Monday, 19 December 2011

Cranberry, Orange and White Chocolate Cookies

Ovens are funny things. I adapted this recipe from one that I wrote years ago, where I stipulated the time at 8-9 minutes. I have since moved and, in my new oven, these took closer to 11 minutes. You need to watch them. When they have spread out and are just starting to turn golden yet remain lovely and soft, they are done. I tried a batch of these on greaseproof paper and a batch straight on the baking tray. The batch on the baking tray actually came out the best and were easy to remove with a spatula.

A bit of a stateside influence here, using many of the flavours that are popular during the American Holiday Season - Orange, Cranberry and Cinnamon.

I took most of these to work, where everyone raved about them and afreed that they were so much better than shop bought cookies. They were gone in no time, which I took as a good sign.

Cranberry, Orange and White Chocolate Cookies

Makes about 16 cookies
  • 150g soft butter (I used salted - if using unsalted add a pinch of salt)
  • 75g granulated sugar
  • 75g soft light brown sugar
  • A few drops of vanila extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, plus extra for dusting
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 30g dried cranberries
  • 50g white chocolate, chopped

1. Beat the sugars and butter until soft and pale. It's monents like this that make me wish I had a mixer! This is easier if the butter is really soft.

2. Beat in the vanilla, cinnamon and orange zest then add the flour.

3. Mix until almost combined, then add the cranberries and white chocolate, mixing to a dough with the berries and chunks evenly dispersed. It is important that you don't handle the dough too much as the cookies will become heavy.

4. Break off chunks of dough and roll into balls. You should get 16-18. Space them evenly on a baking tray and flatten slightly with your hand before baking at 180°. Check after 8 minutes, then keep an eye on them until they are done.

5. Remove from the oven and dust with cinnamon whilst still warm.


Sunday, 18 December 2011

No-Churn Brandy Butter Ice Cream

Making ice cream is a right palava, right? Making a custard, ensuring that it doesn't split or overcook, then, if you don't have an ice cream maker, all that tedious stirring at regular intervals, and even then it often ends up with ice crystals. Yawn...

This brandy butter-inspired ice cream is ridiculously easy to make. There is indeed no churning, just five minutes of gentle stirring and whisking and you're done. The alcohol is the magic ingredient here, preventing the ice cream from freezing solid. This is lovely and soft set and scoopable.

There isn't any actual butter in this ice cream. I was just going to call it something incredibly lame like Christmas Ice Cream, but when I tasted it, I was instantly reminded of brandy butter. It's kind of brandy butter plus, with the clementine, spices and vanilla. It's absolutely delicious, and would make a splendid alternative accompaniment to your Christmas pud. Or served melting over a warm mince pie. Or eaten straight from the container in front of a film where a young widower learns to love again, reconnects with his wayward children and rediscovers the true meaning of Christmas. Sniff...

In case you were wondering, the true meaning of Christmas is love. Apparently.

No-Churn Brandy Butter Ice Cream

  • 50g icing sugar
  • 50g soft light brown sugar
  • Pinch of salt, to give the suggestion of butter
  • Juice of 1 clementine
  • 60ml brandy
  • A few drops of vanilla extract
  • Dash of Angostura Bitters (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 300ml double cream

1. Mix together all of the ingredients except for the cream, until the sugar has dissolved.

2. Add the cream and whisk until floppy and just forming soft peaks. Incidentally, this is also delicious at this stage and, if so inclined, you could dispense with the freezing altogether.

3. Transfer to a container and freeze overnight.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Jerk Ribs

Hey, looks aren't everything...

On Saturday I was wondering what delights to cook up for dinner when I hit upon the idea of combining two of my favourite meals - ribs and jerk chicken - to make these amazing jerk ribs.

Possibly not a dinner for polite company, there is something so satisfyingly carnivorous about eating meat straight off the bone, and the tangy marinade here, with its lime and vinegar, makes the meat so tender and delicious that all you will be left with is a plate of clean ribs. I'm not sure that lime is a traditional ingredient in a jerk marinade, but it combines so wonderfully with the ginger to give real zing and freshness to counter the richness of the meat, sugar and soy. When I was unable to find the traditional scotch bonnet chillis, I used a Jamaican hot sauce made with scotch bonnets and habaneros instead, which works really well. I never really measure it; I just add enough to make my lips tingle. The sauce gives you the flexibility to have this as hot or mild as you like, but traditionally it should be fairly hot.

I used 600g of ribs and there was probably too much marinade for this quantity. It could easily have stretched to a kilo of ribs and fed three (or four less greedy people). You could also combine it with some boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which is what I usually use this marinade for. Instead of the usual rice and peas or coconut rice, I served this with some home-made potato wedges and a simple salad. Delicious.

Jerk Ribs

Serves 2 -3

600g-1kg pork ribs
1 red onion, roughly chopped
1 5cm piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic
Jamaican hot sauce, to taste (start with 1 tbsp)
juice and zest of 1 lime
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2tbsp malt vinegar
1 tbsp black treacle
1tbsp soft brown sugar
Plenty of ground black pepper
1 tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp allspice
generous grating of fresh nutmeg
generous grinding of black pepper
salt, to taste

1. Put all of the ingredients minus the ribs in a food processor and blend to a smooth, runny sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more hot sauce if required.

2. Line a deep sided baking tray with foil and lay the ribs out, giving each one space. Pour the marinade over the top, making sure that all of the ribs are covered. Leave to marinate for at least 2 hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 170C. Bake the ribs, uncovered, for an hour, basting with the marinade every so often as it reduces and gets sticky.

4. Serve the ribs with the remaining sauce drizzled over the top. Eschew table manners and dig in!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Christmas Cake - It's not too late!

I love me all kinds of cake, but if some crazy EU  law decreed that  a person could only consume  one type of cake (hey it could happen; they banned bendy cucumbers) I would have to choose fruit cake.  More specifically, the dark, moist kind of fruit cake, rich with spices, booze and, of course, dried fruit.

Common wisdom would have you believe that it is too late to make a Christmas cake. I suppose the normal kind that needs baking for four hours does need a while to mature. Traditional types are a terrible faff.  But I offer an alternative - a richer version of the boiled fruitcake.

This cake is so popular that I get asked to make several each year. And it is so easy to make that I don't mind making half a dozen during the run up to Christmas. The ritual of it and the wonderful Christmassy smells really put me in the festive spirit. This cake is so forgiving. The extra moisture means you can overcook it and it won't dry out, and boiling most of the ingredients together means that by the time you come to bake, they are already well aquainted, so it doesn't need as long to mature.

Of course maturing will improve any fruit cake, so if you can make this in advance then do. But it's not essential.

For added ease, this recipe uses American cup measurements. Don't panic if you don't have a cup measurement; you just need something that holds around 240ml of water.

Christmas Cake

600g dried fruit (such as raisins, sultanas, currants, cranberries, pitted prunes and dates, candied peel and dried or glace cherries)
Zest and juice of 1 orange, juice made up to 1 cup with water, cider or sherry
1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup melted butter (if using unsalted butter add a pinch of salt to the saucepan)
2 heaped tbsp orange marmalade
1 grated apple (I don't bother to peel)
2 tbsp black treacle
2 tsp mixed spice
50g pecan nuts, or whatever nut you fancy
2 free range eggs
2 tbsp brandy
2 cups self raising flour

1. Chop the fruit a little, particularly if using larger fruit like prunes, dates and glace cherries. No one wants a great big prune in their cake, and roughly chopping even smaller fruit helps it to absorb the liquid and spicy flavours.

2. Put the dried fruit, along with all of the other ingredients except for the nuts, eggs, brandy and flour into a saucepan. Over a gentle heat bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. This smells just like Christmas!

3. Let the mixture cool, so that the eggs don't scramble when you add them!

4. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 150°C and line the bottom of a loose bottomed tin with greaseproof paper. Grease the sides of the tin with butter. You can line the sides with more greaseproof paper if you like, but I never bother.

5. Roughly chop or crumble the nuts into the boiled mixture. Mix in the eggs and brandy, and then the flour, stirring until just combined.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 90 minutes. If the top is getting a little dark, cover with a baking tray. 

7. After 90 minutes, test your cake to see if it is cooked by inserting a cocktail stick. It should be fairly clean. A bit of cake is ok, as it will be fairly moist, but if it looks raw continue to cook for 10-15 minutes.

8. Allow to cool before turning out.

This cake will need a feed or three, which I usually do a day or so after baking. Prick it quite deeply all over with a cocktail stick, then spoon over the alcohol of your choice, ensuring that some goes into the holes that you have made. Brandy, rum, whisky, ginger wine and sherry are all good choices. It's also nice to mix it up with subsequent feeds, which you can repeat every few days.

A word of warning - it is possible to overfeed a fruitcake. I ate one once at a relative's house that was positively sodden. Not only was it soggy and unpleasant, but I didn't feel safe to drive afterwards! To avoid this, it's best to feed little and often. If you poke the cake with your finger and it makes a squishing sound, you have gone too far!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Lemon and Ginger Trifle

Last week I succumbed to one of the various viruses that seem so prevalent at this time of year and spent most of the weekend on the sofa (please, no jokes about man flu). However, even in my incapacitated state this delicious dessert was a cinch to rustle up, the whole thing taking only a few minutes. And good golly, was it worth it! Somehow rich, yet tangy and light, it was essentially a hot toddy in cold dessert form. No wonder it did me good.

The key to it is using a good quality lemon curd, with a decent level of acidity to cut through the cream and sweet sponge. If you are enterprising enough to make your own lemon curd, by all means use that.

If you would like a stronger ginger taste, please feel free to add more ground ginger to the cream. Or, you could add some of the syrup from a jar of stem ginger instead of the icing sugar, stirring though some chopped stem ginger at the end.

The portions here are rather generous, perhaps too generous to follow a big meal. Still, somehow we forced it down! If you have a smaller appetite, you could always make this in smaller wine glasses, reducing the quantities of cake, lemon curd and cream. Alternatively, you could double the quantities and make one large trifle to serve four to six people.

Lemon and Ginger Trifle

2 generous portions

Shop bought Madeira cake, about 50g per person
Good quality lemon curd
150ml double cream
1tbsp icing sugar
6 tbsp ginger wine
1 tbsp brandy
1/4 tsp ground ginger, plus extra to sprinkle on top

1. Crumble the sponge into two large wine glasses. Drizzle 2 tbsp of ginger wine per glass over the sponge, making sure you soak every last bit in boozy gingery goodness.

2. Dollop some lemon curd liberally over the sponge. As much as you like really. I used 2 heaped tbps per portion.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, ginger, ginger wine and brandy then add the cream. Whisk together to a soft peak stage and spoon over the trifle.

4. Dust with extra ground ginger. Some strips of lemon peel might be a nice touch. Or some toasted slivered almonds for some crunch. I could go on...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Sadly the truth is not always stranger than fiction...

I once read that the wonderfully named King Ranch Chicken Casserole was created by the chef of boxing promoter Don King. I so wanted this to be true, and for a long time I believed it was, but apparently the dish comes from the famous King Ranch in Texas. Gutted...

This is one of the best ways of using up leftover roast chicken that I can think of. Layers of creamy spiced chicken and vegetables, cheese and tortillas, this recipe features two idiosyncrasies of the American kitchen: the propensity to name anything that is cooked in the oven a casserole, and the use of mushroom soup, or so-called "Midwestern Binder" as a sauce. I have dispensed with the frankly disgusting tinned soup and reduced the enormous quantities of cheese, but this is still rich, unctuous and totally delicious!

I can't remember where I first heard about this dish, but my recipe is adapted from a number of sources, the best of which was at Homesick Texan, a blog I would thoroughly recommend.

King Ranch Chicken "Casserole"

Serves 2 to 4 people. I'm not here to judge

Olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 red pepper, finely chopped
100g sweetcorn
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 pieces pickled red jalapeno, finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin, or more to taste
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika, or more to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tin chopped tomatoes
½ tsp sugar
1 chicken stock cube
1tbs corn flour mixed with a little water
200ml milk
160g cold roast chicken, torn into strips
5 soft corn tortillas
100g grated cheese (or fresh mozzarella would be great)
Half a 30g bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

1.    Preheat your oven to 180°C
2.    Heat the olive oil in a pan and sweat the chicken for a few minutes, then add the pepper and garlic. Continue to cook gently for a few more minutes.
3.    Stir in the chilli, cumin, paprika and oregano, and then add the corn, tomatoes, sugar and stock cube. Increase the heat and boil rapidly, reducing to a thick sauce.
4.    Stir in the corn flour mixture and, once thickened, combine with the milk.
5.    Add the chicken and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. The mixture should be quite thick.
6.    Take the pan off the heat. Stir most of the coriander through the chicken mixture, reserving some for decoration.
7.    Put your first tortilla in the bottom of a round pie dish. Spread a layer of the chicken mixture over the top, followed by some cheese. Repeat the layers, finishing with a small amount of sauce and plenty of cheese.
8.     Bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden. Serve cut into wedges with a salad or home made coleslaw.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

How to make perfect roast potatoes

I think roast potatoes are my favourite part of Sunday dinner, even above the meat. And I would go so far as to say that roast potatoes are my favourite way of eating spuds. Perhaps this is because we rarely had them in my family. They were seen as unhealthy. However, when made this way, they contain little saturated fat but are still golden, crunchy and fluffy all at the same time.

Lots of people seem to struggle with roasties, but they really aren't that difficult to make after a little practice. There are just a couple of things to consider. The first is the type of potatoes. I use red skinned Desiree, which is a good all-rounder, but King Edward and Maris Piper would work equally well.

The second consideration is fat. Animal fat from the meat imparts a great flavour, but is unhealthier. I tend to use vegetable oil for a more guilt free roasty. I may occasionally add a little fat from the meat on special occasions.

Third is the coating and the shaking up, steps that many people miss. Breaking up the edges of the potato is what creates the gorgeous crispy outside, and adding flour accentuates the crunch factor. I have tried using ground semolina, as Nigella Lawson recommends, but I didn't notice any significant improvement.

Last is the temperature. You must put them into a hot oven, as hot as it will go, to crisp up the outsides and make sure that the centres are soft and fluffy. However, if you leave your roasties at a high temperature for too long you run the risk of burning them.

Follow these steps and you are but a boil, a shake and a bake from roast potato heaven.

Perfect Roast Potatoes

Makes enough for two to three people

600g potatoes
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 heaped tbsp flour

1.    Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. I like a variety of sizes as larger and smaller roasties each have their particular charms. Put into a large pan with a lid and cover with water.

2.    When you take your meat out of the oven, set it to rest covered in tin foil and turn the oven up as high as it will go. Salt the potatoes generously and bring to the boil.

3.    When the potatoes are boiling, pour the oil onto a baking tray and put into the oven to get hot.

4.    Boil the potatoes for 5 or 6 minutes, so that the edges start to soften.

5.    Drain the potatoes and return to the pan. Add the flour and, with the saucepan lid on, shake the potatoes vigorously to coat with the flour and break up the edges.

6.    Remove the baking tray from the oven and make sure that the hot oil has covered the entire surface. Tip the potatoes onto the tray. Spread them out a bit and return to the oven.

7.    Wash the saucepan immediately, as the flour and potato combination is a nightmare to remove!

8.    After around 15 minutes move the potatoes around in the pan, turning them over to coat in the oil. Reduce the oven to 200°C as the potaoes can burn. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the roasties are golden and crisp.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A Right Pea-Souper

A friend of mine recently attended a Halloween party dressed as Regan from the Exorcist, with mushy peas smeared down the front of his nightie. Try not to think about that as you greedily guzzle this delicious soup.

Thai Green Pea Soup

Enough for one

2 spring onions, roughly chopped
200g frozen peas
300ml boiling water
Thai green curry paste – about a teaspoon, to taste
50ml coconut cream, plus extra to garnish
Spritz of lime juice

1.    Chuck the peas, spring onions and water into a pan. Bring to the boil and simmer until the peas are just cooked.
2.    Take off the heat. Stir in the curry paste and whizz with a hand blender. Give it a taste and add more if you like it hotter.
3.    Stir in the coconut cream and a little lime juice. From a bottle is ok I suppose, but fresh is better.
4.    Heat through once more and serve with an artistic swirl of coconut cream.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Christmas Food / Bread Sauce Recipe

Christmas food

Christmas is coming and, as December looms it's not just the goose that's getting fat! Part of me is dreading the time when it becomes acceptable to eat a mince pie because, when it comes to Christmas food, I have serious trouble holding back.
Food is, for me, the best thing about Christmas. Sure, presents are nice. A decorated tree is undoubtedly pretty. Hanging out with your family is fine until your mother-in-law's sherry-fuelled passive aggression kicks in and the kids fall out over a game of Buckaroo as their sugar levels plummet. The food never disappoints, if only for the comforting nostalgia it evokes.
I'm an absolute traditionalist when it comes to Christmas dinner. Salmon en croute and chocolate fondant is for Valentine's Day as far as I'm concerned. It has to be turkey with bread sauce, roast parsnips and chipolatas wrapped in bacon. Hell, Christmas day is the one day of the year that I will choke down a sprout or two. And the idea of anything other than Christmas pudding with brandy butter for dessert is unthinkable.

One of my favourite things at the Christmas table is my bread sauce. I make a very easy but extra tasty version that doesn't involve steeping onions studded with cloves in hot milk and finely grating breadcrumbs. Yawn. This is made all in one stage and is so much the better for that. Rustic, creamy and spicy, with this recipe I have converted the most hardened bread sauce dodger. It is also wonderful with roast beef if you replace the herbs and spices with a generous dollop of horseradish sauce.

Easy Bread Sauce

About 4 servings

Generous knob of butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
Large pinch of dried sage
Freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch of allspice
Freshly ground black pepper
White pepper
Milk – about half a pint
Bread – enough!
A splash of double cream, if you fancy it

1.    Melt the butter in a pan and gently sautee the onions with the bay leaf until soft and translucent. Add the herbs and spices and cook for another minute or so, until it smells really good.
2.    Add the milk and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat.
3.    Tear the bread into pieces and add to the hot milk. I pull the crusts off but the odd bit won't matter. For this amount I would use two or three slices of bread, depending on the bread itself and the consistency you want. I like it fairly thick.
4.    Return to the heat and stir until the bread has broken down. Add more bread if you would like it a little thicker.
5.    At this point you can either finish the sauce or leave it until you are ready to use it. To finish it off just pop it back on the heat, remove the bay leaf, add a splash of double cream if you like and check the seasoning, adding salt, pepper and any more of the herbs and spices as you wish.
6.    Tip into a bowl and serve!