Tag Archives: Delicious

Salad Days

Allotment harvest mid-June

We’ve been experiencing an unexpected heatwave here in the South of England for the past week or so, with temperatures over 30°C at their peak. Nothing unusual for many parts of Europe, to be sure, but pretty exceptional in the UK! My house has a north-south axis which works very well in these conditions, especially as my office and bedroom are on the cooler north side of the house, so working and sleeping aren’t too much of an issue.

Watering becomes of paramount importance to a gardener, though. I’m resisting watering twice a day, but trying to water pots and containers at home in the morning, and the raised beds at the allotment in the evening – to spread the load. It’s actually a very enjoyable process, as you can commune with Nature as you water and see what’s newly flowering/germinating/doing well. I’ve managed with water from my water butts so far, but two out of the three at home have now run dry and the allotment butt has been empty for a while – although fortunately water at the allotment comes from a trough and standpipe at the corner of my plot – very convenient! Our yearly subscription covers water costs too, so while it’s not metered to us (although hosepipes aren’t allowed), any huge uptake in usage could theoretically lead to a rise in subs for us all next year, as it is metered to the allotment association.

Allotment poppy June 2017

I love summer evenings up at the allotments: there are always a few people pottering around their plots, it’s incredibly peaceful (apart from my noisy dogs if people dare to walk past “their” plot – sorry, folks) and the sunsets are spectacular. A lesson in mindfulness at the end of a busy day…. This week I’ve managed to mow the grass (trying to keep on top of it so it doesn’t reach jungle proportions again!), get rid of some perennial weeds (docks, blackberries, the dreaded convolvulus) that were encroaching on the paths, do some weeding around newly planted beds and keep up with the harvesting: strawberries, raspberries and redcurrants have suddenly started to ripen at a tremendous pace, and the broad beans and lettuce are still going strong. Such a lovely time of year.

I’ve even made some comfrey tea for use as a fertiliser in three weeks’ time when it has steeped sufficiently. Having lost my comfrey patch a few years back, a healthy-loooking clump has sprung up near the communal bonfire site, so I swapped a wheelbarrow full of weeds for a barrow overflowing with comfrey leaves, stuffed them in an old chicken pellet container (with a lid to contain the stench!), covered with water and will leave to brew. It smells vile but the plants love it – and it’s free!

The strawberries have been epic this year – I’ve had enough for breakfast every day and to make strawberry ice cream, strawberry cheesecake, pavlova and Strawberry Coulis for the freezer (just blitzed in a blender with the juice of an orange and 1 tbsp of icing sugar). Yesterday there were even enough for the quintessential summer jam: strawberry & redcurrant to be precise, as the currants add pectin and make for a better set.

Strawberry & Redcurrant Jam – makes 5 standard jars

Strawberry and redcurrent jam

1.2kg strawberries
300g redcurrants (or gooseberries would work too), removed from stalks
1.5kg granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Hull the strawberries, chopping up any particularly large fruit and put in a preserving pan with the strigged redcurrants. Add the lemon juice and simmer over a low heat for 20-30 minutes or until very soft.

Strawberry jam making

Weigh out the sugar and add, stirring until it dissolves, then turn up the heat to a rollicking boil, stirring as you go. Add a small knob of butter to reduce any froth! Test after 5-10 minutes to see if it has set – I find the best test is to hold your wooden spoon over the pan and when the drips run together to form a bigger drop that breaks off sharply, the jam will be done. Otherwise, have a saucer in the freezer and place a little of the jam on the saucer, cool slightly, then push with your finger: the surface should wrinkle. You will need to take the jam off the heat while you do this test to stop the jam overcooking. Strawberry jam is notoriously fiddly to set, so test little and often. Mine was ready after just 5-6 minutes in yesterday’s heat.

When set, pour the jam into prepared jars (washed and sterilised in the oven on a low heat), cover with waxed circles and lids, then label when cool. Set aside for the perfect accompaniment for traditional Victoria sponges and scones with jam & clotted cream over the coming summer months…

When the weather is this hot, though, salads are the way to go. Quite apart from the fact that I’ve been getting back from the allotment so late that cooking isn’t an option, it’s really too hot to contemplate cooking. I love experimenting with whatever I have in the fridge or bring back from the plot, resulting in some delicious combinations. Lunch today was a refreshing Melon, Strawberry & Feta Salad served on a bed of mizuna with dill and mint to garnish – sublime! With Galia melon (not my own!), two kinds of strawberries (the large allotment variety and tiny alpine strawberries that run with gay abandon in one border at home), drizzled with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and a hint of balsamic vinegar, this really hit the spot for a cooling, yet tasty lunch. The salty chalkiness of the feta and the slight bitterness of the mizuna were a perfect foil for the sweet and juicy fruit.

Strawberry and melon salad

Other salad combinations have included Baby Broad Beans & Griddled Halloumi with toasted pine kernels and rocket, with a chilli, mint and lemon dressing, and my perennial favourite, Bauernsalat (farmer’s salad), inspired by one of our best-loved holiday hotels, the Tennis Hotel in St. Wolfgang, Austria, which simply consists of crispy fried bacon and potatoes scattered on a bed of fresh salad, with a herby yogurt dressing to accompany. So good – worth cooking extra new potatoes especially to make this! Anything goes – experimenting is half the fun. If something doesn’t work particularly well, just leave it out next time – but with fresh and homegrown produce, chances are it will all taste sublime.

Allotment sunset

Pasticcio – perfect ways with roast lamb

Storm damage June 2017

I was fully intending to go to dance this evening, but a trickily formatted text took longer than I expected and by the time I’d walked the dogs, I was already late. Instead, I decided to make the most of the sun that had finally appeared on this wet and windy June day – much needed rain for the gardens, I should add. It was just a bit of a shock after all the lovely sunny days of late!

Rather than leaping about to funky dance routines, I repaired the damage I’d wreaked at the weekend when dashing outside in the dark to pick some mint for a mint tea and clumsily knocking over one of the trays of leeks I’d carefully pricked out only the previous weekend. Typical! Then I salvaged some of the day’s storm damage by tying in madly waving clematis and climbing roses and harvested a top-heavy allium and some floppy rose stems that had been flattened by the wind. The upside of storm damage is a vase of beautiful flowers for the house. This particular rose, David Austin’s Generous Gardener, is a beautiful shell pink, but very vigorous in its growth habits, despite being cut down very low each spring.

I usually have an omelette or a meal from the freezer (made earlier by my own fair hands, of course!) when I go to dance, so today was an ideal opportunity to cook from scratch instead and use up the leftover meat from Sunday’s roast lamb. This evening’s dish is based on a recipe in a Milk Marketing Board leaflet I’ve had since the early 80s. A friend gave it to me then, so it may even date back to the late 70s, but I do still refer to it from time to time. Called “Clever with Cream”, it extols the virtues of cooking with cream and every page has a heading beginning with ‘C’ – tonight’s was Cashwise with Cream, for a supposedly economical recipe. Cooking with leftover roast meat is very thrifty, of course, but delicious too.

Pasticcio (or Pastitsio) is a Greek-inspired dish, although I don’t claim this to be in any way authentic. I’ve had it in Greece, certainly, but this is my take on the original recipe, tweaked and adapted over the years, to suit whatever I have available in the fridge. I usually make a large dish and freeze what I don’t use immediately, but it’s great for a crowd as you can prepare it earlier, then cook as you need it. You can use fresh meat, rather than roast lamb, and the original recipe suggests using a mixture of pork and beef mince – anything goes!

Pasticcio – serves 6-8

Pasticcio

2 onions, finely chopped
2-3 sticks celery, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cinnamon
fresh herbs, finely chopped, to taste (I used rosemary, thyme and parsley, but the original recipe suggests dried oregano – very 70s!)
300-450g roast lamb (entirely flexible; use what you have! Or use fresh lamb mince if you prefer, but cook for longer initially)
1 large tin chopped tomatoes
red wine (to taste)
1 tbsp pesto (optional – I had some of last week’s broad bean pesto in the fridge, that’s all!)
2 tbsp tomato purée
250ml vegetable stock – as required
seasoning
225g macaroni (or penne/fusilli pasta)
60g butter
450ml milk
40g plain flour
freshly grated nutmeg
150g Cheddar cheese, grated
100ml single cream
1 egg

Fry the chopped onion, celery, carrots and garlic gently in a glug of olive oil until nicely softened and golden. Meanwhile, chop the roast lamb roughly in a food processor, then stir into the sautéed vegetables. Cook for another two minutes, then add the tinned tomatoes and tomato purée (and pesto if using). Stir in the cinnamon, bay leaves and herbs, then add a glug of red wine and some stock. Roast meat tends to absorb the liquid as it cooks, so you may need to top up as it simmers – with either wine or stock, as you prefer! Season and leave to simmer for 10-20 minutes while you get on with the rest.

Cook the macaroni or other pasta in a large pan of boiling, salted water for 10 minutes. Drain, then return to the pan with 20g of the butter and freshly ground pepper and leave to one side, covered.

Meanwhile, prepare the Béchamel sauce: I have to confess I don’t measure out the ingredients for a traditional white sauce, just do it by eye, but I have noted the quantities from the original recipe if you’re less familiar with the process. Melt the remaining 40g butter in a saucepan, then stir in 40g plain flour and cook for a minute or so. Gradually stir in the milk, using a small wire whisk to prevent lumps, then add grated nutmeg and 50g grated cheese and season well. Turn off the heat and stir 1-2 tbsp of sauce into the meat mixture.

Place half the cooked pasta in the bottom of a greased rectangular lasagne dish and sprinkle with 1 tbsp grated cheese. Top with the meat mixture, then spoon the remaining macaroni on top. Finally, stir the cream into the white sauce (can be omitted for a less creamy result – or use yogurt instead) and then the beaten egg. Pour the sauce over the contents of the dish, covering all the pasta, and top with any remaining grated cheese.

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 180°C (fan) / Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes until nicely browned on top and piping hot. Leave to stand for a minute or so to allow it to set a little for slicing into portions, then serve in squares with a green salad. Enjoy! Freezes beautifully too.

Pasticcio serving with salad

The worse part of this recipe is the washing up, as it uses so many pans, but no more than a traditional lasagne and very much worth the effort. I usually try and wash up while it’s in the oven, rather than leaving it all until afterwards. Unless you have a willing sous-chef, of course – cooking with my mother around is always a delight as she constantly washes and dries up :-). This is cooking with leftovers at its best. So good.

Quick bakes

Pett Beach April 2017

A busy bank holiday weekend with family home and my elder son moving house to just up the road (comparatively speaking!) meant I didn’t have much time for baking, but I didn’t want to let the side down with empty cake tins! Cue my very quick and easy rocky road flapjack: dead simple to throw together one evening after cleaning the house and makes enough to take half as a welcome offering. Also gluten-free, which is always a good thing as my son’s fiancée and her mum are both gluten-intolerant.

Saturday was forecast to be the nicest day of the weekend weatherwise, so we headed down to the coast to Pett Level, a fabulous stretch of pebbly beach backed by cliffs, and completely sheltered from the wind on this particular day. Followed up by tea with friends, it was the most perfect afternoon, but left very little time for baking/cooking when we finally got back home, so dinner was quickly assembled freshest Rye scallops on a spinach purée with crispy bacon, salmon fillets with homemade hollandaise sauce, roast asparagus and new potatoes, and a traditional rhubarb pie to finish. It may have been quick, and a joint effort between my younger son and me, but it was also absolutely delicious – and the perfect showcase for seasonal produce.

I barely need to offer a recipe for the pie: just (homemade) buttery shortcrust pastry, rolled out to fit an old-fashioned enamel pie plate, filled with chopped (uncooked) rhubarb – at least 500g, depending how high you want to mound it. It always loses volume when cooked. Don’t forget to sprinkle with 4-5 tbsp sugar, then top with the remaining pastry, seal and trim the edges, glaze with milk (or egg) and a sprinkling of granulated sugar and cook at 200°C (fan) / Gas 6 for 20-25 minutes. It’s certainly not elegant, but it remains one of my favourite desserts for all that; especially the soggy bottom (sorry, Mary) – rhubarb pie wouldn’t be the same without all that delicious syrupy juice at the bottom.

Rhubarb pie
Next day we were all off to my elder son’s to see the new house, and I knew there would be a house full of family and a need for cake as well as a picnic lunch for the workforce! With little time to prepare, lunch was going to be lovely cheese from my local deli, olive sourdough bread and sourdough crackers, and salad with fresh leaves and pea shoots from the allotment. Cake had to be quick, gluten-free and transportable, so with a couple of egg whites in the fridge, left over from last night’s hollandaise sauce, I hit upon these coconut macaroons, a taste from my youth – and ready to go in next to no time.

Coconut & Almond Macaroons – makes 20 or so

Coconut macaroons

2 egg whites
200g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g dessicated coconut
75 – 100g good dark chocolate to drizzle

Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment (I used to use edible rice paper for these when I first made them in the 70s – but they’re much nicer without their papery backing). Set the oven to 160°C (fan) / Gas 4.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar, followed by the ground almonds and coconut. Place heaped teaspoonfuls onto baking trays, spaced well apart to allow for spreading and bake for 15-20 minutes until a light golden colour. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate (I use a microwave in short bursts), then drizzle over the macaroons when cooled sufficiently.

Mission accomplished – quick and delicious!

The bank holiday itself was a gloomy day weatherwise, as they so often are, but an excellent opportunity to catch up on potting up and sowing seeds, chilling with the weekend newspapers and generally chatting. We all need days like that. It also gave me a chance to experiment with a recipe I’d been keen to try for a while, since buying  some bone and paw-shaped biscuit cutters in Jeremy’s, Tunbridge Wells’ Aladdin’s cave of a kitchen shop. And yes, I know, who bakes their own dog biscuits?! In my defence, I had some gram flour that was past its sell-by date and needed using, son’s dog, the adorable Ollie, has a sensitive constitution and also does better without gluten, so why not see what I could produce?

Cheddar & Rosemary Dog Treats

Dog bones

225g gram flour
50g grated Cheddar cheese
120ml milk
few sprigs rosemary, chopped leaves

Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl until they form a soft dough. Adjust liquid or flour until it can be rolled out on a floured surface. Roll out to 1/2cm thick and cut out with your choice of cutter – I’m sure the dogs won’t mind if you haven’t gone a bone cutter!

Bake in the oven at 160°C (fan) / Gas 4, cool, then store in an airtight tin. My dogs seemed impressed – but then anything with cheese in was always going to go down well….

Poppy at Pett

My final baking of the weekend was a snap decision to bake some almond tuiles to accompany our Monday dessert of luscious rhubarb fool (obviously been watching too much Masterchef!). I used plain flour rather than the rice flour I used last time I wrote about this recipe, but both work well.

Rhubarb fool and tuiles_cropped

Using your Loaf

In this age of healthy, “clean” eating, is it wrong of me to confess that I always like to have cake in the house?! As I’ve said many times before, my motto is everything in moderation and a piece of cake with your afternoon tea is good for the soul – well mine, at any rate. Now there’s just me at home, though, I do have to be careful to make things that don’t go off before I have time to eat them. Loaf cakes can be the perfect solution: I often make the mixture, then cook it in two loaf tins and freeze one, or even cook just one cake and freeze half. Such a luxury to know you have cake already in the freezer when you return from holiday or have a particularly steep workload. They’re usually very quick to make too, so you can knock them up in no time.

Two of my favourites are adapted ever so slightly from Nigel Slater’s first Kitchen Diaries, both in the winter months, which is precisely when I like to cook them. They just suit the grey days at the start of the year somehow: a spicy double ginger cake for the chilly days of January and a frosted marmalade cake to make the most of the peak citrus season. My final loaf offering is one I stumbled across by chance in Waitrose’s Weekend newspaper: a “healthy” date, walnut & banana loaf.

Frosted Marmalade Cake

frosted-marmalade-cake_slice

6oz butter, softened
6oz caster sugar
1 large orange, zest and juice
3 large eggs, beaten
3oz orange marmalade
6oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the frosting:
4oz icing sugar

One 2lb loaf tin, greased and lined

Preheat the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4. Beat the butter, sugar, orange zest, beaten eggs, marmalade, flour and baking powder in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Finally, gently stir in the juice of half the orange. (Nigel uses the classic sponge method and mixes these separately, butter and sugar first, then eggs, then folding in the flour – I find my method works just as well!)

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until cooked. Leave the cake to cool in the tin – it may sink slightly – then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Sieve the icing sugar and mix in as much of the remaining orange juice as required to produce a smooth, slightly runny consistency, then drizzle icing over the cake, letting it run down the side, and leave to set.

Double Ginger Cake – makes 2 loaf cakes (or 1 large square cake)

ginger-cake-cooked_cropped

250g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
stem ginger in syrup (3 lumps, finely chopped)
2 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar
125g butter
2 heaped tbsp sultanas (optional)
125g dark Muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
240 ml milk

Grease and base-line either 2 loaf tins or one 8″ square deep cake tin. I usually make two loaves and freeze the second.

Set the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4. Sift the flour with the spices, bicarb and salt. Put the golden syrup, ginger syrup and butter in a small pan and warm gently. Add the chopped stem ginger, sugar and sultanas (if using – I find they ALWAYS sink to the bottom of the cake as the mixture is so wet, and they really don’t add anything to the cake, but if you like them, leave them in!). Bubble gently for a minute or so. Break the eggs into a bowl, then add the milk. Remove the syrup mixture from the heat and pour over the flour. Then add the eggs and milk, stirring gently until no traces of flour remain. The mixture will be very sloppy!

ginger-cake-pre-cooking

Pour into the prepared cake tins and bake for 35-40 minutes or until firm to the touch. Leave to cool before turning out, then serve in chunky slices with a good slathering of butter. Perfect teatime fare….

As I said, my final loaf recipe was adapted from a Waitrose recipe and is actually for a “sugar-free” cake, not that I was seeking to make any such thing. It is, of course, free from refined sugar, not sugar in any form, as it contains fruit and fruit nectar – but if you’re keen to cut down on refined sugar, do give it a go.  I happened to have a blackened banana in the fruit bowl, which was why it called out to me. The original recipe uses date nectar, which I didn’t have, so I used agave nectar instead, and two ripe bananas – there again, I only had one in the house, so I added an overripe pear – great way to use up the stragglers in your fruit bowl! I must admit, I was dubious before I made it, but it really is very light and delicious – well worth a try.

Date, Walnut & Banana Loaf

40g butter, softened
2 tbsp agave nectar (or date nectar if you have it)
1 egg, beaten
100ml semi-skimmed milk
150g wholemeal SR flour (or spelt flour if you prefer)
1 tsp baking powder (may need 2 if using spelt)
2 tsp mixed spice
2 ripe bananas, mashed (or 1 banana + 1 pear)
50g walnuts, chopped
60g chopped dates

Grease and base-line a loaf tin. Set the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4.

Cream the butter and agave nectar together in a bowl, then add the egg and milk and combine with a hand mixer. Sift in the flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Stir to combine – it will look very odd at this stage! Add the mashed bananas/pear, dates and walnuts and mix again. Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool and serve in slices, with butter if preferred. This won’t keep for long because of the fruit content, especially in warm weather, so do freeze half if necessary.

date-walnut-banana-loaf

January greens

January is such a grey and dismal month: nothing doing in the garden, even less on the allotment, bar those stalwart crops that keep on growing come rain, frost, wind or snow, like leeks and parsnips. Where would we be without them? News of a UK courgette shortage this week made me laugh; I wouldn’t dream of eating courgettes at this time of year (apart from in frozen ratatouille from the heady days of summer courgette gluts), especially the tasteless and fleshy imported ones that are the only kind available. Apparently bad weather in Spain has reduced supplies, so the clean eaters of these isles, with their spiralisers and juicers, are having to forego their vegetable of the moment. Whatever happened to seasonal eating? With broccoli, kale and spinach in abundance now, I rarely buy vegetables at any time of year – and I’m convinced you get better taste and vitamins the sooner after picking you eat, to say nothing of the environmental benefits of those reduced food miles…

Still, man cannot live on veg alone, and I had three egg whites in the fridge recently, left over from the New Year bakeathon. I fancied a change from my usual macaroons, so decided to experiment with Nigella’s pistachio macaroons. She uses two egg whites, but I adapted the quantities to three, and rather than the pistachio buttercream, which rather struck me as nut overload, I thought I’d sandwich them together with lime curd – heaven! Next time, I think I’d be tempted to add some lime rind to the macaroons themselves, though they really were delicious as described.

Pistachio & Lime Macaroons

pistachio-macaroons

110g shelled pistachios
185g icing sugar
3 large egg whites
25g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 lime (optional)

Lime Curd

lime-curd

120g caster sugar
30g butter, cut into small pieces
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
juice and grated zest of 2 limes

Grind the pistachios in a food processor with the icing sugar (to stop the nuts turning into an oily paste) until very fine. Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff, then whisk in the caster sugar until very stiff. Fold the pistachio mixture into the whites until combined. Pipe small rounds using an icing bag with a 1cm plain nozzle onto a silicone macaroon sheet if you have one or onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Should make 40-50 individual macaroons.

pistachio-macaroons-on-silicone-sheet

Leave to dry for 20-30 minutes, then place in an oven preheated to 160°C, Gas 4. Cook for 12-14 minutes or until set. If you gently peel one off the base, it should lift off without leaving any sticky residue. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets.

Meanwhile make the lime curd by placing the sugar, butter, eggs, lime juice and grated zest in a pan over a moderately low heat. Whisk frequently for 10-12 minutes, until it is thick enough to hold the marks of the whisk. Immediately remove from the heat and sieve into a bowl. Allow to cool, then use to sandwich the macaroons together. Any leftover curd can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Enjoy! Just the thing to brighten up a gloomy January day….

pistachio-macaroon-single

New Year Feasts II – Desserts!

desserts-new-year-2016

Apologies for posting in quick succession, but I wanted to note down the new desserts I tried for my New Year family party before I forget my adaptations. My sweet tooth will have become only too apparent by now, and a get-together is always an ideal opportunity to try new pudding recipes. Once again, one of my New Year desserts was adapted from a recipe in the Christmas BBC Good Food magazine, whilst the other was originally a Nigel Slater recipe from his first Kitchen Diaries book, one of the most well-thumbed books on my kitchen bookshelves, but with added blackcurrant compote.

The Good Food recipe is a variation on the ever-popular chocolate roulade theme. I already have a favourite chocolate roulade recipe I’ve cooked for years, but this recipe used more eggs, so served more, and sounded intriguing, so I thought I’d give it a go. Roulades are always useful when you have gluten-intolerant guests as they often don’t contain flour. My original recipe (to serve 8) simply uses 4 eggs, separated, 150g plain chocolate and 125g caster sugar – very much like a cooked chocolate mousse and delicious with it! I serve it filled with a mixture of whipped cream and natural yogurt, accompanied by a childishly simple apricot & ginger sauce made by whizzing the contents of a can of apricots in natural juice with a cube of fresh root ginger and the juice of a lemon. Yum! The new recipe (adapted from the Good Food recipe, but not identical – see here if you want to try the original) also incorporates ground almonds and was equally delicious, although the basic method is the same – see what you think:

Chocolate, Coconut & Passion Fruit Roulade – serves 10-12

chocolate-coconut-passion-fruit-roulade

150g dark chocolate
6 large eggs, separated
170g caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
25g ground almonds
350ml double cream
150ml natural yogurt2-3 tbsp Malibu
50g icing sugar
Caster sugar to sprinkle
3 ripe passion fruit, juice and seeds
50g coconut flakes, toasted

Heat oven to 160°C, Gas 4. Grease a 30cm x 20cm Swiss roll tin and line with baking parchment, then grease the baking parchment.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in the microwave in short bursts, or over a pan of simmering water if you prefer. Set aside to cool. Whisk the egg whites until they form peaks – I used the Kitchen Aid for this amount of egg whites, but you could also use a hand mixer. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar until thick and pale. Gradually fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture until combined, then sift over the cocoa and fold in the ground almonds. Finally fold in the melted chocolate. Transfer to the prepared tin and spread to the edges. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the surface is firm and the cake feels springy to the touch.

Remove from the oven and immediately cover with a piece of baking parchment and a clean, damp tea towel. Leave overnight (or as long as you can).

The next day (or later, when the roulade is completely cool), whip the cream, sifted icing sugar and Malibu in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Whisk in the yogurt. Carefully turn out the roulade onto a fresh sheet of baking parchment on which you have sprinkled caster sugar. Remove the lining paper and spread 3/4 of the cream mixture over the surface. Distribute the passion fruit flesh evenly over the cream.

Starting from the short end farthest away from you, gently but firmly roll the roulade towards you, using the baking parchment to help. It may crack a little, but don’t worry – I think this adds to the effect. Carefully transfer the rolled roulade to a serving plate using a fish slice and palette knife and then remove the baking parchment from beneath. If you can find an extra pair of hands in the form of a willing kitchen helper for this stage, do! This is a large roulade!

Place the remaining cream into a piping bag and pipe a decorative rope of cream along the centre of the roulade, then sprinkle with the toasted coconut flakes. Serve to oohs and aahs of appreciation….

For my alternative dessert, I’d consulted with the rest of the family and they’d requested a fruit cheesecake. Plenty of blackcurrants from the allotment in the freezer, so no problem there. I fancied a change from the usual uncooked cheesecake that I tend to make in the summer, and glanced through a few recipe books before I came across this Nigel Slater recipe I hadn’t tried before. I have fond memories of the cheesecake we used to buy from Palm’s in Oxford’s covered market in our student days in the early 80’s and have often tried to recreate the unctuous, yet not too claggy delight that was their trademark – so far without success, although Delia’s baked cheesecakes with fromage frais and curd cheese are good. Nigel’s recipe promised to be “one of those perfect recipes that you have been after all your life; a really fudgy, creamy filling and crisp base” – how could I resist? (And how come I’d never seen this before, in one of my cooking bibles?!)

Baked Blackcurrant Cheesecake – serves 10-12

blackcurrant-baked-cheesecake

450g blackcurrants (defrosted if frozen)
4-5 tbsp caster sugar (or to taste – I like it quite tart)
Juice of 1 orange (grate the rind first for the cheesecake)
2 tsp arrowroot
150g Hobnob biscuits, crushed (or you could use digestives)
75g butter
500g Mascarpone cheese
200g cream cheese
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten1 egg yolk
Rind of 1 orange, grated
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
150ml double cream, whipped
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Cook the blackcurrants gently in a pan with the orange juice and 4-5 tbsp caster sugar until tender. Mix the arrowroot with some water in a small bowl, then mix in some of the hot blackcurrant liquid. Blend until smooth, then stir the arrowroot mixture into the blackcurrants and cook for a few minutes until the mixture thickens. Set to one side and leave to cool. You want the mixture to be quite thick so it stays on top of the finished cheesecake, but not as thick as jam – adjust by adding more orange juice when cool if necessary!

Prepare a greased 20cm loose-bottomed deep cake tin and wrap in a double thickness of foil using a single piece each time – this is to prevent water seeping into the cake when cooked in a water bath in the oven.

Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the crushed biscuits. Tip into the base of the prepared cake tin and spread out evenly. Refrigerate until set.

Put the Mascarpone, cream cheese, caster sugar, beaten eggs and the extra yolk into a large bowl, then add the grated orange and lemon rind. Beat thoroughly until well mixed, stir in the lemon juice and vanilla extract, then finally fold in the whipped cream.

Transfer to the cake tin on top of the set biscuit base and place the tin in a large roasting pan, then fill with boiling water to halfway up the side of the tin. Carefully transfer to the pre-heated oven and cook for 50 minutes at 140°C/Gas 1. Then switch off the oven and leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven. Remove the outer tin to serve, topped with the blackcurrant compote.

Palm’s, eat your heart out….

New Year Feasts

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As 2016 draws to a close, the last week of the year always seems to be a blur of festive food, shared with friends and family. A treat for those of us who live alone to cater for a larger number for a change and an excuse to cook those more extravagant recipes you can’t justify on a daily basis. I’ve had family to stay since the day before Christmas Eve, but yesterday was our largest family get-together; so hard to tie in everyone’s calendars as children grow older and different constraints come into play.

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One of my go-to dishes for gatherings is a venison casserole: partly because my kitchen isn’t huge, so cooking a roast for a larger number is rather a logistical challenge, and with only one oven, casseroles are often the easiest option. This time, I had the brainwave of marinading the venison, from my local farm shop, the day before, then cooking in the oven first thing in the morning, moving to my warming oven after two-and-a-half hours, thus freeing up my oven to be turned up to a higher temperature for jacket potatoes and a vegetarian squash, beetroot & lentil Wellington – perfect! In my 3/4 range (all that would fit in my kitchen), I’ve only ever used the narrow warming oven for warming plates before, but it kept the casserole on a very gentle simmer until we were ready to eat – well worth remembering for the future.

Venison Casserole – serves 8-10

1.5kg stewing venison, diced
600ml red wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 red onions, chopped
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
250g streaky bacon, diced
Olive oil
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
250g pack peeled chestnuts
4-5 tbsp plain flour (or use rice flour for gluten-free guests)
450 ml hot venison stock (or any stock you have available)
2 tsp redcurrant jelly
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
Seasoning

Trim venison if necessary, then place in a large bowl with the wine, bay leaves, rosemary and garlic. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge or a cool place.

Heat the oil in a large casserole and gently fry the chopped onion, celery and bacon until softened – about 10 minutes. Set aside using a slotted spoon. Drain the venison from the marinade, reserving the marinade to add later. Add more oil to the casserole if necessary, then brown the venison in batches. Return all the venison to the pan when all the meat is browned and sprinkle over the flour, stirring well for 2 minutes or so. Add the reserved marinade and the stock and bring to the boil, stirring.

Return the bacon, onion and celery mix to the pan, add the quartered mushrooms and the chestnuts, thyme leaves and redcurrant jelly. Cover the casserole with a lid when simmering, then cook in a pre-heated oven at 150°C, Gas 3 for 2 1/2 hours, or until the venison is beautifully tender.

Serve with buttered jacket potatoes, braised red cabbage (see below) and/or a Christmas coleslaw of shredded red cabbage, fennel, apple, red onion, raisins and garlic with a lemony mayonnaise & yogurt dressing. A warming feast for a cold, bleak winter’s day.

To ring the changes, and despite the fact that there were no vegetarians amongst us, I accompanied the venison with a squash, beetroot & lentil Wellington that had caught my eye in the Christmas edition of the BBC Good Food magazine. I always buy this foodie magazine in December, mainly for the lovely calendar, but it often comes up trumps with novel and different-sounding recipes. This was intended to be a vegan recipe, but I adapted it to include cream cheese and milk. I have no doubt that it would have been delicious just as it was, however – and definitely worth remembering if you’re catering for vegan guests!

Squash, Beetroot & Lentil Wellington with Kale Pesto – serves 8

1 pack ready-rolled puff pastry
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into small chunks
250g raw beetroot, peeled and cut into small chunks – I used the stripey Chioggia variety, but any would do
2 red onions, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
Olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped leaves
250g pouch ready-to-eat Puy lentils (or soak and cook your  own if you have time)
250g pouch prepared chestnuts, chopped
100g kale, chopped, thick stems removed
1/2 lemon, rind and juice
2 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tbsp cream cheese or goat’s cheese (omit for vegan version)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Seasoning
Milk or egg to brush (use almond milk for vegan version)
Sesame seeds to sprinkle

Toss the prepared onion, squash, beetroot and garlic in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, add chopped rosemary and thyme, season, then roast at 180°C for 45 minutes until just tender. Stir in lentils and half the chestnuts, and set to one side.

Place the chopped kale into a pan of boiling water and blanch for i minute until wilted. Drain and run under cold water to cool. Squeeze out excess water, then blitz in a food processor with the lemon rind and juice,remaining 2 garlic cloves, the remaining chestnuts, seasoning and a glug of olive oil. Finally add the cream cheese or goat’s cheese if using. (I added wild garlic too when cooking again in April, blanching with the kale – an inspired addition!)

Roll out the pastry to a larger rectangle on a floured surface. Spread the kale pesto down the central third of the pastry. Gently spoon the squash and lentil mixture onto the pesto. Brush the side thirds with milk or beaten egg and cut into inch-wide strips not quite reaching the middle third. Fold over the short ends or the rectangle, then gradually fold the outer thirds over the squash and lentil mound to overlap and form a long oblong. Brush with more milk or egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Can be left to chill overnight if you have time (and space in your fridge!). Otherwise cook at 180 – 200°C for 45 minutes to 1 hour until crisp and golden brown. Serve warm.

The Good Food recipe made individual Wellingtons (using two packs of pastry), but this worked well as one large pie – more filling per helping too! Even my very definitely non-vegetarian father (a confirmed meat-eater at 83!) loved this and came back for more – praise indeed…

My final recipe for the braised red cabbage is one of my winter stalwarts. Made entirely in the microwave, it lends itself well to preparing ahead and reheating, or even making in a lrge batch and freezing to bring out through the winter as required. Ideal for accompanying winter casseroles, hotpots and hearty winter meals.

Braised Red Cabbage – serves 8-10

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 sticks celery (or fennel), chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
450g red cabbage, shredded
50g raisins
3 tbsp red wine
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
6-8 juniper berries
1 cooking apple, diced
Seasoning

Put the oil in a large bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute 30. Stir in the celery, fennel seeds and 1 tbsp water. Cook for a further 3 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, cover with clingfilm, piercing several times to allow the steam to escape when cooking. Return to the microwave for 3 minutes, then stir. Repeat twice more. At this stage, the cabbage can be left to stand until required and then reheated in the microwave for a further 3-4 minutes. Freezes beautifully too.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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