Smashed avocado, bacon and poached eggs on toast 

After 32 years living in the Scotland, I finally enjoyed my first trip across the Irish Sea to visit some friends just outside Belfast. Aside from enjoying my first Irish pint of Guinness and the treat of watching Ireland win the 6 nations, we of course indulged in some quality grub. For breakfast on the Saturday morning we popped into a lovely small cafe which was serving this very dish. After scoffing it down and enjoying every delicious mouthful I was keen to try and recreate it at home.  Ingredients (per portion):

1 large free range egg (as fresh as possible for poaching)
1/2 a ripe avocado
1/2 lime
2 rashers thick cut smoked back bacon
1 thick slice sour dough bread
handful washed rocket
extra virgin olive oil

This recipe is unapologetically simple, so make sure the ingredients are the best quality you can find/afford.

What I did:

To poach the egg boil the kettle and place the water into a small pan. For poached eggs you want the water about 80C, so not really even simmering, let alone boiling. This will keep the whites lovely and delicate whilst allowing the yolk time to thicken into a lovely rich sauce like consistency. Once your temperature is right, crack the egg into a small bowl and add it to the water (you can swirl the water before adding it if you like). 4 mins later and the egg will be spot on.

For the bacon, grill or fry to your liking.

When preparing the Avocado, cut in half, remove the seed and scoop out the deliciously fragrant flesh. Mash with a fork adding a little salt and pepper (not too much as the bacon is salty and the rocket peppery) and a good squeeze of the lime juice. The lime balances the richness of the egg yolk perfectly.

 
If possible rub the the sourdough with a little oil and griddle to add an extra dimension of flavour to the dish. If you’re in a hurry simply stick it in the toaster, or under the grill with the bacon.

  

To plate up, generously spread the mashed avocado on the toast. Place on a few rocket leaves and then your bacon. Top the whole thing with the poached egg, a pinch of salt and drizzle of oil.

Grab your knife and fork and dig in.

Easy?
Don’t rush your egg poaching. Everything else is a breeze.

Healthy?
This is undoubtedly high in fat. As long as you’re not having it everyday, it’s a pretty great way to get some brilliant nutrition and a good contrast to other ‘healthy’ breakfasts which can be really high in sugar (granola – we’re looking at you!)
Eggs are high in choline which is a vital part of nervous system development and avocados are brilliant for keeping a healthy heart.

Cheap?
This certainly feels like a treat but between two people it’s probably only around £4 in total (you’re only using one slice of bread and one egg each!). 

Sweet Potato and Lime Mash

For those of you on a bit of a health kick after an overindulgent Christmas this sweet potato version of mash is perfect. No oil, no cream, no butter, just sweet potatoes and limes. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, ‘limes with potatoes?’, but believe me it is epic! You get this incredible sweet and sour vibe that works incredibly well with grilled meat and fish. It’s now our new go to mash for with good quality bangers. Anyway, without further ado….

Ingredients:

As many sweet potatoes as you like
Roughly 1 lime for every 2 sweet potatoes
Salt
Pepper

Optional extras include: coriander, chilli, spring onions etc. Make this mash your own!

IMG_1991What I did:

Pop your oven on at 200C. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes. Put them in the oven and leave them for 40mins-1hour depending on their size. If you’re not sure if they’re ready, a knife should slide through them with virtually no resistance.

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Place the potatoes in a warm pot or bowl. I love these with the skin on, but they can be taken off at this stage if desired. To avoid having whole pieces of skin I like to chop the potatoes into 4-6 pieces before mashing.IMG_1983

Grab your masher and pulverise. Time for the magic. Squeeze in the desired amount of lime juice (I’d keep trying the mash after every lime), add a good pinch of salt and pepper and any other extras that you like.IMG_1988

We served ours with green veg and some incredibly tasty belly pork (pork belly slices rubbed with a little oil then honey and chipotle BBQ rub simply placed in the oven at 130C for 1hour 30mins – 2 hours). Once you’ve tried this you’ll not want to eat sweet potatoes any other way again.IMG_1992

Easy?
What could be easier than two ingredients!? It’s so simple that sometimes Mrs Smith does the cooking!

Healthy?

Sweet potatoes are super high in vitamin A (beta-carotene – a powerful antioxidant). Lime juice is also magical stuff and can help with digestion amongst other things.

Cheap?
A bag of sweet potatoes big enough to serve 4 as a side dish will cost you between £1-2 depending on the size of the potatoes (and the size of the bellies it will be filling!). A couple of limes will be about 50p.

The Little Cafe

Last January, we ventured in to The Little Cafe for the first time for our usual Saturday morning coffee date. It’s *almost* the closest cafe to our front door but admittedly it had taken us a while to discover. There’s no shortage of cafes in the West End but there weren’t too many we really felt we wanted to be faithful to. One year and many, many cappuccinos later, we think we’ve found our home.

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The welcome here is as warm as they come. Owner and manager Ersan, a talented barista, knows many of his customers by name, and of course he remembers their orders. The setting is small (as you could probably guess from the name) and the booths are intimate but still open and sociable. The huge windows provide a great feeling of connection to the bustling outside world whilst the cosy layout with its simple neutral decor makes it seem like you’ve just popped round to your neighbour’s for a wee cuppa.

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Let’s start with the most important thing. The coffee here is gorgeous. It’s a delicious medium-roast and, compared to the rather harsh and acidic offerings at rival cafes, it’s delightfully smooth and very easy drinking. Mr Smith likes his Americano ‘double-single’, a double shot of espresso and a single serving of water.

Other hot drinks are equally satisfying, but a special mention must be made for the Hot Chocolate- a rich indulgent treat and the favourite of Mrs Smith. If you’re lucky, you might be able to nab a cup of the ‘whipped’ Hot Chocolate – aerated and tasting like the melting middle of a chocolate pudding. Spoons and napkins recommended!

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For food, the menu centres around freshly made pizzas and ciabattas. The list of toppings is extensive for a small cafe but they remain classic and super tasty. The dough is handcrafted each day and each meal is made fresh to order. The quality of the pizzas here is the finest in the area, especially for the price. The bases are thin and crisp and just the right size to finish off without feeling you need to share!

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There’s a rather continental feel about this place. Loyal customers, tourists and families alike appreciate the calm atmosphere and friendly service. Kind-hearted staff with big smiles bring your order swiftly, but not so fast that you feel hurried. Taking your time in here is important.

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As a local coffee shop, The Little Cafe is everything it should be. There isn’t an ounce of pretentiousness, but there’s bags of charisma, and most importantly, great coffee.

Chestnut Soup

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If you haven’t quite decided on what starter/soup you’re going to make on Christmas day, then this could definitely be the answer. This soup is incredibly simple, a little bit different and big on flavour.

Ingredients:

2 packs vacuum packed chestnuts (2x200g)
1 large potato (baking potatoes are fine)
2 medium onions
3 sticks of celery
2 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
1.2 litres vegetable stock

to serve:
A splash of single cream
crispy smoked streaky bacon (1-2 rashers per person)

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What I did:

Start by roughly chopping the celery and onions. This doesn’t have to be done finely as we’re going to blend the soup later. Add a good glug of olive oil to a soup pot or large pan and place over a low/medium heat.

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Our aim here is to start to soften the vegetable, extracting their sweetness but without adding any colour. A good pinch of salt and pepper during cooking will really enhance the flavour, but remember the stock may be quite salty if you’re using stock cubes/pots, so adjust this accordingly. After about 6 or 7 minutes finely chop the garlic and add it to the pot, cooking for a further 2 minutes.

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During this time peel and dice the potato and remove the chestnuts from their packaging. Add these to the pot with the bay leaves.

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Next, add just enough vegetable stock to cover (reserve any extra vegetable stock to add later if the soup is too thick). Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the potatoes have softened (roughly 10-15 mins depending on the size of your chunks).

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Remove the bay leaves and blend (I used a pretty rubbish hand blender and it coped no problem). Check for seasoning and keep warm. If your making this for Christmas day, make it the night before, allow to cool and store in the fridge. To serve, I fried some rashers of streaky bacon in a little oil until beautifully crisp, let them drain on kitchen paper and then chopped them finely. A swirl of cream and a smattering of bacon bits and this soup is ready to go. A real winter warmer that guests will definitely want the recipe for.

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Easy?
Incredibly simple. Served without the bacon and cream, this soup is dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan so it’s great for entertaining. TOP TIP: if you’re not cooking for any vegetarians, then we’d recommend frying the bacon first and then using this pan with all the yummy bacon-infused oil to fry your veggies in.

Healthy?
Chestnuts have lots of Vitamin C and are packed full of minerals like potassium. Soups are a great way to fill you up without the usual ‘heaviness’ of Christmas starters so you can save your calories for pudding!

Cheap?
Try and grab the vacuum packed chestnuts when they are on offer as their price can vary quite a bit throughout the year and they keep for ages. Everything else is dirt cheap! This recipe will serve 4-6 as a lunch with a big hunk of bread, or 6-8 as a starter.

Preserved Lemons

Having made a few tagines in my time, I’ve spent hours scouring supermarket shelves looking for preserved lemons (without much joy I might add). So, with Christmas just around the corner and thinking through some edible gift ideas, I decided I would make my own. After a bit of research, I was pleasantly surprised to see how simple my task was going to be. If you’ve got foodie friends and you’re fed up buying them cookery book after cookery book, give them this handmade treat instead.

Ingredients:

This list will make one jar, but I’d make a whole bunch at once.

Essential:
500ml jar
6 unwaxed lemons
300g coarse sea salt

Optional: [These will add some flavour to the final product but mostly they’ll help the jars look gorgeous]

Star anise
Cinnamon sticks
Fennel seeds
Coriander seeds
Cloves
Whole black peppercorns
Bay leaves

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What I did:

Start by sterilising your jars. Give them a good wash in soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Place them in the oven with the lids open at 120C for 20mins. Whilst the jars are being sterilised, prepare the lemons and pick out the spices you’d like to add to the jar.

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Give the lemons a thorough clean. Take each lemon and make a cut from one end almost all the way through to the other. Do this another twice to create 6 wedges that are still all attached by the base. Keeping the lemons whole really adds to the final presentation. Remove your jars from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Cover the base of each jar with a layer of salt. Fill each lemon with at least a tablespoon full of sea salt. You can’t overdo the amount of salt so don’t stress. As each lemon is completed stuff them into the jar. You can also add some spices to the jar with each lemon to make the jars look full of festive glow.

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The tighter they are packed the less salt you’ll need to use. By the time you squish in the last lemon there should be enough lemon juice to cover the lemons. If not add another layer of salt and squeeze the juice of any spare lemons you have into the jars (the lemons must be completely submerged). Seal the jars and store these in a cool dark place for 1 month.

The typical use of these lemons is in a tagine, maybe with chicken and olives, but there is no real end to their uses. They’re brilliant with cous cous (even just a splash of the salty lemony preserving liquid will work a treat) or with grilled/steamed fish.

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Whenever you decide to use them, lift one out of the jar and cut off the desired number of segments. Remove any of the remaining flesh as the bit we’re really interested in is the rind. Shred the rind finely and add to your desired dish as required. Ensure all of the remaining lemons are still covered by lemon juice. If not squeeze in a fresh lemon or top up with olive oil. If you keep the lemons covered they will keep for up to 2 years.

How to….. Steak

A friend asked recently how I cook steak. Like many, he was struggling to achieve that lovely exterior crust whilst keeping the interior the way he liked it. So here are my top tips:

What to buy

A quality meal starts with quality ingredients. There are unfortunately no short cuts when it comes to steak and you really do get what you pay for. Source good meat, preferably from your butcher or the best meat the supermarket has to offer. Ideally, your steak should be aged anywhere between 21 and 35 days. 28 day aged beef is readily available. This ensures the meat is tender and that its flavour has fully developed. Quality well hung beef should be a deep red colour as shown in the picture below, not the bright red that you see in a lot of supermarket meat.
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(photo credit)

The thickness of a steak is important. If it’s too thin creating a nice crust is impossible without overcooking the middle. Aim for a sirloin/ribeye steak which is roughly 2cm thick or a fillet which is 3.5cm thick, this will allow you the time to sear the outside whilst keeping the inside just as you like it.

Marbling is good! I remember thinking the leaner a piece of meat the better, but good quality steaks should have streaks of fat running through them, which upon cooking will melt and baste the meat.

Preparation

Remove the meat from any plastic packaging ASAP, as this causes the meat to sweat and can ruin the quality. Ideally store them in the fridge, for up to two days, uncovered on a wire rack with a plate underneath. This will remove any excess moisture from the meat and will further enhance the flavour.

Lift the steaks out of the fridge at least 30mins before you wish to use it (you want to get them to room temperature which may take as long as two hours). Placing cold meat in a scorching hot pan shocks the muscle and causes it to become tough.

Cooking

You’ll need a good heavy frying pan or griddle pan that will distribute heat evenly across the steak. We use this one from Circulon. Place the pan on the highest heat your hob can manage until it is literally smoking hot (I guess at this stage I should advise opening all your windows and putting on your extractor fan too!).

Brush both sides of the steaks with oil (I’d use groundnut oil or extra light olive oil as these have a high smoke point) and season well with salt and pepper. This has to be done at the last minute as the salt will start to draw the moisture from the steaks if done earlier.

Place the steaks into the pan (max 2 at a time, depending on the size of your pan, so they have lots of space to fry otherwise they will stew) and leave undisturbed for the desired amount of time (see below for cooking times). Flip over using tongs and allow the steak to finish cooking. For an extra touch of luxury, add a generous knob of butter to the pan for the last minute of cooking and baste the steaks using a metal spoon.

3.5cm thick fillet steak:

Rare: About 2¼ mins each side
Medium-rare: About 3¼ mins each side
Medium: About 4½ mins each side

2cm thick sirloin/ribeye steak:

Rare
: About 1½ mins per side
Medium rare: About 2 mins per side
Medium: About 2¼ mins per side

(adapted from here)

These timings are just a guide. Once you’ve managed to cook a steak to your liking, press down on the steak with your finger to feel the resistance (how ‘springy’ it is) and use this as marker for the next time. As you grow in confidence, your sense of touch will become more reliable than any timer.

Personally I like a sirloin/ribeye medium rare as this allows a little more of the fat to melt creating (in my opinion) a tastier steak. For the leaner fillet I prefer it rare to enjoy the incredibly tender meat at its best.

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(photo credit)

Please, please, please let your steaks rest. To do this, remove the steaks from the pan, place them on a chopping board and loosely tent them with a piece of tin foil. As a general rule I’d allow them to rest at least as long as I’ve cooked them. This will give the muscles time to relax and for the juices to make their way back into the middle of the steak.

Slice your steak across the grain and enjoy with your favourite sauce (mine is pepper and cognac) and some luxury triple cooked chips.

To wash it all down, we recommend a gorgeously spicy Argentinian Malbec.

Rice Noodle Salad

Here’s a quick blog with a tasty little salad for you to try. It’s full of Asian flavours and is a well balanced and healthy dish, which has been warmly received in the Smith household. I’m using Sirloin steak as the main source of protein, but this can easily be replaced with chicken, pork or tofu.

Ingredients:

Salad:
1 thick Sirloin steak
300g bag of ‘fresh’ rice noodles (You can get these in the fruit and veg section of all major supermarkets)
Handful of beansprouts
1 julienned carrot (or grated)
2 spring onions (slice the white section across the way and reserve for the dressing, julienne the green section like the carrots)
Peanut oil/vegetable oil for cooking the steak
Handful of salted peanuts roughly chopped

Dressing:
2 tbs light soy sauce
1 tsp crushed/grated garlic
1 tsp crushed/grated ginger
1 lime juiced
1 tbs honey
1/2 red chilli finely sliced (seeds in or out it’s your call, finely slice the other half too and reserve for garnish)
Splash of sesame oil

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What I did:

Start by filling and boiling the kettle. Whilst the noodles are fresh I felt they were still a little undercooked. Place the noodles into a colander and rinse with the boiling water. Quickly run them under the cold tap until chilled, then place the colander over a pan and allow to drain thoroughly.

Next make the dressing by placing all the ingredients (not forgetting the white parts of the spring onions) into a small jug and stirring vigorously until combined.

Time to cook the steak. For the perfect steak check out my new post here.

To assemble, add half the carrots, half the (green) spring onions, a few peanuts and about half the dressing to the noodles and mix well. Split this between two plates/bowls. Next finely slice the sirloin steak across the grain and top each bed of noodles with a generous portion of the meat. You can spoon a little more of the dressing directly on top of the steak at this point for an extra hit of flavour. Finally pile on the remaining mint, coriander, peanuts, beansprouts, spring onions, carrots and chilli to give the dish some height and make it look crazy pretty.

Serve immediately with any leftover dressing.

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Fennel & Citrus Salad

With the recent (and slightly uncharacteristic) warm weather we’ve been experiencing in Glasgow, this is the ideal time to shake things up in the kitchen and learn a new salad recipe. Taking some inspiration from the colours and tastes of the Mediterranean, this is without doubt my favourite ‘go to’ dish for taking to BBQs throughout the summer months. The punchy citrus and anise flavours are perfect paired with BBQ’d meat and fish, cleansing the palate between mouthfuls of smokey perfection. If you’ve never tried fennel then this is a great introduction to it in its raw form, and once you’ve tasted it you’ll find it difficult to ever return to simple green salad.

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Ingredients

1 fennel bulb with fronds
1 orange
1 pink/red grapefruit
1 lime
Small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
Glug of extra virgin olive oil

What I did

The key to this recipe is getting the fennel wafer thin. This can be done using a mandolin, a vegetable peeler or (most easily) using a food processor and its thinnest slicing attachment. Before slicing/shaving the fennel, be sure to remove any fronds from the top (these are the little green herby looking bits), finely chop them and place into a bowl. These fronds are full of flavour and under no circumstances should they be discarded. To get the fennel extra crunchy, once you have sliced/shaved it, place it into a large bowl of iced water for around 10 minutes whilst you prepare the fruit.

20140713-161647-58607631.jpgPreparation of the fruit can be a bit of a faff the first time you try to make this salad, but with time your ability to segment the orange and grapefruit will significantly improve. Start by zesting the lime, orange and grapefruit into the same bowl you placed the fennel fronds in.
20140713-160837-58117279.jpgCut the lime in half and set aside. Chop a slice off the top and bottom of the orange and grapefruit to reveal a significant amount of flesh as shown in the picture below.
20140713-160838-58118105.jpgHere comes the ‘tricky’ bit. Carefully run a vegetable knife from top to bottom of each fruit removing all skin and pith, whilst trying to stick to the shape of the flesh as much as possible. If I’m completely honest it doesn’t really matter how you get it off, so simply take your time and get as much of it off as possible as pith has a very bitter taste. When you’re done, it should look like this.20140713-160838-58118944.jpgWe’re nearly there! Next segment the fruit by slicing carefully between each of the membranes placing each segment into the bowl with the fronds and zest. (Here’s a link to ‘How to segment an orange’ in case my description hasn’t been very good.) Once each fruit has been segmented, squeeze the remaining pulp (the bit you’ve got left) into the bowl to create a base for the dressing. Add in a good glug of olive oil (to your taste) and we’re ready to assemble the dish.

Lift the fennel out of the iced water and give it a squeeze to remove any excess. Place this into a large serving dish. Squeeze over the lime and add a generous pinch of salt. Next spoon over the citrus segments and dressing, sprinkling finally with the coriander leaves. A picture of summer, i think you’ll agree….20140713-160839-58119801.jpg

 

Easy?

This is a bit more labour intensive than a regular ‘chop up and go’ salad but it’s not difficult or in fact very time consuming especially if you have a mandolin or food processor.

Healthy?

A portion of this stuff will have you well on your way to 100% of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C. (One Fennel bulb contains 14%, Grapefruit 59%, Orange 93% and Lime 31%). It’s also a great way of filling up your plate in place of the many carb-heavy sides on offer at BBQs.

Cheap?

If you already have good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil in your store cupboard then the fresh produce will cost you less than £3. Bargain!

Beer Braised Belly Pork

Belly pork is the ultimate cheap cut of a pig to my mind (closely followed by the cheeks). In fact I’d go as far as to say, belly pork is the ultimate cut of a pig, period. When cooked correctly it has the most wonderful texture, with meat that falls apart and flavour which boggles the mind. Helping this little piggy portion create sensory nirvana takes a small amount of effort but a rather saintly amount of patience. It’s going to take 2 days to take this cut of meat from unwanted to irresistible, so let’s get started!

Ingredients:

1kg of boneless belly pork
2 bottles of porter (dark beer) roughly 1 litre in total
2 star anise
2 dried red chillies (you could use a pinch of dried chilli flakes)
1 onion halved
2 cloves of garlic bashed
1-2 tbs treacle (optional)

What I did:

Day 1:

20140713-160449-57889037.jpgToday is the day we take this tough piece of meat and tenderise it using the moist heat of the braising process. Start by removing your belly pork from the fridge an hour before you’re ready to cook. Now go and watch an episode or two of your favourite box set (we’re currently watching season 3 of Scandal). Once it’s finished turn your oven on at 130C/265F. Season the meat well with salt and pepper. Ensure the skin of the pork is well scored as this will help release a lot of the fat and is the key to getting some crispy crackling on day 2. We’re going to put a little colour on the belly pork at this point. If possible you want to use just one pan for this. One that is wide enough to fry the pork, deep enough to cover it in liquid and preferably with a lid. Heat a little oil over a medium/high heat and place the pork skin side down for 3-4 minutes. Continue browning the pork on all sides roughly 2 mins per side.  At this point you’ll have noticed that I couldn’t resist cooking more than one piece of pork, it’s just so good.20140713-160451-57891581.jpg
Once browned, (you can transfer it to a soup pot at this point if you used a frying pan to brown the pork) add in the two bottles of porter. We used this Midnight Sun porter from Alloa (always best to keep things local). 20140713-160450-57890752.jpgTo enhance its already spicy taste, add in the chillies, star anise, onion and garlic.

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As you can see after adding the porter to the pan, our pork still isn’t covered. Simply add enough hot water to completely submerge the pork.

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Place a lid on the pan or tent with foil and place in the middle shelf of the oven undisturbed for 3 hours. After this time has passed, remove the pan from the oven and allow the pork to cool in the cooking liquor. Now this is where you must be extremely disciplined, resisting the temptation to peel off strip after strip of tender pork belly, claiming to be testing that it’s cooked properly! Remove the pork from the stock and plonk it in a flat roasting tin (one that can fit comfortably in the fridge), skin side up. Place a sheet of foil/clingfilm over the top and find a slightly smaller baking sheet to sit directly on top of the pork. Sit a few tins from your store cupboard on top of this second baking sheet to weigh it down. This process will press the pork flat and allow us to cut beautiful restaurant style cubes/cuboids of pork for serving on day 2. Place this homemade press in the fridge overnight. Take the cooking liquor and pour it into a bowl, cover it with clingfilm and stick it in the fridge alongside the pork.

Day 2:

The hard work has been done. Now we are simply going to add the finishing touches. Start by removing the pork from the fridge. It should look like this.

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Trim off the uneven edges and cut some perfectly square cubes/cuboids of pork of whichever size you desire. This will make frying them in a pan much simpler than the currently uneven surfaces. Allow the pork to sit at room temperature for 30mins.20140713-160453-57893286.jpg
Whilst the pork is warming up a little, we can reduce the cooking liquor to serve alongside the belly. Be gentle when you lift the bowl from the fridge as you’ll see that the melted fat from the pork has congealed on top of the liquid. Carefully remove most of this fat from the bowl and discard. I like to leave a little of the fat with the liquid as it adds a nice richness to the finished sauce. Take the remaining contents of the bowl and pour them into a pan on a medium heat and allow to reduce until syrupy. To finish the sauce I love to add a tablespoon or two of treacle to echo the dark, sticky, richness of the porter.

Into the final stretch now, I promise it’ll all be worth it. Heat some oil in a large frying pan over a medium/high heat (I actually used lard at this point for extra ‘porkiness’, as I had some lying in the fridge from making rillettes). Place your pieces of pork skin side down until the skin is lovely and crisp (be careful as the oil has a tendency to spit at this point). Once crisp, continue browning the belly pieces on all sides. A deft touch is required here as the pork will fall to pieces if you’re too rough.20140713-160454-57894125.jpg
To serve, place as much sauce as you like on the plate and carefully lay a piece (or two…..or three) of belly pork in the middle, sprinkling the skin with some sea salt flakes. In winter I’d serve this with creamy mash and pickled cabbage with apples, but given it’s the height of summer (and it’s actually been sunny), we opted for a side of fennel and citrus salad, to lighten the dish.20140713-160454-57894983.jpgAlternative ending: After day 1 you could slice the pork into rashers about 1/2″ thick and grill them until crispy and golden on a BBQ, continually brushing on your syrupy sauce as a delicious glaze.

Easy?

Cooking any ‘off cuts’ of meat will always take a wee bit of time, but there are no challenging culinary techniques required. This is a great dish for large dinner parties as the majority of the work can be tackled the day before, leaving you with only a small amount of time spent in the kitchen and more time stuffing your face with your guests.

Healthy?

High in calories, high in saturated fat, very high in tastiness! This is not a dish for anyone watching their waistline……

Cheap?

From the supermarket counters, you’re looking at around £6/kg for belly pork. 1kg will serve 4 people as part of a main dish or 6 people as a starter. Not bad!

King Prawn Biryani

Whilst I am by no means an expert in Asian cooking and I’m sure some aficionados will be deeply offended by this recipe, this dish is so delicious and easy that I’d be doing you a disservice by not sharing it. You can double all the quantities and it’ll serve 4 no problem or buy a tin of tomatoes or coconut milk and turn the remaining paste into a delicious sauce for some Chicken/Lamb later in the week.

Ingredients

200g raw king prawns
225g uncooked basmati rice (500g of any pre cooked rice will do nicely)
100g good quality curry paste (We used Waitrose’s own Keralan curry paste – 100g is half of the jar)
1 red onion finely sliced
1 red chilli finely sliced
Handful of fresh coriander roughly chopped
Small handful of cashews
Small hanful of sultanas/raisins.

What I Did

Start by preparing your rice using the instructions on the back of the packet (don’t forget to add a generous pinch of salt to the water). I often find the timings a little too long however,  so taste the rice a few minutes earlier than instructed to avoid having horrible claggy overcooked rice. Drain the rice to remove any excess water and set aside to cool. Then take the prawns out of the fridge. We used raw prawns but cooked prawns will work just fine if raw seafood makes you a little nervous.
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Being on a bit of a health kick at the moment I’m using unrefined coconut oil to do any frying that needs done. Whilst high fat, it is extremely good for you and adds delicious colour and flavour to your food. If you don’t have coconut oil, any olive/vegetable oil will be great. At this point set your oven to 180C and either use a large frying pan that can go straight into the oven when needed or place an ovenproof dish in to warm.
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Place a little oil into your pan and fry the onions, cashews and chilli (reserve a little chilli for garnishing the final dish) over a medium/high heat for a few minutes allowing them to take on a lovely golden brown colour. The more colour you add at this point the tastier the final Biryani will be.
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Add the curry paste and fry for another minute, until the aromas start to perfume your kitchen.
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Turn the heat down to low and add the prawns, coating them with the delicious paste. This is the point at which raw prawns excel, given that they are so much better at soaking up the flavours than their pre-cooked counterparts.
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After 2 mins when the prawns turn opaque (although not cooked completely) stir the rice into the mix. You can do this thoroughly if you wish, but I rather like having clumps of plain white rice and others highly seasoned with the paste. Add the raisins at this point too.
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Place the mixture into the oven for ten minutes to dry out. If using an oven proof dish give it a little rub with some oil/butter to stop the mix from sticking. This is a good time to prepare any yoghurt and chapatis/nan breads that you wish to serve with the finished dish.
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Remove from the oven and serve immediately, garnished with the leftover chilli and fresh coriander. We served it with plain yoghurt and wraps that we had left over from last nights dinner, not forgetting an ice cold beer to wash it all down.
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Easy?
Once you’ve boiled the rice, this dish will be ready to eat in under 20 minutes and all in one pan! Using packs of pre-cooked (microwaveable) rice will speed things up. There’s no real preparation time so this can be whipped up last minute, and no fancy gadgets required – just a frying pan large enough that can go in your oven.
Healthy?
Prawns are naturally high in protein, low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids. They are also an excellent source of Vitamin E which is great for skin! Coconut Oil is a true superfood and has become our ‘go-to’ cooking oil – try it out if you haven’t already!
Cheap?
Raw king prawns are totally worth the extra cash compared to pre-cooked ones – our pack which served 2 cost around £4.50.
We made this recipe slightly easier by buying a paste – using half of the jar was 80p. You could whip up a paste using your storecupboard spices if you already have garlic, chilli and ginger (which form the base of most pastes) but otherwise it’s cheaper to buy the finished product. There are lots of different ready made pastes available so you can choose one which suits your taste and budget.

Piece

There are times when, given all the incredible lunch options in our great city, all you want is a humble sandwich, or – as we call it in Glasgow – a piece. Luckily for us, the perfect spot is just down the road.

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‘Piece’ has been on the go for a good few years now and we go regularly to get our sandwich fix. Cool monochrome decor, stainless steel and subway tiles usually lead to a clinical feel but here, it’s delightfully friendly and warm. There are loads of great options to suit all tastes but today we both plumped for our favourites.

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To my mind (Mr Smith speaking here) the Banh Mi is the tastiest sandwich in Glasgow. It has all the flavours that I love packed into one portable package.  To start we’re talking about asian style pulled pork (as if that wasn’t enough), they add a delicious cooling asian slaw, followed by crunchy toasted seeds and the most fantastic dressing. All this goodness is then stuffed into your choice of bread (I’d recommend the Ciabatta). As soon as I bite into this beauty I’m instantly reminded why I love it so much. It starts with the crunch of the Ciabatta, then the deliciously rich pork, which has been bathing in soy, ginger and chilli takes centre stage. As the spice starts to kick in, the slaw does it’s job wonderfully taking the edge off what could be quite a fiery sandwich. There is a beautiful tang from the dressing, which has just enough sweetness that it doesn’t become sickly, followed by a final flourish of nuttiness from the toasted seeds. Upon swallowing the remnants of that first bite, the chilli and ginger leave the most satisfying tingle in my mouth and I’m already excited about starting the journey all over again. Crunchy, rich, salty, spicy, tangy, sweet, nutty, rinse and repeat, how can you go wrong?!


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This carrot and ginger soup, on special, was the ideal partner to my Banh Mi with it’s incredible fresh, sweet taste.

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I (Mrs Smith) can’t quite wax lyrical in the same way my husband can about my favourite, the Smackdown. Quite simply, I’m a huge fan of smoked fish and the mackerel is married wonderfully with the sweet dilled beetroot, hot horseradish mayo and a few gherkins and mixed leaves to give a delightful crunch.

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There’s a cute little salad served along side all the sandwiches with a zingy dressing to brighten up your palate between mouthfuls.

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A sit-in sandwich will cost you just short of a fiver, and you’ll save around £1 when taking away. Granted, it might not be cheapest piece in the west, but we think you’d be hard pushed to find something tastier. There’s also a few sweet options for when you’re feeling slightly naughty and a full coffee menu too.

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The service in here is superb with a handful of friendly staff who don’t appear to mind the never ending influx of hungry folk through the door.

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It’s encouraging to see Glasgow’s lunchtime diners recognising good quality fresh food, evidenced by the ‘rival’ chain shop across the road (S*bway) being virtually empty. With their homemade sauces, inspired filling and quirky stereo choices (the epic Top Gun soundtrack was on today), it’s easy to see why Piece is thriving. Dream up your ideal sandwich and pay a visit soon.

The Finnieston

We’ve mentioned in a previous post about how much we love living so close to so many fun and funky eateries in our corner of the West End. After a few visits, we thought we’d show you our new favourite spot for midweek lunch – ‘The Finnieston’ – which brands itself as a ‘seafood restaurant and gin cocktail bar’.
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We were sat in a window booth (which you should ask for when booking) close to the gorgeous roaring open fire, just perfect for this miserable weather we’ve been experiencing lately.
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The lunch menu (not available at weekends) is varied and reasonably priced. You can also order from the a la carte menu and have a selection of fish cooked to order or opt for the incredible fish and chips – on a previous occasion we opted for battered but had instant food envy when seeing breaded fish on another diner’s plate!
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Here, the decor is warm and nautical and the staff are cool but friendly.
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The dark beams, exposed brick, leather furnishing and soft lighting all give this place a delightful moody atmosphere.
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We were just popping in for a quick bite so each opted for something simple from the lunch menu. A burger (ordered without the bun) came perfectly cooked, well seasoned and with just the right amount of garnish. You can see the cheese oozing out from under the leaves and the patty was thick and moist. 20140103-150654.jpg
These sardines were also a big hit!
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The fish finger sandwich came as two moist pieces of breaded coley on a toasted bun. Incredibly grown up and very comforting.
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The steak sandwich is an absolute winner. So much flavour! We’ve tried quite a few steak sandwiches in the West End and this is by far the best, especially for such a reasonable price!20140103-150814.jpgThe well stocked bar and knowledgable bartenders are another reason to recommend The Finnieston. We didn’t venture beyond beer and coffee for this visit (incidently both very good!) but you truly can have the finest gin cocktail in Glasgow here. 

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The Finnieston is exactly the sort of place that we love – it knows what it’s doing and it’s doing it well. Perfect for date night or a lazy afternoon catching up with an old friend. Next time, we’re trying the oysters!
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Steak Pie

Happy New Year! There’s only one dish that can take pride of place on your table today and that’s the humble steak pie. Serving this up on January 1st is a Scottish tradition. This recipe is simple and classic and attempts to maximise all the delicious meaty flavours you want from a warming plate of food. Not every steak pie recipe contains beef links but it’s what I grew up with and it makes the pie go a really long way. This recipe will serve 6 people as a main course, or 4 people who all have seconds.

Ingredients

1kg diced stewing beef
500g beef sausages
3 celery sticks finely sliced
2 carrots finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic very finely sliced
12 shallots skin removed
1 bottle dark ale (500ml)
1 litre beef stock
2 heaped tbsp plain flour
2 bay leaves
1 pack pre rolled puff pastry

What I Did

Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3 and ensure you have enough room to fit in whichever pot you choose to cook the stew in. Prepare your vegetables.
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When buying your beef try and visit your local butcher if possible, or at least the butcher counter in your local supermarket. Also, don’t be put off by fat marbling – that’s whats going to keep the meat lovely and moist and extremely tender
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Place a large pot (which has a lid) on a high heat and add a good glug of oil. Brown the beef in small batches to ensure it fries at this point and doesn’t stew. Whilst this won’t help tenderise the meat in any way (so if you’re in a rush skip the browning of all the meat)  the caramelisation that occurs will add extra flavour to the finished product.
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Set the browned beef to the side and keep warm. (Placing a sheet of tin foil over the top should do the trick)
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Next brown the sausages. These don’t give out the same amount of liquid as the beef so can be browned all at once.
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Set the sausages aside with the beef and add the shallots to your pot. Turn the heat down to medium and fry these for 5 mins, rolling them around the pot occasionally so they colour on all sides. Again, this process is purely to create extra flavour for the gravy and can be omitted if pushed for time.
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Add the carrots, celery and garlic (along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper) and fry for a solid 6-7mins, stirring them around the pot with the aim of cleaning all the ‘beefy’ goodness from the bottom of the pan.
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Next turn the heat up slightly to medium/high and sprinkle the flour over the vegetables. It’s important to cook the flour for a minute or so otherwise your final gravy will taste ‘floury’.
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Whilst this steak pie can be made purely with beef stock, the extra flavour a good ale adds to the pie is well worth the extra cost. I chose an organic porter ale from the Black Isle Brewery near Inverness. It has flavours of espresso and dark chocolate with a hint of hedgerow berries, which as you can imagine adds some amazing intensity to the final gravy.
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Add the beer a little at a time, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. The beer will thicken almost instantly as you start to get a glimpse of the treat you’re in store for in a few hours time.
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Add all the browned meat back to the pan and stir it through the gravy and vegetables.
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Whilst the consistency of the gravy is virtually perfect at this point, we need to add some more liquid (and flavour) to allow for the long slow cooking process. Add enough beef stock to only just cover the meat and veg.
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Bring the mix to a gentle simmer, place the lid on and shove the pot in the oven for 1 and a half hours. After that time lift the pot out, give the stew a stir and place it back in the oven without the lid for a further hour. This will reduce the liquid back to a lovely thick flavourful gravy.
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After the final agonising hour (the smell will have perfumed most of your house by this point) remove the pot and check the gravy for seasoning. Place all the meat and veg in a large oven proof dish with some of the gravy, reserving the remaining gravy for pouring over your potatoes later. If you were to leave all the gravy in, then you run the risk of ending up with very soggy pastry. I removed about 350ml of gravy but the quantity you reserve will vary depending on the shape of the dish you are using, how reduced your gravy is and the size and shape of your chunks of meat. Hopefully the picture below will give you an idea of how much to leave in.
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When you’re ready, pop the pastry on top. Ready rolled puff pastry is a gift!
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Let your pastry sit for 10 minutes if it’s been in the fridge then follow the instructions on your packet for temperatures. This will be enough time for your stew to warm through but keep an eye on your pastry so that it doesn’t burn. If you feel your pastry is browned nicely but your stew isn’t hot enough, place some tin foil over the top for the final part of the cooking.
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Cut your pie into generous portions.
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Serve with your favourite accompaniments. We went for roast potatoes, steamed broccoli and crispy kale.
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Easy?
There are lots of elements to perfecting your pie. This recipe contains no fiddly techniques (especially when using bought pastry!) and requires no special equipment, but you really need to have everything ready, give yourself PLENTY of time and be confident.

Healthy?
This type of food is best described as ‘wholesome’, ‘hearty’ and ‘comforting’…. not really ‘healthy’. All the delicious beef will boost your iron intake, but it’s best not to count calories when puff pastry is involved!

Cheap?
We bought good quality meat and used organic vegetables as well as a premium ale, all of which you could compromise on if you were on a budget. The use of sausages helps to bring down the overall cost but this is a celebration dish so it’s worth sourcing good produce.

Beetroot Soup

There’s something amazing about a warming winter bowl of soup and all the better when you’ve already got the ingredients in your fridge and store cupboard. I made this with the leftover beetroot from a salad made earlier in the week. It’s sort of a cheats version of borsch and is a great way to get some delicious flavours into your winter menu.

Ingredients
3 tennis ball sized beetroots pre roasted, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 an onion chopped
1 stick of celery chopped
1 potato (roughly the same size as the beetroot) chopped into quarters
1 litre of vegetable stock or water
Creme fresh and finely chopped chives to serve

What I Did

Once you’ve prepped the veg this soup will be ready in around 15 minutes.
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Place a pot (large enough to house all of the vegetables and stock comfortably) on a medium heat, add a little oil and sweat the onions and celery for around 5 minutes until soft. You don’t want these to colour so turn the heat down if they start to brown.
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Prepare your beetroot.

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20131230-142407.jpgNext add the potatoes (I apologise in advance for this next part not being entirely prescriptive) then enough stock to cover the potatoes and eventually the beetroot too. Allow this to simmer until the potatoes are cooked through (around 7-8 minutes).

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Add the beetroot to the pan and allow to simmer for 1 more minute.
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All that’s left to do now is blend the mixture and watch it change into the most incredible fuschia pink soup.
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Check the seasoning and serve immediately. Don’t forget to make it look all fancy using the creme fraiche (which I added a little lemon juice to, to enhance the flavour) and chives.
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Easy?
If you already have the beetroot roasted then this is super fast. A hand blender is a fantastic investment for making soups – just make sure you wear an apron as pink stains aren’t the easiest to get out! It’s also a really versatile recipe – leaving out the potato and chilling the final mix will give you a lovely summer starter.

Healthy?
Beets are a good source of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants which may help protect against cancer and heart disease. They also might turn your pee red but that’s nothing to worry about!

Cheap?
This is mega cheap and these quantities make about 3 good sized portions. Paired with a few hunks of brown bread, you’ve got yourself a budget lunch which helps to balance out the extra pennies spent at this time of year.

Warm Winter Root Salad

December has been filled with festivities and expectancy as our first baby is now due! ‘Dinners with the Smiths’ have mostly been feasting with family or last minute takeaways. To try and get some normality back into our eating for a while,  I’ve created this vibrant salad to hopefully bring a ray of sunshine into your life during these dreich winter months. I got my inspiration whilst at local favourite Kember and Jones with friends last Sunday, when I indulged myself with a rare roast beef and beetroot salad.

Ingredients

3 tennis ball sized beetroots (washed but with the skin left on)
1 small squash cut into quarters and deseeded
150ml of creme fraiche
Good quality balsamic vinegar
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Salt (Normally I wouldn’t mention salt as an ingredient but when seasoning a dish after cooking I think Maldon Sea Salt is second to none. The fine flakes are delicate and add a welcome bit of texture to the dish)
Handful of pumpkin seeds
1.5 inch piece of fresh horseradish (or a jar if you can’t find the fresh stuff)
Small bunch of finely chopped chives

What I Did

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place the beetroot and squash into a large baking tray (I’m aware there are 6 beetroots in the picture but I was making a little extra for lunch the next day).  They must have plenty to space to roast otherwise you won’t get that lovely caramelisation happening.
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Drizzle the whole lot with a little olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Place the tray in the middle of the oven for around 45 mins, until the beetroot is tender but still with a little bite.
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Whilst the vegetables are roasting, put a small pan on a medium heat and dry fry the pumpkin seeds until they start to pop and give off a lovely nutty smell.
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Next we want to prepare the horseradish creme fraiche. This is an entirely optional extra but I love the heat it gives to the final dish. Start by peeling the skin off of the end of the horseradish.
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Personally, I like my creme fraiche hot so I used about 1.5 inches of grated horseradish, however I would advise adding a little at a time until you reach the desired burn. Finish the creme fraiche with a small squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper, then give it a final stir. (The creme fraiche can also be made well in advance and kept in the fridge until required)
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Once the veg have finished roasting, allow them to cool slightly before peeling the beetroot. (You can take the skin off the squash if you like, but it’s full of nutrients and has a lovely texture when roasted)
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After you’ve peeled all of these delicious jewels it’s time to plate up. Chop the beetroot and squash into bite sized pieces and arrange as artistically as possible on a large serving plate.
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Place dollops of the horseradish creme fresh sporadically around the plate and top with the chives. A generous sprinkling of sea salt flakes will enhance the flavour exponentially, so be generous. A good grinding of black pepper won’t go a miss either. 20131228-211203.jpg
Final little flourishes now. A drizzle of balsamic and extra virgin olive oil, adds acidity and richness to an already sweet and hot dish. Top it all off with the pumpkin seeds and you’re ready to enjoy.
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This is a versatile salad which can be eaten on its own, but it would be even more delicious with Serrano or Parma ham, rare roast beef, or as we decided…..
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…..giant home made pork and apple sausage rolls.
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Easy?
Make sure you have good knives (we use these ones) as chopping the vegetables is the only real work you have to do in this dish. It’s also super versatile to cater for vegetarians and would be great with crumbled feta or warm goat’s cheese instead of meat alongside.

Healthy?
Beetroot is nutritionally amazing. In particular, it’s high in folic acid, full of fibre to aid digestion and even has been shown to lower blood pressure! Roasting is an excellent way to keep in all the goodness too. Creme fraiche is naturally high in fat, so if you’re trying to cut back you could use a natural yoghurt instead.

Cheap?
Buy your winter vegetables from a local greengrocer and you might just end up with a better price than your supermarket.