Tuesday, 30 June 2009
I'm not sure who it was that first recognized that if you beat egg whites together with a bit of sugar and then baked it that you could come up with a heavenly concotion as light as a cloud and quite blissfully as tasty . . .
I only know that I am glad that they did.
Simple ingredients, simple techniques . . . marry together in a wonderful union of un-parralled success . . . eat them plain, or whip up some heavy cream and sandwhich them together. You could break them up and fold them into some gently whipped cream along with some crushed berries, or like me . . . you could just sit there and bit into it, relishing every glorious, meltingly sweet pillow like bite . . . the choice is yours.
A few things to remember . . .
Always start with eggs that are more than a few days old. Very fresh eggs will not create as voluminous mixture.
Make sure your whisk and bowl are scrupulously clean. Any hint of fat at all will prevent your whites from reaching their full potential.
Avoid making meringues on a humid day. The extra moisture in the air will be absorbed by the meringues, making them soften and get quite sticky . . . not a good thing in a meringue . . . you want crisp and light.
*Big and Fluffy Almond Meringues*
Makes about 6 large or 12 small
These lovely meringues are light and crisp. You don't have to add the toasted almonds, but I think they add a nice touch. These are delicious served with fresh berries and softly whipped cream, or make smaller ones and sandwich them together with some whipped cream in the middle.
4 large free range organic egg whites, at room temperature
115g caster sugar
115g sifted icing sugar
1 small package of flaked almonds (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 110*C/ 225*F. Line a large baking sheet with some parchment paper. Set aside.
Place the egg whites in a large glass mixing bowl. Whip with an electric whisk until they resemble fluffy clouds and hold their shape when you life the beaters out of the bowl. Gradually start beating in the caster sugar, one tablespoonful at a time until the mixture is thick and glossy. (Try hard not to overbeat it) Fold in the icing sugar a third at a time, being careful, once again, not to overmix. You want it to be fluffy and cloudlike.
Spoon large dollops of the mixture onto the baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches or so between each one. If you are making smaller ones, spoon tablespoonful's onto the baking sheet. Scatter the flakes almonds over all, if using. Bake for 1 1/4 hours, or until they are very crisp on the bottom and sound hollow when tapped on the bottoms. They should be very lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
You may now use them as you wish.
Monday, 29 June 2009
I just love Balsamic Vinegar. It's rich and slightly sweet flavour lends itself to all kinds of prepartions . . . wonderful vinaigrettes, delicious sauces . . . beautiful desserts. It's wonderful flavour and heady fragrance lift it far above it's counterparts, which pale in comparison.
Although some may consider it a wine vinegar, it is not a wine vinegar at all, but is created from grape pressings that have never been allowed to ferment into wine. Sweet white Trebbiano grape pressings are boiled down to a dark syrup and then aged under rigid restrictions, in wooden casks made of oak. It ages for years, gradually progressing to smaller and smaller casks made of a variety of woods, until it is finally ready to use.
All of these woods progressively add character to the vinegar. As it ages, moisture evaporates out, further thickening the vinegar and concentrating the flavor. Some of the really good ones have been aged for as long as a hundred years.
Really good Balsamic vinegar doesn't come cheap and no wonder, when you consider how much has gone into it's production. It's a good thing that a little goes a very long way. Sure . . . you can get really cheap Balsamic vinegar, but why settle for a pale imitation of something that is worth it's weight in gold. This is one case where you truly do get what you pay for . . .
I try to settle for something in between the most expensive and the cheapest and it always serves me well, especially in a simple preparation such as this one. Strawberries, simply macerated in some sugar and then some good Balsamic. Heavenly Bliss . . .
It's just amazing how something so simple can taste so wonderful.
*Strawberries With Balsamic Vinegar*
If you are looking for a dessert that is fresh, easy and delicious, then look no further. This tasty dish fills the bill on all counts!
750g of ripe small strawberries
60g of caster sugar (superfine sugar)
2 TBS good quality balsamic vinegar
125g of mascarpone cheese
Wipe the strawberries clean with a damp cloth, and then carefully hull them. If your berries are somewhat on the larger side, cut them in halves or quarters. Place them all into a glass bowl. Sprinkle the caster sugar on top and toss them gently to coat. Let sit, covered loosely with a cloth, for 2 hours to macerate. After 2 hours, drizzle the balsamic vinegar over top. Toss gently again, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Spoon the berries into 4 glass dishes. Drizzle each with some of the syrup left in the bowl. Spoon a dollop of mascarpone cheese on top of each and serve.
Sunday, 28 June 2009
If you had told me when I was a child that I would one day love blueberries, I would not have believed you. Nova Scotia, Canada, the place where I grew up, has some of the nicest wild blueberries in the world, just ripe and free for the picking. You can stop just about anywhere at the side of the road and find them just waiting to be picked.
I should know, because every summer my parents put us kids into slave labour, picking wild blueberries until we thought our arms would fall off. Hours and hours in the hot sun, bending down, and pick, pick, picking . . . I hated it. It seemed to take forever to fill up those gallon sized ice cream tubs.
My mom would put them into the freezer and all winter long we would be treated to blueberry pies . . . and cakes . . . and muffins.
When I first moved over here to the UK, blueberries were very hard to find and I discovered the magic of not being able to find certain food items that you have always taken for granted . . .
You start to crave them . . . things like all beef hotdogs and all beef bologna, not to mention Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner and Captain Crunch cereal . . . but then I digress . . .
Blueberries . . . did you know that if all the blueberries grown in North America in one year were spread out into a single layer, they would cover a four lane highway that stretched all the way from Chicago to New York City? Neither did I until this morning. I reckon as a child I must have picked that four lane highway all the way to New York City and back again . . .
I'm happy to say I quite love them now and in recent years they have become readily available over here in the UK. In fact they are now grown and cultivated here.
I made this delicious blueberry tart yesterday for dessert as we had company and I confess . . . I ate a whole slice before dinner . . . even before the company came. It started out that I wanted to just take a picture without anyone being there . . . my guests are quite used to seeing desserts etc. with pieces missing you know . . . I couldn't help it though once I had one taste . . . before I knew it the slice was gone, the only sign of it ever having been there . . . the empty space in the tart tin and the tell tale blue around my lips . . .
I didn't even feel guilty having a second piece when it came time to serve dessert at the end of our dinner. I enjoyed . . . every . . . SCRUMMY . . . moreish mouthful!!! (and I'd do it again, if given the chance, so there!)
*Crunchy Blueberry Tart*
Imagine a tasty oatmeal cookie crust, filled with tart blueberries and topped with an oat crumble. This is to die for and quite simply the most delicious blueberry tart I have ever eaten. Adapted from a recipe in the book, "A Piece Of Cake," by Leila Lindholm.
For the crust:
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
6 1/4 ounces of plain flour
4 3/4 ounces of caster sugar
2 1/2 ounces rolled oats
For the Filling:
9 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup of blueberry jam
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 TBS cornflour
For the Topping:
3 ounces unsalted butter
4 ounces rolled oats
4 3/4 ounces caster sugar
Creme Fraiche for serving
Begin by making the crust. Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Place the butter in a saucepan and melt. Whisk together the flour, sugar and oats. Stir this mixture into the melted butter, stirring well to completely combine. Press the dough into a 10 inch tart tin with a removable bottom. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
To make the topping, melt the butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in the oats and sugar. Mix together well, and then set aside while you make the filling.
To make the filling, gently stir together the blueberries, jam and balsamic vinegar, mixing well. Stir in the cornflour. Pour this mixture into the oat pastry case.
Sprinkle the topping evenly over top and then place the tart onto a baking tray. Bake in the heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden brown.
Remove from the oven to a wire rack to cool. Remove the side from the pan before serving. Serve cut into slices with some creme fraiche for spooning over if desired.
Saturday, 27 June 2009
One of my most favourite of all vegetables is the humble cauliflower. I just can't get enough of it. If you have a cauliflower in the house, you have a wonderful meal, just waiting to be cooked . . .
Roasted, boiled, steamed or raw . . . there is no end to the ways you can prepare it. I love it in soups, or roasted until it is tender and slightly caramelized at the edges . . .
Laying beneath a rich and cheesy sauce, cauliflower cheese has to be my absolute favourite of all vegetable dishes . . . that is . . . until I discovered this little gem.
Cauliflower . . . humble no more.
Imagine crispy tender cauliflower, laying on a bed of toasted ciabatta, gently flavoured with garlic, beneath a soft cover of cheesey rarebit and then tucked under the broiler until bubbling and browned. Yes, this is heaven, pure and simple heaven.
8 thick slices of ciabatta
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
(about 2 pounds)
1 cup grated gruyere cheese
1 cup grated strong cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated red Leicester cheese
1 TBS Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, beaten
2 TBS beer
4 TBS cream
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pre-heat the broiler. (Grill) Place the slices of ciabatta onto a rack and then lightly toast them under the grill on both sides. Remove from the grill and rub the cut side of the garlic over one side of each slice of bread. Set aside.
Bring a saucepan of slightly salted water to the boil and drop in the cauliflower florets. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until it is tender when you prod it with a knife. Drain very well.
Mix the cheeses, mustard, eggs, beer and cream together in a bowl.
Put the toasted ciabatta pieces onto a baking tray. Arrange some of the cauliflower on top of each one. Divide the cheese mixture amongst the pieces of toast, making sure you cover all of the cauliflower.
Place under the grill and toast them until they are golden brown and bubbling. Let sit for about 5 minutes before removing to hot plates to serve. Season with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Friday, 26 June 2009
I opened a new jug of milk yesterday only to discover that it had all gone sour, and it wasn't even near it's sell by date either! It wasn't worth the expensive of the petrol to take it back to the shops . . .
It wasn't even worth shedding any tears . . . quite the contrary actually . . .
It was a wonderful opportunity to make this delicious chocolate cake. Moistly moreish, this cake is a winner in every sense of the word. Rich, chocolatey and scrumdiddlyumptious!!
Actually we did not keep it in our house . . . much too dangerous for that. Todd had to go do some home teaching yesterday afternoon and so I sent it with him.
I know, I know . . . a piece was missing . . . but as anybody knows, you don't look a gift horse in it's mouth . . . or cake horse as it were.
Besides, everyone knows me by now . . . things often have pieces missing. Such is the trial of being the friend of a food blogger . . . the fringe benefits are well worth it though. Free cake.
*Sour Milk Chocolate Cake*
Makes one 13 x 9 x 2 cake
(Or one deep 12 inch round)
This is wonderfully moist and rich. You don't really need a frosting on it, but I have included a tasty brown sugar frosting that really is the icing on the cake!
1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 cup sugar
3 TBS baking cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup sour milk
1/4 cup hot water
1 TBS vanilla
Pre-heat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Grease your cake tin and lightly dust it with flour, shaking out any excess. Set aside.
Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix together the egg, butter, sour milk, hot water and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients. Beat (preferably with an electric mixer) for 2 minutes on medium speed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until it tests done when a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. NO need to remove from the pan.
Note - To sour sweet milk, place 1 TBS of vinegar in a measuring cup and add enough milk to make up 1 cup of liquid.
Makes enough to frost the top of one cake
1/4 cup butter
2 TBS soft light brown sugar
3/4 cup sifted icing sugar
2 TBS cream
3/4 cup chopped pecans
Place the butter and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Stir in cream and whisk to blend well. Stir in the icing sugar until it is creamy and spreadable. (You may need more) Spread on top of cooled cake. Sprinkle with chopped nuts.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
One thing that I really like about these warmer months is salad. I just love salad. I could eat it for every meal . . . yes, even breakfast.
One of my favourite lettuces is Little Gem lettuce. It has a really gutsy flavour and a wonderfully crisp texture. I think it is a variety of miniature Romaine lettuce, but with leaves that are a bit more tender, and flavourful. It is perfect served with a strong flavoured dressing, and is even delicious braised.
This is one of my favourite ways to serve it . . . I could eat a whole plate of this and nothing else and be perfectly happy doing so.
*Little Gems With a Blue Cheese Dressing*
This is one of my favourite salads. Simple ingredients, complex flavours. It all adds up to a truly delicious salad. Just perfect for these warmer days.
2 TBS cider vinegar
2 TBS heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces blue cheese
(I like to use either Cashel Blue or Stilton)
2 fat little gem lettuces
2 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 TBS sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Whisk the vinegar and cream together with a little seasoning. Whisk in the sugar until it dissolves. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Fold in the cheese.
Wash the lettuces and dry them really well. Cut the lettuces into wedges lengthwise and fan them out on 4 chilled salad plates. Drizzle over the dressing, dividing it equally amongst the salads. Sprinkle evenly with the spring onions.
Note - I sometimes like to add some chopped radish, especially when I have fresh ones from my garden like right now.
Monday, 22 June 2009
Ratatouille is one of those dishes that I am sure the French invented to get rid of the bits and bobs of vegetables that were hanging around at the end of the week. It's a kitchen sink kind of a dish, with all sort of delicious vegetables tossed in and cooked into a wonderfully tasty and rich melange.
I like the vegetables in mine to remain rather distinct and so I like to keep them into medium/large chunks. I also like to use Molly Wizenberg's technique of roasting the aubergine first. I'm not sure why it should make a difference, but it does . . .
Crusty bread is a must to help sop up all those deliciously rich juices.
This is peasant food, comfortingly simple, with rich and complex flavours . . .
Serves 4 to 6
This is one of those dishes that is quite tasty as well as comforting. It's also one of those dishes that tastes better the longer you let it stand . . . rich and flavourful, and just right served with fresh crusty bread to sop up all the delicious juices.
1 kg aubergines, cut into pieces (eggplants to you North Americans)
extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 red peppers, halved, deseeded and cut into pieces
2 yellow peppers, halved, deseeded and cut into pieces
6 smallish courgettes, trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut into pieces
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
6 medium tomatoes, halved and chopped
a small bunch of basil, coarsely chopped
a sprig of Thyme
a bay leaf
coarse sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Slice your aubergines and brush them on one side with some olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and roast in a hot oven (200*C/400*F) for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, flip over and brush the other sides with some olive oil and return them to the heated oven to roast for another 15 minutes. They should be lightly browned when done. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Heat 3 TBS of olive oil in a large casserole with a lid. Add the onions and cook until soft, some 3 to 5 minutes. Salt lightly. Add all of the peppers and cook for 5 to 8 minutes longer, stirring often. Turn up the heat to keep the sizzling sound going, but don't let it burn. Season lightly again. Add one more tablespoon of the oil and the courgettes. Mix well and cook for about 5 minutes longer. Add the roasted aubergine, cut into chunks along with the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the tomatoes, basil, thyme and the bay leaf. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring, then lower the heat and cover. Simmer gently for for 30 minutes, checking occasionally and giving it a good stir. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaf. This tastes best when served at room temperature. Garnish with a few sliced basil leaves and a good grinding of black pepper.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
I had a bowl of cherries sitting there just waiting for me to do something with yesterday. I love cherries and it is getting near to the end of the season for them here I think.
Cherry sellers are a very common sight around here in the late springtime, almost summer. You see their signs all over the place, down winding country lanes, on busy town streets . . . the tell tale white board, painted with a sprig of bright red cherries. They sit there with their tables piled, and piled with oodles and oodles of the little red gems, scales waiting for you to stop and buy. They measure them into the scales and pop them into a paper bag. Nothing tastes better than a warm paper bag filled to the brim with warm, sweet cherries. It is a taste I look forward to every year . . .
And when I have had my fill of eating them raw, I want to make something delicious with them . . . perhaps a cherry pie, or strudel, or cake . . .
This year I tried something that I have always wanted to try, but for some reason had never gotten around to. No, it's not so pretty to look at, but what it lacks in appearance, it more than makes up for in flavour. This is absolutely gorgeous served warm, with some cream spooned over top.
Mmmm . . . a custard like batter, baked around sweet cherries. I believe this is one of the finest French puddings around, and I love that I can have it here in my English kitchen, if only for a short while each year. Cherry season seems to come and go overnight . . .
500g fresh cherries, stoned
200ml whole milk
200 ml double cream
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a pinch salt
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise with a small sharp knife
50g plain flour
cream for serving
Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Butter a large shallow baking dish well and then sprinkle it with some sugar. Drop the cherries into the dish and set aside while you make the batter.
Put the milk, cream, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and salt into a bowl and whisk together. Using the tip of a knife, scrape the vanilla seeds into the mixture. (drop the spent pod into your sugar canister to give it a lovely vanilla fragrance and flavour) Sift in the flour and whisk well together. Pour this batter over the cherries in the baking dish.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until puffed and golden. (don't be dismayed if it sinks shortly after removing it from the oven, that is quite natural)
Serve spooned out into dessert dishes with lashings of pouring cream on the side. Enjoy!
Saturday, 20 June 2009
Beautifully green podded Broad Beans are in season and at their peak right now. I love them. In America you might know them as Fava Beans.
You need to buy broad beans that are as fresh as possible. The pods should be bright in colour and crisp. Don't bother if they are limp and tired looking, or if they feel soft with pockets of air inside.
Unless they are really young and tender, you will have to remove the beans from the pods, as the pods will be unedible. Put the beans in a pan, cover with boiling water, return to the boil and cook for 3-5 minutes. Then drain, empty into cold water, slit each pod along its seam and run your thumb along the furry inside to push the beans out. I really don't like the tough outer skin that covers each of the little beans, and so I always double pod them by taking a fingernail and slitting that outer skin open and slipping the tender sweet bright green bean inside . . . out! It can be a fiddly and time consuming job, especially if you are preparing a lot of them, but it is well worth the effort in my opinion. The beans will then be ready to re-heat gently with some butter and a bit of salt and black pepper, or to use in another recipe, such as the delicious one I have here today.
I loved this and could have made a meal of this alone.
*Baked Potatoes with Broad Beans, Rocket and Blue Cheese*
Imagine a tasty baked potato, it's skin all crispy and split open . . . topped with a delicious blue cheese sauce stogged full of fresh broad beans and tasty rocket. This is wonderfully delicious!
4 large baking potatoes
300g broad beans
1/3 cup cream
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
4 handfuls or rocket, chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F. Wash the potatoes, and while still damp, rub them all over with a little coarse salt. Prick them several times with a fork and then place them into the oven, sitting them directly onto the oven rack. (This will help their skins to become really nice and crisp) Bake for 1 hour, then check by squeezing them gently, to see if they are done. If they are done they will yield slightly. If they are still hard, then bake them for another 15 minutes and try again.
Cook the broad beans in some lightly salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain well and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well again. Slip off the outer grey skins by using your nail to slit open the skin and then popping the bright green bean out. Discard the outer grey skin. Set aside the beans.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Add the broad beans and cook them gently for several minutes. Add the blue cheese and the rocket. Stir everything together and cook until the rocket has wilted.
Take your cooked potatoes and cut a cross in one side of each and squeeze the potatoes around the middle until they open up. Place each on a heated plate. Spoon some of the broad bean mixture over the top of each. Season with some black pepper and serve.
Friday, 19 June 2009
Sometimes you are short on time and are just looking for something quick to make for your tea.
Sometimes you are short on money and you are looking for something economical to make for your tea.
Sometimes you just happen to have a loaf of brioche that needs using up, not to mention eggs and some pancetta that is about to go out of date.
Sometimes you just want comfort . . .
*Eggy Bread with Crispy Pancetta*
Brioche makes the perfect bread for making Eggy Bread and, when you accompany it with some crisp pancetta, you have a marriage made in heaven. Todd likes his plain, but the North American in me cannot resist eating this with a good dousing of Maple Syrup!
3 TBS double cream
3 large free range organic eggs
3 TBS caster sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
8 thick slices of brioche, cut in half diagonally
1 TBS olive oil
12 slices pancetta
Place the cream, eggs, sugar and cinnamon into a wide, shallow bowl. Wisk together well. Soak the bread slices in the egg mixture, one at a time, allowing any excess to drain off.
Melt some butter in a large non-stick skillet. Once it begins to foam and sizzle, add 3 to 4 pieces of bread in a single layer. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Remove to a heated plate and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest, adding butter as needed.
Once you have all the bread cooked, and in a separate skillet, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the Pancetta and fry until crisp. Remove and drain on paper kitchen toweling.
Divide the eggy bread between four plates and top each with 3 slices of crispy pancetta. Serve immediately with or without lashings of Maple Syrup!