Sunday, 27 July 2008

Ooh, what a tart!

It's been a rather busy weekend. Not only have we been at a wedding reception on Friday evening, we then had a meal out on Saturday, followed by drinks for a friends birthday, then today N has been working (did I mention it's Sunday? What kind of crazy company ask people to work on a Sunday?) As a result of all these goings on I though N might a like a little treat to ease the fact that he's going to have a long week after a very short and tiring weekend.

I had some mascarpone in the fridge that needed using, and decided that since it's been so hot and the summer fruits are in full swing the best thing to do would be a simple fruit tart. It would require minimal baking, which in the current heat is a very welcome thing indeed. It would also mean that N would actually get to taste some summer berries instead of watching them disappear into the freezer!

I planned to make a simple sweet pastry shell in my new tart pan, and then fill it with a mascarpone cream and top it with berries. I hadn't factored into this perfectly laid plan the fact that the last thing you want to be attempting in a hot humid kitchen is pastry. Argh! I just couldn't get the dough cold enough to work with, despite having chilling it first in the fridge and then the freezer. As soon as I removed it from the cling film and started rolling it, it got warm again and became almost impossible to work with. How on earth do people working in hot kitchens manage it? In the end I did the best I could and had to patch the shell where it had come apart. Not the prettiest most professional tart shell ever, but it would have to do. I slung it in the freezer to chill before I cooked it and then blind-baked it for 20 mins.

Fortunately the shell looked alright when it came out of the oven. While it was cooling I mixed some mascarpone with the juice of half a lemon and some icing sugar, whipping it until it was combined. I then spread this on the cold tart shell and topped it with mixture of berries I'd bought this morning at the market (and than had miraculously made it back in my rucksack!)

As you can see the result was rather nice indeed. I was really pleased with how it turned out, and N certainly made lots of happy noises whilst tucking into it, I think he might be able to cope with a second slice tomorrow evening!

So yeah, jam! - no, really!

Having borrowed my Mum's preserving pan, and been dutifully supplied with jars, lids and sterilization instructions last weekend I couldn't wait to get going on my new venture. I've been hoping to get the hang of it so that when (more like if) we get a glut of courgettes I can make chutneys in time for Christmas.

Our rhubarb plant has been growing like mad, and there is only so much compote two people can eat, so I decided to get creative and make jam. I picked up a recipe online for rhubarb and pink grapefruit jam and decided that this weekend I would finally do the last harvest of the rhubarb and preserve it ready for later in the year. Of course it would decide to be the hottest weekend of the year wouldn't it? On the very weekend I planned to stand over a boiling vat of fruit and sugar. Brilliant.

Oh well, I decided I might as well do it anyway. I couldn't possible get any hotter (especially since I'd cycled to the farmer's market and back!) so I might
as well enjoy the purifying benefits of our lovely sauna kitchen. I went out and harvested as much as I dared from the plant and set about preparing it. As it turned out I didn't have quite enough to make the half batch I was planning, but I decided to simply cut down the sugar slightly and see how it turned out. I also decided to use pink grapefruits, rather than yellow. I thought the colours would complement each other and it would help cut down the sharpness. Also N is not a fan of grapefruit, but had admitted that the fresh pink grapefruit juice I'd had whilst in California was alright, so hopefully by using pink grapefruits in the jam he would still like it.

The rhubarb, peel and juice of the grapefruit and sugar had to sit for a while before the actual making could begin and the sharp citrus smell coming off it was fantastic, and the colours a real barrage of pinks and green. When it had rested I started the boiling process. It felt so exciting to be using the preserving pan, I mean okay I was making a very small amount and clearly could have used any heavy-based saucepan, but that's not the point! Plus in the future I plan on making large batches. Oh yes, be warned it's jam and chutney for Christmas this year people!

While the mixture was boiling away I poured the boiling water out of the jars that I had waiting and put them in the cooling oven to dry (cooling down from another exciting baked adventure; might as well put the oven on if the kitchen's going to be hot because of jam anyway, that was my excuse!). I really hope that I've managed to sterilize the jars well enough. I really don't want to lose my jam making attempts to mould.

It seemed to take no time at all. I was expecting it to be a long difficult process, but it all happened so fast, no doubt helped by the small amount, which is a good thing considering the temperature. I whipped it off the stove, carried the tray of jars out of the oven and began transferring the jam across into them.

Ta da!

How exciting, our very own jam, made from our very own rhubarb! I can't wait to try it. I am planning on having it on toast tomorrow morning, so will report back. The batch made just enough for this full sized jar, one tiny kilner jar, and just enough left over to put in the fridge to have on toast tomorrow. If I have stored it correctly it should keep for up to a year, which is really exciting. I am thinking of doing it again next weekend, this time with a huge batch of berries from the farmer's market. I'm totally on the jam wagon now!

Taste update: I have since tried the jam. It came from the fridge and was really solid, so I don't think I need to worry about the set! It's a nice little jam, not as strong on the rhubarb as I expected, which is a shame. I wonder if it might mature over time. The tang of the grapefruit is very tasty and I would contemplate making plain pink grapefruit marmalade. I did however, despite the tang, find it a little sweet. Less sugar and more pectin next time methinks.

In other news, the recipe for this jam was taken from a round-up of a jam and jelly exchange organized by Molly, of Batter Splattered, a food blogger who I read regularly. She is about to arrange another exchange and I've registered my interest. Who knows, my next batch of jam might be flying across the world!

Friday, 25 July 2008

The heat must be getting to me

It finally actually feels like summer here: glorious days when the sun is so strong that the heat really penetrates your skin. It's wonderful. Now I've raved about it, it can't possibly last. I never used to be a summer person. I always found the heat too much, the sun too bright, the clothes too, well, summery! I used to long for the long dark cozy nights of winter, curled up with hot drinks and huge jumpers, the days when jeans were never too hot to wear and going outside wasn't an option.

Then again, I was carrying a bit of extra weight in those days, and more than a little obsessed with black clothes, black hair, black eyeliner, black lipstick, black anything in fact.

These days I am quite the opposite; I revel in the sunshine, can't wait to get the doors wide open in the mornings and potter in the garden or sit at the table soaking up some vitamin D, and although I have clung on to my love of black clothing (it's not goth, it's classic, elegant and flattering) I'm more likely to be found sporting a light dress or shorts and vest tops these days.

I think the summer heat does make me slightly crazy though. It stops my brain from making rational decisions. Yesterday I pottered down to the fruit and veg stall only intending to try and get a couple of punnets of berries, one to freeze (I am frantically trying to freeze a stock of summer fruits so I can have them in the winter and not have to resort to buying mediocre berries flown halfway across the world with less flavour than a damp rag) and one to make into muffins for N's lunch. However, when faced with the piles of punnets of blueberries, the mounds of Kentish cherries and the sign pointing out the "ripe and ready to eat English plums" I went into autopilot, my brain switched off and the irrational fruit lover in me took over!

I walked away with my rucksack loaded with four punnets of blueberries, 2lbs of cherries and 1lb of plums, and a token bit of root ginger (which will play a part in some posts over the weekend I hope). What was I thinking? We'd had our fruit and veg delivered only the day before and had gorgeous nectarines, apples and melon to get through, how on earth were we going to plough through my stone fruit and berry mountain?

The answer? If in doubt, freeze and bake! I immediately put three of the blueberry punnets on the rack in the top of the freezer so that in a couple of hours they could be boxed and ready for winter. I polished off two of the plums with lunch and they were so unbelievably good that there was no way I was going to bake with them, they can be lunch for the next two days. The cherries were going to be the real problem. When I see ripe cherries I really can't resist them, they really are one of my all time favourite fruits. I decided to bake some in to muffins to accompany the blueberries and to halve the rest and freeze them too. Needless to say we now have a freezer bursting with the delights of summer which ought to keep us going until the very depths of winter, and no doubt it'll be added to during next weeks brain spasm at the fruit stall.

Now, what about the muffins you're asking? Well I used a recipe from a magazine my Nanna saved once and sent to me. It's my basic go-to recipe for muffins because it can be adapted to almost anything and has yet to let me down. I decided to make a full batch of twelve (because I'd be freezing them for N's lunches) and split the batter so half would be spiced blueberry and the others spiced blueberry and cherry. I omitted the butter and used apple puree instead (partly because I like being able to cut the fat down and partly because I was too lazy to go to the shop and get butter!) and used half plain flour and half wholemeal to make them higher in fibre and more like a breakfast muffin. The result? Judge for yourselves:

Don't they look tempting?! The fresh berries burst whilst cooking and made the muffins into little berry volcanoes. The smell was amazing, cinnamon, mixed spice and berries. I can't wait to taste them. I am trying to hold out until this evening and our car journey to Hitchin' I'm not sure if I'll manage it to be honest.

Here's the recipe I used. If you want to bake with butter just exchange it for the apple puree, melt and add to the milk mix. You can chop and change the filling with no problems. I was probably 50g over the suggest weight of berries in the cherry ones and it didn't affect their baking or rising at all. Yes, that's how genius this recipe is!

Volcanic Very Berry Muffins: makes 12 (6 blueberry, 6 mixed - for all mixed up the cherries and down the blueberries)

100g apple puree
150g plain flour
150g wholemeal flour
1tbsp baking powder
150g golden caster sugar
2 eggs
250ml soy milk
1tsp vanilla essence
pinch of cinnamon (mine was a LARGE pinch!)
pinch of mixed spice
200g blueberries (aprox)
50g cherries (aprox - stones and chopped in half or quarters)

Line a muffin pan with twelve cases and put the oven on to preheat to 200C

Put the blueberries in a large bowl and stir in the flours, spices, baking powder and sugar until well combined. Put the apple puree, eggs, milk and vanilla into a jug and beat well until combined. Add to the dry mix and stir until combined, but try not to over mix, lumps are good for muffins. Spoon half the batter into six of the cases to get your blueberry muffins. Then add the cherries to the batter, combine and spoon into the remaining cases. Bake for 20 mins until risen and golden.

Enjoy the volcanic goodness warm, or cold. They should keep for three days in an airtight container, or freeze for up to three months.

A photo essay: North London Garden veg update

Sunday, 20 July 2008

From a North East kitchen

We've been on a bit of a jaunt; a sojourn up North to visit my parents for a couple of days, and take some in-person birthday wishes to my father.

It wouldn't be a proper birthday without cake, and it wouldn't be me unless I took a little of the North London Kitchen to the North East. So I whipped together another Ottolenghi recipe to try for D's cake.

I also plotted with my Mum to make some bread on Friday so we could have a dinner of bread and salad. As I think I've mentioned, my adoration of all things bread comes from D, and this especially applies to the Italian breads, so with my Mum dutifully having made the ferment for the ciabatta before we arrived I promised to finish it and add some focaccia to the feast.

It all worked out very well indeed; the cake was ready for tea and cake when D got home from work, and a few hours later we had mounds of bread with fresh salad from the garden, roasted tomatoes and cheeses, served with great glasses of wine. Wonderful.

Apart from the great food and company there are other exciting things about being home: I get to use D's amazing camera. The pictures today come from his amazing Nikon, which somehow made even the ciabatta starter sitting on the side look exciting and professional. I've definitely got to get me one of those!

p.s. The only disappointing aspect of the weekend was the icing for the cake. It was supposed to be a lovely thick cloudy maple syrup cream cheese icing. Instead it was so runny when I mixed it that I had to add a tonne of icing sugar, which rather ruined the effect. According to everyone else it was fine, but I was very disappointed. Methinks perhaps it was because I used low fat cream cheese. I have never yet managed to get cream cheese icing to work. I think it'll get one more try, with a full fat cheese, then I might just give it up and look elsewhere for icing ideas.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The best cookie ever?

Could this be the best cookie in the world?

It seems that everyone is talking about chocolate chip cookies these days, thanks to a New York Times article and recipe. I have to admit I was sceptical, and there was no way I was going to leave cookie dough in the fridge for 36 hours. I need to space for fruit and veg, and I don't have that kind of patience. However, I did fancy giving the recipe a go, partly because I wanted to have something easy but nice to leave for the Kat-Doctor who is coming to look after Sniff this weekend. You can't go wrong with cookies, right?

Another reason I wanted to try them was because the cookie recipe I usually use - from the Bero Flour Cookbook courtesy of my Mum - is more cakey than cookie and I fancied something wider, shallower and more like an American cookie. Don't get me wrong, cakey cookies are good, very good, but sometimes you just want something different.

So I halved the recipe from the Times, chilled it for about four hours and then made this uber cookies. I seriously doubt that it's going to be the best cookie in the world, but it's a cookie, it has chocolate and I think it'll be just the trick when we've half-way up the country with two hours driving still to go.

I'll report back when we've scoffed and let you know what our verdict is.

The verdict: We stopped at some services near Sheffield at about 10.30pm for a coffee to keep us going for the final two hours driving, and out came the cookies. The verdict was that they are good cookies. Not the greatest in the world, but good and definitely exactly what was needed at the time. I shall probably stick with this recipe for a while to get flat (rather than cakey) cookies.

A photo essay: summery breakfast

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

In season at last

The summer might have finally arrived. Perhaps not the blisteringly hot sunny days I would hope for, but the time for booking holidays and enjoying the summer fruits.

Last night we booked our flights to Italy. Whoo! I'm so excited. It's going to be so beautiful and of course, so tasty!

This morning I cycled down to the tube station, outside which there is a fruit and veg stall. She always seems to have British produce and last week the raspberries we had were gorgeous. So I dutifully went off this morning to get some more, thing is she had blueberries as well. They're N's favourite so I couldn't resist. I bought three punnets of each, have put one of each in the fridge and set the others freezing so that we'll have delicious native summer berries later in the year when they're not available in the shops.

Thing is, I've just remembered that I was supposed to get cherries and a lemon. Oops!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

And he does it again.

It official, Nigel Slater is rocking our world!

I just made his "very good chocolate brownie" recipe, and he's right, they are very good. No, make that VERY good! Yes ladies and gentlemen, that's bold and italic and capitals, they are that tasty.

I have been craving brownies again these last few days, unusual because although I like chocolate, it's rare that I crave it, and this makes it twice in two months, which is even weirder. I think the problem is that last time I made brownies they were alright, but not the crisp-on-the-outside-gooey-in-the-middle masterpieces I was hoping. This is probably a combination of over-baking and wanting to skimp on the calories and make them lower fat. Now that's all very well, I should eat low fat things because of my back (I have sciatica that is brought on because the muscles in my back can't metabolize fats very well and so become inflamed pressing on the nerve), and should eat low calorie things because of my conscience. Thing is, sometimes that just doesn't hit the spot. So out of the window go all the good intentions and into the oven goes gooey chocolatey goodness.

I finished reading "The Kitchen Diaries" by Nigel Slater this week. I had been saving it, reading it week by week according to the date. However, N has been working late this week and I needed something to keep me company. Plus the weather hasn't exactly been summery, so I didn't see any problem with dipping into the autumn months. This proved dangerous. It was as if Mr Slater had read my mind because there, hidden in the depths of October was a recipe for brownies, and worse, a picture. Damn they looked good.

I tried to resist I really did, but when I went out for the paper this morning it was cold and damp and I knew that brownies were going to be made. I figured I could make them, eat one today, ride the bike to wear off the calories and quickly whip the rest into the freezer for N's lunches. Hmmm, they're so good they may not last long enough to get in the freezer.

They are a very adult brownie, dark and rich but not too sweet. Crisp on the outside, but so fudgy as to almost be runny in the middle. I think the flavour was helped by the fact that I used 70% cocoa chocolate. I halved the recipe and had to slightly adapt it as a result, but there were no complaints when I dished them up. In fact I think the phrase from N was "these are a real winner." I served them with fresh hot coffee, but I think they'd be good as a dessert served simply with raspberries or strawberries - you won't need cream, believe me!

Nigel Slater's "very good chocolate brownies" adapted from "The Kitchen Diaries" - makes six.

150g caster sugar
125g butter
125g 70% chocolate
2 eggs
30g plain flour
30g cocoa flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

(I had to line half a baking tin, using folded parchment paper to make it half size, otherwise the brownies won't be thick enough. If you double the mixture (but use 3 eggs not 2) it should fit a brownie pan.)

Preheat the oven to 180C

Cream the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Beat the eggs and then slowly add to the mixture a bit at a time, combining in between each addition. Melt 100g of the chocolate in a double boiler or over a pan of simmering water (but don't let the bottom of the bowl touch the water), chop the remaining chocolate into very mall pieces. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt together. Add the melted and chopped chocolate to the eggs and sugar batter, combine and then slowly fold in the flour mixture, being careful to keep as much air in the mix as possible.

Spoon into the lined baking pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30 minutes. It should look slightly softer in the middle than the edges. A toothpick should come out wet, but not with raw batter on it. If it does return to the oven for a further 3 minutes, bearing in mind it will solidify as it cools. Remove from the oven and cool for at least an hour before cutting into squares and indulging.

A photo essay: Our Lovely Cat (tm)

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Despite the rain, we will prevail, or; dedicated to N.

July is proving a rather difficult month. It is refusing to bring us the lovely weather we'd hope for. The cricket season is in full swing, Wimbledon has just finished and the Tour de France is speeding its way across the rolling countryside, and yet the rain continues to fall. It hasn't been a completely wet month, there has been a spot of sunshine here and there, but it's hard to remember that when torrential rain is throwing itself on your struggling garden.

I want salads and picnics, chilled white wine, delicate flowers and pretty summer dresses. Instead yesterday I spent the whole time tucked up in my dressing gown with a blanket over my freezing feet, with a grumpy yowling cat. I then cooked sausages with potatoes, beans and fried onions. That's winter stodge, not my light fruity salads. If I'd have been serving it with drinks it would have been a deep rich stout. Yes, that's how bad the weather was yesterday.

And yet, there are little bits of joy to be found, even in the gloom. Our Lovely Garden (tm) is struggling to prevail. The courgettes and squash are holding their heads up in the r
ain and insisting on splashes of bright yellow flowers to compete with the splashes (read buckets) of rain that insists on falling on them. Then I also noticed the fuschia. Tucked in a little pot handing on the wall determinedly flowering and even glistening in the rain. It may have been a wash out of a day, but there were still things to remind me that it's not all that bad.

Today I went out again and saw the fushia smiling at me in the sunshine, as if to say "see, it's all alright." It's like the plant equivalent of N, who despite having to work long hours this week was wonderful last night when he discovered his girlfriend sitting on the kitchen floor crying about the grumpy cat that just wouldn't stop meowing. He's amazing, I don't know how he does it.

So, this post, my 100th, is dedicated to N
who is my ray of sunshine in all weathers; who puts up with my cookbook and baking obsession with not even a flinch as another book arrives for our already overloaded shelves, or another strange dish is placed in front of him; who deals with my cat-stress and grumpericalness; who even takes an interest when I talk about cycling. Now there's one fantastic, amazing man. Thank you.

P.S. We ended yesterday (having chucked the grumpy cat into the garden determined not to worry about him being out at night) with blueberry tofu cheesecake. It was originally made for the garden party, but I overcooked it, it cracked and it wasn't really presentable enough. Plus the blueberries used in it were rather disappointing. I can't bear to waste food though, and knew that if did various things to spice it up it must be edible. We've tried various things, but last night I went for the indulgent addition of blueberry whipped cream and it was just what it needed. I simply added three teaspoons of blueberry conserve (a wonderful find by N) into a bowl of whipped creamed and whipped it a bit more. It was exactly what the evening needed. A little bit of comfort and indulgence.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Sniff's adventures in the rain, or; he's got me totally sussed.

This is what our very cute, and very vocal cat currently looks like. He has spent the last three days whining, whinging and generally meowing up a storm. This morning it finally got the best of me and I decided to let him out, in the rain, against my better judgement I thought.

So out he went, and immediately under the decking. I gave it half an hour and tried to call him. Nothing. I gave it another ten minutes and tried again. Nothing. Finally I gave in, shut the door and got on with the washing up, all tearful at the idea that my frustration with him had forced him out and would mean he never comes back and doesn't love us anymore.

Ten minutes later a very soggy looking cat arrives at the back door. He didn't come in straight away, but a dentibit helped persuade him. I was so relieved. I gave him lots of love and attention, helped dry him off and finally relaxed.

He gave it five more minutes and started up with the whinging again. Honestly, the little blighter. Ah, how I can't wait until we have the tags for his cat flap. He's got a very definite frowning expression too, which is what he is giving me now that I won't let him out again.

I refuse to spend the whole day getting up and down opening the door for him, so he's just going to have to put up and shut up. If he doesn't I guess I'll have to hope my nerves hold and put him back out again for a long while.

I'm secretly hoping all the whinging and adventuring will exhaust him and he'll curl up and go to sleep like he usually does.

Monday, 7 July 2008

A trifle tasty if you ask me.

It's incredibly hard to find fresh blackcurrents these days. I think they majority go into Ribena making, and the rest are probably tinned. We had some on our bush in the garden (about seven!) but the birds got to them before I could net the bush in protection. I thought the hope of fresh blackcurrents was over, and then suddenly I stumbled across them yesterday whilst pottering at Spitalfields market.

I was so excited by the prospect of having found some that I only bought one punnet (it didn't cross my mind I should by two and freeze one - oops!). No matter, one would be enough for the two of us. It was now just a case of what to make with them. I didn't really have enough for a pie (despite the numerous suggestions from a certain person *cough*mum*cough* that it was the only suitable way to serve them) so decided on a trifle. I haven't had trifle for years and have never made one myself. Fortunately with a little guidance from a certain Mr Slater, I discovered that all I really needed was a layer of sponge, a layer of fruit and a layer of cream. I had all those things ready. Sponge in the freezer leftover from the garden party, a spare pot of cream in the fridge for the same reason, and of course our lovely blackcurrents.

It was a bit of a slap-dash approach, using no recipe really other than the knowledge of the order the layers needed to be in, but it worked out very well indeed. A very simple version of trifle, but just what we needed to end our lazy weekend.

Easy blackcurrent trifle (serves four small portions or two large)

I used a small square pyrex dish from Ikea and it made just enough for two portions last night and two for this evening) You can double or triple the recipe if you use a larger dish

Quarter of a sponge cake.
punnet of blackcurrents
double cream
honey (optional)

Layer the sponge so it tightly fills the base of the serving dish. Put the blackcurrents in a saucepan with a tablespoon of sugar and two tablespoons of water. Cook for about ten minutes on a low heat until they are just bursting and releasing lots of lushious purple juice. Pour evenly over the sponge and leave until cool to allow the sponge to soak up the juices.

When it's cool whip about 100 -150ml of double cream (I just poured a bunch into a bowl without measuring!) adding honey to taste if you wish. Whip until it is just thickening. Spoon over the fruit layer in rough "clouds" and then place the whole thing in the fridge until ready to indulge!

Perpetual pasta pastry

This was the carnage produced by my wonderful idea to have a go at making our own ravioli last night. It seemed like a good idea at the time!

A couple of weeks ago we bought a butternut squash at the farmer's market. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. I'd done risotto recently and didn't want to make a salad or eat it roasted on it's own. I have however wanted to try it in ravioli for a long time. I'd been holding out on pasta making until getting a rolling machine. I just didn't think I'd get the right results rolling dough by hand. However, on the Abel and Cole bill this week was a recipe for pasta dough that they said didn't need a machine. I discarded their idea for filling and decided to replace it with a roasted butternut squash and Parmesan puree. I put the squash into roast and set about making the dough.

I didn't have any eggs left so decided to replace them in the recipe with milk, which since the recipe only asked for one, should be alright. Off I went. It was going fine to start with, the dough came together no problem and felt like it had a nice texture. The problem came with the rolling. It was so elastic that rolling it was incredibly hard work, and since
you need it as thin as possible it was not only taking me ages, but also causing considerable shoulder ache. The going was tough and slow and in about half an hour of working the dough I'd only managed three little parcels! They looked great, but one and a half bits of pasta in half and hour meant we wouldn't be eating dinner anytime that evening, and whenever we did there wasn't going to be much to fill us up.

Fortunately my pasta rolling hero came to the rescue. N, being both stronger and taller, was able to roll out the dough much faster and thinner than I was. The pasta production line went into action. He rolled, cut and re-rolled, I filled, sealed, cut and dusted. In no time at all we had a sheet filled with butternut squash ravioli! Despite my initial worry about not having enough pieces the "perpetual pasta pastry" as it came to be called proved us both wrong. N kept rolling and kept managing to produce more little circles. We stopped in the end because we were starving and needed to cook it, plus earlier we'd given in and put some ciabatta on to bake to help fill us up. I think we had nearly 20 parcels in the end, and there is still dough sitting in the fridge!

In order not to overpower the subtle flavour of the squash and Parmesan I decided to serve the pasta with a simple sage infused butter, which would gently coat it, and provide nice dipping for our bread. It worked really well.

I enjoyed the meal, and there is something very special about tucking into pasta you've made, and filled yourself. However, I think I'll wait until we've got a pasta machine until I make it again, and then start more than forty-five minutes before we want to eat!

"Perpetual Pasta Pastry" - adapted from Abel and Cole (serves two, or maybe three or four depending on your patience and portion sizes!)

115g plain flour
slug of milk
pinch of salt
2tbsp water
2 tbsp olive oil

sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt and form a well into which pour the milk, water and olive oil. mix until combined into a dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for five minutes until elastic. Roll out as thin as possible and cut out and even number of rounds using a pastry cutter or glass. Roll these circles again until as thin as possible. Pair them. Wet on with water all over, drop a teaspoon of filling in the middle, top with another round and press down around the edge of the filling to seal and remove air bubbles. Cut again to securely seal. Lay dusted with flour on a baking sheet (I lined mine with a bread making tea towel to make sure they didn't stick).

When ready to cool, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Cook about six at a time (or as many as will fit comfortable in the pan and not stick together) for 3-5 mins until glossy and cooked through. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, drain in a colander and serve.

Filling: (filled our parcels with loads left over for another time)

1 butternut squash
dried sage to taste
ground pepper
pinch of salt
grated Parmesan

Cut the squash into quarters and de-seed. Place in a roasting tin with a glug of oil, and a sprinkling of dried sage. Roast until soft. Remove from the oven and cool, then remove the skins and place the flesh in a blender with a good pinch of salt, a grinding of pepper and grated Parmesan to taste (I used a large handful). Blend together.

Sage butter:

2 tbsp unsalted butter
5 fresh sage leaves roughly torn.

Place the butter and sage in a milk pan on the hob. Heat very slowly to melt the butter without burning it. When melted remove from heat and let sit as long as possible. Before serving re-melt and drizzle over the pasta.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

beanz meanz....homemade!

I'm not a big baked bean fan. In fact, except for a very rare craving for them on toast with lashings of brown sauce, I'm not a fan at all. I think I find them too pasty and sweet and the tomato sauce not tomatoey enough. I do however really enjoy Greek baked beans. I had them in Athens and thought they were fantastic. Large butter beans in a gently herby tomato sauce. You can get them here in some shops, they come in large flat round tins, can be eaten hot or cold and taste almost as good as the fresh ones we had sitting in the sun near the Acropolis.

Whilst browsing one of the organic shops in town last week I came across their selection of tinned beans. I picked up a mixed tin, thinking I would make a bean salad for dinner that night. Then my eye fell on the organic butter beans and I immediately thought of the spiced tomato sauce I had saved in the freezer. Into my basket went the beans, homemade baked beans here we come.

All I did was drain the beans and sling then in a pan with some of the tomato sauce I usually use for pizza toppings. It's basically blended chopped tomatoes, with oregano, basil, ground pepper, a dash of balsamic vinegar, Worchester sauce and some of any wine we have open. I let the sauce cook down with the beans until it was thick and coated them nicely. I served it with grilled ciabatta.

Mmmm....who needs bland brand name beans when homemade are so simply and delicious.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Can I have a job Mr Ottolenghi?

The whole time I've been blogging, in fact the whole time I've been baking, I don't think I've ever been as proud as I was when I put these on the table. They couldn't have turned out better. I felt like I'd turned a corner in my baking "career."

They are an Ottolenghi recipe, one of two types of tartlets that I made from his new cookbook. These are fresh berry with a mascarpone cream filling. I also made white chocolate and raspberry. They looked good too, but there is something about the perfect little berries and the bright colours that screams freshness and beauty. Hence they get pride of place. I only made twelve, and wish I'd made more, but I'm sure it won't be that long before they get another outing.

The pastry was slightly sweet, light and crumbly, the cream delicate and not too sweet, rather than dense and overpowering, which worked perfectly against the natural sweetness and bright colours of the berries. I only managed to get my hands on one, they went that fast! Definitely an excuse to make more.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

We interrupt your regular programming... bring you this:

It's my new bike! It arrived in a box this afternoon and I have spent the last few hours putting it together. All by myself! I had to put on the front wheel, handlebars, rear rack, saddle, lights (okay, so the dynamo still isn't working, but it's on, wired and ought to be!) and then do the brakes. The brakes took me an hour in themselves, but I've finally done it and will be ready to roll as soon as I've had N look it over after work.

I ate cake in celebration of the amount of calories I'm going to lose with my energetic cycling about London!

All I have to do now is fine a suitable name for it (I'm thinking Oscar? - it's green like Oscar the grouch), get a basket and panniers...

Make this now, or; Nigel Slater's amazing strawberry jam

This is all that remains of the strawberry jam I made to go with the garden party scones. Yes, it was that good. Eat it with a spoon on it's own good. I can take no credit for it, all I did was follow NIgel Slater's recipe, which was perfect. I seriously think you should stop what you're doing, hunt out strawberries and a lemon and make this right now. It doesn't have much sugar in, and so won't keep like ordinary jam, but you won't need to worry about that believe me!

Nigel Slater's Strawberry Jam for eating immediately (recipe from the Observer Magazine)

750g Strawberries
215g Sugar
Juice of half a lemon

Rinse and hull the strawberries but don't dry them. Put them in a pan with the sugar and lemon juice. Roughly smush with a fork then place them over a low to medium heat. Stir occasionally for 15-20 mins, spooning off the pink froth as you go. The jam should be think enough to fall slowly from a spoon, but not to set. Enjoy with scones, yoghurt, or simply by the spoonful out of the jar!

Thank you Mr Slater, your jam rocked our world.

Bring out the rum!

There is something very satisfying about successfully decorating a cupcake with a beautiful swirl of icing, and something especially satisfying about it when it contains as much rum as these guys! I really love cupcakes, I'm completely on the bandwagon of their resurgence. However I wasn't sure how they would go down with a bunch of people who are probably more grown-up in their cake preferences than I am. N has never complained when I've put a cupcake in front of him, but they're not exactly the most macho of treats. In fact they're probably the least macho treat ever, so I wanted to make a more adult version. How do you do that, make them as dark chocolate as possible and add lashings of alcohol. Oh yeah!

Since we weren't sure if our egg-allergic friend would be coming I decided to make most things without eggs anyway. No-one else would notice, and if she was coming she'd be able to eat almost everything. I chose a vegan chocolate cupcake recipe from my new book "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World" and then topped them with buttercream (made with normal butter as I didn't have any vegan marg) made with rum. I added rather more rum than they suggested (about twice as much as they recommended in fact!) and it was wonderful.

All my fears about non-macho cakes when out the window as they were quickly devoured by ladies and gents alike.

Rum Buttercream: Makes enough to ice 12 cupcakes with large swirls. You can halve the recipe if you don't want small rum mountains on top of your cupcakes. But honestly, what self-respecting person doesn't want a mountain of rum?

Adapted from "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World"

1/4 cup softened butter (or vegan marg)
1 - 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar (I think I only used one in the end)
2 tbsp light rum (I used an organic spiced rum. mmm...)

Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy but still holding it's shape. Add the rum and beat until combined. If it's too wet to pipe add small increments of icing sugar until it's solid enough. Chill until ready to use.

P.S. I want to thank my Mum for the new piping kit. It's excellent, and having a second piping bag on hand (especially a posh one) was so useful.

You don't have to be the Queen to have a garden party!

A couple of months ago we got thinking; we've got a garden, we've got friends, we like food and drink, June might have good weather. could be combine all of these things into a cunning plan? A garden party of course! Plans were laid, invites were sent and it mostly went out of our minds. Then suddenly it was the week before, N was projecting the possibility of forty people arriving and I began what I do best: making lists. The responses to the invite clearly demonstrated the difference between our male and female friends. The men replied asking if they could bring anything for the BBQ, the women if they should wear dresses and bring cucumber sandwiches. When men see "garden party" they think BBQ, when women see "garden party" they think garden party!

Since we actually don't have a BBQ - okay, there is one out there, but it's an old gas thing that during the winter months was aptly nick-named "snail city". We weren't going to go there - we stuck to the garden party plan and I began planning and plotting
the cakes, breads and salads that would satisfy a potential group of 40 of our friends.

Sounds stressful and hard work, but truth is I loved it. I love having to be that organized; making lists, choosing
foods, planning recipes, and most of all I love spending an entire day (or in this case a day and a half) pottering in the kitchen producing things to share with other people.

With a lot of consulting with N our ideas looked like this:

Pecan and cranberry loaf

fig and orange loaf
walnut and apricot soda bread
parmesan biscuits
veggie sausage rolls
roasted tomatoes
roasted beetroot and feta salad

mango and bulgar wheat salad

scones with homemade strawberry jam and cream
white chocolate and raspberry tarts
mixed berry tarts

Victoria sponges (two vegan, one normal)
vegan French lemon cake
vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream
lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream
chocolate cupcakes with rum buttercream
Mini-chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream (child safe just in case)

Not bad eh? I spent all of Friday creaming, whi
sking, baking and icing cakes, kneading, resting, proving and baking bread and then most of Saturday morning (the party kicked off at 3pm) rolling puff pastry, mixing, rolling and cutting scones, cutting and roasting tomatoes and beetroot and generally have a good ole time in my summer frock with N and K (who arrived early and was the best kitchen assistant ever). It was wonderful, and it produced this:

There are so many recipes to share that I won't do it now, instead I'm going to follow this round up with a series of posts about the delicious things we tucked into all afternoon (and evening, and the following morning, and evening and stocked the freezer with and gave to people in goody bags!).

It was a roaring success, the food went down well, the cocktails went down very well and everyone mingled and had a good time and to top it off we got great weather!

The real star of the show though was Sniff. He hasn't been allowed in the garden yet, so the poor chap had to be put in the study so he didn't escape. We also weren't sure how he'd be with other people. He was brilliant. He didn't complain, but lounged on his hug chair and was very compliant with all the people who wanted to visit him. Most importantly he clearly loved K, which is brilliant as she's our on-hand cat-sitter. I think their combined love of cake, cream and sleeping on the sofa helped! When we finally all came into the house and shut the French doors Sniff's door was opened. We were worried he'd just hide in the study and be afraid of all the people (there were still at least 10 of us at this point). How wrong we were! He was slightly timid at first, but was soon out and showing off his goal-keeping skills with a ping-pong ball.

What a little star. That was a cat that definitely got some cream.