Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Warming the House

A gorgeous night, the unveiling of our friends' new house-extension, interiors worthy of Home and Garden, lovely people in fullest socialising mode, the drinks were flowing freely and the hosts asked me to cook... and I love to cook party food.
I agonised over Mediterranen vs Asian, hot vs cold, one bite vs fork and plate and how to get all my current favourites on one plate at the same time.... at the end of deliberations, the menu was:
  • Smoked salmon on rye with curried egg salad
  • Indian spiced scones with plum and black pepper chutney
  • Lemon and thyme chicken skewers with satay sauce
  • Spinach dip with dukkah dippers
  • Blue cheese shortbread with honey and figs
  • Tandoori prawns on mini poppadoms
  • Mini cranachan for dessert
With such fantastic hosts, and stunning setting, any food would stand out, but my fave on saturday was the mini cranachan. I found these little shot glasses and spoons and I want to use them for every meal we have. Mini gazpacho before lunch, mini beef stew as an after school snack, mini trifle, they are going to get so much use! If you make these with any little shot glasses, follow the sizes below - otherwise, double the recipe and make full sized desserts for 6 grown ups.

Mini Cranachan (makes around 18 - for full size - just double the recipe)
1 punnet of raspberries
1 tub of double cream
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp good whisky
1 tbsp icing sugar
2oz porridge oats
2oz light muscovado sugar

In the bottom of each glass, place one or two raspberries.
Whisk the cream until it starts to hold its shape then whisk in the honey, whisky and icing sugar till light and airy.
In a dry pan, roast the oats and sugar together, do not leave this alone or it will burn, keep stirring it around the pan until the oats and sugar have melded into a lovely toffee colour and toasted crunchy texture.
Top the raspberries with the cream concoction then sprinkle with crunchy oatmeal.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Apple Jelly

Doesn't it look like melted down jewels a jar? I love the colours of preserves, my shelves are struggling to hold up the glass jars of different hues, orangy amber mango chutney, tawny plum jam, turmeric yellow apple chutney, ruby red tomato ketchup and today's wee project, apple jelly with the most beautifully jewel-like clarity.

My friend (and vegetable guru) Keith allowed me to scrump a bag of apples while I was raiding his plum tree last week (check out the plum ketchup recipe) and instead of peeling and freezing them - for winter apple pies -  as I do when I have too many apples, I wanted to produce a preserve to give us a little bit of summer warmth deep into our gloomy borders winter.

The kids love apple jelly on bread for packed lunch, (as much because they helped pick the apples as for the flavour.) I like it on the side of roast pork and the apple and chilli jelly makes a gorgeous crostini appetiser atop a sliver of  goat cheese.

I added a plum, no good reason, I just had one in my fruit bowl that needed used and I thought I would throw it in to see what happened. I don't think it affected the flavour at all but ....the colour oh my god..... the colour is divine. So cidery in aroma, appley in flavour and clear with an ochre tint in colour, the loveliest apple jelly, thanks Keith.

Apple Jelly
2kg apples, quartered, stalks and leaves removed, seeds and cores left
1.2l water
900g sugar

 Put all the fruit in a saucepan with the measured water. Bring to the boil and turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook until the fruit is soft and breaking up, around 20mins. Remove from the heat.
Pour everything into a jelly bag (or muslin cloth tied to each leg of a stool with a bowl underneath to gather the nectar as it drips down) and leave to drip overnight. DO NOT SQUEEZE!!! the jelly will lose its clarity if you do.

The next day, put the apple juices and sugar into a large pan and bring to the boil. Keep stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil rapidly without stirring for 10-15 mins until you reach setting point ( 105 degrees apparently but I drop a spoonful of jelly onto a cold saucer, allow to cool then push with my finger - if the jam crinkles then it is ready to be taken off the heat). Pour into warm sterililsed jars, seal and label. Use within one year.
(For Apple and Chilli Jelly - stir in 2 finely chopped red chillis for the last few minutes of boiling, they set beautifully suspended in the jelly)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Dukkah Dippers

Crispy, crunchy, aromatic and deeply savory, these middle eastern spiced pitta bread dippers turn any regular dip into a stunning centerpiece.

Dukkah is a traditional blend of nuts and spices usually served along with olive oil as a dry roasted dip for breadsticks. The recipes vary from country to country and from street vendor to street vendor and every home has its own blend with its own personality dependant on the preferences of its family.... it might feature pistachios, almonds or more commonly, hazlenuts, it will be spiced with black or white pepper and salt, sesame seeds (black or white), cumin, coriander, even occasionally fennel seeds.

The pitta bread can be cut into all sorts of shapes, long narrow strips, delicate triangles or chunky wedges, as long as they are big enough and wide enough to scoop dollops of dip. I love these served with paprika dusted hummus, but they are great with tzatziki or tomato salsa and leftover dukkah makes a beautiful crust for salmon.

Dukkah Dippers
4 pitta breads
2 tbsp olive oil

for the dukkah:
3 tbsp hazelnuts 
3 tbsp pistachio nuts 
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds 
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp sea salt 
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 180C.  
Dry roast the spices and nuts in a frying pan for a few minutes until they start to turn a light brown colour and release their aroma. Do not leave them alone for even a second as they burn very easily. Allow to cool a little then roughly chop the nuts and spices, I like to crush them in a pestle and mortar to get a mixture of fine crumbs and chunky nutty bits . 
Cut the pitta breads into small triangles. Lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the spice mixture and drizzle with olive oil.  
Bake in the oven for 10- 12 minutes till fragrant and golden. Again watch them carefully, you want a light golden colour and a crisp texture not blackened bread and bitter spices.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Beetroot Coleslaw

I love American cookbooks. I spend too many late night hours online searching for the latest cook books or reading the freshest, most vibrant new food writing in blogs from Texas, San Francisco and New York. What I love most about American food writers is how they do the littlest things so very differently than we do here in Britain.

During this week's (very) short spell of Indian summer weather, we broke out the barbecue one last time. In Scotland when we have a long barbecue summer, its easy to find the time to experiment with grilled leg of lamb in Indian spices and yogurt, paella on the griddle and whole baked fish. This year however, when we've only managed a scant few barbies - all I want is burgers, sausages, potato salad and coleslaw.

Once you eat this beetroot coleslaw, you'll never go back to the pallid traditional version. In America, confident cooks mess around with their food far more than we do here in Britain. They don't make plain or fruit scones, they have maple syrup and oatmeal, or dried strawberry and vanilla. Coleslaw isn't cabbage and carrot in mayonnaise, its could be made with celeriac, fennel, apple, horseradish, any crackling and crunchy food you can imagine will make it into a coleslaw somewhere. They don't stop at mayonnaise, instead jazzing it up with cider vinegar dressing, or sour cream, perhaps throwing in some golden raisins or chillis, curry powder or nuts.

Of the variations constantly being tried out in my kitchen, (in summer: to complement the usual grilled chicken and chargrilled burgers, in winter: to liven up our Scottish seasonal staples- root vegetables) the best and my favourite so far is this glossy barbie pink almost childish concoction.

Beetroot Coleslaw
1/2 head white cabbage
1/2 red onion
2 large carrots
3 small beetroot
4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 small packet salted peanuts, chopped roughly

Grate the cabbage, carrot, onion and beetroot on a coarse grater.
Toss with mayonnaise.
The whole dish of coleslaw will turn a lurid but strangely appealing pink colour.
Scatter chopped peanuts over the top for seasoning and crunch.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The most beautiful salad I've had all summer

I went to my gorgeous niece's very fabulous wedding in a stunning castle in Scotland last month. A 14th century castle backdrop, historic graveyards, glorious scenery, imposing views and unexpectedly good food, all in one day. 

Despite the wonderful produce available at this time of year, we're not known in Scotland (at any time of year) for our love of healthy, light, seasonal food - a Glasgow salad being slang for a bag of chips - yet here, I unexpectedly found myself in front of the prettiest plate of salad I've seen in a long time.

This is not so much a recipe really, more of an attempt to recreate a memory and distill the flavours of late summer into one dish by throwing together the most aromatic, fresh, ripe ingredients I could find.

Watermelon and Feta Salad with pumkin seed and olive dressing
2 big handfuls of rocket
1 extra ripe galia melon
1 small sweet watermelon
2 blocks of feta cheese (around 400g)
100g packet of pumpkin seeds
100g black olives, chopped finely
4 tbsp olive oil

Scatter the rocket over a large (preferably white) platter. Chop both  melons into equally sized cubes and scatter artfully on top. Crumble the feta over the top. Stand back and enjoy just how lovely the colours look against together. Then toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan till they are just turning golden brown, allow to cool then throw on top of the salad.
Mix the olive oil with the chopped olives and drizzle over the whole salad. 

Thursday, 10 September 2009

A Glut of Plums

Can you really have too much of a good thing? I raided my friend's plum tree a few weeks ago to throw together some plum jam, then had some left over and made plum chutney, then put a few in the freezer to brighten up a gloomy fruitless winter breakfast and made a giant plum and apple crumble to last the weekend.

Still finding myself with a bagfull of plums and a need to try something new, I thought I'd try a plum ketchup. Similar to tomato ketchup but fruitier, cooking up a batch of dripping-ripe sweet plums creates a smooth, sweet and tangy dipping sauce that can be used as a dip for tortilla chips, a rich sauce to serve with duck and pancakes or a sticky side for hot and spicy chicken wings.

It might take a while to persuade the kids to use it instead of the more traditional tomato ketchup with chips but I think I might work on it.


Plum Ketchup
1 kilo plums, stones removed and halved
1 red onion cut into chunks
3 large cloves of garlic
10cm of ginger, grated
250ml cider vinegar
400g dark muscovado sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
1/2 tsp chilli flakes

In a blender, blend the plums, onion, garlic ginger and vinegar together.
Put into a pan with the sugar and spices and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Heat the mixture till it comes to the boil then turn the heat right down and simmer for 30-45 minutes till thick.
Either bottle as you would jam, or keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Indian Spiced Wedges with chilli, lime and black pepper raita

I love potatoes, and usually the more butter and cream I can cook them with the better. Obviously my Irish genes start to dominate whenever I start to think about side dishes as rice, pasta and cornmeal hardly ever rear their heads without a bit of prodding. I especially love when potatoes can take centre stage, like in a spanish tortilla, a pommes dauphinoise or here in this chilli hot party dish.
Potato wedges of some sort have become an absolute staple in my house for parties. Whether we are having a children's party, sleepover, cocktail party or seasonal get together, potatoes in at least one form, if not two or three are a must. These go down a storm because its easy to spice them up for the grown-ups and serve them straight for the kids.

These can be made with little potatoes. look fabulous with red skinned potatoes but I think are best with big maris piper baking potatoes, sliced into chunky wedges, baked crispy and aromatic on the outside and to a cloud-like fluffiness on the inside.

Indian Spiced Wedges with chilli, lime and black pepper raita

4 baking potatoes, each cut lengthways into 12 wedges
4tbsp olive oil
2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp sea salt
200ml natural yogurt
2 limes
1 hot red chilli
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7

First prepare the raita. Chop the chilli finely then juice and zest the limes. Mix the yogurt with the lime juice and zest and chilli and add 1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding a little salt and more pepper if you like it with more bite.

Toss the potatoes with the spices and olive oil to coat well.
Spread out on a baking tray skin side down and bake for 25 - 30 minutes.
Serve with the lime and black pepper raita dip.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Garden Soup

There is nothing like an unseasonably cold and rainy day (think 11 degrees and torrential rain in September) to make me hanker after a steaming pot of soup. It was too wet to venture out to the shop so I got soggy wet digging the last of the summer vegetables fresh out of the garden, jewel-like rainbow chard, fragrant young garlic, and every size and shape of carrots.

I've been thrilled in my first year of growing produce by my garden's ability to nurture real food. I'd love to take the credit myself but I really don't think I've been as involved in the process as I'd like to pretend. This deeply flavoured forest green, iron and vitamin hit should rival the copious variety of supplements I'm taking to ward off winter colds. It has an intrinsic healthiness to leave you feeling sated and smug and the added bonus is that children seem to like it too.
As with all home made soup, you don't have to stick religiously to the recipe, this soup can be made from any assortment of fresh vegetables, whatever you have in your vegetable plot or can find in the farmers market. Spinach can replace chard, sweet potatoes can substitute for carrots, peas for beans, leeks for shallots etc.

Garden Fresh Soup with herby marscapone swirl
25g butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 shallots (or 1 onion), finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 large handful of spinach
1 large handful of rainbow chard
200g fresh peas or broad beans(frozen would be fine)
1litre of chicken (or vegetable stock)
Salt and pepper to taste

for the marscapone swirl:
50g marscapone cheese
1tbsp finely chopped chives
1tbsp finely chopped parsley
1tbsl finely chopped oregano
salt and freshly ground pepper

First prepare the herbed marscapone. Add the chopped herbs to your marscapone cheese and beat together with a wooden spoon. Set aside to come to room temperature.

Heat the butter and olive oil togeher and add the finely chopped shallots.
Sweat over a low heat for a few minutes then add the garlic and diced potatoes.
Sweat for a further 2 minutes stirring constantly to stop the potatoes from sticking.
Finally add the rest of the vegetables and saute for a further 2 minutes.
Pour the stock into the pan and bring to the boil.
Turn the heat down low and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.
Allow to cool a little and liquidise.
Check seasoning then serve topped with a swirl of herbed marscapone.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Perfect Oatcake

Its been a long time coming, my writing regularly in these pages. I've been an intermittant passer-by to the blog these past two years but I have now built up a huge list of recipes and ideas I want to explore and I finally have the time to devote to the cooking, growing, gathering and scrounging required - so here goes!

Have you ever eaten the perfect oatcake? Was it crumbly or firm? Coarse or fine textured? Fife cut (i.e. chunky triangles) or dainty and round? Was it rich and buttery or flaky with lard? Oatcakes are full of soluble fibre and provide a prolonged energy releaes so they are good for you in every possible way. As I try to reduce my bread intake (I love love love bread) oatcakes have become my new love.

I've baked a heap of oatcakes, used every possible kind of oatmeal, I've tried adding bran, fruit and blends of spices. I like my oatcakes with a bit of texture so have sworn off the fine oatmeal that is almost the texture of flour, but can't quite get my teeth round the coarser grainy texture of pinhead oatmeal (although it makes a good chunky textured biscuit to serve with soft cheese and chutney.)

In the interests of research, I've tried oatcakes dipped in chunky soup, served them with fresh cheeses and popped them in my pocket as an energy snack before a run and I think I can finally lay down my tastebuds and settle on one final recipe - for now anyway.

The Perfect Oatcake
50g (2oz) medium oatmeal
50g (2oz) wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
25g (1oz) lard (melted)
5tbsp boiling water
1tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1tbsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 180C. Mix all the dry ingredients together. Pour in the lard and boiling water then stir till the mixture forms a ball. Roll out till 5mm thick and cut circles with a 4cm cutter. Lay on a baking sheet. Mix together the rosemary and sea salt.
Sprinkle the tops with the rosemary and salt mixture.
Bake for 8-10 mins until the biscuits are just starting to turn golden brown.

Eat with homemade soup, pate or strong cheese.