March 29, 2008

caramelised onion flan with nutty oat & carrot pastry

It's been one of those early spring days that just makes you feel good to be alive. The air smelled green and fresh, and the feel of the sun on my face kept me sat outside on the step, coffee mug in hand, relishing its warmth a little longer than I intended!

Bumble bees were humming outside the window, and the sweet-pea on the fence has started to snake it's pale green tendrils in search of a better purchase on the twisted trellis......and I was in my favourite place - the kitchen - baking a recipe which I'd come across on the wonderful and inventive food blog by Evelin called Bounteous Bites

Oats bring such a wonderful nuttiness to everything from muffins and bread, to scones and cakes, and now here they were... in pastry! I have come across pizza bases with oats before, but was intrigued to try the concept in a flan... Since I am becoming increasingly interested in finding and developing alternatives to using wheat flour (there are so many other fabulous grains out there to work with!) I further adapted Evelin's recipe to see if it would work without the did! I think this is going to be one of those recipes that I'll just keep on 'tweaking'.

I substituted ground almonds and cornflour for the wheat flour since I've found that ground almonds work so well in so many things, and cornflour keeps the pastry 'short' or crispy. The pastry crust was lovely and crunchy when it was warm straight from the oven. It did lose it's bite a bit when it cooled down. Even so, the combination of the nutty sweet pastry with the unctuous creamy oniony-garlic filling was really delicious (I couldn't resist substituting cream for the milk either; I love it's velvety thickness in a flan, and, of course, I had to add garlic!)

It didn't last long, and has already become a favourite. Thank you Evelin!

Caramelised Onion flan with Nutty Oat & Carrot Pastry

For the Pastry:
125g oatflakes (fine cut or ground - a little texture is good, but too much or it won't bind together well)
50g ground almonds
50g cornflour
100g grated carrot
100g butter (at room temperature)
half a teaspoon of baking powder
half a teaspoon of ground coriander
For the filling:
300g shallots or onions
50g butter for frying
3 cloves of garlic
200ml cream
2 eggs
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
a few sprigs of thyme - or whatever you fancy!

To make the pastry, measure the oatflakes, ground almonds and cornflour into a bowl together with the baking powder and coriander. Stir to combine and then add in the grated carrot, and finally mix in the butter. I found that cutting it in with a knife until it came together was fine. The mixture will be quite sticky but that's o.k.
Cover and leave in the fridge to rest for about 30 minutes - this way it will be easier to handle!

Meanwhile, slowly cook the onions or shallots in butter.....I used shallots for their shape and sweetness.
until they are gorgeous and caramelised, sweet and sticky...

then add in the garlic almost at the last minute to stop it from being overcooked and burning - which would make it bitter
Roll out the pastry on a floured board (I used more cornflour) and line a flan tin, or individual muffin pans. The pastry is quite sticky and brittle, but if you handle it carefully it's workable. I did find it easier to flatten it out most of the way with my hand before rolling the final round. In fact, where it's quite soft, if it does crack when you line the tins it's no problem to patch up the holes! When you've lined the tin cover and place back in the fridge to rest for another 20 minutes or so to prevent it from shrinking too much.
Then bake the flan blind for 20 minutes at 200C / Gas 6. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 180C / Gas 4. Spread the onion mixture over the base. Mix together the cream and eggs. Add the mustard and seasoning and any herbs you fancy. I used Thyme because it was what was to hand with the fresh spring shoots coming through in the garden.
Pour the cream mixture over the onions and cook for a further 20 to 30 minutes until set and golden brown.
Tastes great straight from the oven with a few fresh spring vegetables, and then have it later for a packed lunch too...
It's not exactly Asian, but the nutty smell of the onions and garlic from my Bento box were certainly tantalizing!

click!......there was life before the food processor

As you have probably already guessed, I have a passion for all things vintage! As a natural result of this, together with my love of food, a collection of vintage cooking utensils has evolved, and yes.....I do use them!

There's a wonderful connection about using something that's worn with an age of producing countless meals and feasts. Food, after all, is probably one of the most basic sustenances of life, and there is something very special about preparing and providing food for people you love. As you handle these cherished living pieces of history you can almost feel all the love and energy that's gone into all the things it's ever made, and you can't help but imagine what these might have the case of this pastry blender; sunday tea-time scones, quiches and flans for summer picnics, or maybe sweet fruit tartlets for a special treat.

"Indeed, pastry is one of the most important branches of the culinary science. It unceasingly occupies itself with ministering pleasure to the sight as well as to the taste; with erecting graceful monuments, miniature fortresses, and all kinds of architectural imitations, composed of the sweetest and most agreeable products of all climates and countries." (Mrs Beeton from 'Mrs Beetons' Book of Household Management')

So, although this post isn't linked with a recipe this time, I thought it was time to remind ourselves that there was life before the food-processor! Not that I'm saying that it doesn't have it's advantages, but sometimes it's good to get back to the basics and really get in touch, and 'up close and personal' with the food that we're making.

As Mrs Beeton said "It must be remembered that..[the kitchen].. is the great laboratory of every household, and that much of the “weal or woe,” as far as regards bodily health, depends upon the nature of the preparations concocted within its walls."

Mrs B would be so proud!

This is my entry for this month's Click! event at Jugalbandi

March 26, 2008

chocolate fix...chocolate crinkles

You know, I'm not entirely convinced that there is such a thing as too much chocolate! Easter seems to have become a time of seasonal chocolate overload, keeping with the custom, I couldn't resist making these as a gift for my family as an alternative to the gaudy foil-wrapped chocolate offerings that we usually succumb to (of course we did have those as well - it is tradition, after all!)
I have been meaning to make these for a while, having come across the recipe on 'Good Food' and been mesmerised by the vivid contrast of the rich dark chocolate and pure white powdered sugar, creating this amazingly beautiful craggy effect. I just had to have a go at making some myself! The method is very similar to making brownies, as is the texture; biting through the brittle crust reveals a velvety chocolate fudge that is very addictive! Use the best quality chocolate that you can find as this makes all the difference to the flavour.

Because you can make up the mixture the day before, these are the perfect, quick and easy cookies if you have friends round for coffee. What could be more delicious than warm chocolate cookies straight from the oven?

Chocolate Crinkles
(adapted from BBC Good Food)

200g dark chocolate - the darker the better!
50g butter
100g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
200g plain flour
pinch of salt
half teaspoon of baking powder

icing sugar to coat

Melt chocolate and butter over a pan of simmering water. Take care not to overheat or scorch the chocolate. Remove from heat and leave to cool for a while

In another bowl whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy, and then add the vanilla. Stir in the melted chocolate mixture. Finally, mix in the flour, salt and baking powder until you have a smooth batter, and then cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, but preferably overnight.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 350F / 180C / Gas 4. Roll teaspoonsful of dough into balls and coat in Icing sugar until all the chocolate is covered....this is important as it's what creates the cracked effect of the sugar casing. Place on a sugared baking sheet and press each one down lightly.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes and then.... voila! have gorgeous orbs of fudgy chocolate indulgence - who says chocolate isn't good for you!

March 25, 2008

easter bento bunny

I don't know what it is about those cute Smarties-coloured bento egg moulds........they're just so much fun, and extremely addictive! I mean, who could resist eating an egg shaped liked a rabbit, or a fish, and the whole process is just so simple and amazing.

You take an egg....
pierce the end to stop it from cracking.....
boil it for 10 minutes - and then when it's done, you peel it and slip it into the rainbow coloured magic box, (in this case, orange) and a little later when it's gone cold......hey presto! no longer have just any old boiled egg, you have a perfectly formed, totally cute, and irresistible bunny.

Of course, I couldn't just leave it at that!......... so, as it's Easter I decided to colour it as well. I wanted something suitably bunny-like so I decided on pink. I've made tea eggs before so I thought I would try the same process but with the egg totally peeled. I chose beetroot as my colouring of choice, but found that when cooking the beetroot it disappointingly gave off a rather unpleasant murky orange brown colour - not what I was after at all!

Undeterred however, I tried again, but this time with grated raw beetroot steeped in cold water, and that gave me a much better result. I soaked my boiled eggs in the beetroot water for about 40 minutes, and found that I got a lovely deep velvety pink, although you can vary the shade, depending on how long you leave the egg to soak.
Given that boiled eggs are not always the most appealing of things to eat, this is a fantastic, albeit subversive, way to persuade reluctant egg eaters to give them a try. At the very least they just look pretty in a Bento box!

March 19, 2008

Bento fun!

At the moment I've got an ongoing fascination with Asian food, with a real hankering for those lovely strong, clean flavours. I've also discovered the wonderful, and fun, world of Bento ( Japanese, meaning meal in a box ). There are so many blogs out there dealing solely with Bento. One I particularly like is Just Bento. I love the whole idea of the simplicity, mixed with the visual appeal; some Bento boxes I've seen are real works of art, like this one here - and like a lot of things japanese, there is a cuteness overload........not that I'm complaining!

So, fired up with enthusiasm for my new-found infatuation I bought a Bento box, complete with cutlery and belt, and some cute 'Hello Kitty' pots for the soy sauce condiment. I know, but I just couldn't resist them in all their pink cuteness....not to mention the character moulds for making eggs shaped like rabbits and fish!

My Bento box for today is nowhere near as artistic as some, and a bit of a hybrid, but I thought it looked quite pretty....Teryaki Salmon on mixed salad in the top layer, and sushi rice with grated cucumber and a dressing of Apple Cider vinegar. Cider vinegar might sound a bit weird, but it really cuts through the starchiness of the sushi rice, and the combination of the sweet, salty, garlicky salmon with the soft rice, and the cool, clean-tasting cucumber really works!

...........and even better - it's good for you too!

Teryaki Salmon

(Recipe by Alfie)

For the marinade:

Half a 16oz bottle of soy sauce (or use Tamari to make this Gluten-free)

3 cloves garlic

half a teaspoon of ginger

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons of sake or cooking sherry

Mix all of the marinade ingredients together and put into a shallow dish. Put the salmon into the marinade - I found this was enough for 3 large pieces of salmon - cover and chill for four to eight hours.

When needed, cook in a moderate oven 180C / Gas 4 for about 20 minutes, spooning over the remaining marinade occasionally to stop it from drying out. Or, alternatively you can grill the fish, although I find this does tend to catch a little this way because of the high sugar content.

This is lovely and refreshing served with rice - sushi / brown, or even garlic rice, and a crunchy vegetable like carrot sticks, grated cucumber, or mangetout. We like Carrot Kinpira which is carrots cut into matchsticks and cooked in sesame oil until soft. Then you add soy sauce, and sesame seeds (and a little brown sugar if you like it really sweet!) cook a little longer to allow the flavours to develop, and then serve warm.

This style of food is so simple to do, but really delicious!

March 12, 2008

chocolate celebrations!

Yesterday we had a belated celebration for daughter number two's 21st Birthday.....

just a small family affair, but, well......a Birthday is just not a Birthday without 'Birthday Cake' is it! I've always enjoyed making Birthday cakes for the children, even though it's sometimes more of a 'challenge' than I'd anticipated! It's just the fun of putting it all together, more of an engineering exercise than cooking really!

Anyway, as she's not a fan of fondant icing I opted for chocolate - you can't go wrong with chocolate really can you! I was debating whether, or not, to post the recipe for the actual cake since I wasn't overwhelmed by it's chocolateyness, and it did crust a bit on top (but that could be down to my oven being a bit temperamental!).....but, in the end I thought I would post the cake recipe anyway, in it's entirety, so that you could make up your own mind.

I was pleased with the Ganache Icing though - an amalgamation of various recipes - it was lovely and glossy, and was so easy to use; sometimes the ganache goes from too runny to set before you can get it on the cake, leaving a crummy mess! The filling was Chantilly Cream so it wasn't too heavy, and I cut out the numbers from white and dark chocolate melted and then spread out and mixed in a layer on a tray. The feathering around the edge was done simply with melted white chocolate piped onto the ganache while it was still runny, and then drawn out lightly with a skewer.

Chocolate celebration cakeChocolate Cake
(from Good Food Magazine)

250g butter

300g light muscovado sugar

100g plain flour

100g self-raising flour

5 eggs

300g good quality dark chocolate

Heat oven to 160C / Gas 3 and butter and line a 20cm cake tin.

Beat butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy and then beat in the eggs one at a time - adding flour as necessary if the mixture starts to split.

Melt chocolate in a bowl over simmering water - cool slightly and then beat into cake mixture. Fold in the remaining flour and then bake for 1 hour 3o mins (mine actually took nearer to two hours!) The cake should be well risen and a skewer will come out clean when the cake is cooked. There will be a crust on the top, but you can cut this off when assembling the cake.

To make the Chantilly Cream whip together 250mls of double cream with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 2-3 tablespoons of icing sugar. Use this to fill the cake.

For the Ganache:

300g good quality dark chocolate

100g unsalted butter

2 tablespoons double cream

Melt all the ingredients together in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Cool a little until it reaches a workable consistency - I found that I could out it onto the cake almost immediately!

So, there you have it,............. nothing too complicated, just a really good chocolate celebration cake...........the few remaining crumbs on the plate were proof of the pudding (um cake)!

March 09, 2008

simple sunday breakfast

This morning the sun streamed in through the open kitchen door. Ahead of me was a lazy, unstructured day - nowhere particular to be, nothing particular to do........a rare oasis of audacious self-indulgence. So....... I relaxed back in my chair, relishing the warmth on my face, and enjoyed an uncomplicated breakfast of vanilla yoghurt with raspberries and pistachios. (Yep!, those bewitching green fellows still have their spell cast on me! )

Lolling in that elusive - and at this time of year, oh so fleeting - glimpse of sunlight; promise of pleasures to come, the words of Art Garfunkel floated through my mind...

"Slow down, you move too fast,

you've got to make the mornin' last,

just, kickin' down the cobblestones,

lookin' for fun, and feelin' groovy"

I love how the sunshine changes everything..........

.............colours glow brighter, light floods all the forgotten corners, and life feels good.

" Through primrose-tufts, in that sweet bower.
The periwinkle trail'd its wreathes;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes."
William Wordsworth

Sometimes the best things in life really are the simple things!

fragrant pistachio, cardamom & lime cake

Ever since our trip to Venice I've been tantalized by pistachios; those beautiful lurid green nuggets have bewitched me! So, I decided to appease my craving by baking them into my own version of a play on a lemon drizzle cake. This cake is packed full of pistachios, and fragrant with lime and cardamom. It also has yoghurt to keep it moist, and is topped by a crunchy, zingy layer of lime juice and sugar.

I've always loved pistachios anyway, but you know how it is when you develop a fascination for something foodie, you've just got to find some way of making something with it, right?. For me that usually ends up with baking, since I've got a real weakness for anything sweet and baked! How could I resist?..............they're just so enticing!

And..............even better, they're good for you too; in a nutshell, Pennsylvania State University has found in research that pistachios significantly reduced levels of 'bad' cholesterol, and also concluded that pistachios may calm acute stress reaction! Sounds good to me!

So, if you're feeling a little worse for wear, bake yourself some pistachio cake, sit down with a cup of coffee and..........relax!

fragrant pistachio, cardamom & lime cake

150g unsalted pistachios

half a teaspoon ground cardamom

zest of 1 lime

150g unsalted butter

200g self-raising flour

200g caster sugar

3 eggs

125g plain yoghurt


juice of 1 lime

100g sugar

Pre-heat your oven to 180C / 350F / gas 4, and grease and base line a 20cm round cake tin.

Place all of the cake ingredients into a bowl and mix with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy.

Meanwhile, mix the lime juice and sugar together to make a lovely crunchy syrup. The type of sugar you use will determine how crunchy your topping will be. Granulated for very crunchy, and caster for a less grainy texture.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. It does tend to brown a lot so keep an eye on this! Leave in the tin to cool. Pierce the top of the cake with a skewer while it's still warm, and drizzle the lime syrup onto the cake a little at a time to allow it soak in.

To serve - top off with some thick and creamy Greek yoghurt and some more crushed pistachio nuts.

March 03, 2008

Venetian pastries and gothic arches

Last week B and I escaped to Venice for a couple of days....we've never been before and it truly was a wonderful place despite the hazy fog that accompanied our visit! Our room had a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal, and it was amazing to watch the hustle and bustle of everyday life from our window.

In the morning we were woken early by the clanging of the church bell across the canal, calling people to Mass. Below the window, office workers and students made their way to work, wrapped up against the February chill. It was absorbing to watch a busy city going about it's business as we took our time enjoying a leisurely breakfast of ham, cheeses, eggs, and light vanilla-y croissants that tasted so good they didn't even need butter!

The narrow meandering streets were full of wonderful pastry shops 'Pasticcerias' with windows stacked up with tempting goodies..........of course, we had to sample them!

Pistachio seemed to be a big theme

and boy was it GREEN!

It was so easy to get around on foot that we spent all our time wandering the alleyways between the beautiful old buildings around the Grand Canal. As you turned each corner there was another vista, another view,............... all so evocative.

At times the architecture reminded me more of Morocco than Venice, with all the gothic arches!

This building is all overgrown and looked so romantic and eerie

........and, I loved the sheer simplitic beauty of the religious icons that we'd come across unexpectedly on walls and buildings.
Even though the streets are bustling with tourists, life inevitably goes on as normal for the Venetians living in the city.

What I wasn't prepared for though, having only seen the Venice portrayed in films and on travel programmes, was that, obvioulsy, as Venice is built around canals, and there are no roads, everything, and I mean everything, has to be transported by boat, and then hiked around the streets on big trolleys especially designed for getting bulky and heavy loads up and over the constant narrow bridges! We watched smiling as we were passed by DHL delivery boats, ambulance boats, and small boats perilously piled with washing machines, building supplies and wheelbarrows........they even have no entry signs..........who knew!

Among the tourist shops, cafes and rambling streets there were markets with all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, and meats. These Raddichio Treviso caught my eye, weird and wonderful, all red tendrils like some exotic sea creature.

And there was Pizza, of course! In all shapes and sizes.......bellisima!
We couldn't go to Venice and not visit Piazza San Marco..............the Basilica was amazing, but I much preferred the simplicity of the Doge's palace, shrouded in the February mist that hung over the City

and the intricate carvings on the columns, ceturies old, but still alive and bewitching

as were these carvings near to the Bridge of Sighs

I'm definitely looking forward to going back again...