Tag Archives: Delicious

Plum Perfect

It was the allotment barbeque today, an event that always falls “plum” (sorry) in the middle of the main fruit harvest, so I inevitably find myself cooking a plum or apple dessert to take along. I love this annual get-together; despite the fact that there are a good many plots, I often don’t see a soul when I go down, so it’s great to catch up with other plotholders and compare notes, as well as sharing our bounty and tasting others’ delicious recipes from their home-grown produce. I loved the beetroot, bean and toasted hazelnut salad that one friend had prepared today, and the roast vegetable and halloumi kebabs were as good as ever.

I often make an upside-down plum cake with my late-season plums, but fancied a change today, and ended up making a plum Bakewell tart inspired by Sarah Raven’s party plum tart from her “Cooking for Friends & Family”. On checking out the recipe, I realised it used a much larger tart tin than I had available, and probably more ground almonds and eggs than I had lying around on a Sunday morning too. I therefore adapted the recipe with a slight nod to John Tovey’s frangipane tarts in “Wicked Puddings” and more than a hint of my ex-mother-in-law’s original Bakewell tart recipe. I was hoping that there would be some left to have for dinner this evening, but no such luck – it disappeared at the speed of light, although I was able to have a little taste to confirm that it was as good as I’d hoped!

Plum Bakewell Tart

Pastry:

8oz plain flour

2oz butter

2oz lard or vegetable fat

Water

Salt

Filling:

3-4 tbsp jam, preferably homemade – I used plum and blackberry from last year, but any good jam would work.

6oz butter

6oz caster sugar

6oz ground almonds

3 eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Grated rind of one orange

3 tbsp self-raising flour

Topping:

10-12 plums (mine are bluey-purple Marjories, but use whatever you can find!)

2 tbsp Grand Marnier or other alcohol of your choice

1 tbsp vanilla (or caster) sugar

Make pastry by rubbing fat into flour and salt, then adding water as usual and chilling in fridge for 15 mins before using to line a 10” deep flan tin. Bake blind for 10 mins at 200°C, then remove beans and bake for a further 15 mins. Trim pastry to ensure a neat edge.

In the meantime, halve and stone the plums and place in a bowl with 2 tbsp Grand Marnier (or whatever you have in the drinks cabinet!) and 1 tbsp vanilla sugar. Set aside to macerate.

For the filling: whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then gradually whisk in the eggs, vanilla extract and orange rind. Fold in the ground almonds and self-raising flour. Spread the jam evenly over the base of the baked pastry case, then spoon in the almond mixture to cover and level the top. Press the halved plums, skin-side up, into the mixture so that they just touch and form a couple of concentric circles.

Bake in the oven for at least an hour at 160°C, covering if it starts to get too brown. I found mine needed at least 1 hr 20 mins, but much depends on your oven temperature and the juiciness of your plums! When done, the frangipane should feel just springy to the touch and look sponge-like, not liquid.

Sift icing sugar over the top and serve warm. Mmmmmmm….

Plum Bakewell

Rainy Bank Holiday Blues

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I suppose it was inevitable that one of the recent run of bank holidays would revert to form and be wet and miserable – unfortunate that it was this particular day when I had great plans for getting down to the allotment and planting out a whole host of young vegetables. Hey ho! Such is life.. and though a day at the computer wasn’t quite what I’d planned, I can at least be relieved that I mowed the lawn at home yesterday and trimmed the edges, plus finished off planting up all my pots with summer bedding. I also managed to plant out my tomato seedlings – old favourites Sungold and Gardener’s Delight for the tastiest cherry tomatoes and Tigerella, a stripy medium-sized fruit which is new to me this year – in their final resting places, six in tall pots lined up against the sunny back wall of the house and three in the growframe for added protection. So it’s been quite a fruitful weekend really.

This is such a busy time of year, with all the young plants brought on in the conservatory or growframe at home desperate to get out in the big wide world of the allotment. I’ve got squash (Sprinter) and sweetcorn (Lark) with their roots escaping from their pots in their eagerness to expand their horizons. There are a couple of courgettes and cucumbers in the same boat, although germination was patchy for both of these this year. Two cucumbers is ample, in any event, but I’d rather have four courgettes than two – especially when I planted 8 seeds! A friend has come to the rescue with a couple of round courgette seedlings – and no doubt I shall look back and smile when faced with the inevitable glut later in the year…

I’d hoped to finally plant my runner bean and climbing French bean seeds too; I used to start these off inside, but several years of having them whipped to shreds by strong winds or decimated by slugs soon after planting out in early June made me realise it was better to sow the seeds straight out in the open at this time of year. More salad/herb seeds are also due to go in – the coriander I planted earlier has been munched to non-existence by those dratted slugs, despite the nematodes, although the dill and lettuce are fine.

As the rain beats a refrain on the conservatory roof, I certainly won’t be getting anything of note done outside today! I will, however, walk my long-suffering hounds down to the allotment and bring back yet more asparagus for dinner, and possibly some baby broad beans too. I picked my first beans the other day, just the size of a fingernail when podded – delicious in a prawn, asparagus, mint and fennel cream sauce with pasta. And despite the arrival of asparagus beetle, a pest I’ve never come across before in the 6 or so years I’ve had the asparagus bed, the asparagus has been ridiculously prolific this year. I’ve taken to scrutinising the plants at close quarters when I go down and gleefully crushing any beetles I find: they look at first glance like little harlequin ladybirds in Burberry overcoats, but when you look closer you realise they’re longer and thinner, not unlike a lily beetle – and with the same irritating habit of landing (invisibly) upside down if you knock them off inadvertently. The eggs are like little dark thorns sticking out of the foliage, and I’ve been squishing those too. As an organic gardener, I’m loath to spray, but this method, while laborious, does seem to be controlling the problem – if it’s not one thing, it’s something else! Image

Beetles, slugs and weather notwithstanding, here’s a suggestion for using up some asparagus – should you be lucky enough to have a glut!

 Asparagus, Yellow Pepper & Onion Tart

1 sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry

Bunch of asparagus

I onion

1 yellow pepper

Bunch of mint

Bunch of fennel

1 egg

2 tbsp crème fraiche

Seasoning

Olive oil to drizzle

Roll out the pastry to the size of your baking tray. I used half one of those frozen packs of pastry (375g, I think) and rolled out to double the size, so it was nice and thin. Cut a fine line, not quite going through to the base about 1 cm in all around the edge.

Caramelise your onion until soft and golden, then add the yellow pepper, sliced. Mix the beaten egg and 2 tbsp crème fraiche in a small bowl, then spread over the pastry base. Scatter the cooked onion and pepper mixture over the base and carefully place the trimmed asparagus stems on top. Season and scatter with chopped herbs. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in a hot oven, 200°C fan or Gas 6 for about 20-25 mins or until the pastry is golden brown.

Serve with salad.

Heavenly!

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Weekend treat: Rocky Road Flapjack

ImageMy student son is home for the weekend, back for a bit of rest and relaxation, respite from the hectic whirl of studying for finals and applying for jobs, and of course the opportunity for home cooking in a clean, warm house with Sky TV and a powerful shower. Not that he isn’t an excellent cook himself, but this weekend’s request menu featured steak – and that’s beyond the average student budget! Rhubarb crumble was also on the menu with the first of the season’s rhubarb – delicious!

Also on the list was something to take back to university next week to sustain him through the late nights at the essay coalface, and Rocky Road Flapjack was his chosen treat. This recipe was adapted from a Waitrose Kitchen magazine special on traybakes last summer, tweaked a little, and resoundingly approved all round. Try it and see!

White Chocolate Rocky Road Flapjack

300g butter

80g light muscovado sugar

150g golden syrup

450g porridge oats

100g unsalted peanuts

100g mini marshmallows

100g dried cranberries

100g white chocolate

Grease and line a deep 12” x 8” roasting tin with foil.

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large pan over a low heat. Mix in the oats, then the peanuts, cranberries and marshmallows. Roughly chop the white chocolate and mix though last of all, when the mixture has cooled slightly. Transfer to the tin and bake at 160°C (fan) / Gas 4 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool completely in the tin, then cut into at least 16 squares. Serve and eat with a cup of tea, convincing yourself that something so delicious and with all those healthy ingredients (fruit, nuts, oats…) MUST be good for you….

The beauty of this recipe is that it can be varied according to what you have in the store cupboard. I used dark chocolate this time, which was equally scrumptious, and cashew nuts work well instead of the peanuts, as would apricots or sour cherries/blueberries instead of the cranberries. A date and walnut or pecan version would be good too, although I haven’t tried that yet, I must admit. The original recipe replaced a third of the oats with jumbo oats, but I’ve never had those in, so haven’t attempted that either. It also drizzled the melted white chocolate on top of the cooked flapjack, but I have a horror of melting white chocolate, as it can all too easily go too far and form lumps, so I opted for the cheat’s solution! They did suggest placing the white chocolate in a freezer bag, sealing and putting the bag in a bowl of just-boiled water until melted, then snipping a corner of the bag and drizzling over, which sounds as though it should work – give it a go if you fancy a challenge…

However you ring the changes, just ENJOY!

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However you ring the changes, just ENJOY!

Sticky Toffee Heaven

Sticky Toffee Pudding

AND STILL THE STORMS, the wet and the wind of this dreadful winter rage on… Flooding over a huge part of the country, no chance of getting out in the garden, dogs returning mud-bespattered from every walk – definitely time for some comfort food!

My son was back from university this weekend with his American girlfriend and they put in a request for his all-time favourite winter pudding: Sticky Toffee. It certainly hits the spot on these dank, sunless days, all the better for being served with some homemade ice-cream – honeycomb or amaretto are two of my favourites. Well, it WAS his birthday, so what could I do but rise to the challenge?

I believe my Sticky Toffee Pudding is the original Sharrow Bay recipe from the famous Lake District hotel of the same name. My version is now recorded on a very scruffy magazine cutting in my well-worn recipe scrapbook, but it has certainly stood the test of time!

Tempted? Here’s how:

6oz stoneless dates, finely chopped (I snip them with scissors)

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2oz unsalted butter

6oz caster sugar (or Muscovado sugar works well for a more treacly result)

2 medium eggs, beaten

6oz self-raising flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

Toffee sauce:

7oz light Muscovado sugar

4oz butter

Small pot double cream (1/4 pt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

7” square cake tin, greased and lined

Pour ½ pt water over the chopped dates in a small pan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, add bicarbonate of soda and set aside for 10 mins to cool.

Set oven to 180˚C, Gas 4.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in eggs. Carefully fold in the flour, then the date and water mixture and vanilla extract. The mixture will look very loose and sloppy at this stage: this is quite right! Do not be tempted to add anything else to thicken it up!

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes until springy to the touch and dark-golden in colour.

While it’s cooking, prepare the sauce: mix all ingredients together in a pan over a gentle heat until they come to the boil, then simmer gently for 3-4 minutes until toffee-coloured.

When the pudding is cooked, drizzle a little of the sauce over the top and return to the oven for 5 minutes.

To serve, cool slightly, then cut into generous squares and serve with the hot sauce.

Leftover sauce can be stored in the fridge and reheated in the microwave: you may find you need to add more cream in this case to keep a runny consistency. The sauce is also delicious with ice-cream and/or profiteroles!

AS FOR THE ICE-CREAM, good vanilla is always acceptable but I like to make a very simple honeycomb ice-cream (no  ice-cream maker required!) or an amaretto ice-cream which I do make in an ice-cream maker, but you could always part-freeze and re-whip in the time-honoured manner.

The Honeycomb is simplicity itself: place 5 tbsp granulated sugar and 2 tbsp golden syrup in a pan and cook over a low heat until the sugar melts, then boil quickly until it turns a mid-gold caramel colour. Remove from the heat and quickly sift 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda over it – it will froth up dramatically, so stir gently to combine any loose powder, then pour onto a greased baking tray and leave to cool and set. Meanwhile whip 1 pint of whipping cream with a large tin of condensed milk (not the light version) until quite stiff. Fold in the honeycomb pieces and place in a freezer container. Freeze overnight until set: enjoy!

And last but not least, the Amaretto for a more sophisticated treat: make a syrup by dissolving 4 oz granulated sugar in 4 tbsp water in a small pan and cooking for 5 mins until syrupy. Allow to cool completely. Whip 1 pt whipping cream with the cold syrup and 3 tbsp amaretto liqueur until it thickens and begins to hold its shape. Pour into an ice-cream maker (mine is a basic Magimix Glacier model where you have to freeze the bottom bowl in the freezer overnight beforehand: simple but effective – and not very expensive to buy if you make a lot of ice cream (or have made the mistake of making your own and are unable to revert back to the shop-bought stuff like me!). It should take about 30-40 minutes to churn, then turn into a freezer container and stir in about 12 crushed amaretti biscuits – or more according to taste! Freeze overnight and serve as desired. The alcohol content keeps this one relatively soft, but you may need to get it out of the freezer 10 mins or so before serving for ultimate unctuousness.

There: probably most of your sugar quota for the month, but worth every mouthful. And just what’s needed whilst we wait for the first shoots of spring….

Springing spring