a little patience but it’s worth it. Blitz the peppers in a food processor or with a stick blender until smooth. Push the puree through a sieve to ensure that it is really smooth. Season with salt and pepper and blitz again with one tablespoon of the olive oil.

NB If you don’t want to go to the trouble of roasting your own peppers you can buy ready roasted, skinned peppers in jars. Just blend with a little olive oil.

For the Courgette Rolls

Trim the ends of the courgettes and cut them in half, lengthways. Use a vegetable peeler to slice long ribbons of courgette from the cut surfaces. You will need 12 ribbons in total (2 from each half). Save the rest of the courgette for soup or stock.

Pour the olive oil and balsamic vinegar into a large, flat dish and whisk to combine. Add the courgette strips in a single layer; make sure both sides of each strip are coated in the dressing then cover and leave to marinate in the fridge.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan for a minute or two and then set aside to cool. Roughly tear the basil leaves and stir into the ricotta along with the cooled pine nuts. Season with salt and black pepper then stir in lemon zest and juice to taste. Go easy – you can add more but you can’t take it out! Cover and leave in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the rolls.

For the Basil Oil

Grind the basil leaves and a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle until reduced to a smooth paste. Whisk in the olive oil.

To Assemble the Dish

Lift each courgette slice out of the dish allowing any excess dressing to drip off as you do so. Place on a flat surface. Put a generous teaspoon of the ricotta mixture onto one end of each strip and roll up.

Spoon red pepper coulis onto each plate and drizzle with the basil oil. Arrange 3 courgette rolls per person onto the coulis and serve at room temperature.

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Mushroom Strudel

Mushroom Strudel

I am told that there are people who don’t like mushrooms.  I am not one of them. 

For me, the full English is not “full” without mushrooms on the side, the very best risotto is packed with wild mushrooms and I would rather eat a big, juicy field mushroom in a bread roll than any burger I have ever tasted.

A few years ago my friend Ali bought me Antonio Carluccio’s book The Complete Mushroom for my birthday and it makes me very happy.  It was here that I first got the idea for a mushroom strudel although I have changed the recipe from the original which uses flour and sherry and parmesan cheese – which also sounds pretty good to me.

The real key to this recipe is to cook the mushrooms quickly over a high heat giving them plenty of space in the pan.  If you cram in too many or cook them too slowly you will get too much liquid which, if you leave it in, leads to soggy strudels and, if you drain it off, leads to a loss of flavour.

I made these strudels for a 5 course vegetarian meal that I cooked for friends and served them with roasted parsnip puree and a truffle sauce.  I used a combination of oyster, small portabella/portobello, shitake, chestnut and enoki mushrooms, all of which are now widely available but use whatever you can get.  They are delicious served hot for lunch or cold for a picnic.

I used bought filo pastry but, if you have time on your hands, you could, of course, always make your own…

Ingredients

220g Pack of Filo Pastry (You will need 8 Sheets)

50g Butter

1 Egg

For the Filling

500g Mushroom (use a mixture of wild and cultivated)

1 Onion

2 cloves Garlic

A large knob of Butter

2 tbsp Olive Oil

2 tbsp Marsala

Nutmeg

1 tbsp Thyme Leaves

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6

Clean (but don’t wash) and trim the mushrooms then slice.

Finely chop and fry the onion in a little olive oil until soft but not coloured.  Mince the garlic and add to the onions along with the thyme leaves.  Cook for a few minutes more and then transfer to a bowl.

Re-heat the frying pan add half the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Once the butter has melted add half the mushrooms.  Fry briskly until the mushrooms are just beginning to brown and there is no liquid left in the pan.  Remove to a bowl

Repeat with the remaining butter, oil and mushrooms.

Reheat the pan and tip in the cooked onion mix and all the mushrooms.  Pour in the marsala and grate over a generous amount of nutmeg.  Continue to cook, stirring, over a high heat until all the liquid has evaporated.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Assemble the strudels.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan.  Lay out one sheet of pastry, brush with the melted butter and lay a second sheet on top.  Cover the rest of the pastry with a clean, damp tea towel as you work to stop it drying out.

Place a quarter of the mushroom mixture onto the centre of the pastry, brush the borders with melted butter and fold the strudel into a parcel making sure that the mushroom mixture is well enclosed.

Repeat with the remaining pastry / mushroom mixture.

Brush each parcel with beaten egg and place, join side down, on a greased baking sheet.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes until the strudels are golden brown and crispy on the outside.

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Roasted Red Peppers Stuffed with Fennel

Peppers and Fennel recipe

This week is National Vegetarian Week so I thought I would share some of my favourite veggie dishes with you – starting with these delicious peppers.  They are a little bit retro; in fact the original recipe was from Delia Smith’s Christmas which was first published in 1994.  But retro is good, right?

Over the years I have served these as a starter, for lunch with salad, as a main with some crusty bread and melted brie and as a side dish with meat or fish (ok so that’s NOT vegetarian).

They are sweet, soft, aniseedy (is that a word?) and juicy and everyone who has tried them has loved them. 

The last time I made them was for my friend Lizzi and her husband Julian.  I have known Lizzi for a few years now, we first met through work (not bun scuffle work; my real work, where I get paid!) when Lizzi applied to be an associate at evolution.  She now runs a thriving training business of her own and we still work together occasionally, which is lovely.  Somewhere along the way we moved from being colleagues to being friends and more often than not we can be found with coffee in one hand and cake in the other, talking too much to eat or drink anything.

As is often the way with a friend’s partner, we had met Julian, briefly, at one event or another but this was the first opportunity we had had to really get to know him.  We had a lovely evening chatting about our shared passions for music and books and he introduced us to a very special Cornish red wine – what’s not to love?

I made the peppers as a starter because Lizzi is a yoga practising, 5:2 fasting, healthy eating, vegetarian – whereas I am not – any of the above.  I hope this is a dish that met all our needs – it certainly met mine.

Ingredients

4 Large Red Peppers

2 small Bulbs of Fennel

1 tin Plum Tomatoes (14 oz)

4-5 tbsp Olive Oil

1tsp Coriander Seeds

1 tsp Fennel Seeds

Juice of half a Lemon

Salt and Pepper

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4.

Slice each pepper in half lengthways. Cut right through the green stalk and leave it intact if possible (because it looks pretty). Remove all the seeds and trim off any white bits. Place the pepper halves in a shallow roasting tin or casserole dish.

Drain the tomatoes and divide them into eight equal portions, put each portion inside a pepper half.

Trim the fennel and remove any tough, brown bits. Cut into quarters through the root, then cut each quarter in half so that you have 8 pieces from each bulb. Each piece should be held together at the root. Put the slices into a pan, add a pinch of salt and pour over boiling water. Blanche for five minutes then drain, carefully.

Once the fennel is cool enough to handle arrange 2 slices in each pepper half.

Drizzle with olive oil – use a pastry brush to make sure the sides of the peppers are coated with oil. Season with salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

Crush the fennel and coriander seeds lightly and sprinkle over the peppers.

Bake for about an hour until soft and beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and drizzle with the lemon juice.

Serve warm with some crusty bread to soak up the juices.

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