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Showing posts from April, 2010

BEEF INVOLTINI (Beef rolls stuffed with ricotta)

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This is adapted from a Nigella recipe where the involtini are stuffed aubergines slices. I am a great one for reinventing recipes, and since I had some thin steak slices in the fridge, I thought it would be nice to try a variant on a recipe I cook quite often. I made this in record time, since I had just come in from a meeting and needed to get a meal on the table quickly. Normally, when I make involtini, I like to spin the process out: I griddle the aubergine slices and set aside, then make the filling and the tomato sauce, and finally, assemble everything. It is quite therapeutic.

This is one of those brilliant dishes that can be made in advance and then left, before bunging in the oven about half an hour before you want to eat.

Serves 4

4 thin cut steaks (I buy mine in M&S), flattened between cling film

Filling
200g ricotta
2 tbsps grated fresh parmesan or pecorino
2 tbsps breadcrumbs
1 tsp good quality dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)
A handful of pine nuts
1 garlic clove, minced

FORGOTTEN COOKIES

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These delicious crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-in-the-middle meringues are full of good things (chocolate chunks and pecan nuts), and are very, very moreish. My friend, and fellow cook, Michaela made me some as an anniversary gift: they arrived in a beautiful silver box, nestling on pretty tissue paper. A perfect gift for a greedy, foodie like me! My instinct was to eat them all at once, at one sitting, but I was restrained, and rationed myself to one cookie, once a day, with a cup of good, strong coffee.

Michaela recommends using a very good quality dark chocolate. (I used Chocolat Menier, the upmarket cooking chocolate.) The slight bitterness of the chocolate cuts nicely into the sweetness of the meringue. The pecans just add more deliciousness.

As to the origin of their name, apparently it's because you put them in the oven overnight and forget about them. But don't forget to eat them!
2 …

NIGELLA'S NUTS

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Once you start eating these, you will never want to stop.....

These scrummy, seasoned mixed nuts are perfect with an aperitif, or three. The recipe is from Nigella Bites and is "adapted from the recipe for the spiced nuts served at the Union Square Cafe in New York". They are ridiculously easy to make and are absolutely delicious.

500g assorted mixed nuts (including peeled peanuts brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, whole unpeeled almonds)
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or hot smoked Spanish paprika)
2 tsp dark muscovado sugar
2 tsp Maldon salt
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted.

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4.

Toss the nuts in a large bowl to combine and then spread them on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for about 10 mins, or until they are light golden-brown.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the rosemary, cayenne (or paprika), muscovado sugar, salt and melted butter. Remove nuts from the oven and thoroughly toss in the spi…

SALTIMBOCCA - FOR KAREN

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According to my vast and wonderful tome, La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy, published by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, Saltimbocca is typical of Rome, and the name means "leap into the mouth".

This is one of those dishes that can take me right back to a fairly specific point in my childhood in Sutton Coldfield in the 1970s, as my mother used to make this often for dinner parties, and whenever I think of it I get a rush of nostalgia, remembering cooking by my mother's side and getting to lick the bowl when she had made a rich chocolate mousse cake with boudoir fingers, which she called Sylvabella. I rarely make this dish myself, but the aforementioned tome on Italian food has reawakened my interest in what I regard as "retro" dishes from my childhood, but which are, in fact, traditional recipes from Italy.

Properly speaking, Saltimbocca should be made with veal escalopes, but these days people can be sensitive about veal (see my post on Osso Bucco), …

A COUPLE OF OLD TARTS

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Trying to use up odds and sods of veg and creme fraiche in the fridge, I decided to make some savoury tarts with puff pastry, redolent of the sort of delicious and elegant tarts found in French patisseries and delis. These are distinct from quiche as they do not have an egg custard; instead, I used creme fraiche with some fresh parmesan grated into it. When it cooks, the creme fraiche creates a kind of fake custard, with a nice sharpness which cuts into the savoury sweetness of the toppings. Good things to put on top include bacon and fried onions (for something closer to quiche lorraine), sliced tomatoes and basil, leeks and blue cheese, or thinly sliced courgettes. Once, when a neighbour's tomato plants produced a glut of fruit and she gave me a basket of red and yellow cherry tomoatoes, I made a tart with a topping reminiscent of the Spanish flag, in bold stripes of red and yellow.

The quantities given here will produce two tarts, each of which will serve two people generously.

B…

ONION BHAJIS

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I was making Onion Bhajis at 8am this morning, as canapes for an anniversary party I am hosting tomorrow night. The theme of the party is 'Mad Men' from the cult TV series set in an early 1960s New York ad agency, of which I am a huge fan. I did think of making retro party food and serving cocktails such as Old Fashioned and Whiskey Sour to keep to the theme of the event, but in the end I decided life was too short to stuff a mushroom, or indeed a vol-a-vent.....

Homemade onion bhajis are easy to make: you don't need a deep-fat fryer, though it helps. A deep wok or frying pan works just as well. These delicious bronze bundles are crisp on the outside and soft in the middle and are, of course, best served as soon as they're made. However, they keep well and can easily be warmed up. They are a doddle to make and are far more delicious than those dark, claggy balls that pass for onion bhajis at most Indian restaurants.

2-3 medium onions, sliced
1.5 cups Gram (Chickpea) f…

BANANA TARTE TATIN

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This French upside-down tart is one of those dead-easy puddings that is so simple to make, and yet so delicious, you wish you had discovered it years ago. It is adapted from a traditional tarte tatin (usually made with apples), and you can use the same method with other fruit: I like to make it with pears, but figs, and even pineapple slices (with glace cherries for for a really 1970s retro feel), would work well too. I have also come across a savoury version made with onions or leeks.

I am very fond of bananas and things that taste of banana, including those lurid yellow banana shaped fondants that are temple-achingly sweet and doubtless full of horrible chemicals and synthetic banana flavourings. They are often sold in sweet shops alongside 'shrimps', equally lurid and chemical-laden - also a favourite of mine!

The first time I served this at a dinner party, some guests were wary of the cooked bananas, while other, more adventurous diners, declared the pudding a great success.…

LOAVES (AND FISHES)

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I don't know why more people don't make their own bread. It's cheap, simple and delicious, it freezes well, and it is always greeted with coos of delight when I serve it, still warm from the oven. I think people think bread making is one of the "mystic arts", but it's just chemistry, a wonderful, magical chemistry which takes place when flour, yeast and water meet, and are then left to get on with it for a few hours.

Bread baking is one of those special homely smells, like the sweet fug of banana loaf cooking, or onions fried with garlic. It is no surprise that supermarkets pump out ersatz just-baked bread aromas into the store to encourage people to buy a loaf: it is one of those comforting smells that envelopes you like a soft, fleecey blanket, and has you heading for the sofa to curl up with a cup of tea and a plate of toast and Marmite.

I tend to bake bread at least once a week. I do not have a bread maker, preferring to throw the ingredients together in my…

A SIMPLE SUPPER FOR MONDAY NIGHT

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I'm just back from a fantastic week in the French Alps, where I surprised myself by learning to ski AND enjoying it immensely. One of the attractions of that part of France for me is the food: I love those warming, homely dishes like Tartiflette and Fondue. After a day on the pistes, a big slab of Tartiflette seemed entirely deserved, especially with the added luxury of having it cooked by our wonderful hostess, Jo.

However, now that I'm back home and my 20th wedding anniversary party approaches, I realise I need to go on a crash diet to get my sexy LBD done up. So some restraint is required in the food department, in terms of both ingredients and volume.

I'm not sure what to call this dish - I ripped it off from a Waitrose recipe which a friend gave me - but it definitely falls into my category of 'Temple Food', food that is satisfying, yet not too cloying, heavy or fattening (hopefully!). The sort of food that leaves you feeling pleasantly sated, with clean, fresh …