Saturday, 28 April 2012

Really Easy Lemon Drizzle Cake

I have posted a rather more elaborate Lemon Drizzle Cake previously - two rounds of syrup-drenched cake sandwiched with lemon curd and mascarpone.  Gorgeous though this is, and eminently suitable as a celebration cake, sometimes you want something simpler to have with friends and a cuppa.  So this cake fits the bill.  You need two large, organic, unwaxed lemons, 150g each of softened unsalted butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 eggs + 1 tablespoon milk.  You also need some granulated sugar and icing sugar for the decoration.  Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin, set the oven to 170C.  Chuck the flour and baking powder, measured sugar, eggs and milk and butter into a bowl.  Grate in the zest from both lemons, and mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined and the mix is slightly paler in colour - no more than about a minute or so.  Tip into the loaf tin, level with a spoon and bake for about 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean - cover lightly with a little foil if it browns too much towards the end.  Leave in the tin for a few minutes or so whilst you prepare the initial glaze: squeeze the juice from 1 and a half lemons and mix with 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar.  Remove the cake from the tin whilst still warm and put on a plate.  Spoon over the gritty lemon and sugar to let it sink in.  Now you can eat it like this (as per the photo), or you can gild the lily and add a lemon glace icing when it is fully cold.  Squeeze the remaining lemon half into a small bowl and add 2 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar and mix to a thickish icing - add more sugar as necessary to get the correct consistency.  Now, drizzle the icing over the top and let some run down the sides.  Allow to set and then consume in thick slices with green tea - delicious!  You can freeze this, in slices wrapped in cling film or parchment if there is any left.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Roast Tomato and Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

This combo works really well in a lasagne, so I thought it would be good for a pasta sauce - and I was right!  Roast some ripe fresh tomatoes, chunks of butternut, onion and garlic, blend with some roasted red peppers from a jar and lots of basil, and you have a sweet sauce that coats penne or other pasta shapes perfectly.  I imagine this would be a popular sauce for kids, with its sweet tomatoey flavour they seem to love.  Frankly, you couldn't cram more veg in to them if you stuck a funnel down their throats and force-fed them like fois gras geese.  Anyway, simply chop and de-seed a small butternut, and sprinkle with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.  Do the same with three or four big, ripe tomatoes.  Peel and quarter a large onion and drizzle with oil.  Roast at 180C for half-an-hour, then tip it all into a food processor, (scoop the butternut flesh from the skin) with the drained contents of half a jar of roasted red peppers, and blitz to your desired consistency.  I like it chunky, but kids might prefer a smooth texture.  Reheat until bubbling, thinning with a little hot water if you want, adjust the seasoning, stir through some fresh basil, and then fold through freshly-coooked pasta.  Lots of grated parmesan is a must to add some counter-balance to the sweetness.  Easy, simple, and cheap - definitely an under a fiver job.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Raosted Carrot Soup with Rosemary and Smoked Paprika

The smoked paprika gives this quite a 'poke', especially if you use the piccante version, so if you think carrot soup is a little bland, try this recipe - the rosemary and paprika make it quite special and roasting the carrots first adds some depth of flavour.  Make sure there is some browning and caramelisation on the carrots to intensify the sweetness.  This recipe comes courtesy of the marvellous Riverford Organics and their fabulous website, so I shall simply link to it here.  The only change I made was to leave out the creme fraiche as I think it only needs a spoonful in the bowl when it is served.  While you are on their site, check out their fantastic veg boxes.  This would qualify as an 'under a fiver' easily - big bowlsful with wholemeal bread, followed by cheese and fruit, would make a hearty, healthy and frugal spring supper.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Chicken Forestiere

This is a very quick supper and can be on the table within 20 minutes.  Quite special too.  There are many versions of this dish, but it is essentially sauteed chicken breasts with mushrooms, garlic and shallot and a sauce made with the pan juices and some sort of alcohol - Madeira in our case, or you could use white or red wine or sherry - each will give a different finish.  You can add a little cream too if you like.  So, I cut two chicken breasts in half horizontally to make four escalopes or paillards.  Have ready about 100g or so of mushrooms, sliced (I used some lovely organic chestnut mushrooms), a finely-chopped shallot, a clove of garlic, minced, and a sprig or two of fresh thyme.  Also have ready 60mls of alcohol of choice and a couple of tablespoons of stock or water.  Season the chicken well with salt and pepper on both sides.  In a large pan over a medium to high heat, melt 10g of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil.  Put the chicken in and leave it to sizzle and brown for 2 minutes - don't poke it!  Turn it over and let the other side brown nicely for a further 2 minutes or so until just cooked.  Take out onto a plate and keep warm, covered with foil.  Add a further 10g of butter to the pan and throw in the thyme, shallots, mushrooms and garlic and stir until the mushrooms give off their liquid.  With the heat turned up, add the booze and water and stir to deglaze the pan.  Bubble and reduce slightly, adding a couple of spoons of double cream or creme fraiche if liked (we didn't).  Throw in a little chopped parsley, add the juices that will have accumulated from the plate of chicken, and then serve the escalopes with the sauce spooned over.  Perfect with some new potatoes and the first stems of English asparagus of the year.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Chicken Waldorf Salad

One of my favourite scenes from the peerless 'Fawlty Towers' involves an irascible American man, ordering Waldorf Salad.  A baffled Basil Fawlty disappears to the kitchen and re-emerges, declaring that Waldorf Salad is off because they are 'out of waldorfs'.  As well as being very funny, it says a great deal about British food in the 70s!  We are much more comfortable with such exotica now!  As the American angrily barks, the recipe is 'celery, apples, walnuts, grapes - in mayonnaise' and this is pretty much what you do.  I like to cut the richness of the mayo (good old Hellman's) by mixing it with equal quantities of 0% fat Greek Yoghurt and lemon juice to taste - about 2 tablespoons each of mayo and yoghurt and the juice of half a lemon for two people should do it.  I roast chicken breasts for about 20 minutes until cooked but still juicy - season well and drizzle with olive oil before roasting, cool, then cut into chunks and fold through the mayo sauce along with a diced apple, quite finely chopped celery sticks (2), a handful of red grapes, halved, and about 50g of roughly-chopped walnuts, toasted in a dry frying pan.  Pile onto a bed of Batavia lettuce leaves and serve with crusty ciabatta. 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Blueberry Clafoutis

I know, blueberries aren't in season, but I have a pile of them in the freezer that need using and this was a perfect Sunday lunch vehicle for them.  I use a recipe from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse 'Fruit' Book and it works every time, no matter what fruit you use (and as well as the traditional cherry, I have used many variations - raspberries, plums, figs, pears, apple and blackberry as well as this blueberry one).  It is so simple to do.  I like to bake it in a parchment-lined 20cm square tin as it seems to be moister and turns out easier.  Take 2 regular punnets of blueberries and toss in a tablespoon of caster sugar, the zest of half a lemon and a tablespoon of plain flour.  Spread the mix across the bottom of the tin, sprinkling the lemony sugar/flour over the top too.  In a bowl, mix together 3 tablespoons each of caster sugar and plain flour, 2 eggs, the zest of the remaining half of lemon and a teaspoon of vanilla essence.  Now, gradually beat in a small tub of single cream, and then fill the empty tub with milk and add that too.  Pour the batter onto the blueberries, then bake at 170 for about 35-40 minutes until puffed and set - the interior should still be a little creamy so don't overbake it.  Best served just warm.  It is rich enough as it is, but you can add a dollop of cream if you like!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Orange Ricotta Hotcakes - updated

I first made these back in 2009 when I was doing the Nigel Slater Kitchen Dairies Challenge, and I can't think why I don't make them more often.  We are fond of breakfast pancakes, but this version is so much more fluffy and light than usual mixtures, that I think it will be my default setting from now on.  The following quantity yields 9 pancakes - enough for three people or two very greedy ones.  You will guess which of these categories we fell into, I am sure.  You can double the quantities if you are feeding a crowd.  They are best eaten straight from the pan, but they do 'hold' ok wrapped in a clean tea towel on a plate over smmering water - they might deflate a little but are still light and fluffy.  Anyway, the recipe.  Have a non-stick pan heating over a medium heat.  Mix 125g ricotta cheese, a heaped tablespoon of plain flour, 2 level tablespoons of sugar, the grated zest of an orange, 2 egg yolks and one tablespoon of melted butter.  Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the batter with a metal spoon - don't beat it, but gently stir through.  Heat a dessertspoon of sunflower oil and a good knob of butter in the pan until sizzling, then spoon in tablespoons of the batter.  You should get 3 to 4 pancakes in the pan, depending on size.  After about 2 minutes, when the underside is golden brown, flip them over quickly and confidently to cook on the other side for another minute or so - they will rise up beautifully like little souffles, which indeed is what they are.  Serve hot from the pan, dusted with a little icing sugar, and with the peeled and sliced orange, some sliced banana and a little blueberry jam, warmed through with a splash of orange juice.  Or maple syrup.  A weekend treat!  You can add blueberries to the batter if you like, but we're having a blueberry pud tonight, so I will do this another time.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Pinto Bean Chilli

OK, so there were no tinned pinto beans in Sainsbury's (though they had shelves full of tinned Aduki beans - what's that about?), so I used kidney and cannellini beans instead for this lovely Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe from River Cottage Veg Everyday.  Seriously, if you haven't got this book yet, do yourself a favour and get it asap - Amazon has it for £15 in hardcover, and it will be money very well spent if you are a veggie or trying to eat more meat-free meals.  I have marked so many recipes to try and each one I have used so far works a treat.  The inclusion of red pepper and courgettes makes for a light and healthy version of chilli and we served it with the full works of home-made guacamole, shredded organic lettuce and grated cheese, all wrapped in warm wheat tortillas.  Delicious - just add chilled Mexican beer for a Friday night treat.  Definitely under a fiver.  I am afraid I can't find any official recipes for it online, and I don't want to break any copyright, so you will just have to buy the book!  Or leave a comment and an email address and I'll send the recipe separately.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Coconut Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

I have been scouring the interweb for ideas for cauliflower, as we have been getting a lot in our veg boxes.  Although I love cauliflower cheese, it is an occasional treat because of all the dairy!  So, curry is the next best friend of a cauliflower.  I know I've done a few takes on the curry theme lately but this was a particularly nice variation, based on a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dish from his excellent River Cottage Veg Every Day book.  He chops and fries an onion, some garlic and some fresh ginger, but I always like to puree them in a mini chopper first.  To this mix, add 2 teaspoons each of ground coriander and cumin, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, a teaspoon of garam masala, a pinch of asafoetida (optional, but it helps counteract the natural sulpherous tendencies of cauliflower) and a teaspoon of hot chilli flakes (or to taste).  Fry this paste in a couple of tablespoons of sunflower or rapeseed oil for about 3 or 4 minutes, then add 200 ml of water and a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes.  Bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and then add a tin of drained, rinsed chickpeas.  Simmer this for 20 minsutes or so.  Meanwhile, break a large cauli into florets, put in a pot, cover with cold water and salt and bring to the boil.  Allow to boil for around 30 seconds, drain and add to the curry 10 minutes before the end of cooking, along with a 200ml tin of coconut milk or cream.  Once the cauli is tender, but not breaking up, stir in some chopped coriander and a squeeze of lemon juice, and serve in a big bowl with lots of naan bread, chapattis or rice.  This serves four and comes in at well under a fiver.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Rhubarb Frangipane Tart

Frangipane is very adaptable - it can be spread in a shortcrust pastry base, as here, or in a galette or jalousie of puff pastry.  Most fruits go well with it, and I have made variations with plum, apple, apricots, figs, and more.  Today's version has the shortcrust pastry case spread with rhubarb jam and chunks of rhubarb baked in orange zest and sugar, then topped with the frangipane mixture, which is simplicity itself to make: 100g each of soft unsalted butter, ground almonds and caster sugar, 2 eggs and the zest of an orange.  Mix for a minute or two in an electric mixer until creamy and well combined.  If it is very loose, add up to 25g of flour, but no more - you want it to be moist and almondy rather than too 'cakey'.  Carefully dollop and spread over the jam and rhubarb, sprinkle with flaked almonds, and bake at 170C (fan) or the equivalent for 40 mins until golden brown and the pastry is golden and crisp.  Serve just warm with cream or, in our case, custard.  Enjoy!

Passion Cake

Appropriate for Easter - although I did also make it for a Valentine's cake sale, but it is really relalting to Christ's Passion.  I don't know why this festival should be marked with a spicy carrot cake layered and spread with creamy cheese frosting, but there you go!  This is based on Paul Hollywood's version, and is very delicious and popular whenever I make it.  Half of it is destined for tea with a friend tomorrow afternoon, but we had some for our Easter tea today as a treat.  It is simplicity itself to make.  Simply mix 230g of self raising flour plus an extra teaspoon of baking powder, 230g soft brown sugar, 155ml of sunflower or rapeseed oil, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon and a teaspoon of ground ginger, 260g grated organic carrots, 100g sultanas, 100g chopped walnuts, the zest of an orange and lemon, and 3 eggs.  Don't overbeat, but a good mixing in a large bowl with a wooden spoon should suffice.  Turn into an 18cm (7 inch) loose-bottomed cake tine, lined with a circle of parchment, place on a baking sheet and bake at 170C (fan) for around 50 minutes to an hour.  Cover with a circle of foil if it browns too much.  A skewer should come out clean when inserted into the middle.  Allow to cool, then split in half.  Make the frosting:  have a 250g tub of mascarpone at room temperature and 50g unslated butter well softened.  Mix the butter with 100g icing sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in the zest of a lemon and the juice of half of it to soften and flavour the mix.  Now quickly mix in the mascarpone - don't overbeat, just mix until combined.  Use half to sandwich the two halves, then spread the rest over the top, swirling it fancily if the mood takes you.  Delicious right away, but perhaps best left for a day in the fridge (covered) so the cake softens a little and absorbs some of the moisture from the frosting, then it yields decadently and delightfully under your eager fork.

Friday, 6 April 2012


"What?" - I hear you asking - "is Vincisgrassi"?  It is how Italians in the Marche region made Lasagne before tomatoes became popular, and is an old traditional recipe, popularised in the UK about 20 years ago when Franco Taruschio was cooking at the Walnut Tree restaurant near Abergavenny.  His recipe consisted of home-made egg lasagne, layered with a rich, cream-based besciamella sauce of mushrooms (dried and fresh), minced Parma ham, garlic, parsley, and truffles, topped with Parmesan and baked until golden.  People travelled from all over the country to eat it, apparently.  My version is less rich, made with skimmed milk and no cream, and no truffles - too rich for me!  Also, I used dried pasta which is just fine, and added chopped chard to turn it into a complete meal.  As with any lasagne, it is a construction job of several elements, so set plenty of time aside, but when done, it can happily sit in the fridge for up to a day before baking.  A great dish for entertaining. 
Stage 1: Mince 50g of Parma ham in a food processor or mini chopper.  Slice 500g of good field mushrooms.  Chop a couple of cloves of garlic and a shallot.  Melt 50g of butter in a pan, add all these ingredients, and cook for 5 minutes or so until mushrooms are tender and juicy.  Stir in a heaped tablespoon of flour, then gradually add a pint of milk (full-fat if you like), bring to the boil, then stir in 50g of grated Parmesan.  Season well and set aside.
Stage 2: Bring a pan of water to the boil and plunge in 9 sheets of dried lasagne.  Boil for 3 minutes, then drain, rinse under cool water and lay out on a tea towel.  I do this even if the pack says it can be cooked from dry.  Finely chop the stems of a bunch of swiss chard and roughly chop the leaves.  Saute in a glug of olive oil until wilted and all liquid has been driven off, then season well with lots of grated nutmeg, and salt and pepper.
Stage 3: Assemble in an appropriately-sized roasting or gratin dish.  I line mine with baking parchment to save scrubbing for weeks.  Put 1/4 of the mushroom bechamel sauce in the bottom.  Cover with 3 sheets of lasagne, half the chard and another 1/4 of the sauce.  Repeat this layer, ending with the remaining pasta.  Cover with the last 1/4 of the sauce, sprinkle with a further 25g or so of Parmesan, then bake for 40 minutes until bubbling brown.  Leave to sit for 5 minutes, cut into four and eat.  Warning: this is very delicious, and my husband is already asking when I'll be making it again

Monday, 2 April 2012

Spatchcock Chicken with Rosemary, Lemon and Garlic

I do like to spatchcock a chicken! does look faintly rude when you take out the backbone and open it flat, with a sort of 'come hither' pose, but it cooks much more evenly and seems to get more flavour in.  I annointed our chook with olive oil, lemon juice, rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper and then roasted it at 200C for an hour, and it emerged crisp and golden with delicious pan juices.  So much easier to carve too.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

'Key' Lemon Pie

We have a surfeit of organic lemons in the house, so it made sense to use them instead of limes in this dish.  I followed Delia's recipe for Key Lime Pie, but used the zest from 3 lemons and 5floz of juice - about 2 and a half lemons.  It produced a wonderfully tart, sharp creamy rich finish to our Sunday dinner with a distinct citrus theme in keeping with the glorious sunny spring weather - Cheese and Chilli Empanadas with Margaritas; Spatchcocked Roast Chicken with Garlic, Lemon and Rosemary with a most scrumptious Californian Chardonnay; and then this little corker.  The whipped cream is optional, but does add a soothing touch to the tart pudding.

Parma Ham, Brie and Chilli Empanadas

We wanted Margaritas for our cocktails tonight, as the weather is still unseasonably sunny and warm.  So these little bites were just the ticket to accompany them.  You stamp out circles of puff pastry using 4mm cutters - a sheet of bought puff pastry should yield about 20 circles.  What you stuff these with is up to you, but something with cheese is usually in order.  I chopped about 70g of ripe Brie and put in a bowl with 2 slices of Parma ham that had been finely chopped in a mini-chopper.  To that, I added a teaspoon of hot chilli flakes and about a tablespoon of finely-chopped coriander.  Mash this all together with a fork, and season with black pepper.  Add about 2 teaspoons of beated egg - keep the best for sealing and glazing.  Now divide the mixture between the rounds - don't overfill.  Use some of the egg to seal each into a half-moon shape.  Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges, and glaze with the remaining egg.  Chill for an hour or so, then bake in a hot oven (200C) for 15-17 minutes until puffed and golden.  Allow to cool for a minute or two and consumer greedily!