Early Christmas lunch

Just in case you’re all completely sick of turkey by now, but hopefully not all food, I thought I’d post what I cooked for an early Christmas lunch with some friends last Sunday. I find turkey really boring and we never bothered with it in my family – we just tend to make whatever we fancy or can find at the local butchers. I think this would go down well as a New Year’s Eve dinner too.

I didn’t bother we starters as we had two big roasts for the main, but Alex made some bacon-wrapped dates – so simple but really good, and kept guests happy while we were panicking over pork crackling. To make them, cut the bacon rashers in half lengthwise and wrap each date with half a rasher. Pop under a medium grill till crispy.

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The two mains were the ever-dependable pork belly with anchovies and chestnuts (recipe here) and a slow-cooked lamb shoulder with a few garlic cloves stuffed in it. Both cooked for 4 hours, and the pork crackling was finished off under the grill. I added potato chunks to both trays about an hour before the meats were done, and let them cook in the meat juices. Served it all with honey-roast carrots and parsnips and boiled cavolo nero.

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It had been ages since I made one of my favourite desserts, an apple tarte tatin, so I gave it a go again. I’m a bit out of practice so it wasn’t as photogenic as last time, but still tasted just as good. The apples take a good few hours to caramelise in the oven, so I cooked them the night before and finished them off with the pastry added on top after the meats were done. It takes a while, but involves minimal effort (apart from praying that the apples drop when you flip it upside down).

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We finished it all off with a selection of cheeses and chocolates, and a good round of the Formula 1 game which is optional but highly recommended. Merry Christmas!

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Brown Bread and Rhubarb Ice Cream

It would appear that my last blog post was sometime in April. I would say that I don’t know how this has happened but I do –  I’ve been lost in the world of thesis-writing and car-building since then. And although it’s fun (it’s not) I would like it to end now. Thanks.

But I’ve also made some ice cream. And that’s because some really nice person noticed I was wishing for an ice cream maker and sent me one. This really nice person is called Alex aka the Fairy Hobmother and works for Appliances Online. He also spreads kitchen gadget love on the internet. He’s a good one. And the really great thing is that if you leave a comment on this post and make a wish, he could visit you! Certainly worth a go.

When it came to trying out the ice cream machine, I had two options: either go for a proper, custard-based recipe or be lazy. No prizes for guessing which one I went for. I had been eyeing up this rhubarb crumble recipe from Helen’s blog for a while, and it seemed the perfect thing to try. And as the rhubarb was cooking, I realised I didn’t have any butter for the crumble. Seriously, what kind of person runs out of butter?

So I improvised a bit.

Brown bread and rhubarb ice cream 

425 ml whipping cream*

2-3 stalks of rhubarb, trimmed
juice of half a lemon
sugar (to taste)

1 or 2 slices of brown bread, in crumbs
2 tbsp sugar

Cut the rhubarb into inch long pieces, place in a pan together with the lemon juice and the sugar and cook until soft – most of it should look like a puree, with some small chunks still intact. You can taste it to check how sweet you want it – remember that the cream won’t be sweetened though.

In the meantime, place the breadcrumbs in a large tray and mix with the sugar. Bake in a 200 C oven for about 10 minutes, or until crispy.

Allow both the rhubarb and the breadcrumbs to cool. Mix in the cream and pour into the ice cream maker. Churn the ice cream according to the machine’s instructions until it’s thick like whipped cream. Place in a plastic container and leave in the freezer until it reaches the desired consistency. If you haven’t got an ice cream machine, follow Delia’s advice.

If it stays in the freezer for a while, you will need to soften it by leaving it in the fridge for 20 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with some more of the crispy breadcrumbs if you have some left.

*I used double cream because that’s what I had. My ice cream was a bit too thick for my liking, but you could try mixing 300 ml double cream and 125 ml milk and that should work better.

Rhubarb Tarte Tatin

You can never have too much of a good thing, they say. Well, that’s complete rubbish. It took me about 2 years to start drinking Earl Grey tea again after months of several cups a day and I still haven’t been able to recover a taste for baked potatoes with cheese.

And rhubarb? Well, I’m not quite sick of rhubarb crumble yet, but I’ve definitely had my fair share of it over the last year. It was time to try something different. You see, stewed rhubarb is alright, but rhubarb roasted in butter and sugar is a lot better. And you could top it with crumble, but why do that when you can have a flaky, buttery puff pastry base instead?

I first saw this on Masterchef, when Marianne cooked it and the judges absolutely loved it. It looked brilliant, but all the recipes I found on the internet used a frying pan to caramelise the rhubarb and then cooked it in the oven. My frying pans don’t really survive in the oven, and I was worried that if I used the roast-for-3-hours technique the rhubarb would disintegrate into a pink mushy mess. As it turns out, rhubarb does survive hours of roasting. And tastes amazing after.

Rhubarb Tarte Tatin

Ingredients

4 large stalks of rhubarb, chopped
100 gr butter, softened
150 gr caster sugar
a sheet of puff pastry

In a round pyrex dish, about 20 cm in diameter, spread the butter as evenly as you can and sprinkle the sugar on the top. Arrange the chopped rhubarb in circles, making the bottom as pretty as you can, as it will be on the top later. If you have any extra bits, cut them smaller and sprinkle them over the top.

Cover with foil and bake in the oven for up to 2 hours at 180 degrees, checking towards the end to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. Roll out a sheet of puff pastry and cut it in approximately the shape and size of your dish. Place it on top of the rhubarb, tucking the ends in, and bake until the pastry is cooked.

Let it cool for a few minutes, place a plate on the top and quickly turn it upside down.

My pieces of rhubarb made a bit of a mess, but I quickly rearranged them and made it almost presentable. I loved the fact that there was some soft, juicy rhubarb but also enough caramelised bits too. The extra syrup dripped on the pastry and made the edges shiny and sticky. I served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Apple Tarte Tatin

I absolutely love apple desserts: apple crumbles, apple pies, apple tarts. Saying that, it is weird that I only discovered tarte tatin when, a couple of years ago, I got a French (almost) housemate. She loves cooking too, and one evening she produced the best apple tart I had ever tasted. How had I not thought of this before? Caramelised apple tart. The perfect dessert? Possibly.

I didn’t try it to make myself though. It always seemed a bit of a faff to be honest, and everyone who made a tarte tatin on Masterchef (and Masterchef is never wrong) used some kind of fancy equipment or made it look and sound too complicated.

The other day, I had a lot of apples left and it had been a hard week, so we thought we’d cook ourselves a treat. We made some steaks and some dauphinoise potatoes and I made a tarte tatin for pudding. Well, almost. I completely underestimated how long it would take to cook, so we had brownies for pudding and I decided to finish the tarte tatin the next morning.

And this is the only thing that stops this from being the perfect recipe: it takes a while. But it’s completely worth it. Perfectly sweet and soft apples in the middle, sticky at the edges, with crumbly, buttery puff pastry at the bottom for some texture contrast.

Apple Tarte Tatin

Ingredients

6 crisp medium apples
100 gr butter, softened
100 gr caster sugar
250 gr puff pastry

Peel and core the apples and cut them in quarters. Spread the butter as evenly as possible on the bottom of a round oven-proof bowl, with a flat bottom, about 20cm in diameter. Sprinkle the sugar on the top.

Place the apples, cut side up, symmetrically around the bowl. The bottom side is going to be on the top later on, so make it as pretty as you can. When/if you run out of space, slice the rest of the quarters in 2-3 pieces and place them on top of the apples already in the the bowl. It doesn’t matter if these will look pretty as they will end up at the bottom of the tart anyway. 

Cover with foil and cook in the oven at 170 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Take the foil off and cook for another half hour, making sure the top doesn’t burn.

Roll your pastry in a circle big enough to cover the apples. Place it on top of them (I did that when mine had cooled down, not sure if it makes a huge difference but you’ve been warned) and tuck the ends inside, between the apples and the bowl. With a knife, pierce the pastry in a couple of places to make sure any steam can come out. Cook for half an hour or until the pastry is cooked.

The bottom should now be looking beautifully caramelised. Place a plate on top of the bowl (make sure you don’t burn yourself!) and quickly turn it upside down so that the pastry lands on the plate. The apples should follow.

I was a bit scared of this part but it actually worked fine, almost nothing got stuck on the bowl. Any buttery juice will end up on the pastry, making the edges really sticky. It is genius.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or some creme fraiche. I love it either warm or cold. And now that I know how to make it, it’s my new favourite dessert. It does take time, but you don’t have to do anything as your oven will do all the work. Perfect for a weekend treat or a dinner party as it is definitely a crowd pleaser.

Saffron Yoghurt with Fennel Seed Biscuits (Indian #2)

In my search for different Indian dishes to try, the BBC website has been a big help. Have you ever watched the Indian Food Made Easy show? Although names like that normally put me off (possibly because it sounds like you’re cheating!) I have enjoyed the few shows I have watched and the food always looked really yummy. All the recipes are available online, and quite a few of them are accompanied by a video clip of the particular dish in the show, so it’s very useful and makes it easy to follow.

I saw this recipe for Fennel Seed Biscuits and I thought I’d give them a go. For some reason, I had imagined them to be shortbread-style, but after reading the recipe I realised they were nothing like it. For starters, they needed frying rather than baking. As mentioned in the recipe, they go nicely with creamy desserts, so I decided to make this Saffron Yogurt to go with them. I love using saffron, just because it looks awesome, and it seems like an extravagant thing to do. Pity I don’t have a clue where to use it! This recipe was starting to sound perfect for me.

Sweet Saffron Yoghurt (Shrikand) (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients

500 ml greek-style yoghurt
2 tsp milk
1/2 tsp saffron
icing sugar (to taste)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom seeds

Heat the milk in a cup in the microwave and crumble the saffron strands in it. Let the saffron infuse for 5-10 minutes. Every now and then, use the back of a teaspoon to crush the saffron into the milk.
Mix the icing sugar with yoghurt until it’s sweet enough for you. I don’t like it too sweet actually, especially with the biscuits, so I think I must have used 3 tbsp. 
Add the saffron milk (I discarded the saffron but, thinking about it, I probably should have kept it) and the ground cardamom seeds. Leave it in the fridge until ready to serve.

Note that the recipe calls for you to drain excess water from the yoghurt by draining it for a few hours in the fridge, using a tea towel and a sieve. I skipped that step as I used a tub of Total Greek yoghurt, which is already quite thick. If you use thinner yoghurt, you probably want to follow that step and also use more than 500 ml as it will lose water and reduce in volume.

Fennel Seed Biscuits (adapted from here)

Ingredients

80g plain flour, sifted
70g caster sugar
140ml milk
1½ tsp fennel seeds, ground to a powder in a pestle and mortar
pinch of salt
1 tbsp ground almonds
2 tbsp butter, melted
4 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil, for frying

Mix all the ingredients (apart from the oil/ghee) in a bowl and let them rest for 10 minutes. Heat the oil or ghee in a small frying pan and drop tablespoons of the mix in it. Fry for a couple of minutes, turning once. You want to have the oil hot enough so that they don’t absorb too much oil, but not too hot because the edges will brown too much. When cooked, place them on some kitchen towel to get rid of excess oil.  

I’m not sure whether these two are served together traditionally but I think the biscuits went very well with the sweet and fragrant yogurt. I’m sure you could have them separately or use them in different combinations. We actually had some of the yogurt by itself the next day, but it would also be very good with a sprinking of nuts.

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
King Prawn Puri 

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: Trying to use up all those prawns. They turn out great.

Rice Pudding (Greek #10)

Ah, hello beautiful feeling of achievement! Sometimes I forget how good you feel. Both in my work and in this blogging business (alright, hobby) I got myself into, days can go past when nothing feels right. Food that isn’t worth writing about and maths that doesn’t mean anything no matter how hard you squint, or scale, or both. Today isn’t one of those days, I think. The sun helps too.

But is a bowl of rice pudding worth blogging about? And how challenging can it be to qualify as part of a challenge?

Well, I haven’t cheated. I’ve never made rice pudding before, not the Greek kind, not any kind. And this is about me learning, right? And it was totally worth it because when I tasted it, it made me feel like a kid again. It was exactly right. Now, you might like your rice pudding a specific way, and I don’t blame you. This one is the one I grew up on. It’s a bit different to English rice pudding; first of all, it’s supposed to be eaten cold. It tastes better cold. And secondly, you sprinkle cinnamon on top. No nutmeg, no jam. It’s got to be cinnamon.

The recipe comes from the Greek Delia as I like to think of her, or Vefa as is her real name. I’ve changed quantities a bit as I didn’t like it as sweet and I thought the amount of cornflour was a bit on the extreme side.

Greek Rice Pudding (adapted from here)

Ingredients (makes 6 portions)

1/2 cup rice, washed
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups milk
1 tsp cornflour
1/3 cup sugar (or up to 1/2 cup, depending on how sweet you like it)
vanilla extract
ground cinnamon

In a pot, bring the water to boil and add the rice. Cover and let it simmer until all the water has been absorbed. In 1/4 cup of the milk, add the vanilla extract and the cornflour and dilute. Bring the rest of the milk to boil (or warm up in the microwave which is what I did) and add it to the rice, together with the sugar. Let it simmer for about 20 mins. When it’s done, thicken it by adding the cornflour-milk-vanilla mixture, bring to boil and cook for another 5-10 mins while stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan. Let it cool and split it into 6 bowls. You can keep them in the fridge until you serve them.

You know the thing I said before about cinnamon? Don’t listen to me and my food pedantry. Rice pudding is the easiest and friendliest and least pretentious pudding in the world. Have it with whatever you fancy!

Doing these 10 Greek recipes has actually been harder than I initially thought- I cook Greek stuff all the time and it was quite tricky (but also very exciting!) to try and come up with things I hadn’t made before. You can argue that a couple of the things I made were just borderline acceptable, but it was fun and I learnt stuff! Next country is going to be India because a bit of spice is going to help us get through the end of the winter. I’m really looking forward to it; in the meantime, if you would like to have a look at the other Greek dishes I made, here’s a list:

Spetsofai
Stuffed Onions
Lihnarakia
Beef with Aubergines
Ladopita 
Cheese and Salami Pie
Pork Souvlaki
Homemade Pita
Rabbit Stifado

Chocolate bread and butter pudding

Sometimes I get a craving for chocolate. I keep some in the cupboard for emergencies. But it has to be of the non-dangerous kind, i.e. no praline, no mini eggs and no chocolate hobnobs.

And more often, I crave carbs. Apparently that’s a sign of winter depression, lack of sunlight, etc. I’ll blame it on that. My main addiction is pasta, but I wouldn’t exactly turn down some crusty bread or a toasted crumpet with loads of melting butter on top.

You see, I am not really very good at resisting temptation. I can pretend I’m not going to finish that box of cookies, but then I’ll spend half hour thinking about them. And then I’ll be angry that I’ve wasted so much time thinking about cookies. And so I’ll eat them. Once, I had to throw a bag of hobnobs in the bin because I couldn’t stop eating them although I was feeling sick. It’s a good thing I live in a shared house and people help me finish off everything I bake, or I would be twice my size.

The reason I’m saying all this and making myself sound so greedy is to explain how I got round to making this intensely rich pudding.

I read this post on Life’s a Feast.

It’s Jamie’s fault.

Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding (from Delia)

Ingredients:

9 slices of stale white bread, no crusts
150 gr good dark chocolate
75 gr butter
425 ml whipping cream
4 tbsp dark rum
110 gr caster sugar
3 large eggs
pinch of cinnamon

Cut the bread slices in 4 triangles. Place the chocolate, whipping cream, rum, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a bain-marie until everything is melted, and give it a good stir. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs, then pour the chocolate mixture over them and whisk very well.

Spoon about 1/2 inch layer of the chocolate mixture into the base of a shallow dish, about 7 x 9 inches, which you have buttered lightly. Then, arrange half of the bread triangles, add half of the remaining chocolate, then the rest of the bread and finally the last bit of chocolate. Make sure the bread is well soaked by pressing down into the chocolatey liquid.

Ideally, you need to leave this outside the fridge covered with clingfilm for a couple of hours, and then in the fridge for a day or two to let the flavours develop.

Cook it (without the clingfilm!) on the top shelf of a preheated oven (180 degrees) for 30-35 minutes or until the top looks nicely crispy. Be patient and wait for 10 minutes when you get it out of the oven as it will be very hot. Serve with cream or custard or ice cream. Or all of them.

We didn’t manage to finish it on the first day as it was so heavy, but it was possibly even better for the next couple of days and the texture developed into some kind of rich fudge cake with a layer of crunchy chocolatey bread on the top.

The concept of Monthly Mingle was new to me, but I couldn’t resist Jamie’s invitation to make something combining two so special ingredients and when I looked at the recipe I realised it would be a winner: really, you can’t go wrong with chocolate, cream, bread and eggs. If you like bread and butter pudding, try this version – I’m sure you’ll love it. And let me know how it went!

James Martin I love you

When the dilemma between working in the evening or cooking for friends arises, unfortunately (for my PhD) there is only one choice.

I picked one of my favourite dishes ever for the main, the one with the catchy little title Chicken in Tomato and Red Wine sauce with Cinnamon and Nutmeg. I could omit the cinnamon and nutmeg bit I suppose, and even the red wine but, trust me, it’s so important it has to be in the name. It is what makes the kitchen smell heavenly and suddenly the time you spent skinning 10 chicken thighs makes sense. Hoping that I have demonstrated my love for this dish enough, I feel that it requires its own special post so I’ll leave it for another time (yes, I got greedy again and forgot to take a picture of the finished product).

For pudding, I thought I’d make something new. I had just bought James Martin’s Desserts book and so many things looked so exciting. I wonder now what made me choose Sticky Toffee Pudding with Toffee Sauce, since I’ve only eaten it once or twice and it certainly never made much of an impression. It must be the winter.

The recipe isn’t too difficult, but you need both a food processor and a blender. You will be rewarded though when the kitchen starts smelling like sweet treacle and golden syrup.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (from James Martin’s Desserts, or here)

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

75g soft butter
175g dark brown demerara sugar
200g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp black treacle
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g pitted dried dates
300ml water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

First thing I want to say is, make this even if you don’t like dried dates. Now we’re over that, grease a 23cm tin with the 25g of butter (I made it in a orthogonal one, whatever suits you best around that size) and dust the inside with flour. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (180 if fan assisted).

Put the butter and the sugar in the food processor/mixer and blend them. Slowly add the golden syrup, treacle, eggs and vanilla extract and continue mixing. Then, add the flour, but turn down the mixer to a slower setting if you don’t want to kill all the raising agent (you don’t).
Now, the dates. Boil them in the 300ml water and then use a blender to puree them. Add the bicarb of soda and watch it come alive! While it’s still hot, add this to the egg mix and combine. Pour into the tin and bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 mins.

Toffee Sauce

This has been such a success that I was instructed to make it last night to go with the Guinness Chocolate Cake instead of the chocolate ganache I was planning to make. We call it JJ, but it is just inappropriate for me to tell you what it stands for. It is the easiest thing ever.

Ingredients

100g dark soft sugar
100g butter
200ml double cream

Not the healthiest thing ever, but do it anyway. Melt the sugar with the butter and then add the double cream. Bring to boil and simmer it until it’s thick enough.

Vanilla ice cream will go really well with this but we didn’t have any. It was still heavenly. You can reheat both the sauce (just bring to boil again) and the sponge. I just put it in the microwave for 10-15 secs but James says you could also use the oven for 5 mins. You can also freeze the sponge apparently, although I can’t see how it’s possible to make it and not eat it all in the next few hours.

It’s all about rhubarb…

If you follow food blogs like I do you will have noticed the recent rhubarb craze. Everybody is making cakes, crumbles (or crisps as they like to call them on the other side of the ocean), muffins, ice-creams, tarts with rhubarb. I understand that in America there is quite a short rhubarb season, from April to September, which would justify why everyone goes absolutely mental about it, since it is so amazing! But here, thankfully, we have rhubarb almost all year round, and I am prepared to trust Gregg Wallace when he claims that rhubarb is in season all year apart from Autumn.
My rhubarb obsession has resulted in an almost endless supply of rhubarb crumble all winter. Now that the spring/summer is here, I thought I might spice things up with a little strawberry.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble

To prepare the filling, I chop up the rhubarb and boil it with some red wine until it becomes very soft and jam-like. Some people prefer it with some bite to it- I don’t. Rhubarb is very sour and usually takes a fair amount of sugar to make it edible. I don’t really follow a recipe and I like to add the sugar to the rhubarb at the end and taste it to see if it’s sweet enough. Brown sugar is definitely the way forward here. The strawberries are added after the rhubarb is cooked, and left it the pot to cook for as long as you want them- depending on whether you actually want whole fruit in your crumble or not. At that point the kitchen smells amazing and I would happily eat the whole thing without the topping. Actually, it goes great with just a bit of yogurt.
But back to our target, time to make the crumble topping. I use a simple recipe that involves just 3 ingredients:

175g/6oz plain flour
50g/2oz brown sugar
100g/3½ oz butter

You can add some chopped out ground nuts like almonds for some more texture/taste.
The amount of topping is usually enough for 4-5 stalks of rhubarb, depending on their size.
Bake for as much as you can really, before it burns, because the topping will just get nicer with time. Half an hour is a minimum I usually find, if you want to avoid a floury crumble.
You can serve it with either cream or custard, and I even like it with some greek yogurt, especially if the filling is a bit on the sweet side.
I’m not looking forward to September…