Sunday, 26 June 2011

Forever Nigella #6 - Sea Fish and Eat It

This month's Forever Nigella is hosted by Kat at Housewife Confidential, a lovely blog which always has gorgeous photos, and not just of food :) The theme is Sea Fish and Eat It, and it's one of my favourites so far because I adore fish of any kind and love an excuse to tell people how yummy it is and how everyone should eat more of it. When the theme was announced, I knew immediately what I wanted to make - it's a recipe I've made quite a few times now, but one of my absolute favourites. I give you...

Nigella's Pantry Paella!

You can find the recipe in Kitchen or on the BBC website here, but I do make a few changes:

I never have leftover pork, so I use chorizo instead, which I sweat with the onion so it releases its lovely spicy pinkish oils;

I don't use baby squid, I just use full-size frozen squid bodies which I open out, score in a criss-cross pattern without going right through the flesh, and cut into bite-size pieces;

I had no sherry, so I added a splash of marsala;

I added the saffron to the hot stock rather than warming the booze.

Normally I'd have also used some shellfish, because I love it so much, but it's not mussel season and the clams my friendly local fishmongers had on offer were about a million pounds, so I had to do without. Oh how I miss mussels... roll on September when they'll be nice enough to eat.

We love paella so much that we actually bought a paella pan, which really makes a difference as you get that lovely crust underneath. It hangs permanently on the wall - see how well seasoned it is!

Huge thanks to Kat for hosting and to Sarah from Maison Cupcake for all her hard work.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

We Should Cocoa - Stracciatella Ice Cream with Macerated Strawberries

The theme of this month's We Should Cocoa, hosted by Choclette at the Chocolate Log Blog, is strawberries. No problem - strawberries are one of my all time favourite foods, I can eat them by the bucketload. I should be able to come up with an awesome cake or other yummy baked item including chocolate and strawberries.

Except I can't eat it because, as you'll know if you read my previous post, I had a wisdom tooth extracted this week and am on a mushy food diet for a few days.

So I've cheated a little bit. I've still made something awesome with chocolate and strawberries, but it's not a cake. And in fact it reminds me of two really good holidays I've had to Spain and Italy, so it was worth cheating a bit just for the lovely rosy-tinted nostalgic feeling that eating this gave me.

When I was fourteen I went on an exchange trip to Granada in southern Spain. The mother of the girl I stayed with was a fabulous cook, and one of the things she made us was macerated strawberries. We had them for breakfast, eaten greedily from a large bowl with a spoon and sometimes even piled on top of buttered toast (is that weird? I don't care). Ever since, macerated strawberries have reminded me of that trip and of Lola's beautiful meals. You don't need a recipe for this one. All you do is take a punnet of strawberries, hull and halve/quarter them depending on size, throw them into a bowl and sprinkle over 2 tbsp caster sugar and 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar. Leave it for a few hours. The sugar and acid will draw out the liquid from the strawberries and turn it slightly syrupy, and the strawberries will taste sweeter, riper and more gorgeous than any strawberries you've had before. And I PROMISE it will not taste of vinegar. Trust me.

For the ice cream, you'll need a recipe. And an ice cream machine. I have neither the funds nor the space for an expensive one with a built-in freezer, so instead I have this little Kenwood thing which cost under £20 from Amazon, and as long as I remember to put it in the freezer the day before I want the ice cream, it does the job perfectly.

Now officially you're supposed to make a "proper" creme anglaise style custard for the ice cream, which involves heating it over a very low flame and stirring it for ages and ages till it thickens, while trying not to let it curdle. Sorry but life is just too short. So I use a little bit of cornflour which will stabilise the custard and stop it from curdling, so you can turn the heat up a bit and it'll thicken a lot quicker. Which leaves you with more time to spend learning to play Johnny B Goode on the guitar (if you're me, that is).

You will need:

300ml milk (semi-skimmed or whole is fine)
70g caster sugar
4 egg yolks (make meringues with the leftover egg whites!)
2 tsp GOOD vanilla extract
300ml pot of double or whipping cream (some pots are 287ml which is fine)
1 heaped tsp cornflour
70g plain chocolate

Heat the milk and vanilla in a saucepan till it just comes to a boil. Meanwhile whisk the sugar, egg yolks and cornflour in a bowl. Pour on the boiling milk - a little bit first to temper the eggs so they don't scramble, whisk it in, then pour on the rest and whisk it all together. Pour the whole thing back into the saucepan over a lowish heat and keep stirring till it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Pour the custard back into the bowl and stand it in a sink filled with cold water (with ice cubes if you have some) to cool it down quickly. Then chill it in the fridge for at least 4 hours or even until the next day. This lets the flavours develop.

When you're ready to make the ice cream, pour the cream into the custard and mix it all together. Churn this in your ice cream machine. Meanwhile melt the plain chocolate. When the ice cream is looking like it's almost ready, pour the chocolate in a slow, steady stream through the hole in the ice cream machine lid. When it hits the ice cream it will set almost immediately, and little bits of chocolate will work their way through the whole mixture. Lovely. When it's all looking nicely mixed together, transfer the ice cream into a container and put it in the freezer for a few hours before devouring.

My husband is a very discerning ice cream connoisseur and he gave this a very definite thumbs up. Ice cream is something that's more expensive to make at home but worth the extra money and effort because it's just a million times nicer than anything you buy in the shops.

Looking forward to seeing the other strawberry-related entries this month... and hopefully in a few days I'll be baking properly again.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Bircher muesli - how to make a purple breakfast.

I had a wisdom tooth out on Wednesday, and this means I'm basically on a diet of mushy stuff for a few days. So far I've had rice pudding, risotto, even Slimfast. Today I wanted something different for lunch, and decided to make something I'd normally have for breakfast. This is my favourite thing to eat in the morning. It takes very little preparation (most of it you do the night before anyway, and it takes about 30 seconds), it tastes divine, fills you up for hours and hours, and it's purple. Most breakfast items tend to be brown or beige, don't they? Cereal, toast, waffles, pancakes. I like a bit of colour in the morning.

You will need:

1/2 cup of porridge oats (I know I say I hate cups, but I like them for measuring oats)
Frozen mixed berries (or fresh if you happen to have some)
Half an apple
Plain yoghurt (optional)

The night before, put the oats in a bowl and just cover them with milk. Sprinkle some frozen berries on top - say three tablespoons but it really doesn't matter. Put the bowl in the fridge and go to bed.

Next morning, the frozen berries will have defrosted overnight in the fridge. If the oats look a bit dry, add a tablespoon or two of yoghurt. Cut the apple into quarters, remove the core and grate it into the bowl. (You can just eat the other half, or save it for breakfast tomorrow.) Add a couple of tablespoons of honey and mix it all together. The berries will turn the mixture purple.

Enjoy this disgustingly healthy breakfast with a glass of juice (I'm addicted to ACE Drink from Lidl at the moment) or a mug of coffee and feel smug that your breakfast was more colourful than everyone else's.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Random Recipes: My New Cookbook

Dom's theme for this month's Random Recipes is "my new cookbook", and the book I've chosen has been my new cookbook for five months! So it's definitely about time I took it off the shelf and started actually using it.

Ever since I started reading food blogs, I've been aware of the Tuesdays with Dorie group, who bake from Dorie Greenspan's universally adored book Baking From My Home to Yours. Every Tuesday I would drool over that week's offerings on all the blogs I subscribed to in Google Reader, and for ages I longed for my own copy of the book.

Last Christmas, my lovely in-laws obliged, and I found a copy hiding under the Christmas tree. To say I was excited would be putting it mildly.

And ever since, I've been carrying the book around with me, reading it in bed, peering at the photos with my useless, dim little booklight while my poor husband is trying to sleep. But I never, ever made any of the recipes, and I've no idea why. Perhaps it was because of my hatred of cup measurements, maybe it was because there was so much to bake that I didn't know where to start. I don't know.

Anyway, enough. Even after all these months I still consider it my new cookbook, so this week it's taken pride of place on my little green cookbook stand and I've made not one but TWO recipes!

First I made Dorie's Lennox Almond Biscotti. I adore biscotti, but for some reason I've never made it myself. Now I have, and I will definitely do it again. The recipe uses polenta, which is unusual and gives it a lovely crunch without breaking your teeth like a lot of biscotti. I found some candied peel in the cupboard that was left over from making Christmas cakes, so threw that in and it was a nice addition. Next time I'll use some different nuts, perhaps pistachios. I love a recipe that's easily adaptable.

Then the other day I had a raging need for a brownie (in fact it was a post-migraine sugar craving - does anyone else get this?) so I had a go at Dorie's Classic Brownies. Now I have made a lot of brownies in my time, I've posted at least two different recipes on my blog and there are countless others from before the blog existed or that I haven't bothered posting because they were nothing special.

This one IS special. Very very special, and honestly this one recipe alone is worth buying the book for. The recipe calls for walnuts, but in the absence of walnuts I used macadamias and it was fabulous. Then yesterday I wanted another batch but had hardly any plain chocolate left, so I made it with mostly milk chocolate and pecan nuts, and you know what? That was fabulous too. I almost wish I hadn't discovered the recipe because I can see myself gaining a LOT of weight just by eating mountains of these.

Even after trying these two recipes, it still feels like a new cookbook. It's huge, and it'll take me years to get through it all. But I'll definitely be plodding through it one cookie, cake or scone at a time!

Dorie's Classic Brownie Recipe

2 1/2 oz butter
4 oz plain chocolate
2 oz milk chocolate
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder (Kenco do a nice one)
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup plain flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 180ÂșC. Line an 8" square tin with parchment.

Melt the butter and chocolate together. Whisk in the sugar (it will go grainy, and look almost as if the chocolate has seized, this is normal). Whisk in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and espresso powder. Fold in the flour, salt and chopped nuts.

Pour into the tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 30 to 33 minutes (it takes 30 exactly in my oven) until the top is dull and a skewer comes out clean. Sit the tin on a wire rack and let the brownies cool. Turn out, peel away the parchment, turn back the right way up on a board and cut into squares.

These are amazing with vanilla ice cream! And that's another recipe I'll be sharing very soon, because I might, just maybe, have bought myself another new toy...
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