Tuesday, July 21, 2020

'Courgetti' Fritters with Lemon and Feta - Watch them vanish!

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Courgettes are like magic beans. You set off for the market. On the way you get conned into handing over your cow for a few small seeds. You return home delighted with your "bargain", but your mum chucks them out the window in disgust and practically at once they spring forth from the ground and start growing like beanstalks almost before your very eyes! Once they flower, they magically produce courgette after courgette - seemly overnight - and suddenly you have the equivalent of a courgette factory and the need for 101 courgette recipes.

One of my favourite ways to eat this vegetable to is spiralize it into 'courgetti' and then tip these delicious veggie noodles into whatever pasta sauce that is heating on the stove, give them about 3 minutes to heat through, then serve. Courgetti also make a delicious salad, tossed in soy vinaigrette and toasted sesame seeds. They are also great stir-fried with garlic, ginger and chillies.

Another is the ‘Some Like it Hot’ Courgette Vichyssoise from the book – a lovely light summery soup and a doddle to make.

My latest favourite, though, is Courgetti Fritters with Feta and Lemon. They can be a snack, a starter, an unusual side - and a delicious way to make courgettes vanish as quickly as they appeared.

For 8 – 10 fabulous fritters you will need...

2 courgettes (zucchini), approximately 600g in total
1 teaspoon table salt

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
80g spring onions, finely chopped
80g feta, crumbled into small crumbs
60g fine fresh breadcrumbs
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 large egg, lightly beaten
a little flour for dredging
A pinch of salt and a little freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil for frying


Start by spiralizing the courgettes (skin and all) using the fine noodle attachment of your spiralizer*. Using a scissors, cut them into lengths about 6cm – about 3 inches - long, otherwise they’ll end up being an unmanageable tangle. Put them in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with the teaspoon of salt. (*If you don't have a spiralizer, coarsely grate the courgettes instead).

Leave for about 30 minutes so that the salt leaches some of the liquid out of the courgettes

Squeeze the courgettes to remove as much liquid as possible and drain this away. Place the courgettes in a clean tea towel and wring out as much liquid as possible.


Place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients except the flour and mix until well combined.

Divide the mixture into 8 – 10 portions. Using floured hands, form them into flat little cakes, about 1cm thick. Place on a lightly floured plate while you heat a little of the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat.



Cook the fritters for about 3 -4 minutes each side, or until golden brown and serve hot. Simple!


I love them as a snack with either the crisp apple (or cool as a cucumber) Tzaziki in the Starters, Snacks and Light Bites section of the book.



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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Double-Hazelnut Vanilla Caramel Cake – quite a character!

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Re-reading Kathryn Stockett’s best-seller, The Help, I couldn't get one of the characters out of my mind. Appearing almost as often as the main protagonist, Minnie’s Caramel Cake seemed to be a huge part of the story. It made me hungry every time I picked up the book.
I tried to find a definitive recipe for Caramel Cake, but – like Irish stew – it appears to be one of those recipes that no matter what version you use, you’ll set someone’s tongue a-tutting.
Soooooo, I’m not going to try and recreate a Caramel Cake. I am going to make a Double-Hazelnut Vanilla Caramel Cake – hazelnut sponge cake, with a layer of creamy Nutella filling, slip in some crushed meringue, add a layer of caramel, another layer of Nutella/meringue filling. Top this sugar-fest with more caramel - the filling doubles as frosting.  You’ll need a sugar thermometer for the caramel topping.

For 10 generous slices you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C


For the Cake Batter
200g butter, at room temperature
180g caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
150mls fresh milk
1 teaspooon vanilla extract
330g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
50g toasted hazelnuts, chopped

Method

·     First, butter and base-line two 23cm sandwich tins.
·     In a large mixing bowl (or food mixer) beat together the soft butter and sugar until fluffy and paler in colour.
·     In a jug, mix together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract.
·     In another bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.
·     Slowly add about a quarter of the egg mixture to the butter, beating continuously until combined. Then, add about a quarter of the flour mixture. Continue beating while you add alternate lots of egg and flour to the butter mixture until both have been used up.
·     Finally, add in the toasted hazelnuts and mix until just combined.
·     Divide the mixture between the two buttered, base-lined sandwich tins and bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. Prod lightly with a finger. The sponges should spring back. If not, give them another 5 minutes or so and test again.
·     Leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Leave to cool completely.
While the cakes are baking, make the fillings...
For the Creamy Nutella Filling
240g cream cheese
130g Nutella
220g icing sugar, sifted
2 single-portion ready-made meringues, crushed into pea-sized bits
·     Place the cream cheese, Nutella, and icing sugar in a mixing bowl and with your hand-held blender set to low, beat together until combined in a smooth mixture. The meringue comes in later...

For the Caramel Filling and Topping
330g sugar
250mls milk
30g black treacle
50g Kerrygold butter
8 tablespoons condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

·     Place the sugar, milk and treacle in a saucepan and stir together over a low heat until the sugar has melted. Turn up the heat a little, stirring continuously, until the mixture is bubbling and has reached the ‘soft ball’ mark on your sugar thermometer (116°C or 240°F). Don’t worry if the milk separates. It will all come together in the end.
·     As soon as it has reached the ‘soft ball’ stage, remove it from the heat and add the butter, letting it melt. Stir the melted butter into the mixture – it will seem like this is never going to happen at first, but persist! When the butter has vanished into the mixture, stir in the condensed milk and vanilla extract.
·     Leave the mixture to get cold, beating occasionally to break up the surface crust that forms as it cools.

Assemble when the cakes and the frosting are cold
·     Split each of the cakes and fill both with the Nutella mixture. Sprinkle the filling with crushed meringue before joining the cake halves together again.
·     Pour a generous layer of caramel on top of one cake and stack the other cake on top.
·     Pour the rest of the caramel over the stacked cakes, smoothing with a palate knife. Ensure that the sides are covered.
·     At this stage it looks very brown so I coat the sides with chopped toasted hazelnuts (that makes it triple hazelnut!) or desiccated coconut and drizzle the top with dark chocolate which sets hard and makes a lovely contrast to the soft caramel. You may have other decorating ideas. Either way, prepare for a sugar rush.

Tip
Use ready-made caramel or Dulche de Leche in place of the caramel frosting if you want to save yourself a bit of stirring. 



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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

White Chocolate and Cherry Clafoutis - Simply Irresistible !

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The poet, Paul ValĂ©ry, said that a poem is never finished, only abandoned. I have that same feeling about recipes. From time to time, I can’t resist making just a tiny edit or two to an old favourite, on the hunch that it will make the dish even better.
Simply irresistible
I have revisited the first dish I ever did on Alchemy in the Kitchen - Cherry Clafoutis - and I’ve made a few edits. One was the addition of chunks of good white chocolate - for me, the missing link in the evolution of clafoutis

I have also come down firmly on the side of de-stoned cherries for a number of reasons:

       multiple taste tests don’t reveal the almond flavour that the stones are supposed to impart (a touch of almond extract does it better!)

       de-stoned cherries leak their juice into the batter and even more juice evaporates, leaving a concentrated cherry flavour

       there is less risk of a tooth-shattering surprise.

Hungry caterpillar? No, cherry-stoner!

Unfortunately I had to buy the cherries for today’s clafoutis rather than being presented with a strange and marvellous bouquet as before.  

Life is ...
As I needed a decent amount of natural light for the photos, I made the dish this morning. Although I’m not in the habit of having dessert for breakfast, clafoutis is best eaten warm from the oven, so I had no option but to sample it there and then (good excuse eh?) and I have decided it wouldn’t be out of place at a special brunch.

For 4 servings you will need......to preheat the oven to 170°C
A little butter for greasing 4 shallow ramekin dishes

50g ground almonds
25g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
a  pinch of fine table salt
3 eggs, lightly beaten
50g runny honey
150mls fresh whole milk
½ teaspoon almond extract

300g ripe fresh cherries, stones removed (I prefer to leave the stalks on for presentation but take them off if you prefer).

75g good quality white chocolate, cut into 1cm chunks

Method
With the butter, lightly rub the inside of the ramekin dishes and set aside.

Measure the ground almonds and flour into a mixing bowl and add the baking powder and salt. Add the eggs and whisk to a smooth batter. Add the honey (I weigh it directly into the bowl to save on washing up) and whisk until combined. Finally whisk in the milk and almond extract to give a consistency similar to single cream.

Divide the batter evenly between 4 shallow ramekin dishes, making sure not to fill beyond the half-way mark, then divide the cherries and chocolate chunks evenly between the 4 dishes.

One for me, one for the clafoutis, one for me...

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

Allow to cool slightly before dusting with icing sugar and serving with a jug of pouring cream. Mmmmm-mmmm-mmmmmmmmmm.



Note: Clafoutis sinks slightly as it cools – that’s just its nature
Note: Clafoutis vanishes quickly when cooked - that's just in its nature ...


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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Boozy Summer Pudding – Bread + (Bob Geldof's) Berries + Booze = Brilliant !

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I’ve mentioned my school cookery class before. The course was “How to Make Kids Loathe Food”. Without doubt, it worked for certain dishes – like Summer Pudding. Honestly, how can stuffing bread with a few berries in sweet syrup ever amount to anything, especially if the bread is industrial and the berries from a tin.

When a friend served me Summer Pudding, I poked at it suspiciously remembering the awful school version. However, when I ventured to taste it, my taste buds died and went to heaven. It was one of the sunniest desserts I’ve eaten in a long time. You need to use day-old bread with integrity – that is, with a good springy crumb - and ripe fresh berries. However, the key ingredient is Time – it’s essential for the bread to soak up all the lovely berry juices so make it the day before you need it.

Like any simple dish, it will have a thousand variations. Purists will argue over the type of berries to include. I’ve chosen some of my favourites and included the slightly autumnal blackberries because they were sweet and available, and free (the ones in the picture were from Bob Geldof's garden in Faversham - well they were leaning over the wall...) . Vary the proportions according to preference and availability. In total you’ll need about 1.125 kg of berries.


For a 1 litre pudding serving 4 – 6 people you will need…

400g strawberries
1 tablespoon caster sugar
225g raspberries
225g blackberries
150g redcurrants
125g blueberries
150g caster sugar
3 tablespoons Triple Sec, Cointreau or other orange liqueur
4 tablespoons water
7 – 9 slices of good white bread. This should be a day old, cut into slices 1cm thick, crusts removed

Whipped cream to serve

Method
First choose a few perfect fruits for the top of the pudding and set aside.

Hull and halve the strawberries and place them in a non-metallic bowl. Sprinkle with the tablespoon of sugar.

Place the rest of the fruit in a medium saucepan with the remaining sugar, orange liqueur and water. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit has begun to release its juices – this will only take 3 – 5 minutes. You want the fruit to hold its shape as much as possible. As soon as the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and add the strawberries to the pan. Stir gently to distribute them throughout the rest of the fruit. Taste and add more sugar if required.

Line a 1 litre pudding bowl with cling film, leaving an overhang large enough to cover the base of the pudding when folded back across. (It’s easier to line the bowl with two overlapping strips of cling film rather than trying to shape one sheet to fit the bowl.)  Cut a circle from one slice of bread large enough to cover the base of the pudding bowl. Do this as neatly as possible as this will form the top of the finished dessert. Cut and arrange slices of bread to line the sides of the bowl – like a bread patchwork - leaving no gaps. If you have any tendency towards engineering or architecture, this is your moment to shine.

Spoon the warm berries and boozy juice into the lined pudding bowl and finish with a layer of bread to seal in the berries.

Berries n booze n bread should equal bleaughhh... but Alchemy intervenes!

Fold the cling film skirt over the pudding and cover with a small plate or saucer that just fits inside the pudding bowl. Weigh it down – I sit a couple of 400g tins on top of the plate. When it has cooled, transfer it to the fridge and leave it – still weighted – overnight.


To serve, fold back the cling film. Cover the bowl with a large inverted serving plate. Carefully flip the pudding upside down and remove the cling film. Decorate the pudding with the reserved fruit. Cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream.


Note: if you prefer to leave the booze out, substitute it for the same amount of good quality berry cordial (undiluted).




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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Aubergine Involtini – from aloof to alive and about to burst into song!

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I have mixed feelings about aubergine (eggplant). All flawless purple skin and gloss and youthful glow, it is the supermodel of the vegetable patch. I arrange it in the vegetable basket, surrounded by other shining beauties – ripe red tomatoes, peppers, and perhaps a lemon or two just because they are opposites on the colour wheel and provide a pleasing colour contrast.

Aubergines - about to burst into song! 

One by one the contents of that basket are plucked and used: the tomato sliced and sprinkled with salt, eaten just as it is; the pepper might be cut into strips as a crisp sweet snack; the lemons will probably end up juiced into hot water as an alternative to tea.
Too late I’ll remember the aubergine because it does not grab attention in the same way as its companions. It is downright boring on its own and needs the right sort company to bring it to life. Too often I forget to introduce it to complementary flavours and end up having to consign its shrivelled remains to the compost heap.
Introduce aubergine to a lemon and watch the sparks fly...
Niki Segnit of The Flavour Thesaurus has similar feelings about this vegetable describing it as “unpredictable, often bitter, and needing a lot of attention (or an unhealthy amount of lubrication) to cajole it into a companionable mood.” - you know the type!
If you were to seat Aubergine at a dinner party, you’d make sure it was next to Garlic, Parsley, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil. Such great company transforms it from aloof to alive. Next thing you know, it’ll be singing!

As a starter (or light lunch) for 2 you will need...
1 medium aubergine
100g cottage cheese*
100g feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
½ clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small bunch of whole chives

1         Remove both ends of the aubergine and slice lengthways into ½ cm slices – a mandolin is best for this job but mind your fingers (I speak from experience - ouch!). There is no need to salt and drain modern varieties of aubergine to leach out bitterness. 
2         Heat a ridged grill pan (or a frying pan) over a medium heat. Brush the slices with olive oil and cook in a single layer, for approximately 2 minutes each side. You’ll probably have to do this in a couple of batches. Carefully remove the cooked slices from the grill pan and leave to cool completely.

Aubergine gets a grilling

3          Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, mash the cottage cheese together with the feta cheese, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper. No need to use salt as the feta will be salty and there are plenty of strong flavours in the mix.

Seat aubergine next to garlic, parsley, and lemon juice to transform it from aloof to alive!

4         Select the best 6 slices of aubergine (any reject slices can be used on crostini) and lay them out on a flat surface. Place 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture at the fatter end of each slice, about 2cm from the short edge. Lay a few whole chives across this and starting at the fat end, roll the aubergine slice so that it encloses the filling, with a plume of chives emerging from one end. Leave the finished roll on its side and repeat the process with the remaining 5 slices. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
5         To serve, arrange upright (see photo) - 3 per portion. Diced cherry tomatoes make a colourful addition and if serving for lunch, a green salad completes the picture.
*I’ve used cottage cheese to bind the mixture because, post Lockdown, the bathroom scales has taken to saying “Gerroff will ya!”.  Ricotta or Philadelphia would be suitable full fat alternatives for this dish.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Home-made Hotdog Buns - heavenly!!!

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First published: 24/09/2016 

I had a heavenly hotdog in NY and a fabulous frankfurter in... Frankfurt and what they both had in common was that the bread was as good as the filling. The long-life yokes you get in the supermarket marked ‘Hotdog Buns’ aren’t WTC* (Worth The Calories) and I don’t know a bakery that does fresh hotdog buns.

Invest about 20 minutes relatively easy active time – think of it as therapy. You can be pottering about doing other stuff as they prove and bake and before you know it, you’ll have 9 heavenly hotdog buns ready to receive whatever deliciousness you decide to fill them with. Here's what the taste-testers had to say:


For 9 heavenly hotdog buns, you will need…
...to pre-heat the oven to 190C before baking

450g strong white flour (bread flour)
1 x 7g sachet of dry active yeast
1½ teaspoons of fine table salt
25g caster sugar
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
100mls warm milk (approx. 38°C)
150mls warm water, (approx. 38°C). Note, you may not need to use it all

a little beaten egg

Method

Combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a large bowl and add the egg and olive oil. Mix well. Next, add the warm milk. Continue mixing while you add as much of the warm water as necessary until the dough comes together in a ball (you may not need all the water). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Alternatively place all the ingredients in a stand mixer and mix with a dough hook until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).
Cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave until doubled in size. (I sometimes leave it to develop overnight in the fridge for a bigger flavour but in a warm, draught-free spot, it should take about an hour.)

Next, turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead gently to deflate. Divide it into 9 even pieces – I weigh each piece, which is usually approximately 90g.

Flatten into an oblong, roll into a sausage, pinch along the seam and tuck in the ends

To shape the rolls, form each piece into a sausage shape about 9cm long. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough sausage out flat until you have an oblong about 6cm wide and 11cm long. Working from one long side, roll the dough up tightly into a sausage shape again, pinching along the join. Neaten the ends by tucking them in and pinching them closed. Sit the buns – seam side down – on a lightly-floured parchment-lined or non-stick baking tray about 2cm apart, and press gently along the top of each bun so that it doesn’t rise excessively. Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm, draught-free spot until doubled in size.

Let sleeping dogs lie ... until doubled in size

When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven and about a minute or two before baking, place a roasting dish on the bottom shelf of the oven and add a cupful of hot water. (The steam will help the hotdog buns rise and help create a shiny crust.)  


I never go out without a touch of gloss...
Brush the hotdog buns gently with a little beaten egg before baking on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.


10 minutes later ... a tan worthy of the 'Strictly' makeup department !!!
Split across the middle when completely cold, being careful not to cut all the way through. Freeze or use within 24 hours.

The doggone dogs are all gone!

So, do you fry, grill, steam or simmer your hotdogs? Do you keep the topping simple with fried onion, ketchup and mustard or do you pimp your dog with exotic or unusual ingredients? Do you have a vegetarian alternative? Let me know by leaving a comment below. Pin It

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

“Big Apple” Cheesecake – I can resist everything except temptation!

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Warning: You will want second helpings!

There was an old-fashioned sweetshop across the road from my school. On a shelf behind the counter stood a row of large glass jars filled with cola cubes, pear drops, black and white striped bulls eyes. My favourites by far were apple drops. I was powerless to walk past that shop without being lured in to exchange my pocket money for a paper bag of these sugar jewels.
I have grown up. I can resist apple drops. My guilty pleasure is cheesecake - but it must be WTC (you know what that means by now). One that definitely falls into the WTC category is this 'Big Apple' cheesecake.
I fool myself into thinking my 'Big Apple' cheesecake isn't quite as naughty as it appears because it has real fruit smoothie as an ingredient. I've used Innocent’s ‘kiwis, apples and limes’ smoothie because it is the apple-iest smoothie I’ve encountered.* “Innocent” it may be, but it would cause angels to hang up their halos!


Bourbon Biscuits... destined for a better future!

For 1 'Big Apple'  cheesecake (about 10 slices) you will need...
Chocolate Crumb Base
75g butter
200g bourbon biscuits, crushed (you could use Oreos)

1         First make the base: Melt the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat. Then, add in the crushed bourbon biscuits, mixing well until all the butter has been absorbed. Empty the biscuit mixture into a loose-bottomed 21cm (8”) round cake tin and press gently into an even layer. Leave to cool.

Chocolately crumbs - the best sort!
Filling
1 X 125g packet lime jelly/Jell-O (sufficient for 1 pint of jelly or Jell-O)
100mls boiling water
Approximately 150mls of Innocent ‘kiwis, apples and limes’ smoothie (or other apple-y smoothie)
350g full fat cream cheese
100g caster sugar
150mls fresh cream

2         For the filling, cut the jelly into squares and place in a 500ml (1 pint) measuring jug. Add the boiling water and leave the jelly to melt, stirring occasionally. When the jelly has melted, add in just enough smoothie to bring the liquid up to the 250ml mark (you may have a little left over - that's for you to drink). Leave to cool, until the liquid becomes syrupy and nearly set.
3         Meanwhile, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth – an electric mixer is best for this job. Add in the cooled almost-set jelly, whisking continuously. Then whisk in the fresh cream. It will be alarmingly liquid at this stage but continue whisking for a minute or two and the mixture will begin to thicken slightly.
4         Pour over the cooled biscuit base and smooth the top.
5         Leave to set in the fridge making sure it is level otherwise you’re going to have a lopsided cheesecake and people will point and laugh.

I’ve decorated this with white and dark chocolate shapes (made by scribbling with melted chocolate on baking parchment laid over a printout of the desired shape) – I have sprinkled some of the white chocolate shapes with crushed apple drops for an even bigger apple flavour.

*This isn't an ad for Innocent. I did not receive any compensation for the mention.
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