Friday, June 19, 2009

Nigella's gleaming maple cheesecake

Are you paying attention?

I have something important to announce. I always have your best interests at heart and, in the name of the greater good I simply had to try out this cheesecake recipe. Now, here is the important part. Are you listening? I have just one thing to say and it is of vital importance...


It will do you good, I promise... Ok, so perhaps it won't actually physically do you much good, but I'm fairly sure that it will release endorphins or some other equally mood-enhancing energies.

I have made a Nigella cheesecake before and, at the time, waxed lyrical about its perfect silky texture. I'm certain that cooking a cheesecake in a waterbath is the only way to achieve such sensuous perfection and I vow never to go back. This one is made very much the same way - you simply need to make sure that the tin is completely watertight by wrapping it in several layers of foil. It really is worth it.

I've always loved the flavour of maple syrup since first discovering it when a Canadian friend of the family came to stay when I was a child and bought gallons of the stuff as a present. In this cheesecake, the maple effect is two-fold. First there is a gentle maple flavour within the cheesecake itself and then, the entire thing is liberally doused with the stuff. This gives the finished pud a glorious shiny sheen and is decadent sweet contrast to the bite of the filling.

Ideally, you should make this the night before you want to eat it (and up to two days ahead if you want to get ahead!). Importantly, the cream cheese really must be room temperature if you are to achieve that silky Nirvana for which you've been searching.

I served this at a dinner party I held and even managed to win over a couple of cheesecake-haters. Give it a try, I'm sure you'll be thrilled with the results...

Gleaming Maple Cheesecake
from 'Nigella's Christmas'
Serves 8


For the base:
8 digestive biscuits
75g pecan halves
75g soft butter

For the filling:
3 x 200g packets of cream cheese, at room temperature (this is VITAL)
50g sugar
2 tsp cornflour
125g maple syrup, plus more for drizzling
4 eggs
1/2 tsp cider vinegar or lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 170C.

2. Blitz biscuits in food processor, add the pecans and do the same until you have crumbs. Add the butter and whizz until it all comes together. Press into the bottom of a 20cm springform tin and pop in the fridge to chill.

3. Clean food processor. Then add cream cheese, sugar, maple syrup, cornflour. Whizz together and with the motor running, add the eggs one at a time. Add vinegar/lemon juice and mix until you have a smooth batter.

4. Take tin out of fridge and line the outside of the tin with a double layer of extra strength foil - bring it right round under the base and up the sides. If you are worried, you could wrap a layer of ovenproof cling film before doing the foil.

5. Pour in the filling mixture and pop in a roasting tin. Boil the kettle and fill the tin until the water comes half-way up the side of the tin. Bake in the oven for around 1 1/4 hours, until the cheesecake is set on top but still wobbles a little in the middle.

6. Take roasting tin out of the oven and carefully lift out the cheesecake. Peel away the foil layers and cool on a wire rack. Once cool, chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours or preferably over night.

7. Let it come to room temperature before releasing from tin when ready to serve. Pop on a serving platter and pour maple syrup all over the top!

I am away on holiday for the next 10 days - we're off to Tuscany! Normal service will resume on my return...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A lovely asparagus and quails egg salad

I'm always on the look out for simple starter ideas. When I have guests it is always here that I fall down. Usually I don't bother and just make some nice nibbles and canapés, or I'll whip up some smoked mackerel or chicken liver paté and invite everyone to dig in. But occasionally, a proper starter is called for. Here is where I fall down. I usually want something that can be made in advance, or that is very simple to prepare so that I can focus on the other parts of the meal.

This little salad fitted the bill perfectly - simple but extremely tasty and just the thing to whet the appetite without being too copious. I found the basic recipe
here on the Waitrose recipe site which I have only recently discovered.

I cooked the quails eggs and asparagus a little in advance and just assembled at the last minute. It was pretty and summery and I'll be making it again.

Asparagus and quails egg salad
Serves 8

5 sticks asparagus per person (normal size, not asparagus tips)
16 quails eggs
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large bag mixed salad leaves (rocket or baby leaves are good)
1 large bag watercress

1. Snap the asparagus stems at the end to get rid of woody part and then plunge into a pan of boiling water. Cook for around 4 minutes, until just tender. Drain and then lay stalks out on plates to cool.

2. Place quails eggs in a pan of cold water. Bring to boil, remove from heat and leave to stand for 30 seconds before removing the eggs and peeling them under cold running water.

3. Whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar and oil with a good pinch of salt and some black pepper. Put salad leaves and watercress in a large bowl and pour over half the dressing. Toss the leaves to coat and then divide between eight plates.

4. Toss the asparagus in the remaining dressing and pop 5 bits on top of each pile of leaves. Cut quails eggs in half and arrange four halves on each plate. Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

No ordinary lasagna

This is no ordinary lasagna.

What is different about it, you may well ask. It looks fairly normal. A rich, tomatoey meat sauce on the bottom, a layer of bechamel and then some egg lasagne. Repeat and top with a decent sprinkling of Parmesan. Pop in the oven for a good half an hour and serve with a fresh salad and some garlic bread.

I've been fooling you. There is nothing extraordinary about the make-up of this lasagna. It was good. But nothing particularly unusual. What is special about this lasagna was that it was while I was creating it, the flower-sender asked me to marry him.

Some girls dream of elaborate, romantic proposals involving paths of rose petals, beautiful views or expensive meals. Not me. I could think of nothing more perfect than being asked in my favourite place: my kitchen!

Needless to say, after asking 'are you serious?', I did say 'yes'.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Chicken, sweet potato and coconut curry

I have a huge backlog of recipes to post. Just because I've been a little quiet of late doesn't mean that I haven't been busy in the kitchen! There is a delicious monkfish paella, a chocolate and pear pudding, a sublime maple cheesecake, a meaningful lasagne, a simple asparagus starter and a strawberry tart.

It has gone chilly again and last night I had a couple of friends round for supper and decided to make this easy curry. It is ideal for a quick but impressive meal post-work, when time is of the essence. On a day with a few more free hours, I'd prefer to make my own paste and grind my own spices, but here time was of the essence. This curry is full of good things but you could add all kinds of other vegetables. Some broccoli might be nice, or even some green beans.

This curry is loosely based on this one from BBC Good Food, but I've made a fair few changes. This is quite mild so next time I might use a hotter curry paste, or even add a little chopped chilli to give it a touch more fire!

Chicken, sweet potato and coconut curry with cashew rice
Serves 6


4 large chicken breasts (or six smaller ones), cut into bite-sized chunks
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
2 onions, sliced
2-4 heaped tablespoons medium curry paste (according to taste)
8 tbsp split red lentils
600 ml chicken stock
2 400ml cans coconut milk (I used the low-fat kind which was fine)
2 large bags fresh spinach
1 can chickpeas
2 mugfuls of frozen peas
Large handful fresh coriander
2 handfuls cashew nuts
basmati rice

1. Heat sunflower or vegetable oil in a large pan or wok and then add the curry paste. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the onions and fry for a couple more minutes.

2. Add chicken, sweet potatoes and lentils to the pan and give a good stir to coat with the curry paste. Once everything is well coated and the chicken has started to brown, pour over the stock and coconut milk.

3. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 20 minutes, until the potato is soft (but still holding its shape) and the chicken is cooked through.

4. Whilst the curry is simmering, prepare the rice according to the packet instructions or your preferred method. In a dry pan, roast the cashew nuts. Take care not to burn them. When nicely toasted, turn them onto a chopping board and roughly chop.

5. When the curry is cooked, add the spinach and chickpeas and give everything a good stir. Cook for another minute or so, until the spinach has softened into the curry.

6. To serve, mix the cashew nuts and half the chopped coriander through the rice. Sprinkle the rest of the coriander on top of the curry and serve with the rice and possibly some naan breads.