Recipe – Carrot Halva

Making Indian desserts can be a bit time consuming but they aren’t complicated and don’t require special skills or equipment. They are however, totally worth it.

The milk-based varieties are notoriously rich and make an elegant dinner party sweetmeat; a lovely alternative to the ubiquitous slab of American pie or cake. They will also pique people’s curiosity leading to lively conversation, in the event you’re running out of things to talk about.

I love the idea of making a sticky-sweet dessert out of a vegetable. Carrot Halva is dense and rich-tasting, as the slow cooking process concentrates the natural sweetness of the carrots.

The only effort required is your willingness to stir the contents of the pan every now and then, for up to an hour.

This is a delicious, fragrant pudding that’s best served warm or at room temperature, topped with a blob of crème fraîche.

Carrot Halva – an Indian Dessert

CARROT HALVA (Adapted from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe)

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

1lb (450g) of organic carrots, washed and trimmed (buy them ready-washed in a bag)

1 1/4 pints (700ml) of full fat milk

8 whole green cardamom pods, very slightly cracked open

5 tablespoons of ghee (clarified butter), coconut or canola oil

5 tablespoons of fine white sugar

2 tablespoons of golden raisins or sultanas

1 heaped tablespoon of pine nuts, lightly toasted

A good pinch of saffron

crème fraîche or clotted cream to serve (optional)

Action:

Pulse the carrots in a food processor until very finely chopped. In a heavy-based saucepan, combine the milk, saffron, cardamom and carrots and bring the mixture to a boil.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until all the liquid has evaporated. This will take 40-60 minutes.

Once all the liquid has boiled off, heat the oil over medium heat in a separate non-stick pan. Transfer the carrot mixture to the pan and stir fry until it becomes a rich, deep orange color, about 5 minutes.

Add the sugar, raisins and pine nuts and continue to stir-fry for a couple of minutes until everything is well combined and the sugar has dissolved.

Once the sugar has completely melted, divide the halva between 4 small dishes or bowls and shape it into small mounds.

Allow it to cool slightly if serving it warm, or to room temperature. Just before serving, top the halva with a dollop of crème fraîche, heavy cream or clotted cream.

Posted in Gluten Free Desserts, Indian & Asian Cuisine | Leave a comment

Recipe – Mushrooms on Toast

Here’s something simple yet satisfying when faced with a carton of fresh mushrooms and not much else. A few sprigs of rosemary, a scattering of parsley and the rest you probably already have in your fridge or cupboard. 

Use any mushrooms you like; they don’t have to be of the fancy, wild edible variety – but I don’t recommend shiitake; too chewy, too fusty-smelling.

A deliciously simple vegetarian  lunch or appetizer dish – served on hot, lightly-toasted baguette.

Mushrooms on Toast

MUSHROOMS ON TOAST

(Serves 4 as an appetizer or two for lunch)

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon of extra-v olive oil

2 tablespoons of cold butter – separated

2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup (240ml) of vegetable or chicken stock

a pinch of fresh rosemary, finely minced

1 heaped tablespoon of chopped flat leaf parsley

A grind of sea salt and black pepper to taste

Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano to serve

Action:

Wipe the mushrooms clean and cut into quarters, chunks, or leave whole if very small, or of the floppy wild variety.

Heat a large saute pan then add the olive oil and half of the butter. Once the butter is foaming, add the mushrooms and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Add the sherry vinegar and lemon juice; toss around and cook until it reduces, then add the stock and reduce again by half. Toss in the fresh herbs (save some parsley to scatter over the mushroom toasts), followed by the remaining chilled butter – stir everything together well.

Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and pile the mushroom mixture onto hot, toasted bread, topped with shaved Parmesan and a scattering of parsley.

Serve immediately.

Posted in Made in Under 30 mins, Salads & Appetizers, Vegetables / Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Recipe – Spaghetti with Clams

Living so far from any coastline, I’m naturally nervous about buying fresh clams, just in case they aren’t.

Wild-caught, canned baby clams on the other hand, are risk-free and work wonderfully well when combine with bottled clam juice.

Add a few cloves of garlic, olive oil, a splash of dry vermouth, a scattering of dried red chili, a handful of parsley and an anchovy or two, and you’ll have a deeply satisfying spaghetti supper that only takes 20 minutes to make.

I could eat this every day, it’s that good. No grated Parmesan is necessary but feel free if you can’t live without it.

Spaghetti with a White Clam Sauce

SPAGHETTI WITH A WHITE CLAM SAUCE

(Enough for two)

Ingredients:

1/2lb (230g) of spaghetti or linguine

3 tablespoons of good olive oil

2 large anchovy fillets

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced

A scattering of dried chili flakes to taste

1/2 cup (118ml) of dry vermouth

10oz (284g) can of baby clams, drained

1/2 cup (118ml) of bottled clam juice

Sea salt

A handful of chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

Action:

While you’re bring the water to a boil to cook the spaghetti, warm the olive oil in a deep sauté pan and add the anchovies and garlic. Turn up the heat a bit and once the anchovies have begun to dissolve and the garlic turns golden, add the chili flakes followed by  the vermouth. Bring it to a simmer and after a couple of minutes, add the clam juice and clams. Return it to a gentle simmer and give it a good grind of sea salt.

Keep it simmering on a low setting but make sure you retain at least half of the liquid.

Drain the pasta quickly when it’s 1 minute from being perfectly al-dente and tip it into the pan with the clams and their sauce. Toss everything gently to combine and continue to cook for another minute before adding the chopped parsley.

Serve immediately with or without grated Parmesan.

Posted in Fish & Seafood, Made in Under 30 mins, Pasta | Leave a comment

Recipe – Nigel’s Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut Praline

Nigel Slater that is, my favorite British writer who cooks and who I would never dare refer to as a ‘foodie’. A pet peeve of his.

Anyway, this is a very rich and dark chocolatey pud that hides under a thin, crisp, dark chocolate shell and a chunky scattering of golden, hazelnut praline.

A chocolate lover’s dream that happens to be really easy to make (especially if you make a big batch of praline and keep it in the freezer, as I do).

Nigel's Dark Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut Praline

Nigel’s Dark Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut Praline

NIGEL SLATER’S DARK CHOCOLATE MOUSSE WITH HAZELNUT PRALINE

(Serves 6)

Ingredients:

9 oz (250g) of good dark chocolate

1.5 oz (40g) of butter cut into small pieces

3 tablespoons of espresso

5 eggs, separated

For the topping:

3.5 oz (100g) of dark chocolate, set aside

3-4 heaped tablespoons or more of hazelnut praline (recipe below)

Action:

Break the chocolate into small pieces (or use dark chocolate chips) and put them in a bowl set over barely simmering water – make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t come in to contact with the water, otherwise it will get too hot and the chocolate will ‘seize’ (become hard and gritty).

Once the chocolate has melted, add the butter then the espresso, stirring thoroughly to mix. Take it off the heat and quickly fold in the egg yolks, giving it a really good stir.

Beat the egg whites until billowy then fold them into the mousse using a large metal spoon in a cutting motion, until there are no white bits left to be seen.

Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and chill for 4 hours or overnight.

Now is the time to make praline if you haven’t already.

Praline:

In a heavy-based pan, combine equal quantities of whole raw hazelnuts (or almonds, pistachios, etc) and white sugar. Melt the sugar over a very low heat. The nuts will start to smell a bit toasty. This takes a while so don’t be tempted to crank up the heat.

Eventually the sugar will become a deep golden color and runny. When it reaches the runny stage with no granules left, quickly pour the entire contents of the pan onto a large greased baking sheet and allow it to cool and harden.

Once it’s hard, break it into pieces and grind it in a food processor until you have a fairly fine powder – or bash it with a rolling pin in a sealed plastic bag until you have random shards and nutty chunks. I keep both types in my freezer in little airtight containers.

When the mousse has set, break up the remaining chocolate and melt it in a bowl over simmering water as before. Once the chocolate is good and runny, pour it over the chilled mousse and spread it evenly, topped with a scattering of hazelnut praline.

Chill in the fridge until the chocolate has set (at least 30 mins).

You can make this 1 or two days before – just keep it covered in the fridge.

Posted in Desserts, Gluten Free Desserts | 2 Comments

Recipe – Baked Orzo with Shrimp, Saffron, Lemon & Tomatoes

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to serve shrimp and this lovely baked pasta dish delivers bright, fresh flavors. Positively bulging with big, fat juicy shrimp and topped with tangy feta cheese, this is a lively, fragrant, satisfying dish that’s lighter than many baked pasta dishes.

Similar to risotto in preparation  – but then you stick it in the oven for 20 minutes, making it a perfect supper dish for entertaining.

This recipe is best made just before you want to serve it, so get everything prepped and ready to assemble beforehand.

*Saffron is a rather luxurious spice but well worth investing in – a kitchen treasure that enhances desserts, cookies and rice dishes among other things.

Baked Orzo with Shrimp, Saffron, Lemon & Tomatoes

BAKED ORZO PASTA with SHRIMP, SAFFRON, LEMON & TOMATOES

(Serves 8)

Ingredients:

1.5lbs (680g) of fresh shrimp (preferably wild caught), peeled and de-veined

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons of x-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

4-6 cloves of garlic, crushed

1lb (450g) of orzo pasta

1 large pinch of *saffron

1 tablespoon of lemon zest

4 cups (1ltr) of chicken broth

1 cup (240ml) of water

28 oz (800g) can of chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped

12 oz (340g) of feta cheese, crumbled

To finish:

2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice

A handful of Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped

Action:

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Oil a 9 x 13 inch (22 x 33cm) baking dish.

Toss the prepared shrimp in sea salt and black pepper and set it aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the oil and gently saute the onion and red pepper.. Cook over a medium heat until softened, stirring frequently. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute then add the orzo pasta, saffron and lemon zest.

Stir well for a minute until the orzo is coated with oil, then pour in the broth and water. Bring it to a good simmer, add a generous pinch of sea salt and cook, stirring frequently until just below the orzo recommended cooking time (you want it to be still quite ‘al dente’ before you put it in the oven – 8 minutes approx). Most of the liquid will have been absorbed at this point.

Check the seasoning then add the tomatoes, shrimp and oregano. Transfer it to the baking dish and top with the crumbled feta cheese. Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the shrimp is cooked through and the feta is starting to brown in places.

Serve right away, scattered with chopped parsley and a drizzle of lemon juice.

Baked Orzo with Shrimp, Saffron, Lemon and  Tomatoes

Baked Orzo with Shrimp, Saffron, Lemon & Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

Posted in Fish & Seafood, Pasta | 5 Comments

Recipe – Chili Cornbread

Another easy recipe that freezes well. Cornbread can be rather sweet, almost dessert-like but I prefer a more savory version and this is exactly that.

Fresh chilies, green onion and cilantro (coriander leaf) lift this up and out of the dessert category. I like to serve it toasted with ripe avocado or with lots of butter.  Chili cornbread also makes a wonderful accompaniment to this very easy chicken tortilla soup recipe – in fact I’ll replace crispy tortilla strips with toasted cornbread any day.

Chili Cornbread with Scallions & Cilantro

CHILI CORNBREAD WITH SCALLIONS & CILANTRO

(Makes about 12 slices)

Ingredients:

1 3/4 oz (50g) of butter, melted

9oz (250g) of quick-cooking polenta

4 1/2 oz (125g) of plain, all purpose flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

2 teaspoons of salt

2 teaspoons of sugar

19 fl oz (568ml) of buttermilk

2 eggs

3 scallions (spring onions) trimmed and sliced thinly

Small handful of cilantro (coriander) chopped

2 red chilies – seeded and finely chopped

Action:

Heat the oven to 395F (200C ). Grease and line the base and long sides of a 2lb (900ml) loaf tin.

In a large bowl combine the polenta, flour, salt, sugar and baking powder.

Mix the buttermilk, eggs and melted butter in a separate bowl and stir this into the dry ingredients. Finally, fold in the chilies, scallions and chopped cilantro/coriander. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth out the top.

Bake for 45-50 minutes. The top should be golden and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. If it looks like it’s browning too quickly, cover it with a piece of foil during the last 10 minutes or so.

Cool it completely in the loaf pan before turning out. It keeps well for a couple of days in an airtight container – or freeze it for later.

Posted in Bread & Cakes, Vegetables / Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Recipe – Poached Egg Vol-au-Vents with Spinach, Wild Mushrooms, Goat Cheese & Hollandaise

Someone just gave me a few duck eggs and I already had a stash of sauteed chanterelles and frozen puff pastry in the freezer, so this was pretty easy to put together.

However, the simple recipe below is made from scratch and as it’s rather rich, it would make a luxurious brunch or *drunch dish  – either way it’s quite wonderful.

Duck eggs are almost twice the size of regular hen eggs, which explains the top heavy pic but they aren’t necessary and neither are the chanterelles.  Good old chuck eggs and little brown ‘shrooms would do very nicely here.

*drunch = one of those lingering lunches accompanied by good wine.

poached egg vol au vents with wild mushrooms, spinach & goat cheese

Poached Egg Vol-au-Vent with Spinach, Wild Mushrooms, Goat Cheese & Hollandaise

POACHED EGG VOL-AU-VENTS WITH WILD MUSHROOMS, SPINACH, GOAT CHEESE & HOLLANDAISE SAUCE

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

4 uncooked puff pastry vol-au-vent cases

A splash of olive oil

3oz (85g) of soft mild goat cheese

5oz (140g) of ready-washed baby spinach leaves

3oz (85g) of fresh wild mushrooms such as porcini or chanterelles – or small crimini/brown chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced

4 large eggs (hen or duck)

Sea salt

A few snipped chives to finish

Ingredients for the easy microwave hollandaise sauce:

2 large egg yolks

Juice of a quarter to ½ a lemon, to taste

A pinch of cayenne

A pinch of sea salt

4 tablespoons of butter, melted

Action:

To make the pastry cases and filling:

To make the vol-au-vents, preheat the oven to 425F and bake them for 18 mins until puffed and golden. When cool enough to handle, pull off and discard the tops and any uncooked pastry inside, leaving a hollow, crisp shell. Keep warm.

(Can be made ahead; just keep in an airtight container at room temp)

For the filling and while the pastry is cooking, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan set over a medium heat. When the pan is hot, sauté the mushrooms until golden, add the baby spinach and cook, stirring until it’s wilted.  Take it off the heat and stir in the goat cheese until it melts. Cover and set it aside while you poach the eggs and make the hollandaise.

(The filling can also be made ahead – cover and chill but bring it to room temp before stuffing the vol-au vents, then warm them through in a 350F oven while you poach the eggs and make the sauce)

While the vol-au-vents are heating through, bring a pan of salted water to a boil and poach the eggs for 3-4 minutes depending on size.

While the eggs are poaching, make the hollandaise. In a microwaveable bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, cayenne and salt. In a thin stream, pour the melted butter over the yolk mixture, whisking all the time. Microwave for 10 seconds then whisk. Repeat this 4 – 5 times or until you have a lovely thick sauce.

Serve right away on warmed plates – top each spinach and mushroom-stuffed pastry case with a poached egg and a couple of tablespoons of hollandaise followed by a sprinkle of snipped chives.

Posted in Eggs, Made in Under 30 mins, Vegetables / Vegetarian | Leave a comment