Thursday, 31 January 2008

Cauli Killers

I was sad to read in the newspaper, that our humble cauliflower maybe soon meeting its demise.
For those people who hate the vegetable, this would have been a joy to learn, but to me it's something that has got me worried.
Cauliflower can actually be rather nice if not cooked to within an inch of it's life. It can be smothered in a rich cheese sauce or lightly curried in fragrant spices and coconut milk.

The reason for the cauli's alleged imminent end, is that supermarkets pay the farmers such a pittance for it and coupled with harvesting problems last year, the growers say they may have to reduce their planting or even get out of production altogether. This sounds very sad to me indeed, especially as I feel so powerless to enforce any change.
Perhaps boycotting the supermarkets and choosing to buy my cauliflowers elsewhere may have an effect...
If all else fails we'll just have to grow our own.
Photo: everystockphoto.com

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

On a Roll

I am now a fully fledged participant on the Foodie BlogRoll –an ever-growing list of foodie blogs. Have a look at the sidebar under the recipe index to see what I mean.
This enables all of us foodies out there, to link to each other and to make discoveries in the world of food blogging. Not only that, but we can increase our chances of getting noticed and boost our search engine status.

So if you are reading this and have a foodie blog of your very own and aren't listed, then join up now by visiting The Leftover Queen to register.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Roquefort Cheese, Pear and Potato Pie

You've really got to like blue cheese to eat this, and I know I certainly do. Roquefort and pear have always been perfect companions in salads, so why not in a pie. I wanted to create something that was quite rustic rather than cordon bleu, so opted to leave the potatoes and pears with their skins on. The pastry is very much 'country-style,' spelt flour adding its wholesome nuttiness to the whole pie.
It's not obligatory to use Roquefort – Dolcelatte or Stilton would be just as good.

Serves 4-6

For the pastry
4oz plain flour
4oz spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4oz butter, cold from the fridge, cubed
a little cold water

For the pie filling
10oz new potatoes or salad potatoes (no need to peel)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely crushed
half glass white wine
1 heaped tablespoon plain greek yoghurt
4oz of Roquefort cheese
1 pear - Williams variety is good, core removed and sliced (no need to peel)
freshly ground black pepper

For the crumble topping
1 teaspoon olive oil
2oz pine nuts
2oz fresh white breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper

one,  8 inch diameter, 2 inch deep, round cake tin

For the pastry
Sieve the flours and baking powder into a large bowl, add the butter and rub into the flour with your fingertips, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then add a drop of water and stir into the mixture with a fork. Work lightly to bring together into a ball. Be careful not to make the dough too wet. Using your hands, work the dough into a ball. Wrap it cling film and put into the fridge for an hour to chill. This will make it easier to roll later.

For the pie filling
Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onions and fry gently until golden, add the garlic and continue to cook for another minute or so. Pour in the wine and simmer until it has completely evaporated. Transfer the onions to a large bowl to cool, keep the frying pan, unwashed, for using later.
Meanwhile, boil the potatoes for about 15 minutes or until the sharp point of a knife pierces one easily. Drain, and allow to cool slightly, before slicing them into big pieces.
Add the potatoes to the onion mixture, stir in the yogurt and season with pepper.

For the crumble topping
Heat the oil in the frying pan you used for the onions, tip in the pine nuts and fry gently until they become slightly golden, add the breadcrumbs and rosemary and continue to fry until the breadcrumbs are golden. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

Preparing your cooking tin and pastry case
You'll see from the photos, that I've used folded aluminium foil strips in the tin. This was intended to assist the removal of the pie. I'm going to make a confession — although this should have worked in principle, I had to resort to turning the pie out by putting a tin over the top and turning it upside-down, and then inverting it back on to a plate. When I tried to use the foil to lift it out, as originally intended, it proved to be rather difficult and may have resulted in certain breakage!

Grease the tin. Place the chilled dough on a floured work surface and roll out so that it's big enough to line the tin. Place the pastry into the tin, making sure it fits against all the surfaces. Trim away the excess pastry.

Assembling the pie
First, tip in the onion and potato mixture so it covers the bottom evenly, then crumble the cheese over. Arrange the pear slices on top and sprinkle over the crumble topping. Push a few rosemary sprigs into the top.
Place on the middle shelf of a preheated oven, Gas 4 for about an hour. iceland reykjavik norway sweden reykjavik finland
Remove from the oven and leave to stand in its tin for 5 minutes before turning out.
Serve cut into wedges with a green salad.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Butternut Squash and Parsnip Soup

I've eaten commercially made butternut squash soup from the supermarket, but felt that it didn't really do justice to such a tasty ingredient, so I set myself to task on making my own, in the hope I could do better.
Instead of cooking the squash in the stock, I chose to roast it, without oil, to intensify the sweet, rich flavour. The addition of spices and red pepper give the finished soup a slightly exotic fragrance without being overbearing.

Serves 2 as a main meal

1 small butternut squash
3 small parsnips, peeled and trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
half teaspoon cumin seeds
1 red pepper from a jar
half pint vegetable stock
nutmeg, freshly grated
black pepper, freshly ground

to serve
handful pumpkin seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan
hazelnut oil, to drizzle

Cut the parsnips and squash into large chunks (no need to peel or de-seed) and put them into a baking tray, cover with foil and put them into the oven, Gas 5 for an hour until soft.
When they're done remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion and garlic, fry gently for about 3 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and continue cooking until the onions are soft and translucent.
Remove from the heat.

Remove the seeds and peel from the squash and put in a food processor along with the parsnips, red pepper and the onion mixture.
Pulse the mixture in the processor to form a stiff puree. While the processor is still running add the stock slowly until it becomes completely combined.

Transfer the soup mixture back into the saucepan, grate in a good amount of nutmeg and add a generous twist of black pepper.
Stir in the water and bring the soup to a good simmer. It shouldn't be runny but quite thick and hearty.

Serve in deep bowls, scattered with pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of hazelnut oil.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Sticky Chicken, Butternut Squash Roasted with Fennel and Ginger with Sesame Spring Greens

This is a dish that I created that captures all the eastern flavours of Chinese cuisine but cooked in a western style.
I love butternut squash and have tried it cooked in several ways, but roasting it really brings out its nutty sweetness. Considering this, I was wondering what flavourings would work well with it. The aniseed-like aroma of fennel and spicy hit of ginger immediately sprang to mind, and I think it works well with the richly marinated chicken.
The spring greens, I admit, were an afterthought, but I have tried to carry on the oriental theme by cooking them lightly with the addition of sesame oil.
Serves 2

For the chicken
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons medium dry sherry such as amontillado
1 tablespoon runny honey
2 garlic cloves, grated
Bristol blend pepper*, freshly ground
2 chicken breasts

For the squash
1 small to medium sized butternut squash
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 inch piece fresh ginger
Bristol blend pepper*, freshly ground
sea salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the greens
vegetable oil
2 heads spring greens
pinch sea salt
sesame seeds
sesame oil

First make the marinade for the chicken.
Put the soy sauce, sherry, honey, garlic and a few good grinds of pepper into a bowl and mix well until the honey dissolves and combined.
Make several diagonal slashes in each chicken breast, then put them into the marinade and stir to make sure they are evenly coated. Set aside for an hour or more.

Preheat the oven on Gas 6 / 200C / 400F and put in a tray to get nice and hot.
Cut the squash into about two inch chunks, remove any seeds. There's no need to peel it as roasting makes the skin very edible.
Grind the fennel seeds in an electric spice or coffee grinder until they become a fine powder.
Peel and then grate the ginger into a large bowl, add the ground fennel, salt and a few generous twists of the pepper mill and mix in the oil.
Toss in the squash and stir around until it is coated with the spice mixture.
Remove the hot tray from the oven and tip in the squash, return straight back to the oven and place on the top shelf for about 40 minutes. About half way through cooking, turn over the squash pieces so they they brown evenly.
The squash is done when it it nice and soft.

Too cook the chicken, heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan, remove the chicken from the marinade with tongs (keep the marinade) and place in the pan. Be careful as it will splatter quite a bit. Cook on a fairly high heat so that it takes on a charred appearance, turn over and do the same for the other side.
Reduce the heat and add the reserved marinade, cook gently, turning occasionally until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the marinade creates a sticky coating.

For the greens, removed the tough central veins from the leaves and finely shred.
Heat a small amount of oil in a wok, then add the greens. Stir fry for a minute or so until they become shiny and slightly wilted. Season with salt, tip in the sesame seeds and fry for another minute, then stir in a few drops of sesame oil.

Serve the chicken on top of the greens with the squash on the side.

*Bristol blend pepper is combination of black, white, pink and green peppercorns with allspice (pimento) berries

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Great Start to the Day

Farmhouse Breakfast Week 20th-26th January
This event is held every year to promote the good wholesome breakfast, and I do try to believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I have to make a big confession, it’s one of those meals in which I don’t properly participate. Typically, I’m in such a rush on weekday mornings, that my breakfast usually consists of a hastily grabbed coffee at the railway station kiosk. When I finally arrive at the office, I’ll drink a pro-biotic yogurt drink, which I threw into my bag on the way past the fridge, before flying out of the door. Later in the morning my stomach’s rumbling again, and if I’m lucky, I might find a muesli bar lurking on my desk.

You’re probably thinking, that this is not the sort of breakfast I expect a foodie to be eating, most mornings! Sorry, but it’s just the way I’ve always been. I remember, as a child, I’d always be running late for school, and my Mum bundling me outside while thrusting a slice of toast in my hand to be eaten on the way.
However, weekends are a different matter altogether. With more time to be spent at leisure, breakfast takes on the role of a meal that will keep me going until evening.
Usually I would have planned the day before, what we intend to have – it’s become something to look forward to rather than being an essential meal for sustenance alone.

Yes, we do have the usual things like just toast and marmalade or whatever, but the Scandinavian style breakfast has become a favourite with my hubby ever since our first trips to the northern lands.
The spread will normally consist of the following: Salami, ham, marinated herring fillets, cheese, boiled eggs, slices of tomato and cucumber and seeded bread allowing us to make a variety of open sandwiches.
Yes I know it sounds a little over the top, but when you miss lunch instead, this is all very agreeable accompanied by a good Ethiopian coffee, and while we’re at it we indulge our inner children and watch SpongeBob SquarePants on kids television too! It’s the perfect way to relax after a hard week at work.
To visit the Farmhouse Breakfast Week website, click here

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Piparkökur: Icelandic Pepper Cookies

This is my version of an Icelandic recipe that I have in my collection for some extremely moreish spiced biscuits. Traditionally they are made for Christmas, but they're so good with their crispy honeycomb texture and warm fragrance, they'd go well with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, anytime.

You could decorate them with icing, if making them for a festive occasion, but they're perfectly fine left plain. In fact, I tend to find the icing can eventually make the biscuits go a little soft, which, perhaps, is not so desirable.

The recipe is sufficient to make a lot of biscuits ( I didn't count the final number – sorry) so you will have to bake them in several batches. Just store them in an airtight container and they'll keep fresh for quite a long time – that's if they're not eaten in a flash!

250g plain flour
2 and half teaspoons baking powder
1 and half teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
half teaspoon ground cinnamon
half teaspoon ground cardamom
quarter teaspoon ground nutmeg
quarter teaspoon ground cloves
quarter teaspoon ground black pepper
eighth teaspoon paprika
250g light brown muscovado sugar
125g butter, softened
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Sieve together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices into a bowl and then mix in the sugar.

Add the butter and rub it through the flour mixture with your fingers until it becomes completely combined and sandy in texture.

Add the beaten egg and work in to form a dough. If the mixture seems too dry and doesn't want to come together, you'll have to crack another egg and add some more beaten egg, a little at a time. You may only need half the egg.

Wrap the dough in some cling film and put it in the fridge overnight to firm up.

To roll out the dough, place a large piece of cling film on your work surface and lightly dust with flour, put a quarter of the dough on it and place another sheet of cling film over the top, now roll out quite thinly. Peel back the cling film and use a cutter to cut into cookies shapes. Use a cutter that you think will be slightly smaller than you need as the dough spreads as it heats up in the oven.

Carefully peel off the cut pieces and place on to a flat, lightly greased, non-stick baking sheet. The cookies need to be well spaced to allow for them to grow.
Repeat with the other three pieces of dough and continue to cook in batches.

Bake at Gas 6 / 200C / 400F until dark brown.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

New Book - New Recipes to Try

Yet another cookery book has entered my collection. 
In my quest to find more Scandinavian recipes to try, 
I discovered 'Kitchen of Light' by Andreas Viestad. It actually accompanies a television series currently broadcasting in the United States, called 'New Scandinavian Cooking'. Their website states that they're currently working with the UK to get it aired in my dear old home land, most likely on UKTV Food - I'll be looking forward to that, if the recipes and photos in the book are anything to go by. 
In the meantime I will endeavour to attempt most of the recipes, and post them here in a 'Tried and Tested' section. In fact, I have so many cookery books and magazine clippings still waiting to have their turn in the kitchen, that I must, and will include something from them too.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Dreaming of Dumplings

Now, when I left the house in the morning, I was in England, but somehow the journey home found me in Siberia. Well at least the weather seemed to say so. The chilling wind was so bitterly cold, I felt my face freezing into a twisted grimace as I trudged towards the train station. At last I could take refuge in the waiting room for the half hour wait.

What is it about station facilities? There was no heating and the seats were made from metal! As I tried to make myself comfortable on the bone chilling seat, I became aware of the fact that the aluminium was conducting every bit of life-giving warmth away from my body through my derrière!
Thinking about what Ray Mears would have done in this situation, I found a newspaper in my bag and used it as an insulating cushion.

Reasonably comfortable at last, my mind turned to food... mmmm a warming velvety goulash, the kick of the finest Hungarian paprika radiating it's soothing warmth from lips to stomach – a delicious and satisfying form of central heating. Of course light dumplings studded with earthy and fragrant caraway seeds should be served with it too as well as a spoon of silky white smetana over the top.

OK, I know I mentioned Siberia earlier and goulash isn't Siberian, but I think the dumplings would have a place there. They're of the perfect consistency to fuel one, enough to be able to survive in such an inhospitable climate.

I will divulge my recipe at a later date when I have properly checked all the quantities – whilst my goulash recipe may not be authentic, I feel it has everything to inspire the palate and comfort the soul.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Just Getting Started

Well, I've finally managed to get off my backside and start a blog!
I've got loads of foodie things dancing around in my head at the moment, so as soon as I can make myself comfortable, I'll begin to add lots of interesting things for you to tuck into.
At least I can say that I've actually got my first post up, even if it's not a recipe, so if anyone stumbled upon my blog by chance, I can promise that there'll be plenty more to come, so please come back.
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