Raindrops and Roses

December 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

I had set out today with the intention of sharing the delights of hazelnuts in cake form but have taken one for the team and reined myself back. I guess that you have more than enough sweet things on the go right now, such that a rainy-Sunday-afternoon cake of this type is unlikely to make it to the top of the pile, and I really really want you all to make this cake. So, it will wait on the sidelines until January where it will hopefully return as a glimmer of comfort in that harshest of months. In the meantime, I will unleash on you a few of my favourite restorative mid-week meals: the kind that I use to reset in between indulgent dinners out or excessive cake-eating of the kind these couple of weeks bring.

Heidi Swanson’s blog is hardly an internet secret and deservedly so: she rescues healthy eating from the “knit your own fermented yoghurt” image and makes it elegant. Her double broccoli quinoa recipe has become one of the most-cooked dishes in our kitchen: we like it with feta and avocado on the top. I normally omit the cream in the pesto, adding a little extra oil to get the right consistency instead, but implore you not to skip the amazing chile fire oil to finish it all off. We also love the chopped miso salad which I usually make with ricotta salata in place of the tofu: it’s savory, crunchy, and filling yet light all at once.

I’ve told you all before how much I love Ottolenghi and his renowned big, bold flavours, and this sweetcorn soup with chipotle and squash is no exception. It’s a great way to use up some of the pumpkin and squashes that call out to me with their vibrant colours and knobbly forms right now. Corn, like peas, freezes very well, so if you don’t have fresh cobs in season, don’t hesitate to reach for a bag of frozen kerns. I make the full batch of soup and then freeze portions just at the stage before the soured cream and lime are added to use as fast, tasty lunches and suppers through the week. I can also recommend toasting up some tortilla strips as a garnish. And one more favourite from a lady who has become a legend in the food blogging world: the carrot and harissa salad from Smitten Kitchen is a dish that combines health and warmth which is just what I am looking for on a December Tuesday. We ate it last week with wholemeal pitta breads and some homemade hummus and it was perfect.

Clearly I can’t write a post about my favourite things without mentioning Nigel. If you’re looking for a bit more meat with your veg, look no further than this recipe, which was probably our all-time favourite kitchen discovery this past year and has perked us up many times the day after a later-than-ideal night before. And it features not just any old meat: chunks of minced lamb which you wok-fry until dark and sticky with chile and garlic infused oil, no less, before topping off with a generous amount of broccoli. It’s crunchy and chewy, spicy and soothing, all at once. I love it with fragrant brown basmati rice. Bookmark this now for new year’s day.

Lamb and Broccoli Stir-Fry
Adapted from Tender Volume 1: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater

Yields 2 hearty servings

a medium sized head of broccoli or a medium bunch of broccolini (see note below)
3 spring onions
3 cloves garlic
2 hot red chiles
3 tbsp groundnut or canola oil
300g / 1/2lb minced lamb
1 lime
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
a small handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves

If you decide to use broccolini, which I prefer in this dish, you don’t need to blanch it as the smaller stems cook fine from the stir-fry stage. Otherwise start by blanching the florets of broccoli in boiling water for a minute. Drain and set aside, running in cold water for a minute or so to stop the cooking.

Chop the spring onions and peel and finely chop the garlic. Seed the chiles and chop them finely too. Get the oil very hot in a wok then cook the chiles, garlic and onions till soft but not coloured. You will need to stir them constantly and quickly.

Crumble the minced lamb into the wok and let it colour to a rich, golden brown. You’ll need to be a bit brave here – let it really crisp up before you add the rest of the ingredients. Avoid moving the meat too much initially so that it sautes in the oil and seals rather than leaching out its juices which can lead to it boiling rather than searing in the pan.

Add the drained broccoli or the raw broccolini and continue to cook, stirring, for a couple minutes more. Mix the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar in a small bowl. Tip into the hot pan and allow to sizzle briefly, scraping at the bottom of the pan and ensuring that all the gooey parts from the lamb are reincorporated. Check the seasoning and add more salt and lime as desired, and then turn off the heat, stir in the coriander/cilantro, and serve while sizzling, over rice.

And so it begins

December 8, 2010 § 2 Comments

I have a confession: I’m just not feeling Christmas yet. By this time last year I had already made a huge batch of mincemeat for pies, a Christmas pudding, and helped to make a Christmas cake which I was diligently feeding with brandy every week. This year: nothing. First of all, how is it December already? How can the US to UK posting deadline be this week (cue heart palpitations)? But more than anything, the whole Halloween/birthday/Thanksgiving trifecta of parties and spectacular eating did its job especially well this year and provided a buffer so solid that I’m going to need industrial quantities of mulled wine, a tree so big that we can’t get it through the door without a hacksaw, and Santa Claus the Movie on repeat to burst through the bah-humbug and get in the spirit.

The cookies help. Since I’m far too late to get into the whole dried fruit and suet thing this yuletide, I am declaring 2010 to be the year of the cookie in our house (cough, apartment). And this hazelnut cookie is a pretty fine place to start. It sports an attractive cracked surface flecked by nut chunks, and the texture is irresistably chewy. But the selling point on this cookie that propelled it to the top of the list above the pink grapefruit squares, and the rugelach, and the chocolate gingerbread, and the rest of my extensive “to bake” list, is one of the ingredients: nutella. Now, I am fortunate enough to have need of very few food rules, but I am powerless before a jar of nutella to the extent that I just won’t buy it unless absolutely necessary. It’s fortunate for us all that this recipe required about exactly one tub of this creamy, nutty goodness minus just enough to provide a thick coating to a couple of pieces of toast. Otherwise I would still be on the spectacular sugar high and this post would be less than coherent.

As good as these cookies are in this form – and that is really good, I am planning to try a variation with the next batch and fold in some bittersweet chocolate shavings and top them off with a pinch of sea-salt: call it the Mrs Claus spin on this more elfish version. And I have plenty of room to experiment: be forewarned that this recipe yields cookie dough aplenty for a decent-sized party or your entire extended family. You could halve the quantities easily, or follow my lead and freeze half, or even three quarters, for future cookie cravings. If you choose to bake them all, just know that they contain nutella and I can’t therefore be responsible for the outcome.

Hazelnut Chewies
Adapted from Holiday Cookies 2010 from America’s Test Kitchen
Yields about 7 dozen cookies

3 cups / 330g all-purpose or plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups / 300-325g Nutella spread (or any chocolate hazelnut spread)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) / 60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups / 180g sugar (cane or caster)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant espresso powder*
1/3 cup / 80ml milk
2 cups / 260g hazelnuts
1 cup / 200g confectioners’ (icing) sugar

*instant espresso powder is more common in the US than the UK. It’s a very fine powder, so it mixes into cake batters well. In other words, it’s not the same as freeze-dried granulated coffee, which would stuggle to dissolve and leave chunks in the dough. In the UK you might find instant espresso powder in an Italian deli, or even in the supermarkets – if anyone checks this out, please do let me know. An alternative is to make some espresso and then substitute a tablespoon of the milk for a tablespoon of the coffee, adding it along with the milk at the liquid and flour addition stage.

Begin by toasting the hazelnuts. You can do this either in the oven or on the stovetop. If you are doing the whole batch here, the oven version is easier. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in a 350F/180C oven for around 5 to 10 minutes, until starting to brown and fragrant. You should give the sheet a shake every now and again to ensure even toasting. If you are making smaller quantities and don’t want to turn the oven on, simply add the nuts to a dry frying pan and toast over medium heat for 5 or 6 minutes, shaking pretty frequently and keeping a close eye on the nuts so they don’t burn. Once toasted, let the nuts cool before chopping them. It’s easiest to do this in a food processor, but if you don’t have one you can put them in a ziplock bag and bash with a rolling pin, or just use a knife.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set to one side. Beat the nutella, butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or using an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, then the vanilla and espresso and mix until incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternate additions of the flour and milk, mixing until just combined after each addition. Fold in half a cup, or 65 grams of the hazelnuts.

Divide the dough in half, or quarters, depending on how many batches of cookies you want to bake off (I divided into quarters so I can bake off just a dozen or so at a time). Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least two hours, until firm, or up to 24 hours. If you want to freeze the dough, put it straight into the freezer where it should keep for a month or so.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, heat the oven to 375F/190C. Line one or two baking sheets (depending on how many cookies you are making) with parchment paper. Place the remaining hazelnuts and the confectioners’ sugar in two separate bowls. Take chunks of dough that form balls of about 1 inch diameter and then roll first in the hazelnuts and then in the confectioners’ sugar. Place the balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the baking time. Leave on the sheets to cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If you are doing the whole batch, repeat with the remaining dough.

A Good Egg

December 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

I don’t typically think of myself as someone who makes pretty food. Indeed, I’m hiding many good recipes from you while I figure out how to make the finished products look like something other than a bowl of brown mush (insanely tasty brown mush, I hasten to add). So I’m partly sharing this recipe with you because, look, it’s so pretty! I’m so proud! And I promise that if I can make it look like this, so can you, which means you might want to consider this for one of the many parties I’m sure you, my social-whirlwind-esque readers, have on the cards.

Pickling eggs with beets is a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, apparently. Not that I know much about that particular culinary heritage: in England you’re most likely to have encountered (non-pink) eggs in a jar on the counter of a fish and chip shop, or a pub. Whether you’ve already been privileged to try a pickled egg in any one of these disparate settings or not, just know that this version packs a whole lot of flavour into a one or two bite serving and will make you and yours happy whether you’re caroling by a cosy fire or mingling at the swishest cocktail party this season. The beet pickling process imparts the eggs with their lovely rosy shell and a subtle earthy tone, while the creamy decadence of the egg yolks and mayonnaise is tempered by a healthy amount of mustard and rounded out by the pungent caraway. The end result is a perfectly balanced piece of finger food, possibly only improved by a martini in the other hand.

We ate the eggs as part of the first course of a really rather spectacular Thanksgiving feast. I have to say that I have embraced this national holiday rather eagerly: the centrality of food, people, and the impetus to pause to appreciate the good things in your life seems like a pretty stellar combination to me. It turns out that my birthday falls on or around Thanksgiving too, which makes it a week packed not only with celebrations but also a bit of taking stock. Never one to pass up an opportunity to make a list, I’ve started a tradition of using that marker of time to set goals, some big, some small, as a reminder throughout the year of good intentions. It has worked well so far: this blog is a result of last year’s list for a start. I’m still finalising the one for the coming year; perhaps I will add “cook prettier food” to the shortlist…

Beet-Pickled Deviled Eggs
Adapted from Gourmet, November 2009
Yields 24 half eggs

3 cups/750ml water
1 cup/250ml distilled white vinegar
1 small beet, peeled and sliced
1 small shallot, sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
12 large eggs
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted, cooled
1/3 cup/80g mayonnaise
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Begin by hard-boiling your eggs. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, sitting the eggs out at room temperature while you do so if they have been in the fridge. Gently lower the eggs into the pot and adjust the heat to keep it just under a simmer. Cook the eggs for 9 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice-water to stop them cooking further. Once cool, peel the eggs and set to one side.

While the eggs are cooling, bring the water, vinegar, beet, shallot, bay leaf and 1/2 tsp salt to boil in a medium saucepan, then simmer, uncovered, until the beet is tender: this should be around 20 minutes. Leave uncovered to cool completely. Put the peeled hard-boiled eggs in a container with the beet mixture and marinate in the fridge, gently stirring once or twice, for at least two hours. You can also prepare the eggs up to three days in advance of filling them, in which case you should keep them in an airtight container in the fridge until you need them.

When you are ready to fill the eggs, begin by grinding the caraway either with a pestle and mortar or in a spice grinder. Remove the eggs from their marinade and pat dry, discarding the beet mixture. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and remove the yolks to a medium-sized bowl. Mash the yolks with the mayonnaise, mustard, parsley, and half of the caraway, until reasonably smooth (you might want to use a whisk to get them fluffy). Taste and season with salt and pepper, then divide the filing among the egg whites. Sprinkle with the remaining caraway. Either serve immediately, or loosely cover and keep chilled for up to 3 hours.

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