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Coffee Crème Caramel

IMG_4012I’m loving the bit in the Saturday Guardian Cook section where well known food people choose their last meal. The fact that they are allowed to set the scene as to where they’d eat it and with whom reminds us that a good meal is about more than just the food. But the food is pretty important too and each time I read one of these I start debating what my final meal would involve.

There would definitely be squid, but would it be a tender slow cooked squid stew with ripe tomatoes or would it be chargrilled for moments til the edges blacken and the tentacles have the right amount of chew? Maybe some deep fried crispy salt and pepper squid? Or would I regret not having the salt and chilli version?

Would I have a perfectly pink middled duck breast or a steak so blue it’s still mooing for the main course? Indecision is my greatest forte so I just get myself tied up in hungry knots each Saturday morning, except for one thing. I know exactly what I’m having for dessert. Crème Caramel.

I love crème caramel so much there is no such thing as a crème caramel I don’t like. I even love the hell out of those 69p for four supermarket ones that are like a milk jelly in an oddly shaped tub. My love is unconditional for this classic dessert. Yet for years I never made it, reaching for the Bonne Maman ones in the posh glass ramekins instead and believing it would be fiendishly tricky to make.

I’m not sure what convinced me to try making it when I had such a mental block about it, but I had the idea of doing slow cooker crème caramel for the book and discovered that making it is even easier than eating a whole family pack of them in one sitting. You’ll have to wait til Slow Cooked comes out on November 6th for the slow cooker version, but here’s a stovetop one that combines the flavours of coffee and vanilla to tide you over.

Coffee Crème Caramel (makes 4)

  • 120g sugar
  • 60ml water
  • generous pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee
  • 400ml whole milk

Do not think about making this with skimmed or semi-skimmed milk or it won’t set properly and will collapse on itself if you try to turn them out of the ramekins. I actually tend to use milk powder for as I live in a very Portuguese area where everyone keeps a tin of Nido in the house.

Start by making the caramel. Put the sugar and the water in a stainless steel pan on the cooker. Non stick pans can make the caramel crystallize and become granulated. Melt the sugar over a medium heat, stirring constantly.

When the sugar is completely melted, stop stirring and allow the caramel to boil to a dark rich colour. Keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t burn. It should take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat immediately. Add the salt and stir in.

Pour an equal amount of caramel into each of the ramekins and set aside to cool and harden. Don’t put them in the fridge or the caramel becomes soft and tacky. It will take about an hour for the caramel to set. Leave aside until needed.

To make the custard, warm the milk in a pan. While it is coming to a simmer, beat the eggs in a bowl with the caster sugar until they are thickened. When the milk is warm, pour a little bit of it into the eggs and whisk. This tempers the eggs to stop the custard splitting.

Pour the tempered eggs into the remaining milk and whisk together. Heat gently until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Add the vanilla extract and the instant coffee and stir in well. Remove from the heat immediately and pour the cooked custard into the ramekins, leaving a few centimetres of room for expansion.

Set the the filled ramekins into a deep baking tray and pour enough boiling water into the crock to come about two thirds of the way up them. Carefully set this bain marie into the oven and and cook the crème caramel on 150℃ for 25 minutes.

Lift the crème caramels out of the oven. There should be no bubbles round the edges. Allow the crème caramels to cool for an hour or so and then put them into the fridge overnight. This means the caramel will absorb into the crème properly

When you are ready to serve, simply turn the crème caramels out onto small plates and eat. The caramel will cascade down the side of the custards as well as flavouring the base of them, mixing beautifully with the soft rich coffee flavour to make the most delicious version you’ve ever eaten. I’d keep telling you how good they are, but I’ve got my mouth full…

mikado opening

Homemade Mikado Biscuits

mikado 1

I have been on a bit of a biscuit roll recently (if you’ll pardon the pun) and rediscovering all kinds of childhood tastes. I blame that re-run of Nigel Slater’s biscuit programme because it’s certainly not just a desire to cram biscuits into my mouth. Oh no.

I loved making the fig rolls and I loved revisiting the Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream jingle of childhood in my research for it, but honestly didn’t think anymore of it, especially since I was never quite sure which biscuit was which and preferred to say it as it’s all one word. I half thought of looking out for a packet of them if I was in an Asda soon with their weird ‘ethnic Irish’ grocery section.

My attention was actually all about the homemade teacake. I had heard about the rose infused version at Restaurant Story in Bermondsey recently and it got me thinking about playing around with having a go at something similar when some friends came for midsummer afternoon tea.

I’ve had this fantastic sounding recipe for teacakes from the ever wonderful The Little Loaf in my ‘to make’ folder for ages and thought I’d adapt it to make rose marshmallows again and spread the biscuit with rose petal jam. They sounded like they’d go well with a little Pimms on the patio in fact.

I started by baking the biscuits. Except I didn’t have any wholemeal flour, just some leftover buckwheat flour from the galette in Recipes from Brixton Village. Then I realised the rosewater for the marshmallows was three years out of date and smelt like a Woolworths bath and body gift set. It was time to use the random bottle of Polish raspberry syrup I’d impulse purchased a few weeks ago to see if I could add flavour and colour that way.

Raspberry and rose go beautifully so I still needed that rose petal jam: the rose petal jam that I forgot I’d eaten earlier this year and of course couldn’t be found without some time travel. Luckily I had some emergency raspberry jam on the shelf and it would look like it was intentional.

Massive amounts of improvisation later, I was ready to start assembling the teacakes. I spread the jam on the biscuits, splodged on the marshmallow and realised that on a very warm day the jam made it all so slippy I would never be able to coat them with chocolate without disaster. I was just about to give up on the whole endeavour when I realised that with a sprinkle of desiccated coconut I had accidentally created a homemade Mikado and saved the day…

Homemade Mini Mikado Biscuits (adapted from the Little Loaf)

Makes approx 60 bite sized biccies

  • 100g buckwheat or spelt flour
  • 50g rice or plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g cold butter
  • 30ml buttermilk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry syrup or 75ml raspberry juice and 75g sugar
  • 4 tablespoons raspberry jam (seedless is best)
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

Start by making the biscuits. Sift the two flours into a large bowl and add the baking powder and sugar. Stir it all well together. Rub the cold butter into it all until it forms what looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the buttermilk a teaspoon at a time. The dough will come together without being sticky.

Using the palms of your hands, form it into a loose ball and squash it flat into some clingfilm. Wrap tightly and chill overnight or for at least 6 hours.

Heat the oven to 170℃ and roll the biscuit dough out on a floured surface until it is about 1cm thick. Cut out little bite sized biscuits out with the top of a small jar or champagne flute. Lay on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 12 minutes. I don’t like my biscuits too crisp for this kind of thing myself.

Allow the biscuits to cool while you make the marshmallow. This is the kind of marshmallow you get in big pots called Marshmallow Fluff and for me it never sets to make the solid kind you toast, but is perfect for this kind of thing.

Set a large bowl over a pan of boiling water and melt the sugar and golden syrup together. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg white into it all and keep beating it all over the heat for 6 minutes. Add in the raspberry syrup. I used bottle stuff but make a quick version with the raspberry juice from squashed berries and sugar boiled together to make a thick syrup if you don’t have a crazy Polish drinks aisle near you. Beat it all together for another 2 minutes and remove from the heat to cool.

Put the cooled marshmallow into a piping bag. Do check to see if you have actually have a piping bag first unlike me who had to do the freezer bag trick instead. Spread a tiny blob of raspberry jam on each biscuit and pipe a puff of marshmallow on top. Yours will look prettier than mine I promise. Sprinkle the marshmallow with a scant amount of coconut and if you’re trying to hide the badly piped nipple-like marshmallow you’ve just done, add some edible glitter too.

Leave the biscuits to set for at least two hours before eating and then line them up on a plate to make what looks like one enormous Mikado and inhale them one after the other. Wearing a headscarf and housecoat is of course optional for most people but basically how I always dress when I’m cooking since you can only take the girl out of Belfast….

PS: I’m now on Instagram. Come and say hello!

 

green goddess

Green Goddess Dressing

green goddessBrixton market is fantastic all year round and the reason I am able to eat so well on a budget, but every so often, it exceeds even my expectations of it. This week it was with small dark skinned avocados for 25p each or 6 for a pound. (I hear places in West Norwood are doing 7 for a pound but that’s irritatingly odd numbered for me.)

I took my bulging bag of avos home and pondered what to do with them beyond simply splitting them in half, going old school by filling them with vinaigrette and eating them with a spoon. I vaguely remembered bookmarking Green Goddess dressing ages ago in preparation for a glut of avocado and it seemed like the moment to unearth it.

For those of whom who don’t know what Green Goddess dressing is (ie: all British people), it is an American salad dressing, particularly popular in the Seventies and absolutely packed with fresh herbs to give it the green of the name. While it has fallen out of favour generally, it’s popular amongst vegan food bloggers who use avocado to give creaminess instead of the lashings of mayo the original recipe featured.

It’s particularly good at this time of year when often you have a fresh herb fest in the garden as well as being more likely to eat salad. I’d love to tell you that I went out to the patio and cut my own home grown herbs and salad leaves to create this meal, but since I’ve killed all my plants except the thyme that went to live next door for its own safety, I’d be lying. I simply revelled in finally being able to use up those bouquet sized bunches of herbs in the market for once.

I made this version when I was cooking for a friend who is vegan so omitted the traditional anchovy using a little miso instead. You could also substitute with nutritional yeast.

Green Goddess Dressing (makes about 350ml)

  • 2 scallions
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 100g fresh basil
  • 100g fresh parsley
  • 25g fresh thyme
  • 25g fresh tarragon or oregano
  • 1 anchovy fillet or 1 teaspoon miso paste
  • 4 small avocados or 2 regular sized ones
  • juice of two lemons or limes
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon Tabasco or similiar hot sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • 50ml cold water (optional)

This dressing is easiest in a small blender but you could make it the the old fashioned way with some serious chopping.

Start by finely chopping or blitzing the scallions and garlic. Set into a large bowl and chop or blitz all the fresh herbs as much as possible. They should almost be a chunky paste. Add in the miso or anchovy and combine it all well to a further rough paste. Add to the scallion and garlic.

Cut the avocados in half and remove the stones. Puree or mash the avocado as smoothly as possible and stir into the chopped herb and scallion mixture. It will be slightly coarse in texture at this stage but combined.

Add the juice of the lemons or limes, the vinegar and the hot sauce. Mix well and stir in the cumin and the seasoning. The dressing should be thick, smooth and very creamy at this stage but if it’s too stiff for your liking, add the cold water to make it a little looser. I like mine thick enough to splodge with a spoon but add a bit more water if you want to be able to actually pour it onto a salad.

I served mine more like a dip with herbed courgette fritters swiped through it. It would also be fantastic with tortilla chips for a change to guacamole. It dresses salad beautifully and if you aren’t vegan, it’s excellent with chicken or fish. The high acid content in the dressing means it will keep covered in the fridge for up to three days without discolouring.

Hopefully this dressing will have a revival as it’s so delicious. You can adapt the fresh herbs depending what you have. I wouldn’t use rosemary but chives, majoram, sorrel or dill would all work well too. It’s just further confirmation that Americans really are the people to ask  about salad dressings and dips because they do them so well.

 

fig rolls

Fig, Raspberry and Tarragon Rolls

fig rollsLike many Irish people, I more associate biscuits with Jacob’s than McVities. This is a brand so Irish, it was even one of the places taken over in the 1916 Easter Rising as Ireland tried to break away from Britain and declare independence. Biscuits matter back home.

Jacob’s made all kinds of sweet treats when I was wee (it is now no longer an Irish company and cases are fought in court over the name.) Mister North and I could recite the Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream jingle in our sleep, but most of all Jacob’s was associated with Fig Rolls.

They came in an orange packet in those days and our mum was rather fond of them so we always had some in the biscuit tin. I loved them because no one ever commits the disgusting depraved act of dunking a biscuit when they eat a Fig Roll. I have always wondered like the advert asked ‘how they get the figs in the fig rolls?’ and decided the time had come to find out.

Partly inspired by a Greek Fig Pie our dad sent me recently with its spiced fig filling and sesame seed outer and partly by this recipe on the fabulous Food 52, I decided to try baking my own and see if I could have a fig renaissance in my life. The one drawback of a Fig Roll is that they are teeth-itchingly sweet so I added some frozen raspberries to the fig mix to add a little tang.

And to prove I’m a grown up instead of a biscuit tin raiding child, I added a little tarragon to the raspberries as they are perfect bedfellows. In fact the most memorable cocktail I’ve ever drunk involved fresh raspberries and tarragon and gin and I’ve been borderline obsessed with this combo ever since. Told you I was a grown up now…

Fig, Raspberry and Tarragon Rolls: adapted from Food 52 (makes about 40)

For the dough:

  • 75g room temperature butter
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the filling:

  • 250g dried figs
  • 300ml boiling water
  • 200g fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 5g fresh tarragon

The dough is best used after chilling overnight so prepare it in advance. It will keep for about 10 days in the fridge if you get sidetracked mid recipe like I did.

Beat the butter and the sugar together with an electric whisk until they are very light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes. Add the egg and the vanilla extract and beat until loose and smooth.

Stir the flour and baking powder into this mixture until just combined. It’s a soft almost loose biscuit dough so handle it carefully. Roll into a ball, flatten into a disc and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.

About an hour before you want to make the fig rolls, chop your dried figs into small pieces. I cut each one into six. Put them in a pan with the boiling water and bring to the boil. Simmer until they are soft and plumped up. They should have absorbed all the water. Keep an eye on them as they are thirsty wee things and you might need to top the pan up again.

When they look like they have absorbed as much water as they can without falling apart, take them off the heat and blend well with a stick blender. You will end up with a very smooth pale purple paste. Set aside to cool.

If you are using frozen raspberries, allow them to drain well into a bowl at this stage. If you are using fresh ones, squash them lightly with the stick blender. Chop the tarragon roughly, add to the berries and set aside until the figs are cool.

Combine the figs and the raspberries and then spoon the fruit into a icing bag. They are ferociously sticky so don’t overfill it.

Take the dough out of the fridge and cut the disc into four. Keep one out and return the rest to the fridge. Flour your surface and roll the dough out into a long rectangle about 4 inches by 10. Knock the sides into an even shape with the rolling pin. The dough is fragile and might crack. I sacrificed the very ends rather than push my luck.

Using the icing bag, squeeze four stripes of fig and raspberry paste onto your dough and then fold the sides over. Wet it slightly to allow the top the layer to stick. Cut this fig filled sausage into 1.5 inch pieces and set on a lined baking tray. Repeat with the other three pieces.

Bake the fig rolls in a 175℃ oven for 14-16 minutes. The dough should be golden on the edges but not the top. Take them out of the oven and immediately put the piping hot biscuits in a large Ziploc bag and seal it up. This steams them and keeps them soft like a proper fig roll. I often do this with soda bread too and it works a treat to keep the crust smooth and soft.

When the fig rolls are steamed and cooled, serve with a cup of tea. The remaining biscuits will keep up to 10 days in a tin. The filling in them is lovely. Much more generous than Jacob’s ever was and not as sweet. The dough tastes exactly like the bought ones and they are even easier inhale alongside your cuppa with their soft texture. Much more fun than just opening a packet!

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb and lentil soup

Spiced Lamb, Lentil and Tomato Soup

Lamb and lentil soup

Every summer I buy lamb mince with the intention of making kofte with it and every summer I panic and decide that kofte are incredibly difficult to make and I’ll ruin them*. I find myself looking at a bag of lamb mince slightly nervously and then I just make meatballs. Again.

This time I happened to have been flicking through Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe and had seen a soup involving lamb mince and lentils and thought I could finally branch out of my meatball rut.

Unfortunately I went out and drank a couple of glasses of red wine before coming home to cook it for dinner and failed to notice that Silvena’s recipe was actually for rice, lamb and lentil soup until I had a third glass of wine and couldn’t be bothered to follow the recipe. I took inspiration at that stage from Keith Floyd and went for just making it up as I went along. The result was bowls that were scraped clean and no hangover from the wine either. That’s quite a soup.

Spiced Lamb, Lentil and Tomato Soup (serves 4)

  • 400g minced lamb
  • 1 teaspoon onion seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon kirmizi pul biber or smoked chilli flakes
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 200g red lentils
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh mint to serve

This is a very easy soup to make. Start by heating a dry frying pan on a medium heat and add the onion and cumin seeds. Allow to fry until they start to smell aromatic. It should take about 30-45 seconds. Watch them with an eagle eye or they burn and become bitter. Tip out of the pan onto a clean plate.

Return the pan to the heat and add the lamb mince. Fry it off until the fat starts to come out of it and then add the toasted seeds back in along with the paprika and pul biber. Stir it all well and cook through completely. It should take about 10 minutes.

Remove the cooked lamb from the pan and using the fat from the lamb which is now infused with the lovely spices, sweat the onion and garlic over a low heat until they becomes translucent. This will take about 12 minutes.

While the onions and garlic do their thing, boil the lentils for about 10 minutes in salted water. Drain them once they start to look softened and return them to a large pan. Stir the lamb and sweated onion and garlic through it all and then season well. Red lentils need a generous hand with the salt cellar for me.

Tip the chopped tomatoes into it all and stir well. Add the chicken stock and simmer it all for 25 minutes until the lentils swell up and the soup thickens. Keep an eye to make sure the lentils don’t burn or start to boil dry. They have a habit of that if left to their own devices. You might need a slug or two more of stock.

Serve the soup in deep bowls. Chopped fresh mint scattered on top and stirred through as you serve complements the smoky spicy flavours of the dish perfectly.

I loved this soup. Easy, flavoursome and incredibly filling, it makes the lamb go a long way and made a real change from my usual lentil based soups which tend to be a little worthy for my real enjoyment. Lots of flavour is obviously what I was missing up until now!