Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Scandinavia Show 2010

When I found out about this, I was immediately interested, the prospect of going to an event that is purely devoted to all things Scandinavian got me quite excited too.
Readers of my blog will have already noticed that I'm a fan of Nordic cuisine and I have a passion for Iceland and its Scandi cousins – I've included a fair few recipes and mentions relating to that region.

Taking part in the event will be various food shops and restaurants, something I cannot miss –  Madsen and Scandinavian Kitchen will be there.
Also at the show, Trina Hahnemann will be giving cooking demonstrations and if her books are anything to go by, I think that will be worth a visit.

The Scandinavia Show is the UK's only event completely dedicated to showcasing the best of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and of course Iceland. Covering all aspects of Scandinavian design, travel, lifestyle, fashion and food, the weekend show will be packed with exhibitors with well-stocked stalls.

Along with shopping opportunities, there will be live entertainment in the form of music and dancing each day, there will also be a special area for children to keep them entertained too.

For more information about the event and how to buy tickets visit: www.scandinaviashow.co.uk

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Bacon and Chestnut Risotto

Risotto is one of my favourite comfort foods, it's also so versatile, the creamy rice being the perfect foil for a variety of additional ingredients.

Recently, I received a pack of ready-cooked and peeled chestnuts from Merchant Gourmet, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to pull out one of my favourite recipes.
Preparing chestnuts yourself can be tricky and dare I say, a dangerous business. Before cooking it is essential to make a good slit in the side of the chestnut otherwise they can explode on heating. I discovered that they are capable of nearly blowing the oven door off its hinges!
With Merchant Gourmet's chestnuts being peeled too, it saves time as well as preventing painful bits of shell getting stuck down the back of your fingernails.

Here I've combined smoky bacon with the sweetest of chestnuts – these two ingredients have always been perfect partners on the Christmas table, so why not give them a chance any other time of the year too.
Don't be put off by the use of red wine as it gives a good flavour – the colour may be a little suspect but this dish is all about the taste.

Serves 2

1 tablespoon olive oil
112g smoked streaky bacon, cut into pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely crushed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
170g arborio rice
freshly ground black pepper
half a glass red wine
500ml hot chicken stock, it's fine to use a stock cube
knob of butter
20 (approx) ready cooked and peeled chestnuts
grated Parmesan, to serve

Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan and add the bacon, fry for a couple of minutes and then add the onion and garlic, cook until the raw smell disappears from the onions. Be careful not to let them burn – you just want them to be pale and translucent.

Stir in the thyme and tip in the rice, fry gently, whilst stirring, so that the rice becomes completely coated. Then add the wine, keep stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed. Season generously with black pepper.

Now add a little of the stock and on a gentle heat keep stirring the rice as it cooks to release its starch and give a creamy texture. When the rice has absorbed all the liquid, add more stock. Continue to stir. You will need to repeat this process until all the stock is used up. The risotto is done when the rice has increased in volume. It should have a lightly nutty bite to it and also be moist with a liquid creamy sauce.

Keep the risotto on a low heat while you melt the knob of butter in a frying pan. Add the chestnuts and sauté them until golden, tip them into the risotto along with the butter and mix in well.

Serve in bowls topped with grated parmesan.

For more information about Merchant Gourmet's products, visit their website:

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Thursday, 23 September 2010


This is my version of the old colonial Anglo-Indian breakfast dish. I have never actually eaten it for breakfast, but it does make a very good evening meal.
The combination of smoked haddock, gently spiced rice and boiled eggs is equally good on a summer's day or as a comforting autumnal meal.

Serves 2

250g smoked haddock fillets
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely crushed and chopped
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
4 whole green cardamom pods
half teaspoon cumin seeds
half teaspoon fennel seeds
quarter teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
half teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch ground cayenne pepper
half teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder
142g basmati rice
boiling water
2 eggs, free-range
good handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
mango chutney, to serve

Bring some water to a simmer in frying pan and place in the haddock. Poach the fish gently for about 8 minutes, until firm to the touch and slightly opaque.
Remove the fish carefully and transfer to a plate. Peel off the skin and flake the fish into largish pieces, taking care to remove any bones. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large lidded saucepan.
Add the onion and fry gently for a minute or so, add the garlic and ginger and continue to fry gently.
Crush the cardamom pods just enough so that they split. Add them to the pan with the rest of the whole spices and the turmeric and cayenne and stir. Then add the rice and stir until coated. Put in the bouillon powder and pour in enough boiling water to cover the rice. Put on the lid and turn down the heat to the lowest setting. It is best to cook on the smallest ring on your hob.

Boil the eggs for about 5-6 mins so that they still have fairly soft yolks.
When the eggs are done, remove from the heat, drain away the hot water and place the pan under the cold tap. Leave to stand for a few minutes before peeling the eggs and halving them lengthways.
After 15 minutes remove the lid from the pan.The rice should have completely absorbed the water and be fluffy. Add the fish and gently stir in, using a fork, until it is warmed through, then stir in the chopped coriander.
Spoon into large bowls top with the eggs and serve with mango chutney.

Photo: ©childsdesign 2010

Monday, 20 September 2010

Cobbled Streets, Cider and Butter

Having recently returned from an enjoyable stay in Brittany, I was still ignited with enthusiasm for the local cuisine and wanted to create something at home. Aside from the ubiquitous moules frites, crêpes and galettes, Brittany has so much more to offer on the food front.

While I was cooking, I was taken back to the steep cobbled streets of Dinan or the rugged shores of Île-de-Bréhat...

Poulet au Cidre Breton

Brittany produces some very fine cider, everything from a good country style not unlike our Somerset or Herefordshire ciders to the more refined ‘Champagne’ varieties. Brittany, although in France is not a wine producing region and so it invests it’s time in using apples to make a pleasing array of brews.
This dish is fragrant with apples as the cider infuses the chicken making it tender and fall-off-the-bone succulent. The chicken is best cooked on the bone to give a robustness of flavour. After I removed the breasts and legs from the whole bird, I used the rest to make stock, picking off any remaining meat after it had cooked.
Although not the most photogenic of dishes, my husband did his photographic best to make it look appetising, but I can assure you it tastes very good, even if I do say so myself.
Sauté potatoes and french beans go very well with it, I think.

1 chicken, jointed, use the legs and breasts
2 apples, preferably Golden Delicious, cored and cut into 1cm dice
3 large onions, sliced
50g butter
500ml dry cider
4 tblsp crème fraîche
a good grating of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

In large heavy saucepan, melt half the butter and add the onions and apples and fry gently for about 5-7 minutes until golden.
Melt remaining butter in large frying pan and brown the chicken breasts on all sides for about 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to the onion and apple mixture and stir well to combine.
Pour in the cider, add nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer and cover with a lid.
Allow to simmer for approximately 30-40 minutes.
When the chicken is cooked and tender remove from the cooking liquid and set aside, keep warm in a low oven.
Skim any excess fat from the liquid and reduce the liquid by half, cooking on a medium heat to allow it to evaporate.
Stir the crème fraîche into the cider sauce and allow to cook for a further few minutes until the sauce thickens.
Serve the chicken in bowls with the sauce spooned over.

Gateau Breton

This cake is wickedly rich and celebrates one of Brittany’s finest products, butter. Part way between a dense sponge and shortbread it has an irresistible flavour and texture.
I decided to add the extra filling of prunes after being inspired by one I bought in Brittany last year. The cake is often plain without the stripe of sticky fruit, but I love the extra dimension that the prunes give – it’s like the most decadent fig roll you’ll ever eat.
The cake is supposed to have diamond shapes scored into the top, but I don’t know what happened to mine – they filled in on cooking, however, that didn’t affect the taste.

250g soft ready to eat prunes
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
200g lightly salted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
250g plain flour
half teasoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3.
Chopped the prunes, very finely and put into a bowl and mix in the vanilla extract.
Beat the egg yolks together in a bowl, then reserve a little of the egg in a small bowl to use as a the glaze.
Add the softened butter to the egg yolks and beat until soft and well blended.
Add the sugar and flour and work into a slightly sticky dough.
Lightly butter a 22.5cm/9inch loose-bottomed cake tin.
Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces.
Press one half of the dough into the tin, using your fingers. It does get very sticky to work with, so put a sheet of cling film over the top to stop your fingers getting too messy.
Spread over the prune mixture evenly over the dough.
Press on the second half of the dough, smoothing the top with a palette knife.
Using a knife,score into diamonds across the top, then brush with the reserved egg yolk.
Baked for 50 mins.
Cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack

(or what to do with the 
left-over egg whites)

I did think about freezing the egg whites, but knowing my track record of remembering what’s in the freezer, I thought they would be exiled to a frozen doom and be wasted, so meringues were the answer.
Inspired by the stacks seen in patisserie windows (like the one in the quaint medieval town of Moncontour, pictured below) I set about making big crunchy-on-the-outside and chewy-in-the-middle confections. Not wanting anything plain to look at, I got arty with some food colouring.
The texture is achieved by folding in a little cornflour and vanilla extract is added for a more interesting flavour.

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010

Now for a little favour…
If you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own home in France, this could be the perfect location for you. (I should know, I've stayed in it and it's lovely)
This 4 bedroomed very detached house, set in grounds covering almost an acre is located in the small town of Lanvollon in the heart of rural Brittany.
Picturesque, peaceful, quiet and in an area of natural beauty Lanvollon is within easy reach of both airports and ports.
See www.buyfrenchhouse.co.uk for more details

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Bill's Basics

The ever-popular Australian food writer, TV chef and restauranteur, Bill Granger, brings us his new book filled with over 100 of his favourite classic dishes. From lazy breakfasts to late-night suppers to lunch for a crowd, Bill’s simplified and unfussy approach to the recipes allows one to fit some enjoyable cooking into their busy lives.

I freely admit that I’m a cook book addict, so receiving this review copy had me all excited. At first, I wasn’t sure what the recipes would include, but I was inspired when I flicked through the pages. Many of the recipes, I discovered, were things that I already cooked on a regular basis, but that did not deter me from reading them. This is the whole point of the book. I read somewhere that on average, people will cook the same three meals, week in, week out and I’m no exception.
Most people lead a hectic lifestyle and they feel as if they’re running around everywhere with very little time for preparing a meal. In Bill’s book, the recipes are straightforward, yet the results are delicious, from lamb tagine to prawn laksa, Thai beef salad to chocolate brownies, chicken burritos to crème caramel, what home cook wouldn’t want to master these?

The sumptuous photography coupled with Bill’s relaxed and reassuring style, make this a book that I’ll happily keep within easy reach, as there’s few recipes that I won’t attempt to make.

I tried out three recipes, picking ones that were closest to those I make often and they all turned out rather well. I may even be making adjustments to my own efforts in future.

Chickpea Burgers
These have to be the best veggie burgers I’ve had, with their lovely texture, crisp on the outside and soft and nutty in the middle. The Chickpea Burgers (p206) were a breeze to make as they used canned chickpeas, so no soaking and boiling for hours.
I loved Bill’s suggestion to use flat-leaved parsley as a salad leaf in the bun as it gave a very refreshing flavour. The yogurt used instead of the usual mayonnaise in regular burgers made it light and healthy too. Just a little chilli in the burger and a dribble of chilli sauce gave a satisfying kick.

Sometimes, at the weekend, I like to make Pancakes (p13) for breakfast, buttermilk pancakes are by far the best, as they have a pleasant fluffy consistency, just right for a lazy Sunday morning. I hardly ever have buttermilk in the house, something even Bill himself, points out. Bill has a very effective solution, simply add some lemon juice to the milk and let it stand for five minutes before adding to the rest of the ingredients. The milk reacts to the acid in the lemon juice and thickens.
To eat the pancakes, all that was needed was a drizzle of runny honey, some juicy blackberries and natural yogurt on the side.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana
Pasta dishes have fast become a mainstay in most home kitchens. They are quick to prepare and tasty to eat. Bill’s Bucatini all’Amatriciana (p126) is no exception, rich and tomatoey with meaty bits of pancetta clinging to the Bucatini pasta. Bucatini has now entered my list of favourites, it looks like a slightly thicker spaghetti, but has a hole down the centre. I adore its amazing texture, although you can’t suck it up like spaghetti as the hole in the middle stops that!
The sauce was exceptionally delicious with the addition of a little red wine vinegar and sugar that gave a good sweet and sour effect balancing well with the saltiness of the pancetta.

Bill’s Basics by Bill Granger is published by Quadrille.
Hardback RRP £25.00
Order yours now

Food photos: ©childsdesign 2010
Book kindly supplied by Quadrille Publishing
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