apricot and walnut shortcake

With grateful thanks to our Good Housekeeping cookery book – subtitled the cook’s classic companion – and well worth seeking out if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to traditional recipes.

For the shortcake:

  • 175g self raising flour
  •  half teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 75g unsalted butter – softened
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the filling:

  • 100g broken walnuts
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 410g can of apricot halves in juice (or you can use fresh apricots, stoned and halved, poached briefly in water with a bit of sugar and lemon juice added)

Grease a shallow 8 inch (20cm) round springform tin. Put the flour and cinnamon in a food processor and add the butter. Blitz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the egg and mix to a soft dough.

Turn the dough into the greased tin and smooth it out evenly. You could use the back of a spoon to do this, or your fingers.

Now start the filling.  Put the walnuts in the food processor with the sugar and blitz until it’s all finely ground.  Then add the egg white and blend it to a soft paste.  Spread this mixture over the shortcake base and leave a 1cm-ish gap to the edge.

Drain the apricots well.  Arrange them with the cut side down over the filling.  Bake at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes, until the filling has risen between the apricot halves and is looking set and slightly browned.

You can glaze the shortcake with some sieved apricot jam mixed with the juice drained from the fruit, heated in a pan until it goes syrupy (about 3 minutes).

For a bit of variation you could use ground almonds instead of walnuts, and you can also use plums instead of apricots.

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Cheat’s pea and ham soup

A quick recipe for using up leftover ham.

  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 2 large carrots, chopped finely
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 200g baked ham, chopped
  • 300g tin “chip shop” mushy peas
  • 1 ham stock cube dissolved in 1 litre boiling water
  • 1 bayleaf
  • white pepper

 

Put all the finely chopped veg in a large pan with the bayleaf and the oil, and heat gently, with a lid on the pan. This is called sweating your vegetables.  After about 15 minutes the onions will be softened and transparent.  At this point you can add the ham and the stock. Bring to the boil and turn down to simmering point.  Then empty the tin of mushy peas into the pan and give it a stir.  It’s ready when it’s all heated through.  If it’s not thick enough for your liking, you can add some leftover cooked potatoes (if you want to add raw potato, peel one large potato and chop it finely and sweat it with the other veg right at the beginning).  Season to taste with white pepper.  Remove the bayleaf before serving.

This is the kind of soup which is very accommodating and will accept all manner of leftover cooked veg – although green cabbage, broccoli, and sprouts should be avoided as they stink when overcooked!  If you have leftover veg you want to add, put them in at the same time as the peas.

Biscotti

IMG_20151228_182522The week between Christmas and New Year – a time for pootling about and trying new stuff that I wouldn’t normally have the time to do. So I’ve had a crack at making biscotti, to be dipped in vin santo (or Pedro Ximenez sherry, or a dessert wine). You can dip them in coffee or hot chocolate too.

  • 150g almonds with the skin on
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of a lemon
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 3 small ones)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C or gas mark 6. Put the almonds on a baking tray and bake for five minutes, then take them out and chop them very roughly when they have cooled down a bit.

While the almonds are in the oven, you have the time to weigh out the rest of the ingredients.  Start with the sugar, then grate the lemon zest into it and mix well.  Then add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix that well.  Beat the 2 eggs in a separate bowl, then stir them into the mix too, along with the almonds.  Stir it all together until it forms a dough.  It will be quite sticky.

Sift some icing sugar onto a worktop. Split the dough into two and roll each part into a sausage just long enough to put onto a baking tray – this will be about 5cm in diameter.  Make sure the two sausages are well separated as they will spread a lot on the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes.  Take the tray out of the oven and reduce the heat to about 150 degrees C.  After about 10 minutes of cooling down, slide the now flattened sausages onto a chopping board and use a sharp bread knife to cut them into diagonal slices about 1cm in width.  This is a bit of a guessing game – if you leave them to cool for too long they’ll be difficult to cut, and if they are too hot you’ll squash them.

Put the slices back on the baking tray and put them back in the oven for 15 minutes – take them out, turn them over and put back in for another 15 minutes.  When you take them out for the final time, put them on a wire rack to cool down completely. You can them put them in an airtight biscuit tin. They should keep for at least a month.

Hangover cure

IMG_20151212_092045[1]Well not really, and not really a recipe, but it certainly helps you feel more human.  It’s another Dutch speciality, uitsmijter, which literally means “thrower-out”, or bouncer.  It’s traditionally served at the very end of a party as an untypically Dutch way of being polite and telling people to go home.

You will need:

  • Some nice sliced bread – typically white sliced but I like Vogel‘s sunflower & barley bread
  • Eggs – usually 2 per person, but depends on the size of your bread
  • A slice of ham
  • A slice of Gouda cheese (any hard cheese will do, including Cheddar or Edam, but young Gouda is the more authentic choice)
  • A bit of butter
  • A dessertspoonful of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan

Heat up the frying pan with the oil in it.  Lay the bread on a plate – you can butter it but it’s not usual to do this in Holland, that would be a bit too profligate…  Put the ham on the bread first, then the slice of cheese. It has to be this way round so that the hot egg can melt the cheese a bit.  Crack the eggs into the frying pan and let them cook until they go brown and frilly round the edge.  You can baste the yolks with the oil to get them to set slightly.  When they are done to your satisfaction, lift them out of the pan with a fish slice and drain them on some kitchen paper before placing on the cheese/ham/bread you’ve already prepared.  This is best accompanied by a large mug of koffie verkeerd and two paracetamol.

Christmas puddings 2015

IMG_20151122_180954[1]Rather than make one big pud, this year we decided to make loads of little ones.  This is because we found some small plastic pudding basins in our favourite cook shop,  Cooksmill on Regent Road in Salford.  I could quite happily spend an hour just mooching about in there, fantasising about what I could do with an industrial-size food processor and mixing bowls the size of hot tubs.

This mixture made about 10 small quarter-pint puddings, or you could use one enormous 3 pint bowl (that’s just over 1.5 litres in new money).  The quantities below were made up of the dried fruits we had in the cupboard, but as long as you get 450g in total you could put in whatever you like.  The prunes are important though – they add a nice squidgy texture.  As with Christmas cakes, bear in mind that you need to assemble your ingredients well in advance of making this, as the longer you leave the dried fruits soaking the better it will be. Pedro Ximenez sherry tastes like liquid Christmas pudding anyway, so it’s a perfect thing for soaking Christmas pudding fruit.  The other thing to remember is that the first time you steam your puddings they will need about 3 hours if they’re all in small bowls, or up to 5 hours if it’s one big one, so do it on a day when you don’t need to stray much from the house.

  • 150g currants
  • 125g dried morello cherries
  • 75g prunes
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 50g dried figs (figgy pudding,innit…)
  • 175ml Pedro Ximenez sherry, or brandy, or a mixture of the two
  • 100g plain flour
  • 125g breadcrumbs
  • 150g vegetarian suet
  • 150g dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 30ml honey (2 tablespoons)
  • butter for greasing the bowls

Cut up the dried figs and prunes into small pieces (scissors are best for this), and put them in a bowl with the other dried fruits.  Pour over the sherry/brandy, mix it about a bit and then cover the bowl in clingfilm.  You can leave the fruit to soak up the alcohol for anything up to a week.

When you’re ready to start making the pudding, set up your steamer or double boiler, or just a big pan of water with a trivet in the bottom would do.  Get the water simmering.  Then grease your bowl or bowls with a bit of butter, not forgetting the lids if your bowls come with them. If they don’t have a lid, you can improvise with a piece of greased baking paper, a double thickness of foil, and string to tie it onto the top of the bowl.

Use a big mixing bowl and mix together all the ingredients except the dried fruits – it’s easiest to start with the dry ingredients, then add the eggs, mix well, then add the lemon zest, apple, and honey last.  Then add the dried fruit mixture and all the sherry/brandy juices, and mix well.  At this point it’s traditional to ask every member of the family to stir the pudding and make a wish, especially if you’re making the pudding on Stir-up Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent. Divide the mixture between the individual pudding bowls or just plonk it in t.he one big bowl if that’s what you’re using.  Press down the mixture so that there are no air gaps, and put on the lid.  Place the pudding bowls in the steamer/double boiler/big pan and allow them to steam for a couple of hours for the small puds, or up to 5 hours for one big one.  Check the water level every hour or so to make sure it doesn’t boil dry.  Leave the puddings to cool after the appropriate cooking time, then take them out of the pan, dry off the outside of the bowls and put them somewhere cool and dark until you need them.

On Christmas day you can either set them to steam again for a couple of hours, or stick them in the microwave for 5 minutes until they’re piping hot (although I wouldn’t recommend using the microwave method for a single big pudding).   Turn them out of their bowls onto a plate, pour over a bit of heated brandy and set it alight
(although vodka seems to light better than brandy, it doesn’t add anything to the taste). Traditionally served with a sprig of holly for decoration, and brandy sauce.

 

Christmas cake 2015

IMG_20151122_181718[1]There are hundreds of different recipes out there, but having tried Nigella’s last year I think this is just about the easiest both in terms of shopping for ingredients and in baking it.  This is my take on it. Quantities below are for one small 18cm round or 15cm square cake.  If you double up the mixture this will make a 23cm round or 20cm square cake but will take much longer to cook.  Soak the fruit in any type of aromatic spirit (I used a mixture of Scotch and brandy as that’s what I had available!), or use bourbon if you want to go the full Domestic Goddess route. Make sure your butter and eggs are at room temperature before you start mixing – take them out of the fridge the night before. Nigella suggests adding a teaspoon of almond extract but I don’t think it’s necessary, especially if the cake is going to be covered in marzipan before icing. This is quite an easy cake to put together, but you do need to bear in mind that you need to start preparing the ingredients a good 24 hours before you’re ready to bake it.

  • 350g raisins
  • 150g currants
  • 50g glace cherries, cut in half
  • 75g chopped walnuts
  • 200ml whisky, brandy or bourbon
  • 150g butter
  • 90g dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle
  • 150g plain flour
  • 75g ground almonds
  • half teaspoon cinnamon
  • quarter teaspoon ground cloves
  • quarter teaspoon ground ginger

Put the raisins, currants and cherries in a small saucepan and pour over the spirit of your choice.  Bring the mixture to the boil then remoove it from the heat, give it a good stir, then cover it and leave it overnight.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C or gas mark 2.  Line your cake tin with a double thickness of greaseproof or baking paper.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream them together until the sugar granules have disappeared. Then mix in the grated lemon zest. Now add an egg and beat it in well.  Add a spoonful of flour, mix that, then add another egg and beat well.  Now add in the black treacle.  A good tip to get treacle out of the tin is to heat up the spoon over a gas flame fora few seconds, or dunk it in a cup of boiling water, before putting your spoon in the tin.  The heat will help the treacle slide off the spoon more easily.

Mix the flour, spices and ground almonds together in a separate bowl (you really don’t need to sieve flour these days, unless you’re still buying it from a grocer’s shop where they scoop out your flour from a big sack on the floor….).  Add a big spoonful of flour mix followed by a big spoonful of the soaked dried fruit and mix well. Continue like this until all the flour and all the fruit is incorporated.  Then add the chopped walnuts and give the mixture one last stir to distribute the nuts evenly through it.

Put the mixture into your cake tin.  A silicone spatula is a great tool for getting the last scrapings out of the mixing bowl.  Level off the  mixture in the tin as much as you can, then put it in the oven. A small 18cm round cake will take anything between 90 minutes and 2.5 hours to cook, depending on your oven.  A larger 23cm round cake will take about 3 hours, give or take 20 minutes either side. The easiest way to test if your cake is done is to stick a thin metal skewer right into the middle, leave it there for a few seconds, then pull it out. If the skewer has some sticky cake mixture on it, the cake’s not done yet.  If it comes out and looks clean, the cake is baked all the way through.  Take it out of the oven and brush the top with a tablespoonful of brandy or whisky, turn it out of the tin and wrap it up in a double layer of foil (you can keep the baking paper on it at this point).  The next day, take off all the baking paper and rewrap it in fresh baking paper, then put it in an airtight container.

At this point, your cake is ready for feeding.  Every so often,  unrwap your cake,  prod it all over with a skewer and brush over a couple of tablespoons of whisky or brandy, then wrap it up again .

A small cake will need one pack of marzipan to cover it – anything bigger may require two. You should put the marzipan on the cake a few days before you want to put the icing on.  Use a tablespoon of apricot jam, heated up and sieved, to brush over the cake before you put the rolled out marzipan on – it will help to stick the marzipan onto the cake.  Icing?  I cheat and use ready-rolled fondant!

IMG_20151122_180954[1]

 

Spanish puttanesca pasta

IMG_20150912_145640[1]A success from the “oh no there’s nothing in the fridge” school of cooking.  Feeds 4 – ish.

  • 300g wholewheat spaghetti
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • pinch salt
  • 1 large tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 chorizo ring
  • handful of black olives, chopped
  • a splash of red wine, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, or whatever’s around along those lines
  • black pepper
  • grated parmesan

Put the spaghetti into a large pan of boiling water with the olive oil and pinch of salt. Meantime, chop up the chorizo into slices about the width of a pound coin and then cut the slices in half.  Add them to a frying pan (no need for oil) on a medium heat, moving them about so they don’t stick and start releasing the oil.  After a few minutes add the handful of black olives and empty the tin of tomatoes into the pan, stirring everything about.  After a few minutes more taste the sauce and add red wine, or balsamic vinegar, or a pinch of sugar, or whatever you think it might need to brighten up the flavour a bit.  Turn down the heat and let it all simmer together.  Add some black pepper.  Meantime test the pasta.  Wholewheat normally takes about 10 minutes.  When the pasta is ready, take a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water and mix into your sauce.  Drain the pasta and add it to the frying pan with the sauce in it and mix it all together so all the pasta is coated with the sauce.  Serve with grated parmesan to sprinkle over the top.

Oriental salad dressing – and Oriental coleslaw

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon “lazy” garlic puree
  • 1 tablespoon “lazy” ginger puree
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake it all about until the honey is dissolved.  We like this so much we normally make double or triple quantities and leave the jar in the fridge as a ready-made salad dressing. It’s great on any kind of robust or peppery salad leaves. Originally it was for coleslaw, from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for Asian coleslaw – our take on it is below.

  • Half a small head of red cabbage
  • 2 large carrots, cleaned
  • 6 radishes
  • a bunch of spring onions
  • half a lime
  • bunch of coriander leaves

Chop the spring onions finely, and grate the cabbage, carrots and radishes on a coarse setting.  You may have more success in cutting the cabbage finely with a really sharp knife as it does need to be a bit crunchy.  Mix all the veg together in a bowl and squeeze over the juice of half a lime. Leave to relax for a bit then pour over the dressing above when you’re ready to serve, and garnish with a good handful of chopped coriander leaves. Or if you can’t stand coriander (there are some people who swear it tastes of soap…), just leave it out.

The salad dressing is vegetarian, and if you use maple or agave syrup instead of honey it is vegan.

chickpea chips

OK these may not be entirely healthy (deep-frying anything is usually a bad idea), but if you’re craving something crispy, hot, salty and satisfying, then these are slightly healthier than deep fried potatoes and require no peeling!

Gram flour is also known as besan, or chickpea flour, and can be found in most big supermarkets in the “World Foods” aisle.  If you’re lucky enough to live near an Asian supermarket you’re sure to find it there.

Mix one mugful of gram flour with two mugs of cold water in a saucepan. Stir it over a low heat until it turns into a kind of thick custardy paste (a bit like polenta).  Pour it into a 7 inch square cake tin lined with greaseproof paper, and level it off. You’re looking to get the paste to a thickness of about 1cm.  Leave the mixture to cool to room temperature and cut it into chip shapes – experiment with different thicknesses.  When we did this, there was a 50/50 split between those who liked the fat chips and those who liked the thinner fries.

Heat some neutral tasting oil (sunflower, rapeseed or groundnut) in a deep pan so that the oil is about 5cm deep and there’s at least double that of empty space in the pan above the surface of the oil.  Deep frying is dangerous so you need to minimise the effects of hot oil splashing around.  Carefully lower a few of the chickpea chips into the hot oil – if it bubbles vigorously then it’s the right temperature.  Fry the chips until they take on a golden brown tinge. Don’t overload the pan as this will lower the oil temperature and the chips will absorb more oil.  It’s better to do this in a few batches.  Use a slotted spoon to fish out the cooked chips and drain them really well on kitchen paper. A sprinkle of salt and pepper is really all you need, but you could gild the lily by offering a spicy dip on the side!

These chips, made as above, are vegan. Gram flour is normally gluten-free, and has a higher proportion of protein than other flours.

The link below has nothing to do with gram flour or chips but will feed your soul.

GNU Terry Pratchett

microwave meringues

I’m never buying meringues again.  Five minutes in the kitchen produced a whole load of these.

  • The white of one medium egg
  • 250-300g icing sugar

Put the white of egg in a medium sized bowl and mix in about about 250g icing sugar. I didn’t even bother sifting it. Mix it well until it forms a firm, pliable dough that’s not sticky, a bit like fondant icing.  You may need more than 250g of icing sugar – depends on the size of the egg. Break off walnut-sized pieces, roll them briefly in your hand until they are more or less spherical, and place 3 or 4 of the balls on a piece of kitchen paper on a cold plate. Make sure they are well separated or they’ll expand and merge into one big meringue… Put in the microwave and cook on full power for about 1 – 1.5 minutes depending on the power of your microwave (ours is 900W and it took them just over a minute). Take them out of the microwave and put them on a cake rack to cool and dry out. Continue cooking them 3 or 4 at a time. One egg white made about 12 meringues.   They are less robust than shop-bought meringue nests and break very easily – which makes them ideal for Eton mess!