Sunday, 27 May 2012

Shortbread Thins

There are so many recipes for shortbread, it really depends on you finding your favourite.  There are some cardinal rules to follow (although I broke one, as you'll see!) - usually, you should use soft butter and cream it with the sugar; and you should handle the dough as little as possible to prevent the gluten in the flour developing and leaving you with tough biscuits instead of crisp shorties.  Well, I agree with the second bit, but I make mine with ice cold cubes of butter mixed in a food processor.  I use 175g of butter (unsalted, but add a good pinch of salt to the mix too), 85g of caster sugar, 200g plain flour and 50g of cornflour.  Tip it all into the processor, with the butter in cubes, and pulse and blend until it comes together into a soft ball of dough.  Stop just when this has happened, and tip it onto a big sheet of cling film.  Use the film to roll it into a long sausage cylinder, wrap well, and leave to firm and settle in the fridge for several hours.  Now, line baking sheets with baking parchment, turn the oven on to 140C (fan) and cut slices off the chilled dough - about 5mm or half a centimetre thick.  Lay out on the parchment and bake for 15-20 minutes or until pale golden.  Keep an eye on them though, they shouldn't be too brown.  Dust with a little more caster sugar and after 5 minutes, carefully lift to a cooling rack.  You can store any leftover dough in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a month or two.  Delicious with the Rhubarb Fool recipe - see previous entry.  The advantage of this method is that you don't have to roll the dough out - it is so buttery, this can be a problem especially in hot weather like today, and this can lead to over-handling and an impaired texture.

Rhubarb Fool

Hubby went to the excellent pick-your-own Rectory Farm in Stanton St. John on Thursday, and picked some wonderful asparagus, which is late this year, but with an intense grassy flavour.  He also got some of their main crop outdoor rhubarb.  Normally, this is fairly green, but the variety they grow here is the most amazing red colour, and is tender and not too tart.  We baked it with sugar, orange zest and juice, and when cool, folded the drained fruit through pillows of softly-whipped double cream and 0% Greek Yoghurt, (about 2:1 ratio) with a tablespoon of icing sugar to sweeten.  Served with shortbread thins (recipe follows) this is a delicious dessert to have in early summer - a perfect blend of tart/sweet fruit, creaminess and crisp biscuitiness. 

Morrocan Aubergine

Another aubergine dish, following on from the Caponata a couple of weeks ago.  This simple recipe packs a flavour punch, and is at its best served at room temperature or cold, with extra oil drizzled over.  It is very adaptable and would serve 4-6 as an appetizer with pitta bread, or 4 people for a main course if you added a tin of chick peas and some wilted spinach.  However you have it, it is delicious and qualifies for the 'under a fiver' category.  In 3 tablespoons of olive oil, saute a large sliced onion until soft and translucent, over a medium heat.  Turn up the heat and add a large aubergine, cut into half-inch cubes, and toss and fry until soft and the flesh is turning golden in places.  It will soak up the oil - don't add any more, but sprinkle in a tablespoon or so of water if it dries out too much, and regulate the heat if necessary.  Throw in three cloves of chopped garlic, along with 2 teaspoons of ground cumin and half a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes.  Stir for a moment, then add 4 or 5 chopped ripe tomatoes (you can skin them if you like, but I didn't bother).  Simmer for 10 minutes with a lid on until the tomatoes collapse and give off their juices.  Now, allow to cool to room temperature and stir in some chopped coriander and mint.  Taste for salt and pepper, squeeze in the juice from half a lemon, drizzle on some of your very best extra virgin olive oil and serve.  By the way, I elected to serve mine with some pieces of spankingly-fresh sustainable cod, dusted with some Ras-al Hanout and drizzled with oil, then grilled until just cooked.  With more lemon squeezed over, it was a perfect meal for a warm evening.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Asparagus and Celery Soup

It is difficult to offer an exciting photo for this soup as it is  I could have tarted it up with swirls of cream and artfully arranged celery leaves of asparagus spears, but why bother?  It is just simply a delicious, asparagusy and celeryish plate of goodness (are those real words?).  It is made in the way of most blended veg soups: sweat chopped asparagus (about 400g of English green asparagus), a head of celery, chopped (include the leaves if you have any) and a large onion or leek, chopped, in a tablespoon of olive oil and 25g of butter.  Keep the heat moderate and the lid on, so they gently soften and give off their own juices, and we don't want them to brown.  This soup needs a bit of starch to thicken it, so I stir in a dessertspoon of flour, then just cover with boiling water and some marigold stock powder to taste.  Grind in some black pepper, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Blend with a stick blender or processor, return to the pan, and thin down, if liked, with creamy milk or some creme fraiche.  Lovely with crusty bread and cheese for lunch or supper and enough for four.

Thursday, 17 May 2012


There are probably as many recipes for Caponata as there are Sicilians, from whence it comes.  Giorgio Locatelli has more than four variations in his latest book on Sicilian cuisine.  So choosing a recipe will always be a matter of personal taste.  I don't like it too oily, I like the aubergine to be quite chunky, and for me it has to have celery in it.  I also like it quite sweet and sour so add a splash of wine vinegar, and a salty tang from stoned picholine green olives and salted capers.  You could add raisins if liked for extra sweetness and to ramp up the Moorish influence, and some toasted pine-nuts are nice to add crunch and protein if feeding veggies or vegans.  But please - no peppers, they aren't authentic.  Here is my version, a hybrid between a Jamie Oliver and Giorgio Locatelli recipe.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and saute a large onion chopped, with 3 stalks of chopped celery.  Don't colour them, but allow them to soften, and the onion to go translucent.  Stir in an aubergine, chopped into one and a half inch chunks, and stir and sautee until they soften too.  Don't add more oil, as they'll just drink it up.  Add a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and cook for a few moments, then stir in a tin of tomatoes (a good brand please, like Cirio), and about 12 or so stoned green olives with a tablespoon of rinsed capers.  Now add salt, pepper and a tablespoon of good wine vinegar.  Simmer gently for half an hour until the aubergine is tender and creamy but not mushy.  Allow to cool to tepid, stir in lots of chopped parsley and a spoonful of your very best olive oil, and eat with crusty bread.  This will serve four people generously with some other mezze.  I made some hummus tonight, and some totally geographically inappropriate guacamole, which actually went really well with all the other flavours. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Spring Vegetable Stew

Or ragout, if you want to be fancy.  This is a light treatment where you saute chopped spring veg (I used the white of a leek, a bunch of asparagus, trimmed and each spear cut into three, some radishes, sliced, a courgette, diced and some shredded lettuce leaves) in a knob of butter until wilted and starting to soften.  However, you don't want the veg to colour.  Pour over about 200ml of veg stock (Marigold is fine) and allow to cook for a few more minutes until the stock has reduced a little.  Then stir in a tablespoon of half-fat creme fraiche, plenty of black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped parsley (or chives, or tarragon, depending on what you have).  Spoon onto two plates and top each with a piece of poached salmon or grilled chicken, or a lovely piece of poached smoked haddock was what I opted for tonight.  Or a poached egg would be good, if you wanted a veggie option.  Served with some new potatoes, this was a lovely spring supper.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul

Feeling under the weather, depressed, sore, tired, sorry for yourself?  All of the above?  Well, if so, make yourself some of this soup (or get someone else to make it for you) and things will feel better, albeit temporarily.  Chicken soup in its infinite varieties appears in virtually every cuisine of the world.  My own Scottish heritage meant that I was brought up on chicken broth, made with the carcase of the Sunday roast chicken, and rich with leek, carrots and rice and loads of parsley.  I have taken elements of this - the home-made chicken stock is essential - and added leek, carrot, courgette and celery for a bit of texture.  Simmer for half an hour or so, until the veg is cooked and has flavoured the broth.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Instead of rice, I added some angel hair pasta, but you can use whatever you have, whether tagliatelle, Chinese egg or Japanese udon noodles.  I cook them separately and put them in a bowl then pour over the boiling hot soup which has had shreds of left-over cooked chicken added at the last minute along with lots of chopped parsley.  So simple, so soothing, and so good for the soul.  Followed by Greek yoghurt and poached blueberries, I am replete and calm.  Now for a hot bath and an early night and things will surely look better in the morning.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Banana Strawberry Muffins

Relatively low in fat and sugar, these, so a nice treat and a good way of squeezing a little more fruit into little ones.  This quantity makes 6 muffins, but is easily doubled.  As with all muffin recipes, the secret here is to prepare the wet and dry ingredients separately, then combine at the last minute, and don't over mix - if it is a bit lumpy with some spots of dry mix, that is fine, it all comes out OK in the baking.  But over-mixing is a cardinal sin and will leave you with tough muffins, and nobody wants that!

So, set the oven to 170C, put 6 muffin cases in a muffin pan.  Sift together 145g of plain flour, 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon bicarb of soda, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon.  Now stir in 80g of soft brown sugar.  Next, melt 56g of unsalted butter and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, mash 1 large or 2 medium ripe bananas, beat in 1 egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence.  Add the cooled melted butter.  Hull 6 or 7 medium strawberries and cut into small dice.  Now, mix the strawbs into the flour (this will coat them and keep them suspended in the batter).  Pour in the mashed banana/egg mix and stir quickly with a metal spoon - don't beat, just keep folding until just combined.  Divide the mix between the muffin cases, then bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and risen and a skewer comes out clean.  Leave to cool, and eat on the same day or freeze leftovers.

Banana Butterscotch Pudding

Well, now that the sun has returned, you may not feel like this pud, but it was lovely a few nights ago when the dreich days of April and May seemed like they were never going to end.  Tuck it away in your memory banks and bring it out when you want a bit of comfort.  It is a Bill Granger recipe and is one of those miraculous puds which go in upside down with liquid poured over the top and then somehow the sponge ends up on top with a yummy sauce underneath.  When you make it, you WILL think "what the....?" as it looks a mess, frankly, but just persevere, it does work.  The simplest thing to do here is to link to Bill's recipe on the Good Food Channel.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Roasted Butternut, Puy Lentil and Goats' Cheese Salad

A lovely treatment for butternut squash, with the earthiness of the lentils and the tanginess of soft, fresh goat's (or should that be goats' - where does the apostrophe go?  ) cheese to contrast with the sweetness of the squash.  Simply roast chunks of butternut, tossed in olive oil, garlic and seasoning, for 40 minutes until soft and lightly caramelised.  You can either cook the Puy lentils from scratch, or open a pouch of Merchant Gourmet's excellent ready-coooked ones.  Make a nice lemony vinaigrette and add some mustard and lots of chopped parsley to it.  Now toss the cooked squash and lentils in the dressing, adjust the seasoning and pile onto lettuce, watercress or rocket leaves - whatever you have.  Now crumble over a small round of fresh, creamy goat's/s' cheese, scrunch over lots of black pepper and tuck in.  PS. News from hubby, and he's right of course - if you can guarantee the cheese was made from the milk from a single goat, then it would be goat's cheese, but as it is likely to be made from the milk of many goats, then it is goats' cheese.  See, you get a lesson in grammar as well as cooking.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

White Chocolate Cheesecake

I blogged about this two years ago but didn't give the recipe - I can't think why as it is so simple but produces such reliable and delicious results.  It is suitable for veggies, too, as no gelatine is needed.  Crush 125g of digestive biscuits and mix with 75g of melted butter.  Press into the base of a 8" loose-bottomed cake tin and refrigerate.  You can use shortbread instead if you prefer.  Just whizz in the food processor or bash with a rolling pin (after putting in a plastic bag first....).  Now, put 250g of mascarpone in a bowl, along with 100ml of double cream, 75g of caster sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla essence.  Beat with an electric whisk on low speed until combined - it helps f the cheese has been at room tempreature for an hour or so.  Now, carefully melt 200g of white chocolate (a good brand please, not Milky Bar) in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.  When just melted, pour the chocolate into the cheese mix and stir together with a metal spoon.  Plop the lot onto the biscuit base, spread out evenly and leave to set for several hours in the fridge - overnight is best.  Now serve in slices with whatever you like - we had rhubarb and strawberry compote tonight, but in the past I've used passion fruit, pureed mango, pureed raspberries, blueberry compote - all go deliciously with the sweet creamy cheesecake.  This will serve 8 people as it is quite rich.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Onion and Pepper Balsamic Marmalade

OK, so this isn't a quick recipe for a 30 minute supper, but it is nice to do at the weekend and it keeps well in a sterilised jar for a week or so in the fridge.  Great to spoon next to bangers, chops,  cheese on toast, with soft goats cheese and a crusty baguette and with courgette fritters - my favourite.  The list is endless.  To make a standard jam jarful, you need 2 or 3 large onions (I like red onions but ordinary ones will do), peeled and sliced, a large red pepper, seeded and cut into strips a little smaller than the onion, a clove of garlic, crushed.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy pan and add the prepped veg.  Stir well, turn the heat to low, cover, and leave to cook for 30 minutes, stirring every now and then.  The volume will decrease dramatically.  Now, stir in a dessertspoon of brown sugar and a dessertspoon of balsamic vinegar.  Add some salt and pepper, tasting and adjusting all of these ingredients until you get the balance between sweet and sour that you like.  Stir well, cover the pot and cook for a further 15 minutes or so until all is jammy and caramelised.  Take the lid off, turn the heat up and stir constantly for another minute or so to drive off any remaining liquid.  Either use straight away or pot into your washed and sterilised jam jar and use for up to a week later.  Because this doesn't contain large amounts of sugar, it isn't a preserve, do it won't last for ever!  You can vary the flavours by changing the vinegar you use (Sherry vinegar is good) and the sugar.  I also sometimes add black mustard seeds or chilli flakes depending on what it is accompanying.  PS: to sterilise a jam jar.  Simple if you have a dishwasher - for those of us without, wash in hot soapy water (inc the lid) rinse in really hot water, then put on a baking sheet in an oven set to 150C for 10 minutes.