Wednesday, 3 November 2010

How about them apples?

I have been baking more and more lately - mainly because my attempts are no longer total disasters.  I know I bang on about purchases changing my life a fair bit but, after buying a oven thermometer, I discovered that my oven had been running 25c hotter than the thermostat.  Now, like magic (or just actual science), perfectly formed and very delicious cakes.  Seriously getting very grand illusions of opening a bakery, even though my cake successes are not even in double figures.  I like to dream big.

As previously noted life has been rather hectic recently and time at home has been limited.  Baking slows everything down, gives you space to think and to concentrate on the simple things.  Like creaming the butter and sugar to pale softness and sieving the flour until it falls like snow.  And then there is there is the fruits of your labour...
Spiced Apple Muffins

These muffins are a celebration of the British apple.  Shopping last week I was slightly shocked to see that 90% of the apples on sale were from France or Spain.  Ironic considering the glut we have in this country at this time of year.  If you make this recipe (I hope you do because it is lovely) and don't use British apples I may no longer be your friend.

The apples pack in the moisture and the result is fragrant, delicately spiced and very very moreish.  Great for breakfast or with a cup of tea on a stormy Autumn afternoon.

100g (4oz) light brown muscavado sugar
60g (2oz) soft unsalted butter
225ml (8 fl oz) semi-skimmed milk
255g (9oz) plain flour
3 tsp of baking powder
sultanas, a small handful
walnuts, a small handful
apples, quartered and cored
1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp of ground allspice
pinch of salt

Sieve the flour, salt and baking power into a large bowl.  In a second large bowl cream the softened butter and sugar, by hand or by electric mixer - the important thing is that it pales to a light toffee colour.  Fold in the flour mixture into the butter mixture alternatively with the milk until smooth.

Now you have the basic muffin batter you can add the flavour.  Grate in the apples, skin and all, throw in the sultanas, walnuts and all the spices.  Fold together until combined.

Spoon into muffin cases set in a muffin tray and bake for 20 - 25 minutes.  Easy!

I also want to show off my beautiful new crockery that Bo and Angie surprise me with; how lucky am I!  The range is called Blue Fluted by Jamie Oliver and is pretty extensive so that's my Christmases and birthday's sorted for a while.  I love the pretty vintage look and am seriously coveting the oval platters.  Its so lovely having proper grown up crockery and horrible leftovers from our student days. 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Will work for soup

I've been working rather a lot lately, its not made me very fun to be around.  Unless I'm in a slightly hysterical over-tired phase, then my jokes are excellent.  The down side to all this is that I'm living off cereal and tea, not much chance to tingle my taste buds and report back to you.  The upside to my heavy work schedule is that I've been making a hell of a lot of soup.  Now the temperature has plummeted (apparently its going to snow next Tuesday according to Mrs C from number 25) were are getting through 3 huge pots everyday.  When lunch service has been hectic there is something quite calming about pottering around the kitchen concocting delicious soups.
This soup I made today and has a special place in my heart.  And my tummy. 

Roast Butternut Squash Soup

This recipe is adapted from both Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and my darling Sous Chef Nayana (who told me about the parmesan secret).  Hugh F-W notes that this soup could be made from roast chicken leftovers (stock, roasted onions and squash).  A great idea and carbon foot friendly too.

I've been mucking about with butternut squash soup for years, adding chilli for a spicy kick, dropping in cumin for earthy flavours - even melting through coconut milk for that taste of Asia.  This soup is different because it really lets the vegetable live up to its name - buttery and nutty with a savory kick from the parmesan.  Stripped back and pared down, this soup makes you happy.

2 medium to large butternut squash
2 white onions
5 cloves of garlic
2 sticks of celery - roughly chopped (optional)
1 large potato, peeled
chicken stock
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
double cream
small knob of butter
1 tbsp of grated parmesan
fresh nutmeg (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F/gas 4.

Cut the squashes in half, scoop out the seeds and cut each half into four or five large chunks.  Peel and quarter the onions leaving the roots intact to they hold together while roasting. Place everything into a large roasting tray adding the garlic whole (and not peeled) so they are like soft garliky caramel.  Drizzle olive oil over the whole tray and season with salt, pepper and the dried herbs.  Place in the middle of the oven and roast for around 45 minutes until the squash and onions are soft and golden.  Take out the oven and once cool enough squeeze the garlic out of their papery skins.

Put a large pot on the stove and set on a medium heat, add the butter and when melted add the celery.  Tip the whole roasting tray into the pot and mix around with celery and butter.  Chop the potato into 6 and add to the pot along with enough chicken stock to cover the vegetables.  Simmer on a medium heat with the lid on for half and hour.  Check that the potatoes are cooked through and add a splash of double cream.  Take off the heat and blend until really smooth, take your time - this soup has to be silky.  Sprinkle in the parmesan, blend some more and taste before seasoning.  Nutmeg is delicious with squash so a modest grating is a lovely addition.

Now back to work...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Of mists and mellow fruitfulness

The only season that, last year, made me feel glad to be home after spending 2 weeks lying on Bondi Beach. The only season that allows me to dress up as a pirate, make lots of pumpkin soup and wake up happy every morning. The only season that is never a disappointment because it’s supposed to rain every day.

Autumn – I adore you.

October is the king of months for many reasons but mostly for the food. It seems that all my favorites are in season at this time of year. From mushrooms to beetroot to squash to apples; you can get a damn fine meal in October. I'm also still getting late season tomatoes coming through in my balcony boxes, 1-0 Mr Blackbird! With the nights drawing in comfort food is on the menu.

I’m never going to be a no carb, light bite kind of girl – I like bowls of food that warm your cockles, whatever cockles may be. For comfort bowl food you can’t go far wrong with gnocchi, and I’ve eaten a lot of gnocchi in my time. The first taste was a stolen forkful from my aunt Dianne’s plate whilst eating out in Sydney over a decade ago. Nestled in a simple Neapolitan sauce it was worth the thievery. That trip was a lot of first tastes but the pillowy softness of that rustled potato dumpling was something that I knew I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) live without.

Despite eating a lot of gnocchi, I have never actually made it myself – something to do with not owning a potato ricer. A couple of weeks ago I made that purchase and it changed my life. Not actually, but it’s the simple things. So I read up on my favourite little dumplings, the Romans like to use semolina flour whereas the Tuscans favour ricotta, there is pumpkin gnocchi (Autumnal heaven!), basil gnocchi; the list is endless and delicious. For something relatively simple gnocchi sure does come in a lot of guises. I have a potato ricer and I like potatoes so the classic potato gnocchi it was.

Potato Gnocchi with Chestnut Mushrooms,
Goats Cheese and Pinenuts

A celebration of Autumnal ingredients this dish is perfect for a cozy supper.  You can bake the potatoes in advance to cut down the prep time.  I tried to track down some local, wild mushrooms for this dish but unfortunately our brilliant local grocer has had to close its doors.  Sad times but chestnut are a good substitute.

Serves 2

For the gnocchi:
4 medium potatoes
2 tbsp of 00 flour
1 egg
fresh nutmeg
salt and pepper

For the sauce:
8 large chestnut mushrooms
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a selection of fresh herbs - I used thyme, purple sage and parsley
splash of white wine
splash of chicken stock
small knob of butter
soft goats cheese
small handful of pinenuts

Turn the oven on to 220c/425F/gas 7.  Rub the potatoes with olive oil, score the tops and bake in the oven for about an hour until the potatoes are fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside.  Allow to cool a little and then, while they are still warm, cut in half and scoop out the insides into a ricer.  'Rice' (is that a word?!) the potatoes into a large mixing bowl until lovely and smooth.  Add generous pinch of salt, grind in some black pepper and grate in a little fresh nutmeg.  Remember with nutmeg a little goes a long way.  Whisk the egg and add into the potato mixture.   Little by little add the flour, only using enough to bind the mixture.  The less flour used, the lighter your gnocchi will be so only use as much as you need to make the dough easy to handle.  Split the dough three ways and roll each piece into a long sausage shape.  Cut the sausages into inch long pieces, place on a floured plate and leave to set in the fridge for 10 to 20 minutes.

Put a saucepan of salted water on to boil.  Get a large frying on the heat and toss in the pinenuts.  Toast them for half a minute and put to the side.  In the same pan add a good glug of olive oil, add the mushrooms to the frying pan and toss until golden brown.  Add in the butter, garlic, seasoning and any hardy herbs (thyme, sage etc).  When the garlic has cooked, splash in the wine, add the stock and cook for another 5 minutes on a medium heat.  While the sauce is cooking take the gnocchi from the fridge and cook in the salted water until they rise to the surface.  It should only take a couple of minutes.  Remove, gently, with a slotted spoon and add to the sauce.  Sprinkle roughly chopped fresh parsley and the toasted pine nuts into the pan, shake everything together and spoon into pasta bowls.  Crumble a little soft goats cheese over the top and serve.

Note: I have read that gnocchi can be made without using a potato ricer although it is very important to get the mash as smooth as possible.  I picked up my ricer for under a tenner at Tescos.

The herbs I used in this recipe were from our brand-spanking-new community herb garden that I stumbled upon while picking up the papers last week.  Perfect timing as my own herb pots and boxes are past their best now.  They seem to be very well looked after (particularly the purple sage which is bursting with health) and I hope it is treasured by everyone.  A lovely idea for gardenless people like myself.

This post has been entered into the 'In The Bag' food blogging event where 3 seasonal ingredients are brought together to make something delicious and then blogged about.  This month it was mushrooms, nuts and herbs.  To find out more about 'In The Bag' check out Julia's blog A Slice Of Cherry Pie

Julia Parsons is the founder of the UK Food Bloggers Association which is a brilliant way to get to know other food bloggers as well as an invaluable source of help and support. 

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Heat without the Meat

The spice of chilli is the one thing to polarise the public. You may pretend it doesn't exist but there are definitely chilli people and non-chilli people. With Come Dine With Me contestants reaching for the 5 score-cards because 'the curry was far too hot, not what I am used to' to another eating Birds Eyes until tears are pouring down their flaming cheeks, you must admit the relationship with chilli differs from person to person. I am in the pro-chilli camp for sure. Actually, you might even call it an addiction.

But the big question is can you learn to love chilli? Can the ability to handle spice evolve with the amount you eat? Who knows? Recently I ate some noodles with four Birds Eyes, seeds and all, and could only detect a smidgen of heat. Panicking that I had become immune I shoved half a jar of dried chilli into the next nights pasta and nearly blew my face off. We live and learn. Actually we don't as I have a feeling that fresh chillies of late have been very temperamental in their heat. I am now more reliant on dried because at least I know where I am at with them, unless I'm panicking that I have suddenly lost my chilli taste buds. Probably burnt them off.

Anyway the reason that I am rabbiting on about chillies is that I have recently encountered Meat Free Mondays. I know its being going on for ages and that I'm totally behind the times but the Observer Food Monthly (all hail OFM!) was edited by the McCartney's in July and they banged on about it. A lot. And do you know what? It actually makes quite a bit of sense. Basically the world is doomed but we can make it last longer by combating global warming. According to the UK's Food Climate Research Network livestock is accountable for 20-30% of global green house gas emissions, a figure set to rise as more and more meat is produced to cope with demand. From farm to fork meat takes a lot of energy to produce.

Meat Free Mondays doesn't mean that we have to completely change our eating habits, it just means we don't eat (or buy) meat for one day a week. It also has a lot of benefits for us too, meat is expensive so save the pennies, embrace the world of vegetables because they are delicious and learn to be a bit more creative in the kitchen. You might even being doing it without noticing anyway, I was. You can sign up to Meat Free Mondays here and they have a few more facts, recipes, celebrity testimonials - if you like that sort of thing. Also it doesn't need to be a Monday, good for alliteration but not so good for the Sunday roast leftovers. I went for Thursdays because the man's away so mince is off the menu.

So back to chillies, (feel like this is a bit of a Billy Connally story that never really reaches a point), Asian food is meat-free heaven and the best Asian food is laced with fiery heat. Strong fragrant flavours, filling but healthy, and quick and easy to make. When I'm feeling a bit sluggish and bored the only thing to perk me up is spicy noodles or a decent homemade curry. Something that gives you a shake as well as a hug.

My Noodles

I make this dish at least once a week, I can crave it all day.  Most of the ingredients are in my store cupboard and the recipe is never set in stone so whatever is in the fridge will do. There is something about all the chopping that is so relaxing and the finished dish is exciting as well as comforting.  You eat it out of a bowl, you can't get more comforting than that.  Oh and please eat it with chop sticks - just not the same with a fork.

selection of vegetables, stir-fry types like brocoli, peppers, courgette, mushrooms
coconut milk, half a can
1 large chilli
1 clove of garlic
fresh root ginger, thumb-sized piece
fresh coriander
stock (vegetable on Meat Free days but chicken normally)
noodles (your choice but I have a preference of flat egg noodles)
1 teaspoon of Green Curry paste
splash of Fish Sauce
Small handful of peanuts

Chop all your vegetables into similar sized pieces.  Mince the garlic and ginger and slice the chillies - deseed if you like.  Put a pan of boiling water on for your noodles and set a large wok on the heat.  To the wok add the stock until it reaches a couple of inches, basically you want the stock to cover all your vegetables.  Add the ginger, garlic, curry paste and fish sauce into the stock.  I refrain from adding the chillies at this point because they tend to lose their heat if cooked too much - if you would like it milder add them now. 

Put the vegetables into the stock, the ones that take the longest to cook first and so on.  Remember that soggy vegetables are horrible so please only cook them for the minimum amount of time.  At the same time put your noodles on to cook.  Once the vegetables are nearly cooked add the coconut milk and chillies.  As soon as the noodles are ready, drain and add them to the wok.  Chop the coriander and add this too.

Now this is where I differ from the regular noodle broth.  I hate that broth sauce barely coats the vegetables and noodles so at this point I get a slotted spoon I remove everything apart from the sauce and place it in the bowl I will be eating from.  I then return the wok to the heat and reduce the fragrant sauce right down so it is thick enough to cling to the vegetables.  Once its ready (it only takes a minute or two) pour the sauce over everything else.  Chop up some peanuts, sprinkle over the top and Bob's your uncle!

Oh and I really, really must give you the recipe for a delicious Thai dipping sauce that is exactly like the one we have in our favourite Thai restaurant (The Wilawan which has been lovingly nicknamed The Willy). Great with tempura or anything similarly crispy and hot.  I made it recently when my mum, my brother and his girlfriend were over, served it with Bill Granger's Prawn Cakes - ridiculously yummy.

Cucumber Dipping Sauce

1 small cucumber, finely chopped
1 1/2 tbsp of finely chopped red onion
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
85ml white vinegar
65g caster sugar
2 garlic cloves
2-3 slices of fresh ginger
splash of fish sauce
peanuts and fresh coriander for the topping

Place the cucumber, red onion and chilli in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, place everything else and simmer it all for 2-3 minutes until the liquid has become thicker. Remove from the heat and cool.

Once cool strain into the small bowl over the cucumber etc. Top with chopped peanuts and fresh coriander if desired.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Listen with Your Tummy

This is firstly an apology of being rather absent of late. Work coupled with a beer/laptop accident (which still means that I need to copy and paste my d's and q's in) has meant that I have been neglecting you all. I am now on a wee holiday, getting to do lovely things like eat and talk about eating.

Today I want to talk about listening about eating; a new concept to those who are used to devouring celebrity chefs on television, and one that reverts us to our past radio-listening selves. I love the radio, my kitchen digital radio is one of my most treasured possessions. I love the randomness of it all, you can be delighted (or annoyed, or tickled) by the most unexpected topics of conversation. But most of all I love the element of belonging to a group of people, both heard and unheard - the talkers and the listeners. Tune in to a show long enough and they become your extended friends and family, people to learn and laugh with.

I have recently joined the modern world and got myself a new fancy phone, this phone is now my best friend. Fact. Its ok, Bo has one too so he's not lonely. My lovely new phone was a little on the pricey side so anything that I can download for free is fair game. This is how I joined the new revolution of podcasts; a revolution that I am happy to wave a flag for because they are ace. Miniature radio shows without the interruption of rubbish songs and depressing news stories, shows that you can store and save up for when there is no-one to interrupt. Perfect. I also love how you can use them as a catch up service - miss your favorite radio show, no worries just download the podcast and listen at your leisure.

And what better to listen to than programs about food...

Spilled Milk

Those who know me know that Molly Wizenburg is a bit of a hero. Her Orangette blog has greatly influenced my writing and blogging style so when I stumbled across her food podcasts I knew I had struck gold. Molly teams up with her friend, and fellow food writer, Matthew Amster-Burton who is equally hilarious and knowledgeable about the wonderful world of gastronomy.

Spilled Milk is recorded every 2 weeks, they pick a subject to talk about (Rhubarb for example) and the shows tag line is 'The show where we make something delicious and you can't have any'. The podcast is recorded in their home city of Seattle so it is a brilliant insight into American eating trends, habits and ingredients. It does mean that some shows can leave you bemused about certain topics - the show on their love of 'Milkshakes' is hilarious but what in God's name is a Chocolate Malt? But be warned Spilled Milk can also make you want to move to Seattle.

My favorite thing to do with Spilled Milk is to listen to it when I am food shopping, everyone around must think I mad chuckling away to myself while picking out tomatoes. iTunes are not being overly sensitive when they labelled the Pea episode 'explicit' but its good natured (brilliantly immature) humour. And the best thing - its all free baby! So what are you waiting for...

BBC 4 Food Program

This is the daddy of all food podcasts, obviously because it is produced by the BBC it is one class act. They don't skimp on this show - if the subject is Kebabs they travel to Istanbul and Bursa to explore the ancient techniques used in authentic Turkish Doners. They mix interviews with producers, historians and the public along with great presenters. The subjects themselves are incredibly varied too, from Chips to Amateur Food Photography, all of which are handled total professionalism by Sheila Dillion and her team. They are also brilliant at covering British food events, the latest show recorded at WOMAD festival takes you right there. Basically this award winning and intelligent radio show (turned podcast) is not one to be missed.
This is the podcast that I treat myself with, the one that I leave until last because I know that even though I might not love the subject matter (pork scratchings anyone?) I will love listening to every single minute because I always learn something. I might even listen to it twice so it sinks in.

So do you agree with my choices and are there any good food podcasts that I am missing out on? Please let me know, I'm hungry for more...

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Rise and Shine

This post is a tribute to my little sister for several reasons, the first being that she has a horrible habit of rising with the larks - something that I have never been particularly good at. The second is that Australia (where she currently lives) is, in my humble opinion, breakfast heaven. So Kettle this is for you, hopefully it will make a change to your porridge habit.

A meal that is often rushed, or even skipped altogether, breakfast is sadly overlooked as a celebration of fresh and delicious ingredients. Too often in this country our imagination only stretches to the full English (or preferably the full Scottish!) - and even though I cannot disregard the time honored traditions, sometimes it is good gain inspiration from our Antipodean cousins. So lets make a big deal of the first meal of the day, whether that means sunrise or noon.

Ricotta Hot Cakes with Honeycomb and Banana

Bill Granger is a bit of a hero, his restaurants and cafes are an integral part of Sydney culture. bills in Darlinghurst is a welcoming, sunny delight and the centre of breakfast heaven. My brother gave me Bills Sydney Food for my Christmas last year so it was the first place I looked to gain ideas for a lazy weekend breakfast. This dish is Sydney sunshine on a plate. The hot cakes are crisp on the outside, light and fluffy in the middle. It calls for honeycomb which you can buy but I decided to be brave and make my own. Give it a go, its worth it.

Serves 6

This recipe is in cups, something that I come across quite often. I bought a set of measuring cups in our local pound shop, a worthy investment

For the hot cakes
1 1/2 cups ricotta
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs separated
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
Butter, for frying

To serve
Honeycomb butter, sliced (see below)
Icing sugar, for dusting

For the honeycomb butter mix 250g of softened unsalted butter, 100g of finely crushed honeycomb butter and 2 tablespoons of honey. Roll and seal in clingfilm, refrigerate for 2 hours before serving. Keep any leftovers in the freezer - its lovely on toast and future pancakes.
Add the ricotta, milk and egg yolks in a large bowl and mix to combine. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt on to the ricotta mixture and mix together. Place the egg whites in a clean dry bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites through the batter in two batches, with a large metal spoon.

Lightly grease a large, non-stick frying pan with butter and drop 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan, add more hotcakes but don't over-crowd the pan. Cook over a medium heat for a couple of minutes until golden underneath. Flip over and repeat on the other side. Transfer the hotcakes on to a plate, add the banana and put one slice of the honeycomb butter on the top. Dust with icing sugar.

- Any leftover hotcake mixture can be stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours as long as it is covered.

The next day I was still feeling a little brunch hungry so I decided to try out something that I saw on the brilliant Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory. Willie Harcourt-Cooze is bringing proper cacao to the UK and having lived in Venezuela learning the cacao trade he is a master at everyday Venezuelan food. This cooked breakfast was served to his whole family and couldn't be further removed from a full fry up. He grates pure cacao into this dish and which I would have loved to have tried but the Dairy Milk in my fridge would not have sufficied. The main reason that this caught my eye is that it includes almost all of my favorite ingredients. Eggs, avocados, tomatoes, peppers, red onions, garlic and chilli - heaven...

Venezuelan Brunch

This actually has to be one of the most delicious things I have ever made. Hovered up in seconds it was fresh, filling, semi healthy and couldn't be easier to make. Never mind breakfast, it would be perfect for a quick lunch or light supper too.

Serves one - because I don't like to share.

Half a red pepper
2 fresh plum tomatoes
1 small red onion
1 clove of garlic
Half an avocado
1 egg
Small bunch of coriander
A large slice of crusty bread
A pinch of dried chilli
Salt and pepper

Slice the red pepper into strips and the red onion into half rings. Crush and chop your garlic and roughly chop the plum tomatoes. Put a medium sized frying pan on the hob with a good glug of olive oil. Fry the pepper and onions on a medium heat until soft and add the garlic and chilli. Add the tomatoes and cook down until soft. Add a little vegetable stock or water to keep moist. Once the all the ingredients are a chunky sauce constincy add the coriander and season.
Make a large well in the centre and crack the egg in the middle - keep on a low heat while the egg cooks. You may need to add a little water round the edges so the sauce doesn't dry out. While the egg is cooking toast the bread on a griddle or frying pan. Drizzle a little extra olive oil on the surface of the bread.

Slice the avocado, put the bread on a large plate and transfer the egg and tomato sauce on top of the bread. Serve with the avocado on the side.

Eat immediately.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A Confession...

I must be truthful, it wouldn't be right to hold something back, but this is a big confession for a true foodie to make. Are you ready? Ok, here we go... I am rubbish at cakes and desserts. I cannot go on blaming ovens and whisks, it's an inbuilt failure. And I try, oh how I try - last weeks Crème Brulees were slaved over for an age, I lovingly followed the recipe to the letter but still my other half claimed it to be the most horrible thing he has ever eaten. For a man, that a few days ago, ate scampi, black pudding, potato croquettes, fish fingers and beans all on one plate, it was quite an insult. But a truthful one, I managed one mouthful of the crunchy scrambled eggs before completely agreeing with him. Savory I can do, more than can do. I understand which flavours go together, how they should be treated and the rest is instinct. Pastry only reaches that level once the cook has completely absorbed the science and its the science that seems to allude me.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, I now have a job that forces me to delve into the world of sweet. Sometimes our wonderful pastry chef Vicky has a day off so I must pick up her mantle, apparently customers need desserts. The last few weeks have been Sex and The City crazy at macrobert and we were offering a 2 course meal + cinema ticket deal. The menu was New York themed so along with New York style Burgers, home-made Calzone and Caesar Salad we had the most delicious Vanilla Baked Cheesecake and Chocolate Brownie Sundae. Having never made a cheesecake in my life I was obviously apprehensive about making 6. But once again I was saved by Jamie. And drumroll... I did it! They may have been a little cracked on the top (I was later enlightened by Vicky, they must be cooled down slowly) but they were almost perfect. I may have danced around the kitchen a little.

New York Style Baked Vanilla Cheesecake

Based on the Jamie Oliver recipe.

This recipe is as easy as a baked cheesecake can be, but so delicious that some customers (definitely not influenced by the cocktail menu) even asked to buy some to take home. We served it with a crushed fruit coulis (blueberries, strawberries and raspberries) and fresh raspberries but this cheesecake is a great canvas for other flavours. Try it and see.

200g unsalted butter (melted, plus extra for greasing)
350g digestive biscuits, crushed
115g caster sugar
3 tablespoons of cornflour
900g full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2 large free range eggs
115ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F/gas 4, then grease the bottom and sides of a 24cm springform tin. First make your biscuit base - mix the crushed digestive biscuits with the melted butter in a bowl. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the tin and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool.

Turn the oven up to 200c/400F/gas 6. Combine the caster sugar and cornflour in a large bowl, add all the cream cheese to this mixture. Beat until creamy. Add the eggs, one by one to the cream cheese mixture then slowly add the cream. Beat the whole mixture until it is the consistency of whipped cream. Lastly drop in the vanilla, orange zest and lemon zest, fold in.

Scrape the mixture on top of the cooled biscuit base, level the surface and place in the middle of the oven. Cook for 35-40 mins, the top should be set around the sides and it should be golden in colour. Slowly (SLOWLY!) cool the cheesecake by turning the oven off and opening the oven door slightly. Cool it in stages, finally leaving in a cool, dry place or fridge. Leave to set for a couple of hours, decorate how you wish!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Vivre La France!

I went to the South of France almost a month ago and I have been meaning to post about it for ages. Mother Hen had some work to do and she invited my sister and I to go with her, obviously we had to think about it. I like to include a recipe with most posts but I seem to be failing to cook 'French' lately (see next post regarding the Brulee disaster 2010). We had the most magical holiday, ate like queens and looking through my photos this evening (90% are food related) I just had to share them with you.

Pre-dinner snacks and vino, the wine was from the next door 'cave'.
Not only delicious but £1 a bottle.

A simple courgette salad.
Mandoline sliced courgettes with lemon zest and mint fresh from the garden. Drizzled with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

My favorite - nothing beats French artichokes.
Dipping the leaves in a simple vinaigrette and licking my fingers.

Seafood from the local market in Eymet.

I know it's Italian but Spaghetti Vongole with clams as fresh as these cannot be passed up. The recipe is very similar to my Prawn Fettucini.

Barbecued sardines - not my favorite by Mother Hen would sell her soul for them.

Come on! It's France!

And to finish...

The elderflowers outside my room, the smell was heavenly and they begged to be made into Champagne. If only we were there for longer.

Brioche from Bergerac.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

A tribute to Valvona's

There is no bigger slice of heaven on earth than Valvona and Crolla's on Leith Walk. This Edinburgh legend is, to many, the best restaurant and deli this side of Roma. My grandmother used to send for a Valvona hamper and sit with the feast between herself and my grandfather on their thrones. All I can hope for is that I inherit more than just her name.

I remember getting a Valvona carrier bag with bits and pieces from her (you never went home empty handed) and I think I had it for almost 5 years. I thought I was the bees knees carrying my gym kit in a Valvona bag, actually I was the bees knees but it definitely ended my PE career.

When I finally got to the deli/restaurant it already felt like home. Yes its expensive but man its worth it. When I was at the Taste Festival I ended up engrossed at the pop-up book shop with my head in the official Valvona and Crolla cookbook - A Year At An Italian Table. If anyone of my loved ones are reading, birthday present done!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Feast

Wow, what a ridiculously busy couple of weeks! This post is a little overdue mostly because of my non existence apart from working and sleeping. My exciting new post as Catering Manager at the macrobert arts centre started a little prematurely but unfortunately I was still working full time in my current job. All in all I have been eating, drinking and sleeping all things macrobert lately (which is no bad thing) but I did manage to squeeze in a big family feast for Mother Hen's birthday.

Family gatherings are few and far between nowadays with everybody scattered far and wide. My sister Katie is due to go back to Sydney next week and with Dad in the middle of National Compost Week (don't ask!!) it seemed the only time for us all to get together in Stirling. The newest (and probably youngest at a mere 23) big thing in comedy Kevin Bridges was playing at the macrobert for 3 nights and I used my charming ways with the box office staff to secure us all tickets for a laughter filled night. Even though we were all excited about the show the main topic of conversation was 'What will we eat for dinner?!'.

This feast was in planning for weeks, months maybe, considering that the shoulder of lamb had been hibernating in my freezer since the beginning of Spring. It was a 'one day' piece of lamb: 'one day I will pour in a bottle of red and stud it with garlic', 'one day I will marinade it with spicy yogurt' etc etc. But since the said lamb was a present from Mother Hen it seemed entirely appropriate to bring it to the table for this occasion. I don't often get the chance to cook for people outside of work, particularly a 3 course feast so I might have gone a little overboard. We are definitely a starter family - anything delicious, picky and can be accompanied with a chilled glass of vino is the star of the show. Most of us have been known to order 2 starters instead of a main in restaurants, which invariably confuses the waiting staff. The best starters are meze, try everything, share everything and debate everything - perfect! So the menu was born - Middle Eastern meze, Spiced Slow Roast Lamb and an Orange and Lemon birthday cake.

I had 2 willing helpers on the day although nap time and Channel 4 Racing might have hampered their handiness to some extent. That said they crystallised rose petals for the cake, peeled a million broad beans and made some excellent flat breads.

The starter meze consisted of Spiced Broad Bean Fritters, Lamb Koftas, Babagonush, Humous, Mint Yogurt and Flat Breads... told you I went a little overboard! Both the fritters and koftas were Jamie Oliver recipes and by lord they were delicious. The fritters were so easy to make (apart from the aforementioned broad bean peeling) and were bursting with beautiful summery flavour. Even spiked with a little spice my chilli-phobic Pa adored them. Crunchy and crispy on the outside, and soft and fresh on the inside. I would make them again and again as long as somebody else peeled the blooming beans. The koftas were an adapted recipe, Jamie has them in flatbreads sprinkled with pistachios but as I wanted picky finger food I decided to add the pistachios into the lamb mixture. Lamb, sultanas and pistachios - is there a better food combination?! Not for me anyway. These koftas would be perfect as a main with cous cous, roasted peppers and salad, and would cook perfectly on the barbie too. Oh but remember to soak your skewers in water first, I didn't and there was a bit of a flame issue.

Lamb Koftas

250g minced lamb
1 heaped tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
1/2 level tablespoon ground chilli
1/2 level tablespoon ground cumin
2 level tablespoons sumac (if you can't find it use lemon zest instead, but there are great suppliers on the web, try
The Asian Cookshop)
a good handful of sultanas
a good handful of shelled pistachios

Place the lamb in a large mixing bowl with the chilli, sumac, cumin and thyme leaves. Roughly chop the pistachios and add them, plus the sultanas, to the mixture. Combine all the ingredients together, get your hands in!

Split the mixture into 8 equal balls and get yourself 8 (soaked!) skewers. With damp hands, push and shape the meat around and along each skewer. Press little indents in the meat with your fingers as you go - this will give it a better texture when cooked. Grill the kebabs on a hot griddle pan until golden and cooked through.

Spiced Broad Bean Fritters with Minted Yogurt 

1kg fresh broad beans, in their pods (about 300g podded weight) or 500g defrosted broad beans, skinned
6 sprigs of fresh coriander
a small bunch of fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 level teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 a fresh chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 heaped teaspoon plain flour
1 litre vegetable oil
1 tablespoons natural yogurt

Boil any larger white-skinned broad beans for 30 seconds, then drain. When cool, pinch their skins off. Now whiz the coriander and half the mint in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper, then add the spices, chilli, broad beans and lemon zest and whiz until finely chopped. Sprinkle in the flour and pulse for a few seconds. I know this seems a very small amount of flour but believe me it holds everything together perfectly - adding more would only make the mixture too dry.

Pour the vegetable oil into a large saucepan until it's 5 to 7cm deep. Heat the oil. To check whether it's hot enough for frying drop a small piece of bread into the pan, if it turns golden its ready.

Cover a plate with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Scoop up a small amount of the broad bean mixture and either use your hands or two spoons to shape it into little rounds, then put them on the plate. When they are all done, carefully lower one of them into the hot oil with a slotted spoon and fry until they are a golden, dark green colour. When you have the hang of it fry the rest in small batches.

For the lemon minted yogurt, squeeze half the lemon juice into the yogurt. Pick and chop the rest of your mint leaves and stir them in, season to taste.

As for the lamb.... well it was lovely. I used the Moroccan Lamb recipe from the wonderful food for friends yeah but also added Ras el Hanout which is an amazingly fragrant middle eastern spice blend that includes actual rose petals. I cooked it for nearly 5 hours at 140c so it fell away at the bone and hardly needed the extra additions of the left over babagonush, mint yogurt and hummous. There was discussions of it being served with cous cous studded with pomegranate seeds but I decided to be kind to my tattie loving man and served it with roasted new potatoes and cumin roasted squash.

Friday, 7 May 2010

New blog and old favourites

So welcome! If there's anybody there...

This is my first exercise in writing about what I love/adore/dream about, no not tall ginger gentlemen, but food. Ah food! As well as proving my darling Mother Hen right (again, Roots was amazing) this is hopefully going to be the perfect thing to channel my culinary energies. Basically The Larder will give my family, friends, boyfriend and work colleagues a wee bit of peace from my constant prattling about all things edible. Hopefully you will listen though.

Today feels like the start of summer, although it has the chilly Stirling wind as a companion, so to celebrate Prawn Fettuccini was on the menu. I am disgustingly addicted to tomatoes at the moment, it's a daily essential. At least one meal a day must contain my fix of tomato-y goodness. This recipe is an old reliable and an absolute favorite. The best meals are not the fanciest but the ones that manage to fulfil all your wants on one plate - or one bowl as I always seem to favour bowl food for some reason, must be the comfort factor. The juicy sweet prawns, squashy summery tomatoes and the sharp tang of lemon juice manage to cheer up the dullest Scottish day and the grumpiest Scottish person (not naming any names!) every single time.

Prawn Fettuccini
Serves 2

The fresh chilli is not meant to make it too spicy - it just gives the dish a gentle warmth. Up the amount if you're a chilli fiend (like me) or tone it down if you want something a little softer. Once every 2 months my local market have king prawns on sale so I stuff the freezer but if you don't have them this sauce is well worth making part of your staple repertoire. Quick and easy, minimal ingredients and goes with any type of pasta.

200g of raw king prawns
1 small tub (16 or so) of cherry tomatoes - if you can get a mixture of types and colours even better
2 cloves of garlic
2 handfuls of rocket
1 fresh red chilli
juice of half a lemon
a glug of white wine
1 handful of flatleaf parsley
enough fresh fettuccini for 2

Quarter some of the tomatoes, half some and leave a few small ones whole. Chop up your garlic, chilli and parsley. Run a knife over the back of your prawns, not all the way through, just to devein them. Heat a deep frying pan on the stove with a good glug of olive oil and pop on a pan of salted hot water. When the oil is ready throw the garlic and chilli straight in, stir continuously, don’t let it stick. Keep a close eye on it, burnt garlic is bitter and horrid. At that point add your tomatoes, this will stop the cooking process. Put your fresh pasta on now.
Add your wine and let the whole sauce simmer, it should smell amazing! You should see the tomato skins start to peel off and them to soften considerably. At that point get a potato masher and squish the whole lot down, not too much but just to amalgamate the whole thing. Add your lemon juice, give it a stir and add your prawns. They should take less than a minute to cook through in the sauce.
Drain the pasta and leave in the pan drizzed with some extra virgin olive oil. Once the prawns are pink throughout turn the heat off and add the parsley and seasoning. Sprinkle a layer of rocket over the sauce and then pop the pasta over that (it helps the rocket wilt), don’t stir yet.
Get the plates out, quick 5 second tidy up and pour a few glasses. Take a pair of tongs and stir it all together, add an extra slosh of extra virgin for a bit of fruitiness.