For the past few days I’ve been thinking about how nice it would be to have someone else prepare a meal for me during those few days that I’m either too tired to cook or when I’m less inspired or lack ideas. Yes it happens to all of us…*sigh*. In fact today is one of those days. Thankfully I have dinner ready in the fridge so I don’t have to worry about that now. However even though occasionally I tend to keep ready-made pesto for a quick plate of pasta, there are easy solutions for those instances when only a little stirring is required.
Easy can mean a lot of things; soups, pasta and rice dishes or even a roast would do. Two posts ago I gave you a recipe from James Tanner which is almost too easy to believe, and it beats the usual bread and cheese supper. As for desserts he has a recipe for a Chocolate and Almond Torte which I want to try very soon. This recipe for risotto is slightly adapted from Nigella Bites. You need:
- 2 spring onions or one small white onion, finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
- 60g butter, unsalted
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 300g arborio rice
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
- 1 egg
- 4 tablespoons grated cheese, parmesan or kefalotiri
- 60ml cream
- pepper, to taste
In a wide saucepan, heat the oil, 30g of the butter, onions and celery. Cook this until softened, stirring almost continuously. Add all the rice, again stirring to coat with the onion mixture. Meanwhile prepare the vegetable stock. (I find that using stock powder, like Marigold gives you a more delicate flavour than using a cubes. In an ideal world you would use fresh stock which you can get at the supermarket.)
Pour some stock into the rice and keep stirring till this is absorbed. Repeat this till the rice is cooked. You may need all the stock and add some boiling water from the kettle.
Stir the lemon zest and dried rosemary in the risotto. In a separate small bowl beat the egg, lemon juice, grated cheese, pepper and cream. Remove the risotto from the heat and add this cheesy mixture to the rice and add the remaining butter. You could also add some salt to taste.
Serve on it’s own or with some grilled salmon, which I rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh lemon juice. The risotto serves 2 – 3.
I couldn’t quite choose what to write about today. However, just now a friend of mine tweeted about chocolate cake and birthdays. Don’t you just love Twitter? I do. It’s nice to be a child: you go to some friends’ birthday parties, and sometimes you get to invite them to yours. And the grown-ups do all the work for you. Smashing. I always say that children have the best social lives. The highlight of a birthday party is of course the cake, even though one might argue that it’s actually the presents! So let’s say that they are equally important. And let’s also say that every excuse is a good excuse for chocolate cake. I tried this recipe quite a while ago; I definitely didn’t wait for my birthday to bake it.
In my view, Nigella’s book Feast is one of the books to go for if you want something special for a party. As with many of her books, it’s like an encyclopaedia, and there’s a whole section on chocolate and chocolate cakes. The cakes here can also be quite rich, but is that really a bad thing? Let’s face it, you won’t make it or eat it that often, and what’s a birthday celebration without a smooth chocolate-melt-in-the-mouth cake?
You need sour cream for this. I had a tub of the stuff just sitting in the fridge doing nothing. Classic: you buy one ingredient for a particular recipe, then you almost always end up with extra which ultimately goes bad. What a waste. So I flipped frantically through the books till I came across Nigella’s Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake. Don’t be fooled by the length of the method. It’s really easy to make. This is totally her recipe.
Some notes before you start: Firstly, this is a sandwich cake, so you need two sandwich tins (with or without a removable bases – mine aren’t). Secondly, I had a lot of leftover icing, a lot more than I really needed. Instead of scaling the amount down I chose to make some quick and easy cupcakes (which I will include very soon) and spooned whatever remained over them. In my experience you will have enough to top another cake if you like. Also Nigella suggests that all your ingredients should be at room temperature.
For the cake you will need:
- 200g plain flour
- 200g caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 40g cocoa powder
- 175g soft unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 150ml sour cream
For the American-style icing (or frosting) you need:
- 75g unsalted butter
- 175g dark chocolate, broken into small cubes
- 300g icing sugar
- 1 tablespoon golden syrup
- 125ml sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Line and grease well two sandwich tins.
- In a large bowl mix the the flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and beat in the butter till you have a soft and creamy mixture. In another bowl whisk the cocoa, sour cream, vanilla extract and eggs together (you can do this by hand), and beat this with the other mixture in the large bowl.
- Divide the cake batter into your two tins and bake for about 50 minutes. Every oven is different so start checking your cakes after around 30 minutes with a skewer or knife. When completely baked, remove the cakes from the oven and put them on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes in their tins. When they are cool enough for you to handle turn them out completely and onto the rack again. Any cracks will be covered by the icing later.
- Now for the icing. Melt the chocolate together with the butter in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. (This way is better than melting in the microwave because it is much easier to control and there’s a lesser chance of burning.) When completely melted remove it from over the water and leave to cool. In the meantime, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl.
- Add the golden syrup into your melted chocolate mixture which has now cooled. Then add the sour cream, vanilla and the sieved icing sugar. Whisk the lot. Depending on how you want the icing consistency to be, you can now add around a tablespoon of boiling water (for a thinner icing) or some more icing sugar (for a thicker cream). Your icing should be easily spreadable onto the cake so you don’t want it too runny.
- Place a piece of baking paper to cover the base of a plate or cake stand (for any access icing that will surely drip) and start assembling your cake: first one cake, then a layer of icing in the middle, then the other cake on top and finally cover with some more icing.
You can either leave the icing as is, or top with some decorations, especially if it’s for a birthday party. Be as creative as you want. I topped mine with colourful decorative sprinkles. I have to remind myself to buy some white sugar daisies next time.
I’ve been MIA these past couple of weeks. J has been on leave and it’s nice to take a break from the computer screen sometimes. What I’m finding difficult is to get into non-holiday mode again, if you know what I mean. Now who wants to stay inside when the Sun’s shining? Not me! So keeping in mind the holidays, a birthday celebration and of course a certain Royal Wedding, here’s my little gift to you.
This is a sweet little recipe from James Tanner and his recently published book James Tanner Takes 5. It’s one of my favourite books, firstly because it’s got photos for every recipe. I’m just a home cook so you can forgive me for saying that. I also love it because the pages are not glossy, so you can see the pages clearly in artificial light. I hate it when I’m flipping through a recipe book late in the evening and have to adjust the angle of the page because I’m blinded by the reflection of light in my eyes! So for me this is a winner. So please chefs, less gloss, more umph!
This is hardly a recipe; it’s assembly takes seconds but it’s really tasty – if cheese is your thing. It makes great party food and it’s an ideal snack for sharing. To avoid double dipping (I hate that) give everyone a teaspoon and a small ramekin if serving at the table. All you need are four ingredients. How neat is that!
- 250g camembert (in it’s wooden box)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
- Preheat your oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Remove any wax packaging from around the cheese and also the wooden lid. Replace the wax paper with a square piece of kitchen foil big enough to loosely wrap the cheese in. Place the camembert inside the foil and again in the box.
- On the surface of the cheese score a few lines with a sharp knife and insert the slices of garlic. Sprinkle with thyme and pour over the maple syrup or honey. Scrunch the foil to cover the cheese (remember: not to tight). Place the lot into a baking dish and bake for around 15 minutes until the cheese is soft and spreadable on the inside.
Serve this with some baguettes. Easy!
I don’t know if I mentioned this earlier on in another post but I’ve got another confession to make: I’m a chocoholic. I love chocolate in everything sweet and given the opportunity, I’d love to try that with something savoury too. Until that happens it’s so easy to get your chocolate fix once in a while. (Should I say “without overdoing it” next?) So here’s one of my favourite recipes. Once again it’s taken from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy, with some slight changes here and there. I made this very recently and it was approval all around. Oh….and if you love Oreos then this one’s for you! If you’d rather use something else instead of Oreos you could substitute them either with toasted walnuts or pecans.
For these brownies Lorraine uses a mixer, but if you don’t have one (or if it’s way at the back of your kitchen cupboard and feel to lazy to reach for it) then it’s not a problem to mix everything by hand. This recipe makes approximately 16 brownies. Enjoy.
- 165g butter
- 200g dark chocolate, chopped
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 165g soft light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- pinch of salt (optional)
- 154g pack Oreo cookies, broken into quarters
- icing sugar for dusting
- Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 6. Grease a square baking tin and line with baking paper with the sides overlapping. (Don’t leave out the paper as it will make it easier to take the brownies out of the tin when cooled.)
- Melt the butter over medium heat and add the chocolate. Lightly stir the mixture and leave this to stand for a few minutes.
- In a large bowl whisk the eggs and vanilla essence until they start to become light and fluffy. Add half of the sugar and whisk, then add the rest and whisk again with the egg mixture. Then pour the buttery chocolate into it slowly around the sides (to keep as much of the fluffiness as possible in the batter).
- Add the flour, cocoa powder, salt if you’re using that and approximately half of the Oreos. Stir until well combined and pour the batter into the prepared baking tin. Scatter the rest of the Oreo cookies over the top, pressing them in slightly but not too much. Bake the brownie mixture for around 30 minutes. At this point check it with a skewer or a knife: it should not come out totally clean. You want that squidgy-ness around the middle.
- Leave the brownies to cool in the tin. The top should sink and crack a little so don’t be alarmed. Slowly pull the brownies out using the overlap of the baking paper, dust with some icing sugar (a little less than my photo please!) and cut into squares.
Crumble is one of the easiest desserts I can think of. Recently I needed to prepare an easy supper but at the same time I wanted to feel very accomplished! I wanted a meal that wouldn’t really take much work but still felt like a feast. This was the best excuse for my favourite roast chicken but I just couldn’t think of something sweet after that. Out came Nigella’s Kitchen – one of my must-have books. Not only does it have great ideas for leftovers, but I would say that almost half of the recipes in it are desserts. And really good ones! I also treasure my copy because it’s signed.
Crumbles are great because you don’t really have to follow the exact measurements. You can use either one type of fruit (fresh or frozen) or you can just mix and match. Easy. So the following is a scrumptious Strawberry and Almond Crumble. (You will find that at the moment strawberries will look good but will not be as ripe.)
I will give Nigella’s recipe as it is in her book. I have tried it and it’s great. I will then tell you what I did which worked well too. Nigella says that this will serve 6, but in my experience it will serve up to 4. If you have more people coming round for dinner just make one more dish. There’s no effort.
For the fruit mixture you need:
- 500g hulled strawberries
- 50g caster sugar
- 25g ground almonds
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the crumble topping:
- 110g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 75g butter, cold & diced
- 100g flaked almonds
- 75g demerara sugar
And double cream, to serve (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6, and put the strawberries into a round pie dish. Sprinkle over them the sugar, almonds and vanilla extract. Give the dish a good shake to mix the ingredients.
- For the crumble topping put the flour and baking powder in a smallish mixing bowl and rub in the cold butter between your thumb and fingers. You could use a mixer for this if you wish. Then stir in the flaked almonds and sugar with a fork.
- Tip the topping onto the strawberry mixture and cover the fruit evenly, also giving it a little press at the edges of the dish. Place the dish on a baking sheet and bake for around 30 minutes. The crumble topping should turn a golden brown and you could also see some red juices peaking out and bubbling at the edges.
- Before serving leave it to stand for 10 minutes. This tastes great without cream but having a jug of cold cream on the table is comforting! Single cream will also do.
Now the first time I made this I didn’t have all the ingredients as shown in the recipe. So I had to make do with what I actually had. The following is what I did:
For the topping all I had was 45g flaked almonds. I didn’t even have half the amount suggested but turned out good – not great but it was ok. The mixture just felt more doughy so I left it for an additional 10 minutes in the oven for it to crisp up a bit. The second try with the full 100g was much much better though. I also used light brown sugar instead of demerara, but lately I decided to have this type of sugar as a pantry staple. So I’ll use that next time.
For the fruit mixture I had 350g strawberries and 250g raspberries in the fridge. That worked wonders because I love the tartness of the raspberries. Also 2 to 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract is enough.
Back to baking. This is the first recipe I tried from Baking Made Easy. It’s also one of the reasons I bought this book. Now if you read one of my previous entries you will know the story behind this, so I won’t bore you again with it. What I will say is that recipes on television almost always look better and/or easier than in real life, and this was one of those instances. However I must say that with some little tweaks here and there these muffins will be some of the best you’ve ever tried. I really really like them. They are also the first sweet and savoury muffins I ever tasted or made. I think this is also one of the rare occasions where I used self-raising and wholemeal flours, but you will see more of these in future posts.
The usual note before we start: Lorraine’s recipe calls for pumpkin. Now I guess this will be ideal for my Maltese friends because you can find pumpkin all year round in Malta. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) In the UK it’s only in season in October/November, so I made these muffins with butternut squash instead.
I also would suggest to roast the pumpkin or butternut cubes on a baking tray, whichever one you choose. Please do not boil or steam them because you will end up with soggy muffins (I was about to write “soggy mess” there for a minute.) You want to dehydrate them first. Take my word for it: I really wished I did that for my first batch!
This batter will yield around 12 muffins. Do not worry if they will not rise while baking – they are not being temperamental, they are meant to be somewhat flat. You can substitute the bicarbonate of soda with more baking powder if you like. Ms. Pascale uses fresh rosemary. I had to use the dried version.
- 180g self-raising flour
- 130g wholemeal flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tablespoons dried rosemary, finely chopped
- 240g pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 0.5cm cubes and dry-roasted
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 100ml plain yoghurt
- 275 ml milk
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 60ml vegetable oil
- 2-3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6, and insert 12 paper cases into your muffin tin. You could also cut squares of baking paper and push them into each hole. The finished product will look like you bought them from a pastry shop.
- In a large bowl sift both flours, the baking powder and bicarb, and stir in the rosemary.
- In another bowl put 160g of the pumpkin/butternut cubes, eggs, yoghurt, milk, honey and vegetable oil and stir until well combined.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and use a large spoon to mix: not more than 12 mixes. It’s important not to over-mix as you will end up with a dense muffin at the end. Leave the mixture to stand for 5-10 minutes.
- Then pour the mixture into the individual muffin cases. Now sprinkle the remaining pumpkin or butternut cubes and the pumpkin seeds onto the batter. Bake for 25 minutes at which point always insert a skewer at the centre of the muffins to check if they are cooked.
These muffins taste great at any time of the day!
Last year I had a couple of hours to spare on an unusually busy day and headed for the local library. The automatic pilot in my brain directed me, as usual, to the food section where I saw a little book trying to grab my attention. I looked at the cover: Spice It….it said. As usual, I filled the pages with post-its for everything that I wanted to try…and still want to try (because to be fair I haven’t cooked that many things from it). So one evening, when I had no idea what to cook for the next day, J suggested one particular recipe that caught his eye. It was one of those times when we cooked together, and what a treat that was! I was sous-chef and kitchen cleaner simultaneously but everything worked.
The only thing that you may find tricky to get hold of is the tahini paste. These days you don’t need to go to speciality shops for it; your local supermarket will probably have it. Unfortunately I don’t think you can replicate the taste by using peanut butter as a substitute for tahini, but you could try that out if you’re up for an experiment.
Now before you read the ingredient list I tell you this: don’t be frightened because of the frying bit. You won’t eat these that often and they’re a doddle to make. There’ll be some washing up but nothing you cannot handle. May the force be with you! (I just had to put something sci-fi in there. Sorry but the temptation was too strong.) This serves 4 and is ideal as party food, snack food or part of a meze.
For the falafel you need:
- 250g dried chickpeas
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 5 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 5 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- some vegetable oil for frying
For the tahini yoghurt dressing you need:
- 100ml yogurt
- 100g tahini paste
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- juice of ½ a lemon
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Leave them to soak overnight.
- Drain the chickpeas, put them into a food processor and grind them coarsely. Add the onion, garlic, parsley, coriander (both fresh and dried), cumin and baking powder and blitz until smooth to give you a bright green mixture.
- For the tahini dressing, put the yoghurt, tahini paste, crushed garlic clove, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and whisk. Season to taste.
- Now comes the fun part: using slightly wet hands shape the chickpea mixture into around 20 oval shapes. Feel the fear (as Nigella would say) and heat about 3cm of vegetable oil in a deep pan. To make sure the oil is hot enough slowly drop a small cube of bread in the pan. If it starts to get brown immediately then you can start frying the falafel. Fry the falafel in batches until golden brown on all sides. Drain them on a paper towel and try to keep them warm while you book the next batch.
- Place them on a serving dish and drizzle the dressing on top.
Serve with some side salad if you wish. You will miss these little guys when you’ll eat them all.