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Showing posts from 2009

Mince Pies At Last

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This post is a little late since I’ve missed the real mince pie season, but it’s the end of a long journey for me so I think I should record it. I admit to not being a huge fan of mince pies, and I probably wouldn’t bother with them at all if it weren’t for the fact that my wife really likes them. So it’s been a challenge for some time to produce one which I could honestly say that I liked. The first hurdle was the mincemeat itself which often feels to me like wading through fat – I don’t really get the point of suet at all. Last year I found Pam Corbin's recipe for suet-free mincemeat, based on cooking down plums before adding the more usual bits together with a drop of sloe gin. It’s healthier but, more importantly, tastes fresh and fruity. But last year’s mince pies still didn’t really work for me because the pastry just didn’t seem right. This year we tried Orlando Murrin's pastry from the recipe Unbelievably Easy Mince Pies on the BBC site, which gives a crumbly pas

Chicken Noodle Salad

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This salad could be made with leftover chicken, or, given the time of year, even leftover turkey. I try not to have too much to do with turkeys - we've always had a strained relationship. It's some years since I cooked a Christmas turkey and on that occasion the bird was still in a garage in Widnes on Christmas morning and nobody could quite remember which garage. This recipe will serve 2 people. A few chicken thighs with skin on and bone in; 4 maybe, but as many as you feel like eating 2 portions of medium egg noodles (around 125 g altogether, uncooked) A good handful of green beans 6 smallish or 4 large spring onions For cooking the chicken:      1 scant tsp 5-spice powder      3 tbsp dark soy sauce      1 tbsp balsamic vinegar      2 tsp sesame oil For the dressing:      2 tbsp dark soy sauce      2 tbsp light soy sauce      1 tbsp balsamic vinegar      2 tsp sesame oil      1 tbsp sherry vinegar      2 heaped tsp soft, brown sugar Preheat the oven to

Sweet Potato and Cranberry Salad

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I put this dish together as my effort to meet the Real Epicurean In the Bag challenge for December. The challenge is to create a dish using cranberries, clementines or mandarins and nuts. To be honest that sounded a bit too Christmassy for me - Christmas doesn’t come very high on my list of favourite times of the year. But then I thought why shouldn’t I be using these really good ingredients when they’re at their best? It’s not their fault that they get slopped on to turkey or turn up at the bottom of Santa’s sack. So I've had a go. This salad will serve 4 as part of a mezze or 2 as a light lunch with some flatbreads or something of that kind. 1 green pepper 1 onion, finely chopped 3 medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, around 600 – 650 g unpeeled weight 1 tsp ground cumin ¼ tsp chilli powder 350 ml vegetable stock 2 tsp lemon juice 3 tsp clementine juice 2 tsp maple syrup 2 tsp pomegranate molasses 2 clementines, divided into segments A generous handful of cranb

Pepper Soup with Almond Butter

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You can use red, yellow or orange peppers for this soup or a mix of colours depending on what’s available and the colour that you want to end up with. Don’t use green – or purple or black for that matter, which I think are just green peppers disguising themselves. The idea of this soup is to have some background spice with a hint of heat but without overwhelming the taste of the peppers and almonds.  To provide the spice this recipe uses ras el hanout, which varies a lot from one spice seller to the next so it may be necessary vary the amount. If the blend is already hot, then leave out the chilli flakes. I used a jar of almond butter but you can make your own purée from roasted almonds and possibly a little salt – it’s not difficult, it’s just a bit of a faff. There’s plenty of guidance around if you want to try – on C'est moi qui l'ai fait ! for instance. This recipe makes around 4 bowlfuls. 4 peppers (red, yellow or orange) 1 onion, finely chopped 1 potato (aroun

Toulouse Pork and Beans

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I like to use Toulouse sausages for this recipe (or at least English versions of Toulouse sausage) but I wish to make it very clear that this is dish has no connection with cassoulet. I went to Castelnaudary fairly recently and I now realise just how seriously that dish is taken. My internal picture of Castelnaudary is a little like this: Unfair, of course, and I'm sure that  La Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary would see it differently. This should warm up 2 hungry people on a very cold day. 100 g pancetta cubes or lardons (one of the small packs you can get  in the supermarket is just the right size) 1 onion, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, crushed ½ - 1 tsp paprika ½ glass red wine 400 g tin of chopped tomatoes 400 g tin cannellini beans ½ tsp sugar 1 tsp sherry vinegar 1 tbsp tomato purée 6 Toulouse sausages (that is English-sized sausages) 1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan A few chopped leaves of oregano 2 – 3 handfuls of breadcrumbs (any sort wil

Jerusalem Artichoke and Carrot Soup

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This recipe makes around 6 bowlfuls. 1 medium onion, finely chopped  500 g Jerusalem artichokes (unpeeled weight) 1 baking potato (ideally around 300 g in weight – definitely not more than this, anyway) 500 g carrots, peeled and sliced 1 or 2 garlic cloves A generous splash of marsala 1 litre vegetable stock A few thyme leaves (don’t overdo it) A squeeze or two of lemon juice Take a big pan - one that you have a lid for - and soften the onion in it with a spray of oil. If the onion looks like it might take on some colour add a little water. While that’s happening, peel the Jerusalem artichokes as carefully as you can be bothered (as long as they’re clean a little bit of skin won’t really hurt), cut them into chunks and drop them into water with lemon juice added to prevent them going brown. Peel and cut the potato into chunks. Crush the garlic, stir it into the onions and continue cooking for a minute or so. Add the Jerusalem artichokes, carrots and

Breadmaker Lemon and Almond Brioche

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No doubt I should be far more authentic and homely and do my own proving and kneading without the aid of a machine. Well I do sometimes, but I really like my breadmaker. This recipe is a simple extension of the basic brioche loaf recipe provided with the machine but I’ve added ground almonds and flavoured it with lemon and vanilla in line with some brioche that I’ve seen on sale in France. I use a Panasonic breadmaker for this recipe, but for most other machines the liquid will need to go in first. I really like vanilla bean paste, but extract will do fine instead. 1 tsp dried, fast action yeast 400 g strong white bread flour 50 g ground almonds Zest of 1 lemon 3 tbsp sugar (golden caster sugar works well) 1 tsp salt ½ tsp (or thereabouts) vanilla bean paste 100 g softened, unsalted butter 3 medium eggs, lightly beaten 150 ml milk Ideally, the ingredients should be at room temperature. Add the ingredients in the order stated and bake with the following settings: “Basic

Cornbread Muffins

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I’ve tried various different ways of cooking cornbread but I tend to come back repeatedly to this recipe which is a bit of a hybrid from a number of the other recipes I’ve tried. These muffins are quick to make and go well with a chilli or any spicy casserole. They also freeze well. This recipe makes 6 biggish muffins. 125 g self-raising flour 125 g fine cornmeal 1 tbsp baking powder ½ tsp salt A few twists of black pepper 1 tsp dried chilli flakes (or more if you feel inclined) ½ tsp dried thyme 1 egg, lightly beaten 2 tbsp olive oil 225 ml buttermilk Preheat the oven to 210°C (for a fan oven, a little hotter otherwise). Unless you’re using a silicone mould, you’ll need to grease the muffin tins. Sift the flour, cornmeal and baking powder into a bowl and mix in the salt, pepper, chilli flakes and thyme. Make sure all the dry ingredients are nicely mixed up and make a well in the centre. Mix together the egg, oil and buttermilk, pour the mixture into the well in th

Fruity Pork Cottage Pie

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Autumn’s definitely here and the darker evenings call for comfort food. Cottage pie is definitely comforting. Since I didn’t have any leftover meat to make it with, I decided to try some pork mince rather than the usual beef or lamb. (Despite using pork I can’t quite bring myself to call it a Swineherd’s pie.) Fruity, sour flavours often go well with pork so I decided to throw in some sour stuff and balance it with some sweet bits. This is a bit over the top, maybe, but if the balance of sweet and sour is right, then it makes a refreshing alternative to the usual taste of a cottage. For the “filling”: 2 small or 1 large carrot, finely chopped 1 onion, finely chopped 500 g pork mince 5 or 6 mushrooms – common button ones will do – chopped coarsely 1 apple, cut into big chunks Skin of ½ preserved lemon, finely chopped ½ tsp dried chilli flakes 2 tsp cumin 2 tsp sumac 1 tsp ground dried lime 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses 2 tbsp honey 1 tbsp lemon juice 2 tbsp tomato purée

Thyme Sorbet

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I’ve no idea why I’m making a sorbet when the winter seems to be setting in and hot food seems more appropriate, but I suppose that’s the way I am. Thyme sorbet has become a bit of a cheffy cliché in the recent past but I still wanted to see what it was like to make. Most recipes that I’ve seen follow a pretty straightforward sorbet formula, often with lemon, which is additionally infused with thyme. There’s nothing at all wrong with that but I’d seen a sorbet with a milky quality in France and I thought I’d try adding milk to this sorbet before the thyme in the garden is too ravaged by the winter. This recipe only makes a small amount, but I think this works best in small amounts as an accent to other flavours – perhaps a dessert made with some of the blackberries you collected and froze earlier in the year. I used a mix of lemon and ordinary thyme in this recipe but I think it works with either 5 sprigs of thyme Zest of 1 lemon 300 ml full cream milk 300 ml water 200 g cast

The Unaccustomed Parsnip Soup

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The supermarket had cheap parsnips yesterday, which seemed like a good opportunity for more soup making. More often than not I’ll make the old standby of a curried or spicy parsnip soup, but today I thought I’d make use of the sweet potatoes I had lying around and the stray Bramley apple in the fruit bowl. I use marsala in this recipe because I think it complements the taste of root veg and squashes really well – I use it quite a lot during the winter, but you could use sherry or leave it out altogether, though that would be a shame, I think. The recipe will make around 5 portions of reasonably thick soup that will be just right on cold and dreary day – like today, funnily enough. Like a lot of the soups I make this is virtuously low in fat. Parsnip Sweet Potato & Apple Soup 1 onion, finely chopped 1 teaspoon fresh ginger 3 cloves garlic, crushed Small glass of marsala A generous pinch of crushed, dried chilli 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar 375 g parsnips (prepared weight

Dear Old Red Cabbage

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Braised red cabbage is a pretty standard recipe and I don’t do much that’s really different. There are one or two small tweaks that mean it’s just the way I like it, though. The idea of using the two different apples is that the Bramley will add the tartness but will break down, while the eating apple adds a sweeter, more obviously appley taste and may retain some texture. The blackberry vinegar will heighten the colour and give extra depth to the flavour but is generally sweeter than most vinegars, which is partly why I add the lemon at the end. This dish has the major advantage that it can be made well in advance (even the day before), chilled and reheated. It also freezes pretty well. If you do happen to have any cold red cabbage left over then try thinning it with a little more lemon juice, vinegar or just some water and then purée until at least reasonably smooth. It makes a very good relish for cold meats. This recipe will serve 4. Braised Red Cabbage with Lemon 1 medi

The Accustomed Carrot Soup

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My regular carrot soup started out as a pretty standard potage de Crécy, or at least what I thought was a potage de Crécy. I quickly found myself changing it to add other bits and pieces and to make it as low fat as I could. I don’t really like being too fussy over this soup and I’ll change proportions and some of the flavourings now and then, but this is as close to a standard as I get for a satisfying lunch on a cold day. This recipe makes 4 to 5 portions depending on how thick you like it and how much wastage you get with your carrots. I sometimes make a fair bit extra and load the freezer. 600 g carrots, unprepared weight 2 small onions, finely chopped 2 litres vegetable stock – you could make your own, of course, but a stock from Marigold vegetable bouillon will do fine. You could also use chicken stock. 1 rounded teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme 3 tablespoons basmati or long grain rice 2 tablespoons orange juice 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (it

Tagliatelle with Chicken and Plums

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This dish might sound as if it just wouldn’t work, but oddly it does – as long as you like plums. I came across a French recipe using chicken and plums and since there were plenty of cheap plums around, I thought I’d try something along the same lines. It might sound a little complicated, but it’s not really and can be prepared largely in advance. This recipe serves two hungry people, but the size of plums and chicken thighs will vary a lot so you might want to vary the amount of pasta or other ingredients to suit your appetite. 3-4 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in 3-4 plums, ripe but preferably still on the firm side 2 medium courgettes, topped and tailed Zest and juice of 1 small lime 150 g (or thereabouts) tagliatelle – or use whatever pasta you have Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dried chilli flakes, salt and pepper and maybe a little sugar Cut the courgettes into thin slices lengthways. Dry these slices out by placing them on silicone sheets on baking trays in an ove

Rosemary & Olive Oil Soda Bread

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Soda bread is quick and easy to make and, of course, is good to eat. But classic soda bread doesn't really work when served alongside the kinds of dishes I often cook, such as pasta. This recipe doesn’t stick to the classic soda bread ingredients in that it adds both baking powder and olive oil. Flavoured with rosemary, or with other herbs if you wish, this is a light and tasty bread that will accompany a whole range of dishes. 350 g white bread flour 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 1 tsp baking powder ½ tsp salt The leaves from 2 or 3 large sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped Black pepper 3 tbsp olive oil 1 egg, lightly beaten 250 ml buttermilk Preheat the oven to 200°C for a fan oven (a little hotter for a non-fan). Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl. Add the rosemary and a few twists of black pepper. Make sure that they are well mixed together. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the oil, egg and buttermilk. Quickly mix in

Collioure and the Parmesan Sablé

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Sometimes I do actually get out of the kitchen and I've just come back from the South of France, so let's start there. I’m all for trying and using local ingredients but sometimes this can be pushed a little far. For instance, I once had a salad in Normandy that combined all the local ingredients that the chef thought were significant, namely fish, apples and mustard (there was a mustard producer nearby). It was truly horrible But you can’t go to Collioure without trying the anchovies. The prospect of small, salty fish wasn’t filling me with excitement but having tried the anchovies of Maison Roque with the traditional red pepper, I have been persuaded that they can be a serious delicacy with a lot of possibilities.   I particularly enjoyed the anchovy salad in the restaurant “Ma Maison” in Sorède which was served with a parmesan sablé. A little difficult to eat elegantly but it worked. The following is my way of creating a savoury sablé, albeit not really a professional loo