Thursday, 30 September 2010

A vegetarian tagine of aubergine, squash and chickpeas with preserved lemon

More Moroccan food? I was halfway through making this for lunch with a friend before realising that it was at the very least Moroccan inspired, if not an out-and-out love letter to Marrakesh!

Unsurprising really, as we were meeting to book hotels for the holiday, so clearly it was lingering on my mind...

Serves 4

1 large aubergine (about 350g), cut into large cubes
250g butternut squash, cut into slightly smaller cubes
1 can chick peas, drained
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 preserved lemons, skin only, chopped
1 fresh chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 tbsp honey
350ml light vegetable stock
300g passata
2 tsp ras el hanout
½ tsp each of cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cumin, ground black pepper and paprika
50g toasted flaked almonds
1 dried chilli, seeds removed, chopped
large bunch coriander

1) Fry the onion in the oil over a medium heat until translucent then add the spices, fresh chilli and preserved lemon and fry for a minute until it smells fragrant and nutty. Stir in the passata and stock, then add the honey, squash, aubergine and half the chick peas. Squash the other half of the chick peas with the flat of a knife, and add to the pan. As the stew cooks, they'll help it thicken.

3) Let the pot simmer for 45 mins, or until the vegetables are tender. Just before serving add some finely chopped coriander, and serve with a mountain of fluffy cous cous and scatter over the flaked almonds. If you find the chilli heat too much (or neglected to remove the seeds) this is very good with some creamy greek yoghurt on the side.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Tender caress of a good cookbook

When it comes to cook books, I love them all; the old ones with bad photos, the well-used ones with soup stains, and of course the ones you borrowed but 'forgot' to give back.

My mum has some excellent books from the 1970s with horrific photographs of green and purple dishes that all seem to include gelatin and a sprig of curly parsley on top.

I try not to indulge myself in this too much as my urban living space is rather confined and shelf space even tighter.  Still, once in a while a book comes along that I feel I just can't live without. The second volume of Nigel Slater's Tender is definitely one of those books.

The photography is as expected, exquisite.  Photographer Jonathan Lovekin takes beautiful images, full of character, that have a real empathy for the flaws and vagaries of the garden.  Not every apple is perfectly round or unblemished, but that's the point.  He revels in these quirks and produces heart-stoppingly wistful images from them.  Lovekin also worked with Yotam Ottolenghi on his latest book Plenty, but to my mind his photographs have something special in combination with Nigel Slater's food and philosophy.  I also like that the paper stock used is good quality, and feels nice to handle.  These things count you know...

And the recipes, well. I share Slater's attitude to food; constantly hungry, and determined to make even the simplest dish into something to be treasured and celebrated.  Whereas Tender volume one was devoted to vegetables, this is a long, loving gaze at the wondrous world of fruit.  On initial inspection, there are intriguing entries for roasted quince and a sweet black grape focaccia which I may be trying soon.  He also includes some flavour thesaurus style food matching suggestions which will come in handy when inspiration has left the building.

A perfect read for snuggling up under the covers with - just try not to salivate over your pillow.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Chargrilled tuna with fried green tomatoes and capers

Always a sucker for a bit of movie advertising, I've wanted to try fried green tomatoes for a long time, but it's hard to buy them in London.  Unless you grow your own, green tomatoes are a rare treat.

The last hardy survivors from my tomato patch are well suited here to cut the richness of the tuna and, quickly cooked, release their juices into the lemon and capers to make a light sauce. The unripened fruit hold their shape a little better than the red ones, so don't collapse completely into a debauched pulp.

I like my tuna pretty rare, still glistening deep pink and translucent in the centre. But if you prefer yours well done just add another minute to the cooking time.

Serves 2

2 (room temperature) tuna steaks about 15mm thick, and 1 tsp of olive oil
a couple of handfuls of green ro yellow cherry tomatoes, halved (red will work just as well)
2 tbsp capers
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
the segments of 1 large lemon
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp sugar
a large bunch of parsley, finely chopped
a bunch of chives, finely chopped

Some crusty bread and butter to serve

1) Lightly oil the tuna, then season lightly with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a griddle pan until smoking hot (better to open the windows before you do this!) then cook each side of the tuna for just 30 seconds to a minute, then transfer to a warm plate.

2) Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, then fry the garlic for a few seconds until light gold in colour before adding the tomatoes, capers, lemon and sugar. Fry for a minute (until the tomatoes are warmed through but not fully cooked) then add the chopped herbs and spoon over the tuna.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Butternut squash and white chocolate cupcakes

These are all fur coat and no knickers; the Jayne Mansfield of cupcakes.

Despite containing a hefty portion of wholesome butternut squash, they also squeeze in more butter, cream and white chocolate than is strictly decent. So better to shut the door and close the curtains unless you want the Jones's knowing what you get up to at the weekend...

Makes a dozen

225g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp ground allspice
50g chopped white chocolate
50g chopped walnuts
200g golden caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
120ml sunflower or vegetable oil
200g grated butternut squash

~for the cream cheese topping
300ml double cream
4 tbsp cream cheese
65g room temperature butter
4 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence

1) Sift together the flour, bicarb, baking powder and spices, and add the white chocolate and walnuts.  In a separate bowl, stir together the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla, then pour over the dry ingredients and carefully fold in.  When just combined, fold in the grated squash then spoon the mixture into cupcake moulds lined with paper cases.

2) Bake at 350f/180c/gas mark 4 for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.

3) To make the topping: Whisk the butter until smooth, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, and cream cheese.  Add the double cream, and whisk until thick but not dry.  When the cakes have completely cooled, either pipe on the cream or use a knife to spread over each one.  Top with a few chopped walnuts, some white chocolate shards or a little cocoa powder.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

A supersauce for leafy greens

This simple sauce transforms all kinds of leafy greens into something wonderful. I've never come across another that is made this way - where the flavours mingle with the heat of the oil but not through direct cooking.

My mum used to make this to eat with simply poached chicken and rice, often with broccoli, pak choi or some other steamed vegetables on the side. She's finally adapted to living in England to the point that she does meat and two veg, even if it is a rather unconventional version!

Try this with broccoli, pak choi, choi sum, curly kale, spring greens, spinach, green beans, mange tout, sweet chard...well, you get the idea. It's also delicious over white fish, but a bowl of fluffy steamed white rice is obligatory.

Serves 2

200g purple sprouting broccoli, washed and with ends trimmed
3 tbsp of a neutral oil, like ground nut, vegetable or sunflower
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
the green parts of 2 spring onions, very finely chopped
half a red chilli, finely chopped

1) Steam the broccoli for 3-4 minutes, until the colour has changed from purple to green and the stalks are tender

2) Heat the oil in a small pan, and place all other ingredients into a small heatproof bowl. When the oil is smoking hot, pour it over the chopped ingredients. It should pop and crackle as the oil hits the leaves. Give it a quick stir, then season with a good grind of salt. Spoon a little over the vegetables and serve the rest on the side for dipping.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Spiced broad beans with yoghurt and bruschetta

My mind has been wandering to all things Moroccan in anticipation of a trip to Marrakesh next month. I love that middle eastern/ mediterranean spicing vibe so I'm looking forward to being surprised by some new flavours while I'm there.

Although I try not to be swayed by those intoxicating images of exoticism that belie Morocco's place in the modern world, I'm told that stories of the dreamlike mountains of heady spices, dried fruits and olives in the markets of Marrakesh are true.  I can't wait to ignore my tourist maps and get lost in the winding alleyways of the souk...

The spice in this dish, ras el hanout, is a complex blend which contains a bewildering array of individual spices including cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, black pepper, nutmeg and cardamom. It's a rather nifty shortcut if you want to add an aromatic lift to a dish and also works well in marinades (say, grilled halloumi or mackerel) or scattered over potato wedges before baking.

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 for lunch

450g fresh or frozen broad beans
150g greek yoghurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
a small bunch of mint, finely chopped
1½ tsp ras el hanout
1 tsp ground cumin
the grated rind of a lemon
2 dried chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
6 tbsp panko breadcrumbs (or grated from a stale loaf)
8 x 1cm slices of ciabatta, brushed with olive oil

1) Boil the beans for 3 minutes if fresh or 5 if frozen, and shell into a bowl. Dress with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and the mint and season with a little salt.

2) Put the remaining oil into a pan and fry the breadcrumbs, lemon zest and spices for a couple of minutes over a low heat until crisp and fragrant. Toast the ciabatta for a couple of minutes on either side in a griddle pan.

3) Swirl the yoghurt in a thick layer over a small plate, then spoon over the broad beans and top with the crispy breadcrumbs. To serve, heap generous amounts onto the bruschetta, and enjoy with a glass of fresh mint tea.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A salted caramel sigh of happiness

This is an inexcusably decadent sauce, rich with butter and cream and guaranteed to have you sneaking back for another taste. I'm not generally given to Nigella-esque moments of ecstatic moaning over food as I lick my fingers, but this was an exception to the rule! I served this recently, swirled into ice cream, at a supper for friends - one of whom was so taken with it that he spirited away the jar at the end of the evening. Cheeky blighter.

There must be a thousand and one uses for this sauce, but here are a few that I've made a mental note to try:

~ in a steamed pudding, perhaps mixed with pecan nuts?
~ melted with a little dark chocolate and drizzled over poached pears
~ spooned over baked apples or peaches
~ stirred into my morning porridge, with brazil nuts
~ over chopped banana, on fluffy american-style pancakes

...or just eaten straight from the jar, spoon by spoon. And no regrets.

Makes one large jar.

1 cup golden caster sugar
¼ cup water
2 tbsp golden syrup
150ml double cream
35g butter
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla essence

1) Bring the water, sugar and syrup to the boil, then allow to cook to a dark golden colour. It should smell like honeycomb when it reaches this point.

2) Take off from the heat and carefully whisk in the cream, vanilla, butter and salt until the sauce is smooth.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Lemony heaven

Nothing wakes up a jaded palate like the refreshing and zingy flavours in a lemon tart; the generous amount of juice works here to counterpoint the richness of the cream and egg yolks. I made this with a very short pastry, full of butter and ground almonds - almost like an almond shortbread crust.

The lemon slices are time consuming but not difficult to make and have a lovely jammy consistency. But if you're pressed for time, omit the slices and sieve over a light dusting of icing sugar when the tart has completely cooled.

Makes one 25cm tart

~for the pastry
125g cold butter, cut into small cubes
200g plain flour
50g ground almonds
100g golden caster sugar
1 egg

for the filling~
350g white caster sugar
130ml lemon juice
12 egg yolks
300ml double cream

~for the lemon slices
4 unwaxed lemons, sliced very thinly
250g white caster sugar
500ml water

1) To make the lemon slices: heat the sugar and water in a pan and bring to the boil for 5 minutes. Add the lemon slices, turn the heat down to the lowest setting and simmer for about 60-80 minutes, until the white pith has turned translucent. Take off the heat and leave to cool.

2) For the pastry, place the flour, sugar, ground almonds and butter together in a large bowl and rub together using your fingertips until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Then add the egg and stir until it comes together, then shape into a ball and chill, wrapped in cling film, for 45 minutes. Grease and flour the tart tin, then roll out the pastry to 3mm on a  floured surface and use to line the tin. It's quite a tender pastry so you may need to patch areas.  Don't trim the edges - they're tidied up after baking.  Line the pastry with a piece of greaseproof paper and fill the paper with baking beans (or rice/dried peas) and bake for 15 minutes at 375f/190c/gas mark 5, then remove the beans and bake for a further 5 minutes.

3) Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cream together and stir in the lemon juice then pour into the pastry case.  Bake for 55-65 minutes at 275f/140c/gas mark 1, or until it no longer wobbles when gently shaken. Leave to cool in the oven, then trim the edges of the pastry and decorate with the drained lemon slices.

Delicious with a generous dollop of chantilly cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Porridge with baked figs

Lightly spiced with cinnamon and black pepper, the figs and porridge in this dish soothe away any guilty thoughts about the less GI-friendly elements. This is the type of treat that should be enjoyed as you snuggle up under the covers in bed whilst doing the crossword...or perhaps that's just me?

per person~

½ cup rolled oats
1½ cups water
¼ cup milk
1 fig
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp butter
3 tbsp apple or pear juice
1 small pinch cinnamon
1 small pinch ground black pepper
a dash of cream

1) Wash the figs and cut off the hard tip of the stalk end and discard. Cut a deep cross into each fig, gently squeeze the bottom to open out the cross and place into a shallow baking dish. Top each fig with a teaspoon of butter, two teaspoons of sugar and a little of each spice, then add the juice to the dish. Bake for 15 minutes at 400f/300c/gas mark 6.

2) While the figs are baking, place the oats and water into a pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes until thick and creamy, then stir in the milk. Serve topped with the fig and syrupy juices and a swirl of cream.

A warm fish pie for a cold London night

This is a cold weather staple that never fails to deliver. Until an American friend mentioned it last night I had no idea that they don't do fish pie in the US - shocking! Apparently fish and mash just aren't served together. I can't imagine going through a whole winter without this making an appearance at least once or twice.

It's a rather nostalgic, homely dish - a little bit of stodge but a whole lot of comfort, and one of the enduring food memories of my childhood. The recipe has barely changed from the one my mum makes, with just the addition of a layer of meltingly soft leeks and spring onions to punctuate the creaminess.

Good old fashioned fish pie
Serves 6

~for the fish layer
600g boneless and skinless cod
350g boneless and skinless undyed smoked haddock
200g raw prawns
4 hard boiled eggs, quartered
600ml whole milk

~for the leek layer
1 bunch spring onions, roughly chopped
1 leek, washed and roughly chopped
15g butter and a drop of oil

~for the mash layer
1300g floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper
25g butter
a dash of double cream
250ml milk

~for the sauce
the milk used to poach the fish
half an onion, peeled but not chopped
2 bay leaves
1 stick celery, chopped into large pieces
a pinch of nutmeg
60g butter
60g plain flour

1) Peel and boil the potatoes until tender, then mash with the butter, cream and milk until smooth and creamy. Add salt and pepper to season, and set aside.

2) Chop the fish into chunky pieces a couple of inches wide, then poach in the milk for just a couple of minutes - it should be barely cooked. Remove the fish, place into a cooking dish (about 3" deep and 10-12" in diameter) and leave to cool. Add the onion, bay leaves, nutmeg and celery to the milk, and simmer for 10 minutes, then strain through a sieve, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids.

3) To make the sauce: heat the butter and flour together for a minute then slowly whisk in the poaching liquor ladle by ladle until it is smooth and thick. Season well with salt as you will not be seasoning the fish.

4) Now for the leek layer: heat the butter and oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan and gently sautee the leeks and spring onions over a low heat until soft and slightly translucent, about 15 minutes.

5) Add the raw prawns to the poached fish and arrange the egg quarters across the top. Pour the sauce over the top, then cover with the leeks. Finally top with the mashed potato and bake for about 30 minutes at 375f/190c/gas mark 5, or until the top is golden and the sauce is rising at the edges. Your oven will thank you to put the cooking dish on a baking tray as this tends to bubble deliciously - sometimes over the edge of the dish.

Serve with minted peas, a snuggly warm duvet and/or a hot toddy.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Dark chocolate, banana and brazil nut muffins

A variation on the classic banana muffin - I love the butteriness of brazil nuts, and that they retain their crunch even after cooking. And adding a little dark chocolate never hurt a muffin...

Makes 12 small muffins

300g plain flour
1¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
135g sugar
100g dark chocolate, chopped
75g brazil nuts, chopped

200g mashed ripe banana
3 large eggs, beaten
200ml milk
50ml yoghurt
100g melted butter

1) Preheat the oven to 375f/190c/gas mark 5, and line 2 muffin trays either with paper muffin cases or squares of greaseproof paper.

2) Sieve together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl gently stir together the wet ingredients.

3) Very carefully fold the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Stop before it is completely combined - it should still have a few small lumps of flour in it. Over mixing will result in a chewier textured muffin.

4) Spoon into the muffin cases then bake for 15-18 minutes, testing with a metal skewer after 15 minutes to check if they have cooked through. Allow to cool a little in the muffin tins before decanting onto a wire rack.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Eagle's dark hearth bread

This is seriously good bread; put a plate of this, thickly buttered, in front of me and I'm a very happy bunny. The recipe comes from the now sadly defunct bakery that once ran from The Eagle pub in Brighton, my old local.

The pub itself continues but the bakery has gone the way of the dodo. I'm not sure that boozers and artisanal breads were ever going to be happy bedfellows. By the time I moved into the area the bakery was long gone, but luckily the excellent organic bakery at Infinity Foods more than made up for it. The breads at Infinity are integral to the character of the food shop, and you're enveloped in the smell of baking from the moment you enter. I remember my mum buying fruit malt loaf there when I was little and the sweet, spicy smell inside never fails to take me back...

Anyway, here's an adaptation of a golden oldie from the Eagle - a dark, intensely flavoured bread made with so many extra goodies that it virtually becomes a meal in itself. Enjoy!

Makes 1 loaf

450g strong plain flour
110ml warm water
½ tbsp salt
½ tbsp dried instant yeast
40ml runny honey
90ml strong black coffee, room temperature
½ tbsp cocoa powder
40ml black treacle
60ml Guinness, room temperature

1) Mix half the warm water with treacle and yeast, and leave somewhere warm until the surface is foamy. Sieve the flour, cocoa and salt into a large bowl then add the yeast mixture, the remaining water, honey, Guinness and coffee and mix until smooth. Leave for 10 minutes.

2) Knead briskly for 10 minutes or until it feels silky smooth and bouncy, then pop into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave somewhere warm until doubled in size. I have an exceptionally cold kitchen, so I often put the bowl into a larger bowl of warm water to get things moving along. If you're lucky enough to have an airing cupboard, try there.

3) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute, then shape into a round and place on a well floured baking tray. Now leave somewhere warm to prove until doubled in size again. Bake at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350f/175c/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 20 minutes. Check if the loaf is done by tapping the bottom - if it sounds hollow, its done. If not, pop it back in for another 5-10 minutes.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A late night supper of rabbit on toast

There's nothing quite as satisfying as sinking your teeth into a thick slice of rich, cheddary welsh rarebit. It's one of those simple dishes which is incredibly easy to make, but which I rarely do. I wonder why?

The cheese roux keeps well in the fridge for a day or two so this is great to make ahead in anticipation of those nights when you crawl in at an ungodly hour, famished and tempted by the fish and chip shop.

Welsh rarebit

Serves 2 or 4 as a starter

25g plain flour
25g butter
150ml milk
170g cheddar cheese, grated
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp English mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
125ml dark ale
2 shallots, finely diced
4 large slices of bread (preferably sourdough)

1) Slowly heat the butter and flour in a pan, stirring constantly until it thickens.  Slowly add the milk until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Add the cheese and stir again until smooth.

2) Heat the ale, mustard and Worcestershire sauce in a pan until it has reduced to a tablespoon or two of liquid, then beat into the cheese roux with the egg yolks.

3) Meanwhile, toast your bread on both sides then scatter a thin layer of the shallots onto each slice.  Heap a healthy layer of the roux (about 2cm thick) onto each slice, then pop under a medium grill until golden and bubbling.  Inhale the wonderful cheesy aroma eminating from your meal...and serve with salad.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Fig and frangipane tarts

Delicious little figgy tarts for what was probably the last picnic of the year...

Makes 4

200g puff pastry
2 fat ripe figs
3 tbsp room temperature butter
6 tbsp ground almonds
4 tbsp golden caster sugar
3 drops almond extract
1 egg white

1) Roll the pastry out to a 3mm square, and divide into 4 pieces. Butter 4 loose bottoms individual flan tins and place a piece of pastry inside each one, pushing it gently into the edges. Trim away any spare pastry at the edges, leaving a little hang over to allow for shrinkage.

2) To make the frangipane: whisk the butter then beat in the egg white until smooth. Stir in the sugar and almond extract and spoon into the pastry cases. Slice each fig into 8 segments and arrange 4 on top of each of the frangipane mixture.

3) Place the tins onto a baking tray and bake at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 near the bottom half of the oven for 15-18 minutes, until puffed up and lightly golden on top.

These are very good cold but even better when they still have a little warmth from the oven, topped with a dollop of creme fraiche or mascarpone.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A pocket full of rye

But not real blackbirds of course...

Many thanks to Andy for my new pie funnel - I absolutely love it! I've managed to twiddle my thumbs for a grand total of two weeks before using it to make this very satisfying vegetarian pie. I don't recall ever having a steak and ale pie but I like the idea of having a rich gravy bubbling underneath a crisp, golden puff pastry lid. And of course if you have pie, you must have mash and peas.

This is a hearty type of dish and the vegetables should be chunky and recognisable as what they are; this is not the time for refinement.

Mushroom, leek and ale pie
Serves 2

1 leek, halved lengthways and washed, then chopped into 3cm pieces
300g mixed mushrooms (I used 50/50 chestnut and small closed-cup mushrooms) cut into mouthful sized pieces
1 small carrot, cut into 1cm dice
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp plain flour
30g butter
2 tsp light olive oil
a few sprigs of chopped thyme
1 egg, beaten
150ml ale
250ml good vegetable stock, boiling hot and infused with a bay leaf and sprig of rosemary

1) Melt half the butter and oil in a large pan and gently sautee the leeks for a few minutes, then add the carrots and garlic and cook for a further 5 minutes until the leeks are soft and translucent.

2) Pop this onto a plate and then heat the remaining butter and oil in the same pan, add the mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes, or until they have lost a lot of their liquid content and look glossy. Now add the flour and thyme, still over a low heat, and stir into the mushrooms. After 30 seconds, add the ale and allow it to evaporate down to a tablespoon of liquid.  Now remove the bay and rosemary from the stock then add the liquid to create a gravy.

3) Stir the carrots and leeks into the mushrooms and taste for seasoning. Now pour the whole lot into a deep ceramic oven dish about 15cm in diameter. There should be enough mixture to come right up to the top of the dish.

3) Brush a little egg wash around the rim of the dish, and roll out the puff pastry to 3mm to cover the top. Crimp the edges, and cut away any surplus pastry, leaving a little hanging over as it will shrink as it cooks. You'll either need an adorable pie funnel (added before the vegetables) or to cut a couple of slits in the middle of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Brush egg wash over the pastry and cook for 30 minutes at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 for 30 minutes.

Serve with some nice buttery mash and peas, a la London gastropub!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Spicy squash, ginger and coconut soup

Ahhhh. It's almost a relief to snuggle back into the warm embrace of another autumn. I've broken out the woollies in my wardrobe and soup is firmly back on the menu. It's easy to make a batch that will feed me for a couple of dinners or happily travel to work with a crusty roll.

This moreish soup has a rich velvety texture and turns out a sunset orange shade - beautiful! The chilli and ginger shake things up a bit and stop the coconut and squash from becoming cloying and overly sweet.

Serves 4 as a starter

400g firm orange fleshed squash (like butternut), peeled and cubed weight
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and chopped
1" piece of ginger, finely grated (makes about 2 tsp)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
500ml vegetable stock
200ml coconut milk

1) Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then fry the onions over a low heat until translucent. Add the garlic, chilli and ginger and fry for a couple of minutes longer, then add the squash and stock.

2) Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the squash is tender, then add the coconut milk and transfer to a jug blender. Blend, blend and then when you think you're done blending, blend a bit longer. This soup should be perfectly smooth, so it may take a few minutes. Have patience. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed, though it shouldn't need any pepper.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

First things first...

How can something so simple be so good?  This sweetcorn went from field to mouth in less than two hours, and quite honestly it was the best thing I'd eaten all week.  I cooked it with just a little butter and seasoning, no more.  A timely reminder that sometimes the most simple pleasures are also the best.

Oh a recipe: peel off the outer layers of the corn and pull away the feathery beard-like strings that cover the cob, then wash.  Now replace the last few inner leaves around the cob and steam for 12-15 minutes, then smother with salted butter and run the pepper mill over, if you like.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Proper plum crumble

I have very poor self control when it comes to pick-your-own farms.  After the trip this weekend I returned with a mountain of goodies that brought to mind the harvest festival display my primary school put on each year.  This must be what people with vegetable boxes feel like every week.

The bounty included a kilo or so of wonderful Marjories Seedling plums.  The orchard floor was practically covered with a carpet of ripe fallen fruit.  It was all I could do not to take the lot home with me.  Marjories Seedlings have delicate pale green flesh but a luscious purple skin that just melts into this crumble and stains it a vivid scarlet; very pretty indeed.
This crumble topping is the Real Thing; crunchy, crumbly and rich with butter.  And it goes equally well with apples, pears, peaches and gooseberries if you have those to hand instead.

Serves 4

for the plum base~
450g ripe plums, stoned and quartered
3 tablespoons vanilla sugar
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp water

for the crumble~
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
50g cold butter, cut into cubes
2 tbsp porridge oats
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp whole almonds, crushed into rough pieces

1)  Put the plums, butter, vanilla sugar and water into a pan and simmer on a low heat for 5 minutes.  The fruit should be softened but not have broken down.  Spoon the mixture into four 10cm ramekins.

2) Place all the crumble ingredients, except the crushed almond pieces, into a mixing bowl and gently rub together between your fingers until the mixture resembles chunky breadcrumbs.  Divide between the ramekins, then top with the crushed almonds.

3) Place the ramekins onto a tray and bake at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 for 20 mins, or until golden on top.  Leave to cool a little before serving with a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Monday, 6 September 2010

This is not food

But I like it.  Brian Griffiths' Battenberg seems a popular favourite for the next 4th plinth commission, and it certainly has my vote.  I for one would welcome the sickly sweet smell of a marzipan fancy (even if it's in my mind) to cover up the smell of hotdogs and sunbaked tourists in Trafalgar Square.  If it wins, I may set up a rogue nostalgia cake stand nearby to cope with the expected rise in demand.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Mushroom and hazelnut ravioli with garlic and herb butter

My lovely friend Andy had a new solo show opening this week on Vyner Street, so I took the opportunity to hang out with East London's bright young things...and also pick Andy's brain about where to go mushroom picking at this time of year. Andy is also my sourdough guru and, like me, is obsessed with food to the point that he was carrying a photo of himself with two immense puffball mushrooms picked that week. The hunt was on!

We had high hopes and, in the end, varied success; there were no puffball sightings but we did scout out a few choice field mushrooms which went into the following recipe. I love mushrooms and hazelnuts. There's something about the combination of earthy mushroom and rich crunchy hazelnuts that complements both flavours without compromising either.

I should point out that we didn't pick the beautiful golden toadstools in the photos above as they looked rather deadly..!

Serves 3 or 4 as a starter

for the ravioli~

1 pack of pasta sheets (for a sneaky shortcut, buy the ones in asian grocers used to make wonton; they're thinner than the pasta sheets sold in supermarkets)
100g wild, or shitake, mushrooms, finely chopped
200g flat mushrooms, finely chopped
50g hazelnuts, ground to coarse breadcrumbs
4 shallots, finely chopped
a clove of garlic, finely chopped
15g butter
2 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp grated parmesan
5 tbsp mascarpone
1 beaten egg

for the herb butter~

50g clarified butter
5 sage leaves, finely chopped
a bunch of chives, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, halved and gently squashed with the back of a knife

1) Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan, then fry the shallots for a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have lost most of their liquid and are glossy.

2) Add the hazelnuts and garlic to the pan and cook for a couple of minutes. When the hazelnuts smell toasted and nutty you can remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the mascapone and then season well with salt and pepper.

3) On a large, hard surface spread out the pasta sheets in pairs. The mushroom mixture should be enough for about 30 ravioli, so you'll need 60 8x8cm sheets of pasta to make them. Place one level teaspoon in the centre of a pasta sheet, then use a pastry brush to brush the egg around the filling right to the edge of the pasta. Then place the other sheet over the top and use the edge of your hand to gently but firmly press the two sheets together. Try not to get any air trapped inside the ravioli, or it will puff up when you cook it and may burst. Repeat with the remaining filling and pasta sheets.

4) Now take a pastry cutter to cut out the ravioli (this helps seal the edges). Bring a large pan of water to the boil, then cook the ravioli for 3-4 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.

5) To make the herb butter, simply heat the butter in a pan with the garlic, then fry the chopped sage for a minute then remove from the heat and add the chives. Remove the garlic, then spoon over the ravioli and serve with a little grated parmesan, if you like.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

A substantial soup to keep out the chills

This is a quick soup that's easy to whizz up and stores well for a few days. I like using spring onions as it gives a fresh green colour after blending but it's purely aesthetic - a small onion would work perfectly well too.

I'm always impressed by how healthy soups are (on paper), right up to the point that I butter my bread and swirl in the cream... Life without cream or butter? Unthinkable.

Creamy leek, celery and stilton soup

2 large leeks, washed and sliced into 1cm pieces
3 large sticks of celery, chopped
1 small potato, cubed
1 bunch of spring onions
1 small clove of garlic
25g butter and a drop of olive oil
500ml vegetable stock
75g stilton or other strong blue cheese
black pepper
single cream

1) Melt the butter and oil in a large pan and sweat the leeks, spring onions and garlic for about 10 minutes over a low heat, until they are transparent and soft but have not coloured.

2) Add the celery, potato and stock and leave to simmer for another 15 minutes, or until the potato is cooked through. Add the stilton, stir through and then leave to cool a little before blending. A jug blender is far easier than a stick version, as this should really be very smooth and it will take a few minutes to get there.

3) Check for seasoning, and add pepper and salt, if needed. The stilton is already pretty salty but this will vary from cheese to cheese.

4) Serve with a swirl of cream and a good chunky doorstop of bread and butter. Delish.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Lemon, poppy seed and white chocolate muffins

Tangy with lemon, crispy with seeds and creamy with chocolate; everything a muffin should be!

Makes 12 small muffins

300g plain flour
1¾ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
135g sugar
100g white chocolate
1 tbsp poppy seeds

the zest and juice of 2 large lemons
3 large eggs, beaten
200ml milk
70ml yoghurt or buttermilk
100g melted butter

1) Preheat the oven to 375f/190c/gas mark 5, and line 2 muffin trays either with paper muffin cases or squares of greaseproof paper.

2) Sieve together the dry ingredients and in a separate bowl, gently combine the wet ingredients.

3) Very carefully fold the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Stop before it is completely combined - it should still have a few small lumps of flour in it. Over mixing will result in a chewier textured muffin.

4) Spoon into the muffin cases then bake for 15-18 minutes, testing with a metal skewer after 15 minutes to check if they have cooked through. Allow to cool a little in the muffin tins before decanting onto a wire rack.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The perfect loaf

I absolutely love sourdough bread; the chewy crust and lovely holey texture make it the perfect vehicle to transport cheese towards a greedy mouth, and since bread and cheese has become my fall back working lunch, it seemed high time to make it myself.

This recipe is a combination of a half remembered conversation about sourdough starters with a breadmaking friend and two other recipes. There are a lot of differing opinions about how to make a starter, but I ended up using this very simple recipe by S.John Ross, which worked very nicely. My house isn't terribly warm at the moment as we're resisting putting on the heating in the 'summer', so it took a week before the mixture had become a frothy, bubbling living organism.

I like Dan Lepard's idea of freezing spoonfuls of the starter that can then be reactivated by mixing them with warm water and flour, then left to get cosy together overnight. Anything that makes the process of making bread a little easier sounds good to me!

Sourdough bread

Makes one rather large loaf

150g active sourdough starter
500g strong bread flour
340ml hand-hot water

1) Mix the starter, flour and water and leave them for half an hour, then add a teaspoon of salt.

2) Now get your hands wet (this will stop the dough sticking to them) and knead the dough for 30 seconds. Something flat like a palette knife is useful to have here to help scrape any sticky dough off from your tabletop afterwards! Leave the dough for 15 minutes in a warm place, then knead for another 30 seconds/ leave for 15 minutes/ then knead one last time.

3) Leave the dough to grow to about half as large again (this depends on how warm your house is) then wet your hands again and stretch out the dough into a large rectangle. Imagine the rectangle in thirds, then fold the outer thirds into the centre. Then stretch out again, and repeat. Leave to rest back in the bowl for half an hour then repeat the folding process again. Rest for another half hour then fold the dough again one last time.

4) Form the dough into a neat ball, and leave to rest on a lightly oiled baking tray in a warm place until it has grown again to half as large as its original size. Preheat the oven to 400f/200c/gas mark 6, then pop in the tray. If you toss a splash of cold water onto the oven floor at the same time it helps develop a crisp crust. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until it it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
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