Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Cheese & Caramelized Onion Pie

 This is a handsome pie; I well remember as a child when watching the David Lean film of Great Expectations thinking how special the pie at the smithy was. That pie no doubt had meat in it and they would turn up their noses at an offering containing only cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and some left over potato, they would be missing out however, this pie is delicious. I put in copious amounts of white pepper, I'm on a campaign to bring it back into favour. The pastry I used was a pack of all butter puff pastry, the other good pastry to use would be the more traditional hot water paste, both have the ability to provide crunch. Short crust would be too crumbly, especially if it's good short crust.

To make this pie you will need,
I pack of ready rolled all butter puff pastry
340g of cooked potatoes grated
220g of mature cheddar cheese grated
220g of caramelized onions
a little oil and butter to fry the onions
1 teaspoon of sugar
Salt and pepper (both white and black)
1 egg beaten to glaze the top of the pie
These measurements may seem a bit random and indeed they are, they're what I had and they fitted my tin 16 centimeters by 6 centimeters, perfectly. I'm sure you can adjust things to suit yourself when it comes to making such a pie.

Begin by caramelizing the onions. I sliced around 250g of onions and in a pan added them with the oil and butter, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of Marigold Bouillon powder and some coarsely ground black pepper, if you are not using the vegetable stock powder, use half a teaspoon of salt. Caramelizing the onions needs to be done slowly so that they they become a slick of golden brown. I took at least 40 minutes on a low heat and stirred every 10 minutes or so, you'll find the process speeds up a little towards the end of the cooking process and you need to keep a close eye on them as they cook gently in a covered pan. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, take the rolled out puff pastry and on a well floured surface roll it out a little thinner, cut off enough to make the lid to your pie. I sliced off a quarter of the pastry and ended up folding it in half and rolling it out a second time to get a piece the right size. If you're using hot water paste, it's easy enough to fit the pastry more precisely though you need to work quickly. Using puff pastry involves a certain amount of folding stretching and squeezing to make the stuff fit.

When the onions are cool, place them in a large bowl with the grated cheese and the grated potato. At this point you really could be adding any cooked vegetables you like, but I always advise following a recipe reasonably closely first before making it your own, that way you'll be able to blame me if anything goes wrong. Mix the ingredients together well with lots of freshly ground white pepper, pile it into the prepared tin lined with pastry, and press it down, The filling is going to sink rather than expand so pressing down is good to avoid that gap which I think always makes a pie look less generous than it should. Finally place on the lid, decorate with leaves created from the left over bits of pastry, my chickens will enjoy the rest of mine. Brush with beaten egg and place the tin in a moderate oven 170C for an hour. The pie should come out a glorious golden brown. Leave the pie in the tin for a good hour before unmoulding. And there you have it, my handsome cheese and caramelized onion pie, why the potato doesn't get mentioned in the title I will never know.

This pie makes a brilliant addition to any picnic.
The filling for this pie can give you an opportunity to be creative, there is no reason why you can't include pretty much any cooked vegetable, I think when you begin to add raw vegetables, although the hour in the oven will no doubt cook the vegetables sufficiently, you will have no control over how much liquid cooking the vegetables produces, the shape and consistency will also alter. Using cooked onions, cheese and cooked potato ensures the filling is going to remain reasonably similar to how it went in, the only difference being the melting of the cheese.  

Monday, 25 February 2013

Hagbech White Bread with a sluggish starter

I'm publishing this post because from time to time, I find I have neglected my starter for a longer interval than usual and that this is something that happens to others. The starter looks pretty forlorn, brought out of the fridge with a pool of liquid on top. Wild yeast is remarkably sturdy and apart from the odd occasion when from some reason the starter produces bread with an unwelcome new flavour, a neglected starter can be coaxed back to being productive and is worth saving. I take a little longer to work with the starter in this situation than I would do otherwise. I take the jar out of the fridge, stir it well and remove a tablespoon of it and place in a bowl with 200g of strong white flour. 50g of rye flour and 200g of water and set aside somewhere warm to begin growth. The starter which remains in the jar I feed well with equal parts of flour and water and leave out of the fridge for 12 hours or so in order to begin a rather gentler growth. I replace the jar of starter in the fridge with a promise that I shall be baking again in a day or two.

The ferment which I have now been treating to a little more warmth than usual, shows signs of growth, bubbles form on the surface and a smile forms on my face. I usually put my ferment ingredients together 24 hours before I need to make the main dough. When the starter I am using has not been out of the fridge for more than a week, the ferment process can take longer. The bread I made with this ferment, having been treated to warmer conditions including the main rise, proved to be just as well risen as usual. The lesson to learn for me was to watch out for signs of vigorous growth in the ferment before adding the main dough ingredients, in this case it was 30 hours.

This is my standard white bread  Click here for recipe I have been baking bread using my beer & malt recipe for a few weeks now, Beer & Malt bread recipe so it's nice to get back to this old favourite.

Cheese Sablé

I make this recipe from time to time, freezing half the mixture in order to bake some more of these delicious little biscuits at a later date. They make a perfect accompaniment to a Manhattan.

For this recipe you will need,
150g of plain flour
150g of cheddar cheese (mature is good)
150g of parmesan cheese
140g of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Begin by placing the cheese, cut up into chunks in a food processor along with the flour and spices. Process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the butter and continue to process until the mixture comes together to form a dough. I store half of this mixture wrapped up in clingfilm in the freezer. It keeps well for a month or two. Roll the remaining half out into a long log roughly 30 centimeters by 2-3 centimeters. Slice 1 centimeter thick discs off the log and place on a lined baking sheet. The sablé will spread during cooking so do leave some space in between. I press the discs down onto the sheet with my finger, but I think this makes not one jot of difference to the finished thing. Bake in a hot oven 200C for 8 minutes or until the sablé are golden brown, cool and serve.

You can vary the flavour of these by adding such things as Nigella seeds, or cumin seeds.


We grew up with kedgeree as a breakfast dish of course, but I do believe this dish is ideal as a brunch, lunch or even supper dish. I like to use more than one rice, I also like to add in a little kipper to the traditional smoked haddock.

For this dish you will need,
500g of smoked haddock, undyed preferably
500g of cooked rice
4 eggs
1 onion
1 cupful of finely chopped parsley
200ml of milk
50ml of double cream
1 teaspoon of curry powder
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 lemon
Serves 4

Begin by poaching the fish in the milk for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the flesh becomes opaque. Allow to cool enough to flake the fish away from the skin and remove any bones you might find, there really shouldn't be many. While the fish is cooling, prepare the eggs. I place the eggs in a saucepan of cold water, bring them to a boil. switch of the heat, put on a lid and leave for 8 minutes. This method guarantees eggs that are not overcooked. Week old eggs are easier to shell, but whatever age the eggs are, plunge them into cold water as soon as the cooking process is over and crack the shells well all over. When the eggs have cooled completely in the water, the shells should be easy to remove.
In a large enough pan to hold all the fish and the rice, fry the onion gently in the butter and oil until translucent, they should take only 3 to 4 minutes and not take on any colour. Add the curry powder and cook for a further minute or two. Add the milk that the fish has been cooked in along with the cream, then bring to a simmer, add in the flaked fish and the rice. I find it useful to heat up the cooked rice in the microwave oven for 3 minutes, it cuts down the time it takes to heat everything through. Finally add in the finely chopped parsley (keep a little back to sprinkle on the finished dish) and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. I find as long as I have cooked the rice in salted water, there is no need to add any further salt, but some coarsely ground black pepper is always beneficial.

The kedgeree is ready to serve when all the ingredients are heated through fully, tip it out onto a large heated dish or shallow bowl and dress with the eggs cut into quarters, the lemons cut into quarters and the remaining chopped parsley.

Notes: the parsley in this dish is much more than a garnish, stirring in a decent amount, almost a cupful, as the dish is assembled, adds a really delicious and necessary flavour.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Pear & Frangipan Torte

Before putting the pears in this torte, I poach them in a sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water) with the juice of a lemon, the pared rind of the lemon and a cinnamon stick. Pears are so often either too under ripe to eat as a fruit or at the stage where eating them is going to involve a great deal of mopping up, delicious but messy. This recipe uses firm pears and poaching them for 15 minutes renders them perfectly tender. The Frangipan forms the base and the topping. A sprinkle of flaked almonds on the top completes the dish.

For this recipe you will need:
3 or 4 firm pears
180g of soft unsalted butter
180g of caster sugar
100g of self raising flour
150g of ground almonds
3 eggs
1 tablespoon of Amaretto Di Saronno (almond liqueur)
50g of flaked almods to sprinkle on top

Begin by peeling, halving, coring and poaching the pears for 15 minutes in a sugar syrup made of 300ml of water and 300g of sugar, the juice and the rind of a lemon,  and a stick of cinnamon. Drain the pears and save the syrup in a jar, it will keep in the fridge for a week or two and works perfectly for poaching more pears.

make the frangipan by creaming together the sugar and butter, beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the ground almonds and almond liqueur. Finally fold in the flour.

Place half the frangipan in a 25 centimeter flan tin that has been greased and dusted with flour. Spread the mixture out then place the pears on top. I slice the pears up which makes it easier to fit them in and fill gaps. Spread the remaining half of the frangipan mixture on top of the pears and finally sprinkle on the flaked almonds and place in a moderate oven 180C for 45 to 50 minutes until golden brown, see notes. Cool in the tin for at least 30 minutes before serving.

A soggy bottom is always a thing best avoided and this recipe does tend to end up with a base that is last to show signs of being fully cooked. I find the best thing to do is to place the flan tin on a tray or pizza stone that has already been heated up in the oven
This dish works well with other fruit, the only thing you have to be aware of is how wet the fruit will be when cooked, if the fruit is too wet, it is likely to make the finished torte a bit sodden. Choose fruit such as apricots rather than peaches, figs rather plums.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Vegetables braised in olive oil

Having not eaten meat now for over 40 years, I have no problem regarding a plateful of vegetables as a worthwhile meal. Vegetables have long since moved on from being the supporting act to a dressy piece of meat. Easy enough of course when runner beans or new potatoes and asparagus are in season. One of the finest ways I know of cooking vegetables is to braise them in a little stock and olive oil. It's a method that can be applied to any number of vegetables. This is the method I use to cook fresh or dried borlotti beans, a recipe that I shall post before too long, but for now this dish contains, flat beans, peppers, potatoes and frozen peas, along with onion, garlic and a tin of tomatoes.

This is what you do:

Begin by roughly chopping 4 cloves of garlic and gently fry them in a 1/2 cup of good olive oil. The garlic needs to take on a little colour but be careful not to overcook, beige is good, brown is not, black, well maybe you should start again. Fill a large ovenproof dish, I use my tarte Tatin dish, with vegetables cut up in chunks, in this case, onion, potatoes, green beans and yellow and red peppers. The quantities can vary but you want to end up with roughly 2 kilos of vegetables. Add some frozen peas to this mix, pour on a tin of tomatoes and fill the tin twice with hot water and add. In place of salt in this recipe as in many of  my recipes, I add a tablespoon of Marigold bouillon powder (vegetable stock) to the hot water to make a stock. sprinkle on 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper and finally pour on the olive oil and garlic. Place the dish in a moderate oven, 180C. Take the dish out of the oven after an hour, when the top should have taken on some colour, using a large spoon mix the vegetables up a little to bring vegetables on top from underneath. The colouring up of these vegetables from the heat of the oven will add flavour to the dish, so exposing more vegetables to the surface, produces more flavour. Cook for a further half hour. The dish is now ready  to serve, but I find leaving it overnight, the flavour develops and it is delicious served at room temperature. Resembling ratatouille, it's perfect with a piece of cheese flan but perfectly good served on its own with some crusty bread.

I should have used up some of the carrots!! what was I thinking?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Seville Orange Marmalade

A increasing number of people are making their own marmalade and discovering just how much better it is than the stuff sold in the supermarkets. As Maggie Smith said when served "shop bought" marmalade in Gosford Park, "I call that very poor".

I rather like the fact that Seville oranges are available for such a very short period, in the UK, the last week of January and no later than the first week of February. I bought several kilos of organic ones a few weeks ago and relied on the chill conditions in my house to delay actually making the marmalade. The reason Sevilles are used of course, is the fact that they are unbelieveably bitter, bitter enough to counter the amount of sugar required to make a product that will keep well. Their is a pathetic amount of juice in a seville, the source of delicious bitter orange flavour, is the skin which is sliced and used along with water and sugar. There are countless ways of making marmalade, what follows is my method which is one I grew up with.

I begin by halving the oranges and removing the juice. I use a juicer attachment on my food processor which makes this a very easy task. A by-product of using this method of extracting the juice, is a copious number of pips and membrane, both of which are worth boiling up in some of the water in order to extract the natural setting agent pectin.

I then slice the orange peel into thin shreds, again you can use a slicing attachment to do this which cuts down on the time. You now have all you need to make the marmalade, the finely sliced peel, the negligible amount of juice and the water the pips and pith have been boiled in for 10 minutes or so.

When making any jam or conserve, it is customary to use an equal amount of fruit or fruit pulp to sugar. When making marmalade I find it best to use a litre of water to every kilo of oranges bought. My preserving pan accommodates a 4 kilo & 4 litre batch without any risk of spillage. I begin with 4 litres of water, some of which I use to boil up the pips and pith. I then strain this enriched liquid into my pan along with the remaining water and the juice from the oranges. I add all the finely sliced peel and on a medium heat, simmer for an hour and a half to make sure the peel is tender. If this is not done properly the addition of the sugar will make it impossible to do as the presence of sugar toughens up the peel again.

The marmalade needs then to be brought to a rapid boil until you achieve a good set, this happens at around 240 F. I am persuaded to point out at this point by Julia who believes it should be possible to pour marmalade out of the jar, more of a coulis consistency perhaps, that not every sane person wants their marmalade set, she would go further and say mine is wrong, but that's an ongoing issue. I can remember my mother would always slip in a teaspoon of unsalted butter at the point where the marmalade or jam is made to eliminate any suds that have formed from the boiling process.

Pour the marmalade into sterilized jars and pop on the lids. This intensely flavoured marmalade will convert you to always making your own.

Other marmalade can be made using this method, pink grapefruit or lemon work well. I have had less success with lime but a combination of orange (not Seville) lemon and grapefruit is good.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Carrot & Coriander Soup for Sylvia

Living in East Anglia where a great deal of vegetables are grown commercially, I find the carrots that fail to make the grade are sold on to the public as "Pony carrots". There's nothing wrong with these carrots of course other than their being misshaped, but 10 kilos of them can cost as little as £2.00 and I find them hard to resist. Having bought 10 kilos and brought them home of course reality hits and I begin to wonder what I am going to make with them whilst trying my hardest to avoid vitamin A poisoning.

If you have a juicer, using it to make a litre of juice to add depth of carrot flavour to this soup is ideal. This is true for making any kind of beetroot soup as well, another vegetable which seems to be available to very little money in this area.

To make this soup you will need, (this makes over 3 litres of soup which freezes well)
1,500g of carrots plus another 1,500g juiced
1 small head of celery
1 large onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of black pepper
50g of butter if using.
2 litre of vegetable stock. (make that 3 litres if you are not using carrot juice)

In a large saucepan begin by frying the chopped garlic in the olive oil with the coriander seeds for 3 or 4 minutes on a low heat until the garlic begins to take on a little colour. Add the chopped onion and celery and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the 1,500g of carrots chopped up roughly and all the stock and carrot juice if you are using. Add the black pepper, cover the pan with a lid and simmer for at least an hour until the carrots are very tender. Blend the soup in batches, being careful to avoid overfilling the jug blender and causing the lid to fly off. Hot soup flying about is not good. This is easy enough by either allowing the soup to cool before blending or making sure the jug is never filled more than halfway and keeping a hand on the lid when you press the start button. Readers of my blog will know I often blend butter into some soups at this stage, it produces a velvety feel and an added richness without the extra dairy flavour adding cream would produce.

 I find coriander seeds are particularly unyielding so this is one of the soups I always strain before serving.
Sylvia took two carrots for her neighbouring horses, every little bit helps!

Roasted Cauliflower & Jerusalem Artichoke Pilaf

I do enjoy reading the odd recipe book of course and I have been known to pinch the occasional recipe from the doctor or dentist's waiting room while waiting for my appointment. I find a loud cough covers up the noise of the tearing paper. However, although I'm sure the inspiration registers somewhere in my little grey cells, I like to think most of the food I cook is conjured up by looking at the ingredients I have to hand and letting my imagination loose.
I had some tomato sauce click here for recipe left over from making my gnocchi the other day, that and a cauliflower and some Jerusalem artichokes I had in my pantry got me thinking along the lines of a pilaf. I guess pilaf, like biryani and kedgeree is another of those rice or grain dishes, packed with extra bits and pieces in order to make them more of a meal. In place of rice in this dish I wanted to use pearl barley, it was a toss up between that and bulgur, another favourite.

For this recipe you will need:
200g of pearl barley soaked overnight
100g of angle hair pasta or vermicelli
1 small cauliflower cut into florets
250g of Jerusalem artichokes
100g of tomato sauce plus 600ml of vegetable stock or water
2 shallots or small onions chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
100g of flaked almonds
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of curry powder
salt and pepper

Slice the artichokes up and toss along with the cauliflower, curry powder, cumin seeds and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the vegetables in a shallow oven proof dish, sprinkle on the salt and pepper, about half a teaspoon of each and place in a hot oven 200C for 10 minutes, take the dish out of the oven, stir the ingredients around a bit, add the flaked almonds on top and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.

In a large saucepan, place the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil and on a medium heat gently fry the pasta until it has taken on a little colour, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and shallot and cook for a further 2 minutes until the shallot becomes translucent. Stir in the tomato sauce and add the soaked pearl barley and 600ml of vegetable stock or water. Cover and cook on a low heat until the liquid has been absorbed, around 20 to 30 minutes. If, as I did, you find the mixture has stuck to the bottom of the pan a little, simply leave covered for ten minutes and it should soften and be easy enough to stir in. Keeping an eye on the pearly barley and checking it every now and again of course is what I should really have done.

When the pearl barley is completely cooked stir in the roasted vegetables, adjust the seasoning and serve sprinkled with chopped chives, fresh coriander or parsley.

If you wish to use bulgur for this recipe, substitute 200g of bulgur for the pearl barley and add only 300ml of stock. The result is drier with more separate grains, but personally I enjoy the bite of the pearl barley more.
This dish makes a good accompaniment for grilled fish, providing both carbohydrate and vegetable but it is also delicious served at room temperature on its own.

Bread & Butter Pudding

Bread & Butter Pudding is one of the those quintessentially British puddings that is traditionally made with bread but has also experienced many new reincarnations using anything from croissant to panetone. On the whole the use of enriched breads makes for a successful result but for me none more so than the utilisation of  Emneth Worthies that are a few days old.
It's unusual to find I have Emneth Worthies click here for the recipe hanging around a few days after they have been baked, but now my house is empty after the Christmas festivities and I am back to living on my own, a batch of 12 goes a long way.

For this recipe you will need:
3 Emneth Worthies or 6 small brioche
200g of golden raisins
3 eggs
200ml of double cream
400ml of milk
50g of sugar
1 teaspoon of good vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Grated nutmeg for the top

Begin my buttering an ovenproof dish. Slice the Emneth Worthies into thick slices between 1 and 2 centimeters and place in the dish, you should aim to make three layers, sprinkling the raisins between each layer. Whisk the eggs with the sugar and add the milk, cream, salt and vanilla, strain onto the contents of the dish and leave to soak for at least two hours. Finally sprinkle the top with a little grated nutmeg and place in a moderate oven, 140C for 1 hour 20 to 30 minutes.

Worthies, enriched with butter and fruit, lend themselves perfectly to this delicate set custard dessert. There is no need to butter the slices as you would do if you were using day old bread. In fact I have experienced bread & butter pudding made with commercial bread that is too fresh, the result is a rather slimy texture, not at all enhancing the dish, Emneth Worthies on the other hand produce a perfect texture.
I like to cook custards of any sort in a Bain Marie or water bath; simply place the dish in a container large enough to take it and hold hot water half way up the side of the dish. Cooking by this method allows for a gentler bake and avoids the custard cooking too quickly.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Potato Gnocchi

I regularly pop a potato or two into the oven to bake when I am baking a batch of bread, (carbon off setting for reckless friends in Cambridge, they know who they are). A baked potato is always useful to have and if you fancy a meal of these fluffy light gnocchi, baked potato is by far the best form of cooked potato to use, being drier than potatoes cooked by boiling.

For this recipe you will need: (serves two)
250g of baked potato flesh
50g or 60g of plain flour
1 small egg
1 teaspoon of bouillon vegetable powder or 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Begin by mashing the potato, I use a ricer for this purpose, it is an invaluable piece of kit, producing the lightest, lump free mash, it also makes a perfect topping for a fish pie needing only a dribble of melted butter in order to form a crunchy delicious crust. The secret to making light gnocchi is making sure you have a light touch throughout, so the ricer creates a light texture mash whithout working the potato too much and making it gluey. Take a small egg, I have the ideal chicken for this, a Barnevelder  called Beryl, who lays perfect small eggs, add to the potato along with the bouillon powder or salt and 50g of flour. Working with a fork and with a light touch bring the ingredients together to form a soft dough. You may need to extra 10g of flour but please, resist if at all possible. The more flour you use the heavier and less tasty your gnocchi will be. On a well floured board, roll out half the dough into a sausage shape and cut off small pillows. Again don't overwork the dough and keep your hands floured in order to avoid getting sticky. It's better to use flour at this stage and brush off the excess than to make the dough firmer, drier and consequently heavier. Roll out the second half of the dough and cut up into small pillow shapes. Taking a fork, press each pillow onto the back of the fork to create shallow grooves, these grooves will hold more of the sauce in the finished dish, but you can omit this stage if you wish. Brush off any excess flour. I allow my gnocchi to dry out for an hour or so before cooking but this is not essential. Bring a couple of litres of water to a rapid boil in a large pan and drop in the gnocchi, cook until they float to the surface, about 2 minutes, then a further minute, drain before tossing in whatever sauce you are using, then serve.

Today I made my favourite tomato sauce while the gnocchi were resting. Fry 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic in 2 tablespoons of good olive oil. Fry gently on a low heat until they begin to turn a pale beige colour. Add 1 shallot or a small onion, finely chopped and continue to cook for a further 2 minutes until the shallot becomes translucent, add 1 teaspoon of dried oregano and cook gently for a further minute before adding a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of bouillon powder, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of sugar, cover with a lid and cook on a very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. I tossed the cooked gnocchi in the sauce, placed them in an ovenproof dish and topped with 20g of finely grated parmesan before placing in a hot oven for 10 minutes. I may be eating lunch on my own but these were worth every bit of effort and I have enough for another meal tomorrow. In order to make this for 4 people, double the quantities for the gnocchi, you'll find the sauce as described above,  is plenty.

Thursday, 14 February 2013


Baba ganoush is one of my favourite things to both make and eat, it has even converted friends who have a committed dislike of aubergine, it is understandable then that I am also a big fan of caponata. This dish, which is perfect as an accompaniment to grilled fish, is also great to serve at the beginning of a meal with crusty bread. My version has red and yellow peppers to add flavour, colour and texture. Since my daughter introduced me to the practise of cooking garlic until it takes on a little colour, something she picked up while living in Brazil, I have been applying it wherever I can, including this caponata.

You will need:
2 aubergine
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
3 or 4 spring onions
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1/2 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
olive oil
salt & black pepper.

Begin by preparing the vegetables, the aubergine and peppers need to be cut into fine dice, finely slice the spring onions and finely chop the garlic. Cook the garlic in 3 tablespoons of oil until slightly coloured but not burned. Remove the garlic from the pan and add the aubergine, cook gently on medium heat until the aubergine and translucent and taking on a bit of colour. Add the peppers and spring onions and continue to cook for 2 or 3 minutes before returning the cooked garlic to the pan along with the chopped tomatoes, oregano and seasoning. Stir well and turn down the heat, place a lid on the pan and continue cooking on a low heat for a further fifteen minutes. Check after 5 minutes or so to ensure the caponata is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Simply stir if it is and make sure the heat is as low as it can be. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If I am serving this as a starter, I put it in a bowl and like baba ganoush I dripple a little extra olive oil on top.

I'm not convinced even delicious Caponata would go well with Cheerio!

Hazelnut Shortbread

When these shorbread biscuits come out of the oven they are remarkable crumbly, after a day they settle down to be just that bit easier to eat but still delicious. I have hazelnut trees in the garden so toasting the nuts for this shortbread recipe is one of my favourite ways of using them.

 You will need:
110g of unsalted butter
130g of plain flour
40g of rice flour
55g of caster sugar
2 teaspoons of hazelnut oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
100g of toasted hazelnuts

Begin by placing the butter, sugar, rice flour and hazelnut oil in a food processor. Process until the mixture forms a soft paste. Add the salt and plain flour and process again. The mixture will form a breadcrumb consistency. At the point add the toasted hazelnuts and with the machine on a pulse setting switch on a few times in order to chop up some of the hazelnuts and distribute them. The end result should have a few larger pieces if not whole nuts, as they look attractive in the finished biscuits, so avoid processing too much.

While the mixture still resembles breadcrumbs, transfer to a large bowl and with your hands work the mixture to form a cohesive dough. The warmth of your hands should help achieve this quite quickly. Roll out the dough into a rough sausage shape and place in some clingfilm before placing in the fridge to chill down for a couple of hours. I flattened the edges to form a long brick shape so that when I sliced off biscuits they would have a square shape.

When the dough is nicely chilled it will be easy to slice off 1 centimeter thick biscuits. Place them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 150C. Turn the heat down if the biscuits are turning brown, the final result should be a deep beige colour rather brown.  Cool and store in an air tight tin.

Cheese Crouton

I made a batch of these to go on some black bean soup the other day. At the time, I was glad I had made more than I needed because I ate half of them while waiting for my guests to arrive. I remember thinking how well they would go with a martini before dinner so yesterday I made more just for this purpose.

You will need:
3 slices of bread  2 centimeters thick
50g of finely grated cheese
2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Begin by dicing up the bread, heat the oil in a large pan, using a large pan makes it easier to toss the crouton about a bit, add the crouton to the hot oil and keep them moving around to avoid any one side becoming overcooked. when the crouton have taken on some colour, sprinkle on the grated cheese and immediately take the pan off the heat while moving the crouton around to evenly distribute the cheese. Place the crouton on a cooking tray in a oven set to 140 C for ten minutes to finish crisping up. These crouton can be stored in an airtight tin for a week in the fridge, but believe me, they are very moreish and if you put them out with drinks they will dissapear very fast. Great also to add to salads and of course soup.

Notes, using good bread is important of course but whereas gluten free bread in my experience leaves a lot to be desired, transforming it into these crouton is going to work well. You can also vary the flavour to some extent by using different cheese, I have used parmesan and aged gouda; I have also sprinkled on some dried oregano and used garlic flavoured oil. 

Monday, 11 February 2013

Black Bean & Sweetcorn Humus

So many recipes are the result of things that go wrong and in this case it was simply the addition of too much salt that led to the need for half a can of sweetcorn which then transformed this humus into something special.

I had been making a batch of my black bean humus click here for recipe using a can of black beans from the store cupboard in place of the usual black beans that I soak overnight then cook in a pressure cooker. I should have noticed the quantity of beans was half what I normally use, but being in a hurry I added what turned out to be too much salt. My daughter and I both agreed, having tasted it that the only thing to do was add more bulk, so searching around rather desperately I happened upon a tin of sweetcorn and decided to risk it. The result was not only a rescue but a very pleasant variation which I have now repeated.

The addition on sweetcorn, which should not be over-blended, provides a light fresh flavour and a texture which is missing in the original recipe.