Archives for posts with tag: starter

After last week’s labor-intensive cookies, I thought I’d lighten up a bit with one of the easiest, no-cook recipes around … hummus.

In fact, it always feels a little weird to have what is essentially an “assembly” recipe and call it “cooking.”  But, if you’re looking for a nice, easy dip with veggies or pita chips – or something nice to serve along with grilled meat and salad, you really can’t beat hummus.

I’ve tinkered around with this recipe for about 15 years, now – adding a little more lemon here … a little more cumin there … until I’ve finally found something that I’m very happy with.  It’s got just the right amount of olive oil it in to make it gorgeous and smooth.  Okay, I’ll say it – I’m very proud of how it’s evolved and finally turned out.  And I think you’ll like it, too!

My Favorite Hummus

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp tahini
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Pour the lot of it in a food processor and blend until very smooth.  To serve, sprinkle with a pinch of cumin and drizzle with the best olive oil you’ve got.



February is such a weird month.  You have days – sometimes an entire week – where the weather turns mild, making you think that, hey!  it’s spring!!  The crocuses start to come up one day, then you’re out scraping frost off your car the next.

This week is Mardi Gras and I have a special treat planned for Pancake Day, so check in later in the week!  In the meantime, since it’s still a little cold, I thought I’d post some spicy tomato soup to warm you up a bit! 

I’ve really only become a convert to the flavor combo of tomatoes and sweet smoked paprika in the last couple of years – but, now, I can’t get enough. And, that’s what really makes this a killer soup – the curry powder brings on the spice, but the smoky base note is what really makes this a great soup.  Give it a try!

Curried Tomato Soup

  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, trimmed, peeled and diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled, trimmed and diced
  • 1 red pepper, cored and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or microplaned
  • 3 Tbsp curry powder (I used a madras curry powder)
  • 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper

In a large pot over medium heat, pour in a good glug or two of olive oil and, when it’s hot, add the onions, carrots and peppers and cook 10-15 minutes until softened.  Add the curry powder and paprika and cook for another 2 minutes before adding the garlic and cooking another minute.  Then, pour in the tomatoes and stock and bring to the boil before reducing to a simmer and cooking for another 20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning, then use a blender or stick blender to puree.

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting here watching “Independence Day” with the mister and the Wondermutt.  (The mister has never seen “Independence Day” – can you believe that?!)  We’ve had a quiet day after the excitement of a busy week at work and then friends over for dinner last night.  Sometimes you just need a lazy day to recover from the week that was and prepare for the week that’s about to be – and that’s exactly what we’ve done today.  (We also watched “The Guard”, with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle – very good flick).

So, on a day like this, it’s nice to have a dish that’s not labor-intensive, but tastes like it is.  I love those dishes – you know the ones I mean – they take a tiny investment in time but taste like you’ve been slaving away for hours.  This is one of them.  AND it’s a soup, so it’s perfect for when you want to make something to eat on during the rest of the week (which is exactly what I did this last week).

Oh – please note – in this recipe, I don’t specify red peppers.  I like to throw in a yellow or orange pepper to make a mixture of the three – just know that it’s going to affect the color of the soup. 

Spicy Roasted Pepper Soup

  • 8 peppers, cored, halved and seeded
  • Olive oil (you can use chilli- or garlic-infused oil, if you like)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 chilli , seeded and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup creme fraiche

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Place the peppers cut side down on a large rimmed baking sheet or lasagna pan and drizzle with olive oil, then sling them on the top shelf of the oven and roast for 30 minutes, until the skins are charred.  Place in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap to let them cool and sweat.  While they’re cooling, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pot and sweat the onions over medium heat until translucent.  Add the chilli pepper, spices and garlic and cook another minute.  Add the stock and stir to combine.  When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skins (they should easily pull right off) – don’t rinse them – and drop them into the pot.  When all the peppers are in, raise the heat to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Use a blender to puree until smooth and put back into the pot.  Taste for seasoning, then add the creme fraiche.

Today is the birthday of one of my closest friends, Deni.  We’ve known each other since university and even had our first “real jobs” near each other (I was working for the State House while she was working for the Governor).  She’s driven, she’s incredibly smart and she’s one of the most sincere people I’ve ever known.  She gets involved in causes and really does try to make the world a better place.  Best of all, she’s an amazing, caring friend.

Unfortunately, now an ocean separates us so we don’t have the great chats we used to have where you talk about everything and nothing at all.  Thanks to Facebook, we’re able to keep up on an almost daily basis, which is great – particularly now that she’s a dog-owner and we can compare stories.  It is almost as good as when we shared a house in Washington, DC – but without the squabbling that comes from being housemates!  If we were in the same city, I’d have her around for a special tomato-free birthday dinner.

Yes.  You heard me right – one of my oldest and dearest friends hates tomatoes.  And what’s more – she’s a vegetarian!  I mean!!  At any rate, this is for her – a tomato-free vegetarian recipe for her birthday.  So, happy birthday, Deni – love ya, sweetie!!  Hope you have a wonderful year!!

Roasted Beet Soup

  • 8-10 beets (about the size of a plum), trimmed and quartered
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and papper
  • 1 large yellow onion, trimmed, peeled and diced
  • good pinch dried thyme
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • creme fraiche

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Take the beets that have been trimmed and quartered, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover with foil and roast for 30-40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool, still covered, for another 20 minutes or so.  While the beets are cooling, heat a little olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat then saute the onions until translucent.  When the beets are cool enough to handle, use a paper towel to rub off the skins, then pop them into the pot.  Add the vegetable stock and thyme, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer until the beets are soft.  Use a blender to puree until smooth and return to the pot.  Adjust for salt and pepper, then serve with a dollop of creme fraiche.

The mister was out of town this last week.  While I miss him when he’s traveling for work, I do love not having to worry about feeding him.  When I was single, dinner was whatever I wanted it to be – if work was a bear one day, I was perfectly happy coming home and making myself peanut butter toast.  Now, I’m older and wiser and understand the value of a diet that includes vegetables.  And, of course, when you’re cooking for someone else, you need to take into account that they may be staaaaaarving when they get home, whether you are or not.

So, this week, I enjoyed making the things that I like – like salmon!  I also grabbed a gorgeous loaf of rustic Italian bread from the bakery stall at the Hammersmith market to make today’s recipe – Pea and Mascarpone Bruschetta.  Think of it as a grown-up version of peanut-butter toast! 

This is a fantastic recipe for summer barbecue and picnic season – it’s just as nice on a crispy piece of bread as it is served as a dip with pita chips or veggies.

Pea and Mascarpone Bruschetta

  • 3 cups frozen peas (unless you grow them in your own garden, frozen peas will always taste better than “fresh” bought at the grocery)
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp chives
  • Loaf of rustic country bread, sliced
  • Clove garlic, peeled
  • Parmesan, Pecorino or Romano cheese, shaved

Cook your peas – I just pop them in a bowl with a little water, salt and pepper and zap them in the microwave for a couple of minutes, stirring halfway.  Drain the peas, then, while they’re still hot, pop the peas, mascarpone and herbs in a blender or food processor and blitz for a couple of seconds – I like to leave a little texture to it rather than puree it perfectly smooth – then taste for seasoning.  To serve, toast the bread, then rub with the clove of garlic, top with the pea puree then a little shaved cheese.  And there you have it – one of the easiest, tastiest starters around! 

As you may have heard, we here in the UK have had a bit of weather this week.  Now, when I used to live in Connecticut, 8-10 inches of snow wouldn’t be a problem.  They’d have snow ploughs out before the first flake hit the asphalt.  Here?  Not so much.  Now, granted, things seem to be a bit better than they were in last January’s freeze — but, when snow isn’t a definite part of your annual weather, it’s not something that you’re going to invest heavily in.  Nor is it something that people are particularly adept at driving in.  So, might as well stay home.

Since we ran out of bread long about Wednesday (and live too far from the shops to bundle up and walk there), I pulled out my trusty Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and cracked open his bread chapter.  I was quite impressed with the tv episode he did encouraging people to make their own daily bread rather than buy “manufactured” loaves.  And, indeed, was so blown away by the cheat’s sourdough bread that I took the plunge and have created my own starter so that I can start to make real sourdough bread a couple of times a week.

I’ve named my starter Reginald.  He’s only a day and a half old right now, but he’s starting to ferment and form bubbles like he’s supposed to (he’s a fast learner).  I’ll introduce you to him next week when we make our first loaf.

Until then, this recipe uses a short-cut to the starter sponge that you’d use for a real sourdough.  You use instant yeast with half the required flour and let it develop over 8 or so hours before adding the rest of the flour and going through the rest of the motions.  If the focaccia recipe is an introduction to bread-making, I’d say this qualifies as a first date.    But, even when you look at the time involved, it’s mixing and letting things sit for a number of hours, then a little more work, then letting it sit … then finally baking.  More sitting than working – that’s no bad thing!

Oh, and at this time, I’ll reiterate my emphasis on using bottled water rather than tap – it gives all the little yeasties a far better chance at being activated.

Cheat’s Sourdough Bread

  • 250 g bread flour
  • 5 g instant yeast
  • 325 ml bottled water, heated to feel slightly warm to the touch
  • 150 g whole grain bread flour
  • 100 g bread flour
  • 10 g salt

In a large bowl, combine the first weight of bread flour with the yeast and water, mixing well.  Cover and let rise for 8 hours.  It’ll be gelatinous and will have a gorgeous yeasty smell – heaven!  Add the rest of the flours and salt, and mix as well as you can to combine in the bowl before tipping out onto the counter.  It will be sticky – very sticky.  But knead and work the dough for 10-15 minutes – making sure you get all of the flour out of the bowl – and you’ll feel the dough slowly come together and feel silky and springy and still a bit tacky.  Do a windowpane test to make sure the gluten is developed, then oil your bowl and let the dough rise until doubled (tis could take from 90 minutes – 3 hours).  Punch the dough down and let it rise again until doubled (another hour or so).

Preheat the oven to 450F  – if you have a baking stone, put it in the oven to get hot.  Turn the dough out onto the stone and slash it across the top, then bake 15 minutes before turning the heat to 400 for another 35 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom.


1)  for a nice crust, put a rimmed baking sheet on the rack below the baking stone and fill it with boiling water.  The steam will give the loaf a lovely hard crust.

2)  you don’t have to do this as a 1-day project.  Mix the starter the night before and let it do its thing overnight.  In the morning, pick up on adding the 2nd round of flour, kneading, etc.

better than any bread you'd get in a plastic wrapper

%d bloggers like this: