Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Cantuccini

Cantuccini are more commonly known in the UK as biscotti, the hard, twice-baked biscuits that need a long dip in coffee, or more traditionally Vin Santo before they can be eaten. Here I have played around with the traditional recipe given by Anna Del Conte, to include cranberries and pistachios to give the colours of Christmas, plus nutmeg and lots of orange zest. 

100ml Cointreau or orange juice
75g dried cranberries
50g pistachios
250g  plain flour 
225g caster sugar
 1/4 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs, beaten

Zest of 1 large orange

A few hours before, or overnight, soak the dried cranberries in the Cointreau or orange juice.
Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Stir in the beaten eggs, and work it into the dry ingredients, adding the zest, fruit and nuts in at the end. When everything is well mixed, pat into a ciabatta shape about 7cm across. Place on a lined baking tray and cook for 15-18 minutes.
Take the tray out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 150 C.Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then cut them diagonally into 1 cm slices. Lay them side by side, cut side up on the tray and return to the oven for the second baking - for 45 minutes or so, until well dried out. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Banana, Pecan and Maple Cake

I took a small gamble on this recipe, switching the Greek yogurt component in the hazelnut loaf cake with the same weight of mashed banana. Luckily it didn't do anything strange to the end result, the finished product was a definitely a success. I considered making some sort of maple frosting,  but partly out of laziness and partly because I thought icing might be a bit much, I drizzled maple syrup on top while the cake was still hot. It makes for a damp and sticky cake, perfect for teatime.

Update 11/02/16- I remade this, and was really pleased with it. I definitely don't think it needs the maple frosting, mentioned above- it's rich enough as is.
200 grams pecans
125 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
100 grams caster sugar
100 grams soft brown sugar
6 tbsp maple syrup
2 eggs, room temperature
2 medium bananas, peeled and mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
225 grams self raising flour
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade, line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
Finely grind the pecans in a food processor.
Combine the flour, salt and ground nuts in a bowl.Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, and then add in the mashed bananas, 3 tablespoons of the maple syrup and the vanilla essence. Fold in the dry ingredients, then pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for around 45 minutes until a knife or skewer comes out cleanly. Pierce with a skewer all over, and drizzle over the remaining maple syrup.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cranberry and Orange Stollen

This is a vulgar and delicious adaptation of Delia's stollen recipe.

150ml Cointreau, Triple Sec or brandy
300ml full fat milk
100grams caster sugar
4tsp dried yeast
700 grams strong white bread flour
220 grams softened unsalted butter
2 eggs, beaten
140 grams dried cranberries
100 grams sultanas
80 grams dried no-soak apricots, chopped
50 grams glace cherries (natural colour, preferably), halved
50 grams almonds, chopped
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of 1 orange
200 grams cranberry sauce
350 grams marzipan
To glaze
100 grams sifted icing sugar
1 tbsp orange juice (from the zested orange used in the dough)

 Put the dried fruit and glacé cherries in a small saucepan with your chosen alcohol. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then remove from the heat. Now get on with the dough while you allow the fruits to become imbued with festive spirit. Warm the milk  (I do this in the microwave, in  a glass measuring jug), add 2tsp of the caster sugar, and sprinkle of the yeast on the surface of the milk. Leave the yeast to create a frothy head on top of the milk. Now sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the salt and remaining sugar. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the yeasted milk mixture, along with the eggs and butter. Mix with a wooden spoon, along with the dried fruits, almonds and zest. Knead the dough, either with your hands, or an electric mixer with a dough hook attachment. You may need to add more flour, you want a slightly sticky dough, it is ready when it feels springy and elastic. Put the dough in a bowl, clingfilm and leave to double in size, this could take up to 2 hours.
After the first prove, punch the dough down, and divide into two. Knead one of the halves of dough on a floured surface until it feels springy. Roll out into a rectangle 20cm x 25cm. Spread with half the cranberry sauce. Take half the marzipan and roll into a sausage that is almost the length of the stollen, place in the centre, and fold the dough over it. Remove carefully to a lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other half of the stollen dough. Leave the loaves to rise again, this time about 20 minutes. Set your oven to 180 degrees, and when they have finished the second prove, bake for about 35-40 minutes.
Mix the icing sugar with the orange juice to make a thick icing, and drizzle over the stollens. I also sprinkled over extra cranberries and some pistachios.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Epaule d'Agneau Boulangère

This is Sunday lunch made easy, something for the days when the military precision of a traditional roast is too much to deal with. There's a little preparation, then you can forget about it while you get on with other things. A few hours later you are rewarded with fork-tender meat and melting potatoes, imbued with the fat and juices from the lamb. All you need alongside is something green, maybe some beans with a little butter, although recently I upped my game with purple sprouting broccoli, dressed in anchovy, garlic, parsley and olive oil.

1 shoulder of lamb
olive oil
glass white wine
1-1.5 kg waxy potatoes
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
Leaves from a few sprigs of rosemary

Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Sit the lamb in roasting tin that will be large enough to accommodate the lamb and the potatoes, sliced, later. Rub your joint with a little olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, then remove from the oven. Now peel and slice the potatoes and onion, and peel and roughly chop the garlic. Chop the rosemary Turn the heat down to 160 degrees. Remove the pan from the oven, and put the lamb on a chopping board while you get in with arranging the vegetables. Deglaze the pan with some white wine, scraping at any browned bits in the pan. Now add the potatoes, onions, garlic and rosemary. Many recipes tell you to layer the onion and potato, but I find it easier and just as good to toss them all in together, along with some salt and pepper. Place the lamb back on top, and put the whole thing back in the oven. Leave for 3-4 hours, till the meat is tender.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Salt and Pepper Ribs

More delicious Chinese treats courtesy of Sunflower of Sunflower's Food Galore. If you are used to your ribs in a thick BBQ goo, try these. Sauceless, they are crispier and meatier, you just might want a little chilli sauce on the side for lubrication. I couldn't get ribs cut into short lengths, but if you can get your butcher to cut the ribs into halfs across the bone, or want to have a go with a meat cleaver yourself, your result will be more similar to the size Chinese restaurant ribs. This recipe involves deep frying, which can be a  good or bad thing depending on who you are. For me, this is an excellent thing, which is why I include them here.

3 tsp Sczechwan peppercorns
1 tsp black peppercorns
4 tsp salt
1kg pork ribs, cut into individual pieces.
groundnut or vegetable oil, for deep frying (lots)
2 red chillies, deseeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 spring onions, finely sliced

Toast both types of peppercorns in a dry frying pan until they release their scent. Crush finely with a pestle and mortar, and stir in the salt. Rub the ribs with the mixture (you won't need it all) and leave for about an hour out of the fridge. The remaining spice mixture can be kept for a few weeks in a tupperware box or similar.

When you are ready to eat. heat the oil in a saucepan. Deep fry in batches until browned and crispy, removing from the pan with a slotted spoon, blotting with kitchen roll to remove excess oil. Keep the cooked ribs warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.

Heat some oil in a frying pan and wok, and stir fry the chilli, garlic and spring onion. When just cooked and aromatic, sprinkle over the ribs, and eat.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Nachos with Chorizo

They're not exactly high-rent food, but I don't know anyone who would turn down nachos. You don't have to make your own sauces, although I do have my suspicions about jarred guacamole. For a fruit that goes brown within minutes of exposure to air, the bought stuff is remarkably green. I love chorizo and would add it to most things, but it is optional, and used here more as a seasoning than the main event.

1 large pack plain tortilla chips
approx  100 grams cooking chorizo
1 portion of roast tomato salsa
grated cheddar
jarred jalapeño chilli pieces
guacamole and sour cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Empty the tortilla chips into a baking dish, something that gives you a large surface area. Cut the chorizo into small chunks, and fry over a high heat until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon or fish slice (to avoid too much oil in the dish-not usually something I worry about, but you don't want this greasy), and sprinkle over the chips. Spoon the salsa over as evenly as you can, and sprinkle generously with cheese. Arrange jalapeño slices in a way that pleases you. Heat in oven until the cheese is just beginning to bubble. Serve with the guacamole and sour cream on top of the nachos, or on the side, whichever suits you.


I'm not mad about avocado, but I do like guacamole, especially if it is well salted with lots of lime juice and tomato-free. Of course, there are plenty of recipes for it online, but here is my contribution. Try to get the ripest avocados you can, it'll not only taste better, but you'll be making life easier for yourself when it comes to mashing them.

2 ripe avocados
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped
juice of one lime
1 clove finely chopped garlic
handful chopped coriander leaves
pinch ground cumin
salt and pepper

Peel and mash the avocados to a consistency you like- I like mine with chunks in,  not baby-food smooth. Fold in the rest of the ingredients, bearing in mind to adjust the flavourings, especially the lime and chilli, to your taste.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Roast Tomato Salsa

This as a salsa you can make during winter when tomatoes are available, but are pointless eating raw. Roasting the tomatoes brings out the flavour they would otherwise lack. The result is more like a jarred salsa, i.e. more liquid and sauce-like rather than a chopped relish, although is certainly tastes homemade. I made this specifically for nachos, but obviously you can use it for other purposes.

8-10 medium tomatoes
2 red chillies
Olive oil
1/2-1 clove garlic, finely chopped
handful chopped coriander leaves
pinch ground cumin
red wine vinegar
pinch sugar (optional)

Turn the oven onto 180 degrees. Cut a cross into the tomatoes almost all the way, as if you were quartering them, but keeping them together at the bottom. Half the chillies lengthways and deseed, removing the stalk. Put the tomatoes and chillies in a roasting tin or on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes- they should look cooked but not be blackened, so keep an eye on them while they cook.
When they are cool enough to handle, pull the skins of the tomatoes and chop roughly, reserving the oily juices from the pan. Chop the chilli finely, and mix together in a bowl. Mix in the garlic, cumin and coriander. Add the pan juices if you want a looser consistency. To give it a bit of a twang, add a few drops of red wine vinegar, according to your taste, and if you thing it needs it, a bit a bit of sugar too.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Frangelico Fudge

I love Frangelico, a sticky-sweet hazelnut liqueur that comes in a monk shaped bottle. Some larger supermarkets stock it now, due to the Nigella effect on people's shopping lists. I'm not complaining, if I hadn't had read about it in How to Be a Domestic Goddess, I doubt I would have concocted this recipe. Don't leave out the salt unless you really are a sodium-phobe, it adds a certain something.

50 grams hazelnuts

275 grams Caster sugar 
100 grams golden syrup 
250 grams clotted cream
125ml Frangelico
pinch salt
tsp cocoa

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan. When they are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins, and chop roughly. Grease a 20cm square tin. Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, cover and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and continue to boil for 3 minutes more. Take off the heat, and beat until it takes on a slightly grainy appearance. Pour into the tin. When it is half-set, sprinkle over the hazelnuts and dust with cocoa. Cut into squares to serve.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Honeyed Apple Kuchen

This is just a variant of the last recipe, but I was particularly pleased with it so wanted to put it up sooner rather than later. The honey glaze makes it sticky and delicious.

For the dough:

400g strong white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g runny honey
1/2 packet easy-blend yeast (about 3g)
2 eggs
Grated zest of an orange
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
125ml lukewarm milk
50g butter, softened

For the topping:
1 egg
1 tbsp cream or Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
5 cox apples, or less of a larger variety- use a well flavoured eating apple.
1 tbsp demerara sugar

To glaze:
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp boiling water

Put the flour in a bowl with the salt  and easy-blend yeast. In another bowl, beat the eggs and add them, with the orange zest, honey and cinnamon, to the lukewarm milk. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients to make a medium-soft dough, being prepared to add more flour as necessary. Work in the softened butter and knead by hand for about 10 minutes or half that time by machine. When the dough is ready it will appear smoother and springier.
Cover with a tea towel and leave till doubled in size, about an hour. Then punch down and press to line a Swiss-roll or baking tray tin measuring 30 x 20 cm. When it's pressed out on the tin, leave it to prove for 15-20 minutes then brush with the egg and cream mixture.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Peel and chop the apples into small cubes. Arrange the fruit over the egg-washed dough and then sprinkle the demerara sugar on top. Put in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn down to 180°C/gas mark 4 and cook for a further 20 minutes or so, until the dough is swelling and golden.
Mix the honey with 1 tbsp water from a freshly boiled kettle. Drizzle over the kuchen, eat.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Plum and Cardamom Kuchen

The term 'kuchen' in German covers a wide range of baked sweet goods. In this instance its a sweetish, butter-enriched yeasted dough topped with fruit and baked, ideal for breakfast or brunch with a cup of tea. The addition of cardamom was inspired by the use of it in various Scandinavian pastries. It's quite an easy recipe to make your own, different fruits and flavourings can be used, nuts or seeds are a lovely addition, as is a crumble topping sprinkled on top of the fruit before baking.

For the dough:

400g strong white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g caster sugar
1/2 packet easy-blend yeast (about 3g)
2 eggs
Grated zest of an orange
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
125ml lukewarm milk
50g butter, softened

For the topping:
1 egg
1 tbsp cream or Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
seeds from 3 cardamom pods, crushed
6 plums
1 tbsp demerara sugar

To glaze:
2 tbsp icing sugar
orange juice (from the zested orange)

Put the flour in a bowl with the salt, sugar and easy-blend yeast. In another bowl, beat the eggs and add them, with the orange zest and cinnamon, to the lukewarm milk. Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients to make a medium-soft dough, being prepared to add more flour as necessary. Work in the softened butter and knead by hand for about 10 minutes or half that time by machine. When the dough is ready it will appear smoother and springier.
Cover with a tea towel and leave till doubled in size, about an hour. Then punch down and press to line a Swiss-roll or baking tray tin measuring 30 x 20 cm. When it's pressed out on the tin, leave it to prove for 15-20 minutes then brush with the egg and cream mixture.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Cut the plums in half and slice. Arrange the fruit over the egg-washed dough and then sprinkle the demerara sugar on top. Put in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn down to 180°C/gas mark 4 and cook for a further 20 minutes or so, until the dough is swelling and golden.
Mix the icing sugar with enough orange juice to make a thin glaze, and once you have taken the kuchen out of the oven, drizzle it on top. Try to leave for 5 minutes before eating.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Simple Soda Bread

You'd be hard pressed to find a soda bread recipe that isn't simple, but this a very basic recipe for it. Less than an hour after mixing together the dry ingredients you have a fresh loaf of bread, which is very satisfying. Whenever I make this, I break one of the cardinal rule of breadmaking and cut into it straight away, so the butter I spread on it melts with minimum persuasion.

Traditionally, you'd use use buttermilk to make soda bread. It's quite readily available in larger supermarkets, however you can substitute it for milk with about a teaspoon of lemon juice. Just squeeze the juice into the milk, stir and leave for about 10 minutes before using.
Ingredients450 grams plain flour
1 tsp fine salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200-300ml buttermilk or milk with lemon juice (see above)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade, flour a baking sheet. Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, stir to combine. Stir in the liquid- you may not need the full amount, but keep adding until you have a soft cohesive dough. Pat it gently into a ball- no kneading for this sort of bread- and place on the baking sheet. Make a large cross in the top with a sharp knife, and bake for around 40 minutes until the loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on its underside.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Cow Pie

Really, casseroles and stews don't need dressing up when you are reheating them as leftovers. Most slow cooked dishes like that will improve with a day or so sitting in the fridge, so simply reheating makes for a very gratifying supper. I can't resist some extra cooking though, so I did a Desperate Dan-esque pie with the last of the Beef and Guinness Casserole as the filling. Only pastry horns though.

Any similar dish can be given the same treatment. If you need a shortcrust pastry recipe, one can be found here. It's best if the filling goes in a room temperature- if it's hot the steam will make the pastry soggy.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Beef and Guinness Casserole with Sage Dumplings

25 grams butter
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced,
1 stick celery, diced
Handful thyme leaves, chopped
Few tbps flour
Olive oil
1 kg beef shin or other stewing beef, cut into 3cm pieces
200 grams bacon or pancetta, diced
500 ml Guinness or other stout
500 ml beef stock
Worcestershire Sauce, to taste
250 grams chestnut mushrooms, sliced

For the dumplings:
175 grams self raising flour
80 grams suet
Pinch salt
5 sage leaves, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees. In a casserole, slowly cook the onion, carrot and celery over a medium-low heat in the butter on the hob. While the vegetables are doing their thing, heat a tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan and spread the flour out on a plate with some seasoning. Toss the beef shin in the flour and when the pan is good and hot, brown the pieces in batches, transferring to a bowl or similar as you go. You may need to add some extra oil. Cook the bacon in the same pan until the fat starts to run, and put with the beef. Return your attention to the vegetables by stirring in the thyme leaves. Cook for about half a minute. Put the meats into the casserole along with the Guinness and the stock. Season with salt, pepper and Worcestershire Sauce. Bring to a simmer, cover and place in the oven. Now leave it to cook for at least 2 hours until the meat is very tender.

At this stage you can let it cool and continue when you want to eat it later. Otherwise, about half an hour before you want to eat, cook the mushrooms in a little butter until the juices start to run. Add them to the casserole. Sift together the salt and flour in a mixing bowl, then stir in the suet and chopped sage. Mix with enough water to make a firmish dough, and shape into 6 balls. Place them on top of the stew, and cook for another 25 minutes with the lid off until the dumplings are golden on top. Serve with bread and butter, or creamy mashed potato.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Apple, Blackberry and Almond Crumble

Instantly comforting and rewarding, especially now the weather has turned. I made this to follow a delicious goulash made by the lovely Daz, perfect winter food. I always forget how much I like crumble until I eat it, and then wonder why I don't make it more often, it's so easy to make and everyone loves it.

For the crumble topping:
225 grams plain flour
125 grams unsalted butter, diced
100 grams caster sugar
125 grams soft brown sugar
50 grams flaked almonds
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon

For the fruit:
1kg Bramley apples
250 grams blackberries
150 grams caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
In a mixing bowl, rub the butter in the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. You don't want to use all your fingers here, just your fingertips to bring the flour and fat together.  Stir in the sugar, spices and flaked almonds and set aside whilst you deal with the fruit.
Butter the crumble dish.  Peel, core and chop the apples, place in the bowl. Tumble in the blackberries, and stir in the sugar. Evenly sprinkle over the crumble mixture, and bake until golden and the fruit is soft, about 30 minutes.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Wonderful Onion Gravy: A Guide

I struggle to write up the recipe for anything I've cooked, it feels overly prescriptive when I have made the dish to suit my tastes entirely. As I feel this is a recipe that you can play around with, and be fairly liberal with the quantities, I'm ditching the standard recipe format for something altogether more relaxed.

Peel and finely slice some onions- four will do for about 5 people. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt a generous amount of unsalted butter over a low heat. Add the onions and cook very slowly until golden and  collapsing. Turn the heat up, and stir in a tablespoon of plain flour. Let the onions caramelise, stirring all the time so they do not not burn. Now add about 750 ml stock- light chicken or vegetable are good, but if you can get hold of some porcini mushroom stockcubes from an Italian deli or elsewhere, use these. They add a lovely depth to the gravy Bring to a simmer and add some Marsala or Madeira wine, about 125ml. Cook until the harsh alcohol smell evaporates, and season with some Worcestershire Sauce, and a touch of Tabasco if you like a little heat. Let it simmer until you get a consistency you like, and add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Kale with Lardons, Fennel Seeds and Chilli

Delicious as the essential green component to go with sausages and mash, as I can testify.  I often do my greens- spring, savoy cabbage or kale- with bacon and caraway seeds, this is a less Germanic variant. You just want to cook the kale until it is just tender and still fresh tasting, especially if you're attempting to convince the vegetable phobic that the Brassica family can be something other then a dinner time chore.

100 grams lardons, cubed pancetta or bacon
250 grams kale or other greens
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp chilli flakes
100ml vegetable stock

In a saucepan with a lid, fry the lardons until the fat runs and they are slightly crispy. Stir in the fennels seeds, cook for about 30 seconds, then add the chilli flakes and kale. Stir so the greens are nicely coated in the bacon fat, add the vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer, clamp on the lid. Leave to steam for about 5 minutes, or until the kale is tender.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Baked Lamb Meatballs with Feta

Not baked to avoid frying and smugly avoid fat content, these are still fried. They are then cooked in the oven in a rich tomato sauce which I have attempted to infuse with Greekish flavours, and topped with feta and mozzerella. They don't need much by way of accompaniment, just some bread and maybe a green salad. Perhaps a few black olives to nibble on while you wait- although I would be tempted to add them to the sauce if I had them lying about.

For the meatballs:
1kg lamb mince
1/2 red onion, very finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
4 tbsp fine semolina
Olive oil for frying

For the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 red onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp dried oregano
3 tins chopped tomatoes
175ml white wine
strip of orange zest, plus juice from 1/2 the orange

To finish:
1 ball mozzerella, sliced thinly
150 grams feta

Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs together, leave the flavours to mingle while you make the sauce.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan, then add the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes until softened then add the garlic. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring, then put the cinnamon stick, coriander, oregano and chilli flakes into the pan. After about 30 seconds pour in the tomatoes, squeeze in the orange juice and add the zest. Turn the heat up slightly, and add the white wine. Let it bubble fiercely until the harsh alcohol smell has evaporated. Turn down again, but let it simmer quite hard until you have reduced it to a rich pulpy sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees. Shape the mince into meatballs about the size of a walnut in its shell. Heat the olive oil for the meatballs in a frying pan. Brown them in batches, removing to a baking dish once well coloured. You may want to drain them of there fat by putting them on kitchen roll first if your lamb is particularly fatty. I think it's quite clear by now that I am not fat-phobic, but there is a balance to be made. Richness and flavour is desirable, but greasiness is not. Pour over the sauce, turning the meatballs gently to cover completely. Sprinkle with the cheeses and bake until golden browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes.

Thai-ish Pork Burgers

My attention span for cooking is extremely low, the thought of cooking large quantities of a dish to save myself the bother of having to make dinner another night does not sit right with me at all. I'm always scanning books for the next thing to make, living from one new recipe to the next. I have tried the admittedly more sensible option, I end up with a freezerful of soup or stew or chilli that I will guiltily ignore for as long as possible. So even though I loved green curries I made from the paste, I was itching to make something different with it. The very happy result were these pork burgers. In fact, I loved them so much I went against everything I have said above and made them for dinner again the next night. High praise indeed.

For the burgers:
500grams pork mince, not too lean
2 tbsp green curry paste
2 tbsp fine semolina
3 spring onions, finely chopped
groundnut oil for frying

To serve:
raw peanuts, finely chopped and toasted
julienned carrot and red pepper, tossed in a mix of lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar
soft floury rolls, ideally, or whatever bread you like

Thoroughly mix the burger ingredients, except the oil, together- it's easiest with your hands. Shape into 4 burgers, heat the groundnut oil over a medium in a heavy based frying pan, enough to cover the base of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the burgers and cook so they are nicely browned on each side, not just greyed. You don't want too high a heat as they need to be cooked through without burning on the outside. When the are ready, serve in buns sprinkled with your chosen topping.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Roast Garlic and Cumin Mayonnaise

Classic mayonnaise made smoky with the addition of roast garlic and cumin. I like it as a dip for potato wedges, sweet or normal variety. It would be excellent to go with leftover roast chicken or lamb too. Two days ago, we cooked sweet potato wedges, coated in oil and smoked paprika. I added some cherry tomatoes and merguez sausages to the pan 20 minutes before the potatoes were ready, and had the mayo on the side.

To make the mayonnaise, sit two bulbs of garlic on their own square of foil. Drizzle with olive oil, and close the bulbs in the foil by crimping the edges together- the packages should be tightly sealed but loose around the heads of garlic themselves. Roast for about 25 minutes at 200 degrees until they are very soft. Allow to cool. Toast and grind about 1 tsp of cumin seeds. Make up the classic mayonnaise recipe, using lemon juice in place of the vinegar. Stir in the cumin and some lemon zest, then squeeze the garlic out of their skins into the mayo. I added a touch of dried chilli too, as I wanted a little heat.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Thai Green Curry Paste

I'm now on conversation terms with the staff at the nearby Thai supermarket, which make going there even more enjoyable. My last trip I procured the ingredients for a green curry paste, using a recipe by the same man whose red curry paste I have previously written about.  They're both delicious, the red has warmth and heat from the dried chillies and spices, the green is fresher because of the raw birds-eye chillis and large amount of coriander.

12 green Birds Eye (whole)
4 cloves garlic
4 shallots
3-4 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layers removed
1 ½ inch piece of galangal (peeled)
4-6 fresh Kaffir lime leaves depending on size
1 tsp kapee (shrimp paste)
Grated zest of 1 lime
Good pinch of salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
½ bunch coriander, including roots if possible
Generous handful of Thai holy basil  or sweet basil leaves
Groundnut oil

Put all ingredients, except the oil, into your food processor and whiz. Pour in the oil as the mixture whizzes to moisten and allow the whole mixture to come down to a smooth, thick paste (there should be enough oil so that when you transfer the paste to a jar a thin layer of oil comes to the surface and just covers the mixture - this helps it to keep). The paste will keep for some weeks if stored in the fridge.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Inspirational Cookery Books

Given the opportunity to show off about my cookbook collection,I will talk about them with the same zeal usually reserved for Evangelists. I just want to spread the word about these Good Books. Anyone who expresses even the slightest interest will be given a full tour of the shelves, and probably a book or two pressed into their hands so we can talk recipes at a later date. Picking favourites was difficult process, but here are some can't-live-without gems.

Fruit Book- Jane Grigson
The title doesn't give much away, and neither does it's appearance. It's not a glossy coffee table book, it's basic paperback filled with a huge amount of recipes, written in such a way it makes me want to cook everything as soon as I pick it up.

How To Eat- Nigella Lawson 
Say what you like about her on-screen persona, but you can't fault Nigella's writing especially in How To Eat, her first and best book. I've cooked from this a lot, and it's all been wonderful.

The Book of Jewish Food- Claudia Roden
I love any book by Claudia Roden, but this the best. She covers in depth the food and traditions from both the Ashkenazi and Sepherdic worlds, including stories from her own life. Quite possibly my all-time favourite.

 Cooking in 10 Minutes-Edouard de Pomaine
I like this more for his prose-it's very, very French. He begins:

"First of all, let me tell you that this is a beautiful book. I can say that because this is its first page. I just sat down to write it, and I feel happy, the way I feel whenever I start a new project. My pen is full of ink, and there's a stack of paper in front of me. I love this book because I'm writing it for you. It's nice to imagine that I'll be able to let my pen go and you'll understand everything it writes down..."

How can you resist that? Any eighteen year olds heading off to university should shun those awful patronising student cookbooks and take a copy of this instead.

Honey from a Weed- Patience Gray
A beautiful, slightly chaotic book, covering food from Greece, Italy and Spain. Pure escapism.

The Classic Food of Northern Italy- Anna Del Conte
This book demonstrates just how regional Italian cooking is- covering just part of the country, its still a pretty thorough read. Not that I'm complaining, Anna Del Conte's writing is wonderful, as well as being the final word in Italian cookery for me.

Meat Book- Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
I'm glad I'm not so much a food snob as to dismiss all celebrity cooks- I wouldn't want to be without Hugh's meat encyclopedia. Lovely recipes, and good in-depth writing on cooking techniques. I like refering to this for meat cooking times, and advice if I have bought an obscure cut I want to try out my own recipe for.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Nutella Brownies

This almost, but not quite, tips the balance from utter decadence to overindulgence. It's also an easy recipe to make, you have the satisfaction of spooning an entire 400 gram tub of Nutella into a pan of melted chocolate and butter, plus an almost empty Nutella jar to clean out with a spoon or your fingers. They'd make a lovely pudding even for ending a fairly elegant meal, just call them Gianduja Brownies and serve them with good quality vanilla ice cream and toasted chopped hazelnuts.

200 grams butter
200 grams plain chocolate
400 gram jar Nutella
500 grams caster sugar
4 eggs, large
2 tbsp Frangelico or 1 tbsp vanilla essence
250 grams plain flour
4 tablespoons cocoa

Preheat oven to 180C, Gas 4
Prepare a small rectangular roasting tin or oven proof dish approximately 8 x 12" (20x30cm). Melt the butter and chocolate over a pan of simmering water. Beat in the Nutella, then allow to cool slightly. Stir in the sugar and Frangelico or vanilla essence.Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until well blended each time.
Add the flour and cocoa and beat for about 1 minute, until smooth. Pour into prepared tin, and bake for about 40 - 50 minutes. The mixture needs to be just cooked, so start testing with a cocktail stick at about 35 minutes - it should have moist crumbs, but not wet batter, still clinging to it.
Cool in tin until cool enough to handle, then turn out and leave until completely cold before cutting into squares.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Mushrooms with Marsala and Thyme.

So good. Eat them on toast, in risotto, tossed with freshly cooked tagliatelle. Have them for breakfast or a late night snack. Unless you don't like mushrooms, although maybe this recipe would convince you otherwise?

2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (maybe leave them out if having this for breakfast)
250 grams chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Thyme leaves from 3-4 sprigs, chopped
splash Marsala or Madeira
100ml double cream
1/4 porcini mushroom stockcube (optional but desirable)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg

Melt the butter over a medium heat in a frying pan. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute until the scent rises. Add the mushrooms and cook until softened, then stir in the thyme leaves. When the mushrooms are very nearly done, turn up the heat and pour in the Marsala. Let it bubble, and when the alcoholic fumes have evaporated, add the cream and crumble over the stock cube, if using. When the cream has thickened and is clinging to the 'shrooms, take of the heat and season with pepper and nutmeg, and salt if you haven't used the stock cube.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Baking Powder Biscuits

Biscuits as in the USA meaning, not the British sweet things to have with tea. Have them with an American-style breakfast, or with a gumbo, as I did. Leslie Forbes suggests serving them in place of cornbread, or using the dough as a crust for chicken or beef stews.

350 grams plain white flour
4 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
4 1/2 tsp butter or shortening
125 ml milk

Preheat oven to 220 degrees, and line a baking sheet. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, stir in the salt and sugar. With a knife, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir the milk in, a little at a time, until it is just sticking together. Pat into a ball and roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of about 1.5 cm. Cut into 5cm rounds with a pastry cutter. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes until pale gold and risen. Eat them hot with butter.

Gumbo z'Herbes

oI don't know too much about Louisianian cookery, although it's on my ever-growing list of cuisines to explore. The Gumbo Pages is a wonderful source, it's saved me from buying yet more recipe books and my bookshelves from completely collapsing under the weight of said books. Remarkable Feasts by Leslie Forbes is the only book I own with Cajun/Creole recipes, and the recipe below is basically the same as hers, with a few small differences. I think this lovely book is sadly out of print, so if you see it, buy it.

There are many, many types of gumbo, probably each having their own personal recipe, so the search for the 'proper' way to make one is fruitless. What unites this type of gumbo is the roux, the oil and flour thickener that each gumbo starts with. Unlike the French roux that you would use to make a bechemal sauce, oil or bacon fat can be used instead of butter, and you cook the flour in the hot fat until it is browned. Watch out for burns, not for nothing is it known as Cajun Napalm.

Looking at various recipes online, it seems the inclusion of a ham hock is common in a gumbo z'herbes. Leslie Forbes uses pickled pork instead, which you make yourself by macerating spare ribs in cider vinegar and spices for 24 hours. If you don't have the time or the inclination to start your cooking a day in advance, I'd advise adding a ham hock to the soup at the time that you would have added the pork.

For the pickled pork:
500 grams spare ribs
2-3 tbsps black peppercorns, crushed
2 tbsps sea salt
1 dried bay leaf, crumbled
2 dried chillies, crumbled
Cider vinegar, to cover

Put the ribs and spices in a non-reactive container (i.e. glass or plastic), and cover with the vinegar. Cover, and leave for at least 24 and up to 48 hours in the fridge.

For the soup:
3 tbsp clarified butter, oil or bacon fat
3 tbsp flour
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
250 grams spinach, trimmed
250 grams spring greens/ kale, trimmed
1 pint chicken stock
500 grams pickled pork, rinsed and patted dry
1 clove
1 tsp allspice berries
2 tsp cayenne
Freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper, to finish

In a large pot heat the butter, oil or fat. Add the flour and cook until lightly browned, stirring all the time. Add the onion, garlic and pepper and cook until they are softened and coated in the floury mixture. Add the spinach and greens, and cook for 10 minutes with the lid on until they have wilted down. Puree the mixture- easier with a free-standing blender or food processor, but less washing with a hand held blender. Return the gloriously green mixture to pan (if using blender or food processor) and add the pickled pork, clove, cayenne and allspice. Simmer for at least an hour until the meat can be removed from the bone with minimal persuasion. Serve over rice, or with buttered biscuits.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Tarte de Cambrai

The title suggests something far fancier than the pears-in-batter pudding that it actually is. It's lucky, then, that fanciness is not a quality I am worried about when cooking, otherwise simpler pleasures such as this may have escaped me. Apart from the fruit, everything in the recipe is a store cupboard ingredient, meaning you only have to do some minimal shopping followed by some chopping and light stirring to make a comforting, sleep-inducing pudding.

The recipe comes from Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, which I urge anyone with even a fleeting interest in cooking to read.

* Update- 14/10/15*

I make this pudding quite a lot, it is easy to make, I am likely to have all the ingredients in store. I have experimented with changing the fruit too I think pear is still my favourite, but blueberries are a close second. One change that I have made that I am sticking to is to use melted butter instead of oil-the flavour is better.

4 large pears
1 tbsp lemon juice 
10 tbsp self raising flour
8 tbsp vanilla sugar, or caster sugar and a tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp oil (or melted butter, see update)
2 eggs
8 tbsp milk
60 grams unsalted butter
extra sugar to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and grease and line a 25cm cake tin or flan dish. Peel, core and slice the pears, put in a container, sprinkle over the lemon juice, turning them over so they are coated. Mix together the flour and sugar in a bowl, then stir in the oil. Beat in the eggs, and then the milk. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and lay the pears over. Dot with the butter, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 50 minutes till slightly puffy and browned. Serve warm with cream.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Sour Cherry Brownies

Fruit and chocolate is a combination I'm not usually a fan of. The texture of most fruits, I feel, clashes horribly with the chocolate's, most of all in the of case the unreasonably popular chocolate-coated strawberries. Dried fruit works better, and banana I quite like, but generally I'll avoid recipes that suggest mixing the two. So why this recipe? Well, the gooey consistency of the brownies melds well with the cherries, and the sour cherries are strongly flavoured enough to withstand the dark intensity of the chocolate. The cherries come from a jar, unless you grow your own or know somebody who does, fresh sour cherries are hard to come by in the UK. I add the juice from the jar to the brownie batter, but if you have some Kirsch knocking around, that would be an excellent addition too.
If you want to make plain brownies, leave out the cherries and substitute vanilla essence for the juice. The basic brownie recipe comes by way of Sue-L, a poster on the BBC Food Messageboard.

200 grams butter
200 grams plain chocolate
600 grams caster sugar
4 eggs, large
250 grams plain flour
4 tablespoons cocoa
200 grams bottled sour cherries, plus 3 tbsp of the juice.

Preheat oven to 180C, Gas 4
Prepare a small rectangular roasting tin or oven proof dish approximately 8 x 12" (20x30cm). Melt the butter and chocolate over a pan of simmering water. Cool slightly. Stir in the sugar and juice from the cherry jar.Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring until well blended each time.
Add the flour and cocoa and beat for about 1 minute, until smooth. Fold in the cherries. Pour into prepared tin, and bake for about 40 - 50 minutes. The mixture needs to be just cooked, so start testing with a cocktail stick at about 35 minutes - it should have moist crumbs, but not wet batter, still clinging to it.
Cool in tin until cool enough to handle, then turn out and leave until completely cold before cutting into squares.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Chorizo and Tomato Rice with Goat's Cheese

The title I've given this dish is rather dull, but I promise it tastes anything but. It's something I first cooked in my first year of university, and have since adopted it as one of my fall-back recipes when I can't decide what I want to cook or eat. The sort of goat's cheese I use is the very ordinary soft log that is easily obtainable in the supermarket, it goes well here, a soft, cool contrast to the heat of the chorizo.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Approx. 100 grams cooking chorizo, sliced into thickish rounds
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tin tomatoes
Strip of zest from orange, plus juice of half the orange
1 can tomatoes
Dash white wine- optional
100 grams basmati rice
To finish:
2 tbsp chopped coriander leaf
30 grams soft goats cheese

On a medium heat, warm the olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan that has a fitting lid. Add the onions to the pan and cook for around 5 minutes until soft. Put in the garlic and cook for another minute. Turn the heat up and add the chorizo. Cook until slightly crispy and the paprika-spiked oil starts to run. Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaf and coriander, cook for 30 seconds before tipping in the tinned tomatoes. If they are whole, break them up with a spoon in the pan. Add the zest and juice from the orange, plus the wine if using. Let everything simmer for a few minutes, season with salt and pepper. Stir in the rice and add 100ml water. As soon as the liquid starts to bubble hard, turn the heat down immediately to the lowest setting and clamp the lid on. Leave it alone for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, you can crumble up the goats cheese and chop the coriander and do any clearing up. Once the time is up, take off the heat and fork through the coriander. Decant into a bowl, sprinkle over the goats cheese and eat.
Serves 1.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Pear and Walnut Loaf Cake

After the success of the hazelnut loaf cake, I was spurred on to play around with the recipe, using the original as a base. As I had some Nocino,an Italian walnut liqueur knocking around I decided to do a version using walnuts in place of the hazelnuts, and the Nocino in the place of the Frangelico. Plums were my original idea for the topping, but my local grocer had some lovely looking pears, so I swayed course. I very much enjoyed the result, but the next time I bake this I'll use a round, shallower cake tin, to increase each slice's pear-to-sponge ratio. For me, the cake evokes all the best things about autumn. If you're feeling down because summer is drawing to a close, this recipe will help you welcome the coming season.

200 grams walnuts
125 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
225 grams sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
250 grams greek yogurt
2 tbsps Nocino (optional)
225 grams self raising flour
pinch salt
1 large pear, quartered then sliced
2 tbsp demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade, line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
Toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until they start to smell fragrant and the skins begin to flake. Take off the heat, let them cool for a few minutes, then finely grind in a food processor.
Combine the flour, salt and ground nuts in a bowl.Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, and then add in the yogurt and Nocino. Fold in the dry ingredients, then pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Arrange the pear slices on top, then sprinkle the demerara sugar on top of the fruit. Bake for around 45 minutes until a knife or skewer comes out cleanly.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Honey and Stem Ginger Poached Peaches

A very easy pudding, very nearly, but not quite, a store-cupboard recipe. It's also a good way of using peaches or nectarines that will never reach their full luscious potential, i.e. most of the ones available in the UK.

4 peaches or nectarines
500ml water
Juice of 1/2 an orange, plus strip of orange zest
100g runny honey- something fragrant such as orange blossom variety
3 tbsp ginger syrup, from a jar of stem ginger

To serve
1 piece stem ginger, sliced into matchsticks
Raspberries (optional)
Flaked almonds 

Put the water, orange zest and juice, honey and ginger syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan that is large enough to accommodate the peaches later. Heat gently, just to dissolve the honey into the water.  Add the peaches and bring the pan to a gentle simmer. Poach for about 20 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time until tender. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and allow to cool slightly. When you can handle them, slip off the skins- they should come off easily- and cut into halves, removing the stone. If you've started with hard fruit it can be impossible to do this cleanly. In this case, cut the peach into eighths instead slicing it off the stone. Put in your serving dish. Now put the syrup back on a high heat, and reduce until you have about 100ml of liquid left. Let this cool for a few minutes, then pour over the peaches through a sieve to remove the zest and any errant orange pips. The peel ends up almost candied, and you can eat it as it is- chef's perks. When you are ready to eat toast the almonds in a dry frying pan and and scatter on top, with the stem ginger and raspberries (if using). It should be served cool, not chilled, and ideally with ice cream. Over-refrigeration is the death of too many puddings. You can make it in advance, just make sure you take it out of the fridge a few hours before eating.
Serves 4.

Linguine alla Puttanesca

Several hours of journeying later, I'm back from Croatia. Travelling exhausts me, and the food solution is to either eat a rich and comforting meal to lull you into a stupor, or go the other way and have something fiery to jolt you back to normality. Having had a week of food without masses of flavour, I opted for the latter. I hovered around making a curry, but settled on pasta puttanesca as it required a little less thinking and a shorter shopping list.
There are probably endless variations to making this sauce, and I'll throw in my own. Onions aren't often included, I like them, but by all means leave them out. By the same token, I'll sometimes add fennel seeds. I think they work well, but they aren't authentic. Spaghetti is the usual pasta shape for the sauce, I just happened to have linguine to hand.
As with other garlicky pasta sauces, Parmesan wouldn't be served alongside puttanesca in Italy. I do prefer it cheeseless- something I rarely say- but you already have the saltiness from the olives and the anchovies so to add parmesan can be overkill. Bear this in mind when seasoning at the end, you may not want to add salt at all. Adding parmesan also tones down the punchiness of the dish, which I feel somewhat defeats the point of puttanesca, The Whore's Sauce.

½ onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 anchovy fillets
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried oregano
1-2 tsp chilli flakes
fennel seeds (optional)
palmful capers, chopped
palmful black olives, stoned and chopped
300grams pasta

Put a large pan of water on to boil for the pasta, when it reaches boiling point, add salt and the pasta, cook until al dente. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saucepan or deep frying pan, then add the onion. Cook over a medium heat until softened. Add the garlic, cook for about 1 minute, then add the anchovies. Cook for another minute, then add the tomatoes, oregano, chilli flakes, and the fennel seeds if using. Grind in some pepper too. Turn up the heat slightly and simmer for about 5 minutes. Introduce the olives and capers to the sauce, and cook for a couple more minutes. Taste, add salt and pepper if it needs it. Add the (now drained) pasta to the pan of sauce, toss until thoroughly and evenly coated. Divide between plates and serve.
Serves 3 for a main, 4 for a starter

My Favourite Eton Mess

There is some debate whether or not Eton Mess was originally made with strawberries or bananas, I avoid joining in by using raspberries as my fruit of choice. Not technically Eton Mess then, but still a mix of fruit, cream and meringue. Hopefully any purists out there will forgive my abuse of the title.
I use a combination I have already enthused about, raspberries with rosewater. Leave out the rosewater of you dislike it, given its bathwater-y tendencies, it's understandable. If you do use it, have a light hand. Less is definitely more. This would serve 4 happily. In my house we finished in between 3 of us, but we're hopelessly greedy.

284ml double cream
icing sugar
punnet raspberries
1-2 tsps rosewater
4 meringue nests

Put half the raspberries in a wide shallow dish, and sieve a thin layer of icing sugar on top. Beat the cream until it forms soft peaks. With the back of a spoon, push the icing sugar'd raspberries through a sieve into the cream. Add the rosewater, whole raspberries, the meringues- crumbling with your hands into pieces as they go in- and gently fold in. The amount you combine it depends if you want a uniform pink, or a marbled effect. Taste if it needs extra icing sugar or rosewater. Spoon into individual dishes to serve.

Roasted Vegetables with Halloumi

This is one of those fall back recipes I make when I'm too exhausted to think about what I want to eat. It only involves a bit of chopping and it never fails to disappoint. Just the way it looks- red, orange and purple- will cheer you up. It's even better with chunks of cooking chorizo added 15 minutes before the end of cooking time. Feta and goats cheese are delicious variations of the halloumi, I switch when I want to ring the changes. I like the vegetables without cheese, but not necessarily without the chorizo as a side dish to a roast chicken. It's good with lamb too, for no reason other than my tastes I would probably leave out the chorizo but go for some goats cheese on top.

Change the flavourings, by all means. Cumin and coriander seeds, cumin and smoked paprika, a herby mix of oregano, thyme and chilli are all versions I have tried and liked. If I'm cooking for people who don't mind being more hands on with their food, I'll add some whole, unpeeled garlic cloves which soften and mellow in their skin.

Note-I use two oven dishes for this, so the vegetables roast properly.

500g new potatoes
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 medium red onion
3-4 tomatoes
1 pepper (any colour except green)
fennel seeds
chilli flakes
olive oil
1 block halloumi, sliced

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Centigrade. Cut up the new potatoes into chunks. Peel the sweet potatoes, cut into slightly larger chunks then the new potatoes. Peel and slice the red onion, halve  the tomatoes, cut the pepper into strips. Put in a roasting dish, slick with olive oil. Sprinkle over about a teaspoon each of the fennel seeds and chilli flakes, along with some salt and pepper. Divide the contents between another dish if you need to- the vegetables should be in one layer.

Roast for about 40 minutes, turning when needed. Keep an eye on them to make sure they aren't cooking too quickly. Once you are satisfied they are cooked, consolidate all the vegetables into one pan, put the sliced halloumi on top, turn the heat up to 220, and cook until the cheese is browned.
Serve with a green salad, and maybe some nice bread.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Croatia, Final Days

There was no post for yesterday as I had spent a long day in Montenegro, and was too tired to write anything worth reading. We didn't really eat out anyway. I also couldn't bring myself to break the nice continuity of the titles for eating out in Croatia.
We were recommended to try a specific restaurant in Kotor, a town in Montenegro, by the guide. I fact we were recommended it so many times that I was certain there was some sort of deal between tour company and restaurant, that I decided I wanted to choose my own place to eat. The restaurants/ cafes were much the same as you can find it Dubrovnik, a nod towards local dishes mixed with pizza and pasta. We gave this a miss and headed for a busy bakery that you could smell before you saw. I had a panzeroti- for those of you that know your Italian baked goods you'll no doubt have realised that this is very much the same as panzerotti. For those of you that don't know, it's basically a calzone made with a softer, thicker dough. Like Croatia, Montenegro has a lot of Italian influence- it was ruled by the Venetian Republic in the middle ages. I sought shade on the side steps of an orthodox church to eat my snack before heading to the market, a small stretch of stalls by the walls of the city. I picked up a jar of honey, and a bottle of kruškovača, pear liqueur. It was a far cry from the beautiful food markets that I've been to in Spain and Italy- everything bottled comes in reused containers, and the produce is constantly swarmed with bees. But I tried both my purchases before buying and was happy with my choices.
Today, our final full day, we did what you shouldn't- returned to eateries we had already tried. For lunch we just picked up some more pastries from a bakery to eat as and when we wanted. In the evening, we returned to Klarisa, the lovely, if pretentious, courtyard restaurant. I've has rather a lot of seafood this week, so I countered it with a rib-eye steak with a cognac sauce.

To follow, I had what the menu called chocolate cube ("more of a tetrahedron", as remarked by my Dad), with ice cream, and English Sauce (a not too bad attempt at translating crème anglaise). 

Having eaten a very decadent meal out, I do feel a twinge of guilt at my opinion of it. It was nice, certainly. But not brilliant. Perhaps there was too much effort devoted to stacking the meal into turrets and swirls. I suppose it was lacking it flavour,- the steak not quite meaty enough, the pudding not dark and intense enough, everything slightly muted. This meal in particular summerises my feelings towards the food experiences I have had in Croatia- it's all overshadowed by the setting.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Croatia, Day 5

Back to the Old Town. We chose a restaurant on the main square, the Gunduliceva Poljana. Despite the adjacent restaurants' having free tables, Kamanice had a queue, which either suggests good things about the restaurant itself, or the power of the guide book. The menu was incredibly simple, mostly seafood based.
My squid arrived, served as squid should be, hot and crisp, straight from the fryer without any rubberiness. My parents both went for the shrimp risotto- nicely flavoured, but instead of being cooked long enough to achieve the requisite creaminess of risotto, they had stirred some cream in instead. I've never worked out how restaurants do risotto. At home, once you get to the critical point of it being the perfect consistency any further cooking will turn it to mush. The chef here had avoided this by undercooking it, just as bad in my opinion.
We stopped off at an ice cream parlour called Sladolerdarna Dubrovnik. You won't go far here without stumbling across an ice cream shop, but this one is worth a mention because of the charming staff and the sherberty cherry ice cream.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Croatia, Day 4

We decided to see what other restaurants Lapad had to offer instead of going to the old town. Just like the walled city, everywhere here looks aimed at tourists so there's not much point looking for that perfect place where all the locals flock to. The place we chose looked pleasant enough- nice garden, candlelight, and a few underfed cats hanging hopefully around your table- and the service was great. My meal was not a success, however. It read well enough on the menu, shrimps in white wine, tomatoes and olive oil, a pretty standard dish here, and probably most coastal places in and around the Med. The sauce was made with half-raw onions, insipid tomatoes, and had an unpleasant acridity in the background. The shrimps themselves were rather lacklustre, in both taste and texture. A shame, given our proximity to the sea. My parents enjoyed their meals though, so perhaps I was just unlucky.
We stopped off for ice cream on the way back. I had coffee, chocolate and hazelnut flavours. Except I got that wrong too- the coffee was in fact caramel. Oh well. There's still 3 more eating out days left...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Croatia, Day 3

I spent the majority of the day in Lokrum, an island that is about 10 minutes away from Dubrovnik's old town by boat. It's mostly a nature reserve, not somewhere where people live- indeed, superstitious types claim that an overnight stay there will cause you to go insane. We decided to bring some pastries from a bakery in Dubrovnik. I had this:

 It was filling and tasty- quite a lot of pastry though, almost like a savoury strudel.

Later on, we went for a pizza in a place called Mea Culpa in the old town. Obviously, pizza is not a traditional Croatian dish. But given the proximity of Croatia to Italy, and the sheer volume of tourists in Dubrovnik, there are pizzerias everywhere. And a very nice pizza it was too. They made the dough there, and the resulting base was thin and crisp. It was more generously topped than an authentic Italian pizza, but still very good. I probably would have dismissed the restaurant had it not been in the guide book, so I suppose there is a lesson to be learnt there. If you find yourself in Dubrovnik absolutely starving, go here- we had two pizzas between three people, and couldn't finish everything. We only noticed afterwards that the regulars were ordering half portions, much more sensible.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Croatia, Day 2

We took two trips to the old town of Dubrovnik today. We ignored the guides advice and went late morning, which is when all the tourists on daytrips arrive. But even on our second excursion in the evening, the walled city was packed with visitors. Thankfully, we had booked at a restaurant set in the courtyard of St. Helen's church, and the setting was wonderfully peaceful.
I chose Adriatic scampi, AKA langoustine for my main course. They were plainly grilled, served with a wedge if lemon to squeeze over as you wished. There is not much to say about it other than the were perfectly cooked, with sweet, tender flesh.Underneath there was a mound of tomatoey rice with diced vegetables.They'd cooked it well enough, but it did smack slightly of Uncle Ben's. Not the ideal accompaniment, but it's forgivable.

To follow, I went for what was labelled on the menu as 'chocolate sorbet with coconut'. As a matter of fact, it was like an incredibly rich coconut pannacotta, with a streak of dark chocolate sauce on top. I imagine it had been set with gelatine, as it had a slight wobble to it. There were also some artful smears, so beloved of this sort of restaurant, of sour cherry sauce. It didn't just work as decoration, the combination of the sour compote cut through the creamy coconut pudding. Something to implement on my return, perhaps.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Croatia, Day 1

The hotel I am staying in is in the Lapad area of Croatia, where the nearest strip of restaurants are beachside ones, the touristy sort I avoid like the plague. Tonight, however, I settled myself down in front of a menu with 4 languages and a cocktail list containing drinks with names like Bloody Screaming Orgasm. Why? I had been up since 2:30am, and the thought of having a wandering down side streets in search of the restaurants that the locals keep to themselves was a little too much. I let myself off the guilt that I would usually feel, I can hunt for gastronomic pleasures for the next six days. Constant self-chastising doesn't make for a restful and relaxing holiday.

And it was fine. I went for a mixed grill, Balkan-style, with smoked sausage, pieces of skewered, grilled veal, and something similar to kofte that I believe was beef and pork, and chicken. There was some ajvar, red pepper sauce on the side, and mustard. It wasn't the sort of food that I could write pages about, nor was it terrible. But we ate whilst watching the sun, huge and red, rapidly sink behind the Elaphite Islands, so as far as introductions go, it wasn't so bad.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Croatia Bound

My usual holiday preparation drill goes: book holiday, buy guide to city, read the eating out section of said guide and none of the other chapters, ask around for recommendations of foods to try, places to eat and what to bring back, make a list of these, make a shorter, more realistic list taking into account financial and time constraints, buy some terrible fiction to read and absent mindedly pack.
Well, I've packed. But I'm off in less than 24 hours with only a dim idea of Croatian cuisine and it's unsettling. Weeks ago I started looking for a book on Croatian food, but as there has yet to be a fashion for food from there, there seem to be very few on the market. I've resorted to the Wikipedia article, which wasn't especially satisfying, I would prefer an Elizabeth David-style read on the subject. All I really know is that Dubrovnik is coastal, so good seafood should be available, and that the city's food is heavily Mediterranean. 
Maybe it'll be more of an adventure, and I'll stumble across places that the guidebook would never have told me about. Or maybe I'll end up eating in tourist traps with pictures on the menu (the only restaurants where this isn't an indicator of a dire meal is in China Town). Fingers crossed for the former, or I'll be resorting to the odd drop of kruškovac to keep up my holiday spirit.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Braised Lamb, Take two.

Should I have any close followers, you may remember that I didn't end up eating the braised lamb with fennel and olives. Tonight I needed something that I could eat curled up on the sofa with just a spoon- I've hit the midweek slump. Here's what I did:

Slowly reheat the entire dish, with the lid on. When it starts to simmer, throw in a handful of soup pasta, in this case, orzo. Let it cook uncovered until the pasta is cooked through. Pick out any flavourings, and discard (bay leaf, lemon peel), or eat (carrot). Ladle the soup-stew into a bowl, grate over a little Parmesan and sprinkle with some extra chopped oregano leaves.

The creation of tonight's meal was somewhat organic, but I liked the end result so much I would make something similar again. Probably not using lamb shank, more likely something I wouldn't feel extravagant shredding and bulking out with starch, such as some bony cuts from the neck. If you like, you go about making this the same way I did, maybe in a more direct fashion, however think of this as more of a blueprint. Use any soup pasta shape you like, or not. Throw in some rice, or cubed potatoes, or lentils. If you braise a larger joint of lamb (shoulder would be perfect), save the cooking juices and give it a similar treatment. It's not the prettiest dish, but it manages to be both comforting and restorative, and certainly worth eating.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Braised Lamb with White Wine, Fennel and Olives

From time to time, I find myself utterly at a loss at deciding what to cook. For a good 5 minutes I was standing at the butchers counter waiting for inspiration to strike. There were a lot of prime cuts on show, probably because it's the weekend, and I was looking for something at the other end of the spectrum, such as pork belly or beef shin. Eventually I settled on a solitary lamb shank- not as cheap as they were, since every restaurant has one on its menu now- but not bank-breaking either. The most common way lamb shank turns up in said restaurants is slow cooked with a rich red wine reduction. Although perfect for the depths of winter, too heavy for the current humidity. Something fresher is required.

This time, I turned to Greek flavours for my inspiration: oregano, lemon and bay, as well as thyme and some chilli for heat. Still going with the slow cooking though, this cut demands it.

I tasted during the cooking, and found I needed to add something to sweeten it, hence the sugar in the ingredients list. I should have realised, really, that the bitterness of the fennel and olives would need something to counteract it. Thankfully this sort of cooking can be very forgiving, and I managed to rescue the balance.

Honesty-time: I haven't eaten it yet. I've tried it, both meat and juices, but it had gotten too late by the time the lamb had cooked to the requisite melting softness for me to be hungry. I had enough to know I like it. But I will be having it tomorrow, slowly reheated. I'm leaning towards cooking some soup pasta, orzo or similar, in the winey juices and shredding the lamb to make a comforting, upmarket broth, but we'll see.

1 lamb shank
Olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 small bulb fennel, sliced
1 small carrot, halved lengthways
Thymes leaves, chopped
Oregano leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
pinch chilli flakes
strip of unwaxed lemon zest
200ml white wine
small handful black olives
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper

In a lidded casserole or similar, heat the olive oil to a high heat on the hob. Season the lamb shank with salt and pepper, and brown the meat all over in the oil. Turn the heat to low, remove the lamb, and turn the onion, fennel, carrot, herbs, lemon zest and chilli flakes in the fat for a few minutes. Return the lamb to the pan, add the olives, and pour over the wine. Add the sugar, bring liquid to a simmer, turn the heat down to low, put a lid on, and leave to cook for at least two hours, until the meat is truly tender, i.e, you can shred it with a fork. Adjust seasoning, eat.
Serves 1

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Hazelnut Loaf Cake

I spent last night searching for a cake recipe that would compliment the spiced damson curd I had just made. Nothing jumped out at me, but I did find this recipe which I adapted to make my own. I haven't tried the original, so I can't say how my version compares. But still warm from the oven, spread with some of the curd, it was just wonderful, perfect for having with friends at tea-time. Having said that, it's not just a vehicle for curd, it stands up just fine by itself.

The Frangelico, an intensely sweet hazelnut liqueur, is not essential, so unless you really want it, don't rush out and buy a bottle. I confess, I'm quite a fan- once you've made a hot chocolate with this, you'll almost certainly be wanting to use it wherever you can.

Update: I remade this, so have some new and improved photos!

200 grams hazelnuts
125 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
225 grams sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
250 grams greek yogurt
2 capfuls Frangelico (optional)
225 grams self raising flour
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade, line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan until they start to smell fragrant and the skins begin to flake. Take off the heat and allow to cool enough for you to handle. Rub off as much of the skins as you can from the hazelnuts, then finely grind in a food processor.
Combine the flour, salt and ground nuts in a bowl.Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, and then add in the yogurt and 1 capful of the Frangelico. Fold in the dry ingredients, then pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for around 45 minutes until a knife or skewer comes out cleanly. Pierce with a skewer all over, and drizzle over the remaining Frangelico. Let it cool slightly, before slicing thickly and serving.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Spiced Damson Curd, and Some Uses.

I bought a small bag of damsons in a flush of seasonal excitability. A lot of the fruit I buy for this reason ends up as flavouring for vodka, but I had the urge to make something more family-friendly. I don't think you can get much more wholesome then homemade preserves, in particular curd, which has a rather old fashioned feel to it. I love making and eating curd, but I'd never made it with damsons before. I hypothesized that they would be tart enough to withstand the process required to turn them into a curd, and went about my usual method, with the addition of some spices. I was rather happy with the result, which was not only tasty, but also a pleasing shade of maroon.

If you make this, or any other preserve, you'll need to sterilise the jar, which you can do by washing in hot soapy water, then drying in a low oven.

*Update 2709/15- this has been the most visited blog post by far, so I wanted to revisit this recipe- it's a lovely way to welcome autumn. Here are some newer photos:
Damsons, before cooking

Damsons, after cooking

Damson purée, eggs, sugar and spices

Finished curd

300 grams damsons
100ml water
150-200 grams caster sugar
3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cloves
100 grams butter, cubed

Put the damsons in a saucepan with the water, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low, clamp on a lid and let them stew for a few minutes till softened, and some of them have split their skins.

Put a sieve over a bowl, and tip in damsons and the accumulated juices. Push the damsons through the sieve with the back of a large spoon, until you are left with just skins and stones in the sieve. Put the sieved juice and damson flesh back in the saucepan with the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and spices. Beat together to make it a uniform consistency.  Over a low heat, stir with a wooden spoon. Once it is heated through, add a cube of butter, stirring all the time until in is melted and mixed in. Continue to add the butter cubes, one by one, until they are all used. Keep cooking and stirring the curd. Once it thickly coats the back of the spoon, it is ready. Pour into your sterilised jar. Once it is cool, keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Now you can either eat it as it is, spread on bread or toast. Or try it on scones, or between the layers of a sponge cake, with some softly whipped cream. Basically wherever you would use jam, substitute curd. My housemate and I had a quick pudding of Greek yogurt with crushed meringue and the curd folded in.