Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Chewy chocolate chip cookies

So nothing says Christmas like a chocolate chip cookie. Well perhaps not, but the holidays do mean that I have bit more time on my hands for things like baking. Unfortunately though I am generally fine baking cakes, something always seems to go a bit wrong with preparing other baked goods. In the process of making these American-style chewy cookies I somehow managed to set fire to the greaseproof paper covering my baking tray.
Anyway, this is a very simple recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, and as these are soft cookies the dough doesn't require rolling and cutting out but merely melding into small lumps. This is the recipe in grams rather than American cups.

Recipe (enough for around twenty decent sized cookies):
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt (I omitted this but used salter butter)
170g unsalted butter, melted
220g demerara sugar
100g caster sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
170g plain chocolate chips

Mix together the melted butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs and vanilla, and make sure they are all well combined. Pour this into the sifted flour and baking powder and gently mix. Put in the chocolate and continue mixing for a bit. I didn't use chocolate chips but instead chopped up the same weight of chocolate. I should probably have cut things smaller though as I had some issues with bigger chunks of chocolate melting and sticking, which made moving them off the baking sheet a bit of a pain.
But anyway you should end up with a buttery dough that you can squish together either with a tablespoon or your hands into golf ball-sized rounds. Place these on a lined baking sheet about 10cm apart, and bake for around 30min at gas mark 4. I was guilty of cookie over-crowding and ended up with some merging into each other. But as the finished product is quite soft they were easy enough to cut up again, though this did result in some odd shapes.
You may also need to adjust the cooking time depending on the size of your cookies, as some of my batches took longer than others.
What you should end up with is a cookie that slightly crisp at the edges, chewy in the middle and with chunks of oozing chocolate. Ideal scoffed with a hot chocolate in the winter months.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Calcutta-style egg rolls

As my family is from the West Bengal region of India (state capital Calcutta/Kolkata) this is an area I've visited a few times over the course of many years. Calcutta is pretty famous for its street food- not that I'd know much about that though as my parents concerns for the often less than sanitary conditions in which street stalls operate limited our consumption of these delights. However there were a few times when the hygiene police relaxed their (probably sensible) policy and a few treats sneaked through. The one I remember most vividly are egg rolls- a sort of thin, flat bread, with an omlette layer attached to it, with lots of chilli and red onions. This was all rolled up, wrapped in greaseproof paper and eaten hot off the griddle. They must have been good as the last time I had one was about twenty years ago and I still remember them.
The bread element is very light and stretchy, and I've no idea how it's made. But the closest thing I've found to it are the Shana parathas I've blogged about recently. So for a super-speedy egg roll supper all you'll need are:

Recipe (enough for one hungry person)
2 ready make parathas such as the Shana brand
2 eggs
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1 medium green chilli, finely sliced with seeds removed if you prefer things mild
Salt and pepper to season
Couple of teaspoons of sunflower oil or similar

First cook the parathas fully and set aside. Beat the eggs well, season, and stir in the onion and chilli. Put a teaspoon or so of oil into a frying pan and heat it as much as you would if making an omlette. Once hot enough, pour in half the egg mix and wait about 10 seconds until it starts to set. While it's still liquid on top, push the paratha into the egg until the heat 'fuses' them. Turn the heat down, and then once the egg layer is cooked, flip the paratha so that the bread layer warms up and any overspill egg is cooked through as well. Repeat with the second paratha and the rest of the beaten egg. Roll up with the egg layer inside, and and scoff while hot. Eat with some salad if you are so inclined.

NB I'm sure that the egg rolls I ate had the onion and chilli cooked with the egg, but you can also not bother cooking them and just put them in at the rolling up stage (apparently).

Monday, 15 November 2010

Shana parathas and jeera aloo (cumin potatoes)

I love Indian breads in all their forms- makhani roti, batura, luchi, poori, naan, parathas, yum, yum, yum. I also love the potato in all its forms- baked, chipped, mash, roasted and boiled, being some of my favourites. And so despite the risk of carb-overdose, the combination of parathas and potatoes is one of my favourites.

It is however a bit of a pain to come home and start making parathas after a hard day at the office. In fact kudos to the Indian housewife because it is quite difficult to do well even if you haven't been sweating over a powerpoint presentation all day. Luckily I discovered Shana frozen parathas a few years ago. And therefore instead of lots of dough forming, oiling, and clever folding and rolling, I usually open a packet of these and cook them for a few minutes on a tava or non-stick frying pan. And to go with my flaky flatbread I like a generous helping of some jeera aloo (potatoes cooked with cumin) and a little red onion and cucumber salad.

Recipe (enough for 2)

About ten or twelve small potatoes such as Charlottes, choppped into smallish pieces
1 tbsp flavourless oil such as sunflower
1.5 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp ground chilli, or one whole chopped green chilli
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Heat the oil in a karahi, wok or deep frying pan. When it's quite hot but not smoking, add in the potato, and cook on a medium heat. After a few minutes put in the cumin and chilli, mix well and reduce the heat a bit. The potatoes will take around 10 to 15 minutes to cook through, and become golden brown with a sort of cumin crust. When they're almost done add the crushed garlic, season well, and leave on a low heat until the potatoes are fully cooked.
While the potatoes are cooking, chop some red onion and cucumber for the salad, and heat the frozen parathas. Scoff while everything is still piping hot, and add extra chillis or pickle if required. NB Serving on a stainless steel thali for authenticity is not essential.

Shana paratha (original)
I rate them 8/10
Cost: Around £1.80 for a packet of 5

Monday, 1 November 2010

Pumpkin pie

I have vague memories of eating pumpkin pie once as a kid. I know I liked it although I can't really remember anything else about the taste or texture. But I can't think where I would have sampled this American speciality. It's certainly not something my parents would have made, and they didn't have any American friends that I can recall. I did however watch an awful lot of Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, and The Wonder Years, so there's a chance that I am suffering from false food memory syndrome.
But anyway, the idea of pumpkin pie appeals to me. It's got pumpkin in, which I am a fan of, and it's a bit different from our regular Brit deserts. I'd been thinking of trying to make it for a while, but was further prompted by this Guardian article and the rumour that Waitrose stocked a popular American brand of canned pumpkin.
On finding that this rumour was correct, I basically followed the instructions on the side of the Libby's tin. But I did taste along the way to make sure it wasn't getting too sweet, and the spice levels were appropriate.

Recipe (enough for 6-8 people)

2 large beaten eggs
1 tin of Libby's pumpkin puree (425g)
175g sugar (I used golden caster)
0.5 tsp salt (I forgot to add this so it doesn't appear to be essential)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
0.5 tsp ground ginger
0.5 tsp ground cloves
0.5 pint evaporated milk

For the pastry pie lining I used one block of Jus-Rol sweet shortcrust pastry that was rolled out thinly to cover a 25cm diameter shallow baking dish (I lightly oiled the sides and put a piece of baking parchment in the base). This was baked blind for 20minutes at gas mark 6 (though I actually thought it could have done with an extra 10min as the base of the finished pie was a little underdone in my view). As the pie case was cooling a bit, I combined all of the filling ingredients until they had the consistency of thick pouring cream. Once the filling was in, the pie went in the oven at gas mark 4 for around an hour, or until a knife poked in the centre came out clean. It was then left to cool until we were ready to eat it with a big dollop of thick double cream.

So what was the final taste conclusion? Was I transported back to the halcyon days of childhood? Well, sort of. The pie smelt lovely, as anything with cinnamon in it usually does. And it tasted quite nice too. But to be honest it wasn't that exciting. The predominant flavour was cinnamon, and I couldn't really taste much of the pumpkin. I've since heard pumpkin pie described as a variation on a custard tart, and I think that's quite accurate. It had the same sort of texture, and the same bland background with a big hit of spice. Unfortunately I'm not a big fan of the custard tart. The male companion person is though, and he was delighted to scoff several slices of this with great enthusiasm. And to be fair I did have a number of slices myself, just with a bit less enthusiasm.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Apple and blackberry crumble

So it's now very much autumn. I quite like autumn- I get to wear boots, wrap myself in shawls, and eat things like baked potatoes and crumble (though possibly not all at the same time). I was relatively efficient this year in picking some blackberries at the end of summer and stashing them away in the freezer. And so the other week, I thought I'd use some of them in a crumble.
Crumbles are probably one of the simplest puddings to make, and these days I just assemble it by eye rather than weighing out ingredients. But below is a rough guide to what you'll need (or have a look at the Guardian food blog on the subject). I've started to add crushed amaretti biscuits to the crumble topping, as I like the extra crunch and the subtle almond flavour works well with both the apple and blackberries.

Recipe (enough for around 6 people)

2 Bramley apples, peeled and sliced
Around 750g blackberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tblsp sugar (I use demerara)
2 tblsp water

175g plain flour
80g butter
80g sugar
2 handfuls of amaretti biscuits (roughly crushed)

Put the apples, sugar, water, cinnamon in saucepan and cook gently until the slices are softened but still holding their shape. Add in the blackberries and stir until everything turns a deep claret colour. Taste the fruit to make sure you're happy with the flavour, I like it to retain a little sharpness, but add more sugar if you want.
Rub the butter into the sugar and flour to make crumbs, and then mix in the crushed biscuits. Let the fruit cool a bit, and then put it in a deep-ish dish that's big enough to hold it and a layer of the crumble topping. Bake at gas 5 for around 30-40mins, or until the fruit is bubbling up at the edges and the top is golden. Serve in a big bowl with some thick double cream or ice cream (or custard if you're old school).

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Jamie Oliver's spinach and ricotta tortelloni

As I've probably said before fresh pasta parcels are often a default dinner for me. They're quick and easy but do sometimes suffer from a flavour fail. I quite liked these Sainsbury Taste the Difference ones, but they weren't exactly setting the world on fire. Enter Jamie Oliver. He's now put his name (and indeed face) to a range of fresh, handmade pastas which I spotted recently in Tesco. I thought I'd try the traditional sounding spinach and ricotta tortelloni, as it's a classic combination that it's hard to go wrong with but can be quite dull.
The first thing I noticed was that these tortelloni were huge- almost the size of my fist. And there weren't very many of them- this concerned me. However on closer inspection the pack was the same weight as other similar products. I think I prefer having a greater number of smaller things rather than a couple of giant items on my plate. But that's just me.

So anyway, how did my dozen or so tortelloni taste? Well actually pretty good. I just dressed them with some olive oil and black pepper, and the flavour of spinach and nutmeg came through pretty well. The cheese filling tasted much stronger than just ricotta though, and on examination of the ingredients, Edam cheese made an unexpected appearance. I suspect there are some Italian nonnas spinning in their graves, but it was tasty and added a bit of density to the filling that I quite liked. The pasta itself was relatively light and not too claggy, so all in all quite enjoyable and certainly good enough to be a quick post-work dinner.

Jamie Oliver Spinach and Ricotta Tortelloni
I rate it 7.5/10

Cost: Around £3.50 (possibly just about enough for two if not starving)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Byron, Covent Garden, London, UK- a non-meat eater's perspective

So a couple of weeks ago me, the male companion person (MCP) and the MCP's sister (let's refer to her with the code name 'Sarah') met up in London for a spot of food and culture. Due to my passing interest in food blogs I was allocated the task of identifying a few options for a relatively inexpensive and informal central London lunch venue. And the recent birthday boy MCP plumped for Byron in Covent Garden.

Now I don't eat meat (not for any strong ethical or religious reasons, I just find it easy to do without it) so lots of the blog posts I'd read singing the praises of Byron's burgers were a bit wasted on me. But I did notice that there were a lot of excellent sounding side dishes mentioned, and having established that there was a vegetarian burger option, I was pretty confident that I'd be happy eating at Byron too.

We ended up having quite a late lunch so despite it being a Saturday afternoon in the middle of Covent Garden, we pretty much had our pick of tables at Byron. The decor is all quite modern, with an open kitchen, some small booths along the walls and lots of utilitarian tables. There's also a basement dining area with additional seating.

And so the food- well as expected there is only one main vegetarian burger and a salad on the menu. I do eat fish, but in this case being pescatarian didn't increase my options. However pretty much all the sides and starters were vegetarian- huzzah! We kicked off with some olives and tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole. Both these dips tasted fresh and zingy, the chips were not of the 'straight out of the catering pack' variety, and the olives were pretty nice too.
And then onto the burgers. The veggie option consists of a grilled portabello mushroom with roasted red pepper and goats cheese. All this was topped by some salad-y stuff and a lovely aioli. It's not exactly an original combination, but it was done very well, with quality ingredients, and therefore was very tasty. In fact looking at the menu again now, I see that pretty much all of those items can also be added to a regular burger. I think this is actually reassuring, as these are obviously ingredients that are used regularly and not things that have been sitting in the back of fridge waiting for a random vegetarian to turn up.

All of the above vegetables were encased not in a doughy mass, but in light and airy bun that was well grilled for a slightly charred edge. My side of fries were hot, crispy, and importantly oil free. I also snaffled some of the MCP's giant onion rings which were also very good. I showed great restraint by not completing a triumvirate of fried things and ordering the courgette fries too, but would happily return to try them.
The others seemed very satisfied with their non-vegetarian orders too. Sarah declared her eponymous Bryon burger a big success, and the MCP's giant cobb salad was rapidly devoured.

With all our sides and nibbly bits we did seem to get through quite a lot of food, and I was very disappointed to find that I was too full to fit in one of the delightful sounding Byron milkshakes. So with friendly service, very reasonable prices (all of the above with some non-alcoholic drinks was somewhere around the £50 mark for the three of us, not including service), and tasty food, I would happily return to Byron again. It's obviously not somewhere that's particularly aimed at vegetarians but there's plenty for non-meat eaters to enjoy. And I am intending to enjoy some courgette fries and an oreo milkshake as soon as possible.

33-35 Wellington Street
London WC2E 7BN (and many other London locations)

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Banoffee cupcakes

It was the Male Companion Person's birthday recently and so I thought he was due some sort of baked item. I'd had a tin of Carnation's dulce de leche sitting in the cupboard for a while, and this seemed the occasion to make use of it. Dulce de leche is the classic caramel component of banoffee pie, and so I decided on a cake version. I made little banana cupcakes, filled with caramel and topped with clotted cream. A final grating of chocolate and tah dah- they were done.

Recipe (enough for around 18 small cakes):

110g self-raising flour
110g margarine or soft butter
60g caster sugar
2 eggs
110g mashed ripe banana
1tsp vanilla extract
397g tin of Carnation caramel dulce du leche
Around 200g clotted cream
Small amount of plain or milk chocolate for grating

Beat together the margarine and eggs, until they're well combined and then add in the vanilla, flour and sugar. Continue to mix well (alternatively bung the whole lot in a food mixer). Finally add the mashed banana. Spoon the mix into cupcake cases and bake at gas mark 4 for around 25mins or until the cakes are cooked and a light golden brown on top. Once completely cooled, cut the cakes in half and spread with a generous amount of the caramel, with a thinner coating on top. And then put a dollop of cream on top of this and finish with a bit of grated chocolate. These cakes will be fine in the fridge for a couple of days if you don't finish them all at once.

These banoffee cakes are pretty rich, but they work really well as a cake for a special day. Using slightly less sugar than normal in the cake mix and the presence of banana, in combination with the caramel, make for a decadent dessert rather than one that is tooth-achingly sweet. And obviously clotted cream improves all things.

Carnation caramel dulce du leche
I rate it 9/10

Cost: Around £1.78

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Orchard, Grantchester, Cambridge, UK

I do like a scone. And one of the best places to eat one is The Orchard in Grantchester. And don't just take my word for it- Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolfe, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jawaharlal Nehru and, ummm, Stephen Fry all thought so too. Well their thoughts on scones might actually be unknown, but they all definitely frequented The Orchard during their time in Cambridge.

You only have to travel a mile or so out of the city to find the village of Grantchester. It's filled with lots of lovely little cottages, a couple of pubs, The Orchard, and not too much else. The Orchard, as the name indicates, is an orchard of apple and various other fruit trees with lots of deckchairs dotted about it. The site also has a little Rupert Brooke museum marking its link to the poet who immortalised it in verse, and more importantly a tea room from which you can buy savoury things for lunch, a range of cakes, and importantly scones. It's self-service so you will have to queue up with a tray canteen-stylee, but with tables scattered randomly all over the place I don't think waitress service would work very easily here.

So on what now appears to be one of the last sunny days of the summer, the male companion person and I took ourselves off in search of a cream tea. The Orchard can get ridiculously busy at the height of summer with students, tourists and residents all competing for available deckchairs. But in late August we had a bit more choice when selecting our dining spot. We went for a classic choice of freshly baked scones, clotted cream (Rodda's), jam and tea for two (which came to around £11.00). The scones were huge, but not too dense or doughy, and perfect smothered in cream and jam. The tea was an adequate if not very exciting Twinings Earl Grey, and I do think that The Orchard could jazz up this side of things. But overall this was still an excellent cream tea.

My only gripe with our tea was due to some highly annoying winged visitors that decided to join us. I guess sitting in a fruit orchard with pots of jam in summer is probably asking for wasp trouble, but it was bloody annoying nevertheless, though my shrieking and arm waving probably didn't help things. Note to self- if running away from a wasp maybe do not grab the jam-filled scone in panic too, as this is not likely to make the wasp go away.

Thankfully the wasps did eventually lose interest and left us in peace to laze around in our deckchairs. And after a while I thought that the best way to get over the recent wasp trauma was to, ahem, eat some cake. On offer were Victoria sponge, carrot cake, chocolate fudge cake, and coffee and walnut (all around £3.00), which I eventually plumped for. The light coffee sponge, and the not too sweet buttercream icing, meant that despite eating a huge scone quite recently, fitting in this piece of cake too was in fact a piece of cake (see what I did there?!).

So if you want to follow in the footsteps of poets, philosophers and prime ministers, and enjoy a scone while lazying about in the sun in a deckchair I thoroughly recommend a visit to The Orchard.

The Orchard Tea Garden
45-47 Mill Way
Grantchester CB3 9ND

NB The Orchard is open all year round, not just during summer, and has an indoor seating area too.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Cote, Cambridge, UK

The corner of Bridge Street and Thompson's Lane seems to have been a bit of a blighted spot for restaurants in Cambridge. Over the years I have known this space to be a Garfunkel's, some sort of racing car themed American diner, the now apparently out of business Edwinns, and most recently Cote.

So on a Saturday night when myself and the male companion person had decided that we would have a change from the excitement of sitting on the sofa and watching telly, we decided to give the newest Bridge Street incumbent a go for dinner. I'd never heard of Cote before, but have subsequently found out that it's a small chain mainly based in the south of England. The Cambridge outpost occupies quite a big space, but one that is divided up by various pillars and walls into several sections. They've obviously done their best to maximise table numbers, but (just about) left enough space to avoid having to sit in the lap of your fellow diners. There was lots of nice low lighting and and candles in the evening, and it all led to quite a cosy atmosphere.

We ordered some olives and pissaladiere-style flatbread to start with, from a menu that is vaguely French but more pan-European really. The olives were perfectly pleasant, and the bread topped with Reblochon cheese was like a nice, crispy cheese on toast. We both choose the seafood linguine for our main courses, and this came with a good quantity of mussels, prawns and clams. I was expecting more of a sauce for the pasta rather than individual bits of tomato and garlic, but it was all pretty good none the less.

This all left just enough room to squeeze in a pudding. I had a perfectly acceptable but not amazing chocolate fondant, while the male companion person had a highly praised creme caramel. Service was attentive if a little slow at times, but actually the spacing between courses probably allowed us to fit in more food overall (which can't be a bad thing). The bill for all of the above, with a couple of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, a coffee, and service was around £60, which I thought was quite good value. Although I noted that they added 12.5% service automatically, rather than let you decide an amount, which I always think is slightly dubious but possibly not the worst crime in the world.
But that issue aside Cote was actually a very nice place to have dinner. The service was good, they bring you water without asking, and the food was fresh and tasty. And I guess the fact that Cote is part of a chain shouldn't diminish my enjoyment of all of that.

21-24 Bridge Street
Cambridge CB2 1UF

Monday, 23 August 2010

Chai and pistachio cupcakes

I think I have previously mentioned my poor record with baked goods. Cakes are the one exception to this, but I recently discovered that I can add biscuits to the list of things that I find quite stressful to make and that generally come out a bit meh. I was trying out this pistachio biscuit recipe by genius baker and former Masterchef finalist Hannah Miles. She describes it as 'quick and easy' (which I'm sure it was for her), whereas I ended up red in the face, with half the kitchen covered in flour and a sink full of washing up. Luckily the final product was quite nice (if a little too sweet for my liking), but I'm not sure it was worth all the stress. But as I still had lots of nuts leftover I thought I'd try and make something else with them.
For me pistachios are always associated with Indian flavours, although of course they appear in a variety of cuisines. But with that in mind, what could be more more Indian than a nice cup of masala chai? Well mine comes out of a tub, rather than the traditional saucepan method, but that makes it the perfect ingredient for baking with. The only downside was that I forgot that chai powder (or at least the Drink Me brand) already contains quite a bit of sugar, so I probably should have reduced the amount in the cake mix. Or perhaps added a plain cream cheese icing.

Recipe (enough for around a dozen)

110g butter
110g caster sugar (this is the maximum I would use if you have a sweet tooth, otherwise reduce to around 90g)
110g self-raising flour
0.5 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 heaped tblsp chai powder (e.g. Drink me brand)
1 heaped tblsp finely chopped pistachio nuts

Cream together the butter and sugar, then add in the dry ingredients and eggs and beat well to combine. Or else just put everything in a food mixer and leave it to do its work for a few minutes. Spoon into cases in a tray and bake in the middle of an oven for around 20minutes at gas mark 4.
Cardamon is the strongest flavour in the chai powder, but you could easily just use this as a base and add other ground spices of your choice. The little green flecks of pistachio add a mild nutty taste, and the whole thing makes for a nice cake that doesn't actually need any further adornment.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Aubergine raita

So I thought I'd blog about one of things that I made for my MasterChef meal. This aubergine raita is a really nice variation on the traditional cucumber number. It requires a little more effort as you need to cook the aubergine first, but it's definitely worth it. There's not much of a recipe as this is something you'll need to judge by eye and taste, but here are the basic ingredients which will make enough as a side dish for about four people:

1 medium aubergine
Around 250g (half a large pot) Greek yoghurt
Around 2.5tsp ground cumin
Around 1tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Enough vegetable oil to fry aubergine

Firstly slice the aubergine quite thinly. Put a couple of tablespoons of oil in a (non-stick, ideally) frying pan, heat until pretty hot and then drop in some of the aubergine slices. Unless you have a mahoosive pan you will probably need to cook these in at least a couple of batches. The aubergine will suck up most of the oil before it's cooked through properly, but rather than adding more oil, turn the heat down a little, add a few splashes of water and put a lid over the pan. This allows them to effectively steam and finish cooking. Once you're sure that the slices are all thoroughly cooked through, drain on kitchen roll (if required), and put to one side to cool completely.
In the meantime, roast the ground cumin in a dry pan. I would really recommend grinding your own cumin seeds too, as it makes a big difference to the flavour. Roast over a lowish heat for a few minutes, and you should be able to tell when it's done by the nice smell of....well, roast cumin.
Beat the yoghurt a bit with a fork to lighten it, and then add the cooled aubergine, cumin, sugar, and salt and pepper. You could also use plain natural yoghurt instead, or a mix of that and the Greek version. Mix well and ideally leave to sit for a while for the flavours to mingle.
This raita is perfect with other Indian dishes. I eat it with dry, spicy fish but I imagine it would work well with meat too if you are so inclined.
And finally props to my mother for the recipe, and whichever 'auntie' it was that originally passed it on to her.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Piedmont stuffed peppers

I'm pretty neutral about Delia Smith, but it has to be said that she has come up trumps with various recipes that have featured on this blog such as the rhubarb crumble ice cream and profiteroles. There was a sort of retrospective of her 'work' on television a while ago, and it reminded me of a recipe from her Summer Collection book that I always meant to try but never got round to making. As Delia herself says this is not an original recipe but one that was popularised by Elizabeth David. Delia's recipe uses regular bell peppers but I'd really recommend using those sweet, pointy peppers instead. Having tried it with both, the regular peppers were a bit watery and lacking in flavour compared to their pointy brethren.
So to make these Piedmont peppers, just cut them in half length-ways and scoop out any seeds or white pith. Place on a baking tray and put a couple of chopped anchovy fillets, a few slices of garlic, and some halved cherry tomatoes inside each pepper. Season with a little pepper, and drizzle a couple of teaspoons of olive oil (I use the oil the anchovies came in) over each piece of pepper.
Bake in a moderate oven (gas mark 5) for around 45mins or until the peppers are soft and collapsing. These peppers are so quick to prepare they make a great side dish, and could probably be made entirely vegetarian with the substitution of the anchovy with a suitable salty cheese. I served these with some roasted sweet potato and grilled tuna, and it made a great summer dinner. Ideally eaten while pretending to be a Piedmontese peasant.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Waitrose mushroom and mascarpone pizza

So a while ago top blogger and general genius woman Ms MarmiteLover commented that I'd not written about any quick and interesting convenience products (or rather in her words 'junk food') for a while. Of course not even MasterChefs can be bothered with creating delicious and flavoursome food everyday, so here's a ready-made alternative- namely this mushroom and mascarpone pizza from Waitrose. I previously thought that this number from Tesco's Finest range was my favourite supermarket pizza, but it has been easily usurped by this offering from Waitrose. It has a really thin but chewy base, heaps of mushrooms which taste fresh and are packed full of flavour, and the mascarpone adds a little extra richness to the whole thing. It doesn't even need anything else adding to it (as I would normally do with other ready-made pizzas).
So until someone builds a proper wood-burning pizza oven for me, or an establishment with such an item starts delivering to my house, this is going to be my pizza of choice.

Waitrose mushroom and mascarpone pizza
I rate it 9/10

Cost: £3.99 (for enough to feed two)

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Adventures in Masterchef-land

So a couple of weeks ago I received a very nice email from the people at Miele inviting me to a Masterchef event at their showroom in London. A number of food bloggers would have an hour to cook two courses for John Torode and Gregg Wallace and be judged on our efforts. I don't normally go in for competitive cooking, but in the spirit of 'what the hell' I said yes, and then forgot about it for a while.

But as MC-day neared I settled on a menu of Indian spiced salmon, vegetable pilau rice, and aubergine raita, with a nectarine 'crumble' for pudding. I'd cooked all those things before and they took around an hour or so to make, didn't they? Then, feeling fully prepared, I got on with doing some other stuff. I did think that perhaps I should write up a plan of the order in which I needed to do things to make sure my one hour cooking time was used appropriately but kept putting this off. I had everything fully set out in my head though, and thought I could just put this mental plan to paper while on the train to London. Unfortunately I fell asleep on the train. Oh well. So on arrival at the Miele London Gallery what had initially seemed to be a bit of fun became something that was actually quite scary.

However my mind was taken off the task ahead by spotting my fellow competitors and the people behind some top food blogs-Meemalee's Kitchen, Food Urchin, Maison Cupcake and Fuss Free Flavours. I was also pleasantly distracted by the contents of the Miele showroom, with their swanky appliances and sleek surfaces. And then MC judges John and Gregg, men known for their love of cardigans and puddings respectively, arrived.....and we were off and cooking!

At this point the mental plan went out of the window and I began chopping the first thing in sight with a slightly trembling hand. I did compose myself after a while though and started being a bit more logical about things. I don't really like cooking under pressure in any circumstances and having John and Gregg suddenly appear behind my shoulder didn't help my stress levels much. I also missed having my usual spices at hand, as though I'd brought what I thought I'd need with me, it was a little frustrating not being able to add a few extra bits of this and that as I normally would at home. However the major bonus of being in the Miele kitchens was the presence of their exceedingly lovely home economists who ensured I had the oven at the right setting, discretely whisked away used pans, appeared with any extra equipment I needed and provided a few calming words. Anyway, it all came together in the end, although I hadn't really thought about presentation so things were a bit plonked on the plate.

And then onto the judging. There were some impressive looking plates of food from my fellow bloggers with mackerel on a bed of spring onions and potatoes with calcot sauce and pea shoots, and a gooseberry pudding with soft meringue peaks from Danny; MiMi's Burmese coconut chicken noodles (ohn-no khao swe), and a blueberry and orange zest shortcake, with whipped cream and a blueberry and orange coulis; Helen's veal on a Mediterranean sauce of garlic, onion, raisins, capers & olives with a rocket and broad bean salad, and lime and elderflower posset with berries and an Irish Lace biscuit; and Nutella and mascarpone macarons and an apple, pecan and chocolate chip cake from Sarah. My salmon and rice got some quite nice comments, though Gregg and John weren't entirely convinced that it all went together with the raita. Gregg did seem rather keen on my incredibly simple nectarine crumble though, and even said he'd like to 'stick his face in it'. Though I do believe he is contractually obligated to say that at least once whenever he is within ten feet of any pudding. And the end result? Rather unexpectedly I won. Errr, huzzah!

So overall, stressful moments aside, this was a rather fun day. The off-screen John and Gregg seemed pretty similar to the on-screen John and Gregg which I guess is reassuring, and luckily neither of them made me talk about my passion for food or the life changing journey I'd been on. Winning was nice but an undoubted highlight was getting to meet MiMi, Sarah, Danny and Helen who were as nice in the flesh as in blog form.

Thanks very much indeed to all the lovely people at Miele for organising this event, (and for giving me serious kitchen-envy).

Monday, 21 June 2010

Indian style bread and butter pudding

So I have to credit my father for the evolution of this dish. As a child I remember him making a bread and butter pudding that involved gently frying slices of white bread in butter and reducing down pints of cream with cardamom and sugar, before the whole thing was sprinkled with raisins and put in the oven. What emerged was a dense, sweet mess, and and ever since then I have found regular bread and butter puddings too dry, bland or 'eggy'. I don't think he's cooked that dish for about fifteen years but the memory must remain strong as it's the first thing I thought of when a large amount of panettone was unexpectedly presented to me some months ago.
The richness of panettone makes it an excellent substitute for plain white bread, and it even comes with it's own complement of dried fruit in it so no need to add them either. The recipe below is slightly cobbled together from what I happened to have in the fridge, but the proportions of cream and milk can be increased if you want.

Recipe (enough for 6)

Around 500g panettone, sliced
250ml double cream
250ml milk (ideally whole but I used semi-skimmed)
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed to release the seeds
1 bay leaf
Around 50g butter
Around 3 tblsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk

Gently heat the milk and cream with the cardamom, bay leaf and initially 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Have a taste and then add more sugar as required. Leave this mix on a low heat for around 15-20mins, until it's reduced by around a quarter and thickened a little. Take it off the heat and leave to cool for a while. In the meantime beat the egg yolk thoroughly, and once the cream mix is just warm rather than hot, pour a little onto the egg. Continue to whisk well and pour on the rest of the cream. Scoop out the cardamom pods and bay leaf, and set to one side.
Melt about half of the butter in a frying pan, and when it's lightly foaming put in the panettone slices and cooked until slightly browned on both sides. Add more butter as it's needed. As the panettone is quite rich already this step might not be necessary but thought I'd stick to family tradition.
To assemble the pudding, find a dish that will hold two layers of panettone. Place slices on the bottom, overlap them a bit, and repeat for another layer on top. Pour the cream mixture over the top and push the panettone into it so that gets to soak up some of the liquid. The panettone shouldn't be floating in cream but you should be able to see some when you push the pudding down a bit. Dot a few bits of butter over the top and bake in the middle of the oven at gas mark 5 for around 25mins. The top of the pudding should be golden so cover with foil if it looks like it's scorching.
Eat with a big spoon while still a warm.

NB Some Twitter discussion revealed that this pudding might well have been influenced by another desert from the Indian sub-continent, shahi turka, which very unusually for me I had never heard of before. Anyway, here's to fusion cooking in all its forms!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Spaghetti with broccoli, anchovy and walnuts

Broccoli dressed with anchovy is a pretty classic combination, as is pasta with garlic and anchovies- so I thought I'd combine the two into a very quick and simple dinner. The addition of the walnuts adds a slightly sweet and well, nutty, contrast to the saltiness of the fish and just seems to work very well. This is also quite a light pasta dish and so ideal for long, hot summer days (of which we've currently had two).

Recipe (enough for one)

3 large broccoli florets
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6-8 walnuts, roughly chopped
Enough spaghetti for one, around 100g
Salt and pepper to season
Olive oil

Thinly slice the broccoli florets and gently cook in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for around five minutes. When it's almost tender, increase the heat and add the anchovies and garlic. As the anchovies break up, drop in the walnuts and continue to cook for a couple more minutes until the garlic and broccoli are fully cooked. Cook the pasta, and mix in with the broccoli with a spoonful or two of the pasta water to loosen it all up. Season with salt (although you may not need any so taste first) and pepper, and it's done.
Ideally eat al fresco, or else staring out of the window at the rain.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Rhubarb crumble ice cream

There are many reasons why the interweb is brilliant, and this is one of them. I would not have come across this recipe for rhubarb crumble ice cream if it wasn't for the Food Stories blog. Though it's a Delia creation it was seeing this ice cream appear on the blogosphere that prompted me to try it, and with a few handy hints via Twitter (thanks to aforkfulofspaghetti) I can declare it a huge success!

Click through using the links above for the full recipe but the beauty of this ice cream is that it is so simple. Cook rhubarb, mix with cream, add in crumble, make cold=done. As Helen Food Stories mentions I think a reduction in sugar when cooking the rhubarb is beneficial. And I should probably have reduced it even more than I did to really heighten the contrast between sweet crumble, cold cream and sharp rhubarb.

I don't have an ice cream maker so once the cooked rhubarb had cooled and been mixed with the cream, I was committed to a schedule of visits to the freezer and churning. Churning it every hour or so worked really well, though did get increasingly difficult as the ice cream become more frozen and harder to mix. Due to circumstances I churned over the course of about six hours and then left the ice cream overnight in the freezer. The next morning a full upper body work-out was required to undertake the final churn and mixing in the crumble. It then went back in the freezer for a couple of hours and was put in the fridge around half an hour before we ate it. It was definitely worth all the effort though, as the final product was delicious and ice crystal free!

Ideally serve on hot summer's day while wondering if it is worth investing in a proper ice cream maker....

Friday, 28 May 2010

Political couscous disappointment

I love couscous. I get a bit annoyed when people say it is tasteless. It's like saying pasta or potatoes are tasteless - you need to add some other nice stuff to it otherwise it is going to be bland. But despite being a long-term couscous consumer, I only came across giant or Israeli (the name seems to vary depending on political affiliations) couscous quite recently. I was rather impressed with a Tesco grilled vegetable salad that contained a mixture of regular couscous, giant couscous and chickpeas. And so I resolved to try and make my own giant couscous salad.

I used this Merchant Gourmet brand giant couscous, and was surprised to learn that you actually have to boil it like pasta rather than just pour hot water on it like the regular stuff. Although in retrospect it seems quite obvious that the larger grains would require more cooking. But once cooked I proceeded as I would normally, by dousing in olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. I also added some finely chopped red onion, tomato, and grilled courgette.
And the outcome? Unfortunately I didn't really like it. Perhaps I over-cooked it or maybe there are other better brands I should try, but the giant couscous grains were oddly slimy, and didn't absorb flavour in the way that I'm used to with the regular variety. My salad was still perfectly edible but not really enjoyable. I think next time I will follow Tesco's example and combine this with other grains. Any other suggestions?

Merchant Gourmet giant couscous
I rate it 6.5/10

Cost: Around £2.00 for a 300g box