July 01, 2009

trawling 'Folksy'

do you remember those yummy foil covered teacakes - all gooey marshmallow covered in crispy chocolate?.....

This is definitely on my 'wish list'!! - from the UK version of Etsy, the curiously named 'Folksy'

June 14, 2009

June 05, 2009

blackberry lime friands

These lovely little treats are very popular in Australia, and may be derived from the traditional French petit four financiers. They have a slightly crunchy exterior and a buttery-nutty flavor; outside they are a bit chewy, inside, soft and almondy.

They are such a perfect treat with morning coffee, and very moreish. But, then again they are equally good served warm with ice-cream or cream!

Traditionally friands are cooked in oval friand tins, but I don't have any, so have cooked these in a standard muffin tin.

blackberry lime friands
(Adapted from Mary Cadogan)

100g unsalted butter
140g icing sugar
45g plain flour
85g ground almonds
4 egg whites
grated rind of 2 limes

  • preheat oven to 190 degrees / Gas 5 and butter muffin tin.
  • melt butter and leave to cool
  • whisk the egg whites for about a minute until you get a light, floppy foam
  • sift the almonds, flour, and icing sugar into the egg whites and stir to just combine
  • stir in the melted butter and lime rind lightly and then divide between the tins
  • drop one to two blackberries onto the top of each cake (don't overdo the fruit as the friand mixture is very light and won't hold together too well if there's too much fruit to the batter)
  • bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until light golden and firm to the touch
  • leave to cool in the tin for at least 5 minutes to allow the friands to firm up a little before running a knife around the outside of each friand to loosen them

the friands will store in an airtight container, or in the fridge. But, they are really best eaten on the day that they are made!

May 31, 2009

eat real butter.....

......not only because it's better for you than synthesised chemical margarines, but,.....you also get to use a proper butter dish too, like this vintage 50's one!
How many people, I wonder, would enjoy those spreads that the manufacturers tell us are 'just like butter', and are so good for us because they will look after our hearts, if they really knew just how it's made! I've known about the process since being a Home Ec. student way back in the eighties, and I haven't touched the stuff since! Give me 'real' food any day. You know, the stuff that generally doesn't come with a list of 'ingredients' (or is that artificial chemicals masquerading as 'food'!)
Firstly the raw ingredients of margarine manufacturing must undergo a series of preparatory measures. The oil - maize, coconut, olive, cottonseed, and soybean - is treated with a caustic soda solution to remove unnecessary components known as free fatty acids. The oil is then washed by mixing it with hot water, separating it, and leaving it to dry under a vacuum.
Next, the oil is sometimes bleached with a mixture of bleaching earth and charcoal in another vacuum chamber. The bleaching earth and charcoal absorb any unwanted colorants, and are then filtered out from the oil.
The oil is then hydrogenated to ensure the correct consistency for margarine production, a state referred to as "plastic" for very good reason! The oil is subjected to extremely high temperatures (about 500ºF) and pressure, and hydrogen is forced into the molecular structure to harden it. This process requires toxic substances, such as nickel oxide. The oils are mixed with finely ground nickel, a highly toxic substance that serves as a catalyst for the chemical reaction during the hydrogenation process.
An unintended side-effect, however, can result from this hydrogenation process. If the oils are only partially hydrogenated, some will become trans fats, and these have long been identified as being harmful to health
The end result of this process is a lumpy, grey, greasy substance. This is then emulsified to get rid of the lumps and steam cleaned to remove the odor of chemicals, which again involves high temperature and pressure.
The oil now needs to be bleached, coloured, and artificially flavoured again to make it palatable - after all, who wants to spread tasteless grey gloop on their toast!
Now, call me old-fashioned, but I would much rather have a rich, golden totally 'natural' knob of real butter on my toast. After all, how can it be worse for our body than a totally artificially produced tub of chemically altered substances.
Although margarine has synthetic vitamins added to it to mimic the nutritional content of butter, and the manufacturers are working to reduce the amounts of harmful trans fats. Thereby, arguing that this product is more 'healthy' for us. I think this totally deflects from the whole argument that margarine is essentially an 'artificial' substance, stuffed full of, synthetic chemicals.
Butter only has one ingredient - milk. I'd rather eat a little less of this natural food, than risk the unknown effects to my body of a cocktail of synthetic chemicals.

May 29, 2009

the edible May garden

Inspired by Nic of Cherrapeno's lovely pictures, and the balmy spring sunshine, I ventured into the garden to capture some glimpses of the garden in May.

It's amazing really, when you stop and look there are so many wonderful things that nature gives us for free!

dainty white thyme flowers look beautiful sprinkled over salads

lemon thyme gives a wonderful aroma when used with lamb or chicken on the BBQ

coriander flowers to add a colourful touch of spice to Asian dishes

ripening figs will soon be ready to enjoy, plump and rich with tangy goats cheese and mellow honey

and who can resist cherries that later will be bursting with redolent juices, just right for summer puddings, clafouti, or cheesecake, or this intriguing Cherry Beet Cake by Dan Lepard

the lemon tree is doing well in it's first 'season' and those buds are a hopeful promise of the waxy yellow fruits to come

and......busy bees fussing over the palest pink blackberry flowers

It's so exciting; the whole garden in coming alive with a burgeoning bounty, most of which has already has found its way to the dinner table in one form or another. What could be more delicious than food picked and eaten fresh, just as it's meant to be.

May 23, 2009

'credit crunch' garden salad with herbs and flowers

Everyone has been affected by the so called 'credit crunch' that we all now find ourselves trying to navigate through. But, does this mean that we can no longer eat good, nutritious, elegant food? - no, of course not! It just means we have to get a little more 'creative'.

I love salad, but not usually the price. So, yesterday when I found huge dewy, crunchy salad greens at a local vegetable store for only 69p each I was ecstatic! You may smirk, but they truly were the best buy of my day, and I couldn't wait to get them home and wash and 'spin' them. I wasn't disappointed either, because, with using only half of each lettuce head I still had a HUGE bowl of the freshest, crispest, plump and mouth-watering greens you could ask for. A proud reminder that the sad, and very expensive, washed lettuce bags that we are fobbed off with by the supermarkets all winter in our attempt to produce a passable mixed plate of greenery, are now but a memory, as, once again - for a few months at least! - we can pile our plates high with magnificent drifts of locally grown frisee, raddicchio and lollo rossa.........hurrah for spring! Perhaps I should change this post title to 'ode to lettuce'!

Anyway, having extolled the virtues of the humble salad leaf, so often pushed around the plate to be left wilting in the remains of the dinner's main star - or even worse - used merely as a whimsical decor. I would like to encourage it's use as the main 'player', along with other overlooked treasures of our gardens. After all, the herbs and vegetables that we now take for granted were once little known wild 'weeds' themselves. 'Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is one of the oldest known vegetables, developed from prickly lettuce (L. serriola), a wild plant around the Mediterranean and Caucasus regions which was used as a medicinal herb. Some reports point back as far as the Egyptians in 4500 BC, but it was certainly cultivated by ancient Greeks and Romans. The Emperor Caesar Augustus even had a statute made memorializing the romaine-type lettuce he believed cured him from an illness.' Susan Mahr, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Now is the perfect time to look further than the end of the supermarket aisle, and explore the edible delights that can be found in our own back yards!

So, let's get to the salad in point. This is intrinsically such a basic dish - hard boiled eggs, salad greens, salty olives, herbs and flowers,and a tangy garlic and herb dressing - but, when put together it truly does show that basic eating doesn't have to be boring eating. You may have already noticed that I love 'pretty' food, as well as food with integrity; good wholesome, natural ingredients, and no artificial anything! Well, this simple, delicate salad is a feast not only for the taste-buds, but also for the eyes. Bright yellow just boiled eggs sprinkled with smoky paprika (I like M&S Smoked Paprika mix); strong earthy flavours cut through with the saltiness of black spanish olives, and the tang of a garlicky dressing. All complemented with the delicate herbs and flowers and the crisp, crunch of the salad leaves.

Garden egg, herb and flowers salad
(Alfie - Cabbage Roses and Cupcakes)

Hard boil two eggs per person for around 7-8 minutes, so that they are still a little soft. Meanwhile wash and arrange a colourful mixture of salad leaves on each plate.

When the eggs are done, put them under a running cold tap to quickly cool them down and prevent the dark sulphur ring forming. Then peel and halve and arrange on the salad leaves.

Finally finish off the salad with a sprinkling of paprika over the eggs, and then add the olives and a variety of whatever herbs and flowers you have to hand. I used chives, dill, parsley, and viola flowers.

Dress with a simple garlic, herb vinaigrette made from 1 part cider vinegar to three parts good olive oil, with a crushed clove of garlic and some chopped basil and parsley all whisked up together in a bowl or glass jar.

It's nutritious with protein and iron from the eggs, and a good helping of vitamins and minerals from the various herbs - so it just goes to show that just because money is a bit tight, we don't need to sacrifice good eating!

April 16, 2009

hazelnut truffle torte....in search of the ultimate chocolate cake!

In my truly altruistic (well, that's what I tell myself anyway!) quest for the ultimate chocolate cake I have tried many, many, many recipes; searching for that all-elusive tangible experience of dense, velvety chocolatiness; not too sweet, not too bitter - not too heavy, not too dry. Just lately, I've decided to go along the gluten-free route, and following on from the truly indulgent chocolate mousse cake, I was after something a little more firm, that would cut and serve more like a traditional 'cake'. Of course this meant trying out lots of recipes - it's a tough job!........and, in the end I settled on the best bits of all of them. The result is a VERY rich, dark and wicked, truffley chocolate 'cake' that gives you the just the sense of hedonistic guilt that only a true chocolate lover would settle for!

So here it is.....

hazelnut truffle torte
(by Alfie)
400g good quality dark chocolate
6 eggs
50 g caster sugar
175g ground hazelnuts
250mls double cream
75g good quality dark chocolate
2 tablespoons double cream
25g butter
  • to make the cake, grease and base line a 20cm deep spring-form tin, and set the oven to Gas 2 / 150 C / 325 F
  • break the chocolate into pieces and put this together with 50mls of the cream in a bowl set over simmering water until it has melted
  • whilst the chocolate is melting, whisk the eggs and the sugar together for 5-7 minutes until it is thick and creamy and will leave a trail across the top of the mixture
  • slacken the melted chocolate mixture by adding a little of the egg/sugar mixture (about 2-3 tablespoons) until it becomes a bit more runny, and then stir the chocolate and the egg/sugar mix in together with the ground hazelnuts
  • whisk the remaining cream until it forms soft peaks, and then quickly fold this into the chocolate batter so that it is all amalgamated
  • pour into the lined tin - if your tin is not completely water-tight you will need to wrap it in foil
  • place the cake tin into a roasting pan and pour in enough hot water to come half-way up the cake tin - about 2cms
  • bake in the oven for about an hour until a skewer comes out clean

for the topping

  • melt all of the ingredients together over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool and thicken just slightly, and then pour over the cake
  • decorate with whatever takes your fancy, and enjoy........but be warned, you know what they say about too much of a good thing!

April 12, 2009

rustic pan-fried chicken in creamy mushroom sauce

This simple Saturday lunch also makes an effortlessly elegant meal for entertaining. It's a recipe that I've made a few times now, originally adapted from a recipe that I'd had lurking around in my 'to cook' pile from 'BBC Good Food'. It's unfailing ability to hit the spot with it's creamy, tangy, garlicky mushroom sauce, has made it a favourite of mine, especially as it is sooooo easy to make! So, on that basis, because we all love dishes that are uncomplicated and easy to throw together, but look, and taste like we've spent hours in the kitchen, I thought that is was really worth sharing....

Rustic Pan-fried Chicken in Creamy Mushroom Sauce
(recipe by Alfie)

1 tablespoon oil
50g butter
handful of fresh or dried herbs (basil, coriander, parsley, oregano, thyme all work well!)
6 chicken breasts or large chicken legs divided into thighs and drumsticks
700mls vegetable stock - I like to use Marigold vegetable bouillon
300mls dry white wine, or whatever you have in the fridge
50g butter
1 onion
400g mixed wild mushrooms - although chestnut mushrooms will do just as well
2-3 cloves garlic
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
330mls creme fraiche
50-75g ground almonds
another handful of fresh herbs to finish

  • Fry off the chicken in the oil, butter, and herbs to seal it. This will take about 10 mins, until they're golden brown. You may need to cook the chicken in several batches to avoid overcrowding the pan and steaming the meat.
  • Transfer to a large saucepan and pour over the stock and wine to cover the chicken.
  • Bring back to the boil and cover the pan and simmer the chicken for about half an hour.
  • While the chicken is cooking, fry the onion in the remaining 50g butter until soft but not coloured. Add the mushrooms and fry for about 3-4mins. Grate over the fresh nutmeg and add the grated garlic for a further 1 min, then leave aside until the chicken finishes cooking.
  • When the chicken is cooked, drain off the stock. Set the chicken aside and add the mushrooms and onion to the stock. Bring back to the boil, and reduce by about a half - at this stage you can reduce it further if want a thicker sauce that will just coat the chicken.
  • Add the creme fraiche, and the ground almonds and fresh herbs and simmer for 5-10 mins to heat the chicken through, and thicken the sauce slightly.

This is fabulous served simply with hunks of crusty bread warm from the oven for a sumptuous Saturday, or weekday lunch. Or you can dress it up with wild rice, and asparagus or some wilted spinach for an impressive meal for friends. Either way it really is wonderful!

April 02, 2009

blackberry vinegar

I don't know about you, but I love the contrast of salty goats cheese with the sweet acidity of fruit. Somehow it seems to cut through the heaviness to produce a combination that's perfect!

So, when I found a recipe for raspberry vinegar I knew I had to give it a try.....well actually I found several recipes for raspberry vinegar, or raspberry 'shrub' as it was known in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was a popular drink and is actually very refreshing in hot weather, served with ice! I know it may sound strange to have a fruit cordial with a vinegar base, but the acidity cuts through the sweetness in a very pleasing way. Apparently, it's even good for sore throats diluted at 1 dessertspoon to 250mls of water!

Anyway, not one to be able to leave a recipe alone, I thought it would make a great fruit vinegar to use in dressings too, so I cut the sugar down in the last stage to keep the tartness. There were blackberries on sale in my local market and I couldn't resist using these instead, just because I love their deep, jammy colour!

Blackberry shrub

The vinegar itself is very simple to make..... you just put your blackberries (or whatever fruit you choose to use) - I used about 500g - into a kilner jar or bottle and cover them with white vinegar.

Leave them to stand for a week, stirring well each day. Then strain the fruit and add one pound of sugar to one pint of liquid ....or in metric, about 500g sugar to 500mls of liquid (though I think it sounds much more evocative in imperial measures!) and boil it up for about 20 minutes, until it gets syrupy. Finally, skim off any white foam, and pour into sterilised bottles, then seal when it is cold. As I said, to make it more of a fruit vinegar I put in less sugar - about half of the amount used for the shrub.

Goats cheese and mango salad with blackberry vinaigrette

Now, you've got your gorgeous burgundy jewelled fruit vinegar...... so here's an idea of how to use it... mix two parts blackberry vinegar to three parts oil (rapeseed is a good oil to use because its delicate flavour won't overpower the fruit) to make a basic vinaigrette that's a little heavier than normal on the vinegar. Liberally drizzle the dressing over a goats cheese and mango salad, all that lovely palate of colours and saltiness and acid fruitiness....then, just sit back and enjoy!

March 21, 2009

when life blows you a raspberry.....

...blow it right back with White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Cupcakes with a raspberry cream cheese frosting! Ha!... right back at ya with sprinkles on - or raspberries!

These are actually a bit of a mish mash of lots of things that I love all mussed into one, a desire to use up a cream cheese 'surplus' from a carrot cake recipe, plus a whimsical notion to put it all together with white chocolate.....and why not!

So, what I ended up with is a white chocolate cupcake, based on my Banana Chocolate Muffins, using white chocolate instead of dark chocolate. Thrown in with a smattering of fresh raspberries and cheesecake (I snuck the idea of how to incorporate this from David Lebovitz's ..... Cheesecake Brownies )

Then, as if that wasn't enough gorgeousness overload in one cake, I felt like topping it all off with a raspberry ripple cream cheese frosting, based on the cream cheese frosting for the carrot cake!

Definitely just the thing to make the world right again!

February 26, 2009

pretty pea and lettuce soup

This soup is vibrant, and delicious. Just right for brightening up these dull winter days. With a hunk of just baked crusty bread and lots of lovely butter......mmm

It's so simple to make too, which is another plus!.....and who would have thought, lettuce, in a soup would work, but work it certainly does; adding texture and verdant green flecks to set off the delicate pale pea green. Add a couple of succulent and crispy slices of grilled parma ham, and there you have it, perfection in a bowl!

Pea and Lettuce Soup with Parma Ham
(Recipe by Alfie - adapted from various sources)

2 onions
2-3 cloves garlic
2T olive oil
1 lettuce, shredded
500g frozen peas
600mls veggie stock
200mls creme fraiche
half a teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
4-6 slices of parma ham

  • Fry off the onions and garlic for a few minutes until soft and starting to brown - but not too much.

  • Add the lettuce and peas to the pan and cook for a few minutes more. Only just enough to thaw the peas though.

  • Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 4-5 mins, but not too long, otherwise you will lose the lovely bright green colour.

  • Then add the creme fraiche and the seasonings to taste. Blitz with a hand whisk, or in a blender.

  • Grill the parma ham until crispy, and then serve the soup with the parma ham arranged on the top.

January 15, 2009

frosted roses

there was a real taste of winter this last weekend, with a hoar frost that touched everything with it's magical crystal shroud...

nature can be so amazing