Tag Archives: pumpkin seeds

Romantic Seed Crackers

OK, so more hearts! Why? Because…love is crackers? But worth it? And love is a good base for other things, just like a good cracker?

Fine, fine, I’ll stop trying to use bad humour to justify another heart-shaped post. Truth be told, I was really just looking for another excuse to use the rather splendid copper biscuit cutter that I was given as a present back in November, and it does seem such a shame to use it only at Christmas. And so I’ve made my seed crackers, but this time with a bit of a romantic twist.

heartcrackers2

Of course this is not a new recipe – I first posted this about five years ago (five years ago!), but I think it is worth featuring again as it really is great. These are really double seed crackers – the simple dough (wholemeal and buckwheat flour, plus salt, oil and a dash of honey) is livened up with ground seeds, and then there are more on top for crunch and to give them some visual appeal. You could use whatever you like and/or have to hand, but I’ve used pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds.

If you make these, be prepared for “the alarming bit”. The poppy seeds and buckwheat flour make the dough a rather unappealing grey colour, but when they bake, the crackers take on this gorgeous conker-brown colour, making a handsome addition to a cheeseboard or any selection of dips.

heartcrackers1

If you’re feeling creative and really want to work a heart theme, you can also cut out toppings using your cutters – slices of cheese, pieces of vegetable or whatever else you want. Otherwise, just throw them in a bowl, and use them to scoop up obscene amounts of hummus!

heartcrackers3

For around 50 crackers (depends on size):

• 40g sesame seeds
• 30g pumpkin seeds
• 20g sunflower seeds
• 10g poppy seeds
• 120g wholewheat flour (spelt flour works too)
• 40g buckwheat flour
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
• 2 teaspoons honey
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• water, to bind
• egg white, to glaze
• seeds, to decorate

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

2. Mix all the seeds together, and blitz in a grinder until you have a fine powder. Don’t go too far, or they will become oily. The poppy seeds might stay whole, which is fine.

3. In a bowl, combine the ground seeds, flours, salt, honey and oil. Mix well.

4. Add enough water to make a dough (around 75-100ml, but it will vary depending on your flour). It should be smooth, but not sticky. Add more flour if needed.

5. Roll out the dough as thin as you can on a floured surface. Cut out the crackers (either use a cutter or cut with a knife or pizza cutter).

6. Brush each cracker with a little beaten egg white, and sprinkle over some seeds.

7. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crackers become brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. If you’re doing lots of different shapes and sizes, bake in batches of the same size to ensure they don’t burn.

Worth making? These are excellent! Quick to make, with delicious results.

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Shredded Sprout Salad

Ooof, still feeling the effects of Christmas and New Year? Even if you’re not into celebrating in a big way, January often comes as a relief when there is just generally less food, drink and sweets on offer. I kind of feel that I don’t really want to go near a spiced cookie for quite some time! At home we’re not doing anything too radical, other than an “eat less rubbish” drive. Everything in moderation and such like.

Well, this salad is a bit of an antidote to all that rich food. It’s actually my preferred way of serving Brussels sprouts, and is really very simple. Rather than trying to boil them, then cooking them too long and ending up with grey mush, you just leave them raw. Then it’s simply a case of shredding them finely, adding some nuts and soft cheese or thick yoghurt, dressing the lot and you’re done.

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If you’re thinking that raw sprouts aren’t really your thing, try one – they’ve actually slightly sweet, with a mild flavour. Not a hint of cabbage!  I’ve matched them with some tangy goat’s cheese, and then a selection of nuts and seeds. I use whatever nuts I have to hand, usually hazelnuts, but here I’ve used sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds, all of them toasted to bring out their flavour. And finally, the dressing is a simply mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice, which makes the whole dish taste really fresh.

There really is not much mystery to making this salad, other than making sure you shred the sprouts finely. This means that you can sort of fluff the greens up, so that everything mixes well. If the sprouts are too large, the nuts, cheese and dressing will stay separate. Other than that, it’s a case of having as much or as little of each part as you see fit. Personally, I would major on the toasted nuts and goat’s cheese, but that’s just my preference.

To serve this, I think it looks best on a flat plate piled up high rather than in a bowl. Given that you’ve got that wonderful green-yellow colour of the sprouts, a dark plate is best for dramatic effect (even it I’ve used a white one for my pictures!).

sproutsalad2
So there we have it – a bit of a healthy start to 2015!

To make Shredded Sprout Salad:

For the salad

• Brussels sprouts
• nuts and seeds (I used almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds)
• soft goat’s cheese

For the dressing

• 1 lemon, zest and juice
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• salt, to taste
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Toast the nuts in the oven. Allow to cool and chop roughly.

2. Trim the sprouts and remove any bad leaves from the outside. Finely shred them.

3. Make the dressing – add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper and salt to a jam jar and shake vigorously.

4. Make the salad – sprinkle half the sprouts on a plate, then half the chopped nuts and seeds. Drizzle over a little of the dressing. Add the rest of the sprouts, the rest of the nuts and seeds, then scatter chunks of the goat’s cheese on top with half an eye on coming up with something that looks a bit artistic. Finish with the rest of the dressing.

 

 

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Bonfire Night Flapjacks

If you’re planning to go to a Bonfire Night celebration, then chances are you’ll be looking for something to munch on as you’re looking skywards to take in the fireworks.

With this in mind, I’ve played around with my go-to flapjack recipe to make it a bit more seasonal. In addition to the usual butter, sugar and oats, I’ve also added some spices as well as a rather random selection of things from the store cupboard – pumpkin and sunflower seeds, apricots, dates, sultanas, hazelnuts and spelt flakes. The result is sticky, delicious and has a very autumnal flavour. It also takes about ten minutes to make, so it is incredibly easy to whip up in a hurry. Just to make the point, I’ve got the recipe below – and you’ll see that all the “extras” are measured either by the teaspoon or by the handful.

bonfire_flapjack

If you’re keen to have a go yourself, you really don’t need much more than sugar, butter and rolled oats. Otherwise, just add whatever you want (or more realistically – whatever you have in the cupboard). Dried fruits work very well, as do nuts and seeds. The one unusual thin on the list is spelt flakes – I love using these in flapjacks as they stay very crisp and add some interesting texture. It’s actually taken me a while to track them down – I used to be able to buy then in a shop in Stoke Newington, but have not found them in Clapham. Lucky for me I stumbled upon a new Wholefoods store near Piccadilly Circus, so I’ve now got easy access to all manner of weird and wonderful ingredients. Result!

So there you have it – a quick and fairly healthy idea for Bonfire Night, or just to enjoy during a quiet moment with a cup of tea.

To make Bonfire Night Flapjacks (makes 16):

• 175g butter
• 175g soft brown sugar
• 40g (2 tbsp) golden syrup
• pinch of salt
• 200g rolled oats
• 45g (3 handfuls) sultanas
• 35g (3 teaspoons) candied ginger
• 20g (2 handfuls) pumpkin seeds
• 15g (1 handful) sunflower seeds
• 20g (2 handfuls) spelt flakes
• 40g (1 handful) apricots, chopped
• 25g (1 handful) hazelnuts, chopped
• 25g (1 handful) dates, chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line a 20cm (8 inch) square baking tray or cake tin with non-stick paper.

2. Put the butter, sugar, syrup and salt (if using) in a pan. Heat gently until the butter is melted, and then boil for one minute. Add the candied ginger and mix well.

3. In a large bowl, mix all the other ingredients. Add the butter/sugar mixture and stir well. Put into a tray, spread the mixture evenly, press down and bake for 20 minutes. It should have a rich brown colour when done.

4. Once the mega-flapjack is cooked, let it cool completely, then turn onto a chopping board and cut into pieces.

Worth making? Absolutely! This reicpe is incredbily easy to make, tastes delicious, and can be

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Pumpkin Seed Gnocchi

I realise that I don’t feature as many savoury dishes here as I probably could, or indeed should. This is not because I live off only sweet things, but I find that savoury food is rather trickier to take pictures of. I might make an amazing aubergine lasagne or killer stir-fry, but trying to get an appealing shot when it’s dark outside and you’re in a rush to eat after a hard day at work…well, it just doesn’t really work. Great food, not so great pictures.

To try and change this, I thought I would share a very simple recipe using pumpkin seed butter. I’ve been using this butter in a lot of dishes recently. This is similar to nut butters, but made from pumpkin seeds, their skins lending a lovely green colour.

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This really is simplicity itself – you cook the gnocchi, then reserve a couple of spoons of the salted cooking water, mix with pumpkin seed paste (plus a dash of salt to taste), add some pumpkin oil (or olive oil if you prefer), and that’s it. You magically end up with a bright green, creamy, nutty sauce with no dairy, and which takes about two minutes to make.

pumpkingnocchi

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Kürbiskernaufstrich (Pumpkin Oil Spead)

Now that is a tongue twister! But more than that, it is something very simple and very delicious from Austria.

We all know Vienna is famous for its cakes and pastries served in the grand cafés, but the region of Steiermark (Styria), in the south of Austria, is known for producing excellent white wines, wonderful fruit and…pumpkin oil. If you’re there during the summer months, you’ll see fields and fields of pumpkins. I got to know this stuff when I was staying with my friend Sigrid in her village near Graz, and she introduced a group of us to Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin oil). It is made form the pumpkin seeds, and has a rich, deep green colour with an intensely nutty aroma and flavour. It’s different to nut oils, having more of a velvety texture.

We were in Syria for a holiday, and spent a lot of time visiting local vineyards to try their wines, and lots of places had a little terrace that served eighth-glasses of their wines as well as a little selection of local specialties. One-eighth glasses might seem small, but they’re perfect if you want to try lots of different types of wine.

Obviously pumpkin oil featured in many of these dishes – drizzled on salads, as a dressing on vegetables, in as a sauce for a local bean dish, and in Kürbiskernaufstrich – pumpkin seed spread. Siggi assured us this was the traditional way to eat the stuff, but that they did things differently in Vienna.

This is probably one of the easiest things that I’ve posted for a while – I’ve tweaked this recipe according to what you can buy easily, but just take a little cream cheese, a spoonful of sour cream, pumpkin oil, salt and pepper to taste and little garlic. Mix together until smooth, and you get a thick spread with a fresh, bright green colour and delicious flavour. You can omit the garlic of you want to taste the “pure” oil, but I find the garlic gives it a welcome little kick. It’s great eaten simply on bread or toast, with a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds and, if you’re really keen, an extra drizzle of the oil.

Once we left the rural idyll of Styria and arrived back in Vienna, as promised, pumpkin oil was indeed to be found in all the fancy shops, and at a very handsome mark-up. We were rather happy to have about a litre of the stuff direct from the farm of one of Siggi’s neighbours. In one terribly chic café, they were suggesting vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of pumpkin oil on top. I had loved it on bread and salads, but I wasn’t too sure. I chickened out and went for a piece of Sachertorte instead, but I later told Siggi about this. Ah, that’s Vienna. They are different there.

I do love pumpkin oil, and if you see it, I urge you to buy it. It’s quite different from other oils, and very versatile. It makes a simple green salad into something delicious, adds colour and depth to dressings and dips, and can even be used in risotto. Sadly, I’ve been without any of the stuff for quite a while, so was delighted that I found a new source at Austrian café Kipferl, a mere hop, skip and a jump from where I live. I think I’ll be nipping in there a little more often now.

Finally, one thing did bother me during my trip to Siggi’s place. What happened to all those pumpkins? Is Austria also famous for pumpkin pie? I remembered seeing a pumpkin strudel and I asked Siggi. She just shrugged her shoulders. Why would we eat them? I guess you could, but we really only grow them for the pumpkin seeds. So now I know!

To make Kürbiskernaufstrich:

• 250g cream cheese
• 1 tablespoon sour cream
• 3 tablespoons pumpkin oil
• 1 handful pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted in the oven
• 1 very small clove garlic, minced
• salt and pepper, to taste

Put the cheese, sour cream, pumpkin oil and garlic into a bowl. Mix well – it will turn thick, smooth and the colour of avocado. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, either chop the pumpkin seeds and mix into the spread, or put it into a bowl and sprinkle them whole on top.

Worht making? This is a delicious spread to have with lunch, or as a dip with vegetables. Definitely worth having a go at if you can get hold of pumpkin oil.

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Chocolate Bark

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So if I were to just drone on about bean-based cooking, I people would rapidly start to switch off, and we can’t have that now, can we? So today I’ve made something that you can pretend is healthy, but in reality, probably isn’t – it’s chocolate bark.

Yes, I’ve seen this pitched – in all seriousness – as some sort of healthy snack. OK, it does have nuts and dried fruit on it, but all that healthy stuff is partly enrobed in chocolate, and usually a pretty thick slab of the stuff. So by all means, do pretend it’s a health food, but I prefer the honest approach – use good nuts, posh dried fruit, lovely chocolate and see it as the luxurious treat that it really is. Then again, I suppose that it is better for you than that deep-fried butter I read they were serving up at the Iowa State Fair last year. It’s all relative.

What I like about making this is that there really is not that much skill needed to make it look presentable. You just melt the chocolate, and then sprinkle over the “other stuff”. If you would like to show off a spark of genius and produce something to delight the senses, you can of course do that by selecting some amazing fruit and nut combinations for the topping. Here I have gone for a vaguely seasonal selection – I’ve used toasted almonds (mainly because I love toasted almonds) and some bright green pistachios. I’ve also added a handful of pumpkin seeds which, if you’re not familiar with them, are awesome. I add them to salads, soups, stir-frys and will happily much on them in place of peanuts with a drink. On the sweeter side, I added very thinly sliced Italian candied orange peel, dried cranberries and chopped glacé cherries (the natural dark red ones, not the neon ones). So all in all, it’s a little bit festive, but does not scream “Christmas” too loudly.

This is also a great idea if you need to use up an otherwise rather random selection of items from the store cupboard. The topping can be pretty much anything you can imagine – for some crunch, you could use pistachios, cashews, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts. Add some flavour with aromatic spices such as nigella seeds, caraway, fennel, cardamom (you might like to crush spices slightly, and use judiciously). And on the fruity side, you could use dried apricots, prunes, figs, apples, pineapple, citrus peel…if it’s preserved and not too dry, you can use it! So while this is easy, it’s not quite true to say there is not art or skill in making this bark – how you combine the topping will result in very different types of “bar”.

In fact, if the mood takes you, you could get very creative any try using different types of chocolate (milk, dark, white) and rather than mix them together, spread one type of chocolate into the tray as the “base” and then drizzle the other on top. Then take a stick and make fantastic swirls and feather patterns. Channel your inner Jackson Pollock or Max Ernst and go crazy.

As a final twist, you can also make this a more adult treat by adding an extra something – a pinch of very finely ground fleur de sel in the melted chocolate sprinkle a few flakes on top. On a purely childish level, this looks like snow! On a more sophisticated food snob level, this tingle of saltiness on the tongue will enhance the flavour of the chocolate. Oh, and it looked like snow!!!!!!

To make chocolate bark:

Step 1: prepare the “stuff”

• 100g nuts, roughly chopped and toasted
• 100g dried fruit, chopped
• pinch of fleur de sel

Prepare the nuts and fruit, cutting into smaller pieces if necessary. We’re not looking for perfection – in fact, rough and different sizes is good.

Step 2: melt the chocolate and make the bark

• 150g dark chocolate
• 150g milk chocolate

If you’re a busy person: put all the chocolate into a bowl above a pan of barely simmering water. Leave to melt, then mix well.

If you are tempering the chocolate: put two-thirds of the chocolate into a bowl above a pan of barley simmering water. Allow the chocolate to melt, then remove from the heat. Add around a third of the reserved chocolate, and stir constantly until it has melted (note: takes a long time!). Add another third of the chocolate, and stir until melted. Add the rest of the chocolate, and stir until melted. By this stage, the chocolate should be only just warm – put a little on your tongue and it should not be too hot – just warm. If too warm, keep stirring until the temperature is right.

Pour the chocolate into the lined tray. Scatter over the mixed fruit, nuts and salt (if using) and shake the tray lightly – the “bits” should sink into the chocolate slightly, which means they won’t fall off later.

Leave to cool for several hours or overnight, then break into chunks.

Worth making? Chocolate bark is really easy and can be made with whatever you happen to have in the house – and it’s perfect for times when you have some left-over melted chocolate and need a fun and easy way to use it up.

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Dukkah

Six months ago, I had never heard of dukkah. Since then, it seems to be all over the place. I’ve seen it on quite a few blogs, in newspaper recipe sections and in a couple of restaurants. No doubt the oh-so-trendy shops of Stoke Newington Church Street will be stocking the stuff soon. So I’m finally taking the hint…there is clearly some sort of dukkah trend happening, so let’s try it out.

Dukkah 101: what is it? Basically, ground-up stuff. Nuts, seeds and spices. It originates in Egypt, and it does indeed have a heady flavour and aroma that suggests that part of the world.

Now, a little digging seems to suggest to me that the list of ingredients above is about as comprehensive as it gets.

There seem to be literally dozens of ways to make dukkah (or dukka…or duqqa…seems there are lots of ways to spell it too), and I can imagine that many proud Egyptian cooks have their own favourite (and most likely secret) ways of making it.

You might use hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios or more exotic nuts like cashews or macadamia nuts. There might be sunflower seeds in there. Perhaps chickpeas. Do you have pepper, paprika, coriander, mustard seeds, coconut? Well, all depends on what you like. Nigella seeds? Why not. Fennel? Perhaps. Whatever you’re using, just make sure it’s toasted if necessary, then ground up. And that, as they say, is that.

For my version, I decided not to do any forward planning. I would wing it. Let’s see what’s in the house, and then hope for the best. It was a very dreary Saturday morning, so actually the best time to make something that brings flavours and aromas of far-off places.

For the nuts, I used hazelnuts and pistachios, which I toasted lightly in the oven. I also had a few sunflower and pumpkin seeds, so they also went into the oven for a few minutes. I thought I also had almonds, but no – I must have used them all up, so they were not going to be used today. Winging it, remember!

I also dry-roasted a few things in a saucepan. Sesame seeds, nigella (black onion seeds), fennel and cumin seeds. I also added a bit of black pepper, Piment d’Espelette and sea salt.

With things at various stages of toastedness, I got to grinding them. The spices were pretty finely ground. For the sunflower and pumpkin seeds and the nuts, I worked to the rule of thirds – one-third fine powder, one-third moderately ground, and one-third in small chunks. It’s a rule in so far as this is what I did. Not sure that it is a real culinary rule, or even a tenet of making good dukkah. But it worked.

Having made what is essentially a large bowl of spiced nut powder, I now needed a way to eat it.

Well, use it whenever you need to add a little flavour.The simple option is to serve it with bread and olive oil (dip bread in oil, then in the dukkah, then marvel at the taste). Just avoid getting too much oil into the dukkah bowl. This stops the dukkah sticking to the bread, and I suspect that this would be regarded as terribly bad form in a Cairo café. The lesson? Keep your powder dry!

Or make hummus or some other dip, and sprinkle the dukkah all over it. Or take cubes of soft cheese or feta and coat with dukkah. Or add spoonfuls to a green leafy salad, add a simple vinaigrette and enjoy the rich flavours that the dukkah adds.

You might just sense from this that I really like this stuff. I’ve found that it makes a great condiment, and while it’s got salt and pepper in there, it also adds interesting new dimensions to foods. You also find that you get different flavours with each mouthful. An aromatic moment from the nigella seed, a flash of hotness from the paprika, then the warmth of cumin seeds.

The recipe looks long, but just because I’ve tried to make it clear what’s happening and a few tips to make sure everything turns out great. But I reckon you could go from start to finish in less than 30 minutes, and that’s only because you need to let the nuts cool down. Happy grinding!

To make dukkah:

Note: this is just a guide, adapt spices to your own tastes!

• 100g (approx. 1  cup) nuts (I used pistachios and hazelnuts)
• 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
• 50g (1/3 cup) sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon paprika or Piment d’Espelette

Set the oven to 150°C (300°F).

Put the nuts on a baking tray, and put the sunflower seeds on another tray. Toast in the oven until the nuts are fragrant and lightly coloured, and the sunflower seeds are golden brown (be careful – seeds are done before the nuts so come out sooner!). When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Next, toast the sesame seeds – put them into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Keep stirring the seeds until they are golden and smell toasted. Remove from the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool (if you leave them in the pan, they will keep cooking and might burn).

Finally, toast the spice seeds. Put the nigella, fennel and cumin into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the seeds start to “pop”. Take off the heat and put the seeds on a plate to cool.

Now, the fun part. Using a mortar and pestle, a spice grinder or a food processor, grind everything! Grind the spices finely, but for the seeds and nuts, aim to have some ground to a very fine powder, but leave some just barely crushed – this adds a bit of visual interest and texture to the finished dukkah.

Store in a large jam jar in a dark place.

Worth making? This really is a very simple but very delicious condiment for the table. It’s great to spice up and enrich dips, salads, sandwiches etc, and it great if you like interactive appetisers.

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Oh, mon amour! Risotto aux betteraves rouges

Ah, ’tis nearly Valentine’s day! Blink, and you might miss it. Seem like only yesterday that all the Christmas decorations were up(*) but the local stores are already awash with chocolate Easter eggs. I am constantly amused how you can check the time of the year by the range of sweets and goodies on offer at the till.

Now, I could have made some form of heart-shaped biscuits or chocolates, or a red cupcake, but that would be (1) predictable, and (2) against the spirit of blogging more savoury dishes. Not to miss out on the luuuurve that is in the air at this time of year, I’ve produced something that is perfect for a romantic dinner with that special someone, and also keeps the red theme going. Just be sure that the relevant special someone likes beetroot.

This really is just a simple risotto, but chopped beetroot goes in with the first ladle of stock to make sure the colour is a vibrant dark magenta, and a few tweaks at the end of the cooking process to play on the flavour and colour of the beetroot.

The key thing is to use fresh beetroot, rather than the stuff that comes preserved in vinegar. I feel that it’s almost too obvious to point out, but something that has been sitting in acid for weeks and weeks is not going to be your best friend in a risotto. I appreciate that I am not speaking from experience here, and by all means give it a bash if you think that it would work, but it strikes me as a flavour combination I could happily miss. And really – who serves their beloved a plate of vinegar? But…that being said…a slight sharpness does work with beetroot, so I actually add a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar at the end, just to add the tiniest hint of sharpness. Just a touch though!

But let’s face it, the reason for making this is just the fantastic colour. It looks utterly stunning, and quite amazing to think this is completely natural. When I add the beetroot, I chop into a combination of larger and smaller pieces, so that you can still see the darker beetroot (which ends up looking like the dish is studded with garnets) next to the vibrant red rice. If you prefer, grate the beetroot – you’ll get more colour, but you’ll also have pink juice everywhere. Up to you…

To top this, I add a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (not too much, don’t hid the colour), plus some toasted pumpkin seeds and a little chopped chives. Their green colours contrast with the redness, and the flavours play well with the beetroot. However, toasted pine nuts and/or a light sprinkling of fresh dill would also work well.

(*) In fact, a certain house down our street seems to be stuck on 24 December, with the plastic tree still in the window…I’ve checked, and there are people alive in there, so not to worry.


To serve 4 (or 2, with lots left over):

• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 250g arborio rice
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 300g beetroot, boiled, peeled and finely chopped or grated
• 50g Parmesan cheese
• 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons cream

Warm the butter and olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and fry gently over a low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Add the rice and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the wine, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice seems “oily”. Tip in the beetroot and black pepper, and add the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add more when the previous addition has almost evaporated. The rice will start as light pink, but will change to a deep reddish-pink towards the end.

Once all the stock has been added, cook the risotto to the desired consistency (some like it runny, some like it thick). Add the Parmesan cheese, stir well, and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream and balsamic vinegar and allow to sit for two minutes with the pot covered.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan and a scattering of toasted pine nuts or pumpkin seeds, and a scattering of chopped chives or dill.

Worth making? I love risotto anyway, but this one looks stunning on the plate and has a fabulous flavour. The beetroot and dill make it a little more unusual, but I think this is a great combination.

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Super-Healthy Seed Crackers

I’ve recently had a real thing for seeds, and have been adding them to lots of things. Lightly toasted pumpkin seeds in salads, sunflower seeds in muffins, muesli and cous cous, sesame seeds on ice-cream. They just bring that little extra something to a dish. Don’t believe me? Well, in Vienna, you can even have vanilla ice-cream with a drizzle of nutty, green pumpkin seed oil. Very chic. If you see pumpkin oil, I urge you to buy it. Makes a fantastic salad dressing and a rather groovy green risotto.

So…if seeds are so good, why not try making something that focuses on the seeds and makes them the star, rather then just expecting them to be support actors? My initial idea was to make some sort of sweet muesli bar, but mostly with the seeds. Then I realised that I have put so much sweet stuff on this blog and I wanted to try being a bit healthier after indulging a little bit too much on holiday, so it had to be something savoury. A few minutes online and I found, via the ever-useful LA Times, a handy overview of all things seed cracker related. To the kitchen, and start experimenting.

I worked out a recipe based on a standard cracker recipe, and mine worked out really well. The dough came together easily, and was a doddle to roll out and cut. Sometimes pastry is a complete nightmare, taking on its own personality and stubbornly refusing to do what you want it to do. Then you finally get it into a decent shape, and in the oven it throws another tantrum and does crazy stuff like puff up on one side only, or shrinks and looks a bit of a mess. But not this one. It just took a little flour and a rolling pint to get it to about 3 mm thickness, then I cut the crackers out using a knife. Before I baked them, I glazed with a little beaten egg and sprinkled over a few more seeds. If you want that glossy looks-like-its-been-varnished look, then egg is the way to go. After baking, the turned a dark tan colour, and had kept the square shape I had been looking for. Result.

And how did they taste? Really good. There is nuttiness from the various seeds and the buckwheat flour, and just the tiniest hint of sweetness from the honey, and the poppy seeds keep a little bit of crunch and pop in your mouth as you eat them. And of course, them make a delicious foil for a huge slice of mature cheddar, which I think is the way all crackers want to be eaten. Delicious!

For around 50 crackers (5cm x 5 cm):

• 40g sesame seeds
• 30g pumpkin seeds
• 20g sunflower seeds
• 10g poppy seeds
• 120g wholewheat flour
• 40g buckwheat flour
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
• 2 teaspoons honey
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
• water, to bind
• egg white, to glaze
• seeds, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Mix all the seeds together, and blitz in a grinder until you have a fine powder. Don’t go too far, or they will become oily. The poppy seeds might stay whole, which is fine.

In a bowl, combine the ground seeds, flours, salt, honey and oil. Mix well.

Add enough water to make a dough (around 100ml, but it will vary depending on your flour).

Roll out the dough until 2-3mm thick, cut out small rectangle or squares, and place on the baking sheet.

Brush each cracker with a little beaten egg, and sprinkle over some seeds.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crackers become brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

Worth making? These are delicious and (probably) nutritious. They were a big hit with everyone that tried them, so will happily be making them again. Good if you want to feel a little sophisticated next time you serve up some good cheese.

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Pumpkin soup on a cold day

We’ve just had one of the coldest winters for years. Something like this:

Snow, snow and more snow – it has all been very festive, but until last week it looked like the thaw had arrived and spring as around the corner. Then on Friday…snow flurries! More snow! It turned out to be just a light dusting, but the cold weather is back with us for a while.

I realised that all my posts so far have been sweet treats, but that cold weather calls for something warm and filling. The time has come to try a pumpkin soup recipe I picked up in Denmark in December 2008, but using butternut squash in place of pumpkin. I find Pumpkin looses its colour when cooked and turns pale yellow, whereas butternut squash keeps its great luminous orange colour. To top off the soup, I toasted some pumpkin seeds in the oven with oil and spices to add a little extra crunch and flavour.

When you can eat things like this, cold weather has some appeal!

HOW TO MAKE IT

• olive oil
• 1 butternut squash
• 3 white onions
• 3 fat cloves of garlic
• sea salt
• freshly ground pepper
• 1.5 litres water
1-2 tablespoons of plain yoghurt or cream (optional)

Heat the olive oil and all the finely chopped onions and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste. Sautée gently for 15 minutes, until the onions are light brown and caramelised. In the meantime, peel the squash, remove the seeds, and chop into small pieces. Once the onions are cooked, add the chunks of squash and cook for a further five minutes. Add the water, and leave on a medium heat (not boiling) until the squash pieces are soft. Once the soup in ready, blend the soup until smooth. That’s it – but if you like, add a couple of spoonfuls of plain yoghurt or cream and stir well.

For the pumpkin seed topping: mix 100g of shelled pumpkin seeds in a tablespoon of olive oil, and add salt, ground pepper and whatever spices you like (I used curry powder, cumin and paprika). Mix well and cook on a baking sheet at 200 degrees centigrade until the seeds are well toasted. Remove from the oven, allow to cool briefly, and add a generous spoonful to each bowl of soup before serving.

WOULD I MAKE IT AGAIN?

100% yes. This is a really easy recipe and tastes great. The slow cooking of the onions makes it quite sweet, but this goes nicely with the spicy seeds and crusty wholemeal bread.

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