Smokin’ tomatoes: an experiment

After enjoying the ‘In the Bag’ challenge so much I thought it would be good to join in another blog event. I spotted the ‘No croutons required’ event over at Tinned Tomatoes run by Holler.

It’s a vegetarian challenge, I’m no vegetarian but I do like a bit of a challenge.

One of the things I’m finding so great about food blogging is checking out the other food blogs and from that getting the grey cells moving to come up with new ideas or remember forgotten favourites. Suddenly lots of ideas come together and you want to try something different. 

This months ‘No croutons required’ has an extra twist – its been Holler’s birthday and so along with the soup or salad (based on tomatoes this month) we also have to come up with a birthday dinner menu for Holler – fortunately we don’t have to cook and test the whole lot together – though I’m thinking it might be wise to at least have tried the rest of the menu before?

So to business, the menu looks like this:

Smokey tomato and rosemary soup
Chickpea pancakes with wilted mixed greens and fresh cheese
Rhubarb and pink ginger ice cream 

Hope Holler likes it ?

Smokey tomato and rosemary soup:

This is (very) loosely based on the Tuscan soup Pappa al Pomodoro. 

First some tips and WARNINGS!

We are actually going to be smoking the tomatoes with a smoking mix of rice/tea/sugar so if you don’t like smokey foods forget it now. If you’d like to go an adventure with me hop on and keep reading.

Once the smoking thing gets going it really does make the house smell, well pretty smokey, so ideally do this in the garden, on a camping stove, on the gas ring of your fancy barbeque any heat source you can find. If not open all the windows, shut internal doors, put the extractor on max and hope for the best.

The smoke, as well as creating tasty smoked tomatoes, will get all over the pan/steamer you use so don’t use your best/favourite pan as its takes a lot of effort to clean up. Use a non-stick wok if you can and one of those cheap(ish) bamboo steamers. If you have a smoker use it (not them).

If you don’t like smokey or chargrilled foods you won’t like this – stop now make something else.

Be careful where you put the steamer down post smoking; don’t make an impossible to remove mark on your new work surface like I once did ?

Ingredients (for the smoking bit):

½ cup rice – don’t worry what type – I used basmati
¼ cup tea – whatever you fancy, the stronger the tea the stronger the flavour – I used Darjeeling
2 tbsp soft brown sugar (I think its this that makes a lot of the mess)
6-8 ripe tomatoes – medium size

  • Mix the first three ingredients together – makes about 1 cup of smoking mix.
  • Get a piece of foil about 3cm bigger all round than the base of the pan you are going to use. Fold the edges up, tip in the smoking mix, pop it in the bottom of the pan.
  • If you want to skin the tomatoes then nick the skin in a cross on the bottom, plunge in just boiled water for about a minute, remove and peel off skins. I can never be bothered to do this but it’s your call.
  • Put the pan with the smoking mix on the heat, cover the pan and let is start to generate smoke – about 5-10 mins to get a good flow.
  • Put the tomatoes on a piece of foil bigger than the steamer and fold up the edges but don’t cover the tomatoes. Put the tomatoes in the steamer.
  • When you’ve got a good amount of smoke then pop the steamer on top of the pan containing the smoke mix and smoke for up to 15 minutes depending on the intensity of smokiness you fancy – we did about 10 mins.
  • The tomatoes will have cooked and let out juices don’t loose these they go in the soup.

For the soup (2 as a hearty lunch, 4 as a starter):

the smoked tomatoes (as above) – use as few as or as many as you like to adjust the smokiness of the soup
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
1 pint vegetable stock (made with bouillon powder is fine)
4oz dried pasta, either small soup pasta, or whatever you have broken into smaller bits (I used linguine snapped into smaller lengths)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

  • Gently sauté the garlic in about 1tbsp olive oil for a couple of minutes but don’t let it go brown and bitter
  • Add the smoked and tinned tomatoes and squish them around to make sure they are in smallish pieces
  • Add the stock
  • Add 1 sprig of rosemary stripped from the stalk and roughly chopped
  • Bring it all to simmering point then add the pasta
  • Simmer for 10-15 minutes so its all warmed through and the pasta is cooked
  • Serve garnished with a small sprig of rosemary

And the taste – well it was pretty smokey. I liked it but Ian wasn’t convinced (which is odd because he’s usually a fan of smoked foods). I think if I did it again I’d smoke the tomatoes for less time, maybe use a very subtle tea – although Darjeeling isn’t usually though of as a strong tea the flavour after 10 minutes of smoking its pretty intense, and perhaps use fewer of the smoked tomatoes saving the others to make a bruschetta or toss in a salad.

As for the rest of the menu….

Chick pea pancakes with wilted greens and fresh soft cheese: I’d use the recipe in my Spicy chickpea pancakes post but omit the chilli, ginger and cumin seeds and add lots of fresh chopped flat leaf parsley instead. I’d wilt a mix of the nicest looking greens I could find probably spinach, kale and wild garlic for preference, pile these on the pancakes and add some lovely fresh soft cheese cut into slices (ideally I’d get some Stichill or Crowdie but any nice goats cheese would also work well) and then fold the pancakes in half and serve with some steamed leaks and purple sprouting broccoli.

For desert there’d be my Rhubarb and pink ginger ice cream, with a dash of stewed rhubarb and a little cream poured over so it freezes on the ice cream in the way I loved so much as a kid.

UPDATE (1/5/09):

I’m thrilled to say that I WON April’s ‘No Croutons Required’. I don’t usually win stuff so I’m quite excited and am going to be proudly displaying the winners badge in my sidebar :)

Thanks to all who voted, and for all the comments.

Ian’s secret cheaty meatball recipe

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to be treated my husband’s cheaty secret meatball recipe. For some reason when there’s meatballs to be cooked he always takes charge and I’m not allowed near – which is kind of great as I get to sit at the table and watch him work but means he can keep the exact recipe secret.

So how am I going to be able to share it with you? Well careful watching and tasting over many years has lead me to be able to identify the key ingredients (yes, meatballs is one of them) and below I’ve put down some basics that will allow you to create your own secret recipe based on this well tested original.

To start with you are going to need an onion, some tinned tomatoes (chopped or whole take your pick), some meatballs (that’s the big cheaty bit; get some good ready prepared raw meatballs). I’m mostly a Waitrose kind of girl so we have their beef, pork or lamb (all come in organic variants) to pick from – its another chance to make the recipe your own. The beef even come in two sizes, large and mini, the possibilities are becoming boundless.

Start cooking the chopped onion gently in some olive oil so it goes translucent (about 10 minutes) and meantime search in the store cupboard for your seasoning(s) of choice. This is when you can get creative. What meat are you using? Start from that, combined with your thoughts on what takes your fancy taste wise, to select your seasonings. Good options (though possibly not all at the same time) are tomato puree, oregano, thyme, chilli flakes, Tabasco, mushroom ketchup, thai fish sauce (but only a teeny bit).

The onions are looking nice and translucent – well now pop in the meatballs and brown them all over – about 5-10 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes, seasonings of choice (plus salt and pepper of course) and perhaps a glug of red wine. Get it all simmering away, put on the lid and leave to cook for around 20-30 minutes.

Serve with pasta (spaghetti or tagliatelle) and as much parmesan as you like (proper stuff not the ready grated sawdust please – that’s cheating gone wrong – like so many things in life you have to know when to stop).

Last night we had the larger size of beef meatball (because they are on offer at the moment – 2 packs for £4.50) and I think the seasoning was leaning mainly to the oregano. Excellent as ever.

And there’s still some left for another day.

Solo lunch

What to have for a quick and tasty solo lunch at home?

Often its down to what’s in the cupboards and fridge – it doesn’t make much sense to want something quick but need to go to the shops first to get ingredients (well possibly if you live right next door to a good shop then it just might but otherwise its going to slow the whole thing down somewhat).

So today we found eggs and bread and tomatoes. Ah ha that’ll be scrambled eggs on toast with some grilled or sauté tomatoes.


Its as easy as 123 (and just possibly 4):

1: Get the tomatoes on to grill or sauté

2: Eggs in a jug or bowl, splash of milk, salt, pepper, whisk lightly with a fork

3: Start the bread toasting

4: Melt butter, scramble eggs 

Its all ready – get it on the plate – EAT (or in my case take a quick photo first – some of the blogging stuff is just a bit weird!). 

Quicker to cook than it was to eat – just the job.

Roast chicken leftovers (Tuesday night is curry night)

So what have we done so far with our roast chicken leftovers (apart from store them safely in the fridge of course)?

Well one of the favourite options is to rustle up a quick curry – always good whether you go for a creamy or a tomato based option. Probably not very authentic but WAY BETTER than anything you’ll get in a supermarket heat and eat; and believe me I know, I’ve tried a lot of heat and eat curry in my time searching for one that’s vaguely good. They are few and far between. Even if the supermarket recipe started out more authentic it’ll never taste quite as fresh and zingy as something you do yourself. So next time you’ve some leftover chicken gives this recipe a whirl and your taste buds a treat.


We went for a tomato based option and did a side of chickpeas and purple sprouting broccoli (because we happened to have a few bits of the latter lurking in the fridge drawer).

First the chicken curry…..

(enough for two – scale up with the chicken meat for greater numbers and add some water if there’s 4 of you, more tomatoes if there’s six – we could have made enough for six with the meat we had left but decided to save it for later in the week). 

The pan: we always use some kind of low sided sauté type pan for curry as this helps the sauce thicken faster than a regular sauce pan would – which is quite important.

The onion: we pretty much always start by frying up an onion fairly finely chopped so its starts to colour but not get too dark (it can get bitter if it over colours though I have found a great curry recipe with really crispy onion but I’ll save that for another post).

The spices: then we add the spices which are a mix of mostly freshly ground and a few ready prepared; we just go with the flow of what we fancy taste wise and how hot we want it to be (this last point always being up for a bit of debate as I’m a bit of a curry wimp when it comes to the chilli content). This time we used coriander and cumin seeds, ground turmeric, dried chili flakes and a chopped fresh red chilli. We toss the spices with the onions for about a minute to start to release the flavours – boy does it start to smell lovely.

Tomatoes: we add a tin of chopped tomatoes and raise the heat so it all starts to simmer down.

The chicken: as the tomatoes begin to bubble quite vigorously we add the chicken meat, which I’ve pulled off from one of the legs and cut into smallish chunks.
We leave this to bubble away fairly rapidly, keeping an eye out and stirring every so often to prevent it catching on the pan bottom. 

While that’s working its curry magic we get the chick peas and sprouting broccoli on the go, cutting the latter up into small florets and tossing with the chick peas, a tiny bit of water and a few twists from a garam masala spice mill plus a good dollop of greek yoghurt to coat everything. This cooks away and thickens whilst we pop on the basmati rice and get some bowls warming.

The chicken curry needs a good 20- 30 minutes of swift bubbling to get the chicken heated through and the sauce nice and concentrated, the chick peas and broccoli need about 15 minutes cooking (thought they’ll survive more if the timings go a bit awry) and the basmati needs 10 minutes boiling and few minutes after its drained to help fluff up.

Then its into the waiting bowls, to the table and dive in for a tasty curry experience. Pretty good all round authentic or not. 

Oh and there still at least two meals left on the chicken before we even get to thinking about maybe making stock.

Just like ‘The Good Life’

Over the last few days I’ve been doing food related sort of ‘gardening’ activities. What exactly does that mean?

Well so far its involved visits to three garden centres, some internet surfing, the purchase of about 10 packets of seeds and one rather nice terracotta pot, oh and a little bit of time actually in the garden. All this because some nice mild sunny weather and those daffodil shoots and tree buds I mentioned in my last post mean I just can’t help but start thinking about what herbs and vegetables to attempt to grow this year.

Last year we had a glut of very green tomatoes and a handful of red ones (just yummy) and we were still getting tomatoes ripening in late October. This wasn’t some special strain we’d tried but the summer weather, which never really got hot or warm enough for the tomatoes to ripen – made great chutney though.

This year there will be more tomatoes and we’re trying 
courgettes (yellow ones – how trendy!) and beans (I wanted the lovely striped red borlotti ones but couldn’t find any organic seed so had to settle for green). All to be grown from seed; credit crunch times call for cost cutting measures – a packet of seeds costs the same or less than little plants.

As well as the vegetables its time to replant the herb section of the garden. We’ve had rosemary, chives, sage and oregano for a long time but none of them do quite as well as we’d like so this year we (or rather my husband) are moving the herb bed to a slightly sunnier location; and anyway the birds that perch in the neighbours giant eucalyptus tree that partly shades the bed do untold damage to the herb plants rendering them pretty useless for cooking with. A new spot is being prepared with some good compost added (home made of course – there’s nothing as good as a bit of composting to make you come over all Richard Briars and Felicity Kendall) and the oregano and chives transplanted. The rest will be new plantings of parsley, coriander, sage and rosemary – again from seeds. 

So while the digging takes place I’ll be designing a giant spreadsheet of what seeds need to be planted when and the dates we might expect to be able to pick delicious home grown veg and herbs – or perhaps make another huge chutney batch!

And I haven’t even told you about the terracotta pot yet ?

Quick pasta lunch

Some days you need a lunch dish that’s fast, fast, fast.

Its still grey outside so it needs to be warming and fairly robust but also bring a hint of the spring that’s coming (it seems like it is – I can see daffodils poking through the ground and buds appearing on the trees – balmy days of sipping rosé and chucking fresh basil on every dish must surely only be round the corner).

So what will fit the bill? 

Well pasta is always a winner I think – quick and easy (I mean the dried stuff not making your own and then hand rolling it – delicious though that is, it’s a kind of all day project). And what to have with the pasta – well lets not be completely lazy and tip out something from a supermarket tub, lets cook a couple of things up in the same time it takes the water to boil and the pasta to cook. 

Yesterday’s choice for me was some salami cut into strips and some baby plum tomatoes cut in half, sautéed in olive oil, mixed into the drained pasta, sprinkled with pine nuts and parmesan, et voila.

Start to finish 15 minutes (not including the eating time!).

The dangers of dreaming of burgers

Sometimes you just NEED to have a burger in a bun for your supper. Well yesterday that was me.

A quick search in the freezer revealed some organic beef burgers that seemed to fit the bill – each quite small so it wouldn’t count as sheer greed but only mild gluttony to have two. 

So out they came to be defrosted during the day and sit winking at me from the counter each time I passed. I thought carefully about what condiments and sides should accompany them to add to the experience.  I spooled through ideas in my head remembering previous winning combinations and all the while the anticipation was building.

At last I settled on an ‘open burger’  – only 1 bun between two burgers so there would be no ‘lid’. Off I set to get some buns, choice was limited and I had to settle for wholemeal floured rolls (perhaps at this point I should have spotted that things might be about to go wrong but no I continued to think I was building the dream burger I craved).

Back home the burgers were cooked on very hot chargrill pan for about 5 minutes per side, each of the two sides of the bun was given a different treatment – one had mayo, one ketchup (find both of them at the Stokes brand of Essfoods) – and the side orders of saute portobello mushrooms and grilled baby plum tomatoes duly prepared. Then the whole things was rapidly assembled and whisked to the table to be greedily devoured.  

But something had gone wrong – perhaps not very wrong – after all I still managed to eat everything but some how it just didn’t cut it. The bread was tasteless and dry, the burger tasteless and kind of watery – its texture was fine but there was just nothing to the whole thing – no zing, no nice beefy flavour, no soft but fresh tasting bread effect. To be fair the mayo and the ketchup and the sides were great but instead of supporting a strong main act they were left to hold up the whole show on their own!

So the problem – well I can only think that the burgers didn’t stand up to the freezing very well on this occasion.  I’ve had the same burgers before both fresh and defrosted and they have been pretty good – not as good as if you made them yourself but there isn’t always time for that kind of thing.  And as for the buns well maybe wholemeal just doesn’t work with burgers – I love wholemeal bread but it doesn’t seem to do it on the burger front.

Or just perhaps, the fact I had been dreaming of perfect burgers all day meant nothing would live up to the expectation!