Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cauliflower cheese with cherry tomatoes

Serves 2-4

Just looking for a little comfort today, something to curl up with, satisfying and enriching. I do adore the humble cauliflower, think it's a deep and rich vegetable which we often overlook in favour of trendier sprouting whatevers.

500g cauliflower florets
1 thick slice white bread
10g flat leaf parsley
25g butter
25g flour
1 tblsp smooth Dijon mustard
250ml milk
150g grated Gruyère or mature Cheddar cheese or a mixture
200g cherry tomatoes

Heat the oven to 200c/gas mark 6. Bring 10cm salted water to boil in a lidded pan. Add the cauliflower, return to boil, reduce the heat slightly, cover and boil for 6 min or until the cauliflower is just al dente, reserve 4 tblsp cooking water and drain.

Cut the crusts off the bread, tear into pieces and blitz to make crumbs. Add the parsley leaves and blitz again to chop and mix. Tip into a bowl and mix with 4 tblsp grated cheese. Melt the butter in the cauliflower pan, stir in the flour and, when dissolved into the butter, stir in the mustard and cauliflower cooking water.

Gradually beat in the milk with a wooden spoon, using a whisk if it turns lumpy. Adjust the heat so the sauce simmers. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 min.

Stir in the remaining cheese until melted. Mix the cauliflower into the sauce and tip into a gratin-style dish, scraping out all the sauce with a rubber spatula. Level, then scatter, the breadcrumb mixture over the top. Add the tomatoes round the edge and bake for 20 min or until the top is crusty and the tomatoes soft

Friday, May 15, 2009

Passion fruit cheesecake

Serves 8

There is a little comprimise here in that this uncooked version of cheesecake might have the tradionalists muttering, but the ultimate in creamy cheesecakes has to be this 'refrigerator' rather than 'oven' version. Despite sounding like something from the back of a packet this is actually a gorgeous, deep and infinitely sexy recipe. Though the appearance of passion fruit is unusual, it is necessary, so that the sharp fruit prevents the cake from cloying.

For the crumb base
120g butter
400g ginger biscuits
For the filling
250g mascarpone
75g icing sugar
a vanilla pod
400ml crème fraîche
300ml double cream
4 ripe, wrinkled passion fruits
8 sprigs white currants

Melt the butter in a small pan. Crush the biscuits to fine crumbs and stir them into the melted butter. Tip them into a 22cm, loose-bottomed cake tin and smooth them flat. Refrigerate for an hour or so until firm. You can speed the process by putting them in the freezer if you wish.

Put the mascarpone and icing sugar in the bowl of a food mixer and beat smooth. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod with the point of a knife and stir them into the mascarpone with crème fraîche.

Whip the cream until it will stand in soft folds, and then stir it gently into the mascarpone mixture.

Scrape the mixture into the cake tin and cover with kitchen film. Leave to chill for a good hour. To serve, remove the cake from the tin, cut the passion fruits in half and squeeze the seeds and juice over the cheesecake. Add a few sprigs of white currants, if you wish.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Trout tartare

Serves 4

This makes a stunning starter or light summer lunch, it has everything that says sunshine about it; however, it is imperative that you use super fresh fish. Do not be tempted to substitute any poor relation. If you can push the boat out, topped off with a generous spoonful of caviar makes the world of difference.

450g skinless fillets of fresh salmon trout
About 115 g sea salt
8 asparagus spears, trimmed
½ good deep green cucumber, halved lengthwise and deseeded
Freshly ground black pepper

For the marinade
500ml olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
Good handful of chopped mixed herbs, such as basil, tarragon, lemon balm
1 head of garlic, halved

For the anchovy mayonnaise
2 egg yolks
1 tblsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp grainy mustard
5 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and coarsely chopped
5 basil leaves, chopped
200 ml olive oil
1 tblsp hot water

To serve
4 large sprigs of chervil
Some good bread

The day before put the trout to marinate. Cover the trout completely on both sides with the sea salt. Chill for 1 1/2 hours. Rinse the salt from the trout, drain well, pat dry and place in a bowl. Mix together all the marinade ingredients in a separate jug or bowl and pour over the trout, leave in the fridge overnight.

Cook the asparagus in boiling salted water until just tender, refesh in cold water and drain. Then cut it into pieces the same size as the asparagus. Chop the cucumber into pieces the same size as the asparagus.

Put all the ingredients for the anchovy mayonnaise except the olive oil and hot water in a blender or food processor and whiz together. Add the olive oil, drop by drop, continuing to blend and gradually increasing the addition of the oil to a trickle, then add the hot water until you have a thick, smooth mayonnaise. Season with pepper to taste and reserve.

Just before serving assemble the tartare, remove the trout from the marinade, cut it into cubes of a similar size to the asparagus and cucumber, and combine all three together in a bowl. Add the anchovy mayonnaise and season with pepper, mix thoroughly.

To serve either pile the mixture into shallow bowls or plates or, for a neater presentation, place a medium sized pastry cutter in the centre of each bowl or plate. Pack each ring with the trout and asparagus mixture, pressing down as you do so. Neaten off the top, and then carefully slide off the pastry rings. Garnish each serving of tartare with a good sprig of chervil and serve with the bread.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bacon and asparagus tart

Serves 4

Asparagus just about qualifies as a late spring vegetable. At home, the first spears are ready now, and they are arguably the best in the world. This is the time to knock out a cute lunchtime tart like this one. This is a shallow flan really with a shortcrust pastry base. I recommend using a shallow 26cm diameter non-stick pizza pan, 1cm deep with a 1cm lip. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for barely a minute then cool in cold water.

120g plain flour
60g butter
25g grated cheddar
A pinch of salt and grated nutmeg
2 large egg yolks half the white from 1 large egg

12 medium stalks of asparagus
120g mature cheddar
100g crème fraîche
2 egg yolks and 1 egg white
80g streaky bacon, cut into small pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First sift the flour onto your work surface. Then cut the butter into small cubes and place them on top of the flour together with the cheese, salt and nutmeg. Rub the ingredients together with the tips of your fingers until all the lumps of butter and cheese have melted into the mix. Make a well in the centre and add the 2 yolks and egg white.

Work the egg in with your fingers. This is messy but enjoyable; you can use a plastic scraper to remove the pastry from your hands. Gather the pastry into a ball and work it with the heel of your hand for 30 seconds. Work the pastry again for a minute, and then shape it into a ball, wrap in cling film and store in the fridge until needed.

Preheat the oven to 200c/gas mark 6. In the meantime, roll out the pastry to the approximate size of the pizza pan. Lay the pastry over the pan and press it down. You can trim the sides if you like, but we don’t bother. It just looks better that way. Mix the grated cheddar with the crème fraîche and egg and add a little salt. Spread the cheese mix on top of the pastry, and arrange the asparagus spears, finally distribute the bacon pieces and grind some pepper on top. Bake for 15 minutes until nicely browned.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mini pistachio macaroons

Makes 28 mini macaroons

A perfectly formed macaroon, cracking on the outside giving in the centre is a joy to behold. This can be taken as far as you wish - precision baking in one if it's purest forms. Otherwise, there's still nothing wrong if they're mis-shaped and irregular as long as the flavour hits home.

150g shelled, unsalted pistachios, plus1 tblsp for the topping
1 large egg white
115g caster sugar
A tiny pinch of salt
½ tsp distilled rosewater
Icing sugar

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper. Finely grind the 150g of pistachios in short bursts in a food mixer until they form a fine meal. Set aside.

Place the egg white in a bowl. Whisk until it forms stiff peaks, then gradually add the caster sugar, whisking until it forms a thick, glossy meringue. Add the ground pistachios, salt and rosewater and stir until the mixture forms a stiff paste.

Tip some icing sugar into a small bowl. Liberally dust the palms of your hands with the icing sugar and pull off a grape-sized lump of pistachio paste. Roll it into a ball, slightly flatten and place on the paper-lined tray. Repeat until the mixture is finished.

Take the remaining pistachios and split them with a knife. Press a shard into each macaroon.Leave to dry out for a minimum of 8 hours. I’ve left them for up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 140c/Gas Mark 1. Cook the macaroons for 10 minutes or until they are lightly coloured and slightly cracked. Remove and serve once cold

Monday, May 11, 2009

Carrot cupcakes with orange frosting

Makes 12 large cupcakes

This is simply a perfect carrot cake recipe which makes enough batter for 12 muffin sized cupcakes. You can, of course, make smaller cakes using cupcake tins, but these will require less time to cook, so do check after 15-20 minutes of baking. A great kids' recipe to get them involved in the kitchen.

75g sultanas
200g plain wholemeal flour
1 tblsp ground mixed spice
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
200g soft dark brown sugar
150ml sunflower oil
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
2 tblsp orange juice
2 large free range eggs
200g peeled and grated carrots
45g ground almonds
45g roughly chopped walnuts or pecans

For the orange frosting
400g cream cheese
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
1 tsp orange juice
60g sifted icing sugar

Place 12 paper muffin cases in a muffin tin. Put the sultanas in a small bowl, cover with hot water and leave to soak for 10-20 minutes until they have plumped up, then drain well and set aside. Preheat the oven to 180c/Gas 4.

Put the flour, mixed spice, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into a large bowl and stir well to incorporate.

In another mixing bowl, combine the sugar, oil, orange zest, orange juice and eggs and beat with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Fold in the flour mixture in two batches, followed by the sultanas, carrots, ground almonds and chopped walnuts or pecans.

Divide the batter among the muffin cases, level the tops and bake for 20-25 minutes, until well risen and golden brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

To make the orange frosting, beat together the cream cheese, orange zest and juice and icing sugar until smooth. Chill until ready to use, then spread liberally over the cooled cupcakes. Once frosted, the cakes should be eaten within a few hours, or will keep chilled for a couple of days

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Braised lamb shanks with leeks and haricot beans

Serves 4

Another personalised request - again it's lamb, I'm seeing a worrying trend... mind you if I was churning out a plethora of snake soup recipes I'd be far more concerned. This dish, as all braises tend to be, gets even better when left overnight in the fridge. You could make it a day or two in advance for the ultimate development of flavour.

4 small lamb shanks
300g dried haricot beans
4 bay leaves
olive oil
4 large leeks, trimmed, halved lengthways and rinsed
about 60g butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 tblsp chopped thyme leaves
1 tblsp plain flour
650ml of light stock
juice and zest of a lemon
a handful of parsley, chopped
a handful of mint leaves

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. The next day, drain them, put them into a deep saucepan and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil, skim off the froth, drop in two bay leaves and a drop or two of olive oil and simmer for 40 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave them in the cooking water.

Warm a splash of olive oil in a deep casserole. Season the shanks all over with salt and black pepper then lower them into the pan. They should sizzle when they hit the oil. Turn the meat from time to time until it has coloured nicely on all sides (a pale honey rather than deep brown). Remove the meat from the casserole and set aside on a plate to catch any escaping juices.

Set the oven at 160c/gas mark 4. Cut the leeks into chunks roughly the length of a wine cork; wash them thoroughly, and then put them together with the butter in the casserole, keeping the heat low. Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper then cover with a lid. Leave them to cook until they have started to soften - a good 20 minutes or so. You will need to give them an occasional stir.

Remove and discard the paper. Peel and thinly slice the garlic, and add it to the pot with the thyme and two bay leaves. Sprinkle the flour over the top and continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, then pour in the water and the drained cooked beans.

Season with salt and pepper; return the shanks and any collected juices to the pan. Bring back to the boil. Cover the casserole with a lid and place in the oven for an hour and a half or until the lamb is completely tender - sometimes it takes two.

You should be able to remove it from the bone with little effort. (Then again, it shouldn't actually be falling apart.) Remove from the oven, stir in most of the lemon juice and zest, parsley and mint, then scatter the rest over as you serve.