Thursday, 24 December 2009

Snow and mince pies

Just last week I was reading the latest post by Molly of Battered Splattered. Molly lives in Alaska and I love her posts as her adventures in the Alaskan wilderness always seem light years away from my life in Suffolk. Her post contained some lovely shots of the local snowy scenery. How marvellous, I thought, snow at this time of year. How lovely that must be! Well someone must have been paying attention because all of a sudden my world was transformed by the sudden arrival of some seriously Arctic conditions! And this isn't the British snow we're used to - a few flurries which quickly dissolve into muddy slush - no this is the real thing. And a week later it's still here, well some of it anyway. Will we have a white Christmas?

Anyway, the Christmas madness has well and truly set in, but I wanted to squeeze in at least one Christmassy recipe before the big day. So here, for the record, are my favourite recipes for mincemeat and mince pies.


900g/2lb bramley apples, peeled and chopped into small chunks
2 oranges
1 lemon
500g bag of luxury mixed dried fruit
175g/6oz dark muscovado sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
100/4oz butter
300ml/1/2 pint dry cider
5 tbsp rum or brandy

1) Zest and juice the oranges and lemon and add to a large pan.

2) Add all of the other ingredients. Slowly bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

When the mincemeat is cooked it will be thick and pulpy. It will keep for up to one month in sterilised jars or 6 months in the freezer.

What follows is my preferred recipe for mince pie pastry. I know it is more common to use a simpler fat and flour combination but this one results in a shorter, sweeter pastry which I find much more appealing.

225g/8oz plain flour
140g/5oz butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of 1 orange
50g/2oz caster sugar
1 egg yolk

1) Put the flour, butter, orange zest and sugar into a food processor and whizz to form crumbs.

2) Add the egg yolk and a tablespoon of cold water and pulse to form a dough.

The recipe now advises that you chill the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes but I'm not convinced about this as it results in a very solid dough that needs a fair bit of work to warm it up again. I'll leave you decide which option to take.

Either way, the dough can be rolled out as desired and filled with your mincemeat. A standard sized pie will cook in 12-15 minutes at 200c/gas 6.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Snow-Flecked Brownies

The subject of this month's Sweet and Simple Bakes challenge is the much-loved chocolate brownie and the recipe we have used is Nigella Lawson's Snow-Flecked Brownies, as seen in Feast.

The chocolate brownie must be one of my top five all-time favourite cakes. It's a classic and surely epitomises everything the perfect cake should be - simple but indulgent, a rich combination of cakeiness and fudginess that is as at home on a dinner party table as it is served up for afternoon tea.

I've come across a number of brownie recipes in my time, some of which are merely slightly embellished chocolate cake recipes. Don't be fooled - a brownie recipe should contain substantially more eggs and chocolate (dark, 70% of course) than your average cake otherwise you are not going to get that dark squidgy centre.

So does this recipe beat my previous favourite? Nigel Slater's brownie recipe, from his Kitchen Diaries, has been my first choice for some time now and I have to say it stills just wins the day by a small margin. The recipes aren't dissimilar however Nigel cuts back on the proportion of eggs and flour and adds a bit of cocoa so you end up with a more chocolatey brownie. Don't get me wrong though, these brownies more than satisfied my need for something indulgent and I do like the aesthetically pleasing addition of icing sugar, especially at this time of year, when anything even faintly festive rings my bell.

The recipe can be found here. You should note that this makes a LOT of brownies. I halved the quantity and ended up with 14 perfectly sized squares. Oh, and if you want your pieces of white chocolate to maintain their shape and not melt into slushy streaks then you might want to leave the mix to cool a while before mixing it in.

Thanks go to Maria and Rosie for hosting the Sweet and Simple Bakes website and choosing another great recipe for us.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Saucy Banana and Caramel Pudding

Now this is my kind of pudding. A Pudding with a capital P. A rich, sticky, seconds-for-me-please, where-did-all-the-leftovers-go? sort of pudding. Fantastic.

Thanks and praise for this little gift of a recipe should be directed towards Jo Pratt whose first book, In The Mood for Food is fast becoming my recipe book of the year. You can find three more of her recipes here, here and here but I do recommend you try and get hold of your own copy. It will provide you with inspiration for all occasions and will be a very attractive addition to your bookshelf!

Puddings like this are notoriously hard to photograph (particularly for a novice like me, short on props and good lighting) and this photo really doesn't do it justice. Just try to picture the dish beneath the spoon filled with a golden banana sponge floating on a lake of caramel sauce....tempted yet?

So, the next time you have a couple of bananas browning in the fruit bowl don't even think about making yet another banana cake....make this!

Saucy Banana and Caramel Pudding
(adapted from In the Mood for Food by Jo Pratt)

Serves 6

For the pudding
125g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon or cinnamon
125g light muscovado sugar
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 large egg, beaten
200ml milk
75g unsalted butter, melted

For the sauce
4 tablespoons golden syrup
125g light muscovado sugar

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/fan 160c/gas 4

2) Mix the flour, baking powder and mixed spice or cinnamon in a bowl then beat in the sugar, mashed banana, milk and butter until well combined.

3) Pour into a buttered 1.5 or 2 litre ovenproof dish (the bigger the better to avoid it bubbling over and making a mess of your oven) or six individual dishes (about 300ml or 400ml each).

4) Place the golden syrup, sugar and 250ml water into a pan on a medium heat. Stir until dissolved and bring to the boil. Pour immediately over the top of the pudding (don't be alarmed by the resulting cake-mix soup, it will turn out fine!). Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until golden and just firm in the centre when pressed.

5) Leave to cool for a few minutes before serving with ice cream, cream or creme fraiche.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Fragrant Chicken & Spinach Curry

Ever since I dug out my copy of Bill Grainger's Everyday and lavished a bit of attention on it as part of my Unloved Cookbooks project I've been promising myself that I would come back to it at some point and try out the other recipes that caught my eye.

So the next recipe on the list was Bill's Fragrant Chicken and Spinach Curry. This recipe was fairly simple and straightforward and the result was everything I've come to expect from Bill Grainger - fresh, light and healthy but with good flavour - an ideal weeknight supper.

Fragrant Chicken & Spinach Curry
adapted from Everyday by Bill Grainger

Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
pinch cayenne pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
750g/1lb 10 oz boneless chicken thighs, cubed
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
90g/3 1/4 oz baby English spinach, chopped
Large handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped

1) Heat the oil, add the onion and cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes until softened. Add the spices, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more.

2) Add the chicken and increase heat to medium-heat. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until the chicken is browned.

3) Stir in the tomatoes and salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

4) Add the sugar, lime juice and spinach and stir until the spinach has just wilted. Remove from the heat, sprinkle with coriander and serve with steamed rice.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A Christmas Trifle

I recently came across a request on the UKFBA website calling for volunteers willing to get creative and come up with an alternative use for the traditional Christmas pudding.

The competition was set by Matthew Walker Christmas Puddings, who are reputably the World's Oldest Christmas Pudding Maker and have trademarked their 'Recipe 13' 'The Perfect Christmas Pudding Recipe'!

So my puddings arrived, handsomely packaged in brown, gold and green and I set to thinking what to make. The Christmas pudding is pretty much the complete package really and apart from a jug of custard it doesn't really need anything adding to it. So my thoughts turned for possible uses for leftovers. Cake....leftovers......trifle! I can't say I've considered putting christmas pudding in a trifle before and I can't recall anyone else doing so either but it was worth a go.

Trifle is a pretty simple combination of cake, fruit, custard and cream but what fruit to use? Well, this is a Christmas trifle and nothing says Christmas to me like citrus fruit so oranges seemed the best option. It's also traditional to add a swig of something alcoholic to the layer of cake, however as Christmas puddings are alcoholic by design I decided not add anything extra. Don't let that put you off adding a little splash of something if you fancy it though.

So, decision made....I was ready to go.

Well, the result was delicious! It was far better than I'd hoped and I will, without question, be making this again at Christmas. I may well even buy an extra pudding in case I'm not left with sufficient leftovers on the day. I assembled the trifle while the pudding and the custard were still warm to great effect however the small amount that I somehow managed not to eat straight away was still gorgeous a while later from the fridge.

Here's the recipe...

Christmas Pudding Trifle

Serves 1 (but can easily be scaled up)

100g Christmas pudding
1 orange, segmented
50-100ml custard
50-1ooml double cream, whipped to soft peaks
Mixed peel or flaked almonds to decorate

1) Break the pudding into bite sized pieces and line the bottom of a small dish or ramekin

2) Place the orange segments in a layer on top of the pudding

3) Layer the custard over the orange and top with cream

4) Decorate with mixed peel or flaked almonds.


Sunday, 8 November 2009

White Chocolate and Orange Cookies

The October Sweet and Simple Bakes challenge was a recipe for White Chocolate and Orange Cookies. To my great frustration I didn't have the chance to make these in time for the deadline but they sounded so tempting that I was determined to crowbar them into the schedule as soon as possible.

So here they and they absolutely lived up to my expectations. Packed with orange flavour and plenty of chocolate, they had the perfect cookie texture - crispy at the edge but with a soft chewy centre. Mmmmmm!

You can find the recipe here - give them a try!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Pumpkin and Ginger Teabread

It's that time of year again - the leaves are falling from the trees and making the garden look untidy, the clocks go back and suddenly it's getting dark way too early. Then all of a sudden it's Halloween and Christmas is hiding just around the corner. Even if you're not into the full-on American-style trick or treating or such like, I still think it's quite fun to pick up a couple of pumpkins and get creative with a carving knife. But what to do with that big bowl of discarded pumpkin innards? Well if, like me, you're not so keen on pumpkin or squash in savoury dishes then I can wholeheartedly recommend this cake as a great alternative for using up those leftovers.

I found this recipe for Pumpkin and Ginger Teabread in an edition of Good Food Magazine some years ago and I've made it every autumn since. The pumpkin makes the cake lovely and moist, the ginger provides a gentle background warmth and the sugar sprinkled on top adds a contrasting crunch. Perfect for afternoon tea by the fire!

The recipe can be found here.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Unloved Cookbooks Part 4 - Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater

Now I should start by saying that I love Nigel Slater. I love his television programs and he is easily one of the best food writers around. Oh, and the brownie recipe in his Kitchen Diaries is the best I've found to date. However, the Unloved Cookbook in question today, Real Fast Food, unfortunately falls foul of my love of all things aesthically pleasing. In short, it has no pictures - sorry Nige!

My loss as it turns out as when I took the time I found a little book is packed with lots of great sounding recipes all designed to be easy to prepare and quick to cook. Mr Slater's comment that most of the recipes require only one or two fresh ingredients that can be bought on the way home is obviously not aimed at anyone with small children - a trip to the supermarket after work with a small child in tow? Not a chance! So I needed to do a little more forward planning than the book possibly intended. But hey, that wasn't such a hardship.

There were many recipes that caught my eye. Here are just three of them...

First up is a salmon dish. I've been trying to find new salmon recipes to encourage me to eat more fish and this one is particularly lovely. And why didn't anyone tell me about dill before? I am converted!

Baked Salmon with Soured Cream

2 salmon steaks, about 100g/4oz each
1 small onion, very finely chopped
100ml/4fl oz soured cream or creme fraiche
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1) Put the salmon steaks into a small baking dish.

2) Mix together the remaining ingredients, retaining half the dill. Spoon the sauce over the salmon.

3) Bake in the oven, preheated to 220c/425f/gas 7 for 15-18 minutes. Scatter with the remaining dill.

Serves 2

This next recipe is a fabulous way of sprucing up your new potatoes.

Warm New Potato Salad with Taleggio and Rocket

450g/1lb new potatoes, wiped clean
2 handfuls of rocket, washed and shaken dry
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
200g/7oz mild, semi-soft cheese

1) Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for about 12 minutes, until tender to the point of a knife.

2) Toss the rocket in the olive oil and divide betwe
en two oven-proof plates or dishes.

3) Drain the potatoes and slice each one in half. Scatter over the rocket leaves. Slice the cheese thinly over the potatoes.

4) Place the plates under a pre-heated grill for a minute or so until the cheese starts to melt. Eat immediately.

Serves 2

Oooh, this last recipe was niiice! So easy too.

Hot Blackcurrant Bread and Butter Pudding

4 slices white bread
250g blackcurrants
Caster sugar
Creme de Cassis

1) Butter the bread very generously and lay half in the bottom of a shallow ovenproof dish.

2) Cover with the blackcurrants and sprinkle with two tablespoons of caster sugar.

3) Place the remaining slices of bread on top of the blackcurrants, butter side up. Sprinkle with another tablespoon of sugar and two tables spoons of Creme de Cassis.

4) Bake in an oven preheated to 220c/425f/gas 7 for 20-25 minutes.

Serves 2

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Sweet and Simple Bakes - St Clement's Drizzle Cake

This month's Sweet and Simple Bake is the St Clement's Drizzle Cake - a twist on the classic lemon syrup cake thanks to the addition of orange zest and juice. This was very simple to make, as most loaf cakes tend to be, and as lovely on it's own for afternoon tea as it is teamed up with some vanilla ice cream for an indulgent pudding. The cake itself turned out to be wonderfully light and the orange/lemon syrup topping added loads of citrussy (is that how you spell it?) flavour. The next time I make this (and there will be a next time) I think I'll put more holes in the cake so the syrup soaks in even more.

Many thanks to Rosie and Maria for hosting the Sweet and Simple Bakes website and for choosing this great recipe for us.

The recipe can be found here.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival 2009

A wide variety of local food producers, the beautiful surroundings of Snape Maltings and perfect weather - this was my first taste of the Aldeburgh Food Festival and I was not disappointed. This is just how a food festival should be - a real celebration of small-scale, local companies committed to producing high quality products.

There was so much to choose from and I would have happily purchased something from every stall there but due to budget and boot space limitations and the fact that, no matter how yummy it all is, there really is only so much chutney a person needs, I had to keep my excitement in check. So here is selection of my personal highlights.

As well as pestos, Purely Pesto also produce a range of other dips and sauces. I fell for their Honey & Dill Mayonnaise in particular as I am a recent convert to the aromatic savoury flavour of that feathery herb.

Thorpeness Leaves provided me with a very generous bag of salad leaves (see above for the list of contents) and some colourful red and yellow cherry tomatoes.

Munchy Seeds' Vanilla Pumpkin seeds were just too moreish to walk away from.

Lunch was provided by Salad Days - an enormous bowl full of chicken, leaves, couscous, roasted vegetables and tomatoes.

The Metfield Bakery offered a wide variety of loaves, not to mention their permanent on-site deli and cafe which I will return to one day - sadly I left it too late to pick up one of the sourdough loaves that I'd had my eye on as they had all sold out by mid afternoon.

A jar of Coronation Sauce came from Stokes (one of the three brands owned by Essfoods) - providers of a variety of sauces and dressings.

The Cake Shop in Woodbridge must win the award for the most tempting display of brownies. Again, though, I waited too long and they were all gone when I came back to find one for my afternoon snack. I settled instead for one of their Combicorn loaves (so called because of the assortment of grains and seeds inside it).

The day was ended on a high note with this gorgeous Raspberry Frozen yoghurt, provided by Margaret's Frozen Luxuries. Happy days.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Caramel Oat Bars

Otherwise known as Millionaire's Shortbread but with a slight adaptation. Where Millionaire's Shortbread has a base of - yes, you've guessed it - shortbread, this version includes the added bonus of oats. This is a change I wholly approve of - it makes the base lighter and crunchier and adds to the contrast with the soft caramel and chocolate.

If you have any leftover condensed milk (I have yet to find a 175 tin of the stuff) and were wondering what to do with it then you might want to take a look at these oat bars or this fudge - you can always halve the quantities!

Caramel Oat Bars
(original source of recipe long forgotten)

100g/4oz butter or margarine
50g/2oz caster sugar
75g/3oz plain flour
75g/3oz porridge oats

175g/7oz can condensed milk
100g/4oz butter or margarine
50g/2oz soft brown sugar
vanilla essence

100g/4oz chocolate, melted (you can use dark or milk chocolate depending on the level of sweetness you're after)

1) Grease a baking tin approximately 30 x 18cm (12 x 7 in)

2) Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, stir in flour and oats to form a stiff mixture and press into the tin

3) Bake for 20 minutes at 180c/350f/gas 4

4) Meanwhile, melt the butter, condensed milk and brown sugar in a pan over a gently heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add vanilla essence to taste and beat well. Pour evenly over the cooked base and leave to cool.

5) Spread melted chocolate over the cooled caramel and mark with a fork. Leave to set before cutting into squares.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Unloved Cookbooks Part 3 - Everyday by Bill Granger

So I'm home again with a fully functional, fabulous kitchen and I'm raring to go. Normal service has not quite resumed mind you - cupboards have to be filled, appliance manuals need to be read - but nevertheless I am VERY happy to be home.

During the recent disruption I have managed to do a little work on my unloved cookbooks project and this time I turned my attention to Everyday by Bill Granger.

This one was a definite success as I had no trouble choosing recipes and have many remaining on my to-do list. Why did I not make more use of this book before??

I suppose it's mainly due to the fact that you could say that this is quite a "healthy" book - lots of fresh ingredients, fish, salads etc whereas alot of my favourites (Nigella et al) have more of a tendency towards the "comfort food" end of the spectrum with lots of receipes for pasta bakes, chocolatey puddings and pies which always appeal to my inner piggy. I was more than happy with the three recipes I chose though and would make all of them again.

All of the recipes below are adapted from Everyday by Bill Granger.

This first recipe was an unexpected success. I didn't expect to have the flavour that it did but it was surprisingly tasty and a big hit with all the family.

Baked Tomato and Mozzarella Pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 small carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
45g small black olives, pitted (or omit if, like me, you think these are the pinnacle of food evilry)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
300g cooked short pasta (such as fusilli or penne)
75g fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas 4. Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat and cook the onion, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, carrot and celery and cook, stirring for 5 minutes more.

2) Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil, the reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the olives (if you really must), season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

3) Stir the tomato sauce through the cooked pasta and spoon into a casserole dish. Dot with mozzarella and bake for 30 minutes until the cheese is bubbling (I cooked mine for a shorter time, maybe 15-20 minutes, as the pasta seemed to be drying out a bit).

Serves 4

The next recipe was definitely my favourite of the three. This is a wonderfully simple recipe but bursting with flavour. Limes are one of my favourite ingredients and roasting them in the oven filled the kitchen with a mouth-watering aroma.

Lime, paprika and honey glazed chicken

2 tablespoons plain flour
2 teaspoons paprika
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 chicken legs (or a mix of legs and thighs)
2 red onions, cut into wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons honey
125ml/4 fl oz chicken stock
1 lime, cut into thin wedges

1) Preheat the oven to 220c/425f/gas 7. Mix the flour and paprika and season with salt and pepper. Dust the chicken pieces in the flour and then put in a large roasting tin with the onions. Drizzle with the olive oil and roast for 20 minutes, turning the chicken once during this time.

2) Mix together the ginger, garlic, honey and chicken stock. Pour over the chicken and add the lime wedges to the tin. Roast for another 10 minutes, or until the chicken is golden and glazed.

Serve with steamed rice and green. Serves 4.

Finally, a fresh and healthy pasta dish but delicious with it. Ideal if you fancy pasta but want to avoid anything too heavy.

Spaghetti with fish, chilli and parsley

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlice cloves, thinly sliced
1 long red chilli, thinly sliced (I substituted with a good pinch of chilli flakes)
250ml/9 floz dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter
250g firm white fish fillets cut into small chunks
Sea salt
200g spaghetti
Small handful finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

1) Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic and chilli and cook, stirring for 1 minute, until light golden. Add the wine and butter, increase the heat to high and boil for 5 minutes (it does seem like an awful lot of wine but believe it does reduce down considerably - in fact I think I left mine a bit too long and ended up with very little liquid).

2) Add the fish and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes until just cooked. Season with salt and remove from the heat. Cook the pasta and drain well.

3) Add the pasta to the pan with the fish and return to medium heat. Stir gently to coat the spaghetti with sauce. Stir in the parsley and season with black pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Monday, 31 August 2009

A recipe to keep you going....

The redesigning of my kitchen is now well under way which is fabulous but does, however, leave me without a kitchen to call my own at the moment. Fortunately, my parents in-law have very kindly allowed us the use of their house while they are on holiday, which is much appreciated, however I find there is something rather unsettling about trying to cook in someone else's kitchen! Even the simplest of tasks take more time than they should while I search for things that I could find blindfolded in my own kitchen, or suddenly find myself without a particular ingredient that I would usually take for granted. As a result my baking and creative cooking have been somewhat put on hold for the time being.

To keep my little blog ticking over in the meantime I thought I'd post about a recipe I made recently and put aside on the "to blog about" pile. This is a great muffin recipe, one of my favourites in fact. They are pretty healthy, quick to make and, unusually for muffins, they keep for ages. Oh, and, thanks to the energy-giving oats they'll definitely "keep you going" too - I love them for breakfast or as a mid-morning snack.

Feel-good muffins
(from Good Food Magazine February 2003)

175g/6oz self-raising flour
50g/2oz porridge oats
140g/5oz muscovado sugar (regular caster sugar also work just fine)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, beaten
150ml/1/4 pint buttermilk (a mix of half milk and half natural yoghurt works just as well)
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 tbsp sunflower oil
175g/6oz stoned prunes, chopped
85g/3oz pecans

1) Preheat the oven to 200c/gas 6/fan 180c. Line a muffin tray with 6-8 muffin cases.

2) Put the flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and mix together.

3) Beat the egg then stir in the buttermilk, vanilla and oil. Lightly stir the egg mixture into the flour.

4) Fold in the prunes and pecans.

5) Divide between the muffin cases then bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Serve warm or cold.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A Symbolic Gooseberry Tart

It's gooseberry season again and I have finally got around to making a gooseberry creme fraiche tart - something that's been on my to-do list for ages.

And why symbolic? Well, this tart is the result of the last proper baking session I shall have in my kitchen in it's present state. In a couple of days some nice men will be arriving to take the existing kitchen away and replace it with a nice shiny new one. So, goodbye annoying tiled worktops, goodbye horrid brown sink, goodbye "farmhouse style" brown units, it's been nice working with you but now it's time to move on.

But back to the tart. This particular recipe, Gooseberry Creme Fraiche Tart, comes from James Martin's Desserts. This is a lovely light, summery tart with lots of flavour from the gooseberries and any sharpness in the fruit nicely counterbalanced by the sweetness of the filling. It's also very straightforward to put together. The pastry, in particular, is a dream to roll out thanks to the addition of the egg.

Gooseberry Creme Fraiche Tart
(adapted from Desserts by James Martin)

For the pastry case - makes 300g
200g plain flour
pinch of salt
2 tbsp icing sugar
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp iced water

1) Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mix resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

2) Mix the egg with the water and slowly add to the flour/butter mix. Mix together until it forms a dough (you may not need all of the liquid). Form into a ball and wrap in cling film for about 30 minutes.

To assemble the tart
200g sweet shortcrust pastry (I put the rest in the freezer)
200ml creme fraiche
4 large egg yolks
1 whole egg
100g caster sugar
450g gooseberries, topped and tailed

1) Roll out the pastry and use to line a 23cm, 2.5cm deep, loose-bottomed, greased tart tin. Prick the base all over with a fork and brush with some of the egg white left over from the eggs for the filling.

2) Heat the oven to 190c/375f/gas 5 and put a baking tray in to heat up. Then place the tart tin on the baking tray and bake for 20 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 180c/350f/gas 4.

3) Whisk the creme fraiche, yolks, whole egg and sugar together.

4) Arrange the gooseberries in the pastry case and pour the creme fraiche mixture over the top. Return to the oven for a further 40-50 minutes or until the tart is light golden brown. Allow to cool before serving.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Sweet and Simple Bakes - Carrot Cake

This month's Sweet and Simple Bakes recipe is the classic carrot cake. If there is such a thing as a classic carrot cake recipe that is, as this is one of those cake recipes that seems to have endless variations. This particular recipe is certainly different from the one I usually turn to, which requires less carrot but the addition of a tin of crushed pineapple.

My contribution this month was a bit of a rushed affair as I only got around to making it the day before the deadline. No matter though as carrot cake is one of those cakes that doesn't seem to mind too much if you're in a bit of a hurry. No need to worry about creaming butter and sugar or beating the eggs in thoroughly. Apart from a bit of faffy carrot grating you just need to mix together the wet ingredients, add in the dry and there you have it.

And it takes just as little effort to eat it too. This recipe is definitely a good 'un - moist, full of flavour and great texture thanks to the sultanas and walnuts. The icing is lovely too - I was worried it might be too sweet but that turned not to be the case. Thanks S&SB - I'll be making this one again.

You can find the recipe here.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Unloved Cookbooks - The Best Part 2

The rediscovery of some of my loneliest cookbooks continues with the trial of two further recipes from The Best, the book from the series of the same name by Silvana Franco, Paul Merrett and Ben O'Donoghue.

Following on from last weeks post, where this project began, I selected two sweet recipes from the above book.

The first of these - Coffee and Pecan muffins from the "Best Sweet Breakfast" section - was, I'm afraid to say, not a great success. I'm well aware that some care needs to be taken when making muffins so that you don't overmix the batter and end up with stodgy muffins but I feel pretty sure that I mixed with due care and attention. Nevertheless these demonstrated the most unenthusiastic display of rising I've seen in a cake for some time.

And unenthusiastic pretty much sums up my feelings about the end result. On the first day they tasted OK I suppose - passably edible at any rate. Thereafter they just got progressively stodgier and I'm afraid to say the last few ended up in the bin (almost unheard of in this house). The coffee flavour was not particularly pronounced either. From a cooking perspective there really is nothing worse than a failed recipe is there? The waste of precious time and good ingredients is so infuriating! Ah well, onwards and upwards as they say. I will spare you the recipe - there are far better alternatives out there.

A couple of days later I had a go at the Peach and Raspberry Clafoutis from the "Best Summer Berry Dessert" section. This was definitely more successful, but not without it's problems. This was how is looked after the prescribed 10-12 minutes in the oven.

Pretty good you might think, however an investigative dig into the centre revealed that all bar the outside inch was still runny and most definitely not cooked.

So, I put in back in the oven and, after pacing the kitchen and peering in the oven for a further 10 or 15 minutes, I figured it was probably just about done and even if it wasn't I was jolly well going to eat it anyway.

Luckily it tasted delicious, particularly with a scoop of ice cream on the top. Not what I really expected though - I always thought that clafoutis was just a sweet sort of yorkshire pudding, but this was much lighter than that. A result, no doubt, of the 10 minutes of whisking given to the eggs. The recipe is as follows but be warned - don't turn off the oven until you're sure it's done!

Peach and Raspberry Clafoutis
(adapted from The Best as above)

4 eggs
140g/5oz caster sugar
300ml/10 fl oz double cream
1 tablespoon plain flour
1/2 tablespoon ground almonds
1 vanilla pod
2 peaches (peeled and chopped)
16 raspberries (I though 4 raspberries per person sounded a bit mean so added some more. In hindsight though I don't think this was necessary as the raspberries ended up overpowering the dish somewhat)

1) Whisk the eggs and caster sugar with an electric whisk until thick and the mixture holds its shape (this will take about 10 minutes and the mixture is now called a sabayon)

2) Lightly whip the cream and fold into the sabayon. Fold in the flour and ground almonds and carefully stir in the seeds of the vanilla pod.

3) Divide the peaches and raspberries between four individual oven-proof dishes. Pour over the clafoutis batter and bake for approximately 10-12 minutes (ha ha) at 180c/350f/gas 4 until golden.

I would tentatively call this recipe a success however I would like to try out a different clafoutis recipe at some point as a comparison.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

I have been given an award!

Wow, I go away for a few days and I come back to discover that my little blog has been given an award. Not only that but it's my very first award aswell so I'm doubly chuffed! It was given to me by Nora, whose blog Nora the Kitchen 'Splorer, I follow on a regular basis. I particularly love her "Wednesday Round up of Deliciousness" - one of those great "Why didn't I think of that" ideas and a wonderful source of inspiration.

So here are the rules for the Kreativ Blogger award:

1 Thank the person who has given you the award
2 Copy the logo and paste it on your blog
3 Link to the person who nominated you for the award -> Here it is again!
4 Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting
5 Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers
6 Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate
7 Leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know they've been nominated

So...7 interesting things about me...hmmm...ok...

1 I was born and bred on the lovely island of Jersey and if I ever find enough money to buy a house there I may just go back
2 If I ever get the chance I would love to have a second home in Italy
3 I studied Biology at university but now work in financial services (so my science degree is coming in really handy). In an ideal world though I'd be a professional food blogger : )
4 I am in the process of preparing for the installation of a new kitchen which, as you might expect, is a pretty big deal for someone who loves cooking so much. Needless to say I am VERY excited.
5 My most recent cookbook purchase was In the Mood for Entertaining by Jo Pratt
6 My favourite film is The Shawshank Redemption
7 My least favourite foods are olives and coriander

And now for my nominations:

1 Cooking the Books - this was one the first food blogs I came across. Kelly-Jane's posts always make me want to cook what she's written although I do hold her entirely responsible for my recent book purchase (see above) following her write up about it.
2 A Cracking Good Egg - I love KJ's writing style and I have to keep reading now just to see if she ever gets her KitchenAid!
3 A Spoonful of Sugar - this is another really well written blog with great photographs that make me wish I had a better camera!
4 Culinary (Mis) Adventures! - a great blog with so many appealing recipes
5 Batter Splattered - I love to read blogs from other countries and there's something about this one, which comes from Alaska, that I particularly like
6 The Ginger Gourmand - I love reading about this London-based blogger's restaurant visits and other excursions in and around the capital
7 The Goddess' Kitchen - Sooo many fabulous cake recipes I just don't know where to start!

So, thanks again to Nora for the award - you've made my week : )

Friday, 10 July 2009

My Next Project - Unloved Cookbooks

I have amassed a fair number of cook books over the years. Some of them I return to time and time again, some are reliable reference books, some I take to bed with me now and then to look at the pictures and plan some fantasy dinner party or baking bonanza (I'm not the only person who does this right?!). A few, however, get overlooked entirely for one reason or another - maybe the recipes didn't appeal to me as much as I thought they would or take more time to make than I have available. Some have just been superseded over time by new favourites.

So, in an effort to get a bit more value for money out of some of these poor rejects I have chosen a selection of the most unloved from my shelves and have set myself the challenge of cooking two or three recipes from each one.

The books I have selected are as follows:

The Best - Silvana Franco, Paul Merrett & Ben O'Donoghue
Sunday Lunch - Gordon Ramsey
Indian Food Made Easy - Anjum Anand
Everyday - Bill Granger
Real Fast Food - Nigel Slater
The River Cottage Cookbook - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Jamie's Italy - Jamie Oliver

The first book off the top of the pile is The Best by Silvana Franco, Paul Merrett and Ben O'Donoghue. You may remember the BBC series where the aformentioned each had to create a dish based on a different theme every week, for example Best Sweet Breakfast, Best Summer Soup etc. I really enjoyed the programme and bought the book off the back of it but I can't remember the last time I actually cooked a recipe from it.

So, here are the first two I've tried....

Curried Scrambled Eggs

I nearly didn't make this - I just couldn't get my head round the egg/curry combination. However, I'm really glad I did as it actually tasted great and was a nice change from regular scrambled eggs. A perfect dish for lunch or a light dinner.

1 Naan Bread, warmed as per instructions (I used two small ones)
a large knob of butter
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
a pinch of cumin seeds
3 eggs (this seemed like quite a lot to me so I just used two)
1-2 teaspoons curry paste
a handful of coriander leaves
S & P

1) Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and cook the spring onions and cumin seeds for a minute or so until beginning to soften.

2) Meanwhile whisk together the eggs and curry paste together with two tablespoons of cold water and some salt and pepper. Pour into the pan and leave for a minute or two.

3) Continue to cook for another couple of minutes, stirring until almost set. Stir in the coriander leaves and spoon on to the warmed naan.

Goat's Cheese & Cranberry Toast

Now this was really good. So easy and SO yummy! I reckon this would make a great dinner party starter if you scaled down the portions a bit. I will be making this again a LOT.

1 thick slice of sourdough bread *
1-2 teaspoons of cranberry or redcurrant jelly
100g/4oz disc of goats cheese
about 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
a handful of wild rocket leaves
balsamic vinegar

* I couldn't find sourdough bread so just used a slice of plain white bread, which was fine but a bit on the thin side. Next time I'll cut myself a nice thick slice from an unsliced loaf.

1) Toast the bread on one side under a medium grill. Spread the jelly on the uncooked side and sit the cheese on top. Drizzle over some olive oil and season.

2) Return to the grill for 3-4 minutes until the cheese is golden and beginning to melt. Top with a handful of rocket leaves and a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

A good start by all accounts. I also have my eye on a couple of sweet recipes in this book and will report back in a few days.