Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Real Food Again

I’m bored of rice pudding but not quite able to chew yet so I searched about for something yummy but yet easy to eat and I found it here. I’ve made this risotto from Lorraine’s site a few times and it has become one of the weekday favourites in our house.

People think that risotto is difficult, it’s not. It does require you to be around your kitchen for a good 30 minutes but it does not need the slavish attention that you might think. After a stressful day I find that some repetitive stirring is exactly what I need to calm my mind!

Check this recipe out – it’s really good.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Brief Hiatus

Hi all,

I've not deserted the blogging world, it's just that I've had my wisdom teeth out and so my diet this week has consisted of rice pudding, soup and mash. Not exactly blogging material!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pizza - from first principles

Last year, for my birthday, The Doc gave me a pizza stone, a circular piece of porous fireclay stone which gives a lovely crisp pizza base.


When making dough I find that it is sooo much easier to handle if it is made the night before, simply pop all the ingrediants below in a bowl, mix well and then knead for approx ten minutes (I have a Kenwood chef, so I use the dough hook attachment and knead for 2-3 minutes). Leave in a warm place until it doubles in size (hot press is perfect), knead again and allow to rise for at least 20 minutes. I made my dough Friday evening, kneaded it Saturday morning and it was a dream to roll out on that evening.

Please excuse the cup measurements - I keep meaning to translate this to metric.
1 sachet (7g) dried yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1 cup warm water
31/2 - 4 cups cream flour

Tomato Sauce

I usually make a big batch of this and freeze '1 pizza' portions, the quantities here are enough for pizza for four (as is the amount of dough above).

1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tins tomatoes - blended (or passata)
some chopped semi sun-dried tomatoes, I used 2 tbsp Crespi sundried tomato and olive paste
  • sweat the onion and garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil for 10 mins
  • add the tomatoes and cook over a low heat until it has halved in volume

I not going to prescribe toppings as pizza is a very personal thing. We had pepperoni, peppers and goat's cheese. I find that the 20 mins it takes to cook the pizza is not long enough for the peppers. I always grill them on my George Foreman first, making them nice and sweet, and I tend not to remove the skin.

Pizza stones don't like extremely rapid changes in temperature (they can crack) so place in the oven before you turn it on and leave to cool at room temp. As they are porous they will take up any flavour they are immersed in, when finished simply scrape off any crumbs with a knife, everything else simply imparts flavour to the stone.

Tip: We've also discovered that a pizza stone is great for making home-made 'sun-dried' tomatoes. Simply set your oven to the lowest setting possible, spread the stone with halved tomatoes, season and leave for 2-3 hours.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Chocolate Mousse

Although I enjoy experimenting with recipes, when it comes to entertaining I like to stick with things that have been tried and tested. Trying to assemble complicated dishes while the clock ticks ever closer to your guests' arrival is just stressful and takes from the enjoyment of the occasion. The following recipe for Chocolate Mousse is one of my favourites, I like to flavour it with orange zest and a drop of Cointreau but leaving it plain and sprinkling the top with some crushed Ameretti is good also.

Chocolate Mousse (this recipe came originally from a National Dairy Council Publication circa 1988 - I'm not sure how close my version is to the original, it has undergone a number of refinements over the years)
225g dark chocolate
6 eggs, separated

25g caster sugar

125ml cream

50g butter
  • melt chocolate and butter in a bowl
  • whisk in the egg yolks and sugar
  • whip cream and fold in lightly
  • whip egg whites until stiff and fold in in three batches
  • chill for at least 4 hours

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Among my internet Christmas buying for others I snuck in a copy of "Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts" by Claire Clark (pastry chef at the French Laundry) as a little present to myself. I said in my introduction that I like a culinary challenge and this certainly poses one. It is a fantastic book - but it's not for beginners. Many of the recipes consist of more than one stage - some of the chocolate ones invole steps such as tempering it first. On the list of things to try soon include: orange pistachio cakes; warm chocolate and raspberry tarts; mango and lime mirliton tart; fig and blueberry creme fraiche tarts; green tea and jasmine delice. I forsee a lot of baking in my future!!

In my initial flick through the book these truffles immediately caught my eye, while I like white chocolate it needs something to cut through that cloying sweetness and the combination of balsamic vinegar and black pepper suggested here intrigued me. There are three basics steps to the recipe: preparation of the ganache; tempering the chocolate and covering the sweets; coating them in the strawberry flakes.

The quantities are slightly off in this recipe - it is supposed to make 40 truffles and I got about twice that many. They are quite rich and I wouldn't want to be making them any bigger that I did, it just means that there are plently for sharing.

Strawberry, Black Pepper and Balsamic Vinegar Truffles (from Indulge: 100 Perfect Desserts" by Claire Clark).

Strawberry Flakes:
500g strawberries (I used frozen ones - just be careful that there is no added sugar in them)

2 tsp black pepper
  • Preheat the oven to 110 degrees C
  • Line two baking tins
  • Blend the strawberries until smooth
  • Place all but 1 tbsp of the puree onto the baking tins and spread out thinly with a palette knife (spend some time trying to get it a uniform thickness so that it dries out at the same rate)
  • Put in the oven for about 2 hours until it is dark red, dry and crisp (recipe says 1 1/2 hours but I left mine in for 2 hours and should probably left it for another 15 mins as it coul have been a little crisper)
  • Leave to cool
  • Crumble and mix with the black pepper

Ganache Filling:
300g white chocolate
150g dark chocolate
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp reserved strawberry puree - see above
200ml double cream
1 tsp black pepper
  • Chop the chocolate finely and place in a bowel with the balsamic vinegar and strawberry puree
  • Heat the cream to boiling point, remove from heat and pour it over the chocolate
  • Whisk until smooth
  • Stir in black pepper
  • Leave to cool
  • When cool fill a piping bag with the ganache a pipe lines on a baking tray (this step worked like a dream - line upon line of neat chocolate cylinders)
  • Refrigerate until cool
  • Slice into 3cm sticks (using a metal knife warmed in a cup of hot water makes this step easy)

White Chocolate Coating:
500g white chocolate

Ok this is the bit that defeated me, I didn't temper the chocolate for the coating. For the scientifically minded among you when chocolate is tempered it simply means that it contains many stable crystals giving it a glossy sheen, smooth feel in the mouth and makes it easier to handle. Which all sounds good, but it involves heating to 30.5 deg C, cooling to 27 deg C and warming again to 28 deg C and I only have a sugar thermometer in my kitchen! At some point I will tackle this challenge.

Spread the strawberry flakes out in a thin layer on a chopping board. I simply melted the chocolate in a bowl, dipped the tubular ganache into it and then dropped each one onto the strawberry flakes.

Even though my coating is not a smooth and gloosy as one might like the final verdict, as always, goes to the tastebuds. Result: these are very very good, the pepper and balsamic vinegar are good counterpoints to the richness of the white chocolate and add a extra dimension to the flavour.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Almond Slices

My granny used to make these yummy almond slices and lo and behold when making my mince pies this year I glimpsed a recipe on the back on the packet of flour. Yesterday was a stormy day, bitterly cold and lashing rain. A good day for baking something comforting to go with that cup of tea.

It wouldn't be me if I didn't fiddle around with the prescribed recipe, for a start I replaced the margarine with butter as I hate the feeling that you get when the margarine coats the top of your mouth. Next it called for 2 tbsp of jam - I needed 1/2 jar to cover the base with a thin layer.

Almond Slices (adapted from recipe on Odlums flour packet)

175g plain flour
pinch of salt
75g unsalted butter
2-3 tbsp cold water

200g jam
125g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
75g plain flour
2 eggs
1 tsp almond extract

flaked almonds to decorate

  • Preheat oven to 180 degrees
  • Sieve flour and salt together
  • Rub in butter until it resembles breadcrumbs
  • Add just enough water for the dough to come together
  • Roll dough out and line a Swiss Roll tin (it will look like it couldn't possibly stretch that much but persevere - it will)
  • Spread jam over dough in a thin layer
  • Melt remaining butter and stir in sugar, ground almonds and flour.
  • Beat in eggs and almond extract
  • Pour topping over jam (again it will look like you don't have enough - it does rise in the oven)
  • Sprinkle over flaked almonds
  • Bake for 18-20 mins

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Pear and Walnut Chutney

When browsing C&Z forums I came across this recipe for pear and walnut chutney courtesy of red dragon. With so many leftovers during Christmas it's always good to have a few things on standby for making that 5th turkey sandwich a little more interesting. This chutney is quite sweet and I feel it was particularly good with spiced beef - the blend of spice and sweetness was just right.

P.S. a word of warning - it took a number of hours for this to reach the required thickness so be prepared to hang around your kitchen for a while.

Chocolate Yule Log

I'm starting the New Year with a Christmas recipe. I made this Chocolate Yule Log for Christams Eve and again for a family gathering yesterday. It's inspired by a recipe in the December issue of Delicious magazine where the creamy chocolate filling is offset by the sharp tang of cranberries. I prefer a lighter sponge so I used a version from Good Food (Dec 06) which whisks the egg whites separately. On Christmas Eve I didn't have the required amount of cream so I reduced the ganache by 1/3 - there was still loads - and I have continued to use these proportions.

5 eggs
140g light brown sugar
100g self-raising flour
25g good-quality cocoa
  • preheat oven to 190 deg
  • butter an line a Swiss roll tin
  • Beat together egg yolks, sugar and 2 tbsp water until light and thick
  • Sieve in flour and cocoa and fold in lightly
  • Whisk egg whites until still and fold gently into cake mix in 3 batches
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes and turn out onto some clean greaseproof paper
  • Leave to cool and roll up tightly in the greaseproof paper (along the long edge)

200g fresh/frozen cranberries

75g caster sugar

2 tbsp water

  • Put 3 ingrediants in a saucepan and heat together gently until cranberries pop
  • Leave to cool

450ml cream

300g good-quality chocolate

  • Break chocolate up and place in a bowl
  • Warm 300ml cream up to boiling point and pour over the chocolate
  • Whisk gently until chocolate is melted - leave to cool
  • Whisk reamaining cream into soft peaks - fold in 5 tbsp of the cooled ganache

Unroll the sponge and spread with the chocolate cream and then the cranberries. Roll up tightly, I then cut 1/3 of the log at an angle and placed it at the side to resemble a log. Spread over the cooled ganache, I put some greaseproof paper around the log to catch any ganache that drips down.

The sponge can be made a few days ahead - or even frozen for up to 3 months. It was reported that the first log tasted even better 2 days later - the second one didn't last long enough for me to test this hypothesis!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

After a year in which I discovered food blogging - opening up a whole new world of recipes and new ways of doing things (I never heard of 'brining poultry' before) - I've decided it's time to join the fray. I spend most of my spare time thinking about food - what's for dinner, how to use that new ingredient, what cake am I going to make this weekend? While I obviously like the final product, I also enjoy the process - browsing my (extensive) collection of cookbooks for ideas, going to the butcher's, the fruit+veg shop, setting up in my kitchen and finally sitting down with family and friends to enjoy the results.

I'm not a fancy cook - although I do enjoy a challenge - and I have no professional training, so I hope what you see on these pages will inspire you to pick up a whisk and start cooking with me.