Friday, 20 May 2011

F is for Friday

Growing up we were lucky enough to have our mum work from home.  Hen was always there to pick us up from the school bus and supply us with unending amounts of bread and strawberry jam while we watched Round The Twist.  But running a busy business from home with three children, constantly falling out of trees or wanting to use the the photocopier to photocopy their faces, is not the easiest of tasks.  Fridays were work days, and to control the peace Kimmy came to look after us. 

Fridays soon became the most looked forward day of the week as we were soon bewitched by Kimmy's wicked sense of humour and adventure.  She not only let me wear her frosted pink lipstick but also taught me the words to every Bananarama song.  One Friday, probably grasping at straws to keep us amused, Kim put her Sesame Street hat on and announced that we would only do things beginning with the letter F.  Cue three children with their feet covered in poster paint walking across a giant sheet of paper in the back kitchen and then, as a reward for our artistic efforts, French toast.

French Toast

I'm aware that this barely needs a recipe but it is one of my favorite things to eat.  I'm also aware that most people place French toast in the sweet category (a fact that I didn't find out until my early twenties) and the thought of having French toast with sugar or strawberries is just plain wrong.  I could push to bacon and maple syrup but that's the limit. 

During the years that Kimmy was looking after us my passions were firmly centred around Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, so much so that I had a gigantic Kylie poster on the ceiling above my bed which is a little bit gay.  It was a platonic girl crush, honest.  Anyway, to cut a flashback short, Kim used to make us "Kylie and Jason French toast" with the French toast cut up and lovingly arranged around the plate in the shape of an 80's perm (for Kylie) or a mullet (for Jason).  Nose, eyes and mouth were courtesy of Heinz tomato ketchup. Delicious and still the only thing I want went I'm ill.

I've now grown up a bit (a smidgen) and like my French toast pimped up a little.  Chilli for heat, oregano to bring some Italiano to the mix and served with tomato salad or charcuterie.  Or baked beans if I'm being a bad foodie.  The bread must be white but make sure it's decent.

Serves 2

4 slices of white bread
4 eggs
milk, a splash
chilli flakes
oregano - fresh if possible, dried if not
salt and pepper

Beat the eggs, milk, oregano, chilli flakes and salt and pepper together.  Soak the bread in the mixture until all is absorbed.  Heat a good glug of olive oil in a thick bottomed frying pan.  When the oil is hot, fry each piece until golden and crisp on each side.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

You're having a falaf

In other news I have been getting better at remembering about lunch. This is a big step towards being a normal person, or so I have been told.
At work, lunch is usually an irritating pang of hunger that is often ignored or quenched by downing a quick bowl of soup. Quite often, in fact, breakfast and lunch are usually combined - unfortunately not in a relaxing brunch kind of way, more like toast and marmalade at half eleven. The thing is, for me lunch is never a meal to get excited about unless I'm on holiday and it includes some chilled rosé and charcuterie in the sunshine.

The last 2 weeks have been different because I actually took time off work (shock!) and the days seem to be longer when you don't have a million things to do.  My plans for the time off consisted of sewing, watching crappy films and generally eating what I wanted as the other half was sadly at work (ha ha!).  This meant crappy films with subtitles and lots of yummy vegetables, hurrah!  For lunchtime I really want to have something that requires very little prepping and cooking, for me that means a variation of a mezze platter.  Tasty salad, yogurt dressing, soft pillowy flat bread, babagonush or hummus, grilled chicken or...

Butternut Squash and Goats Cheese Falafel

Falafel is the perfect snack, starter or flat bread filling and is getting so popular that McDonald's is now serving the "McFalafel" in some countries, a wonderful wikipedia fact that I couldn't wait to share with you.  This variation on the classic falafel includes two of my favorite ingredients, sweet butternut squash and zesty soft goats cheese.

Also this recipe, as well as being delicious, is also very cheap to make. I used dried chickpeas and soaked them overnight because in the past I've used tinned for hummus (humous, houmous?? I never know) and all it tasted of was the fousty brine. Lovely. Plus dried are cheap, 500g was only 97p and more than double in weight once soaked for 24 hours.

I made A LOT of these falafels with the thought that I could could freeze a big batch and lunch would just be a case reheating and munching, this is possible but they are so much better fresh from the pan.  I would recommend either only making as much as you will eat (and this an easily adjusted recipe) or make a large batch of the mixture and freeze, then defrost and fry.

This recipe is adapted from the Abel and Cole site which has some cracking recipes that celebrates the wonderful world of veg.

makes 20 - 25 falafel

1/2 small to medium-sized butternut squash, deseeded
4 spring onions, cut finely
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
2 tsp of cumin seeds
1 tsp of chilli seeds
400g soaked chick peas
20g fresh mint
20g fresh coriander
100g Abergavenney goats cheese
100g fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg yolk
1 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper
plain flour (for rolling)
olive oil (for frying)

The day before soak the chickpeas, at least 24 hours in advance.  They will double in size so for the sake of this recipe soak 200g of dried chickpeas.  If, after soaking, there is a little more than 400g chuck them in a salad or stew, if its a little less don't worry.  Rinse thoroughly once soaked.

The next day preheat the oven to 200c/390F/Gas Mark 6.  Cut the squash into 2-3cm chunks, no need to peel as the skin becomes lovely and chewing when roasted and adds texture to the falafel.  Place in a roasting tray and sprinkle over 1 tbsp of olive oil, the cumin seeds, chilli flakes, a good pinch of sea salt and a proper grind of black pepper.  Toss it all together and place on the middle shelf of the oven.  Roast for 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally.  Once soft and caramelly, cool to room temperature.

Add all the remaining ingredients and the squash (plus any juices) to a food processor and blitz together to make a rough paste.  Test a small amount of the mixture by taking a small piece and form a ball, if the paste falls apart too easily add a tablespoon of plain flour and blitz again.  Season with salt and pepper.

Scoop the paste into a large bowl with a spatula and cover tightly with clingfilm.  Chill in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.  To shape the falafel; dampen your hands, take about a tablespoon of the mixture and shape into a ball.  Dip the ball into plain flour and place on a plate lined with greaseproof paper.  Repeat.

Heat some olive oil in a pan, it needs to have a depth of about 1 inch.  Test the temperature with a piece of bread, once the bread fries to a golden colour the oil is ready.  Cook 5 falafel at a time, making sure not to crowd the pan, for about 3-5 minutes until golden and crispy.  Drain on kitchen paper.

Have a perfect lunch.

A salad dressing made with natural yogurt, lemon juice and very good extra
virgin olive oil.  Goes beautifully with a salad of crisp, thinly cut veg.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Happy To You!

To my dear friends and readers; some from home, some (bizarrely) from Angola, the time has arrived to celebrate.  Put your Kate and Wills bunting back up and pop open something chilled and fizzy (Appletise will do) because...


I think the cake was too small for 'birthday'.

And a huge thank you is in order.  Firstly and most importantly to you, for taking the time out of your hectic lives to read my rambles through culinary adventures.  Someone asked me recently if I would still write a blog (still hate that word) if nobody read it.  An interesting question and one that will plague bloggers (eek, worse!) for years to come.  My answer? Yes of course, but in no way would I get as much pleasure out of it as I do.  With the risk of getting slightly American on you all, through your feedback and friendship I laugh, learn and discover more and more about this wonderful world of all things edible.  Your comments are valuable, often hilarious and... oh God I'm welling up here...

Just thanks.

I also want to say a huge merci to my friends and family for helping and listening as always.  Particularly to Bo, who not only lets me insult his eating habits on the Internet but proof reads them too.

And lastly, fellow food writers (I can't bring myself to use that word again).  Some of which I have met, most of which I've read and some of which I have hilarious Apprentice banter with on Twitter.  There is amazing people doing some amazing things out there, it's lovely to be part of it all.

So finally, to show my appreciation I baked you a cake.

Rhubarb and Custard Fairycakes

makes 12

These cakes taste completely of rhubarb and custard.  I'm not being blonde but I just want to warn people that might not be too fond of that combination that this is not a hint of rhubarb and custard.  Its like a rhubarb and custard bomb going off in your mouth.  On the other hand, if like me, you LOVE rhubarb and custard then these are going to make you very very happy.  I ate five.  In one afternoon.

300g rhubarb, cut into 1cm slices. Plus 1 whole stick for decorating.
125g caster sugar, plus 4 tbsp extra
zest and juice of 1 orange
100ml plain yogurt
2 eggs
100g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
75g ground almonds

For the icing:
200ml milk
2 tbsp cornflour
175g butter
2 tbsp mascarpone
175g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4.  Line a cupcake tray with 12 cases.

In a small saucepan add the chopped rhubarb and the whole stick (chop in half if necessary).  Add the 4 tablespoons of caster sugar and the juice and zest of the orange.  Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer for 2 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft but not breaking up.  Leave to cool on the side.

In a small bowl whisk the eggs and yogurt together.  In a larger bowl sieve in the flour, sugar and baking powder.  Stir in the ground almonds and a pinch of salt.  Make a well in the centre and add the yogurt mixture and fold together.  Lift the whole stick of rhubarb out of the pan and put to the side.  Strain the rest of the rhubarb away from the juices in the pan - the juices can be used for beautiful summer cocktails or just added to yogurt at breakfast.  Fold in the cooled rhubarb into the cake mixture, making sure that the pieces are kept as whole as possible.

Split the mixture between the 12 cases and bake for 19 - 23 minutes on the middle shelf.  Cool on a rack once ready.

Meanwhile make the icing.  Mix together the cornflour and a splash of milk to make a paste.  Pour the rest of the milk into a small saucepan and whisk in the paste.  Put the saucepan on a low heat and continually whisk until the milk has thickened to the consistency of custard.  Leave to cool.

In a large bowl cream together the butter, icing sugar, vanilla extract, mascarpone and a pinch of salt.  Cream until pale white and whisk in the milk mixture.  Ice the fairycakes generously.  Cut the whole pieces of rhubarb into thin, jewel-like circles and sprinkle over the top of the cakes.

This recipe has been brought to you by a Jamie Oliver supplement, although the recipe was wrong (gasp) and I had to fix it, and my Grampa's rhubarb.