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Posts Tagged ‘cookery’

A modern dilemma: How to indulge in fruit and vegetables while ensuring you still consume 5 portions of cake each day. I have an answer. Actually Nigel Slater has an answer – I’m just a scoffing minion.

Wanting to bake a goodbye cake for work (I’m leaving) while using up surplus veg I turned to the internet for creative solutions and up popped Nigel Slater’s Courgette Cake. Of all the celebrity chefs NS is probably the one whose fridge I would raid given the choice in some supermarket sweep style free-for-all. That I just imagined. He’s one of my food heroes because he is a simple and unpretentious foodie, grounded in the seasons and passionate about ingredients. His recipes strike me as inspirational and yet accessible. So courgette cake it is, rather than Jamie’s turnip pudding or Nigella’s sprout cup cakes

I tweaked the recipe slightly. Here are the ingredients I used

Ingredients

275g butter
275g caster sugar
2 large free range eggs
250g courgette
1 apple
275g plain flour
½ tsp Salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
100g pecans
120g sultanas
4tbsp greek yoghurt

What's in the mix

What’s in the mix

Instructions

1) Cream the sugar and butter until smooth. The butter needs to be room temperature for this – I cheated and blasted it in a microwave for 10 seconds.

The unhealthy bit

The unhealthy bit

2) Add the eggs and blend them into the mixture. NS says to do this one by one, which I did, but I’m not sure why you can’t do them at the same time. Chefs say these sorts of things. Delia would find a contrived way to take twice as long and create three times as much washing up, while Heston would doubtless involve dry ice at this point.

Free range cake

Free range cake

3) Coarsely grate the courgette and the apple.

If it feels wrong keep the faith...

If it feels wrong keep the faith…

You will need to squeeze as much liquid as possible from the grated mass in order not to waterlog the cake.

That's 2 of your 5

That’s 2 of your 5

Now work the courgette & apple into the mix

Yes, you have just added courgette to your cake mix

Yes, you have just added courgette to your cake mix

4) Add the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Blend together using an electric whisk. I added some Greek yoghurt at this point because I felt that the mixture was a little too dry but whenever you are working with flour you have to make a hand-on decision about the addition of liquids.

Add the dry to the wet

Add the dry to the wet

5) Now stir in the pecans and sultanas, being not quite careful enough to ensure that ALL of the pecans go into the mix and not your face.

I had forgotten how nice Pecans are!

I had forgotten how nice Pecans are!

6) Spoon and level the mixture into a greased, lined baking tin OR just use a flexible baking mould.
I was wondering recently why baking paper seems to have vanished from the supermarket shelves – at least from Aldi, Lidl, Sainsburies (begrudgingly) and the local stores that I use. Somebody suggested that the rising popularity of silicone moulds may have reduced demand for baking parchment. It’s a good theory, although I still find this a pain. Turns out that Wilko’s still stock it.

It never looks good at this point

It never looks good at this point

7) Bake for until golden and firmish. For me this was around 55 minutes. Allow to cool before you get busy with a knife. Otherwise it’s all going to fall apart (I have been impatient far too many times at this point)

What a difference an hour makes

What a difference an hour makes

8) Sample – for quality purposes. Hey – this is really nice! Decide whether your work colleague deserve this. Then remember last week’s office medical checks which revealed a wide range of serious albeit sometimes amusing health problems amongst my office pals.

Turns out you can have your cake and eat it

Turns out you can have your cake and eat it

This cake isn’t going to solve anybodies dietary issues. But I hope it might just divert a few troubled minds away from the burdensome worries of physical health. Cake – at least good cake – is health food for the soul.

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I’m not an inspirational chef but I do take inspiration from good ingredients and recipe ideas. One of my weaknesses is recipe book dependence but that’s beginning to change. Over the last year or so I have made a conscious effort to adapt my shopping habits, largely in the face of my monumental hatred of Sainsbury’s. Let’s get something clear – they offer a paucity of choice when it comes to raw ingredients with aisles and aisles of processed food and only a very limited selection of anodyne factory produced “fresh produce”. Then there’s the relentless over-marketing whereby you are brow-beaten into buying 2 for 1 or 3 for 2 when you only wanted 1 so you buy too much overpriced food and it gets wasted. Shocking value and a wearisome shopping experience.

For Sainsbury’s read any of the major supermarkets, but there’s an alternative if you are prepared to forego a little convenience. I’ve taken to shopping at Aldi for mainstream items and then following up with specialist independent meat/fish/grocers for fresh produce. It’s more effort but a far superior shopping basket for two thirds of the cost makes it a no-brainer.

This is how shopping used to be before successive governments allowed the giant corporations to kill all the small independent retails along with our high streets. And my change in shopping habits is forcing me, in a positive way, to rethink the way I cook. No longer can I assume that my precise recipe ingredients will be available. More to the point the independent grocers always tempt me with fresh and exciting goodies that I wasn’t expecting. Much better therefore to ease off on the list and take inspiration from what’s available.

It also means that I am having to rediscover my cooking instincts. My plans to make some Indian influenced ice cream this weekend had to evolve due to a failure to obtain saffron along with arriving home with a glut of natural yoghurt. In Ready-Steady-Cook style, here’s what happened next…

Ingredients
250ml single cream
150ml milk
2tbsp Clear Honey
1tsp cinnamon
3 cardamom pods
3 large eggs
100g soft brown sugar
300ml natural yoghurt
Lemon juice
Chopped almonds

In the mix

In the mix

Instructions

1) Extract the cardamom seeds and chop them finely. I love cardamom and they are great in curries, rice, baking and green or ginger tea. They have to be great in ice cream don’t they?

2) Mix the cream, milk, honey, cinnamon and cardamom in a pan. I was toying with adding one or two cloves and even a light touch of chilli but let’s rein it in for now. Heat and keep stirring, but don’t boil.

Creamy loveliness

Creamy loveliness

3) Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the sugar in a bowl. This is orthodox ice cream making territory. Mix until smooth.

I'll make meringues with the spare egg whites

I’ll make meringues with the spare egg whites

Smoothly does it

Smoothly does it

4) Add the hot cream mixture to the bowl and stir. Return the mixture to the pan and heat until the mixture thickens, stirring all the time.

This is always the fun bit

This is always the fun bit

5) Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then transfer to the fridge for a couple of hours

6) Watch a film while waiting. I watched Fire In Babylon but you can substitute films of a similar length depending on what you have in stock.

7) Stir in the yoghurt and a little lemon juice. Hmmm, this should be interesting. I was going to add some lemon zest but … I forgot. Ho hum.

Not too much lemon juice - the yoghurt is quite sharp

Not too much lemon juice – the yoghurt is quite sharp

8) Pour the mixture into a pre-frozen ice cream maker being careful not to devour all of the mixture before it gets transferred. You don’t need a machine for this but it’s one of those gadgets I picked up along the way and if you are going to use it enough (like I do) then it does an effective labour saving job.

A messy business. Who designed this small opening?

A messy business. Who designed this small opening?

9) Once you are fed up of the racket made by your ice cream maker spoon the ice cream like contents into a container and store in the freezer.

10) Go to bed. Sleep. Get up. Do whatever it is you do before deciding that you fancy some ice cream.

11) Serve the frozen ice cream with some almond flakes or perhaps some kind of exotic Asian fruit salad. Perfect after a weighty Indian meal. Chicken Saag with masala stuffed baby aubergines and lemon rice since you ask.

But is it any good?

But is it any good?

Verdict – 8.5 out of 10. Good flavours, a fine way to finish an Indian meal and relatively healthy for an ice cream. The consistency was very slightly firm so next time I might change the cream to yoghurt ratio somewhat, or at least remove from the freezer a bit earlier. There’s plenty of scope to play with the flavourings. Some caramelised mango would go well with it.

I’m not sure if this is a recipe blog or an anti-globalisation rant but let’s worry about the taxonomy later – there’s ice cream to consume.

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Damson Cheese

If Ambrosia is the food of gods then a nice home made jam must surely be the accompaniment of choice.

It has been a good growing season for soft fruits and everywhere I look there’s ripe produce. My parents have a thriving allotment, friends are giving away excess goodies and even my own put-upon fan-tree is churning out more plums than can be comfortably devoured by myself and the nuisance bloody squirrel in my garden.

This particular bank holiday Monday I set about some cookery with a view to denting the plum mountain. I didn’t use the Victorias from my garden – great for eating but something of a waste in jam. Nor did I call upon the freebies that still occupy my fridge. Instead I defrosted a carrier bag full of damsons I was given last year. This might sound perverse – using frozen fruit when there’s fresh stock available. Not at all, not only did they keep amazingly well but the freezing process helpfully broke down the insides and that helps the jam making process.

Fresh damsons - intense - magnificent

Fresh damsons - intense - magnificent

But I’m not making plum jam, I’m making Damson Cheese. Let me explain – this is jam to all intents and purposes but it is more solid than conventional jam – ie: it can be sliced like cheese. That’s as far as it goes – don’t think you can add this to pizza. It is also incredibly simple to make – damsons are rich in pectin so you don’t need any setting agent.

Ingredients
Damsons
Granulated sugar

I have withheld on quantities because you have to taste your way around this one. That said I ended up using 500g of sugar for 1.2kg of fruit and this was about right for me.

Instructions

1) Wash the plums and throw away any bad fruit

Colander full of fruity goodness

Colander full of fruity goodness

2) Place the damsons in a large pan along with approx 150ml of water per kg of fruit, bring to simmering point.

Release the goodness

Release the goodness

3) Once the fruit has softened and broken down take the pan off the heat and let cool slightly before mashing the pulp through a sieve into another pan. Obviously you are going to have residual stones and skin for which I can offer no use.

This takes a while...

This takes a while...

4) Heat the puree. Add sugar gradually, stirring and tasting so you know when the sweetness level is right.

Stir in the sugar

Stir in the sugar

5) I have read various jam recipes and some say you should simmer until the temperature is 105 degrees but I kept stirring until I could move the spoon along the bottom of the pan and the liquid took a moment to cover the tracks. This level of viscosity means it’s ready. Take off the heat and leave until the puree is merely warm.

Ouch - hot! Note my Victorias on the left...

Ouch - hot! Note my Victorias on the left...

6) Now you are ready to bottle the magic. Old jars can be sterilised by washing them and then leaving them in a 160 degree oven for 10 minutes. If at this point you have not left the jam/cheese to cool enough you will receive a painful reminder as you try to spoon it into the jars.

The label is optional

The label is optional

And that’s it. Damson Cheese can be treated like a traditional sweet jam (try it with Ambrosia) or it makes a suitable condiment to rich meats like venison or bloody squirrel.

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Sometimes I find myself thumbing through recipes I seldom look at and something just jumps out and shouts TRY ME! On this occasion Apricot Slice has my full and undivided attention.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Ingredients
175g softened butter
175g soft muscovado sugar
100g rolled oats (eg: porridge oats)
225g plain flour
0.5 tsp salt
0.5 tsp bicarb of soda
Grated rind from 1 lemon
1 full sized can of apricot halves
a little caster sugar

The start of something good?

The start of something good?

And a picture of the same ingredients undressed. It’s what the celeb chefs do in their cookery books and I’m a great advocate of plagiarism.

Ready for action

Ready for action

Instructions

1) Blend the butter and sugar together with a fork or preferably an assistant.

This doesn't look promising

This doesn't look promising

2) Add the flour, oats, bicarb, salt and mix well.

Still clinging onto hope...

Still clinging onto hope...

3) Brush a baking tin (approx 20cm x 30cm) with a little melted butter to prevent the dreaded sticking.

4) Add half the mix to the tin and spread evenly into all the edges

OK - starting to be convinced

OK - starting to be convinced

5) Chop up the apricots and grate the lemon. sprinkle this fruity goodness evenly into the tin.

Hello! Now we're getting somewhere.

Hello! Now we're getting somewhere.

6) Layer the remaining mix on top.

Now it looks like building aggregate again

Now it looks like building aggregate again

7) Bake at 180 degrees for 25-30 mins and then leave to cool on a rack. In fact I suggest that once it has cooled you stick it in the fridge for a while to firm up and simplify cutting.

Hmmm, golden and interesting

Hmmm, golden and interesting

8 ) Sprinkle a little caster sugar over and slice the slice with a slicer.

Holy Moly! It's treats but not as we know them.

Holy Moly! It's treats but not as we know them.

9) Take to work and enjoy the silence as colleagues stuff their faces.

10) Refuse to offer IT support to anybody whose keyboard has stopped functioning due to escaped crumbs

What a surprisingly enjoyable recipe – moist, moreish and a little different. You could probably substitute the apricot with peach or banana, or if you are in a real hurry just go out and buy something from the bakers instead. But then you would be missing out on this. Decisions decisions…

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What unlikely categorisation of comestible unites the “father of modern Italy” with the city of Florence and the Tuscan town of Prato? Here’s a clue – they go well with a nice cup of tea.

The answer – biscuits – obviously. The proclaimed father of Italy was Garibaldi who aside from his military exploits was a renown baker, inventing the eponymous Garibaldi not to mention wagon wheels. Florence lays claim to the chocolate covered Florentine biscuit while natives of Prato dunk “nooks” or “cantuccini” in their espresso, commonly marketed to Brits under the general term of Biscotti.

Here’s another question. Why do the biscuit obsessed British enjoy so many Italian confections while the rest of Europe steadfastly ignores our tea time treasures? You can’t get custard creams in Catalonia. The Turkish wouldn’t recognise a Tunnocks Teacake. The Italians have never heard of the chocolate bourbon, moorish brainchild of Field Marshall Sir John Peak-Frean who ironically introduced the Garibaldi to Britain – a spoil of war originating from his military service in Italy that ranks alongside the Elgin Marbles.

I can’t answer these questions – I’ll leave them to the biscuit historians and theologians. All I know is that Cantuccini makes a nice festively appropriate Christmas gift, and so for the third year running I decided to bake some for my family…

Ingredients
175g whole blanched almonds
125g unsalted butter
200g granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 orange
1 tbsp orange liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointrea, etc)
1.5 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp salt
300g plain white flour
75g polenta
1 tbsp coriander seeds

See if you can spot the mistake below…

This is where it all starts

This is where it all starts

Luckily I noticed just in time that I had got cornflour out rather than baking powder. It would have been an embarrassing mistake because this substitution would have resulted in a perfect Clam Chowder – nice if that’s what you had in mind.

Instructions

1) A little preparation first. Beat the eggs, crush the coriander seeds lightly with a pestle and mortar or perhaps a harsh remark. Also zest the orange – we aren’t bothered with the orange itself but the insides can be eaten raw or squeezed for a healthy drink.

2) Next lightly toast the almonds in a 160C fan oven for 5 to 10 mins. I set a timer because otherwise I know I will forget about them and they will burn. When the nuts have taken on a David Dickinson pallor remove them from the heat and once they are cool enough to touch roughly chop one third of them

Toast those nuts

Toast those nuts

I’ve made the same recipe for the last 2 years and previously made the mistake of buying marginally cheaper skin-on almonds and blanching them myself. HUGE mistake – it took me an hour and I got RSI.

3) Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until smoothish and then add the eggs, orange zest, booze, baking powder and salt. Give it a good old stir.

Forget the diet

Forget the diet

4) Add the flour, polenta, almonds and coriander and mix well. If the mixture is sticky add more flour until it forms a dough. You have to use your hands for all of this. It’s just more fun that way.

Cauldron of goodies

Cauldron of goodies

5) Divide the dough into 4 and roll each portion out into 5cm by 2cm strips on a floured board. Place the strips onto a greased baking sheet leaving a little distance between them for expansion. Note: I made double quantity which is why there are 8 strips in my photo.

Oven ready

Oven ready

6) Bake for 35 minutes until it looks like this…

After the first bake

After the first bake

7) Leave to cool for a few minutes – but wait, we haven’t finished yet – Cantuccini is baked twice. Cut each strip diagonally into 1cm slices

We're not done yet..

We're not done yet..

8 ) Return the slices to the baking sheet and return to the oven for another 10 minutes before cooling again on a wire rack.

The finished article

The finished article

What we have is a sophisticated, nutty, orangey biscuit that goes remarkably well with coffee or ice cream and lasts for a good week, if you don’t scoff it in the meantime.

Merry Xmas as they say in Perugia!

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It’s Sunday. I’m tired after a late night and comfort food is the order of the day. Spicy parsnip soup fits the bill and the process of cooking will in itself be therapeutic, so here goes.

Soup of almost any type freezes well so there is no excuse for not making extra portions. Even the Locro De Papa I blogged about last year froze well and that contains avocado and cheese. Today’s recipe is a little more orthodox, although it is set apart by the Columbo Powder that differentiates it from your average parsnip soup..

In the ingredients list below I am making about 3 good sized portions of soup and about three times as much Columbo powder as required for this batch.

Ingredients

Main soup ingredients
750g parsnips
1 medium to large onion
3ish garlic cloves
An inch or so of root ginger
A quantity of butter – let’s say 30g

Columbo powder ingredients
1 tablespoon basmati rice
1 tablespoon corriander seed
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon black mustard seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 whole cloves
3 dried chillis (more if you want really hot soup or less if you are soft)
1 tablespoon tumeric powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger

What do we need?

What do we need?

Peel and chop the parsnips, slice the onion and finely chop the garlic and root ginger. If you are taking photos for a blog create lots of unnecessary washing up by presenting the ingredients in dishes.

Chopped & peeled

Chopped & peeled

Instructions

You can be making the Columbo powder and starting the soup at the same time.

1) Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onion, garlic and chopped ginger. Set the heat to low medium and after a couple of minutes add the parsnips. Cook for a few minutes until the veg turns golden, stirring when you remember.

Fry until golden

Fry until golden

2) Heat a frying pan over a medium setting and dry fry the basmati for 5 minutes, giving it a shake every so often to keep things even.

Dry fry the basmati

Dry fry the basmati

3) Put the rice aside and add all of the spices to the pan except the ground ginger and tumeric. Dry fry for 3 or 4 minutes being extra careful not to let anything burn.

Dry fry the spices

Dry fry the spices

4) Now you want to grind the rice and spices.

Grind the rice & spices

Grind the rice & spices

5) You could use a good pestle and mortar although the rice may be hard to grind down to a powder without a lot of effort. I use a Wet & Dry electric grinder. It’s one of the few kitchen gadgets I use regularly. It is very convenient and really does make life easier…

Wet & dry grinder

Wet & dry grinder

…and then there’s the payback. Take a whiff of the freshly ground spices – wow!

Columbo powder - smells great!

Columbo powder - smells great!

As a rule you should always try and freshly grind whole spices in your cooking as opposed to the buying the ground variety. The spices last much longer this way and the flavours are much bolder. Furthermore when making curries always dry roast the spices prior to grinding them as this makes a world of difference to the potency of the recipe. It’s not much effort and the aroma alone will make it all worth while.

6) Mix the pre-ground ginger and tumeric to the freshly ground spices and you have Columbo Powder. The quantities listed made extra so I stored two thirds in a bag and froze it for future use. Add the remaining third to the pan and stir it all in, before adding a litre of vegetable stock.

Blend

Blend

Cover and simmer until the parsnip is tender and cooked – approx 25 mins.

7) You want to leave the pan to cool a little before blending the contents. Time for gadget number two. I’m using a hand blender here but you could use a food processor. It’s really important to taste the soup at this stage and add seasoning if required. I had to add a teaspoon or so of salt and give it another blend. You could also add a little cream if you have some knocking about but it’s not really needed and I’m trying to be healthy. Serve.

Spicy Parsnip Soup

Spicy Parsnip Soup

I sprinkled over some previously toasted cumin seed I found in the freezer. Alternatively some chopped fresh corriander or a dollop of crème fraiche would work well.

Consume, appreciating the unfolding depths of flavour presented by the Columbo powder. I ate out on the patio wearing pyjamas and a chefs apron while almost being reduced to tears laughing at a YouTube video on my netbook. God knows what the neighbours thought. Again.

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Easter Sunday – a day of importance and meaning for many people. To kids (of all ages) it means hunting for chocolate eggs, to parents it means hiding them and to most other people it means a day of reflection – about the amount of chocolate you are consuming and how you will definitely go to the gym next week. Probably. But you know Easter Sunday is not just about chocolate – there are all sorts of other ways to ingest sugar on this special day. Here’s one – Greek Easter Cakes.

I thought I would choose this as my first food blog of the year, a very restrained 3 months after the previous gluttonous run of kitchen correspondance. These yummy moist cakes are perfect with crème fraiche and can be served warm or chilled. They contain no chocolate so from that point of view they are probably really good for you.

Ingredients

For the cakes
125g butter
100g caster sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
4tbsp lemon juice
2 eggs
125g semolina
2tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds

For the syrup
10 cardamom pods
1 orange
300g caster sugar
200ml water
juice of half a lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1tsp cloves
2tbsp orange flower water

This is what the contents of your grocery bag look like…

What's in the grocery bag?

What's in the grocery bag?

…and this is what they look like after my kitchen assistant Sven has prepared everything…

Gratuitous use of crockery to display ingredients

Gratuitous use of crockery to display ingredients

Ask Sven (or your equivalent) to heat the oven to 200 degrees (190 for fan)

Instructions

1) Blend the butter & sugar. I used my old trusty Kenwood mixer but apparently you can buy bowls and spoons that take this sort of routine kitchen activity into the 21st century.

Mix the butter & sugar

Mix the butter & sugar

2) Add the lemon juice, lemon rind, eggs, semolina, baking powder and ground almonds and mix until you stop. If using a bladed mixer stir the rind in by hand afterwards instead so as not to diminish the strands of lemony loveliness.

Add more stuff

Add more stuff

3) Grease a bun tin (you could use bun cases) and add the mixture to the moulds. Try and get a level finish. Slide the tin into the oven and leave for 15 or so minutes.

Let's bake!

Let's bake!

4) Remove the tin from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before transferring to a flat surface.

No Greek tragedy - they've turned out fine.

No Greek tragedy - they've turned out fine.

5) You can be making the syrup while the buns are in the oven, so as to speak. Heat the sugar in water slowly until it has dissolved. Add the lemon juice and let it all boil for a few minutes until it thickens into something syrupy. Add all the other ingredients and leave on a low heat for 5 minutes except for the orange flower water – add this after the 5 minutes.

Nectar of syrupy health

Nectar of syrupy health

6) Let the mixture cool slightly. Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick and then spoon the syrup over the buns.

Just like aunt Demetria used to make

Just like aunt Demetria used to make

Taste immediately to make sure the quality is of sufficiently high standard. Taste again to make sure. Congratulate yourself for having consumed something containing no chocolate whatsoever.

While you are at it spare a thought for those less fortunate than us, forced to work on this day of rest. Consider the put-upon supermarket staff obliged to spend Sunday evening away from their chocolate (and families) slashing the prices of eggs you were fleeced for only yesterday. They will be working late tonight restocking the shelves with barbecue products that will be advertised ad-nauseum as centre-pieces for the halcyon Indian summer we are not going to have.

Oh, Sven – just wash up & tidy before you leave. Thanks.

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