Monday, May 26, 2014

Cumin and Thyme Hasselback Potatoes – they’re no hassle !

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After 3 shows, involving 200 children, with 450 costumes to organize, and later to wash (the costumes, not the kids), my sister wasn’t lying in bed whimpering, with the covers pulled over her head. She was slicing about a million spuds to make hassle-free Hasselback potatoes for a family dinner at my parent’s house. “You know what, Hester? You should make these on your blog,” she said.


16 down, 434 to go... (Photo, laundry and recipe inspiration by Catherine Casey)

My heart sinks just a tiny little bit when I hear the words “You know what, Hester? You should make … x,y,z … on your blog” helpfully suggested by friend or family. Often it comes with an implied deadline of “very soon”. I really, really do appreciate the suggestions, and please keep them coming but … it’s not up to me what appears, and when, on Alchemy.
The problem is that I have discovered that I don’t actually write my blog. Alchemy writes itself and it is a TOTAL DIVA. If the moment is wrong for a particular recipe, then no amount of coaxing, cajoling, threats or bribes will make the words flow or the photos pop.
Luckily it was onboard with Hasselback potatoes - very onboard - probably clued in by my eating about five of them.
They are a very pretty (and lower fat) alternative to roast potatoes, are a lovely BBQ side, and are simplicity itself to make.
You know what? You should make them! And add extra if you are inviting me around to dinner.

For hassle-free hasselbacks, you will need…
2 – 3 small potatoes, skin on, per person (about the size and shape of an egg is ideal)
a little melted butter or extra virgin olive oil
a little sea salt (Maldon, or similar, looks beautiful)
cumin, freshly ground if possible (wonderful with potatoes)
fresh or dried thyme
Method
Wash the potatoes and remove any blemishes – no need to peel. Place each potato in turn on a wooden spoon and with a sharp knife cut almost all the way through in slices of between 3mm and 5mm thick. The wooden spoon helps prevent the knife going all the way through.
Drop into a bowl of cold water until ready to cook. The water helps remove some of the starch and helps the potatoes fan out a little better. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200°C while you drain the potatoes and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Brush with a little melted butter or olive oil, getting the brush between the slices (also helps them fan out a little better).
 
We're brilliant at BBQs!
Sit the potatoes into a baking dish or roasting tin, joined side down, and sprinkle with a little salt, ground cumin and thyme. This is not an exact science. How much of each is up to you.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 50 minutes or until golden and cooked through – they should be easily pierced with a fork.
Marvel at just how pretty a spud can be before serving to an appreciative audience.
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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Almond, Orange and Apricot Buttermilk Scones – Would it be rude to eat three?

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The scone, so beloved of the British Isles, is thought to be about a thousand years old. There is a town in Scotland called Scone. It is tempting to believe that that's where the scone got its name from but there are other contenders from as far afield as Germany and The Netherlands.
The scone as we know it can only date from the mid 19th century with the appearance of baking powder and baking soda. These culinary equivalents of the Wonderbra gave what must have been quite a flat and boring mass a bit of a lift. Since then, the scone hasn’t looked back and no teashop worth its salt would be without this stalwart of Afternoon Tea (or breakfast, or anytime with a cuppa really).

I’m not crazy about sultana scones and one of my young nieces shares this foible. If she gets a sultana scone, she picks out all the fruit, saving the ‘good’ plump sultanas for a better life (!!!) and eating the ‘bad’ smaller ones before demolishing the denuded quick bread.
I prefer more interesting fruit in my scones and I’ve gone with a buttermilk version simply because, for the first time in my life, I’ve run out of baking powder. The result is Almond, Orange and Apricot Buttermilk Scones. My taste tester said “Mmmmmmmmmmmmm!!! Would it be rude to eat three?” Of course not!

For approximately 10 dainty (5cm) scones you’ll need...
... to pre-heat your oven to 190°C 

250g plain flour
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
the zest of an orange, finely grated
50g butter, cold from the fridge, cut into small pieces
30g honey (or caster sugar if you prefer)
1 egg yolk
110mls buttermilk* (approximately)
½ teaspoon almond extract
50g ready-to-eat dried apricots, snipped into sultana-sized pieces

Method 

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, salt and orange zest.

 
Add the butter, and “rub it in” to the flour by taking large pinches of the mixture and crumbling between your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the honey (I weigh it directly into the bowl).

Grate! I love orange zest!
 
Combine the egg yolk with the buttermilk and almond extract and add just enough of this mixture to the flour mixture so that there is no dry flour left (you may not need to add it all).
Finally mix in the apricot pieces and turn the dough onto a lightly-floured work surface. (The dough can quickly be prepared in a stand mixer too.)
Handle the dough as little as possible to keep the butter cold for a better rise. Knead very lightly then pat the dough out into a round of about 2cm high. Stamp into rounds using a lightly floured 5cm scone cutter. (Try to avoid twisting as you stamp out the rounds as this will cause them to rise unevenly, like mine... old habits die hard). Gather up any scraps, re-form into a round and continue stamping out scone shapes until you’ve used up the dough.
Place on a non-stick baking sheet and brush with a little beaten egg or milk to glaze. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 12-14 minutes or until well risen and golden brown.

Oven-ready in about 5 minutes flat! Tummy-ready in about 20!
 
Serve warm with butter and/or jam and a decent cup of tea or coffee - best served on the day of baking but can be frozen and refreshed in a hot oven. Cherry jam goes fantastically well with these. 

Rude to eat three? Why, it's practically mandatory!
 
Tip:
* If you don’t have buttermilk, use whole milk and add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

 

This recipe can easily be increased. Double everything except the cooking time.
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