Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

¸.•*''*♥♥*''*•.¸ Merry Christmas One and All ¸.•*''*♥♥*''*•.¸

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Mushroom and Sherry Sauce

Is it a Sauce or is it a Gravy? Who knows …who cares? All I can say with any certainty is it’s damn tasty and will go very nicely with our Nut Roast Wellington on Christmas Day.

I was planning to do my usual gravy on the big day but I happened to see a recipe by Gordon Ramsey (I really can’t stand that man!) on the net recently which was served with a mushroom sauce. It set me thinking and this is the result; a rich, flavoursome sauce or, possibly, gravy which is perfect for those times when you want something a bit more special to complement the centrepiece of a celebratory meal. Actually, this was so gorgeous, it was all I could do not to eat it by the spoonful!

25g dried porcini
25g butter
1 red onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tbsp flour
500ml stock
3 tbsp sherry
1 dsp tomato paste
½ tsp dried thyme

Soak the porcini in 100mls of hot water for 20 minutes, then drain them over a small bowl reserving the soaking liquor; roughly chop the porcini and set aside.

Melt the butter in a largish pan and sauté the onion for five minutes; add the chestnut mushrooms and garlic and cook for another five minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes then pour in the stock and the reserved porcini liquor and stir well then add the sherry, tomato paste, thyme and porcini. If the flour goes lumpy, ignore it; you’ll be blitzing it later, anyway. Bring to the boil, stirring; turn the heat down to a simmer, pop a lid on, and let it bubble gently for fifteen minutes. Blitz with a stick blender until smooth, adding a little more stock if necessary to bring it to a consistency you're happy with.

You can freeze this until needed then defrost and reheat thoroughly before serving.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Decorated Christmas Cake

Here we are…the finished article! As you can see, I decorated my Christmas cake at the weekend and, though I say it myself, I think it looks pretty good.

I’m not very good at Royal icing; in fact, I don't think I've flat iced a cake in my life. (I can do you a rough snow-scene with the obligatory plastic robin to complete the effect, though!) I don’t much like ready-to-roll fondant type icing, it always reminds me of children’s playdoh in both appearance and taste, so I went for a layer of marzipan with a topping of nuts and apricots with an apricot and brandy glaze; easy but effective.

1 18cm square rich fruit cake
white marzipan
a little icing sugar
3 tbsp apricot jam
1 tbsp brandy
soft dried apricots
whole brazils
whole pecans or walnuts

Make the glaze by heating the jam and brandy gently in a small pan until the jam melts, then rub the mixture through a sieve with the back of a spoon. Using a pastry brush, paint the top of your cake generously with the glaze; roll out the marzipan to a depth of about 0.5cm on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar and cut to size using the base of your cake tin as a guide. Lay the marzipan on top of the cake and brush with more glaze.

Arrange the fruit and nuts on the marzipan, pressing them in lightly (I’m sure you’ll be more artistic than me!) and brush again with the apricot glaze.

Tie a ribbon around the outside of the cake, stand back and feel dead chuffed with yourself!

Store in an airtight tin until needed.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Vanilla Shortbread

I felt like making a little smackerel of something (as Winnie the Pooh might say!) this morning; the Christmas decorations are up, the lights were twinkling and I was feeling quite festive.

I saw this Good Food recipe on the net and thought it looked interesting. Quite a lot of shortbread recipes seem to have ground rice as one of the ingredients, but I really don’t like the gritty texture it gives, hence the reason I’ve never bothered making it before; this one, however, is rice free and very simple.

I rolled some of the dough out and made a few dinky little stars for us to have with a cuppa; the rest of the dough is wrapped in cling-film in the fridge so we can have some freshly baked biscuits every day next week.

“Freshly baked biscuits every day…” I ask you, now does that make me sound like a Domestic Goddess or what?!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Christmas Red Cabbage

Red cabbage served hot as a vegetable is something that has only found its way onto my food radar in recent years. Seems like I was well behind the curve on this one because it’s evidently quite a popular Christmas side dish, which somehow I’d managed to miss! Anyway, the fact is, whenever I’ve had it in a restaurant I’ve loved it, so I thought it was time I had a go at making it myself.

Obviously, Delia was the first port of call for a recipe and, as ever, I found just the thing I was looking for. Mind you, I was a bit sceptical when I found the cooking time was at least two hours; I wouldn’t even want to imagine what a green cabbage would look like if it was cooked for two hours (don’t go there…!) but the red variety is a lot more robust and is happy to cook long and slow.

Before it was cooked it looked a bit like a winter coleslaw but, once cooked, it transformed into a fragrant, beautifully coloured blend of textures and flavours. We both had a large spoonful with that night’s dinner of sausages and mash with onion gravy…and it went down very well indeed! The rest has been portioned up and put safely in the freezer until the big day.

I changed one thing about Delia’s recipe: I cooked mine on the hob on a very low heat rather than in the oven. It was absolutely fine and the cooking time was the same.

On a different cabbagey note:
Every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve bought a jar of pickled red cabbage just before Christmas; I always have some on Christmas night when I put out some nibbley bits for us to pick at. Just one jar and I never eat it at any other time of the year. It’s one of those family traditions, the reason for which is lost in the mists of time, a bit like nuts in their shells which always get thrown away the week after New Year (!) or sprouts even though nobody likes them; it just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. What a strange lot we are!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

To Salt or Not to Salt...

Eagle eyed readers may have noticed that I don’t add salt to any of my recipes on here (with the exception of chutneys where I feel the flavour genuinely needs a bit of salt to counteract the sweetness) and I even use low-salt stock.

I firmly believe that if good quality food is cooked well, with appropriate herbs and spices, then salt will add nothing at all to the mix, but from the way TV cooks throw salt into every dish you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s impossible to cook a dish without it. All this baloney they come out with about ‘correcting the seasoning’; well, it might be correct for you, Michel/Nigel/James et al, but it tastes like the North Sea to me, sunshine!

I don't see this as a health issue – it’s all about taste for me. I don’t slavishly follow every edict from the health fascists, in fact I mostly ignore them; they’ll change the advice next week/month/year anyway, so what’s the point? Although I was diagnosed with hypertension a long time ago I was told very firmly that cutting out salt was not necessary; however, I thought it wouldn’t do me any harm to cut down a bit. Well, to my surprise, I found I preferred food without salt; I started to really taste food properly and realised that contrary to popular opinion salt doesn’t make food taste better…it makes it taste of salt!

What amazes me is the gullibility of people who buy ridiculously expensive so-called 'gourmet' salt which they believe to be somehow superior to common or garden table salt. It now seems they may be forced to eat their words liberally sprinkled with their fashionable designer salt, given that the chemical content of all salt is virtually the same. It’s very much a case of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ as far as I’m concerned, but no foodie worth their salt (sorry!) would dare to say so. Uttering such sacrilege would have them drummed out of the foodie clique…and that would never do.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Mince Pies

If you’ve read this blog before you will know that I am completely unable to make pastry. It’s not that I haven’t tried, it’s just that it doesn’t work for me….So why, you may ask, did I find myself standing in the kitchen this afternoon having yet another try at this seemingly impossible task?

Well, I was flicking through a couple of my old Christmas recipe books, which haven’t seen the light of day for about 20 years, when I came across one by Nanette Newman (!) which was published in 1984! Don’t ask…I have no idea why I bought it, but it probably seemed like a good idea at the time; anyway, there was a recipe in there for mince pies with this amazing sounding orange and almond pastry. I’m a fool to myself but, with much trepidation, I decided to give it a go.

I am astonished and very pleased to report that not only were the pies edible, they were really good! I think it had something to do with the pastry being more like shortbread than shortcrust. It didn’t mind my heavy handedness and it even put up with having the trimmings re-rolled. Result! Eat your heart out Heston, mine tasted better than yours!

I’ve reproduced the ingredients list here but I’ve had to re-write the instructions in my own words for copyright reasons, which is just as well, really, because I used a food processor and Nanette allegedly made the pastry by hand. No chance of me doing that; I've failed too many times before!  

275g plain flour
25g ground almonds
175g butter, chilled and diced
75g icing sugar, sifted
grated zest of ½ an orange
1 egg yolk
3-4 tbsps of orange juice
450g mincemeat
a little milk

Put the flour, ground almonds and butter in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs; add the icing sugar and orange zest then pulse again briefly; mix the orange juice and egg yolk together, add it to the mix and pulse until the mixture forms large clumps.

Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly just until it comes together; wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

Roll the pastry out to the thickness of a £1 coin on a lightly floured surface and stamp out circles for the pie bases; lightly knead the trimmings into a ball, re-roll, and stamp out smaller circles for the lids. Press the bases into a bun tin, put a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in each then press on the lids. Brush with milk and make a couple of slits in the top with a sharp knife.

Bake at 190C fan for 15 minutes until golden and sprinkle with sifted icing sugar before serving.

I made 21 pies from this, but I think you could probably get the full two dozen if you're braver than me and you roll the pastry a little more thinly.

Lovely served warm and if you happen to have a small spoonful of brandy butter to hand to tuck under the lid, so much the better.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christmas Cake II

It’s ‘Stir-up Sunday’ today, the day when people traditionally make their Christmas puddings; we’re not having the usual sort of pud so, instead, I made my Christmas cake.

(I've just noticed that the whole hazelnuts look like little pebbles on the surface of the cake; too bad, no-one will see them when the marzipan is in place!)

Last year I made Nigel Slater’s small fruit cake; it was really nice, good texture and lighter than most rich fruit cakes I’ve tasted. However, we both agreed that a larger cake was needed to last the two of us through December, so I have to confess I’ve fiddled with the recipe a bit and I’ve also scaled it up somewhat to make an 18cm square cake.

I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but I do like a piece of cake with a cuppa of a winter’s afternoon. If I can combine it with a bit of present wrapping and maybe a Christmas song or two on the radio, so much the better!

675g mixed dried fruit (along with the usual vine fruits I included some dried cranberries, chopped preserved ginger and chopped dried apricots)
3 tbsp brandy
2 tbsp Cointreau
grated zest and juice of an orange
190g unsalted butter
100g light muscovado sugar
90g dark muscovado sugar
3 large eggs
100g whole hazelnuts
60g ground almonds
190g plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
brandy for feeding the cake

an 18cm square cake tin or a 20 cm round tin if you prefer

Put the dried fruit into a bowl, pour over the brandy and Cointreau, then add the zest and juice of the orange. Stir the fruit well to coat it in the alcohol, cover, and set aside overnight.

Next day, line the cake tin with a double layer of non-stick baking parchment allowing the paper to come 5cm above the rim of the tin.

Turn the oven on to 160C.

Beat the butter and sugars with an electric hand mixer until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and add them, a little at a time, to the creamed butter and sugar, beating well after each addition. Add the dried fruit, ground almonds and whole hazelnuts, stirring them in well with a large spoon (don’t use the mixer now, it’ll break up the fruit).

Sift the flour with the baking powder and spices then stir it into the cake mixture, a heaped tablespoon at a time.

Spoon the mixture into the lined cake tin then bake for exactly one hour without opening the door. Turn the temperature down to 150C, quickly place a double sheet of baking paper over the top of the cake and continue cooking for a further 1½ hours.

Test by inserting a skewer into the centre of the cake, it should slide out cleanly, if it looks a bit damp or sticky give it another ten minutes in the oven and test again with a clean skewer.

Let it cool in its tin and, when it’s cold, wrap the cake and its paper in another layer of baking paper and store in an airtight tin in a cool place. Feed it with a little brandy every week till you’re ready to decorate it.

I think I'll do the same as I did last year: no icing, just a layer of marzipan topped with nuts and dried fruits with an apricot and brandy glaze.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Nut Roast Wellington

I’m planning to do this rather spiffing Nut Roast Wellington as the centrepiece of our Christmas lunch this year. Having never made one before the last thing I wanted was to put the whole thing together on Christmas morning only to find it didn’t work…! Nightmare! So, a couple of weeks ago, before I went down with the dreaded lurgy, I decided to have a trial run.

The thing I was most worried about was the pastry splitting, allowing all the filling to fall out, but I needn’t have worried; it all held together nicely and went surprisingly well.

Although the instructions look lengthy, it’s actually not as fiddly to do as I expected; it sounds much worse than it is. Now I’ve done it I feel quite confident about doing it again; in fact, I’m looking forward to it.

I shall be serving this on Christmas Day with roast potatoes, maple roast roots (parsnips, carrots and celeriac), sprouts with chestnuts and proper homemade gravy. Lovely!

Incidentally, if you're looking for something to serve with the leftover Wellington, can I suggest this Root Vegetable Gratin? It tastes brilliant and it cleverly uses up any leftover roasted roots from Christmas Day.

Nut Roast mixture:

1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
200g whole mixed nuts
175g fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
75g mature cheddar, grated
200ml stock
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp Marmite
1 tsp dried oregano
25g dried cranberries

Mushroom Duxelles:

250g chestnut mushrooms, very finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
few fresh thyme leaves
25g butter

500g pack of ready-rolled puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

For the Mushroom Duxelles:
Sweat the mushrooms, thyme and chopped shallot in the butter over a very low heat until all the liquid has evaporated and you are left with an almost dry mushroom pate. Set aside to cool.

For the Nut Roast:
Sauté the chopped onion in the olive oil until golden and set aside to cool.
Grind the nuts in a food processor until reasonably fine, but still with some texture. Place the ground nuts in a large bowl; add the breadcrumbs, grated cheddar, oregano and cooled onion; mix well. (At this point you can put it in the fridge and finish it off next day, if you want.) Whisk the stock together with the beaten egg and Marmite; add this to the bowl and mix with a fork until the mixture starts to hold together. Remove about 1/3 of the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the dried cranberries.

Assembling the Wellington:
Unroll the pastry onto a lightly floured surface and roll lightly with a rolling pin to make it a bit larger.

Put the nut roast mixture with cranberries in the centre of the pastry and form into a rough rectangle about 8cm x 12cm. Spread the mushrooms duxelles over the top, then cover with the remaining nut roast mixture.

Now the fun begins! Fold the edges of the pastry over like a parcel, to completely enclose the nut roast, using the beaten egg to seal all the edges. You may need to cut off a bit of the pastry to avoid the seams being too thick. (I cut some little Christmas trees from the trimmings and stuck them on top but, quite frankly, that was a waste of time!)

Line a shallow baking tray with non-stick baking paper and, very carefully, turn the Wellington over and lay it, seam-side down, on the baking tray. Brush all over with the rest of the beaten egg and bake at 210C for 20 minutes then turn the temperature down to 180C and cook for a further 35-40 minutes until deep golden brown and cooked through. (I have a fan oven so you may need to adjust timings or temperatures a bit).

It looked a bit like a rather gorgeous loaf of bread when it came out of the oven! Allow to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting in thick slices to serve.

Serves 4 with lots of lovely leftovers to pick at later!

Quick update:  Last year I decided to go down the route of making a plait. To be honest, it was much easier and quicker than the original version and it was just as yummy.

All I did was lay the ready-rolled puff pastry on a floured baking sheet, put the same filling as above length-ways down the centre third, then cut the pastry either side into an even number of strips slightly on the diagonal; brush the strips with beaten egg then fold over the filling, making sure you tuck the ends in neatly. Brush the whole thing with more beaten egg and bake as above. 

And there you go - you have yourself a gorgeous golden Christmas Nut Roast Plait!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Leek and Potato Soup

Cooking has sort of fallen by the wayside for almost a couple of weeks; I started off with a cold then managed to pick up a stomach bug (deep joy!) and I've now got another cold; when I cough I sound like a sealion…so attractive!

I’ve just about cleaned out all the soups I had stored in the freezer – I seem to have lived on soup and toast recently – so I’ve had a soup-making session in the kitchen this morning. Leek and potato is very comforting and easy on a delicate tum whilst tomato and red lentil should pep up my poor old jaded tastebuds.

Two weeks ago I was planning to make my Christmas cake and do a bit a baking for the freezer; hopefully next week I shall return to the land of the living and get cracking.

Early night for me I think.

25g butter
4 medium leeks
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 large floury potato, peeled and diced
1l stock
1tbsp crème fraiche
a little chopped parsley

Melt the butter gently in a large saucepan; trim off the greenest part of the leeks (keep it for making stock) then finely chop the rest of the leeks and add them to the pan along with the chopped onion and diced potato. Turn the vegetables to coat them with the melted butter, put the lid on and let them sweat over a very low heat for 15 minutes. Add the stock and bring to the boil; simmer gently for a further 15 minutes.

Blitz the soup like billy-o with a stick blender until it’s silky smooth then stir in the crème fraiche.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve piping hot.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce

This is one of the most useful recipes ever – a multi-purpose tomato and basil pasta sauce which can be made in bulk and frozen in handy-size portions to bring out whenever you need it. It's so simple that I dithered for ages about putting it on here; well, let's be honest, pasta sauce isn't terribly exciting, is it?

I first started making this years ago when I was still at work and always looking for shortcuts. These days I have a lot more time on my hands, but I still make a batch for the freezer every couple of months; it’s brilliant for roast veg pasta bakes, garlicky mushrooms with spaghetti, spag bol with soya mince, gnocchi and aubergine bake, pizzas…the list is almost endless.

Just because it’s made in bulk it doesn’t mean that every pasta meal you use it for will taste the same. To each defrosted portion, along with your chosen veg, add some different herbs or maybe a splash of balsamic, perhaps a few olives and capers, some chilli flakes…or whatever takes your fancy at the time.

2 onions, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp of oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
50ml red wine
3 tins chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
250ml stock
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion for 5 minutes; add the crushed garlic and fry for a further minute. Add all the other ingredients, except the basil, stir well and bring to the boil; turn the heat right down and simmer without a lid for about an hour, by which time the sauce will be thickened and concentrated. (I feel I should warn you, the contents of the pan will plop and bubble like ‘Old Faithful’ in Yellowstone Park; it’ll make an awful mess of your cooker and splashback!)

Take off the heat and add the chopped basil; if you like a smooth sauce you can blitz it but I prefer to leave it chunky. Allow to cool then divide into your chosen portions and freeze.

Depending on what I use it for I find this makes enough for four to six meals for the two of us.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Apple and Treacle Scones

Just a quick post and I promise this is my last word on scones….for a little while, anyway!

Bit of a strange recipe, this, and something of a misnomer. There isn’t any treacle in at all; it’s Golden Syrup! These are the ones I served with the spiced apple butter in the previous post last weekend; they were lovely and I’d definitely make them again but I have a feeling that instead of Golden Syrup, which adds sweetness but not much flavour, they’d be better with the addition of Maple Syrup.

I think I can feel another baking session coming on….!

This recipe was originally from Sainsbury's website - then it disappeared from that site only to reappear on their magazine website; I've been following this damn recipe all over the place! Here's the link to it - let's hope it doesn't disappear again... although this time I've done a bit of cutting and pasting and I now have it in a safe place.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Spiced Apple Butter

We picked quite a few apples from our small tree this year; it was here when we bought the house so I’m not quite sure what variety it is. The apples look like Cox’s and they have a similar texture and flavour; thing is, I’ve never liked Cox’s as an eating apple, which is a bit of a drawback, really, given that’s what we appear to have. I used some in chutney and mincemeat but we still had plenty sitting in the shed so I had to think of something else to do with them.  

I’d heard of Spiced Apple Butter through American blogs and recipe sites, but it doesn’t seem to be something we Brits have got to grips with; nothing ventured, nothing gained, I thought – I’ll give it a go. Despite being called ‘butter’ by the way, there’s no dairy in it; much the same as Lemon ‘Cheese’ doesn’t have cheese in it. Confusing, isn’t it?

Anyway, although I made this some weeks ago, we hadn’t actually tasted it. I was a bit wary of it, to be honest, and unsure how best to use it. The answer came in the form of some surplus scones that I’d put in the freezer; they were leftover from the batch I’d made to take with us when we popped round to see DS and DDIL (not forgetting Gorgeous Grand-daughter who, at the age of 15 months, is already partial to a cheese scone! That’s my girl...!)

I warmed a couple of apple scones** up in the microwave and gave them a hefty dollop of apple butter. “You can make this again!” said Mr Simply Veg as the scone rapidly disappeared…looks like I know what to do with those apples next year, then!

Many of the American recipes I found had apple juice or cider in them, which I didn’t fancy, so I took the general gist of their recipes and devised my own using a mix of spices and a bit of lemon and vanilla to soften the flavour a little. The slow-cooker method sounds odd but, trust me, it works. 

3kg apples, peeled, cored and chopped small
250g white sugar (maybe a bit more or less, depending on the apples)
juice and grated rind of a lemon
100ml water
1 tsp vanilla paste
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves

Turn your slow-cooker on to High to heat up. Put the apples into the crock followed by all the other ingredients and stir well. Cook on High for 2 hours then stir the apples and turn down to Low for a further 3 hours until the apples are very soft; stir the apples really vigorously with a wooden spoon, or use a stick blender, until they break down to a puree; leave the puree to cook on Low for 8-10 hours (I left mine overnight).

In the morning you will have a kitchen that smells good enough to eat and enough dark, spicy apple butter to fill 6 x 190g jars.

**Recipe to follow 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Autumn Vegetable Cobbler

The weather has been really chilly this last few days; all very autumnal with a promise of winter in the air.

The raised beds in the garden, which were groaning under the weight of assorted vegetables during the summer, are now almost empty and looking a bit sorry for themselves. We pulled up the last of the carrots at the weekend and I also pulled a couple of leeks to see how they were getting on; I’ll leave the rest of them there to use up throughout the winter. I can feel plenty of leek and potato soup coming on…

I’ve been looking for ways to expand my new-found scone know-how (I’m so chuffed with myself…you’ve no idea!) and was thrilled to be able to cook a cobbler for the first time. Along with the handful of carrots and leeks I’d collected from the garden there were sundry other veg in the fridge so I used a few mushrooms, a couple of sticks of celery and a solitary sweet potato to make a rather nifty autumnal dinner that will definitely be making further appearances in future.

**If you’re luckier than me the vegetable casserole base will all stay in the dish rather than bubbling up, running down the side of the dish and burning on the bottom of the blasted oven!

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 leeks, well washed and cut into chunks
2 sticks of celery, chopped
150g chestnut mushrooms, halved
½ tsp dried thyme
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp plain flour
350ml stock
2 tsp Worcester sauce
½ tsp Marmite
1 dsp tomato puree

100g self-raising flour
25g butter
½ tsp baking powder
75g grated mature cheddar
½ tsp dried thyme
75ml buttermilk (you may not need all of it)

Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté the veg for 10 minutes; stir in the flour and gradually add the stock followed by the Worcester sauce, Marmite and tomato puree. Bring to the boil, pop a lid on and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the cobbler topping, mix the flour and baking powder together then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the thyme and of the cheese then mix in enough of the buttermilk to form a very soft dough. Pat the dough out on a floured surface to form a small circle about 2.5cm thick. Cut out 4 small scones with a 5.5cm plain cutter. Heat the oven to 200C.

When the vegetable mixture is cooked transfer it to a small ovenproof dish and put the four scones on top; sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden and risen.

Serves 2

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Heston's Mince Pies

I do love a mince pie; I think they should be eaten all year round and not just for Christmas. The aroma of a warm mince pie instantly has the power to make everything seem a little better. I can’t wait to crack open a jar of mincemeat and get baking a bit nearer Christmas.

I saw a piece in an online newspaper today about Waitrose hoping to have the same success, this year, with Heston Blumenthal's Mince Pies as they had with his whole orange pudding, last year; so, like the fool I am, I bought some when I was out shopping. One thing in their favour is they are, at least, veggie.

Well, I warmed a couple up and we had them with a cup of coffee. I think underwhelmed would be the best way to describe our reaction; to be honest they were nothing special and Mr Simply Veg (bless his heart!) said the ones I make are better!

At £3.29 for six I’d expect them to come with a real Christmas tree attached not just a sachet of ‘pine sugar’ that does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make the house smell ‘pine-scented’. A complete gimmick, and pointless, if you ask me.

If you happen to have more money than sense then buy some but, if not, stick with whatever you usually have. Chances are, they’ll be better than Heston’s.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Mushroom Stroganoff with Rosti

I make mushroom stroganoff quite a bit; it’s quick and easy for those times when you want something really tasty but you don’t want to faff about too much. No fancy ingredients, just storecupboard stuff; I use crème fraiche because I like the slightly sharp tanginess of it and it’s less likely to split, but most recipes use cream so, if you have half a pot of cream hanging around in the fridge that you want to use up, feel free to sub that instead.

I usually serve stroganoff with rice but the husband requested we have it with rosti because he’d seen a recipe in a magazine. Now, I have a difficult relationship with rosti, they never quite do what I expect them to; although, to be fair, I’m not sure exactly what I do expect. (Incidentally, does the plural of rosti need an 's'?)

These ones were better than any I’ve made previously, but I still think there’s room for improvement. Next time I think I’ll add a small grated onion and just make one large rosti each. I can then serve the stroganoff on top; a bit like mushrooms on toast….without the toast!

25g butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
250g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
4 tbsp crème fraiche
25ml white wine
chopped parsley to sprinkle

2 large floury potatoes
ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Parboil the potatoes in their skins for about 15 minutes; drain and allow to cool. This can be done in advance or even the day before if you like.
Grate the potatoes coarsely into a large bowl, add plenty of black pepper and mix well; set aside until you’re ready to cook the rosti.

Melt the butter in a large pan and sauté the onion and garlic for 5 minutes; add the thickly sliced mushrooms and cook until almost all the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated; add the paprika, thyme and white wine. Stir well and cook for a minute or two then add the crème fraiche. Take off the heat and keep warm while you cook the rosti.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan (I used two small pans). Place four large spoonfuls of the grated potato in the pan and flatten slightly with a spatula. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until golden.

Divide the rosti and stroganoff between two warmed plates and sprinkle with plenty of chopped parsley.

Serves 2

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Fat Tax?

I just wondered if you’d seen this in yesterday’s newspapers. I have to confess I don’t have a good word for any politician of any party; I think they’re all brainless, lying, self-serving idiots. I really feel, though, they've hit a new low here; this piece of nonsense just about takes the biscuit (low fat, of course!)

This isn’t about the nation’s health or the ‘obesity epidemic’, this is purely about bringing in tax revenue but, sadly, our esteemed Prime Minister doesn’t have the balls to say so. No-one’s denying that people are eating more and getting fatter, but taxation isn’t the answer, it never is, after all if taxation worked no-one would drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes (two nice little earners for the Exchequer!) and driving a car would be a definite no-no.

I don’t believe that any food is inherently unhealthy; I may have chosen not to eat meat or fish but I don’t think it’s an ‘unhealthy’ thing to do. Food of all types and descriptions is good for us – without it we’d die; to single out one type of food as ‘unhealthy’ seems simplistic and ill thought through to me.

True, some foods have more fat and calories than others, but that just means you have them in smaller portions than you might like, it doesn’t mean you have to stop eating them altogether. Having high fat and calories doesn’t make a food ‘bad’ nor does it make it ‘fattening’; anything, even lettuce, is fattening if you eat enough of it. It’s all about balance and moderation. Demonising certain foods whilst promoting others as ‘healthy’ seems deeply wrong to me and will never give people a better view of what constitutes a balanced diet.

The only way out of the current trend for people to become fatter and fatter is education; it’s not a quick fix – it’ll take time, money and commitment. Crucially, it won’t bring in any money through extra taxation which is why Cameron and his merry band of fools don’t want anything to do with it. Does he think I came down with the last shower?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cheese Scones

Well, I’ve finally done it…I’ve made some scones that are actually edible! I am so chuffed with myself! They probably wouldn't win a prize at a village fete but they are the best ones I have ever made.

Scones are one of those things that other people always seem to whip up effortlessly at the drop of a hat. Other people….but, sadly, not me; my scones have always been flat, or dry, or as hard as a rock….or sometimes all three! I’ve not attempted making them for some years now but I was inspired to have one more try after seeing a recipe (**see below) on the BBC Food Q & A; thank you Saffiewalks (msg #2). It looked very simple and easy so, with some trepidation, I thought I’d give it a go. Astonishingly, the recipe worked; they weren't flat, hard and dry, they were light, fluffy and lovely. Well, you could have knocked me down with a cricket bat!

The husband said if he’d been served scones like this in a National Trust tearoom he’d have been a very happy bunny; high praise indeed, given that the best cheese scones I have ever had were at Bateman's, a favourite place of ours when we lived nearby on the Kent/ E. Sussex border. (Word of advice if you happen to be going there; arrive at opening time and head straight for the stables tearoom while their scones are still warm; I promise you won't be disappointed!)

Now I’ve managed to make scones once, perhaps I’ll make a fruity version next time, or plain ones to have with some homemade jam. I can't wait to experiment!

**NB. For some reason the old BBC food board is no longer readable so I have paraphrased Saffie's recipe here

8oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2oz butter
5 oz grated mature cheddar
125ml buttermilk (approx)
1 tbsp chopped chives

Rub butter into flour and baking powder then stir in the chives and 4 oz  of the cheese; stir in buttermilk gradually until you have a medium wet dough.

Pat the dough out on a floured board until it's about 3cm thick, cut into rounds and put on a baking tray. Sprinkle the rest of  the grated cheese on top of the scones. Cook for 12 - 15 minutes in a hot oven – 200C fan; cool on a wire rack.

You can leave out the chives and sift in 1/2 teaspoon dried mustard powder with the flour. The main thing is to handle  the dough as little as possible and get the scones into the oven as soon as you can after you have added the liquid.

Makes 6 - 8 scones.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Spiced Apricot and Apple Chutney

I thought this chutney would be the last one to go on the blog this year, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a small batch of green tomato chutney is also on the cards. We’ve had masses of gorgeous toms from the garden but there are a few which are stubbornly resisting turning red. I've been outside and threatened them….if they won’t behave themselves it’ll be the chutney pot for ‘em!

This particular one was made to use up a lot of bits and pieces that were looking for a home. I had the last couple of cooking apples from the bagful my sister gave me, a Tupperware box of frozen apricots, some very small red onions from the garden that weren’t much use for anything else and half a bag of dried dates which were leftover from something but I can’t remember what!

Twenty minutes of chopping and an hour or so of simmering gave me four jars of a rich, spicy chutney that I suspect will go well with cheese and crackers. My window cleaner said the house smelled, be fair, you can't get a better recommendation than that!

I used odds and sods that I had to hand for this but, if you want to substitute plums for apricots or maybe use sultanas instead of dates, just remember to keep the proportions roughly the same and you’ll be fine. Chutney is very forgiving.

225g red onions, chopped
300g bramley apples, peeled and chopped
350g apricots, stoned and chopped
60g dried dates, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp dry mustard
300g soft brown sugar
300ml red wine vinegar

Put the garlic, salt, spice and mustard into a blender with a couple of tablespoons of the measured vinegar and blitz until slushy.

Put the fruits, onions and sugar into a large wide pan, add the garlic and spice mix followed by the vinegar; give everything a good stir and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer steadily for about an hour until thick and no liquid remains when a channel is drawn across the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Pot up into sterilised jars whilst the chutney is still hot and allow to mature for 4-6 weeks before eating.

Makes 4 190g jars.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Butternut Bake

This is my take on a Simon Rimmer recipe I saw online recently for a roast squash bake; it looked OK but I thought it had far too much cheese, not enough onion and nowhere near enough garlic for our taste; oh, and I also thought the recipe was poorly written, but apart from all that it was fine!

This dish is one of those where the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t look much when it’s assembled and you’re just about to put it in the oven, but once it’s cooked all the flavours and textures come together; it smells wonderful while it’s cooking and it tastes even better.

1 small butternut squash
1 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, peeled and cut into eighths through the root
5 cloves garlic
6 tsp Sacla Organic pesto
8 sun-dried tomato halves in oil from a jar
125g soft goats’ cheese
2tbsp crème fraiche
2tbsp grated parmesan-style cheese

Peel and chop the squash into chunks, discarding the seeds; put the chunks into a large baking tray, pour the oil over and mix the whole lot together with your hands. Heat the oven to 200C and put the tray in for 20 mins. Take the tray out of the oven, add the red onion wedges and the unpeeled garlic cloves, then put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes until the squash is tender and the onions are cooked and lightly caramelised.

Put the cooked squash into an ovenproof dish followed by the onion and the garlic, which you need to squeeze out of its papery case. Put teaspoonfuls of the pesto over the squash and onions then lay the tomato halves over the top.

Whisk together the goats’ cheese, egg and crème fraiche and spoon it over the vegetables. Scatter the ‘parmesan’ over the top and pop it in the oven at 200C for 20 mins until golden and bubbling.

I served it with a simple tomato and onion salad (we’re knee-deep in toms at the moment; they’re ripening faster than we can eat them!)

Serves 2

Friday, 16 September 2011

Curried Fruit Chutney

This is another one of the chutneys and preserves that I’ve made over the past couple of weeks. It’s been a bit like running a production line at times, but it’s the same every year at around this time; September is always a hive of activity whilst the autumnal fruits are widely available and cheap.

There’s something very elemental, almost primeval, about having a store of food for the winter months. Yes, I know I don’t have to do this these days; times have changed, we don’t starve any more if we don’t put food away for the winter and I could just go and buy jars of whatever I want from Waitrose, but I can’t buy the sense of satisfaction that goes with it. I love opening the pantry door to find it groaning under the weight of jars.

We’re already enjoying both jams I made in the summer. Mincemeat, plum compote, red onion marmalade and spiced apple butter are all ready to eat, but the spiced apricot and apple chutney, tomato and cranberry relish and this curried fruit chutney will all benefit from some maturing time. Clementine marmalade won’t be made until November when the fruit is reasonably priced in the run-up to Christmas. Phew, I think that’s about it for this year!

This chutney is ridiculously easy and, judging from the taste I had, it’ll make a very good addition to a hot curry on a cold night; I suspect it'll also go down well with a slice or two of cold nut roast or maybe cheese on toast.

250g onions, chopped
750g (prepared weight) fruit - I used apples, plums, rhubarb and apricots
25g garlic
25g fresh root ginger
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp curry powder
300g white sugar
300ml cider vinegar

Put the garlic, ginger, cayenne, salt, cumin, coriander and curry powder into a blender with a couple of tablespoons of the measured vinegar and blitz until slushy.

Prepare the fruit, chop into large dice and place in a large wide pan with the onions. Add the garlic and ginger mixture, the sugar and the vinegar. Bring to the boil, stir well and simmer uncovered over a low heat for about 1½ hours until thick.

Pot into sterilised jars whilst still hot and leave to mature for 6 – 8 weeks before eating.

Makes 6 190g jars.