Friday, November 21, 2014

Quesadillas – hot as a temper tantrum, cheesy as furry dice

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One of my in-laws often transports horses and is used to dealing with shockingly impatient road behaviour and aggression as she carts her vulnerable cargo around. Over the years, she has developed a weapon which she fires at the offending driver. It envelopes them and their vehicle in a cloud of bright pink fluff, rendering them as harmless as a giant marshmallow. This all happens in her imagination but it makes her feel much better and allows her to continue on her way calmly and serenely.
I should have thought of that when a bloke in a beat up land rover approached at speed in a 30km zone and glued himself to my tail. There was so little room between our vehicles that I could practically count the spots on his furry dice. He started a hooting and a hollering and a shaking his fist.
Was there bright pink fluff? Was there calmness and serenity? Nope, I raised a very unladylike middle finger. For some strange reason that did nothing to calm him whatsoever! Though we were soon on a dual carriageway, where he could easily overtake, he stayed with me for miles, red as a beetroot (with embarrassment no doubt), bellowing out the window (what I can only assume were profuse apologies).
I had quesadillas for lunch. They were as cheesy as furry dice, laced with chilli as fiery as a temper tantrum, with a few other bits and pieces thrown like insults into the mix. I felt much better after demolishing two.
 
For each quesadilla, you will need…
1 corn tortilla
35g cheese – I used half mature cheddar, half mozzarella, grated
approximately 1 heaped tablespoon of filling, prepared before you start cooking.
 
Today’s filling was …
a little finely chopped spring onion
very finely sliced red pepper
finely sliced mushrooms
½ teaspoon of red chilli
 
You are only ever 5 minutes away from cheesy deliciousness.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. When the pan is hot add the tortilla and heat it through by giving it about 10 seconds, then flipping it. Do this three more times (so, 40 seconds in total).
Now scatter the filling over half the tortilla, leaving a margin of about 1cm at the edge. Cover the filling with the cheese and fold the unfilled side over to make a half moon. Cook for about 2 minutes or until golden brown, patting gently with a spatula so that both sides of the quesadilla stick together as the cheese melts. Gently turn the quesadilla and continue cooking until the second side is golden brown. Remove from the pan, cut into wedges and serve immediately. I like sour cream or guacamole with mine.
 
 
Other favourites are:
  • smoked salmon, dill, capers and cheddar
  • bacon (pre-cooked), camembert and mozzarella
  • chilli con carne, cheddar and mozzarella, and pickled jalapeños
  • prosciutto, fresh basil (or basil pesto), and mozzarella. 
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Monday, October 27, 2014

Mini Orange and Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chocolate Walnut Crust – Trick? Treat!

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 Legend has it that long ago, in the depths of Ireland, there was a farmer named Jack. Jack was notoriously mean and sneaky. Over the years he had peeved heaven and hell so much with his meanness and trickery that when he popped his clogs, he was refused admittance to both. To get rid of him, the Devil sent Jack away with a burning ember to light his way through eternal darkness. Jack hollowed out a turnip in which to carry the ember. To this day, he roams the earth looking for a resting place, with the strange lantern lighting his way. Wooooo-ooooh. The End.

Okay, the legend is a bit longer than that but the essential bit is the lantern. Thankfully, when Irish emigrants brought the legend and the lantern to the other side of the Atlantic, they discovered that pumpkins were a lot easier to carve than turnips and looked much more impressive. I’m glad because Orange and Turnip Cheesecake doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!

For approximately 22 mini cheesecakes you will need…
… to preheat the oven to 160°C while the cheesecake bases are chilling.

Filling
500g full fat cream cheese (such as Philadelphia) at room temperature
250g pureed pumpkin pulp (available in a tin)
125g brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon corn flour, sifted
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
a small pinch of ground cloves (go easy, it’s a very strong spice)
finely grated zest of one orange (just the very outer layer)
2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk 

Biscuit base
225g digestive biscuits (graham crackers)
75g walnuts
75g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
90g butter 

Decoration
Ready-made spooky chocolate shapes
OR some melted chocolate and an artistic flair

 For the filling
First make the filling. (This allows excess air bubbles incorporated while mixing a chance to escape, reducing cracking in the surface of the cheesecakes.)
Place all the ingredients, except the eggs, in a food processor and pulse until combined into a smooth batter. Now add the eggs and pulse until just combined. Transfer to a large jug and leave to one side while you prepare the base. 

For the base
Line 22 muffin cups with paper liners (I use two 12 cup tins and line 11 cups of each)
Place all the ingredients, except the butter, in a food processor and pulse until the biscuits are reduced to a fine crumb. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the crumb mixture to the melted butter and stir to combine.
Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin papers, about a heaped teaspoon in each and press down lightly and evenly. Place in the fridge until cool. (Preheat the oven now).
 
Pat the base into an even layer - the back of a teaspoon will do but this little cookie stamp is perfect
 
When the bases have chilled for about 10 minutes, remove from the fridge and divide the filling between the paper liners, leaving a gap of about 3mm at the top.
Carefully transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes or until they have risen very slightly and there is no wobble when you shake the tins gently.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the muffin tins. They will collapse a little. This is normal and allows room for the chocolate decorations to go on top.
When cool, cover and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight if possible.
Cover with white, milk or dark chocolate. Decorate with contrasting spooky chocolate shapes. (You’ll need to work quickly as the chocolate sets almost instantly on the cold cheesecake.
Happy Halloween!!!

(The cheesecakes will freeze, undecorated, in a single layer in a freezer container for up to a month. Thaw before decorating.)

 
Note...
For the chocolate shapes, I copied templates from the internet, making sure to size them a little smaller than the diameter of the cakes. I printed them out and placed them on a baking tray, under a sheet of non-stick baking parchment. I melted chocolate in a ziplock bag then used it as a piping bag by snipping off a tiny corner and drawing over the shapes I could see through the parchment. (I also ate a lot of the ones that didn’t turn out quite right but you could re-melt them if you have stronger willpower than me.)


I placed the finished shapes in the fridge for an hour until solid and then carefully peeled away the paper before transferring them to the chocolate-covered cheesecakes.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Jamaican Buttermilk, Apple and Ginger Cake – resistance is futile !

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When the virtue of patience was being dished out, I was too darned impatient to wait in line. If only I’d known...
... You see, the thing with Jamaican Ginger Cake is, that while it takes under an hour from start to finish, it is best wrapped and left for 24 hours for the flavours to develop.
All those spices smell so good. I know from experience that I will probably unwrap a little corner to take a peak - just to make sure the Alchemy is working... (I’ve been know to dig up seeds to see if they have started developing roots yet...).
Before you know it, I’ll be cutting a wee slice - just a taste - and that tiny taste will call for another... the irresistible warmth of the spices... the tender sticky crumb and I’ll never learn just how good it can be when I include that missing ingredient, patience!
Up the ginger quotient by increasing the amount of allspice and fresh ginger to taste. A little finely chopped stem ginger stirred into the batter also heats things up a bit.
Will I be able to resist this time? We’ll see...
For one irresistible 1 x 2lb loaf you will need...
... to preheat the oven to 160˚C
 
Ingredients
a little butter for greasing a 2lb loaf tin
225g plain flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon of ground allspice* (not mixed spice!)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon fine table salt 
100g treacle
100g golden syrup
100g dark brown sugar
100g butter
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
125mls buttermilk**
150g unsweetened stewed apple***
1 egg, beaten 

Method
Grease and baseline a 2lb loaf tin (or line with a loaf tin liner).
Place the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ground spices and salt in a large mixing bowl.
Weigh the treacle and golden syrup directly into a medium saucepan and add the sugar, butter, fresh ginger and vanilla extract and place over a low heat just until the butter has melted into the other ingredients. Remove from the heat immediately – at no point should it simmer or boil.
Meanwhile, mix together the buttermilk, stewed apple and beaten egg. Add this mixture to the flour mixture in the bowl and stir with a whisk until combined into a thick batter.
Melt, mix, stir, pour - it's that simple !

Add the warm mixture from the saucepan and whisk until combined into a smooth, fairly runny batter. Pour into the prepared loaf tin and transfer to the preheated oven.
Bake for 40 minutes or until well risen and the surface bounces back when lightly pressed. A cocktail stick inserted in the middle should come out clean, with no crumbs clinging. (Replace in the oven for a further 5 minutes if necessary and test again.)
Leave in the tin until completely cold, then remove from the tin and wrap in a layer of baking paper, then in cling film. Leave for at least 24 hours for the flavours to develop before cutting into thick slices and devouring with a decent cup of tea or coffee.
It is not the most beautiful cake in the world, but a dusting of icing sugar works wonders against the dark crumb of the cake, or you could drizzle with a water icing made according to the instructions on the packet.
 

Not the most beautiful cake in the world. A dusting of icing sugar works wonders !
 
*Allspice is a gorgeous warm aromatic dried berry – also called Jamaican Pepper – I grind the berries as I need them as they have a longer shelf life than ready ground – and there is the bonus of the lovely aroma they release when crushed.
Mixed spice is ... um... a mixture of spices.
**If you don’t have buttermilk, simply use the same amount of fresh milk to which you have added a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
***For the stewed apple, simply peel, core and slice a large Bramley apple or similar (prepared weight approximately 200g. Place the flesh of the apple in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water, apple juice or cider. Place over a medium heat. Cover and allow the apple to steam in its own juices – stirring occasionally - for about 15 minutes or until completely soft and the slices of apple can be easily mashed with a fork. Mash to a reasonably smooth puree and leave to cool before using as above.

 
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Friday, October 3, 2014

French Onion Soup – Ooh là là!

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The smell of frying onions reminds me of fairgrounds; of treasure hunting in a drizzly Camden Market; of hotdogs on a New York street corner; of the gently sizzling start of many a comforting soup, stew or casserole.  Proust, you can keep your Madeleines.

What I am after today is something even the fickle sugar rush of chocolate can’t provide. I need a bowl of no-nonsense, unapologetically pungent, solidly satisfying French onion soup with a lid of thick cheesy croutons.

Just as Ooh là là! has acquired a different meaning in English, French onion soup has come to mean an onion soup made with beef broth. However, if you can get someone to make you this dish in France, it is just as likely to be made with a chicken stock or just plain water. I’ve chosen a middle ground, going for chicken stock, as I find the beef version too ... well, too beefy. I’m in an onion sort of mood and that’s what I want this soup to sing of.

(The traditional method is to place the croutons on the soup, cover with cheese and put the whole lot under a hot grill but I find that preparing the croutons separately is quicker and safer.)

To create a little Ooh là là! for about 4 people you will need...
...for the soup
75g butter
1kg onions, peeled and sliced thinly into half moons
1L good chicken stock (or 350mls dry white wine and 650mls stock)
2 tablespoons of whiskey or brandy (optional)
a small bunch of thyme
2 or 3 bay leaves
time and patience (about 2 hours worth)
a little salt and black pepper to taste 

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat and add the onions. Turn down the heat and cook the onions gently until they have reduced dramatically in volume and have turned a deep caramel brown (anything up to 2 hours), stirring occasionally, particularly towards the end.

Add the stock, whiskey or brandy (if using), and the bunch of thyme and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.

At this point it is ready to serve, however, I prefer to leave it cool, then chill it in the fridge overnight. I scrape off and discard any butter than has congealed on the top before reheating while I make the croutons.
Transform the humble onion into a pot of gold
 
 
... for the croutons
8 slices of baguette, about 1.5cm thick
1 clove garlic, peeled
100g Gruyere (or a mixture of Gruyere and Mozzarella) grated

Place the slices of baguette on a baking tray and bake at about 175°C for about 15 minutes or until golden, turning once about half way through the time. Leave to cool.

When the soup is ready to serve, rub the croutons lightly with the clove of garlic, place on a baking tray and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place under a hot grill until golden and bubbling.

Ladle the soup into bowls and launch two croutons on the surface of each golden oniony sea. Serve immediately. Ooh là là !
Ooh là là !

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coffee and Honey Granita - I've got chills... they're multiplying...

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If you are cooking with wine, the rule is, make it, at the very least, one you would happily sip. The same is true for coffee, and when coffee is the star ingredient I like it to have a bit of personality.
Heathen that I am, I don’t have a proper grinder so I used my blender – not processor – to crush the single origin specialty roasted coffee beans sent to me by Hancock & Abberton. I used a caffetiere/French press to brew the resultant medium ‘grind’ (you may remember, I blew up my coffee machine...)

This Mexican coffee from Finca Muxbal, which stands on the slopes of the active Tacana volcano on the border with Guatemala, is billed as having “flavours of peaches, cream and sweet honey complemented by an exceptionally clean finish”. There was a fruitiness that may or may not have been peaches and I couldn’t detect the cream but there was rich sweetness to it. It was very smooth and the advertised ‘clean finish’ was there - perfect to round off a meal.
I'd originally planned to flavour the granita with Baileys. However, having tasted the coffee, I ditched the booze. There is enough going on in this cup o’ Joe to let it stand on its own two feet! It is best to end a lunch rather than a dinner with this dessert - unless you want your guests wide awake for the night.

For the lightest, simplest dessert imaginable, you will need...
500mls strong coffee, freshly brewed (I used double-strength)
90g runny honey (I used a light floral honey)

 To serve (optional)
Whipped cream
Finely chopped toasted walnuts or finely shredded lemon zest

 Method

Add the honey to the hot coffee and stir until dissolved. Pour into a shallow freezer-proof container with a lid. Leave to cool to room temperature. Cover and chill before transferring to the freezer. Set a timer for an hour then remove from the freezer and beat the mixture with a whisk or fork to break up the crystals that are starting to form. Replace in the freezer. Reset the timer and repeat the beating process. Repeat every hour until you have a coffee snow (it took me 5 hours but the actual work only takes a few minutes). Leave the lid off the container for another hour after the final whisking to let any excess liquid evaporate. That’s it! Granita done! Covered, it stores well in the freezer.
The 'puddle' stage... (I've got chills...)
 
The 'slush' stage... (They're multiplying...)
 
The 'perfect for skiing on' stage, and ready to eat  (You're the one that I want!)
 
To serve, fluff up the granita with a fork and scoop a portion about the size of an espresso into a pretty glass or cup. At this point it is a stunning, no fat dessert.
Throw caution to the wind and top with a little cream, and some chopped toasted walnuts or shredded lemon zest (delicious with this coffee snow), or both. You could add a little liqueur to the cream if you fancied it – Baileys, Tia Maria or Kahlua all work.


(Ooh, ooh, ooh, honey!)
 
Disclosure: These are my personal views. I have not received any compensation from, nor have I any material connection with, the brands, products, or services I have mentioned.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Luscious Lemonade (with magic ingredients)

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There are many recipes that claim to be the ‘best ever lemonade’ or the ‘perfect  lemonade’. I don’t make those claims for mine. It does, however, contain two magic ingredients that get my oven cleaned...
How?

Well, I take my inspiration from the bit in Tom Sawyer where Tom gets the neighbourhood kids to happily whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence using a little reverse psychology. Ok, it’s more bribery than reverse psychology in this case but hey…

Sigh,” I say to anyone within earshot...
“What’s up, Hester?”they say

“Well,” I say, “I was thinking of making a jug of my special lemonade... you know ... the one that tastes like summer…  the one with the magic ingredients… sigh
“Yes! Yes! Great idea!” they say.

“... but unfortunately, I won’t have time... because the oven really needs cleaning.”
“Oh,” they say.  “I’ll clean the oven, Hester; and you make the lemonade!”

“Really, you don’t have to...” I say, handing them the spray, the gauntlets, the sponge, the bucket, the protective goggles ...

Ok, it's time for me to get on with the lemonade to supply the thirsty worker(s). Salt and star anise are the magic ingredients. You won't taste them but they round out the flavour.

*BEFORE STARTING: How many lemons you use will depend on how juicy they are. I used 6 lemons for this batch. To get 25g of lemon zest for the recipe, I chose two with the most blemish-free skin, scrubbed them in hot water to remove any wax, then used a potato peeler to remove the yellow part of the zest, and further trimmed the strips of peel with a sharp knife to carefully remove any bitter white skin clinging to it. It is much easier to remove the zest BEFORE you squeeze out the juice.
It's easier to remove the zest BEFORE you squeeze out the juice

To make about 500ml of lemonade cordial (2-3 litres, diluted), you will need...
25g lemon zest (prepared weight) yellow part only*
250g caster sugar
250mls freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained to remove any pips or pulp
250mls water
¼ teaspoon fine table salt
1 point of a whole star anise


Take a moment to enjoy the gorgeous aromas

 Method
Place the prepared lemon zest and the sugar in a food processor and blitz until the zest is finely chopped.
Place this mixture in a medium saucepan with the rest of the ingredients and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
Cover and leave to cool. Strain to remove the piece of star anise and any bits of zest and transfer to a sterilised bottle or jar. Sealed, it stores in the fridge for up to a month.
Serve over ice, diluted with still or sparkling water to taste. Cheers!

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