sweet potato croquettes

Boys will be boys. We’ve all heard it before, usually from an emotionally exhausted parent in our youth, but some of us may have even uttered the words ourselves. I found myself in a bit of a ‘boys-will-be-boys’ situation recently; a phone call from my frazzle mother – my little brother had toppled off his skateboard as he raced down a rather speed hill, breaking his jaw in three places. Typical.

Gone are the days when doctors would wire a broken jaw closed like the monster from a B-grade horror film, but he is still restricted in what he was allowed to eat. Sympathetic of a diet of tired mashed potatoes and tomato soup, I graciously took on the task of inventing some delicious, yet soft and smooth meal ideas.

French cuisine is so much more expansive than many of us imagine, boeuf bourguignon and foie gras are not quotidian meals as any French-cooking themed film would lead us to believe. Au contraire, they are traditional – time-consuming and expensive to make, and like the variety of French wines, are very regionally specific. I have decided that I needed to increase my knowledge on the larger umbrella that is the way that French people actually cook. I have been flicking through my newly acquired copy of 100 Styles of French Cooking by Karl Wurzer, marking recipes to try in my own variation of Julie Powell’s homage to Julia Child in The Julie/Julia Project – the story behind Julie & Julia for those who have no idea what I’m talking about.

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Sweet potato is something that I grew up eating a lot of, I could never pass up a huge pile of deep-fried sweet potato fries, crisp and salty – the perfect picnic dinner while sitting on the beach. They are basically a more interesting version of a standard potato and when I stumbled upon Karl’s recipe for croquettes à l’algerienne – Algerian croquettes, I knew I had to try them out!

Like most delicious things, these crunchy globes of mustard coloured mash are best finished off in the deep fryer, but because I 1) don’t have a deep fryer and 2) am not using that much oil in one go, I decided to pan fry them and finish them off in the oven – kind of like my churros.

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Peel and dice one sweet potato per person and boil until cooked through and tender. Drain through a colander and leave so as much of the water as possible can drip through. Sauté ¼ of an onion per person in olive oil or lard – I used chicken fat from a roast the night before, it gives it a nice meaty flavour without making it seem too heavy. Mash the potato and stir the onions through once they are soft and syrupy, along with 2 tablespoons of ground almonds or cashews per person, ½ a teaspoon of cumin, ¼ a teaspoon of nutmeg, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a big grind of salt and pepper. I added a pinch of dried herbs too.

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Based on your skill and patience, there are two ways to shape the croquettes – you can either shape them into flat rugby ball shaped spheres with your hands, or into quenelles using two tablespoons. Either way, you’ll get the same result. If you are organised enough, I would recommend doing this much of the process the day before and refrigerating the quenelles so they hold their shape better. If that’s not possible then I guess that’s fine too.

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Fry your croquettes in as much oil or melted butter as you want – the more you use, the easier it will be, but as you increase the oil, you increase the un-healthiness – a lose-lose situation. I lightly fried mine on either side before baking them for a further 10 minutes to get an even crisp and to heat them the whole way through.

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I served mine with a yogurt and tahini dip and sprinkled over some more herbs, salt and pepper, just in time for my brother to tell me he couldn’t make it. More for me I guess!

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pumpkin and lime soup

The in-between part of the seasons can be lethal; I have a habit of being too optimistic as Winter gives way to Spring and too idealistic as the days begin to shorten as Summer leaves us. That is a roundabout way of saying that I often find myself dressing for what I want the weather to be, rather than based on what the weather really is. And that is just a long way of saying that I always get sick in the in-between seasons; I am the only person I know who can manage to get a chest-rattling cough, bordering on pneumonia in the last month of spring.

But it happens. Routinely. And I find myself craving warm, wintery comfort food a good six weeks on either side of winter. One of my winter staples is pumpkin soup; creamy and fragrant with spices and exotic flavours, the aroma could almost transport you to a warmer place when the city is monochromatic and grey.

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Pumpkin soup is so versatile; lace it with cumin and coriander for a cooling summer snack or pack it with spices in the winter. I often make a soup version of these pumpkin chips… or maybe the soup is the inspiration for the chips – who knows?! I also find an explosion of citrus in the mix brings it together nicely.

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Here’s how I do it:

Take a whole pumpkin and riddle it with holes with a sharp knife or metal skewer and microwave on medium for about 15 minutes so it is easier to cut and then add it to the slow cooker – cutting and peeling raw pumpkin is the bane of my existence, I hate it!

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Add a cup of water or stock, a tablespoon of peanut butter, a teaspoon of red curry paste, a pinch of cumin, coriander and cinnamon, a bay leaf and two or three slithers of dried lime and cook on low for 6 hours. Mash or blend – depending on how you like it, stir through a dollop of cream and you’re ready to eat!

I can’t stress enough how the addition of the lime elevates the flavour; it’s a subtle tang, a sweetly acidic bite that’s mellowed by the pumpkin’s creamy smoothness.

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With or without the lime, you can never beat soup on a dreary day. It is guaranteed to improve your mood; I once had pumpkin soup every day for 3 weeks just to get through the awfulness that is winter!

What’s your favourite winter soup?

chocolate chipotle chicken

I need a holiday. The only time that I’m not thinking about lying on a gleaming beach of white sand, the sun in my eyes and a cocktail in my hand is when I am having nightmares about all the things that could go wrong at work in the foreseeable future. I definitely need a holiday.

To get me though the dreary weather that is just around the corner, I am going to start planning my escape. Planning, in this scenario has a rather liberal meaning as it will no doubt entail looking at brochures for resorts I cannot afford and private islands I have no superyacht to get to. But my imagination and bank account have agreed on the general destination: Mexico.

I love Mexican food, the creativity and vibrancy, combined with the loud flavours and subtle textures is something that I am desperate to explore further. And I’m not talking about soggy nachos and over-spiced chilli con carne here, I am talking the real deal; sweet and spicy, flashes of colour and hearty as ever. To begin my planning, I had to get my stomach in the mood; so I whipped up this little number, my interpretation of a chipotle mole negro.

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Like I have said on multiple occasions previously; France doesn’t do spicy – I once witnessed a gentleman describe salt and vinegar crisps as piquant and I couldn’t contain my laughter. Keeping this in mind, I had to be a little interpretive with my recipe. Many recipes I found called for a combination of guajillo, habanero, mulato and chipotle chillies. How do you think I went about finding these, short of ordering them in from Mexico? It is impossible to find them at an ordinary supermarché so I settled for a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – smoky jalapeño peppers in a dark, salty sauce.

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The slow cooker is fast becoming my favourite kitchen appliance (sorry coffee machine!); it takes so much of the work out of cooking – you can put it on before heading out for the day and return to a house brimming with the comforting smell of dinner.

Begin by dicing an onion and half a head of garlic cloves, yes, that many because even though your pores will be leaking garlic for days, it is well worth it. If you have the time I suggest you roast them first, but it’s not at all essential. Add to the pot, along with a teaspoon each of cinnamon, toasted cumin seeds, coriander seeds, a tablespoon of cocoa powder or a couple of pieces of chocolate and a bay leaf. I also stumbled across a recipe on Gourmet Traveller which used hibiscus flowers – another ingredient I had no time to try and source, so I used some of my dried orange peel for a subtle fruity hint of flavour. I also added a handful of cashews for the hell of it! Mix through a can of kidney or refried beans, a can of diced tomatoes and as much of a can of chipotle peppers as you wish – I used the whole lot!

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Brown a kilogram of boneless chicken thighs (or any part of the chicken) in a really hot pan on both sides; no more than 30 seconds per side, and add to the pot. Submerge the chicken in the sauce, turn the slow cooker onto low and leave for 6 to 8 hours.

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By the time you get home from work, the chicken will be falling apart and the contents of the sauce will have melted into each other. Shred the chicken with a fork and serve over hot rice, or use to make enchiladas or burritos. These are all perfect meals for day dreaming about taking a trip to Mexico, ideal for eating while flicking through a Lonely Planet guide or looking at beautiful beaches on Pinterest.

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If anyone has any insider tips on things to do in Mexico, I would love to hear them!

banana almond muffin pudding

The heart wants what it wants, and so does the stomach. During winter I don’t give strawberries a second thought but I could eat them any day of the week when they are in season. But there are some foods that you can’t help but crave – regardless of the season and once your head starts asking for it, your stomach won’t stop needing it until it is satisfied. The other day, despite the humidity, I decided that I needed bread pudding.

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Maybe it was the little bout of rain we had last week that make we want to curl up on the couch with a nice, steaming bowl of pudding. I am not one to ever deprive my stomach of what it wants – it really is the force that drives, and controls me, so I made this little variation of a traditional bread pudding.

I am not a huge stickler for sticking too close to a traditional recipe; if you can change it to make it better – do it! While a bread pudding usually uses bread (as per the name), I have seen it made with brioche and croissants so I don’t think anyone is going to be too scandalised by the fact that I made mine with muffins.

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To begin, break or cut three large and slightly stale muffins into eight chunks each. You could use three croissants or pain-au-chocolat instead of muffins, or six slices of white bread. The muffins I used were banana and almond flavoured which I knew would give the pudding a lovely moreish flavour and it also meant that I wasn’t going to have to add much else to make it delicious – the work was already done for me!

Place the muffin pieces into a baking dish and set aside. In a recipe using just bread, pouring a little melted butter over top of the bread chucks is recommended, but these muffins were practically bleeding butter so I decided to skip this step for time’s sake.

For each muffin that you use (or for each two slices of bread) whisk one egg, a ¼ cup of sugar and a ½ cup of milk with a teaspoon each of vanilla and cinnamon. This is essentially going to form he custard that the bread absorbs.

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“Custard-soaked bread” is not a description that does this dish any justice, so we need to make it a little more exciting. Sprinkle about a ½ cup of dried fruit or chocolate drops over the bread and pour over the custard mixture. You could use raisins, pistachio nuts or even cubes of apple. As I mentioned, my muffins already had banana in them and were topped with almond slithers, but I topped mine with fresh slices of banana and a few dried cranberries for a little colour.

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Bake your assembled pudding at 175°C for 45minutes until crisp and golden on top.

A nice crunch on top, and an oozy warmth in the centre; folds of bread filled with bursts of custard – just what the doctor ordered! And by doctor, I mean my stomach. Enjoy piping hot while staring out the window as the rain runs down the window, like tears at the realisation that summer will eventually finish, or refrigerate overnight to enjoy as a cooling treat in the midday heat. Or eat the leftovers for breakfast. I did, and trust me, your arteries might not thank you, but your taste buds surely will!

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