Saturday, June 27, 2009

Berry lime mousse

Serves 8 to 10

This is a great way to use up those half punnets of berries in the fridge, and any cherries rattling round in the bottom of the fruit bowl would make a welcome addition too. If you want to lighten the mousse further, you can fold in whisked egg whites at the end, but this really isn't crucial to the success of this recipe.

250g strawberries, hulled
250g raspberries
250g cherries, halved and stoned
100g redcurrants, stripped from their stems
145g golden caster sugar
500ml whipping cream
500ml Greek yoghurt
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 limes
2 egg whites (optional)
Shortbread biscuits, to serve

Quarter or halve the strawberries, depending on size, then place them in a large mixing bowl with the raspberries, cherries and redcurrants. Sprinkle over 3 tablespoons of the caster sugar and toss through gently. Set aside to allow the fruits to soften and release their juices for about 15 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the mousse mixture. Pour the whipping cream into a large mixing bowl and whisk to soft peaks with an electric whisk. In a separate bowl, soften the yoghurt if stiff with a wooden spoon, then beat in the rest of the sugar with the vanilla extract. Carefully fold in the whipped cream, followed by the grated zest of 2 limes and the juice of half a lime. If using egg whites, whisk to medium peaks and fold into the mousse mixture.

Pour about one third of the berries and cherries and their juices into a large trifle dish. Spoon the mousse mixture on top, then finish with a layer of the remaining fruit. (Alternatively, divide the fruit and mousse between individual glasses.) Chill until ready to serve. Finish with a grating of lime zest, then spoon into bowls and serve with shortbread fingers on the side

Friday, June 26, 2009

Scrambled eggs with Spanish style hash

Serves 4

This morning, officially, I could murder a fry up... not enough carbohydrates and sleep combined with a little too much booze and vocal strain always make for some form of a frying pan moment the day after. If someone else were cooking then it'd be rude not to insist on the works, but seeing as that luxury isn't coming my way, I reckon keeping it simple while maintaining maximum punch is the way ahead. A small dice of pan-roasted potatoes are a great accompaniment to scrambled eggs. The secret is to get the potatoes nicely golden and to take the pan off the heat just before the eggs are completely set – there is nothing worse than overcooked, rubbery eggs - there are so many things wrong about that I'm not so sure I have the energy to get into it this morning...

2 large waxy potatoes (about 600g)
Olive oil, for cooking
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 red chilli, seeded and finely sliced
8 large eggs
Handful of fresh chives, finely snipped

Peel and chop the potatoes into 1cm cubes. Pat dry with kitchen paper to remove some of the excess starch.

Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and add the potatoes with a pinch of salt and pepper. (You may need to cook the potatoes in two batches if your pan is not large enough.) Fry the potatoes, tossing or turning occasionally, until just tender and evenly golden brown on all sides. This may take up to 15-20 minutes over a medium-to-low heat.

Add a touch more oil and toss in the sliced chilli. Cook for a minute or two. Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl and pour into the pan. Stir the mixture as the eggs cook and begin to set at the bottom of the pan. Just before the eggs are completely set, remove the pan from the heat, stir in the snipped chives and season to taste.

Divide between warmed plates and serve immediately with a mountain of hot buttered toast and a mug (I insist it must be a mug) of hot tea.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Seared beef with mint and mustard dressing

Serves 4

Beef carpaccio is a one of those classic summer dishes that we tend to trust restaurants to take care of rather than risk at home ourselves. I quite like the idea of very rare beef that has just had its edges singed in the oven, a safe half way house between carpaccio and a full on roast; that way you get a good portion of rare flesh with the bonus of a crusty roasted edge. There are a couple of possibilities here; either serve it with a salsa verde of basil, garlic and parsley or make the mint dressing below, which is kind of like a Caesar salad dressing tarted up with the freshness of mint. Whatever you choose to dress it up with, you've got to have chips, big fat hot chips on the side are a must...

500g beef fillet (thick end)
½ tblsp Malden sea salt
1 tblsp black peppercorns
a little olive oil

For the dressing
1 heaped tblsp grain mustard
Juice of half a lemon
Small handful of mint leaves
4-5 tblsp olive oil
Lemon - to serve
Chips - hot and fat

Set the oven at 220c/gas mark 8. Crush the peppercorns roughly with a pestle and mortar and mix them with the salt. Rub the beef with a little olive oil then roll it in the seasoning, pressing down so that most of the salt and pepper sticks to the meat.

Warm 2 tblsp of olive oil in a roasting tin then put over the heat until the oil starts to sizzle. Brown the meat quickly on all sides then roast for 10 minutes only. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

To make the dressing, put the mustard, lemon juice, mint leaves and egg yolks in a blender and whizz for a few seconds. Pour in the oil, slowly, stopping when you have a dressing the consistency of double cream.

Slice the beef very thinly, and then spoon the dressing over at the table. Serve with lemon wedges, and those chips.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Carrot and pineapple muffins

Makes 12 large muffins
The best carrot cakes if ever made and tasted have an undercurrent of pineapple in there. This adaptation of the cake is a great way to get more fruit and fibre into your children’s diet, particularly if you add wholemeal flour into the muffin mix as I have here. Most kids tend to love sultanas and walnuts, but you can omit the latter if your child has a nut allergy. These also make a fantastic teatime treat, glazed with a mascarpone or cream-cheese frosting that has been sweetened with a few tablespoons of icing sugar

150g carrots
100g plain flour
100g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
100ml vegetable oil
50g salted butter, melted
150g light muscovado sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
225g can of pineapple in natural juice, drained and finely chopped
50g golden sultanas (optional)
50g walnut pieces (optional)
2 tblsp demerara sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with papercases.

Peel and coarsely grate the carrots, then pat dry with kitchen paper.
Mix together the plain and wholemeal flours, the baking powder and the ground spices in a bowl. In another large bowl, beat together the oil, melted butter, sugar and eggs.

Add the grated carrots to the wet mixture, then stir in the pineapple,sultanas and walnuts. Gradually fold in the flour mixture until justcombined. To keep the muffins light and fluffy, do not overwork the batter.

Spoon the batter into the lined muffin tray and sprinkle with demerara sugar, if using. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer inserted into themiddle of the muffins comes out clean. Cool the muffins on a wire rack.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chicken with vinegar sauce

Serves 6

Comfortable, warming, easy and quick - a one pot wonder for a midweek supper. You need only serve some hot potato with this dish and you're bound to find peace. What works for me here is the contrast between smooth chicken flesh and the sharp vinegary juices.

6 chicken breasts and/or thighs and drumsticks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Flour for dredging
100ml olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 anchovy fillet, mashed
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
½ tsp chopped fresh sage
125ml red wine vinegar
185ml dry red or white wine

Pat the chicken pieces dry, season them with salt and pepper, and dredge them in flour, shaking off any excess. Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces, in batches if necessary, and cook them, turning once, until they are golden brown and crisp on both sides – about 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan and pour off the fat. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the onion, celery, garlic, anchovy, and herbs and cook until softened – 4 or 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and boil over high heat for a minute or 2. Add the wine, bring it to boil, and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring well. Add the chicken and cook, uncovered, turning once, until tender - about 30 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasonings. Put the chicken on a platter, spoon on the sauce, and serve immediately or keep warm, covered, in a warm oven easily for up to 30 minutes.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dumplings (Jiaozi)

Makes 100

Now this, I have to agree is a hell of a recipe, and only to be undertaken when sticking pins in your eyes to relieve intense periods of boredom has proven to be no longer fun or painfully addictive. Easier to go somewhere and have them made, cooked and served to our tables, but for some that journey may be a tad too far - so we must all have a decent dumpling recipe in the back pocket - and here it is...

670g plain flour
330ml cold water
1 pak choi, very finely chopped, sprinkled with salt, left for 30 mins then squeezed dry
225g lean minced pork
10-12 tiger prawns, peeled and finely chopped
4 spring onions, using both the white and green parts, very finely chopped
15g ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
sunflower oil
2 eggs, beaten
soy sauce
Chinese cooking rice wine
sea salt
sesame oil

Suan zhi (garlic sauce)
5 cloves garlic
Chinese dark rice vinegar
sesame oil

Put the flour in a large bowl and drizzle water onto it, mixing the flour. Then use your hands to form a large ball. Leave to rest for 30 mins. For the stuffing add the bai-cai to the pork, prawns, spring onion and ginger. Heat 2 1⁄2 tblsp of oil in a wok and when the oil is smoking add the eggs, moving briskly until they are golden and crispy. Add to the pork mixture with 2 tblsp of soy sauce, 7 tblsp of sunflower oil, 3⁄4 tblsp of rice wine, three pinches of salt and a drizzle of sesame oil.

To make the skins take a handful of dough, make it into a sausage 2.5 cm in diameter and cut into pieces 2.5 cm long. Form each piece into a ball, then flatten, making a disc about 3.5 cm in diameter. Then roll them (all 100) into circular dumpling skins about 7-8 cm in diameter (you can buy these if you must). Put 1 1⁄2 tsp of stuffing mix into the centre of each skin and press the edges together to form a half moon shape with the middle pushed together and the ends open.

Seal the corners by creating little concertina-like folds as you press the edges together: it is crucial they don't open during the cooking process.
To make suan zhi chop the garlic and add to the dark rice vinegar with a drizzle of sesame oil. I also add a tsp of brown sugar, 1 tblsp of soy sauce and 1⁄2 tsp of chilli oil.

To cook the dumplings boil a pan of water and carefully add 20 at a time - they will sink. Using a spoon stir the water (not the dumplings) to create a whirlpool which will encourage the dumplings to float. When they are floating put the lid on and let them cook for 2 minutes. When the water is really boiling add a little cold water and bring it back to the boil. Do this twice more then add a final drop of water. Remove the dumplings with a slotted spoon. Eat with the sauce - pick up your dumplings with chopsticks and bite off the end to let out the steam.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lemon macaroons

Macaroons - when made well, they are as addictive as MSG... made averagely, they're more often than not still a sweet treat worth paying out for. Be warned that making macaroons is not easy and will take practice to achieve perfection – particularly the piping bit, which might make you cranky and quite depressed. There’s also a bit of advance preparation, so it’s not really an option for a last minute whip up on a whim type treat. All that said - should you have the time, notion and desire - they are quite possibly one of the most rewarding reasons to have a cup of tea... the photograph was one devoured in Hong Kong a few days ago, and was a terrific example of macaroon making at it's best...

For the macaroon shells
225g icing sugar
125g ground almonds
125g egg whites (from about 4 medium eggs, but do weigh it out)
A few drops of lemon juice
25g caster sugar
20-30 drops of yellow food colouring

For the filling
Good-quality lemon curd

In two batches, put the icing sugar and almonds in a food processor and blitz until you have a fine powder. Stop halfway through and loosen any bits that have clumped in the bottom of the processor bowl.

Sieve the powder into a large mixing bowl – again, do it in batches. Try to sieve all but a teaspoonful of chunky almond bits, which you can throw away.

Put the egg whites into a clean metal mixing bowl and whisk until they start to hold its shape. Add a few drops of lemon juice, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar in two lots until the whites form stiff peaks. Finally, whisk in the yellow colouring until well combined.

Mix one-third of the whites into the dry ingredients. Then tip the rest of the whites on top and, using a metal spoon, gently fold them in, using a figure-of-eight motion. It will be stiff at first, but it will gradually loosen. You want it to be smooth and glossy, but not too liquid. The texture is very important and tricky to judge: when you fold the mixture, it should form a ribbon on the surface. Too runny, and you’ll end up with flat crisps; too stiff, and it’s meringue.

Take your piping bag, fitted with an 8mm plain nozzle. Stand it upright in a jug, then turn down the wide opening of the bag. Fill the bag with the macaroon mix, then turn up the sides and twist to seal the mixture inside. The idea is to get rid of any air so that when you squeeze the bag, a solid stream of mixture comes out of the nozzle.

Hold the bag in your right hand and the nozzle in your left (or the other way round if you’re left-handed). Hold the bag in front of you, tilted slightly and with the nozzle just above the surface of the first parchment-lined baking tray. Pipe a round, 2cm-diameter blob of mixture (by squeezing the closed end of the bag). Lift the nozzle sharply to finish the blob. Carry on piping more blobs, leaving about 2cm around each one to allow for spreading (they should spread to about 3cm). Continue until all the mixture has been piped – you should have about 50-60 blobs in all.

If any of the macaroons have nipples, smooth them gently with a wet finger. Leave them to stand for 45 minutes. This helps them to form a smooth shell when baked. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 140c/gas mark 1)

Bake the macaroons in the middle of the oven, one tray at a time. After 5 or 6 minutes, they should have started to rise, forming a lacy collar around the bottom. Cook for a total of 12-15 minutes – don’t let them burn. The exact timing will depend on their size and your oven; try a small test batch first – leaving the uncooked macaroons on their trays won’t hurt them.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool on their trays. You should then be able to remove them gently without leaving the insides behind. If not, carefully ease off with a knife.

Beat together the lemon curd and mascarpone to give a lemon cream. Pair macaroon shells of similar size and sandwich together with 1-2 tsp of the cream. Eat immediately, or keep in the fridge for a day – they’ll be even better