Monthly Archives: January 2012


I bought Yotam Ottolenghi‘s amazing book of vegetarian cooking Plenty as a well-meaning Mother’s Day gift for my mum (who loves her vegetables) only for her to confess a year later that she found it daunting and had never used it, and so she lent it to me. Whereupon it promptly spent a month and a half sitting on my shelf, because I too found it daunting.

In my defence, though, one of my housemates last year bought Ottolenghi’s first cookbook and decided to start off by cooking a loaf of Ottolenghi’s bread which promptly took her three days to make, so you can understand my caution in knowing that the same wouldn’t happen to me. I love my food, but I just don’t have that kind of time.

(Incidentally, though, how does Ottolenghi run all these restaurant chains when his stuff requires so much marinating and resting and prodding? He must be a demon at rotas.)

However, on Friday I had a friend who happened to be a vegetarian over for dinner and so this seemed like a good chance to try out something adventurous that I would never normally do. I picked stuffed onions, as I’d seen them on an old series of Masterchef, they looked delicious and I figured that they’d be pretty simple.

They were delicious, but simple they were not.

And for all the elegance of the end result, I’m still not sure if they were worth the effort. They were undeniably impressive, and if I were to hold a dinner party they’d be a great starter, but as a main course they just weren’t quite big enough. It’s difficult to separate the onion skins without breaking them when you start out, too, although admittedly it did get easier when I’d done a few.

Anyway, here’s the recipe. Give it a try, but leave at least 45 minutes more than you thought you’d need.

This serves four, allegedly, although that depends on your skill at separating onion layers.

You’re going to need:

Butter to grease the dish

500ml vegetable stock

350ml white wine

4 large onions (Nonsense. Buy at least eight, or go hungry.)

3 small tomatoes

120g fresh white breadcrumbs

90g feta, crumbled (I used Lancashire Cheddar as I can’t stand feta, and it worked just as well)

80g parsley leaves, finely chopped (this is an awful lot. I put in 35g, one full bag)

3tbsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 spring onions, thinly sliced

3/4 tsp salt

Black pepper

So. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees or Gas Mark 4, and butter a small ovenproof dish.

Put your stock and white wine in a medium saucepan that you can fit three or four onion skins in and bring it to the boil. Cut 5mm (if in doubt, go for more, rather than less) off the top and bottom of your onions and then cut them in half and remove the brown skins. Now you get to the hard part. You need to separate the two or three outer layers. To do this, gently peel away the layer you’re trying to remove at its left and right edges and then after you’ve loosened it, try and get a fingernail off and simply let it peel away. Don’t do it too fast, or you’ll just break it.

When you’ve got a decent collection of these – if you’re doing it as a main course, you need at least 4 per person, but ideally a lot more – then put them in your stock and wine mixture for 3/4 minutes until just tender. Drain them and let them cool a bit, but hold onto the stock.

Make your stuffing, by grating the tomatoes with a coarse cheese grater – you’ll be left with the skin in your hand that you can chuck away. Add the breadcrumbs, feta, parsley, olive oil, garlic, spring onions, salt and pepper to them and mix with your hands.

Fill the onion layers with stuffing – Ottolenghi says “generously”, but I ran out of mixture, so you could make some more than he recommends – and fold them over into fat cigar shapes (see pictures). Put them, seam-side down, into your buttered dish, and then pour over about 75ml of the reserved stock to cover the bottom of the dish. Bake them for 45-50 minutes, or until they’re soft, lightly coloured and with the inside bubbling.

And then serve them with nice bread and salad, at least, or a fat pile of carbs, or your guests will go hungry.

PS. Ottolenghi says that you can save the onion cores and stock to make a base for a hearty onion soup – like I say, the man must be a demon at rotas. I forgot and accidentally chucked the stock down the sink. Oops.

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Posted by on 31/01/2012 in Food


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My friend Sarah de Jong (check out her website here) has just released an album entitled Journey of Hope, and you really must listen to it. It’s wonderful, thought-provoking worship music; passionate and idiosyncratic, sounding to my ears a lot like the best of Misty Edwards.

Great arrangements, deep lyrics and Sarah’s excellent voice – listen to it below, or over at her website.


You can buy it from the site (via. bandcamp) for a mere £7.99, or, alternatively, via. itunes.


Posted by on 25/01/2012 in God, Music, Other


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Thank the Lord for Esther Walker, writer of what is indisputably my favourite cookery blog (the superb Recipe Rifle, which I have recommended repeatedly and which you should go and read here).

This post is about the best curry in the world. I don’t see much point in reprinting it here, given that it’s incredibly long and Esther’s description is wittier than mine anyway, but it is everything that it was advertised as and more. I have others who can vouch for this too. It was certainly the best curry that I have ever made.

It’s a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe, and the dish is called Murgh Makhani (or Butter Chicken), and you should go and stock up on ingredients for it tomorrow, because take it from me – I think you’ll thank me for it.

Although the blog makes a fuss about how long the list of ingredients is, I actually had the majority of this in the house already. Even fenugreek, which it turns out is a real pain to bash up in a pestle and mortar.

I promise you. If you cook this, then you will find yourself cooking it again. People will ask you to cook it again. So go. Do it now. What are you still waiting for?

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Posted by on 25/01/2012 in Food, Other


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Came across this poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer whilst doing some prep for a sermon earlier today. Actually, I came to it through Giles Fraser’s comments in The Guardian today (which I disagree with, by the way), but it’s a very revealing piece of poetry.

It’s pretty amazing, especially in light of Bonhoeffer’s courageous reputation. Fraser talks in his article about conditioning yourself so that you change the character of your inner coward; the story of Bonhoeffer, in contrast, seems to suggest to me that even the most cowardly of people can be transformed into something great through an encounter with God:

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

Written March 4,1946.

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Posted by on 24/01/2012 in God, Other


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I like the idea of a wedding pie. It’s a very British thing to do, and given Jamie Oliver’s talent for pastry art (check out the crown on the top of it) it’s entirely possible that one day, somebody in Britain will choose to propose using this pie. Although I suppose technically that will make it an ‘engagement pie’ instead.

Anyway, this isn’t a “wedding pie” per se; it’s a pie in commemoration of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I think Jamie Oliver was slightly offended that he didn’t get an invite after the wedding given that he did create a pie that most of the nation is likely to eat, but there you go.

This is a bit fiddly – it’s probably going to take you about three hours to make, minimum. I made it in about two hours fifteen as I misread the recipe, and it wasn’t unbearable, but the filling could have done with a little more time to thicken. I used shop bought pastry, and I am less skilled at pastry art than Jamie Oliver, so didn’t even manage to make a heart out of pastry for the top (it was a romantic pie, you see), but perhaps you’ll do better than I did. It is worth saying, though, that it was totally delicious.

I’m not sure how legal it is to post the recipe over here – I’d imagine that Jamie’s legal team are a bit more strident than some – so I’ll paraphrase as best I can. It’s in Jamie’s Great Britain, though, and on the website here.

So for the filling for a pie to feed six you’ll need:

• A little bit of olive oil
• A knob of butter
• Rosemary
• Thyme
• 2 bay leaves
• 3 red onions, peeled
• 600g shin of beef (get it diced – Jamie asks for the bone, but I didn’t)
• Sea salt and ground pepper
• A blob of tomato purée
• 400ml Guinness
• 2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
• 1 litre organic beef or chicken stock
• 100g pearl barley
• 2 teaspoons English mustard
• 2-3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
• 60g good Cheddar cheese

I bought pastry, but here’s Jamie’s recipe if you can be bothered to make your own (it’s probably better):

• 300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
• 100g Atora shredded suet
• 100g butter
• Sea salt
• 1 large free-range egg, beaten

You’ll need a big casserole style dish with a lid. Mix your herbs, butter and olive oil on a high heat, chop your onions roughly and add them to the melted mixture and then put the beef shin in, stirring it until it’s brown and there’s some liquid in there. After that, add tomato puree, stock, flour and Guinness, let it come together and then and simmer for an hour on a low heat with a lid on.

This was where I went wrong. Add the pearl barley, put the lid back on and simmer for another hour – I didn’t, so I only simmered for twenty minutes, the gravy didn’t thicken and the barley was still a bit chewy. Then take the lid off, simmer for another 30 minutes, and stir in the mustard and Worcestershire sauce, finely grating in the cheese. Jamie spoons off the oil – I didn’t have a film of oil, but then I didn’t simmer it long enough, did I? Then season it to taste.

If you’re making pastry, then while the stew is ticking away, put the flour, suet and butter into a bowl with a good pinch of salt. Use your thumbs and forefingers to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles cornflake shapes. Lightly stir in 125ml of cold water, then use your hands to gently pat and push it together into a rough dough. Do not overwork it. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and put into the fridge until needed.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4, spoon your meaty mixture into a pie dish (not too deep – like 4cm apparently) and then roll your pastry out, letting it hang over the edges. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can fold it back over and make patterns; mine went soggy and I panicked. And then Jamie eggwashes the top, which gives the whole thing a lovely glaze – if i did this again I’d probably try it. But there you go.

So, give it a shot, and let me know how you get on!


Posted by on 16/01/2012 in Food, Other


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I’m getting increasingly excited about the new Mumford and Sons album – ironically because of how much of the last one has seeped into Christian music lately. It seems like the more that worship music copies Marcus Mumford, the more refreshing his music, which still straddles that blurry line between the spiritual and the secular, becomes.

This is a terrific new song called Home which should hopefully be on their next album:

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Posted by on 12/01/2012 in Music, Other


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On New Year’s Day, I posted this to my Twitter account: “What am I going to do in 2012? I am going to start cooking again. I am going to start blogging again. I am going to start running again… in short, I am going to start again.”

In so many ways, 2011 was a hard year. And although some amazing things happened, an awful lot of stuff went wrong as well. The reason that I have to start out 2012 resolving to pick up those things again is because they stopped, along with in a large part reading the Bible, and talking to God, and that’s a clear sign that something is wrong.

The ironic thing is that they stopped because of work, and I work for a church.

I heard Mark Yaconelli speak a few months back, and he said that “your real ministry comes not from what you believe, but what you know.” You can believe that God is in control, but until you really know that, deeply, then you’re still going to keep living like it all depends on you. You can believe that God is trustworthy with the important decisions in your life, but until you trust Him with them then it will just be theoretical.

I believed that I was living life in step with God when I started out in my current position as a youth worker. But over the course of the past year and a bit, rather than seeing God more visibly in day-to-day life, I’ve ended up encountering Him less and less. Letting how exhausted I am from work define my interactions with others – complaining about how difficult things are or talking strategy rather than just enjoying their company. I have used television as a defence mechanism, using that as a way to disengage as it takes the least energy; I have turned cooking, one of my great joys, from a thing that used to bring me joy to a chore.

What kind of a ministry is that?

I know that this is a common statement among people working for the church, but it’s struck me recently nonetheless. I’ve worked for a church in some capacity for the past two and a half years, and for much of that time I’ve been miserable. My relationships with others have been strained, or fallen apart, and I have struggled to find God in those times. And of course ministry is hard, and it’s naturally going to be a fight, but at times I wonder if the problem might actually be me.

It seems like if ministry is making you a person less aware of God, less engaged with His world and His word, and less joyful and less conscious of what He is capable of – and if that happens for a sustained period of time – that may not be what God intended for His people. That might not really constitute ‘doing ministry’ at all, because all that you are ministering out of is your own strength, which is effectively ministering yourself.

I’ve talked to a number of people about this and received a number of opinions on what it means.

I still don’t know what I think, but I am very aware that some things have to change in the next year, one way or another. And I’m interested in your opinion too. Should ministry be a fight – a joy that is born out of pain and struggle and hardship? Or does God have different plans for the people that He calls to serve His church?


Posted by on 10/01/2012 in God, Other



I’ve not blogged for about a month, and so I’d hoped that I could start again with something that would grip people’s attention. However, given that I’m apparently suffering from writer’s block and chef’s block at the moment, I’ve not been cooking or writing anything much, so instead you get a post about cooking celeriac.

(If it’s any consolation, though, I’ve not just been sitting on my hands. I have been listening to some good music in that time.)

The best thing that you can do when you hit that kind of block is apparently to write, or to cook, but I’ve not really known where to start lately and so have instead been eating my way through a pot of porcini mushroom and white truffle pasta stuff that appeared at Christmas. Oh, and I ate some steak, too, and baked mushrooms, which I cook so often that they scarcely count as ‘cooking’ for me these days.

But as a result, celeriac marks something of a breakthrough, as it’s the first real food that I’ve attempted to cook in some time, so there is hope yet. It’s apparently the root of celery and looks like a heavy white ball – Larousse describes it as being “milder than celery and having a ‘firm’ rather than crisp texture.” I cooked Celeriac Julienne the other day, which goes like this:

Peel a celeriac and cut into thick strips. Blanch for three minutes in boiling salted water, then refresh in cold water and drain. Put the strips into a pan with a knob of butter and a little sugar, to taste. Cover and sweat for about 15 minutes. Use to garnish roast meats, fried meats and braised fish, such as cod.

It was good, actually. Tasted like roast parsnips, only slightly sweeter and with a texture that was a bit more like potato. It would be great on the side of a slab of meat.

Here’s hoping this heralds a new dawn of cooking and writing. Goodbye, writer’s block.

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Posted by on 10/01/2012 in Food, Other


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