Thursday, February 28, 2008

Baked apples and John Denver

Tomorrow, in the immortal words of John Denver, I shall be 'lea-ving on a jet plane' to head off for a week's holiday on the beautiful island of Madeira. I cannot wait for a relaxing week in the sunshine (fingers crossed) and taking in all that this great island has to offer. The sub-tropical climate means that almost any fruit or vegetable is easy to grow and the abundant flowers are just breath-taking, to say nothing of the marvellous ocean views that meet you round every corner. I can't wait to head straight to the mercado dos lavradores which is one of the most colourful fruit, vegetable and flower markets I have ever visited. Just beautiful displays of exotic produce waiting to tempt!
So, I apologise in advance for the quiet week ahead but I hope I'll be back next week with tales of delicious meals at seaside restaurants and of course some stories about the marvellous and truly underrated wines that are the islands speciality - I'm looking forward to a glass of Sercial before dinner on the balcony, watching the sun set over the ocean... Bliss...

But I wouldn't want to leave you hungry, would I? Another sweet post tonight - usually I try to alternate - but I realised that I cooked these some time ago and never got around to blogging them. No time like the present, I thought.

I think I've been going through a bit of a nostalgic time of late, what with toad in the hole, rhubarb fool and now... baked apples. These were another childhood staple - the perfect pudding to make when you have forgotten about pudding but need to produce one. You see, there is no recipe as such. You just stuff the apples with whatever you have in the storecupboard (... well, almost 'whatever' - I haven't experimented with the tuna as yet). And of course it is a little tricky to produce them if you have no apples. And actually, not that great if you have no form of dried fruit. So actually, you should ignore the earlier comment.

Let's just say that I always have the ingredients to hand and it is an easy winter pud that everyone seems to enjoy.... Well... everyone apart from those who don't like dried fruit... Or apples... I must stop making these sweeping generalisations.

Then again, I don't think I've ever met anyone who didn't like apples.

Baked apples
Serves as many people as you want
1 apple per person
Any combination of the following:
sultanas, raisins, currants, dried figs, dates, dried apricots, mincemeat, ground or flaked almonds, stem ginger in syrup
Golden syrup
Brown sugar (muscovado, demarara or whatever you have knocking around)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Take a sharp knife and cut a slit around the circumference of the apple to prevent it exploding in the oven. Cut out the core of the apple to leave a good sized hole for stuffing with your yummy ingredients.
2. Layer the ingredients up - a bit of fruit, a bit of sugar, a few nuts, more fruit, some syrup, more fruit etc. Push the filling down with your thumb to pack in as much as possible. Finish with some brown sugar and drizzle with a little golden syrup.
asdf 3. Place in an oven-proof dish and pour a little water into the dish (half a centimetre is about right). Pop in the oven for around 45 minutes until the apple is completely soft.

4. Serve with custard. Not cream. Have you got that? These beauties should be served with custard. Definitely. Whether you like it or not! I'll be upset if I see cream anywhere near them..! Really.... Ok. If you really must. Just don't let me see you!

Notes - at Christmas, I love these with mincemeat and ground almonds. Otherwise, I usually stick with traditional raisins and sultanas - perhaps with a little stem ginger just for fun!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rhubarb fool with orange poppyseed biscuits

This month's 'In the Bag' event features one of my favourite seasonal ingredients: rhubarb. Earlier in the month, I made a delicious rhubarb and ginger crumble with the first of the forced rhubarb but to qualify for this seasonal event hosted by Julia at 'A Slice of Cherry Pie' I needed to incorporate oranges too.

Whilst a crumble is my favourite rhubarb dish, a simple fool is my second favourite. Partly due to the nostalgia aspect of this luxuriously creamy dish - both my grandmother and then my mother made this quite a bit when I was little. Sometimes, it would be rhubarb fool and sometimes it would be gooseberry fool. I'd never made it before and called my mother for the recipe. This is when I discovered that there is not in fact a recipe - it has just four ingredients and you can combine them in pretty much any ratio you wish! You can make a fool just using cream, but I like to make it with a mixture of custard and cream as I prefer the end result.

To go with a fool, I think you always need some kind of biscuit. As I child, our fools were usually accompanied by sponge fingers and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that. But I decided to make these gorgeous, melt-in-the-mouth orange poppyseed biscuits. A perfect addition!

The basic recipe for these biscuits came from my latest favourite recipe book: Gorgeous Desserts by Annie Bell. I LOVE this book. It is packed full of... you guessed it... gorgeous desserts, including lots of nostalgic items that she has fully revitalised. Think thoroughly modern trifles, stunning and witty jellies, rice pudding made with risotto rice alongside classic sticky toffee pudding and spiced apple pie. She serves these biscuits without the orange and with her version of rhubarb fool.

Rhubarb fool with orange poppyseed biscuits
Serves 4


For the fool:

400g rhubarb

1 heaped tablespoon golden caster sugar

3 tablespoons water

135ml fresh custard (homemade is best, but if you are pushed for time, you can get some reasonably good fresh custard in the chiller isles and my grandmother's version used Birds custard and, you know what, there was nothing wrong with that at all)

125ml double cream

For the orange poppyseed biscuits:

75g plain flour

25g golden caster sugar

60g unsalted butter, diced

pinch of sea salt

1/2 tablespon poppyseeds

grated rind one orange

1 medium egg yolk

a squirt of orange juice (if needed)

1. Start by making the biscuit dough. Put all the ingredients except the egg yolk and orange juice into the food processor and whizz until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.

2. Add egg yolk to bind mixture together. If it does not start to bind, add a little fresh orange juice until the mixture just begins to hold together (I probably needed around 1 tablespoon).

3. Make a ball of the mixture, wrap in cling film and place in fridge for an hour.

4. Meanwhile, make the the fool. Chop the rhubarb into 1cm pieces and place in a large saucepan along with the sugar and water. Heat gently for 10-15 minutes until soft and pulpy.

5. Turn off the heat and pour into a clean mixing bowl to cool down (if you leave it in the pan, it will take longer to cool down. Taste and adjust sugar if necessary (remember that the custard will also be sweet).

6. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Remove biscuit dough from fridge, knead until pliable and then roll out thinly on a floured surface - about 2mm thick (or thin).

7. Oil a baking tray. Cut the biscuits out with a 5cm cutter (remember to dip into flour between cutting each one, to prevent sticking). I also made some star-shaped biscuits as I couldn't resist! Place them on the oiled baking tray.

8. Bake biscuits in oven for 9-12 minutes, until golden. Cool on the baking tray.

9. Combine the fool ingredients. Beat the cream until soft peaks form and then mix together with the custard. Fold in the now-cooled rhubarb, keeping a tablespoonful to one side to decorate. You can either combine fully for an even flavour, or fold lightly for a pretty, marbled effect.

10. Spoon into glasses and serve with the biscuits.

Notes - Adjust the ratio of rhubarb/cream/custard/sugar to your taste. You make like it sharper. Or sweeter. More creamy. More custardy. Entirely up to you.

The biscuits are quite delicate, so handle them carefully!

Toad in the Hole

I haven't been cooking much this week, as it happens. Or rather, I have been cooking but the results have hardly merited a mention on the blog. I've had a really bad cold which has made me lazy and slow in the kitchen. I started the week with a few hot and spicy dishes in the hope that vast quantities of chilli and ginger would shoo the germs away. I did make my thai pork burgers which are truly delicious. I also made a fairly tasty chicken Thai green curry and a tuna pasta dish with added chilli too! But by Wednesday I was really feeling very grotty and it is here I have a confession to make. A big one. I hope you will forgive me. I went to Marks and Spencers and bought myself a tub of their 'ultimate mashed potato' and a packet of their 'Ceaser style green vegetables', stuck both in the microwave and ate those. Very lazy indeed (...though actually really rather good!).

The weekend was better food-wise as I had my mother staying for the weekend and we had some serious treats lined up. On Friday night, we went to the theatre to see The Importance of Being Earnest with Penelope Keith playing the role of Lady Bracknell. She was just made for that part. We had a great pre-theatre meal at Sofra which is a small chain of Turkish restaurants in London serving up great mezze platters of fresh salads, grilled meats, wonderful dips, falafel etc. Perfect grazing food. The highlight though came on Saturday night when I took my mother to Chez Bruce for her birthday. This is my second visit to this fantastic Michelin starred restaurant in London's Wandsworth and it was even better the second time around. My starter of smoked eel on a potato pancake with beetroot remoulade and herbs was so delicious that I could hardly bear to eat the last mouthful for fear of the dish being finished! The service was first class - attentive without being obtrusive and the wine was excellent too. I would recommend this place to anyone who has something special to celebrate and wants to splash out on a truly wonderful meal in great surroundings.

Last night, I felt I really should get back into the kitchen. First though, I decided to pack up my parcel for my 'blogging by mail' partner, Pam from Cave Cibum. This great event is organised by Stephanie at The Happy Sorceress and pairs food bloggers up around the world to exchange packages of foodie gifts. This time around, the theme is 'little things' (though my things don't look all that little from the picture). I hope that Pam will enjoy this package - I'l be sending it later this week...

I've been sticking to comfort food in a big way recently and last night was no exception - I decided to make the classic British dish of 'toad in the hole'. For those who are unfamiliar with this dish, it does not involve a single toad. Or frog. It is a dish which combines two British classics - the good old pork banger and the wonder that is Yorkshire pudding. Not selling it to you? I think you just need to try it and then you will see. It is really very delicious (...if not altogether slimming...). I'm not sure where the name comes from. Even the usually very reliable wikipedia fails to give a truly satisfactory answer on this one.

The basic idea is that you brown your sausages first, then pour Yorkshire pudding batter into the hot pan with the sausages and bake in a hot oven until the batter is risen and gorgeously fluffy. I like to tamper with this just a little. Firstly, I like a little mustard in my batter. Sometimes English for true authenticity and sometimes wholegrain for a milder flavour. I also like to add a few onions to the pan and the odd sprig of rosemary for extra flavour. I'd also like to stress that you should use good sausages for this - nice plump, really flavoursome British bangers with herbs and good-quality pork meat.

You may well have a favourite Yorkshire pudding batter that works well, in which case, stick with that. I made a mistake last night and veered away from my usual. For toad in the hole I usually base my batter on a Jamie Oliver recipe from 'Happy Days with the Naked Chef' which works a treat. But I was cooking for one last night and his version for four uses three eggs. Hmmm. Kind of hard to halve the recipe (dividing by four, even harder!) so I decided to use another. I wasn't so impressed with the results as the batter didn't rise much. Several reasons for this (not just the recipe). Firstly, I didn't add any fat to the pan after I'd browned the sausages - Yorkshire puddings like to be poured into a pan with a thin layer of very hot oil. They really do. I did say this wasn't a recipe for dieters! Secondly, my pan was rather too large for just one so the batter had to spread itself quite thin. Nonetheless, next time I'm reverting to my usual batter and it is that recipe that I give here (with thanks to Jamie Oliver). I'm also suggesting you serve this with some kind of onion gravy - delicious!

Toad in the Hole

(serves 4)


8-12 sausages (depending on their size and how hungry you are)

sunflower oil

1 large (or 2 small) onions, sliced

sprigs of rosemary

For the batter:

1/2 pint of milk

4oz plain flour

3 eggs

1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard

salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C. Mix together the batter ingredients with a balloon whisk and set to one side.

2. Take a baking tin or deep-sided roasting tin (or whatever dish you wish to cook the toad in, remembering that the oil will need to get nice and hot). Pour in a reasonably generous amount of sunflower oil so that the entire tin is covered in oil. Place in the oven to heat up.

3. Once the oil is hot, add the sausages and sliced onion and brown in the oven for around 10-15 minutes (they should be lightly brown all over so do give them the odd shake, or turn).

4. Remove the tray from the oven and check that there is still a little hot oil in the bottom. If not, you'll need to add a touch more and heat up again. Then pour over the batter (it should sizzle and spit a little).

5. Throw in the sprigs of rosemary and return immediately to the oven for around half an hour, when the batter should be golden brown and nicely risen. Do not open the oven for at least 2o minutes as this could halt the puffing up of the batter.

6. Remove from oven and serve with vegetables and onion gravy. I made a quick sticky red onion gravy by sweating red onions and a little garlic, then adding redcurrant jelly and some red wine and allowing to reduce and bubble. I served the toad in the hole with mashed swede and carrot and peas.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Who ate all the pie?

On Saturday my friend Joni (of tagine fame) came round for supper. Actually, that is rather misleading. I invited Joni to come and have supper with me whilst I babysat my little nephew.
This effectively meant that Joni picked up all the ingredients for supper and also took charge of most of the cooking. I'd like to pretend that we cooked this pie together, but actually she did most of the work. I did sauté some leeks though. And chop up some garlic. And shred the chicken. And suggest we added a stock cube. But Joni did all the hard graft - she made the white sauce and also dealt with the pastry.
I love a good pie. There is something comforting, homely and 'complete' about sitting down to a crisp layer of buttery pastry sheilding meltingly tender meat and vegetables basking in a tasty sauce. I confess here that we cheated a little. We could have roasted a chicken ourselves, but in fact, we used a rotisserie chicken from the deli counter. It still tasted delicious. We also used up some ready-made pastry that was lurking in my freezer. Not that it would take much longer to whip up your own, of course. But sometimes short-cuts can be useful and the pastry tasted pretty good to us as it happens.
Once the pie was assembled, we stood back and admired our handy work. It was decorated with stars (of course) and our initials. How we laughed at the size! What a huge pie for two people, we joked. There will be plenty left over - this would feed at least six. In theory. In reality, it was so utterly delicious that we both had huge helpings AND seconds. There wasn't a great deal of pie left at the end, I have to say. Enough for three. Four at a push. Six? Not a chance. Unless three of your guests are vegetarian.
Chicken and leek pie
Serves 4 (in theory)
1 cooked chicken (roasted with herbs and lemon would probably be good)
3 large leeks
large handful (or two) of frozen peas (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 good quality stock cube
2oz butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 pint of milk
1 heaped tablespoon creme fraiche (or, if you are throwing caution to the wine, a good slug of double cream)
8oz shortcrust or puff pastry (or enough to cover the pie dish that you have, when rolled out)
1 egg, beaten
1. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Heat olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the leeks with the chopped garlic. Once nicely softened, set to one side.
2. Shred the chicken into bit-sized pieces. White and brown meat. Just do this quite haphazardly - no need to have perfect chunks. The more rustic, the better.
3. Make a white sauce by melting the butter and adding the flour to make a roux. Stir with a wooden spoon and heat for a minute or so. Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring after each addition until you have a smooth, creamy sauce. Stop adding the milk when the sauce is a desirable consistency - it should stick slightly to the back of the spoon. Stir in the cream fraiche and crumble the stock cube over the sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Add the leeks, chicken and frozen peas. Stir to combine and then pour into a large pie dish.
5. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Moisten the edge of your pie dish with a little water and place pastry over the dish, pushing down at edges to sea. Trim to leave a clean edge and use trimmings to decorate with a design of your choice. Use water to stick shapes onto pastry.
6. Cut a few slashes in the top of the pie to allow air to escape and then brush the top with beaten egg so that it browns up nicely.
7. Bake in oven for around half an hour, until the top is nicely browned and the glorious smell of chicken pie is filling the kichen. Serve with simple veg such as broccoli (which could, equally go inside the pie) or carrots.
Wine notes - I would drink a nice, well-made oaked chardonnay with this dish. You want a creamy note in the wine to match the creaminess of the sauce.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gordon Ramsay's Chocolate Mousse and a Meme

Despite my misgivings about Valentine's Day, I did relent and go just a little bit heart-shaped by making these interesting chocolate mousses. Why interesting, I hear you ask? They just look like normal chocolate mousses held in a heart-shaped dish. Indeed they do. And indeed they are. Except that these are no ordinary chocolate mousses. They are Gordon Ramsay's chocolate mousses. Some of you may have caught his recent programme that involved cooking a three-course meal 'with the nation' - the meal (scallops, steak, chocolate mousse) was cooked in real time with members of the public following his direction at home. I enjoyed the show, but didn't cook along with him. For a start, I don't have a television in the kitchen. And secondly, I can't eat shellfish. Thirdly, I reckon I can cook a fairly mean steak.
However, I did like the sound of his chocolate mousse. It was very quick to throw together and had a little extra special something - honeycomb. I knocked the mousses up in ten minutes. Seriously. Ten minutes. I was in a major rush, admittedly, but it really was a speedy thing to whip up post work.
But here is the bad part... It really pains me to say this as I am a fan of Mr Ramsay (despite his temper and obscene language)... but... I'm not sure I terribly liked them. Like Nicisme of Cherrapeno, I found the flavour of the creme fraiche (excuse the lack of accents) a little pervasive. It took away from the chocolate flavour, I thought. The chocolate-covered honeycomb (i.e. Crunchie bars) were a great addition however, and one I'll use again with another chocolate mousse recipe. You can find the recipe here, by the way.
Whilst I'm here, I thought I'd take part in a meme which I've been tagged for a couple of times. I'm participating in Blogging By Mail and am very excited about receiving my package of 'small things' from LisaRene of Little Bits. She thought it would be a good way to learn a little more about me and so I thought I'd take part. I am aware I have completed one similar to this before, but thought I'd share a few more facts with you. This time, they are all food-related: my five favourite foods, my five 'worst' foods, something I've never cooked but really should have done, what I ate today and what I'd eat for my last meal on earth...

These are the rules:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.

2. Share 5 facts about yourself

3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).

4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

So... here goes...

My five favourite foods: apple or rhubarb crumble, smoked trout, roast beef with all the trimmings, chocolate fondant and leeks.

My five 'worst' foods: fennel (or anything involving aniseed flavour), mint, stone fruits (...peaches, apricots, cherries etc. Odd, I know), shellfish (I'm allergic to it) and plain boiled white rice (it is the smell, more than anything).

Something I have never cooked, but really should have done: Now this is embarassing. But true. I have (in all honesty), never cooked a poached egg. Really. Strange, isn't it? I think the reason lies in the fact that I'm not terribly fond of poached eggs. Give me a boiled, fried or scrambled egg over a poached one any day of the week.

What I ate today: This is also rather shameful. A lot of cake and a lot of bread is the short answer... Ok - here is the list - toast and marmite, an apple, a slice of carrot cake, a slice of banana cake (this was entirely beyond my control - it was offered and would have been rude to refuse, honestly!), a tomato, rocket and black pepper sandwich, pasta with a tuna and tomato sauce, apple crumble and custard. So... not exactly very balanced... We all have our bad days, huh?!

My last meal on earth: basically, see my favourite foods! I'd start with smoked trout with horseradish cream and blinis, then rare roast beef with yorkshire puddings, parsnips, more horseradish sauce, roasted carrots and potatoes, greens and gravy, cheese (hard Alpine cheeses) and then a slice of really good lemon tart with a slightly caramelised top.

I've tagged the recipient of my Blogging By Mail package, Pam, of Cave Cibum. I hope I'll get some hints of what she would like to receive from sunny England (!). Anyone else who hasn't already taken part in this one, please do so!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Breakfast at La Fromagerie and mushroomy pasta

Every now and then in life, one is lucky enough to enjoy a really good boiled egg. I really enjoy a boiled egg for breakfast, especially at the weekend, yet I make them all too rarely. And I virtually never order them when breakfasting away from home. The reason being that I am usually disappointed. In fact, there is only one person I trust enough to cook me a boiled egg and that is one of my sisters. She likes hers exactly the same as I do and she understands the horror that is 'white bogeys'. I'm very particular, you see. I like a really runny yolk but if there is even so much as a hint of uncooked white, then I am quite upset. There is nothing worse than 'white bogeys' in your egg first thing in the morning. In my book, anyway.
A couple of weekends ago, a friend took me for breakfast in Marylebone. It was a good chance to take in the farmers' market and mooch round the various foodie shops in the area. But best of all, it was a chance to visit La Fromagerie. This wonderful cheese shop is apparantly one of the best in Britain - the selection is stunning with many of the cheeses made and matured by the owner. But it is not just a cheese shop. Oh no. The Marylebone branch is a gourmet paradise, stuffed to the gills with homemade cakes and bakes, oversized meringues, French goodies (rillettes, foie gras, celeriac remoulade), specialist ingredients, homemade jams and chutneys and much more besides. Perhaps best of all is the small café area at the back where you can enjoy wonderful light meals in a convivial atmosphere (think shared benches and an opportunity to get friendly with those dining to your left and right).
I had a sudden overwhelming urge to order a boiled egg. I just sensed that it would be perfect. Fresh as a daisy, organic and oh-so-tasty. It tasted like eggs used to taste in the olden days. At least I imagine it did (!). My breakfasting companion went down the more appropriate route and ordered the Alpine breakfast - an array of cheeses, live yoghurt, wonderful bread and cold meats. There was plenty for me too, so that was fortunate. The parma (I think) ham was the meltiest I have ever eaten and the cheeses were divine. As one would expect. What was unexpected though, was the wonderful marmalade that accompanied our bread. It was truly superb - so good that I'd make a return visit just for the pleasure of slathering it on some bread accompanied (of course) but the really wonderful Normandy butter that arrived as a natural partner to our feast.

This weekend, I have my two-year-old nephew staying. He arrived at 4pm today and I hand him back on Sunday afternoon. I love having him to stay as he is pretty much the cutest little boy that ever existed (...but then I guess I would say that...) and it gives me a great excuse to do all sorts of fun things like going to London Zoo. So far, so good. He is tucked up in bed and fast asleep. Hurrah!
It does mean that I won't be spending much time in the kitchen this weekend. Having said that, I have just finished making two shepherd's pies - one packed with herbs and flavours and one far plainer. This is the first time I have cooked for him as my sister usually brings food for him with her - I hope he will like it as I found it quite difficult holding back on the strong flavours in his version! We've both got delicious potato and parsnip mash on top though - yum!
Working from home on Fridays, I'm always looking for new ideas for speedy lunches that are really tasty and satisfying yet don''t take me away from the desk for too long. This has become a bit of a staple...
Mustardy mushroom pasta
Take you preferred pasta shape (I used tagliatelle) and cook according to pack instructions. Chop a large handful of mushrooms and half an onion (red or white). Finely chop a clove of garlic. Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan, add the onion and garlic and soften. Throw in the mushrooms and fry until soft. Stir in one heaped teaspoon of wholegrain mustard. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the mushroom mixture. Add one heaped tablespoon of low-fat creme fraiche. Stir to combine and heat gently. Stir in a handful of chopped parsley and serve with plenty of pepper and salt plus some grated cheese.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day - Nice Matters

Well, I'd like to start by wishing everyone a very Happy Valentine's Day. This is big of me, I think, as I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day. This is because I am single, you see. I feel like the whole day is designed to torture us singletons who have to journey home on the tube sandwiched between lucky ladies smugly holding their oversized bouquets of flowers. Not that I'm bitter, you understand (!!) Of course, on the occasions that I have been in a relationship on the 14th February, I have thought totally differently and throughly enjoyed the journey home with my bunch of flowers (although I still maintain that spontaneous romance is much more... romantic). To show you that I don't really bear a grudge, I've even made a heart-shaped chocolate mousse to mark the occasion. I'll be posting about the chocolate mousse at a later date so watch this space.

So far Valentine's Day has gone according to the usual plan - the post has arrived and I have received my usual three cards. One from my Mother who has cunningly tried to disguise her hand writing. The Isle of Wight postmark slightly gives it away though. The next is from a dear friend whose name I won't mention, but whose dog has featured on the pages of this blog. Again there is the cunningly disguised writing (that is all too easy to spot) and the card is homemade. It is so sweet and lovely and homemade that it could only be from her. Finally, another elaborate disguise with swirly writing from another friend that could have been a mystery had she not posted the card at the same moment as a thank you letter - same post mark, same time. Still, I feel touched and lucky to have such sweet and caring friends and family. You know who you are and I thank you! Who need men, huh?! I have no doubt that my own elaborate attempts and handwriting disguising will also have failed miserably!

Anyway, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I wanted to tell you how thrilled I was to be awarded the 'Nice Matters' blog award by one of my very favourite bloggers - Rosie from 'Rosie bakes a 'peace' of cake'. Rosie spends her days baking the most mouthwatering creations - if you haven't visited her blog yet, you are definately missing out. You really are in for a freshly-baked treat. Thank you Rosie for this award - I feel very honoured to receive it.

I get to pass this award onto a few fellow bloggers. There are so many I could nominate for different reasons and Rosie has already passed it on to many of my favourites. I've managed to narrow it down though and have chosen bloggers who really take the time and effort to engage and interact with their readers...

Wendy of A Wee Bit of Cooking. Her posts always make me laugh and she cooks food that I really want to eat. She also has a very gorgeous-looking dog featured in her latest post which is almost as droolworthy as her food.

Julia from A Slice of Cherry Pie because she has set up and maintains a great food forum on her blog and also the UK Food Bloggers Association . Two great initiatives uniting the UK food blogging community.

David Hall from Book the Cook. I'm guessing that the floral logo may not quite be his thing, but I am full of admiration of his dedication to British produce and teaching children about eating well.

Fred and Ginger of Dinner Diary. Great pictures and delicious-looking food that I actually want to cook.

To thank Rosie for bestowing this award, I thought I should bake something to 'share' with her. I chose some simple plain biscuits that can be whizzed up at a moment's notice with ingredients you probably already have in the cupboard. You can either eat them warm, straight from the oven when they are soft a slighly squidgy, or keep them in an airtight container for a few days. They will harden up but are just perfect for dunking in a cup of tea for 'elevenses' because homemade cookies are better every time.

Storecupboard cookies

Makes approx 24

Ingredients -

Basic dough mixture...

5oz butter

4oz caster sugar (I used golden caster sugar)

8oz self-raising flour

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla essence


chopped up dark, milk or white chocolate

raisins or sultanas


crystillised ginger

Anything else you can think of, really...!

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C and grease a baking sheet. Cream butter and sugar together until light in colour. Mix in the egg.

2. Sift the flour with the salt and baking powder and fold into the mixture (you can do all of this in a food processor).

3. Add vanilla essence and your chosen flavourings (I added chopped up chocolate to one half and raisins to the other half)

4. Take heaped teaspoons of mixture, roll into balls and flatten on baking sheet, leaving space for cookies to expand.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Juicy mandarin orange cake

I've had a fairly blissful weekend all in all. I had zero plans which always feels like a total luxury. I woke up on Saturday and took myself off to The Wallace Collection. I've always wanted to visit this wonderful museum and I am really glad I finally made the effort to go - the collection of pictures is quite staggering and all displayed in such a marvellous setting. The courtyard restaurant is lovely (although fiendishly expensive) and it was all too easy to while away the morning there. The evening was spent with one of my oldest and very best girlfriends putting the world ( men) to rights over a Thai takeaway and a bottle of wine. Today, I met up with another friend and went to the Colombia Road flower market. I can't believe that I have never been before - such an array of wonderful flower stalls and great little shops selling everything from garden pots to paintings to artisan jewellery to baby cupcakes.

On return home this afternoon, I noticed the fruitbowl which was overflowing with mandarins. My weekly veg box has been rather heavy to citrus fruit (it is seasonal, after all) and I can't quite eat the double dose of mandarins fast enough. I decided that the best solution would be to bake a cake (...isn't that the best solution to everything?) and so set about concocting a mandarin cake. I decided to base it exactly on the lemon drizzle cake I make from time to time, simply substituting the lemons or mandarins. I'm pretty pleased with the result - obviously the cake is quite a bit sweeter than the lemon variant, but it it gorgously juicy and the flavour is divine (...presuming you like mandarins, that is). Possibly, it is more of a pudding-type cake than an tea-time cake, but I'll leave that up to you to decide...

Juicy mandarin cake


4 oz butter
5 oz caster sugar
6oz self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs

Grated rind and juice of 4 mandarin oranges

1 1/2 fl oz milk

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a loaf tin.

2. Place all the ingredients except the mandarin juice in a food processor and whizz until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of the mandarin juice.

3. Pour into prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

4. Whilst baking, prepare the syrup. Dissolve 3 tablespoon of sugar in the juice of the mandarins. Heat until it starts to bubble and then simmer for a few minutes until it becomes a little syrupy.

5. Once the cake is done, remove from oven and prick all over with a skewer. Pour the syrup all over the cake and then leave in the tin until cool. You may like to sprinkle with a little sugar on top.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Braised lamb shanks with rosemary and redcurrant

I've been a bit silent this week, I know. I was in Aberdeen on Monday, Glasgow on Tuesday, had Wednesday at home in London and then spent last night at the Portuguese embassy for the Wines of Portugal awards dinner presented by the Portuguese ambassador. No Ferrero Rocher, sadly (!) although I was treated to a sumptuous dinner including a foie gras tart with roasted quail, glazed grapes and wild mushrooms (divine), and a lovely bit of red mullet topped with an artichoke heart in tempura (sensational). I could have eaten a whole plate of that divine tempura-d artichoke!
Anyway, this hopefully explains the silence. A quietish weekend beckons and I am in heaven now that I can relax and spend some time in the kitchen. Last weekend, I decided to try my hand at cooking lamb shanks. I love the way this cut just falls off the bone, meltingly tender, when cooked the right way. It is something I quite often order when I eat out but something that also often disappoints me - usually when it is cooked too quickly and ends up tough and chewy.
I was inspired by several fellow bloggers who have cooked up delicious and comforting-looking lam shanks recently. Pixie, over at the marvellous 'You say tomato... I say tomato', enjoyed an interesting version on New Year's Day. She cooked the shanks in foil parcels, flavouring them with white wine and herbs. Fred and Ginger, over at Dinner Diary, then took inspiration from Pixie and braised their lamb shanks in red wine, with a base of vegetables and herbs. I decided to do something similar, using the bits I had lying around. It was all a bit experimental and unplanned but it turned out absolutely delcious - the meat was so tender and the juices very flavoursome. It was quite a rustic dish, perfect for chilly nights with a glass of rich red. I made this just for myself, but give a recipe for 2. Adjust the quantities for the number of people you have.
Lamb shanks with rosemary and redcurrant (with thanks to Pixie and Fred and Ginger for inspiration)
Serves 2
2 lamb shanks (preferably from a good butcher)
Olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot (or 2 small ones), diced
1 stick of celery, sliced
2 glasses red wine
1/2 pint stock (I used lamb stock cubes)
1 tablespoon tomato purée
couple of sprigs of rosemary
bay leaf
bouquet garni
1 heaped tablespoon redcurrant jelly
1. Pre-heat oven to 160C. Take a large casserole dish and heat a little oil over a medium heat. Add the lamb shanks and brown all over, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Remove and set to one side.
2. Add onions and garlic to the pan and soften (add a little more oil if needs be). After a couple of minutes, add the carrot and celery too. After 5 minutes, stir in the tomato purée. Add the wine and turn up the heat until wine starts to simmer.
3. Add herbs, stock and redcurrant jelly. Stir to combine. The liquid should reach halfway up the lamb shanks - add more if necessary.
4. Place lid on the casserole dish and then place in the oven on a low shelf for 2-2 1/2 hours*.
5. Remove from oven, taste sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with mashed potatoes for the ultimate in comfort. I served mine with baked potatoes instead and this was also good.
*My lamb shanks were perfect after 2 hours but my mother cooked lamb shanks the other day for 2 hours and said hers were still tough - I guess it depends enormously on the meat. Cook on a lower heat for longer if you have the time!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Blood Orange Curd

I was very excited on Friday to receive my first organic fruit and vegetable box from Abel and Cole. For £9 a week, I get a good seasonal selection of produce delivered by a very friendly driver on a day that is convenient. Abel and Cole tell you what to expect in your box each week and you can specify if there are particular items that you do not like (fennel, in my case, which last week was changed for alfalfa sprouts). My first box looked like this...

Nothing too unusual, although the Arran Victory potatoes have purple skins, but a good selection. Citrus fruits were to the fore, unsurprisingly, and the box contained both mandarins and blood oranges. Such gorgeous fruits these - so surprising. The orange exterior gives little away - except for a touch of rosy pink on one of them. But cut into them and you are in for a glorious surprise - just look at these beauties...

You'd almost be forgiven for mistaking these for ruby grapefruit. The flavour is an interesting one and, I think, goes to show how eating is a process involving all the senses. You are seeing a deep red colour in the glass and yet... it tastes of orange. It is somehow... unexpected. Rather than eat these as they were, I decided I'd like to use their juice to make something delicious. I toyed with the idea of a jelly to start with, but eventually settled on making this delicious blood orange curd. I just adore lemon curd - all eggy and buttery and tangy - spread liberally on white toast (never brown - all wrong), crumpets, pancakes or sandwiching together a lemony cake. I figured that orange curd would be pretty good too.

Making jams, jellies, chutneys and curds gives me a great sense of domestic bliss and achievement. I urge anyone who has never done so to start with making an orange or lemon curd. It is just so simple and yet so satisfying. And what is more, they make lovely gifts - just think how thrilled someone will be when you go round for dinner and take a homemade gift as well as the requisite bottle of wine.

Sterilising jars may sound like a whole lot of faff, but really it isn't in the slightest. All you do is fill the sink with very hot, soapy water and throw empty jam jars and lids in to soak. The labels will eventually float off with a little help. Give them a bit of a scrub and then rinse under hot water. Place them on a shelf in a low oven to dry out until you are ready to use them. Hardly any trouble in that, is there?

But what about all those funnels and preserving pans and wax disks? Don't you need a lot of equipment? Not really. If you are making jam on a big scale, then yes, some of this equipment will help. But not for a simple curd. I would suggest investing in pack of wax disks - these usually come from any cook shop in a packet along with celophane disks and tiny plastic bands. These just keep everything nice and hygenic and clean.

I based my recipe very loosely on Delia's recipe for lemon curd.Obviously oranges are a lot sweeter than lemons, so I used less sugar and added quite a bit of lemon juice to balance things out a little. The result is much sweeter than lemon curd (next time, I'd use even less sugar, I think) but is absolutely delicious and such a pretty colour. I could eat it straight from the jar... Actually, if the truth be known, I have been doing exactly that as I am out of both crumpets and white bread (...did I mention that curds simply HAVE to be eaten with white, not brown bread, in my book. You can slather them on brown bread if you really must, but do so at your own peril!). If you are short of ideas for using up your curd, may I suggest using it to sandwich together an orange-flavoured Victoria sponge or meringues or even stirring it through some plain yoghurt?

Blood Orange Curd
Fills four regular jam jars

3 blood oranges

1 large, juicy lemon

4 large eggs

10 oz golden caster sugar

8 oz unsalted butter at room temperature

1 dessertspoon cornflour

1. Finely zest two of the oranges and then squeeze the juice from all three oranges and the lemon.

2. Crack the eggs into a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Whisk the eggs a little.

3. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the saucepan with all the other ingredients and place over a medium heat. Whisk with a balloon whisk for around 9 minutes, until thickened. Do not worry if it looks very unattractive during this stage. Mine looked as though the butter would never fully melt (I made the mistake of adding it rather cold) and meld with the rest, but it did. Just look how horrible it looked for a while...

4. Once the mixture has thickened, turn the heat down and simmer for a couple of minutes, continuing to whisk. Remove from heat.

5. Remove jam jars from the oven and place on a tea towel. Pour the curd into the jars whilst they are still hot. Any spills will be caught by the tea towel. Top each jar with a wax disk and seal jars whilst still hot.

6. Once the jars are cool, label and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Notes - don't panic if the curd looks a little too liquidy in the jar. Once it has been in the fridge, it will firm up a little more.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Work night chicken and potato curry

So. If you are anything like me (i.e. inquisitive), you will be wondering why my post on 'work night chicken and potato curry' starts with a picture of a piece of fillet steak.

And you would be right, of course, to wonder if I was finally loosing my marbles.

Fortunately, I have the answer at hand. You see, in these winter months, I struggle somewhat with photographing my food. I am not especially skilled when it comes to food photography at any time of year mind you, although occasionally I am quite pleased with my more-by-luck-than-judgement results. But it is tricky when it is dark and late and I'm hungry. So you see, my photos of the chicken curry didn't turn out so well. I'll share the less bad ones with you all the same so that you can get an idea, but they don't really do it justice. Which is a shame as the curry was good and one that I think I'll make again...

Also, I did treat myself to a very delicious bit of steak on Monday. I didn't feel I could justify a whole post to it (I think explaining how I cooked my steak would be a bit patronising really) but did just want to salute its merits. It came from Moen, the excellent (but very expensive) butchers at Clapham Common. I served it with potato wedges which I simply chopped up and roasted in olive oil, salt and pepper and dried herbs. I also made a rather delicious red onion and redcurrant sauce to go with it - lots of red onions softened slowly for around half an hour, red wine sloshed in and reduced with a heaped teaspoon of redcurrant jelly. Delicious. The steak was beautifully tender (it had a good rest after being in the pan) and very flavoursome...

But anyway, enough of steak. Let's get on to the curry. I don't tend to make curries that often. I love a good curry and cook a lot of spicy food but tend to stick to the same old dishes - usually a Thai green curry. When looking at authentic recipes for curries I am often put off by the long list of ingredients that I don't have in my storecupboard. But recently, I've been getting over that. The long list of ingredients is ususally only spices and so do not entail the time and effort a first glance suggests. This curry is a speedy, post work one that is a doddle to whip up. The spices are not freshly ground but just come straight from jar into the pan. The original recipe came from the old faithful BBC Good Food, but I added a few things in as I like more vegetables in my curries and I've also adjusted the cooking times slightly (I found the potatoes didn't cook enough in the time required). I've also upped the quantity of tomatoes (mainly because I was making the recipe for one and it seemed ridiculous to use only half a small tin of tomatoes). The curry was fairly mild (it made my nose run a little but no sign of watering eyes) so you might like to add more spice if you like it hotter.

Chicken and potato curry

(serves 4)

1 medium onion

3cm fresh root ginger

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1/2tsp tumeric

1/4 tsp hot chilli powder

1 400g tin of tomatoes

3 medium potatoes (not too floury)

1 red pepper

1 courgette, diced

4 chicken breasts (boneless and skinless), cut into bite-sized chunks

1/2 tsp garam masala

4 handfuls of spinach

handful chopped coriander

natural yoghut, to serve

1. Either make a paste out of the onion, garlic and ginger by chopping and then blitzing in a food processor with a little water. Or, if you can't be bothered to dirty the machine, chop them all very finely and mix together.

2. Take a large pan with a lid and fry the cumin seeds in oil for a few minutes. Add the onion paste/mixture and brown, adding water to loosen if necessary. Slice the red pepper finely and add to pan, fry for a few minutes.

3. Sprinkle in the tumeric and chilli. Add tomatoes and fry for around 5 minutes. Then add the potatoes to the pan along with 9 fl oz of hote water. Stir so that the potatoes are coated in the tomatoey juices and add the lid to the pan. Cook on a very slow simmer for around 15 minutes.

4. Add chicken and garam masala. Replace the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes.

5. Remove the lid and add the courgettes. Simmer for a further 10 minutes with the lid off so that the liquid reduces somewhat. If getting too dry, simply replace the lid or add a touch more water.

6. In the final moments, cook the spinach. Either add to the curry, stirring in until it wilts, or cook separately. Check that the potatoes are softened and the chicken is piping hot and cooked through.

7. Season with salt and then sprinkle over plenty of coriander. Serve with yoghut and rice if you wish (I don't like to have rice and potatoes so I just served the curry on a bed of spinach).