Posts Tagged ‘yummy food’

Gluten free mince-pies

My quest to find recipes that all my friends can eat continues.  The sweet almond pastry gives a real indulgent ‘Marzipan’ richness to the mince pies.

Apologies also that I’m about 5 weeks too late publishing this. You can always save it till this Christmas!

Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 100g/4oz Ground Almonds
  • 200g/8oz Rice Flour
  • 50g/2oz Caster sugar
  • A pinch of Salt
  • 100g/4oz Butter
  • 2 tbsp Clear Honey
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • Almond Essence

For the filling

  • 1 jar of mincemeat (approx 454g)
  • 1 apple
  • Brandy or rum

Method

  1. Mix together  the ground almonds, flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Make a well in the middle and put in the butter, honey, egg yolk and almond essence. Mix to a dough. Knead until smooth.
  3. Wrap the pastry in cling film and rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before rolling out.

Tip: This pastry can be really crumbly, I found that rubbing a little olive oil on my rolling pin worked much better than dusting with flour.

Mincemeat filling

Finely dice the apple, and mix with the mincemeat and a tablespoon or two of the booze.

Assembling the pies

Preheat oven to 200°C (gas mark 6, 180°C for a fan oven).

Roll the pastry out on a clean work surface to about 3mm thick. Cut circles with a cutter and line each pit in the tart case.

Fill the pastry lined pits about 2/3 full with the filling.

Cut extra circles to sit on top of each pie, and over brush with a little milk.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until richly golden.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. They are still fab eaten warm (don’t burn your tongue!)

Note: The combination of ingredients in this pastry means they come out browner in colour than a regular mince-pie. Don’t worry, they are still delicious!

Plum and Almond Crumble

Plums

This is a very happy “make it up as you go along” accidental recipe. Pursuing ideas for recipes for some friends who are on a gluten and wheat-free diet, I wanted to make a really tasty, guilty, no-holds barred sumptuous pudding. Something that just oozed “comfort” and “joy”.

Using some plums from our autumn crop, I was able to make a pudding (with a little help from my good friend Colin) that went down well with everyone.

The great thing about this pudding is that you can make the topping in any number of ways, and so I include a few variations in this recipe too.

Serves 8 (or 6 and one Alan! ;))

~#~

Ingredients

Fruit filling

  • Approx 20 Plums (2 punnets would do)
  • 125ml sherry or white wine
  • 150g Golden Caster Sugar
  • Chilli flakes
  • Pepper

Crumble topping

  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g rice flour
  • 150g slightly salted butter
  • 150g Golden Caster Sugar

Method

Prepare the plums:

  • Stone and quarter the plums. Put in pan with the sherry and sugar.
  • Grind a small amount of pepper and sprinkle with a few chilli flakes.
  • Place on a low heat to simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Make the crumble topping:

  • Carefully rub the butter and rice flour together, adding sugar until you have a nice crumbly texture. (Colin helped me for this part as I was dressed as a Vampiress and had very impractical nails on!).
  • Rub in the ground almonds, trying not to over-work the mix, or you’ll end up with something a little like marzipan.

Assemble the crumble:

  • Plop the plums into the bottom of an oven-proof dish. you want a good inch or two of plums lining the bottom.
  • Carefully sprinkle the crumble topping over the plum mixture, getting it nice and level. Don’ compact or press it down.
  • Sprinkle with a little more sugar for luck!

Bake in the oven at about 180°c for 25 minutes or until the crumble is nicely golden brown and you can see some of the juices bubbling up from the sides. Remove from oven and set aside for 5 minutes before serving.

Variations

Flapjack topping

Melt 125g butter with equivalent golden syrup. Remove from heat and stir in rolled oats until you have a slightly goop-y flapjack mix. Carefully spoon onto the plum mixture before cooking, as before.

Regular crumble

  • 300g flour
  • 150g slightly salted butter
  • 150g Golden Caster Sugar

Rub the butter into the flour until you have a fine crumb-y texture, and then rub in the sugar. Carefully spoon onto the plum mixture before cooking, as before.

Serve with

Custard! Clotted cream! Double cream! Boozy Christmas creams. Anything rich, and decadant! 🙂

Hey good lookin, what ya got cookin?

Hey, thanks for coming back. How’re you doing today? Good, good.

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m going to try to quit the whining and focus on the dining.

A healthy idea, non?

~#~

Today then, I want to talk about food.

Rather, I want to talk about making food. Scratch that, I want to talk about enjoying making food.  The gusto, the passion, the joy and sheer unbridled love of making yummy food.

Whether you’re:

  • cooking up a big bowl of gnocchi and pesto to eat in your pyjamas while watching America’s Next Model (don’t judge me!), or;
  • making a three course menu for a dozen people(*),or;
  • rashly inviting 10 people back to yours after the pub, pausing only to pick-up 3 whole chickens to roast on the way home(**)

– there are few things in life more enjoyable than sharing love, fun and good company through food.

But the sad truth is, so many people are still terrified of cooking. They’re scared of getting things wrong, scared of not living up to the unrealistic ideals of Nigella, Jamie, Gordon and Hugh. Not many of us have a small-holding to raise our pigs on organic apples and feed our sheep rosemary to give them extra flavour.

Most of us are lucky if we can keep a pot of coriander on the kitchen windowsill for a week before it bolts, flowers and hangs listlessly to one side. No amount of running it under the cold-tap will save that meagre “herb garden”.

And please, don’t get me started on Heston – anyone who refers to their kitchen as a ‘lab’ is not a chef and can thus be safely put to one side.

Forget the ideals, forget the aspirations. To start enjoying cooking and being pleased with the dishes you make, you’ve got to first find the fun.

There really are so many ways to enjoy making food, which suits different people in different ways.

I’d like to share with you some of the valuable lessons that I’ve learnt along the way, which may make cooking more fun for you.

Lesson 1: Make mistakes

Broad beans with dill and yogurt taste so much better if you:

  1. Shell the beans
  2. Cook the beans(***)

I’ve baked so many cakes that didn’t rise, or muffins that oozed out of the side, each one resembling a baked effigy of John Merrick. There’s the scones that came out so heavy they had their own gravity and actually bent light.

What this has taught me is that mistakes will always happen, there are many trips to the bin (and then trips to the supermarket) when trying new things. Embrace it.

My top tips with mistakes:

  • Acknowledge that recipes in books are sometimes (often) incorrect.
  • Know that you will mis-read a recipe, more than once.
  • As long as you’re not serving under-cooked chicken or ill-prepared blowfish, most mistakes will be edible, even if not exactly what you were hoping for.
  • When a mistake improves a dish (all recipes are invention and accident) – write it down so you can repeat the same mistake later. This is really handy to do!
  • Laugh at the accidents. It’s just one meal and in the grand scheme of life, is only one of the 89680 meals (if you’re a woman, men will only get to eat 85081 – make ’em count boys!) you’ll eat in the course of a lifetime.

Summary: It’s okay to make mistakes while cooking, it’s part of learning. It’s even better to share your mistakes with friends, and a lot of laughter.

Lesson 2: Make it up

There’s not a soul on earth who is interested in experiencing my coq-au-vodka ever again.

Plaice with cinnamon? No thanks, I’ll pass.

Plum crumble with ground almond topping? Went down very well, thank you. As did baked eggs in ham. Oh, and beans in toast(****).

There’s a lot of fun to be had going off-piste and forging your own culinary path. don’t be afraid to try different flavours and combinations.

Start small though, and build up. Come home from work and look in the fridge. If you’ve got eggs, you can put almost anything in a pan, with some whisked up eggs and make a none-too-shabby go at a Tortilla.

My top tips for seat-of-your-pants cooking:

  • Keep the set of ingredients small. Start with the ‘main’ component of the dish (normally meat, or eggs, or pasta etc.), and only add a few extra flavours or ingredients – see what works.
  • Make notes of ‘new’ things that work. That way you can try them again, and refine them.
  • Make notes of ‘new’ things that don’t work. A warning list!
  • Don’t be afraid. Experimenting starts with knowing that you won’t always succeed. But when you do, and you present a lovely dish that has your friends coo-ing, they’ll be so impressed when you say that you just “made it up”!

Summary: Start small, and have courage.

Lesson 3: Make it interesting

You need to feel a part of what you create (this applies to all crafts, hobbies and interests).

If you are impatient and prone to hysteria, then perfecting delicate French pastries probably isn’t for you. Neither is Sushi for that matter…

Try to find what interests and excites you in a culinary sense, and explore it.

For me, it’s sharing food. I love having friends over for an evening of food and wine. When I was younger, I used to be very pretentious about it – 3 courses, all the place settings, everything ‘just so’. As I’ve got older – while I still have flashes of that pretension – I’m a lot more relaxed. These days my interest is around big plates of well-seasoned and simply cooked dishes. Big oven-to-table dishes that can be placed on the table for everyone to tuck into.

I love cooking dishes like Lamb Tagine, Chilli, Sausages and Parsnips, Roast Chicken, a big leg of Lamb. Dishes that can be prepped in advance, and sit happily in the oven so that I can be a part of the evening, rather than “cook” in the kitchen.

My friend Joe on the other hand, loves making exquisite desserts. He is exceptionally talented at it, and possesses the right blend of precision and patience. We all have our own interests and passions.

Summary: Find what excites you, and explore ways to make it more exciting, to really ignite your passion.

Lesson 4: Make it with love

You can taste a half-hearted dish. The lack of care and effort permeates every morsel. A dish made without love tastes far more bitter than the most burnt offering made by someone who tried really hard.

Passion, care and a desire to try are at the heart of any great home cook (regardless of competence), and it’s this that your family and friends will taste when you share your food with them.

Summary: Give it heart.

~#~

Those are some of the lessons I’ve learnt as I’ve developed and grown as a cook, and I hope that if nothing else, they can supply you with some re-assurance to get into the kitchen and just have fun!

~#~

(*) I have done this and it was one of the funnest evenings of recent years.

(**) I have done this too and it was a whole heap of giggles.

(***) With massive apologies to Kate for making her eat that vile meal, and that the second attempt (which she did not sample) was so much better!

(****) You need a breville Toastie maker, and tenacity.

Orange and Almond Cake

Oranges are not the only fruit. Unless you own this bowl

I first made this cake back in March, seeking recipes for a friend who is avoiding wheat/gluten. At first I thought it was going to be impossible to make tasty cake she could eat, but this recipe saved the day.

It is loosely based on Torta de Almendra, a Spanish Orange and Almond Cake.

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 2 medium sized organic oranges
    – use organic if you can as we will be cooking and eating the peel!
  • 300g (11oz) ground Almonds
  • 200g (7oz) caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Method

  1. Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil.
  2. Wash the oranges before placing into the boiling water, ensuring the water covers them.
  3. Simmer for 1-1.5 hours or until the oranges look very soft.
  4. Drain the oranges, then cut into quarters (they will be hot, so careful!) and remove any pips.
  5. Whizz them to a pulp with a food processor or blender. Set to one side.
  6. Sift together the ground almonds, sugar and baking powder and mix.
  7. Beat the eggs into the mixture, getting air into the batter.
  8. Tricky(ish) bit: stir in the pulped oranges. Get the batter thoroughly mixed, but try not to be too heavy with it. If you mix too much, you’ll lose the air. If you don’t mix enough you’ll end up with a very scrambled-egg cake.
  9. Pour the batter into a greased, lined, round loose-bottom cake tin. I think 20-25cm diameter.
  10. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes in a hot oven ( 190C/375F Gas 5 ) it is ready, when golden brown and touched, it will feel nice and spongy.
  11. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool before removing from the cake tin.

Will keep for up to a week in an airtight box.

Suggestions

  • This cake goes really well with poached berries.
  • Try with mascarpone or some of those nice boozy-Christmas creams that come out this time of year!

vegetarians, be afraid

For anyone who’s ever said “I never eat food with a face”:

Nom noms

No trickery, no photoshop. No clumsy manipulation with a fork. My mixed salad really did have this little fella, just sitting on the plate and waiting to be speared on a tine.

Putting him in my mouth and popping his little sweetcorn innards between my teeth was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

But oh-so-tasty!

the salad days

I love this time of year, when we can really say goodbye to winter, and start enjoying the warm sun on our faces. Seeing the summer girls out in their vest tops and summer skirts is not bad either!

At this time of year, it can still be hard knowing what to cook, especially as when the evening draws in, it can get really chilly.

Here’s a couple of recipes for warm salads that make an ideal accompaniment to Roast Chicken, served with some home-made rolls or Ciabatta.

They are really easy, which is perfect for a lazy chef like me!

Courgettes with Basil and Lemon

  • 4 courgettes
  • 1 large lemon, juiced
  • Fresh basil – a good large handful
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Slice the courgettes in the round, the thickness of pound coins. Season with salt and pepper. Spritz with a little olive oil and either grill or fry until They start turning pale golden in colour.

Meanwhile, combine the lemon juice with a good glug of olive oil and roughly torn basil leaves in a serving bowl. 

As the courgettes are done, drop them into the bowl, making sure they get doused and tossed in the dressing.

Adjust seasoning and serve.

Serves 4-6

Roasted vegetable and chickpea salad

  • 1 aubergine, cubed
  • 1 butternut squash, de-seeded and cubed
  • 8 med-large tomatoes, quartered
  • 1x400g tin chickpeas, drained
  • Fresh basil – a good large handful
  • Moroccan spice mix (most supermarkets do a ‘rub’ or similar)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200°C (gas mark 6).

Put the aubergine, squash and tomatoes in a roasting tin and drizzle with oil. Roast for about 45 minutes.

In a serving bowl, mix together the chickpeas, whole basil leaves, a good glug of oil and 2 teaspoons of Moroccan spices.

When the veggies are golden and the tomatoes well and truly melted, stir into the chickpea mix.

Adjust seasoning, and serve.

Serves 4-6

‘Never fail’ Roast Chicken

ChickenOkay, 2 posts I’ve mentioned my Roast Chicken, so maybe I should write a little about what’s so great about it.

Chicken is the cheap meat in a nugget, filler in a creamy pasta dish, drumsticks in a BBQ ‘value’ pack. And don’t get me started on Popcorn chicken…

…but chicken is so much more than that, and it’s so undervalued.

Chicken is a very social meat, and so easy to share. You have people who don’t like red meat at all, so chicken is great for them. Then you have people who find Lamb too greasy, Pork too fatty or fibrous, Beef only edible the way they cook it (blue, rare, medium, sunny side-up – whatever). But chicken, everyone likes chicken one way – cooked. No-one asks for chicken rare, or with the fat cut off, no-one wants it ‘well-done’. Chicken. Cooked. Done.

And a whole Roast Chicken can be one of the most beautiful dishes, when given a little care, and being relaxed about it. It’s a real carnivore’s meat, all that pulling at flesh with fingers, and gnawing meat off the bone, popping the legs to suck the marrow if you’re so inclined …gorgeous. It’s also a great option for entertaining as a big chicken can easily feed 6 people (with leftovers for stocks and soups) – with enough choice of breast, thigh, leg and  ‘dark meat’ to cater for all tastes.

Except vegetarians, but they can sit over there. No, further. Further. There.

So, ‘never fails’ Roast Chicken (for which I am indebted to Nigel Slater).

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