Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Nigella's Baked Alaska

This is my last post for a few days, so I thought I would go out with a showstopper, Nigella's baked Alaska.  Surprisingly easy to make and even easier if you buy the sponge cake base ready made. I did make the base and it was lovely.  I have been meaning to give this dessert a try for a while, and Christmas seemed like a good time to give it a go. Thank you to everyone who has supported and followed my blog over the last year. I wish each and everyone of you a very Happy Christmas and a happy and healthy 2014. 

Serves 8 -10
100g butter
6 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
100g plain flour
25g cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
finely grated zest of a lemon

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Butter and line the bottom of a 25cm springform tin with baking parchment. If using a processor, put yolks (reserve the whites for later), butter, sugar, flour, cornflour, baking powder, lemon zest and vanilla in a bowl and blitz to a thick, smooth yellow batter. Or beat by hand, creaming the butter and sugar and then beating in egg yolks, then vanilla and zest and finally the dry ingredients. 
Spread into the bottom of the prepared tin and bake for 12-15 mins until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the shallow Alaska base cool for a little in the tin on a wire rack before unmoulding, and let it cool completely before the next stage.  

6 egg whites
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar ( I did not have this)
200g caster sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
2 x 500ml tubs of ice cream

Preheat the oven to the hottest it will go and make sure that the shelf is down low.
Whisk the egg whites until they are foamy, then add the salt and cream of tartar and continue whisking until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition by which time you should have a thick and glossy meringue mixture. Fold in the vanilla extract.
Allow the ice cream to soften enough to make round balls with an ice cream scoop. Place the sponge onto a lined baking sheet and using both tubs make a mountain of ice cream in the middle of the sponge. Leave a good edge of sponge around the outside. Pile the meringue over the top of the ice cream and completely cover the sponge top and sides, creating a mountainous swirly effect. Make sure there is no ice cream showing through as it will melt in the oven if not protected by the meringue.
Put the as yet unbaked Alaska on it's baking sheet into the oven for the barest of 5 minutes, don't leave it unattended and do not remove until the meringue has turned a golden colour. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

Baked Ham with Delia's Cumberland Sauce

Most meat eaters have a ham over the Christmas period. I cooked one the other night for an impromptu, early festive dinner with my parents, sister and family. I forget how lovely and relatively simple a cooked ham is. This piece was a smoked Wiltshire joint from tesco (half price at the moment) which served 10 - 12. I cooked it for just less than 2½ hours. I served mine with delicious Cumberland sauce, such a wonderful and worthwhile accompaniment. It can be made in advance and warmed up again. I roasted some potatoes, carrots and steamed some sprouts. I also made a lovely dish of braised red cabbage and then forgot to serve it. I have frozen it for future use. 

Cumberland Sauce
Serves 8
1 medium lemon
1 medium orange
4 heaped tablespoons of redcurrant jelly
4 tablespoons port
1 heaped teaspoon of mustard powder
1 heaped teaspoon ground ginger

First, thinly pare off the zest of both the lemon and the orange, using a potato peeler, then cut them into very small strips ½ inch (1 cm) long and as thin as possible. Boil them in water for 5 minutes to extract any bitterness, then drain well. (I didn't do this stage and just used the juices of the lemon and the orange)
Now place the redcurrant jelly in a saucepan with the port and melt, whisking them together over a low heat for about 5 or 10 minutes.
In a serving bowl, mix the mustard and ginger with the juice of half the lemon until smooth, then add the juice of the whole orange, the port and redcurrant mixture, and finally the strips of lemon and orange zest. Mix well and the sauce is ready to use.
Cumberland sauce stores well in a screw-top jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Marzipan fruits

Rachel and I had a productive couple of hours yesterday afternoon with a packet of marzipan and some food colouring. These little fruits are something of a tradition for me ever since I learnt how to make them over 25 years ago on a cookery course. By using cloves and methods for texturing the fruit they do look surprisingly realistic. Roll the strawberries in caster sugar and the oranges and lemons on a small grater to get the pitted look. My intention was to give them for presents, but Rachel has decided we should keep them for ourselves. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Gingerbread Hearts and Stars

How pretty do they look for a very quick and easy, thoughtful gift? I think anything wrapped in cellophane and tied with a ribbon looks good though. I made the dough in the food processor in 3 stages, but I'm sure that I could have put all the ingredients in in one go and the mixture would have formed a dough. A nice gift for the children to make for family members perhaps? The recipe is from an Usbourne book I bought years ago for the children called 'Christmas cooking kit'. It has been a very handy book over the years. The same recipe could be used to make a gingerbread house, if you have the skill and the time. Take a look at this amazing one for inspiration from Elizabeth at Elizabeths Kitchen Diary. I wouldn't know where to start. 

makes approx 20

350g plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
100g of butter or margarine
175g soft light brown sugar
1 medium egg
4 tablespoons golden syrup

Sift the flour, ground ginger and bicarbonate of soda together. Add the butter or margarine, cut into small chunks.
Rub the butter into the flour until it is like fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.
Break the egg into a bowl, add the syrup, beat well and stir into the flour.
Mix well until it comes together into a ball (add a little more syrup if necessary), then knead thoroughly on a floured surface until you have a smooth dough.
Divide the dough into halves, roll out one half until about 5mm thick, cut into shapes with cookie cutters, and place on a baking sheet, lined with greaseproof paper.
Bake at 190ºC  for 12 to 15 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

TIme to ice

If you haven't already done so, now might be a good time to get the icing on the cake. I covered the cake in marzipan last week and today I applied the icing. Yes, it looks like a duplicate of last years cake, but I do like the snow scene theme. I used Tate and Lyle Royal icing. This proved much less runny and challenging than my icing session last year. 

Monday, 16 December 2013

Clementine and Grand Marnier Tiramisu

I love tiramisu and was really intrigued with this recipe which uses clementine juice to soak the sponge fingers in rather than the traditional coffee. I wasn't disappointed, and though I didn't buy enough mascarpone, so the cream was not as thick as it should have been, the dessert was still wonderful. Perfect for a festive dessert with the use of these christmassy fruits. I'm sure the grand mariner could be substituted for other alcohol, such as brandy, Cointreau or perhaps a sweet sherry. I found the recipe on a blog I have mentioned previously called 'Mondomulia'. The following link will take you to the recipe, complete with beautiful photographs. The blog is well worth a visit.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Nigella's Sticky Gingerbread

I wanted to make something Christmassy to take to a friends house for lunch today. This dark, treacly gingerbread certainly fits the bill. I have just lifted the cake tin lid and have been greeted with the most delicious smell. I should have made mine in a slightly bigger tin (I used a square brownie tin) as I felt it was too thick and a little stodgy in the middle. However it still tastes wonderful. The recipe is taken from Nigella's 'Christmas' Cookbook, it's really easy to make and can keep for up to 2 weeks once cooked. A nice homemade Christmas present perhaps?

Makes 20 squares
150g butter
200g golden syrup
200g black treacle or molasses
125g dark muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons finely grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, dissolved in 2 x 15ml tablespoons warm water
250ml full-fat milk
2 eggs, beaten to mix
300g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a roasting tin or ovenproof dish (approx. 30cm x 20cm x 5cm) with Bake-O-Glide, foil or baking parchment (if using foil, grease it too). In a saucepan, melt the butter over a lowish heat along with the sugar, syrup, treacle, fresh and ground gingers, cinnamon and cloves.
Take off the heat, and add the milk, eggs and dissolved bicarbonate of soda in its water.
Measure the flour into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until well mixed. It will be a very liquid batter, so don’t worry. This is part of
what makes it sticky later.
Pour it into the prepared tin and bake for 45–60 minutes until risen and firm on top. Try not to overcook, as it is nicer a little stickier, and anyway it will carry on cooking as it cools.
Transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the gingerbread cool in the tin before cutting into 20 squares, or however you wish to slice it.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Sweet mince pies with Mary Berry's pastry

My first batch of homemade mince pies this year. Again I used a pastry recipe from Mary Berry. Yesterday, I put all the ingredients in the processor together and the result was perfect. I don't consider myself to be a good pastry maker. I made about 16 mince pies with the amount of pastry the recipe states. I haven't attempted homemade mincemeat yet, but can definitely recommend the specially selected one from Aldi. It's suitable for vegetarians too. 

The pastry recipe can be found on the following link. Tarte au Citron.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Pancetta and asparagus salad with a poached egg

A runnier poached egg would have been preferable in this simple lunch, but otherwise it was quite delicious. I used pancetta pieces, but bacon would work equally as well. Steam the asparagus until tender then mix with the bacon and salad leaves. Lightly poach a boiled egg and place on top of your salad. Dress the salad with your choice of dressing. 

Friday, 29 November 2013

Sweet and salty nut crunch bars

Skip this page if you are trying to watch the calories in the countdown to Christmas. I certainly should be. I made this deliciously rich, indulgent chocolate bar to take to a friends house on Sunday.
The recipe is from 'Nigellas Kitchen' cookbook. Talking of Nigella, I'm hoping the latest scandal about her this week isn't true, though it will explain why she's always raiding the fridge in the middle of the night. A bad case of the munchies maybe?

Cuts into 24 small slices 
200g  dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate
125g butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup
250g salted peanuts
4 x 40 gr Crunchie bars
1 foil tray, approximately 30 x 20 x 5 cm or a springform 8" cake tin

In a saucepan, break up the chocolates into pieces and add the butter and golden syrup. Melt gently under low heat.
Tip the peanuts into a bowl and crush the Crunchie bars, letting the rubble falls into the nuts.
Take the melted chocolate mixture off the heat and stir in the peanuts and crushed Crunchie bars, then tip straight to the foil tray. Smooth the top of the mixture and put it in the fridge for about four hours before cutting into slices as desired.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Spiced prawn and coconut pilaf

I was fortunate enough to have all the ingredients for this meal I found on the BBC Goodfood website last night. It saved me an unwanted shopping trip. A bag of raw prawns in the freezer and a well stocked spice cupboard is a really good standby. Even better Steve cooked last night, he is a little slow on the chopping front, but I can handle that if he is happy to do the cooking.  A very flavoursome, reasonably easy to make meal. 

Serves 4
250g basmati rice, washed well
small piece fresh root ginger, roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
5 black peppercorns
½ cinnamon stick
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1 medium onion, finely sliced
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
300g raw prawns, peeled
handful flaked unsweetened coconut, to serve

Cook the rice according to pack instructions, then set aside. Put the ginger, garlic and tomatoes into a food processor, blend to make a paste, then set aside until you’re ready to cook.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan and add the whole spices. Once they sizzle, add the onion, frying over a medium heat for about 10 mins until soft. Add the ground spices and paste, then cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally until the sauce has released the oil back into the pan. Add the prawns, then cook for a few mins until cooked through – the mixture should be quite dry and paste-like.
Stir the cooked rice into the pan to coat it well in the spices. Make sure the rice is heated through, then serve scattered with the coconut.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Hairy Bikers mushroom, feta and tomato baked peppers

I can not praise this recipe enough. It was without a doubt one of the nicest meals I have cooked in a long time. I could tell when I was cooking up the filling that it was going to be good, as the smells were making my mouth water. This is NOT to be saved for those times when you need a recipe for a vegetarian guest. Although It would make a really lovely vegetarian dish on Christmas day, the nuts and bread crumbs with the mushrooms gave it a nut roast kind of feel. I'll be cooking it again this week with the rest of the goats cheese. All the ingredients are available from Aldi. An added bonus is the recipe is from 'The Hairy Dieters' cookbook and the meal has only 401 calories per serving. 

Serves 2
4 sun-dried tomatoes pieces in oil, drained well
2 tsp sunflower oil

175g chestnut mushrooms, wiped and diced
20g blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove peeled and crushed
50g of dry white bread crumbs
½ small bunch of parsley (I did not have this)
1 tsp chilli flakes
100g feta cheese or soft goats cheese
2 smallish peppers, red or yellow

freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220ºC, Roughly chop up the sundried tomatoes. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and stir fry the mushrooms over a high heat for 4 minutes.
Add the roughly chopped hazelnuts and fry for a further minute until the nuts are lightly toasted. Season with a good grind of black pepper and remove from the heat.
Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, breadcrumbs, parsley and chilli flakes until thoroughly combined. Break the cheese into small chunks and toss them through the stuffing lightly. Cut the peppers in half from top to bottom and carefully remove the seeds and membrane.
Place the peppers in a small foil lined roasting tin, cut side up, and fill each half with the mushroom and feta stuffing. Cover the surface of the stuffing with a small piece of foil. Bake for 25 minutes until tender, removing the foil for the last 10 minutes of the cooking time. Serve warm with a lightly dressed mixed salad. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

No fuss Christmas cake 2013

I can't believe it's coming up to that time of year again, so on a free day yesterday I decided to make my Christmas cake. Not that you need a full day to make this cake, it's so easy and quick to make. Have a head start and soak the fruit overnight and it will only take a few hours. Some of you may remember I posted the same recipe last year, some of you may have even made it. I know one friend who made it who didn't usually make one. I forgot to ask her what she thought of it. Jane M was it nice?
I just love the smell of christmas cakes baking in the oven. The whole house is filled with a fruity, christmasy aroma. Give this recipe a try if it's your first attempt at a Christmas cake. It's a really simple, there is no lengthy list of ingredients and it doesn't need to be made months in advance.

cuts in 24 slices
250g  each plump raisins and sultanas 
100g dried cranberries or blueberries (I always use cranberries)
200g natural glace cherries, halved 
200ml vanilla vodka (or normal vodka with 2 tbsp vanilla extract)
150g roasted Marcona almonds ( I use 150g pre-ground almonds)
200g  unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing 
200g unrefined dark muscovado sugar 
4 medium eggs, beaten 
100g  plain flour 

Put the raisins, sultanas, dried cranberries and cherries in a large bowl. Add the vodka and stir well. Cover and leave to soak for 2-3hr or overnight. 
Grease and line the base and sides of a 8in round tin with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 150ºC. If using whole almonds, put the almonds in a food processor and blend lightly until coarsely chopped. Tip out 75g and blend the remainder until ground. (no need for this step if you are using ground almonds from a packet).
Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with a handheld electric whisk for 2-3min until light and creamy. Gradually whisk in the beaten eggs, adding a little of the flour if the mixture starts to curdle. (mine often looks like it is starting to curdle) Stir in the ground and chopped nuts (or just add the bag of ground almonds) and flour. 
Tip the soaked fruit mixture into the bowl with any unabsorbed liqueur. Mix well, then spoon into the prepared tin and level the surface. Bake for 3½ (check at 3 hours mine is usually done then) or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and wrap in a double thickness of foil until ready to decorate. Once baked you can boost the cakes vanilla flavour by dousing with extra vodka before wrapping it it and storing it.

Note: While the cake is baking I place a piece of grease proof paper on the top of the tin. Cut a hole the size of a 50p piece coin in the middle of it. This will help stop the top of the cake burning. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bacon and cauliflower pasta

What a great way to use up the cauliflower which had been in the fridge for a while. I made slightly more cheese sauce than the recipe stated, and as I didn't have Dijon mustard, used English mustard in it's place. This is another recipe from BBC Goodfood website and a great mid week dinner. 

Serves 4
200g streaky bacon
300g dried pasta
1 cauliflower, cut into large florets
25g butter
25g plain flour
300ml milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
140g cheddar, grated
1 soft wholemeal roll, whizzed to breadcrumbs
salad, to serve, (optional)

Heat the grill to high and bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Grill the bacon slices for 5 mins or until crispy, then drain on kitchen paper and cut into small pieces.
Cook the pasta following pack instructions. Add the cauliflower to the pasta pan for the final 8 mins, so that it is just tender, then drain, reserving 2 tbsp of the cooking water.
Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat, then stir in the flour and cook for a couple of mins. Gradually stir in the milk, mixing well between each addition. Bring to a simmer, then cook for a few mins until thickened. Season, add the mustard and half the grated cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth.
Tip the pasta and cauliflower back into the pan along with the reserved cooking water. Stir through the cheese sauce and bacon, then transfer the mix to a baking dish. Mix together the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese, then sprinkle over the pasta. Cook for 5 mins under the grill until browned. Serve with a salad, if you like.

Note: I put the baking dish into the oven instead of under the grill. I cooked it for about 15 mins at 200ºC, until the breadcrumbs were nice and crispy.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Oriental Salmon traybake

A traybake recipe says to me effortless cooking. I feel that my meal recipes have been few and far between for the last few weeks, so here is a great one to get back into the swing of things. I found the recipe on the BBC Goodfood website. I used broccoli stems instead of a head of broccoli. The comments on the website suggest parboiling the broccoli first otherwise it will be undercooked. The stems however were really lovely cooked this way, tinged brown and crispy, very like crispy seaweed from Chinese restaurants. I sprinkled on a few dried chilli flakes for extra flavour.

serves 4
4 skin-on salmon fillets
1 head broccoli, broken into florets
juice ½ lemon, ½ lemon quartered
small bunch spring onions, sliced
2 tbsp soy sauce

Heat oven to 180C. Put the salmon in a large roasting tin, leaving space between each fillet.
Wash and drain the broccoli and, while still a little wet, arrange in the tray around the fillets. Pour the lemon juice over everything, then add the lemon quarters.
Top with half the spring onions, drizzle with a little olive oil and put in the oven for 14 mins. Remove from the oven, sprinkle everything with the soy, then return to the oven for 4 mins more until the salmon is cooked through. Sprinkle with the remaining spring onions just before serving.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Roll out Brownie cookies

I came across these cookies whilst browsing through a blog I follow called 'Mondomulia'. Rachel was 14 a few weeks ago, and in a moment of lapse concentration I consented to her having a party with 24 girls at a local gymnastics centre. I think they wanted to feel like little people again. I made a big batch of these cookies to take with me. They were very easy to make, I put all the ingredients together in the food processor, which did the work for me. I want to try them again as my cookies didn't retain the shape of the precooked cookie, unlike the ones in the photos on Mondomulia. I may have had the oven too hot or the cookies too thin. Regardless of the shape they were delicious and disappeared off the plate like hot cakes. The blog is worth a look for the recipes and the photography, it puts mine to shame. 

Makes abut 36 cookies
375g plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
225g lightly salted butter, softened
300g sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
60g unsweetened cocoa

Whisk the sifted flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
Mix the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa in a mixer. Gradually add the flour mixture, and mix until smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least one hour or overnight.
Preheat oven at 175 ºC. Roll out the cookie dough on a floured counter. Cut the cookies out and brush extra deposits of flour off the top (although the flour will disappear once baked). Work quickly as the dough becomes sticky as it warms up.
Bake the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (depending how thick your cookies are) until the edges are firm and the centers are slightly soft and puffed.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Instead of party bags I made the girls a vanilla cupcake from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, iced with Vanilla frosting. There were appreciative sounds all around. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Nespresso coffee machine

The promise of a good coffee is one of the things I jump or should I say crawl out of bed for in the morning. I'm incredibly fussy when it comes to coffee, and object to paying for a cup of hot milk with just a taste of coffee. We bought a Nespresso machine about 4 years ago, and have been enjoying wonderful coffee at home since.  The capsules are around 30p each, not much considering how much you pay for a coffee when you go out to a cafe. I can assure you the coffee is every bit as nice, if not better than a lot of coffee places. I have always just ordered two types of capsules, a strong decaffinated one,(Decaffeinato Intenso) and a strong caffeinated one, (Arpeggio), both which make a wonderful cappuccino/latte or a full flavoured espresso. There is a wide choice of strengths and flavours to choose from, but I just make it simple, decaff or caffeinated. The top of the coffee has the wonderful crema, just like the best coffee machines. The secret is to stop the water going through the capsule after the first strong hit of the coffee. The first coffee coming out will be dark and strong, anything after that will be weaker and bitter. Of course the milk is important too and a good milk frother is essential. I bought a great one in Aldi last year, it heats the milk and froths it to the perfect consistency. They stocked them again this year, at the slightly more expensive price of £17.99.
There is a large range of Nespresso machines on the market now, some basic like mine, some much more fancier looking, some with milk frothers. On checking the John Lewis website the identical one to mine is £70 at the moment, this includes a gift certificate for £40 to purchase the nespresso capsules. Infact all the machines have this offer on at the moment. The more expensive the machine the more money towards the coffee. I think that having to order the coffee capsules on line may put people off, but the ordering process is quick and easy. The deliveries usually arrive the next day even on the free delivery option. 
So if you are struggling for Christmas presents this year and have a coffee lover in the midst, this gadget may be your answer.

Note: I am not being paid to advertise Nespresso machine, just spreading the good word.

John Lewis website

Nespresso coffee and machines

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Coq au Vin

This is the first photo I have used on my blog which isn't my own. The photo is a shot from 'Delicious Magazine'. My own picture of this meal didn't do justice to the dish. This wonderful traditional French dish, needs little introduction, it's just one of the perfect casseroles. There are hundreds of recipes for Coq au Vin, but I chose the Delia one, from the 'Complete Illustrated Cookery Course' book. It didn't disappoint as a meal for our friends in half term. My recipe did not include celery and carrots as shown on the photo, but these vegetables could be added at the start of cooking.

Serves 4
8 pieces of chicken, or a 2.5 kg chicken jointed (I used chicken thighs)
725 ml red wine
25g butter
1 rounded tablespoon of butter and 1 level tablespoon of flour, combined to make a smooth paste
1 tbsp of oil
225g unsmoked streaky bacon
16 button onions
2 garlic cloves
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
225g dark gilled mushrooms
salt and freshly milled black pepper
chopped fresh parsley to ganish (optional)

Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan, and fry the chicken joints, skin side down, until they are nicely golden; then turn them and colour the other side. You may have to do this in three or four batches – don't overcrowd the pan. Remove the joints from the pan with a draining spoon, and place them in the cooking pot. This should be large enough for the joints to be arranged in one layer yet deep enough so that they can be completely covered with liquid later.
Now de-rind and cut the bacon into fairly small cubes, brown them also in the frying pan and add them to the chicken, then finally brown the onions a little and add them too. Next place the crushed cloves of garlic and the sprigs of thyme among the chicken pieces, season with freshly milled pepper and just a little salt, and pop in a couple of bay leaves. Pour in the wine, put a lid on the pot and simmer gently for 45-60 minutes or until the chicken is tender. During the last 15 minutes of the cooking, add the mushrooms and stir them into the liquid.
Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and place them on a warmed serving dish and keep warm. (Discard the bay leaves and thyme at this stage.) Now bring the liquid to a fast boil and reduce it by about one third. Next, add the butter and flour paste to the liquid. Bring it to the boil, whisking all the time until the sauce has thickened, then serve the chicken with the sauce poured over. If you like, sprinkle some chopped parsley over the chicken and make it look pretty.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Red Velvet Cake

I can't take any of the credit for this beautiful cake, apart from the photograph. It was Steve's birthday yesterday and I didn't find the time to make a cake. Thankfully my mum-in-law was more organised than me. The recipe for the cake comes from 
Rachel Allen's 'Bake' cookbook, and the vanilla frosting comes from 'The Hummingbird Bakery' Cookbook. Find both links for the recipes below. The cake was extremely light and moist with gorgeous vanilla flavours. A special cake for all occasions. 

Friday, 25 October 2013

Salad with chorizo, sunblush tomatoes and mozzarella

Sometimes I get a bit fed up of sandwiches at lunch time and yesterday fancied something a little different. This is superb and very quick to put together. I bought a bag of salad and a pot of mixed tomatoes and mozzarella. Mixed together with a few slices of fried chorizo, lunch was a lot more interesting. It would make a really nice starter too. Leave the chorizo out for a veggie version. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Slow roast belly of pork

I felt I was in a Gastropub tonight with this meal. I bought the belly of pork yesterday at Marks and Spencer and just followed the cooking instructions on the packet. I did turn the heat up for the last 20 minutes just to make sure the skin became crispy, and I didn't cook it for the full 2½ hours. More like 2 hours. It is incredibly tasty, probably due to the fat content, which let's face it does provide the taste.  I accompanied the pork with creamy mashed potato and savoy cabbage, with an apple sauce. The apples haven't made it into chutney yet.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Apple tarte tartin

My mums apple trees have had a huge crop of apples this year. I'm going to give chutney a try this week with the latest bag. I made this tarte a couple of weeks ago to take to a friends house for lunch, the recipe came from the Waitrose magazine. I don't have a frying pan that I can put in the oven, (note to self for Christmas) so I used a cake tin with a loose bottom. As a result I lost a lot of the lovely caramel sauce, as it seeped out the bottom of the tin.

Serves 6
150g caster sugar
1 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise
50g butter, cubed
4-6 apples, peeled, cored and each cut into 6 wedges
215g sheet rolled puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Put the cinnamon, star anise and 5 tbsp water in a 20cm ovenproof frying pan and set over a low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved turn the heat to high and bubble for about 5 mins, until you have an amber caramel. Take off and remove and discard the spices, then melt the butter into the caramel, stirring.
Arrange the apples in the pan so all the caramel is covered. Cut a 20cm circle of puff pastry and prick all over with a fork. Carefully place the pastry over the apples, tucking it in at the edges.
Bake for 20 mins until the pastry is puffed up and golden.
Remove the tarte from the oven, let it stand for 5 minutes, before inverting onto a
plate.Serve at once with cream.

A very nice accompaniment would be,

250ml double cream
100g icing sugar
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Delia Smiths Frying pan pizza

The cupboards were well and truly empty tonight and it was a struggle to pull anything together given the shortage of ingredients present. Then I remembered a frying pan pizza recipe from Delia's Vegetarian Collection.  It's takes minutes to make and although not a traditional pizza dough, I really enjoyed it once it was topped with various bits from the fridge.

For the base:
225g self raising flour
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp of olive oil
4 tbsp of water
some fresh herbs (optional) 

Heat the oven to 200ºC
Sift the flour into a bowl along with the salt, some pepper and the herbs. Make a well in the centre and pour in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, followed by 4 tablespoons of water. Now mix to a soft (though not sticky) dough – you may find that you have to add a further tablespoon or so of water to get the right consistency.
Next, prepare a floured surface, turn the dough out on to it and knead lightly before rolling out to a round to fit the base of a 9-10 inch frying pan. Heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining olive oil in the pan, place the circle of dough in it and cook over a low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the base is lightly browned. Have ready an oiled plate and turn the pizza base out on to it. Then, after heating the remaining olive oil in the pan, slide the pizza back in and cook the reverse side for 5 minutes.
When the base is cooked on both sides spread the top with tomato puree add your desired toppings and cook in the oven for 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Nigel Slaters orange and lemon cheesecake

This is a really delicious baked cheesecake from Nigel Slaters 'Kitchen Diaries'. It's not something I would make regularly, the calorie content must be horrific, but it was for a special birthday dinner for my mum's 70th. Make sure the foil is wide enough to cover the sides of the tin you cook it in, as the water can seep in the sides if you're not careful. I think it did with mine a little, but it didn't spoil the lovely fudgy and creamy texture of this tangy cheesecake.   

Serves 12

80g butter
250g digestive biscuits
500g mascarpone cheese
200g cream cheese
150g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
An orange
A lemon
150ml double cream
Drop of vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a saucepan. In a food processor blitz the biscuits to a fine powder. Tip the biscuits into the butter and mix.
Set the oven to 140ºC
⅔ of the biscuit mixture into a 20-22cm loose bottomed cake tin. Set it in the freezer to chill. Put the kettle on to boil.
In a mixer, put the mascarpone, cream cheese, caster sugar, eggs and egg yolk and beat until smooth. Grate the orange and lemon zest and add to the mixture along with the cream, juice of the lemon and vanilla extract. Wrap the tin in 2 layers of foil so that water has no chance of seeping in then pour the cheesecake mixture on top of the crumbs. Pour the boiling water into a roasting tin so it comes half way up the cake tin, and then lower the cake tin into the roasting tin filled with boiling water.
Bake for 50 minutes, then switch off the oven and leave in there until cool.
Remove from the tin once cool and press the remaining biscuit crumbs around the side of the cheesecake.
Chill until eating.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Sticky sausages and balsamic vegetable bake

This very easy and tasty one pan dish is perfect for this time of year when the nights are drawing in. The meal was adapted from a recipe in  the waitrose magazine. For an even easier version buy sausages wrapped in bacon and ready to roast chopped vegetables.

Serves 4
A pack of good quality sausages
A few slices of bacon to wrap around the sausages
A pack of 3 peppers, chopped
2 courgettes, sliced
2 red onions, cut into large chunks
A ciabatta loaf
Balsamic glaze

Heat the oven to 200ºC.
Put the sausages wrapped in bacon and the vegetables in a roasting tray. Season and roast for 25-30 minutes, turning occasionally until cooked through. Cut the ciabatta into slices and add to the tray along with the vegetables and drizzle with the balsamic glaze. Roast for another five minutes until ciabatta is crisp.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Paul Hollywood's plain scones

Last Sunday we celebrated my nephew Max's 11th birthday with a traditional afternoon tea. I tried the recipe for plain scones from Paul Hollywood. I froze the  leftovers on the day of making them. Taking them out yesterday to defrost and not getting a chance to eat them, I expected them to be a bit past their best today. Maybe it's because everything tastes wonderful with clotted cream that they still tasted pretty good today. It seems like a rather long method for making scones, but it's quite straightforward.

Makes around 12 scones
500g strong bread flour, plus a little extra for rolling out
80g softened butter, plus a little extra to grease the baking tray
80g caster sugar
2 eggs
25g level tsp baking powder
250ml milk
1 free-range egg, beaten with a little salt (for glazing)

Weigh out the ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 220°C.
Lightly butter and line a flat baking tray with baking parchment or silicone paper (not greaseproof).
Put 450g of the flour into a large bowl and add the butter. Rub the flour and butter together with your fingers to create a crumble/breadcrumb-like mixture.
Add the sugar, eggs and baking powder and use a wooden spoon to turn the mixture gently. Make sure you mix all the way down to the bottom and incorporate all of the ingredients.
Now add half of the milk and keep turning the mixture gently with the spoon to combine. Then add the remaining milk a little at a time and bring everything together into a very soft, wet dough. You may not need to add all of the milk.
Put most of the remaining flour onto a clean work surface. Tip the soft dough onto the flour and sprinkle the rest of the flour on top. The mixture will be wet and sticky.
Lightly chaff the mixture - use your hands to fold the dough in half, and then turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. By folding and turning the mixture in this way, you incorporate the last of the flour and add air. Do this a few times until you’ve formed a smooth dough. If the mixture is too sticky use some extra flour to coat your hands or the mixture to make it more manageable. Be careful not to overwork your dough.
Next roll the dough out: sprinkle flour onto the work surface and the top of the dough. Use the rolling pin to roll up from the middle and then down from the middle. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat until it's about 2.5cm/1in thick. Relax the dough slightly by lifting the edges and allowing the dough to spring back.
Using a pastry cutter, stamp out rounds and place them onto the baking tray. Once you’ve cut 4 or 5 rounds you can re-work and re-roll the dough to make it easier to cut out the remaining rounds. Any left-over dough can be worked and rolled again using a rolling pin, but the resulting scones won’t be as fluffy.
Place the scones on the baking tray and leave them to rest for a few mins to let the baking powder work. Then use a pastry brush (or your finger if you don’t have a brush) to glaze them with the beaten egg and salt mixture. Be careful to keep the glaze on the top of the scones. If it runs down the sides it will stop them rising evenly.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 mins, or until the scones are risen and golden.
Leave the scones to cool, then split in half and add butter, jam and clotted cream to serve.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Sicilian sardine pasta

This was an interesting meal, very flavoursome, quite a lot going on. I wasn't sure if it was going to go down well with the children but they seemed to enjoy it. Steve loved it, but would have preferred more sardines, I only used one tin. It wouldn't be my first choice for a pasta meal, but it made a nice change. I found the recipe on the tesco website.

Serves 4

2-3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, halved, cored and chopped
1 heaped tsp fennel seeds, toasted
3 cloves garlic, chopped
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
4tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
60g (2oz) pine nuts, lightly toasted
45g (1½oz) currants
220g sardines, drained
350g (12oz) spaghetti
extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Heat the oil and sauté the onion, fennel, seeds, garlic and zest and gently cook until soft, about 10mins. Add the parsley, pine nuts and currants, then flake in the sardines. Season.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain and return to the pan. Add the sardine mixture and toss together gently. Try not to break up the sardines too much.
Serve with a splash of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Nigel Slater's moist plum cake

It's a good time of year to benefit from friends and neighbours fruit crops. We were asked to help ourselves to plums from a friends tree this weekend, which I did willingly. Avoiding all the wasps, sleepy and drunk from the over ripe plums, I came away with a lovely bag full. This recipe is from Nigel Slaters Kitchen Diaries, it can be eaten as a cake or warm as a pudding. Clotted cream is an extravagant but very necessary extra. 

150g butter
150g unrefined golden caster sugar
16 plums (size dependent, less if large plums)
3 large eggs
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
50g shelled walnuts (I didn't use these)

Set the oven at 175ºC. Line the base of a 20-22cm cake tin with baking parchment.
Beat the butter and sugar until it is pale and fluffy. A food mixer will do this far more efficiently than by hand. Stop when the mixture is light, soft and the colour of vanilla ice cream. Meanwhile, halve the plums, remove the stones, then cut each half in two.
Break the eggs, beat lightly with a fork, then add them bit by bit to the butter and sugar. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold them gently into the mixture. I do this with a large metal spoon rather than the food mixer. Fold in the ground almonds, then chop the walnuts so they are the size of small gravel, then fold them in, too.
Scrape the mixture into the cake tin. Place the quartered plums on the cake mixture. Bake for 40-45 minutes, then test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, the cake is ready. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 15 minutes before turning out.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Hunters chicken

Trying new recipes regularly is a good thing and keeps me interested in food, but it also means I forget to cook my favourites on a regular basis. Last night I made
Hunters chicken for the first time in ages. I had forgotten how delicious it is. Yesterday I served it with a pile of buttery mashed potato, which is always a winner. With the leftovers today, which were even tastier a day later, I served the chicken slightly shredded with pasta. It was a kind of chicken ragu, and worked really well as a pasta meal.