Monday, 21 March 2016

Shortbread with (or without) Stem Ginger

Shortbread, the real thing - surely everyone loves it? Not difficult to make, and it lends itself to interesting flavourings. The option here is stem ginger (clue is in the title ...), but this shortbread without it is delicate and delightful too, I think.

This recipe takes very roughly 60 minutes to prepare including chilling, and about 25 to bake, allowing for varying ovens and depending on the size of your biscuits, as they say. Here's a very artistically posed picture of four made with the ginger:

(Well my great uncle was an artist. But not a cook.)

I like to make these small, about 5cm x 3cm, on a baking sheet but of course they can be larger and even hand-pressed into a square or round tin (for 'petticoat tails'). At the smaller size the quantity of dough makes 25 or so. Either way, the baking sheet or tin is best lined with parchment.

Shortbread with Stem Ginger
120g plain flour
55g semolina flour
60g caster sugar
120g butter, softened a little
4 pieces of stem ginger, chopped fairly finely

1  Sift the two flours into a medium bowl. Add 50g of the caster sugar, the butter and 
         3/4 of the ginger, and blend together. Then knead the dough on a floured board 
         (or with dough hook) until smooth. Rest in the fridge for about 15 minutes.
2  Roll out or press the dough to a thickness of about 7-8mm, and cut into pieces of the
         size of your choice. Rectangles are traditional and easier to avoid waste than if
         you choose circles.
3  Place the pieces, a little apart from one another, on the baking sheet and prick each
         2-3 times with a fork. Press one small piece of the remaining ginger into the top
         of each.
Bake for about 25-28 minutes until firm and golden brown, watching carefully for the
         final few minutes.
Leave on the baking sheet to cool a little, then sprinkle with the remaining 10g of caster
         sugar. Cool completely and store in a tin.

No ginger on top of these
Instead of stem ginger, I fancy using dried lavender next time, since it's lovely in muffins and creme brulee. Not a fan of millionaire's shortbread, but a pattern of thin lines of flavoured icing piped over the biscuits could work well. Thinking strawberry, lemon or orange. Or, for special occasions (e.g. Easter), the biscuits could be a little bigger and have a name piped on each. To be dry, you could pipe 'biscuit' on them.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Candied Walnuts - you can't eat just one ...

Here's one of my favourite sweet nibbles, just right if you've finished the Quality Street, After Eights, liqueur chocolates and so on.

Ready in 20 minutes plus a little cooling time. Pecan nuts would work well too, and maybe macadamia, but probably not harder nuts like brazils or almonds.

Candied Walnuts
20g butter
20g caster sugar
200g walnut halves
pinch of salt

1  Heat the butter and sugar gently in a medium pan, stirring at times, until the
       butter melts and sugar dissolves.
2  Add the nuts and salt and allow to bubble very gently for 12-15 mins, stirring
       often, until the nuts are well coated and starting to caramelise.
3  Tip onto baking parchment, separate the nuts, and leave to cool.
4  Store in a tin. 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Vegetarian Moussaka (that could be vegan)

This recipe is adapted from one by Anna Jones, featured in the Vegetarian Society's recent magazine. Anna has made it vegan - more on this at the end of the recipe* - but this version remains vegetarian and has some short cuts including the all-important sauce. It should take perhaps 1h 20m from start to serving; some ingredients can be prepped while others pre-cook. 

Although this recipe looks quite long, there are no special skills involved - only peeling, slicing, turning and layering, and possibly boiling a kettle for the sauce. The quantities given serve 2 to 3.

A medium-sized griddle pan gives a nice effect for the aubergine and potatoes, but otherwise a frying pan is OK. Also needed is a large roasting tin and a fairly shallow, lightly-oiled oven-proof dish - a round one especially suits the finished moussaka. I used a cast-iron frying pan 4cm deep and diameter about 20cm. Some kitchen paper is useful to blot the tomato slices.

The oven is set at 180C and preps can begin as soon as it's switched on.

Vegetarian Moussaka
2 tbsp oil
250g large tomatoes (3-4)
2 medium red onions
1 small red chilli snipped finely or half tsp chilli flakes/powder
1 lemon, juice and grated zest
salt & pepper
300g small potatoes
1 large aubergine
500ml cheese sauce - ready-made or hot-water packet or granules
2 tbsp snipped fresh parsley

1  Pour the oil into the roasting tin and place in the oven when you switch it on.
       While the oven heats up, slice the tomatoes to 1cm, blot with kitchen paper then 
       halve them. Peel the onions and slice slightly more finely; halve the larger rounds.

2  When the oven is up to temp, tip in the tomatoes and onions. Add the chilli and
       lemon zest, then season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the ingredients
       well, then roast for 20 mins. Remove from the oven but maintain the temp.
       Meanwhile ...

3  Wash the potatoes and slice to about 1.5cm. Place in a pan with water, bring to the 
       boil and simmer 15 mins, then drain. Meanwhile ...

4  Heat the griddle pan (or frying pan) with a dash of oil. Trim the ends from the
       aubergine then slice to 1.5cm. Cook the slices in batches until browned both sides. 
       Set aside.

5  Griddle or fry the potato slices until browned each side, then arrange in the oven

6  Add the lemon juice to the tomato and onion and mix well, then pile on top of
       the potatoes, spreading evenly. Top with a nice arrangement of the aubergine.

7  Make up the sauce (if not ready-prepped) and pour it over the veg, covering
       all the aubergine. Bake for about 25 mins until bubbling and turning brown.
       Scatter the parsley over the dish just before serving. 

Alternative Ingredients
The main ingredients are basic and don't lend themselves to alternatives, but if the sauce isn't that strong, some crumbled blue cheese or Cheddar could be mixed in. Some thinly sliced mushrooms could be added as a layer between tomatoes and aubergine, and/or two pressed garlic cloves, but otherwise I would keep to the hymn sheet.  

For wine I prefer red with this. A small side salad would go well, and perhaps some crusty bread if potatoes and bread are acceptable to your diners at the same meal. Or you could go mad and serve a couple of nice browned vegetarian sausages at the edge of the plate.

*Anna Jones's Vegan Version
The sauce is the issue. Anna recommends making a bechamel by melting 1.5 tbsp of coconut oil in a pan, adding same quantity of spelt flour, mixing to make a roux, then adding 150ml unsweetened almond milk gradually, whisking all the time to keep it smooth and continuing until it thickens.


Monday, 30 November 2015

A Christmas Tart with Crispy Pastry and Crunchy Feta

Around half of my close family are vegetarian or non-meat eaters, so one of our Christmas gatherings will probably include the usual poultry but definitely one of my vegetarian creations. The 'others' are kind and aware of the roast potato thing (separate, cooked in oil) and the rest of it, so all will be well.

This year, we expect that eight of us will meet up at my brother's for a pre-Christmas lunch, and I've been practising the main course that I'll bring for myself, Mr P, and any of the others who are tempted. It has eight ingredients and needs 25-30 mins baking. 

Best way is to make the pastry case first, to cover the base and sides of the dish, and leave it chilling in the fridge while prepping all other ingredients. If using frozen pastry sheets, leave in the fridge overnight to thaw or at room temp about 3h. Once the case is ready, 20mins should see the ingredients processed and the tart ready for the oven. Quantities can be halved, doubled and so on. If preparing in advance, don't fill the pastry case until it's time to bake the tart, otherwise the base could go soggy.

This quantity nicely fills a shallow 18-20cm diameter dish, and it's best to line the base with a circle of parchment to make sure the pastry won't stick to the dish.

Christmas Tart - serves 4.  
Oven can go on at around the time the mushrooms start to sautee, at 180C.
Here's what mine looked like - any leftover pastry can be made into decorations and just placed on the top:
200g short pastry - home-made or as a frozen ready-rolled sheet, rolled out a little
          more thinly to make it bake to crispy and light
2 tbsp oil
150g interesting mushrooms, e.g. shiitake, oyster (straight whites OK too), trimmed
          and coarsely sliced
6 tbsp cranberry sauce, drained of loose liquid
1 egg
60ml double cream
150g vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts, halved
80g feta, roughly chopped

1  As above, line the base of the oven-proof dish with parchment, set the pastry
          in it and leave to chill.
2  Heat the oil in a medium pan. Add the mushrooms and sautee gently 4-5 mins,
          stirring occasionally, then set aside to cool.
3  Spread the cranberry sauce evenly over the base of the tart.
4  Beat the egg and cream in a small bowl.
5  Scatter the chestnuts, mushrooms and feta evenly over the tart.
6  Pour the egg and cream mixture into the dish, aiming for it to top all of the
          other ingredients and fill any gaps.
7  Bake towards the top of the oven for 25-30mins until nicely browned. Remove
          from the oven and leave for 3 mins or so to finish setting before serving.
Serve with ...
... just a side salad for a light meal, otherwise roasted potatoes, boiled and buttered baby potatoes, broccoli or beans. I don't think this needs a sauce, but it could take a parsley sauce quite nicely.

Canned evaporated milk - maybe 100ml - could replace the cream if necessary. For a herby version, perhaps thyme leaves or snipped basil. Blue cheese could replace feta, and tastes great cooked, but here the feta ends up slightly crunchy which is delightful along with the crispy pastry.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Lovely Crumbly Blackberry Traybake

Whenever there are plenty of blackberries around, so are there plenty of recipes in magazines and on TV. This is one of mine, and my favourite; it's easy to make, doesn't require the use of every one of your utensils, can be cut into your most useful serving size, and is quite a crowd pleaser. It's similar to Apple and Cinnamon Traybake, recipe for which was posted a couple of years ago.

The most time-consuming part of this, for me, is the obsessive examining of every single berry several times, to make sure that none of those tiny wormy things is hanging around. We have berries in the garden and don't use chemicals, so very occasionally ..... Therefore the berries are checked, swished around in a bowl of water for a bit, drained, dried, examined again then either passed fit for duty or, if not in great nick, tipped into the wormery.

This recipe makes about 30 smallish squares, and takes a little under an hour from start to out-of-the-oven - apart, that is, from blackberry inspection.

Blackberry Traybake
Prepare in advance a parchment-lined square or rectangular cake tin about 4-5cm deep; I use one 24x18cm, which is roughly equal to 21cm square.
     The oven should be at 180C, shelf at middle height.

175g butter
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract
270g self-raising flour
400g blackberries
75g demerara sugar (optional) 

1  Put the butter in a large microwave-safe bowl and microwave 20 secs or until softened
    but not melted. (If no microwave, just leave to get to room temp.)

2  Add the caster sugar, eggs and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

3  Tip in the flour and the berries, and mix gently with a spoon (to avoid breaking the
    berries) until no flour is left visible.

4  Pile the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth over the top. Sprinkle the demerara
    sugar evenly over.

5  Bake for about 35 mins until golden and until a skewer poked diagonally through the
    centre comes out clean. The top should also spring back if lightly pressed down.

6  Cool for 10mins or so in the tin, then cut into pieces with a very sharp knife as 
    required. (I like approx 4x3cm. Then you can eat two at a time without feeling guilty.)
Instead of blackberries, raspberries could be used, or gooseberries softened a little in a pan with a few drops of water. Haven't tried it with dried cranberries, but will do, perhaps soaking them in boiling water for a few minutes then draining and drying well. 

The squares can be kept in a tin, in the fridge if more than a few days, and they should freeze well.

Nice for picnics!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Luscious Stuffed Peaches w Caramel & Whisky Sauce

As is always my aim, this recipe delivers a really nice, really easy dish, and I consider it to be so gorgeous that it's suitable for a romantic dinner dessert as well as one to impress a family. It's portable, too, if necessary - so next visit to my brother and sister-in-law I'll be preparing the components and taking them to assemble after main course at lunch.

The quantities given will serve two - with quite a rich filling and sauce, two peach halves is just right per person. The recipe is based on an idea from The Guardian Cook supplements, but the sauce is different. If the ingredients are ready measured out, 25-30 minutes should be enough to prepare and serve.

Here the peach halves are grilled, but could instead be heated and marked on a griddle pan (cut side only is enough) until hot and gently seared. I like whisky in the sauce, but Southern Comfort is good too - or neither, and substitute a pinch of salt.

Ready for the grill or griddle
Luscious Stuffed Peaches with Caramel and Whisky Sauce
2 large ripe peaches
110g mascarpone
2 tsp vanilla extract (otherwise use essence)
70ml single cream (double would work but result in a thicker sauce)
30g soft dark brown sugar
15g butter
1 tsp whisky 

1  Cut each peach right around, starting at the stalk site, cutting right to the stone.
         To remove the stone, hold each half gently and twist - the halves should
         separate (as do avocados), but if not, carefully insert a knife to ease out the
         stone. Put the halves, cut side up, in the grill pan.
2  Put the mascarpone and vanilla extract into a bowl, mix them well and set aside. 
Mascarpone & sauce
3  Place the cream and sugar in a small pan and heat gently, stirring at times, until
         the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a simmer for 3 mins, stirring occasionally. Remove
         from the heat, add the butter and whisky (or Southern Comfort or salt) and stir until 
         the butter has melted.
4  Heat the grill, then place the peaches under it until they start to scorch (keep watch), 
         then remove from the heat and place two halves on each of two small dessert
5  Scoop the mascarpone mixture into the centre of the peaches, then drizzle the
         sauce lightly over them, allowing it to pool a little around the plate.

And ... eat!
If serving this after a cooked meal, you could follow the recipe up to the end of stage 4 before devouring the main course. Then it takes just a couple of minutes for step 5.

I wish we had a peach tree in the garden. Wouldn't be possible with our apples - although come to think of it, plums might work OK providing they are well ripe. But not so decadent.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Riverford's Vegetarian Recipe Box Reviewed

We've received and enjoyed regular Riverford veg boxes in the past, though not currently as Mr P's veg plot is so productive. So it was very nice to be offered one of their new vegetarian recipe boxes to use and, if appropriate, review. The box contains three recipes, each said to serve two people.

All ingredients (apart from olive oil, salt & pepper) are included amounting to about 12 per recipe, and items to put in the fridge are clearly marked. Fresh veg/salad/fruit are neatly arranged either side of the middle compartment which contains all the cans, spices, oils etc in three sections to match the three recipes. Wherever possible, all ingredients are organic.

Each dish was very good, with both of us impressed. Instructions are very clear; however, the timings given to prepare and cook were always less than it took in my kitchen - and I am generally considered a fast and efficient cook! Quantities were generous (there were leftovers of everything) and all fresh foods were in very good condition. One other point - each recipe recommends preparing within 5 days, so once the box arrives the cook/s will need to bear this in mind when planning.

Here are the Thrilling Three, with brief comments (I can answer any other queries via the comments box):

Jerk Chickpeas & Roasted Peppers with Callaloo (spinach & coconut sauce)
This made two meals for us with some of each of the three components left over.  Greatly enjoyed it.

Broad Bean, Beetroot & Spelt with Sheep's Cheese, Radish & Mint
Of the three, this was my favourite. I even - for the first time ever - obeyed the instruction to remove the skins from the cooked broad beans! The mix was perfect, and the sheep's cheese crumbled over the top was really creamy - it's on my shopping list already.

Japanese Sesame Beans with Carrot & Aduki Miso Noodles 
I didn't toss the noodles/carrots/aduki beans which is why it looks different
This was Mr P's favourite of the three, and distinctively Japanese rather than Chinese. I was unsure about the quantity of water to add to the aduki beans and carrots, and found using only half the amount was perfect. I enjoyed this and used chopsticks with it, noodles notwithstanding.

*             *             *             *             *             *

There were no individual parts of the instructions which were difficult to understand or follow, so it's a case of 'anyone can do this' - although those who don't cook complex dishes that often may need to allow plenty of time.

So thank you, Riverford - this was good fun to complete and eat. I can certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to produce restaurant-quality vegetarian meals for two.