Recipe – Chocolate Shortbread Cookies with Tart Cherries

These tender little melt-in-the-mouth cookies are ridiculously simple to make in a food processor.

The dried tart cherries are optional. You could use dried cranberries or leave them out altogether. I happen to love the contrast between a rich, chocolatey, buttery cookie and little pieces of mouthwateringly tart dried cherry…not too much, just enough to tweak your taste buds.

You can also substitute the ground almonds for flour, making this a little more economical. Don’t worry, they’ll still be perfect.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies with Tart Cherries

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies with Tart Cherries

 CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD COOKIES WITH DRIED TART CHERRIES

(Makes 20-30 cookies)

Ingredients:

4.5oz (138g) of all-purpose flour

4.5 oz (138g) of ground almonds

1 oz (25g) of best quality cocoa powder

A pinch of salt

8 oz (250g) of unsalted butter cut into small pieces, at room temp

5oz (150g) of powdered sugar – plus extra for dusting

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup of tart dried cherries or cranberries, chopped (optional)

Action:

Put all the dry ingredients in  the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter and vanilla. Pulse until you have a stiff dough.

Scrape the dough onto a board lined with cling film and with another piece of cling film on top, roll the dough into a couple of cylinder shapes approx 12 inches (30cm)  long and 2 inches (5cm) in diameter.

Wrap these in cling film and put in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes or until they’re quite firm but not too firm to cut.

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C).

Grease a couple of cookie sheets and once the dough is firm, cut into rounds about 1/2 inch (1.5cm) thick. Arrange on the cookie sheets at least 2 inches (5cm) apart as they’ll spread.

Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar.

Store them in an airtight container and they’ll last a week but it’s unlikely,  because you’ll have devoured them all.

Posted in Cookies & Edible Gifts | 2 Comments

Recipe – Baked Celery with Stilton & Walnuts

When it comes to cooked vegetables, celery is generally overlooked which is a shame because it has a wonderful robust flavor that goes brilliantly with roast meat or fowl  – and the addition of walnuts and Stilton cheese takes it right off the charts.

Your kitchen will be filled with the most delicious aroma and my sensitive nose decided that it would be a perfect accompaniment to a traditional Sunday lunch of roast beef.

Of course it can go with anything you want and it stands alone very well as a vegetarian dish.

Adapted from a Delia Smith recipe.

Baked Celery with Stilton, Walnuts & Creme Fraiche

Baked Celery with Stilton & Walnuts

BAKED CELERY WITH STILTON & WALNUTS

(Severs 4 -6 as a side dish)

Ingredients:

8oz (225g) of celery stalks, washed, trimmed, stripped of all stringy bits and cut into thirds

2oz (56g) of good English Stilton, crumbled

2-3 heaped tablespoons of crème fraîche

2 heaped tablespoons of breadcrumbs

3/4 tablespoon of butter

1/4 cup (59ml measure) of chopped walnuts

Celery salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Action:

Heat the oven to 395F (200C).

Start by steaming the celery for 8-10 minutes until it’s tender – drain and cool a bit.

Butter an 8-inch (20cm) gratin or baking dish, arrange the celery snugly in the dish and season with a little celery salt and freshly ground black pepper. Distribute the crumbled Stilton evenly over the celery then smear the crème fraîche as best you can over all of that.

Melt the butter and combine with the breadcrumbs, chopped walnuts and another grind of black pepper and celery salt to taste. Scatter over the top and bake for 25-35 minutes until golden in patches and the celery is complete tender.

Serve right away.

 

 

Posted in Vegetables / Vegetarian | 4 Comments

Recipe – Chicken Roasted in Milk with Aromatics

This is one of those weird and wonderful recipes that really works. Originating from Jamie Oliver, it yields a deliciously moist and fragrant chicken.

The fact that it’s ridiculously easy to make, is also a huge plus.

The lemon zest will curdle the milk but but that’s exactly what you want here as the curds make a wonderful sauce. Serve it over mashed potatoes with your favorite green vegetables on the side and with plenty of sauce spooned over. The whole garlic cloves will slip right out of their skins…a delicious mouthful!

You’ll need a deep ovenproof pan that will take the chicken quite snugly but leaving enough space so that you can baste the chicken while it’s roasting.

Chicken roasted with milk and aromatics

CHICKEN ROASTED WITH MILK AND AROMATICS

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

A chicken weighing 3.5lb (1.5k)

A couple of tablespoons of hi-temp oil such as avocado oil

A small stick of cinnamon

About 10 fresh sage leaves

The finely shredded zest of 2 lemons

10 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

20 fl oz (565ml) of milk

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Action:

Pre-heat the oven to 375F (190C).

chicken-roasted-with-milk-and-aromatics-004Season the bird all over with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in the pan and lightly brown the chicken all over, then remove it to a plate and discard the oil but leave any brown sticky bits in the bottom of the pan.

Put the chicken back in the pan along with everything else and roast for one and a half hours, basting at 30 minute intervals.

Alternatively, cook with a lid on for the first hour – this will yield more sauce but you’ll have less of a roasted-looking chicken.

Once cooked, pull all the meat off the bones and arrange the chicken on a warmed serving plate with the sauce and garlic cloves poured over. Serve immediately with your favorite veg.

Posted in Poultry | 1 Comment

Recipe – Sweet Potato, Butternut & Ginger Soup

This warming golden soup is so comforting and very easy to make, especially if you have a blender. It came about as a result of my rummaging in the fridge looking for soup ingredients and this was all I had. And I’m very glad I did because it’s become one of my favorite winter soups.

I make batches of ginger paste which I highly recommend because you can add a touch more ginger at the very end, allowing the gingery aroma to perfume the soup without overwhelming it. It also means you aren’t constantly throwing out moldy lumps of fresh ginger that lurk in your fridge because you bought too much the last time.

Instructions on making ginger (or garlic) paste are below.

Sweet Potato, Ginger & Butternut Squash Soup

Sweet Potato, Ginger & Butternut Squash Soup

SWEET POTATO, BUTTERNUT & GINGER SOUP

(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

2lbs (1kilo) of butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out

1 very large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch (5cm) chunks

1-2 tablespoons of ginger paste, divided to taste (instructions to follow)

1 bay leaf

1 medium-large yellow onion, peeled and chopped

2 quarts of vegetable or chicken broth

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Action:

Heat the oven to 350F (180C). Brush the cut sides of the squash with a little oil, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and place cut sides down on a foil lined baking tray. Roast for 45 minutes or until tender when squeezed. Cool and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Transfer to a large heavy saucepan with a lid and add the remaining ingredients. Season to taste with a good grind of sea salt and freshly milled black pepper.

Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender. Add a touch more ginger paste for a really fragrant soup and once it’s cooled enough, remove the bay leaf, adjust the seasoning and blend the lot until you have a lovely smooth, golden  soup.

This soup freezes really well, as does the ginger paste, directions below:

Peel a large lump of fresh ginger and cut it into chunks. Blend in a food processor with a small splash of water and a little vegetable oil (not extra-v olive oil), until you have a soft paste. Add more water/oil if you think it looks too stiff. Freeze in ice cube trays for use in any recipe that required fresh ginger – and it keeps in the fridge in a small screw-top jar for a couple of weeks as well.

Note – you can do the exact same thing with peeled garlic cloves to make a garlic paste.

 

 

 

Posted in Soups, Vegan, Vegetables / Vegetarian | 4 Comments

Recipe – Chickpea and Smoked Tofu Stew with Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes

Many decades ago I spent an entire summer in Ibiza, long before it became popular with the crazy party people. A charming and historic fishing port, it was sleepy and quaint back then and the island had some fabulous under-populated beaches. There were huge fig trees, their branches draped over sun-warmed stone walls, drooping under the weight of dusty purple fruit. So easy to pluck as you dawdled by.

The food was excellent and I’ve never forgotten a sort of stew/casserole that was so deeply smoky and bursting with robust Mediterranean flavors that the minute I returned to the UK, I had to make it. I recreated it from memory so this is my interpretation and its been a favorite ‘go-to’ recipe for years.

Long ago I substituted the chunks of wonderful smoked Spanish bacon with cubes of smoked tofu and the result was so good that I haven’t made it any other way since.

Note – smoked tofu is widely available in the UK but not over here. You can easily recreate the wonderful smoke flavor by marinating firm tofu in all-natural hickory liquid smoke for about an hour or so.

Chickpea and Smoked Tofu Stew with Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes

Chickpea and Smoked Tofu Stew with Sweet Peppers and Tomatoes

 CHICKPEAS and SMOKED TOFU with SWEET PEPPERS, TOMATOES and ROSEMARY

(Serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

1lb (450g) of extra firm tofu, cut into 1 inch /2.5cm chunks

1.5 tablespoons of all natural hickory liquid smoke

1 medium onion, diced

1 large red (yellow or orange) and 1 large green pepper, seeded and cut into 1 inch /2.5cm chunks

1 large stalk of celery, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 heaped tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary plus extra to serve

one bay leaf

2 x 14.5oz (411g) cans of chopped Italian tomatoes and their juice

2 x 15oz (425g) cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons of tomato paste/puree, dissolved in 1 pint (450ml) of hot water

Olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Action:

Start by marinating the tofu in liquid smoke for 1 – 8 hrs. A ziplok plastic bag will do and if you’re marinating for more than an hour, put it in the fridge.

In a heavy wide saute pan with a lid, gently heat the oil and sweat the onion, garlic and celery over a low heat until softened then add the peppers and rosemary. Continue to stir for a few minutes then add the tomatoes, chickpeas, bay leaf and tofu. Stir gently to mix then pour in the hot tomato stock.

Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 to one and a half hours, until the vegetables are soft.

Serve in warmed bowls, perhaps with some hot crusty bread on the side.

This tastes even better the next day and keeps in the fridge covered for several days. It also freezes brilliantly.

Posted in Vegan, Vegetables / Vegetarian | 4 Comments

London – It’s All About The Food!

Or should I say, Borough Market in London is all about the food.

London is widely recognized as the food capital of the world but if all you’ve done is stuff your face in the countless world-class Indian, Asian, Chinese, French, Italian, Eastern European and traditional British restaurants and ‘gastro-pubs’,  then you’ve missed an absolute jewel located on the South Bank of the Thames close to London Bridge and its Tube Station.

Borough Market has a fascinating history as an ancient landmark and food-centric gathering place, with the basis for its millennium celebration being the year 1014 A.D. if you can imagine that!

Dominated on one side by Southwark Cathedral, another equally ancient landmark, the market’s surroundings couldn’t be more interesting or more ‘London’. Not 200 yards away languishing in a protected wharf, sits the 100% authentic replica of Sir Frances Drake’s ship, ‘The Golden Hind II’ – a colorful and fascinating piece of history. Take a tour and marvel at how spoiled we’ve become by not having to endure such cramped spaces, or sit  Thames-side and admire it while relaxing over a great cup of coffee that puts Starbucks to shame. ‘The Golden Hind II’ was built using the exact same materials as the original and has sailed over 100,000 miles, which is many leagues more than number one ever did.

Another of London’s (newer) landmarks, ‘The Shard’ building, can be seen from the perimeter of the market. I think it looks unfinished but then I’m a bit traditional in my taste.

That’s enough of the history, now back to the food. Borough Market has been high on my bucket list for years, so a friend and  I made a day of it just before Christmas. London does Christmas really well with carolers, twinkling fir trees, holly, mistletoe and pretty lights festooned everywhere but to really get you into the festive spirit, there’s nothing like a great food-focused market.

The market opens to the public at 10AM and is mainly covered, so any inclement British weather shouldn’t be a deterrent. I recommend getting there early because by lunchtime it’s a seething crush of hungry people who’ve left their work stations to grab lunch. Spirits were particularly high as hot spiced wine was being offered from the start and I can confirm that a steaming mug of fragrant Christmas punch goes down really well at ten-thirty in the morning on a crisp, cold December day.

Another reason to get there early is that just about every stall will offer you a tempting taste. You could eat a whole day’s-worth of food for free by sampling  everything from Turkish delight, Christmas pudding, Artisan breads, truffle-scented oils, cheeses and charcuterie, to traditional paella and Malaysia curries that are lovingly tended to in vast, shallow pans the size of wagon wheels – and all in no particular order.

When you first arrive, your eyes will bulge at the towering displays of British and European cheeses, the wild Scottish game both large and small; huge glass jars of fat black and white truffles; pyramids of individual meringues as big as your head; whole candied jewel-like fruits, translucent and glistening with syrup; assorted salamis displayed in antique leather suitcases, stuffed upright like little soldiers –  and vegetable greens that are so wondrously, vividly green that you’ll stare at them for several minutes just soaking it all in.

A whole pig roasting on a spit with ‘Happy Christmas’ carved into the crackling had me passing by several times, just to relish the golden magnificence of it.

And then there are spices from all corners of the globe along with some new and different confections such as powdered fruits. Tiny plastic containers of blackcurrant, mango and strawberry powder traveled back to the US without a hitch.

And I have to mention the fish. Living in Colorado, our piscatorial selections are pitiful. On the other hand, any small island surrounded by ocean and sea will have plenty. The market has a mind-boggling array of the freshest, most diverse and gorgeous-looking fish, live shellfish and crustaceans, imaginable. Oysters that were bigger than my hand and fish that I haven’t set eyes on for over 20 years – beautifully arranged,  gleaming fresher than fresh and I suspect, were swimming around only a matter of hours previously.

I could go on but that would be pure self indulgence and a bit masochistic as it’s going to be at least eight months before I’ll be able to visit Borough Market again.

All I can say is that unless you don’t give a damn about food – and if that’s the case you aren’t reading this anyway – try to find time in your travel schedule to visit London’s Borough Market and feast your eyes, fill your shopping bag, be inspired, eat roast pig carved right from the spit, dive into a bowl of  Ethiopian stew or Gujarati curry…whatever food your heart desires, you’ll find it here  – and you’ll most certainly fall in love!

Posted in Food & Travel | 5 Comments

Recipe – Apple & Mincemeat Tart

This makes a wonderful alternative if you’re looking for something  festive that’s lighter than a traditional British Christmas pudding. This luscious tart captures the very essence of those flavors and will appeal to anyone who loves the heady combination of brandy-soaked dried fruits, almonds and candied citrus peels.

I used homemade mincemeat (recipe here) but any good store-bought mincemeat will do. The same goes for the pastry crust if you’re pushed for time.

This tart isn’t the prettiest dessert, so a good dusting of powdered sugar before serving will help and it’s best served at room temperature, maybe with some really good vanilla ice cream on the side.

If you’re making the crust yourself, you’ll need a 9-10 inch (22-25cm) loose-based tart tin.

Apple & Mincemeat Tart

Apple & Mincemeat Tart

 APPLE & MINCEMEAT TART

(Serves 8-10)

Ingredients for the pastry if you’re making your own (can be made 24 hrs ahead):

1 and 2/3 cups (400ml measure) of all-purpose (plain) flour

2 tablespoons of fine white sugar

Pinch of salt

1 ¼ sticks (5 oz/142g) of chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Approx 3 tablespoons of iced water

1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

Action:

Start by making the pastry at least 2 hours ahead. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the food processor and pulse. Add the butter and pulse again until it’s the consistency of coarse meal.

Add a couple of tablespoons of water, the egg yolk and vanilla. Pulse until you have big moist clumps, adding a tiny bit more water if it seems too dry.

Carefully scoop out the dough, lightly press it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and flatten into a disc. Chill it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.

To make the pie crust, take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to soften slightly. On a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin or your wine bottle, roll the dough out until you have a round that’s approx 14ins/36cm across.

Drape the pastry over your rolling pin/wine bottle and fit it carefully into the tart tin. Cut the overhang to about ¾ inch/2cm and fold that back in, pressing the pastry evenly in the tin so that you have about ¼ inch/½ cm poking up above the rim. Prick the base all over with a fork and stick it in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking at 375F (190C) for 12 -15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling by combining the following:

2 cups (480ml measure) of mincemeat made with brandy or rum

2 cups (480ml measure) of unsweetened apple puree

1 teaspoon of finely shredded orange zest

1/3 cup (80ml) of heavy cream

Pour the filling into the prebaked crust and bake at 375F (190C) for 35-40 minutes or until set and golden on top.

Cool the tart to room temperature before serving.

*Note – if you have any leftover filling, freeze it for another use, like stuffing it into a puff pastry turnover or something like that.

Posted in Desserts | Leave a comment