Sunday, February 24, 2013

Broccoli, Blue Cheese and Walnut Pesto – You don’t know what you’re missing George!

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This dish was inspired by former President of the United States, George W Bush, who had this to say about a much maligned vegetable: “I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.” So there!

Well, George, I didn’t like broccoli either. I didn’t like it when I was a little kid and my mother grew it and made me eat it. While we could coax the cat to eat most things our finicky palates rejected, it could not be persuaded to hoover up our unwanted broccoli and so we had to suffer it. Now I’m a grown up, I actually love broccoli.

It takes mere minutes to turn what could be a so-so side dish into the main attraction. George, you don’t know what you are missing!

A delicious meal in minutes - hey pesto!

For 4 – 6 servings of pesto you will need...
125g broccoli, broken into florets
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
50g walnuts, toasted in a dry frying pan over a low heat
50g mild blue cheese such as Cashel Blue, or Bleu d'Auvergne
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
¼ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper 

1                    Cook the broccoli in boiling salted water for about 6 minutes until just tender. A knife should easily pierce the stems when cooked. Remove from the heat, drain and stir in the crushed garlic. Leave to cool.
2                    When the broccoli has cooled, place it in a food processor along with all the other ingredients. Process until you have a smooth, slightly grainy paste. And that’s it – hey pesto! (I haven't specified salt in the ingredient list as the cheese can be quite salty so taste the mixture and only add salt if necessary.) This will keep, covered, in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.

To serve, simply prepare tagliatelle or other pasta according to the instructions on the packet. When cooked, drain and return to the cooking pot along with 2 – 3 tablespoons of the pesto per person. Toss the pasta so that it is coated with the pesto. Serve immediately.

The End!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

‘Just because...’ cookies - and Valentine's Day rebooted !

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If you listen hard you will hear the unromantic din of cash registers chi-chinging all over the world. That’s the sound of big business cashing in on the scurry to live up to romantic expectations - your own, or someone else’s - on February 14th.
Valentine’s Day is quite possibly the least romantic day of the year. If you are someone’s special someone, hopefully you’ll already know it - and show it - in a thousand tiny ways throughout the year. You will be least in need of a day of ersatz romance.
Love is bigger than just romantic love. It’s in the everyday things: in the sticky pre-licked sweet my tiniest niece presses into my hand when I know she really, really, really wants it for herself; it’s in the email/card/text/call that says between the lines “Hey, I was thinking of you”. It’s in making the dinner/walking the dog/cleaning the bathroom/rescuing the laundry from a sudden rain shower without having to be asked. It’s in accepting the irritating imperfections right along with the good qualities that are so much easier to love, whether you are family, friend, or lover.
Since 2011, there has been a move to ‘reboot’ Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day; to make it less ‘cosy couples’ and more egalitarian. At first glance, this smacks of an ‘everyone-gets-a-medal’ race, but why not!  Generosity Day is an opportunity to practice random acts of, well, generosity. It is a day for giving rather than taking.
I’m celebrating February 14th (whatever you want to call it) with my fully customisable ‘Just because...’ cookies. I don’t need any excuse to make them. They can be ... Just because... I wanted to say thanks. Just because... you make me smile... Just because... sometimes you can read my mind. Just because... well... just because!

For 40 - 50  ‘Just because...’ cookies (depending on size) you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C
200g butter (at room temperature)
100g icing sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
250g plain flour
50g cocoa powder, sifted to remove any lumps
a small pinch of fine table salt
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 teaspoon of boiling water 

To decorate you will need chocolate and sprinkles. I’m not going to be too prescriptive about this bit of the recipe – this is the ‘pimp my cookie’ bit, where you get to customise these cookies for those lucky people who are loved by you, but I’ll tell you what I did. 

1.                  First make the cookies - Place the butter, icing sugar and orange zest in a mixing bowl or stand mixer and beat together until fluffy and lighter in colour.
2.                  Mix together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and add to the butter mixture about a third at a time, beating until well combined. Finally, add the egg yolk and dissolved coffee and mix until the ingredients come together in a ball.
3.                  Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a thickness of about 3mm. Using cookie cutters, cut into shapes – I’ve chosen hearts in a variety of sizes. Any leftovers can be squashed into a ball and re-rolled.
4.                  Place on a baking tray and bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. When the cooking time has elapsed, remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking tray for about 3 minutes before transferring carefully to a cooling rack. When completely cold, decorate as desired.

Here’s what I did: 

5.                  I melted 100g of good quality white chocolate in a small Ziploc freezer bag by removing all the air, sealing it and putting it in a bowl of hot water. In another Ziploc bag, I placed 50g good quality dark chocolate together with 50g good quality milk chocolate and melted it in the bowl of hot water. This gives a subtle two-tone, two-flavour effect.
6.                  While the chocolate was melting, I prepared a variety of sprinkles: chopped dried sour cherries, chopped dried apricots, chopped toasted hazelnuts, Maldon sea salt crystals. Use your imagination - the world is your sprinkle :)
7.                 When the chocolate had melted, I snipped a tiny corner off each bag, drizzling chocolate directly onto the cookies.
8.                  While the chocolate was still melted I sprinkled my chosen toppings onto the cookies.  

Just because... you deserve a treat!

When the cookies have completely set, make yourself a cuppa and taste-test a couple of these treats before packaging them prettily and distributing them to your loved ones, just because... 

Just because... you are salt of the earth!

Just because... xxx

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Cider and Cinnamon Crêpes - Time to practice your pancake-flipping skills!

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Pancake Day nearly slid by unnoticed in the shadow of the fast-approaching Valentine’s Day chocolate fest. Eeek!
Although I nearly always go for fluffy American pancakes, Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday) calls for more traditional crêpe-style pancakes - the last hurrah before the lean Lenten days ahead...
I like my pancake accompaniments fairly simple - a drizzle of honey, a squeeze of lemon – so I’ve put the flavour in the batter by adding cider, vanilla and cinnamon. The kitchen smells like a Yankee Candle store while these are cooking.

For 8 – 10 pancakes you will need...
... a crêpe pan (a non-stick frying pan will do but a lightweight crêpe pan makes life easier)

125g plain flour
a pinch of fine table salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
125mls milk
100mls natural cider, unsweetened, non-sparkling (or unsweetened natural apple juice)
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
½ teaspoon vanilla extract 

To serve: a juicy lemon, cut into generous wedges, and honey or icing sugar

1                    In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and ground cinnamon. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the eggs. Whisk the eggs, gradually incorporating the flour from the edges. When the eggs are combined with the flour, gradually whisk in the milk, followed by the cider (or apple juice), sunflower oil and vanilla extract continuing to whisk until you have a smooth batter. This can rest in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
2                    When you are ready to make the pancakes, heat a non-stick over a medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, rub it with piece of kitchen paper dipped in oil.
3                    Pour approximately 60-70mls of batter into the pan to form a pancake approximately 8 – 10cm in diameter. As the batter hits the hot surface, tilt the pan slightly in a circular motion so that the batter spreads out evenly.
4                    Cook for about a minute or until the pancake loosens when the pan is shaken back and forth. Slide an egg-slice or spatula under the pancake and carefully turn it to continue cooking for another minute. (Now could be the time to test your pancake-flipping skills...)
5                    Serve immediately with wedges of lemon and sugar or honey.
Happy Pancake Day!
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Sunday, February 3, 2013

All-in-one Pita Bread – best supporting actor !

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Pita is as plain and simple as a fact of life or the bald-faced truth... There is just no embellishing it. It is a back-drop for better things; the base melody; the supporting actor. Unfortunately... when the back-drop is flawed, when the base melody is off key, when the supporting actor stinks, it is all too obvious.
I bought pita recently and it wasn’t Oscar-winning material by a long stretch. As well as the handful of ingredients essential to creating this simple bread, it contained a list of extras as long as your arm, all there to extend shelf-life.
If pita isn’t up to scratch, then it drags down the rest of the meal. However, when this pocket bread is good, it is a building block of snack perfection, the perfect party bread, the best supporting actor in a luscious portable lunch.
Warning: once you have tasted homemade pita bread, commercially-produced stuff will never be good enough ever again.

For 8 perfect pita pockets you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 225°C at step 3

350g plain flour
125g finely ground wholemeal flour
7g sachet of fast acting dried yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon fine table salt
280ml tepid water (35 - 38°C)              

1.      Place the first six ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add the warm water and mix until the ingredients come together in a ball. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 7 - 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and silky. To knead, fold the dough in half, then holding it in place with one hand, use the heel of the other hand to stretch the dough away from you, along the floured surface. Again fold it, rotate it about 1/8th of a turn and again press it away from you with the heel of your hand. Repeat, enjoying the yeasty scent and the silky feel of the dough as any woe or stress dissipates through your hands – bread-making is cheap therapy. (If, however, you have no woes, and possess a stand mixer with a dough-hook, 5 minutes in the machine will be sufficient.) Return the dough to the mixing bowl and cover with cling film or a clean tea towel. Leave in a warm, draught-free spot for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
2.      Divide the dough into eight equal pieces, kneading each just long enough to shape it into a smooth ball. Flatten into a disk and leave to rise until again doubled in size and a finger poked into the dough leaves an indent (about an hour). If the dough springs back into shape, leave it to rise for a further half hour then test again.
3.      When you are ready to cook the bread, pre-heat the oven and boil a kettle of water. Place a baking dish on a lower shelf in the oven and carefully add some boiling water. This creates the perfect steamy atmosphere for this bread.
4.      While the oven is heating, roll out the dough disks into rounds about 3mm thick. Put 2 or 3 on a baking sheet and place in the hot oven. After about 3 minutes they will have puffed up impressively. Remove them from the oven before they’ve had a chance to turn golden (You can see I was so busy with my camera, I forgot that instruction myself and a few of them acquired a bit of a tan!) Cool on a wire rack. Cook the remaining breads.

My favourite way to use pita is to toast it then fill it with felafel and all the trimmings.
What's your perfect pita moment?
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