Monday, 26 October 2009

Tangerine and Dark Chocolate Biscotti

The PTA bake sale always arrives when you are least prepared. Throwing together a batch of cupcakes is no bother usually but I think is not necessarily what grown-ups want with their morning coffee.

I love biscotti but not the usual almond breakfast biscuit; give me stem ginger and white chocolate or cranberry and pistachio to dunk in a frothy latte.

These aromatic biscotti are an easy bake sale biscuit, but work even better as a christmas gift: wrapped in cellophane and tied with gold ribbon, they make a great token during the holidays to take to neighbours and open house parties and keep well for a week or two in a sealed tin.

Tangerine and Dark Chocolate Biscotti
350g Plain Flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
200g sugar
Juice and zest of 3 tangerines
2 tbsp candied orange peel
2 tsp orange flower water (optional)
100g dark chocolate chunks
(or good dark chocolate chopped up,
Green and Blacks Maya Gold is particularly good)

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate and salt into a large bowl.                                                       
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and tangerine juice and zest.                             
Add the orange flower water if you are using, it is not strictly necessary but adds a beautiful light orangy depth.
Add the wet ingredients into the dry along with the chocolate chunks and candied peel. Stir until the dough comes together and loses its stickiness.
Form into two long, wide logs (approx 10cm x 30cm) on a baking tray and bake in the oven for around 30 mins until risen and golden.
Allow to cool a little then cut into 2cm wide slices.
Put these back on the baking tray and bake again for 10-15 mins till golden and crispy.

Cullen Skink

My camera is not working.... but I wanted to post this anyway. The wind is howling a gale outside, the rain lashing against the windows and I have a huge list of things to do but can't be bothered so am staying home to make soup. It is time, finally, to lay aside the hot weather food of summer months and embrace winter flavours, I need to make food to warm our bones and comfort us as we pack away the holiday clothes and break out the thermal underwear.

This truly Scottish concoction is not just a soup, more of a stew, a bit like an American chowder, rich dense and warming - perfect for a day like this. Although my version is not entirely authentic, it is exactly what I crave today. Hot garlic, potatoes and cream all flavoured with salty smoky haddock.

The village we live inis a good drive to the nearest fishmonger so we rely on a couple of salt soaked vans travelling through each week to provide us with our fish course. This week its the smoked haddock I can smell as I walk through the village square.

Cullen Skink
500g smoked haddock fillets (undyed if possible)
500ml milk
25g butter
2 leeks, white only finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
500g potatoes, peeled and chopped into 5mm dice
Salt and Pepper
Double Cream to finish

Put the smoked haddock fillets in a pan with 200ml milk. Add a little water to cover the fish if necessary. Boil for 6-8 mins depending on the thickness of the fish, until the fish is just cooked. Remove the fish (reserve the liquid) and flake into chunks.

Add the potatoes to the reserved milk. Boil for 10-15 mins until the potatoes are soft. remove the pan from the heat and mash the potatoes into the liquid until thick, smooth and creamy.

Melt the butter in a large pan and saute the leeks and garlic until they are meltingly soft. Do not allow them to colour, this soup should be a pallid creamy shade, no speckles of green or brown.

Combine the potato mixture and cooked fish in one pan with the leeks and add the remaining 300ml milk. Season well with lots of pepper (white if you have it). Smoked haddock can be very salty so taste before you add salt - you may not need any.

Warm through at a low heat for a few minutes then serve with a swirl of double cream on top some buttered soda or country bread on the side.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Chick Pea, Chorizo and Chard Tortilla

Dense, robustly spiced, and full to the very brim of the frying pan with flavour. This tortilla is not a particularly authentic regional dish but is a home-made amalgam of various Spanish and Moorish dishes with flavours that meld so beautifully I can just about imagine a version being served up in a back street tapas bar.

This is part of my Friday night repertoire. Friday is my favourite night to gather, the whole weekend is ahead of us and catching up with friends makes it feel like a holiday weekend, somehow much longer than the paltry saturday/sunday version. However on a friday night, finding time to do some after work shopping before swimming lessons with the kids makes it challenge to fit in cooking. Simple, fast, flavourful food has to be the order of the day.
This tortilla is full of bold flavours, strong smoky paprika and sweet peppers are held together by iron rich chard. I used the rainbow chard I have still growing rampantly in my garden, but you could substitute with swiss chard or spinach (or do without it altogether but just a few strands of greenery snaking through the dish gives it a fresher flavour and colour).

The nutty bite of chickpeas rolled around in the orange oil oozing from the chorizo give the dish a substantial feel, making it good for a full meal not a just side dish. However, tonight it will be served as tapas, along with some serrano ham, maybe some lemon and chilli mushrooms or olives and good crusty bread, it gives me lots of time to finish off a main course or throw together a dessert with no pressure from hungry visitors.

Chick Pea, Chorizo and Chard Tortilla
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
1 roasted red pepper(I got mine in a deli)
1/2 tin chick peas
1/4 loop of chorizo
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 big handfuls of rainbow chard, roughly chopped
4-5 eggs, beaten

Finely chop the onion and garlic and saute in a frying pan in a good glug of olive oil until soft and fragrant.
Dice the red pepper and chorizo into chick pea sized chunks and add to the pan with the chick peas and paprika.
Saute everything together until the orangy paprika oils run from the chorizo.
Add the chard and keep stirring until it wilts and everything starts to meld together in the pan.
Add the eggs and stir gently to incorporate the eggs into the whole mixture, then allow to set over a medium heat.
Preheat the grill then slide the whole pan under the grill to set the top of the tortilla, it will only take a minute or two to become light gold and puffy.
Remove from the grill, gently loosen from the edge of the frying pan with a knife then place a large plate over the pan and invert the tortilla onto it. Then place another plate on top and invert once again so the glossy grilled top of the tortilla is on view. Sprinkle with a little sea salt.
Allow to cool slightly before slicing into canape sized cubes or wedges.
Serve hot or room temperature as a tapas or with a salad.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Pickled Beetroot or Beet Stains Everywhere

Isn't it gorgeous. All home-grown, home pickled and patiently waiting to be served on a gray and cloudy autumnal day with some cheese, crusty bread and an apple. A quality ploughmans lunch.

This year I grew pink chioggia beetroot, pale and stripy like a tea towel as they come out the ground, turning a rosy sunset shade as they pickle in the jar.

Larger beets could be sliced thinly but I already cooked all mine or made them into soups and salads so only undersized babies remain in the soil. These I quartered, baked then pickled in spiced vinegar. Roasting the beetroot in the oven instead of the more common boiling allows it to retain its sweetness and rich colour.

They taste sweet and spicy after just one week but should really be left at least a month before opening.

Pickled Beetroot
1 kg fresh raw beetroot
1l white vinegar
4  heaped tbsp granulated sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1 tangerine
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp black peppercorns

Wash the beets, taking care not to pierce the skin while you handle them. Wrap them in tinfoil and bake in the oven until tender.(Baby beetroots took around 30 minutes, larger ones longer). Allow to cool then peel and quarter or slice thinly. (Next time I might try chopping larger ones into little batons, they might be easier to eat than big slices)
Put the vinegar into a saucepan, add the sugar, cinnamon and peppercorns. Stud the tangerine with cloves and float in the vinegar. Bring almost to the boil and turn off the heat to allow the spice flavours to permeate the vinegar. Put the beetroot into sterilised jars then cover with the hot spiced vinegar. Seal and leave for at least a month. (If you can bear to)

Baked Camembert

The days are getting shorter, the clocks will soon change and the sunshine more often than not fades to the chill of an autumn evening. Twice this week I've woken up to frost in the grass and ice on my car windscreen.

In this weather, I want to close all the windows, lay a roaring fire, listen to the wind whirl out on the deck and curl up with a good book and a plate of something low in effort and high in comfort value. Hot burbling cheese, crunchy nuts and not too much faffing around to throw together. Quite perfect.

This is not so much of a recipe, more of a suggestion:
Baked Camembert with Cranberries and Hazelnuts
1 whole camembert (the type that comes in a wooden box)
1 handful of dried cranberries
1 handful of chopped hazelnuts
Around 2oz dark muscovado sugar

Remove the camembert from its box and wrapper. Slice a thin layer of rind off the top of the cheese and replace the cheese in its box.
Scatter the cranberries and hazelnuts on top of the cheese and sprinkle sugar over the whole lot.
Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes at 180C until glazed and bubbling.
Serve with chunks of baguette or wedges of pita bread, boiled baby new potatoes, steamed asparagus or home made oatcakes.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Sweet Potato Muffins

This one's for my good friend Charlie - the loveliest muffins, with (very) hidden health benefits. Hey, any way we can find to fit some vegetables into the diet of a reluctant veg eater - we'll take it!

These muffins look a little austere, no unwelcome fruit poking out, no glaze or crunchy topping to cause concern but they are both rich and moist and strangely light and fluffy too.

The aroma of cloves, ginger and cinnamon and a whole new sugary sweet thickness permeate the whole house as I cook these - the fifth batch in less than a week, even the neighbours are starting to comment as they pass the house.

I've tested more pumpkin muffins than I care to admit to lately but I really wanted to find a version that was a wee bit more do-able all year round, as the Scottish pumpkin season is, not unexpectedly,very short so until alternative inspiration strikes - sweet potatoes it is.

I've have tried the same recipe with pumpkin (seasonally delicious), butternut squash (as you would expect - sweet and buttery) and I think a batch with carrot are definitely worth a try (cooked and mashed as with the sweet potato so as not to alarm any pre-school vegetable phobics in our midst whose antennae would pop up at first sight of a small orange strand). If the low sugar/more healthy label is not a priority - a demerara sugar and cinnamon streusal dusting on top just before baking gives a fabulous tooth-tingling crunch.

Sweet Potato Muffins
250g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp mixed spice
110g sugar
1 egg
100 ml milk
1 tbsp honey (orange blossom works especially well)
90ml vegetable oil
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed
optional : 3tbsp demerara sugar plus 2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200C.
In a bowl, sift together all dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and sugar.
In a jug, whisk together egg, milk,  honey, oil and mashed sweet potatoes.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir gently until just combined.
Spoon into muffin cases - this should fill around 10 muffin cases or 16-18 cupcake cases.
Bake for 15-20 mins depending on size and remove when golden on top and springy to the touch.
If you want to live dangerously - mix sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle on top of muffins just before baking.