Although I firmly believe sugar to be the devil, I will occasionally find myself face down in a cake or suchlike. And when I say occasionally, I probably mean more like once a week. Or twice if you count the new 'tradition' I've invented of sharing an entire tub of Magnum almond ice cream with Bee while watching Antiques Roadshow on Sunday evening. That is how we roll round these parts.And yesterday, all I had to eat was two slices of homemade sourdough with a couple of eggs and sliced ham topped with herb salt and pickled sliced cucumber, so today, a little sugar is hardly the end of the world. And really, meringues are mainly air, so I count this as breathing.I first made came up with this recipe on a recent shoot and we eat them with strawberries, a little lemon thyme and a lot of gentle noises, which to the outsider could have sounded pretty rude. Hazelnuts, toasted and sprinkled through and on top of the crisp meringues gently giving way in the mouth to a soft, chewy interior with the sweet and sharp fruitiness of proper balsamic is pretty much the actual best. And it's so easy to make; as long as your equipment is clean, you can almost let the machines do all the work. And sometimes, there's nothing wrong with making life a little easier, especially when the result is quicker and better.Ingredients3 egg whites120g icing sugar60g golden caster sugarGood quality balsamic vinegarA handful of chopped hazelnutsA handful of chopped pistachiosMethodClean your mixers bowl and whisk thoroughly before you start and just give the inside of the bowl a rub with half a lemon before drying it with kitchen paper. This will ensure there is no grease inside which will make your meringues mewrongs.Whisk the eggs until they start to form peaks, somewhere between soft and stiff. With the whisk running, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until, incorporating well before adding the next one. You can make more mixture if you like, just remember the simple 60g of sugar per egg white and use a mix of icing and caster as I've done, or all caster or all icing. Up to you. Golden caster will give you a more caramel colour and flavour though, so choose wisely.Whisk until all the sugar is in and the meringue mixture is shiny, smooth and stiff. Heat the oven to 100c/gas 1.Using a spatula, gently fold in some balsamic vinegar until you have nice ripples through it then shape four beautiful dollops onto a lined baking sheet.Sprinkle with nuts and bake for about two hours, leaving to cool in the oven.Serve with coffee, or as I did, because there wasn't enough sugar going on some melted hazelnut and chocolate sauce. You can make this easily by melting together 2 large teaspoons of gianduja paste (you could use Nutella if you prefer), 1 tsp of honey and 2tsp of butter until smooth. This, however, is entirely optional and may lead to needing a little lie down.
I'm a busy man, I don't have time to separate my free-range, organic araucana eggs for homemade mayonnaise. In the cut and thrust world I live in I barely have time to put clothes on before I leave the house and take the children to school.*Why not just buy a jar of mayonnaise I hear you ask? To be honest, it's been a quiet couple of weeks here, so I blatantly have more time usual, hence the fresh bread issuing forth from the oven and the children eating proper food on the weekends and after school.The reason I didn't separate the eggs was to see what whole egg mayonnaise was like. And it's pretty good, hardly different to the usual method. It's just a little more liquid to begin with so emulsifying the oil takes a little more time, but in a food processor it's easy. And it tastes so much better than a middle-class posh jar with French words and has the added benefit of having no stuff in it for a year on the shop shelf.I found the remains of some wild garlic, flowers and all, in a still fairly good state in a bag in the fridge. They were starting to become slightly frilly and not quite as fresh as when I picked them. They were certainly good enough, however, for a pesto, sauce or in this case accompaniment to plump and juicy prawns on hot toasted sourdough. If I'm lucky, there may still be some lurking in the garden for the risotto I'd originally planned, but for now, this is a delicious use for them.As far as the monk's beard goes, the season for that is even shorter. If you've missed it, although I suspect it's still available (Natoora and Ocado stock it), samphire works perfectly in it's place. And failing that, some tender British asparagus tips, halved lengthways and lightly steamed will also work.*I do get dressed. And it's mainly because the alarm is such shock to the system I snooze it until the last minute. I'm not a morning person. Getting up earlier is not an option with my lack of discipline.Ingredients, lunch for two8 large tiger prawns, shell and head on2 free-range organic eggs1tbsp Dijon mustardA pinch of saltRapeseed oilA tablespoon or two of olive oil to finishA splash of water to loosenA small bunch of wild garlic, flowers too if you have any (they're peppery)A small bunch of monk's beard or a couple of handfuls of samphireJuice and zest of half a lemonSourdough bread to toastMethodMake the mayonnaise. You can do this in the mini bowl of the food processor or by hand with a whisk.Stir the mustard and a pinch of salt into the eggs. With the motor or your whisk hand running, pour in the rapeseed oil at first slowly drop by drop until it starts to thicken and emulsify. You can then speed up the pour, spinning all the time until thick and 'mayonnaise-y'. Now continue with the olive oil. Add a splash of water to loosen a little. If you're doing this in the processor, throw in the garlic now and blitz until completely shredded to pieces in the mayo. If doing it by hand, slice, slice and slice again then chop. Now stir it in well. This keeps in the fridge for a few days in a sealed jar so make it ahead if you fancy.Sauté the prawns with the shell on in some olive oil and chopped garlic until cooked, then remove from the pan and leave to cool a little.Remove the tough stalks from the monk's beard. These make good, if temporary weaponsQuickly sauté the leaves in the pan the prawns were cooked in and add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt at the end.Toast the bread, dollop a spoon of mayonnaise on top and spread it around.I shelled the prawns over the toast and mayo, squeezing the heads as I did so to get more of the juices out, giving it an even bigger punch of flavour.A sprinkle of salt and pepper, the still warm monk's beard leaves and perhaps a few chilli flakes and lunch is ready.
We got back from a long New Year's weekend on a farm clutching fresh eggs from the cuckoo marans that pecked around the muddy yard. I may have clutched them a little hard as one or two were broken by the time I unpacked them along with the freshly liberated holiday cottage book I was halfway through. Karmic, perhaps.The beginning of the year is a great time for excitement and cosiness. The gloriousness of Christmas may be over with skeletons of trees littering the streets and limp unilluminations dripping from town centre lampposts, but that is no reason to not carry the spirit a little further. Joyful January is a perfect time to keep those candles burning, read more books and generally treat yourself kindly. And that goes for food too. This is not the time for kale and hemp smoothies and press-ups at dawn. By all means do that if you want, but it wont last.Now is the winter of our content, made glorious by this quiche of Lorraine. It's a pleasure to make, comforting in its method and taste. Rich, bacony and filling, this kind of dish on a grey and raining January day should surely lift the spirits a little and make the kitchen a brighter place with its matronly wobble as it comes out of the oven. And I find making your own pastry to be a calm and thoughtful exercise, and that can only be a good thing, any time of year.IngredientsFor the pastry:60g self-raising flour140g strong plain flour95g cold butter, cut into large flakesSaltA few tablespoons of very cold waterFor the filling:160g lardons (mine were apparently "outdoor bred". I have no idea how you breed lardons)4 eggs4-5tbsp creme fraicheA knob of melted butter and a splash of milk75g grated Emmental or Gruyere, plus extra to sprinkleA good grating of nutmegSalt and pepperMake the pastry by putting the flour, salt and butter in a large bowl. Mix well and quickly with your fingertips until it becomes as soft and powdery as sawdust. It's a good idea when making pastry to keep a bowl of iced water nearby to keep your hands cool, this helps stop the pastry becoming greasy with melted butter and gives a crisp finish.Mix in the water with a rounded knife until you start to get a soft dough. Don't add to much so it becomes sticky.Wrap it in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for about half an hour. You can make the pastry in the food processor if you lack the time or enthusiasm, but you'll then have to wash that up, so why bother?Make the filling by sautéeing the lardons until crisp, then deglaze the pan with a splash of water and transfer to a bowl.Heat the oven to 190c/gas 7, and line a greased 18cm quiche tin. (I think 'Pam' is a wonderful invention for this job).Roll out the pastry and line the tin with it. Chill for a further 10-15 minutes then line with paper and baking beans and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and paper, prick the pastry base all over with a fork and return to the oven for five to ten minutes, until it looks drier and has an even colour.Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the milk and butter then add them to the lardons with the cheese. Sir well and gently fold in the creme fraiche until well mixed. Season a little with nutmeg, salt and pepper and then pour into the pastry, sprinkle with a little more cheese, turn the oven down a little and cook for 30-35 minutes, until golden and set with a little wobble.Leave to cool for a bit, this is far better eaten warm than hot, and serve with a zingy green salad. And smile, for God's sake, it'll soon be Spring.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And while this is not pudding and I have nothing to prove, the only way you're going to understand how delicious this dish is, is by making and eating it. I urge you to do this as soon as you can.Read More
The carrots are past their best. No longer firm and snappable, they bend like a theatrical prop. No wonder really, they have been sat outside in the sun on the table for a day and a half. I'd forgotten about them among the tumbling bags of vegetables I'd brought back.Still, that doesn't mean there isn't a use for them. A few made it into my morning smoothie and the rest, determined to make something with them, I turned into cake. Surely bendy and tired fruit becoming cake is like turning base metal into gold. And not only that, I used coconut sugar in the mix rather than cane. So it's almost doubly less healthy. If you don't count the icing sugar mountain that went into the cream cheese icing.As a cake is a treat, let's not beet (sugar) ourselves up about things being unhealthy. It's not as if I had a slice of it for breakfast the other day... But this cake is delicious, moist and with the fragrant scent of orange blossom and clementine zest, is a wonderful moment of calm with a coffee or tea mid-afternoon when spirits are flagging.If you don't hoover the lot up in one sitting (assuming you're sharing) it keeps soft and moist for what seems an eternity as long as you keep it covered. I can't see that happening though.Ingredients225g coconut sugar (or caster sugar if not)225g butter225g self-raising flour with 1tsp baking powder mixed in3 eggs200g grated carrots1tbsp orange blossom waterFor the cream cheese icing175g cream cheese125g soft butter350g icing sugar1tbsp vanilla extractClementine zest and chopped hazelnuts to decorateMethodCream together the butter and sugar. Beat in one egg at a time until well mixed then stir in the flour and baking powder little by little until you've used it all. Try not to over mix it.Stir in the orange blossom water and carrots and mix well, but gently. Divide between two 19cm prepared cake tins and bake immediately at 180c for approximately 40 minutes.Leave the cake to cool completely or it'll be sliding all over the place like a plastic fire guard. Beat together the butter, cheese, icing sugar and vanilla until soft and smooth. sandwich the cakes together with a good load of the icing then coat the top and sprinkle over the zest and nuts. Chill for about half an hour if it's a hot day to give the icing a fighting chance then serve.
I always want chips and a green salad with my omelette. It may sound like something you'd get in the greasiest of London cafés, but my memory of it is sitting outside a brasserie in Grenoble, the sun flickering through the leaves in the square. I drank citron pressé, which is de rigeur, naturellement.An omelette, done well is the best. But it's so easy to mess up. So here's my quick cut out and keep guide to the perfect omelette:Get an omelette pan. They're cheap, but do the job they're designed for. Iron, no coating and no plastic handles. Heat it for about ten minutes before cooking. This means there won't be any cold spots.Use rapeseed oil. Not too much. High smoke point. Get it very hot before adding the eggs.Lightly whisk three good eggs per omelette in a bowl 40 times with a fork. Season and add a splash of milk.Pour the mixture into the pan and draw the egg in to the centre from the outside. An omelette should take no longer than one minute to cook.Don't overcook it. Stop while it's still slightly runny. It will continue to cook on the plate.Add the cheese at the end and fold the omelette before sliding it out of the pan.Keep it simple. Dried herbes de Provence, some cheese and ham at most.Serve immediately. That's it.
It has been a fairly uneventful week in the kitchen, which means it's been quite tidy. The children made their own tomato, sweet potato and carrot soup which they promptly refused to eat, even with the addition of grated cheese. They also refused to eat Bee's lentil chilli for her book group which was delicious. They normally eat most things put in front of them, so I'm assuming they were just being annoying.The one dish that stood out was the simplest and quickest, but the tastiest. We had it with chickpea pancakes as part of our low carb eating. You can make your own garam masala or buy it. Up to you. Mine at the moment is very heavy on cinnamon and cloves which worked really well here, so add a little more of that if you fancy and increase the other ingredients as you see fit, this served two.Ingredients1tbsp coconut oil4 eggs3 handfuls of baby spinachA handful of cherry tomatoes2 spring onions, sliced1tsp grated nutmeg1tbsp garam masala1tbsp chilli flakes1tsp chia seeds1tbsp toasted pine nutsSalt and black pepper to seasonA handful of chopped coriander leavesMethodHeat the oven to 200cHeat the oil in an ovenproof sauté pan and add the spinach and nutmeg and season a little. Let this cook for about a minute then add the tomatoes and crack the eggs, well spaced into the pan.Sprinkle over the garam masala and chia seeds and chilli flakes, season a little more then bake for 12-15 minutes depending on how well done you like your eggs.Add the spring onion, pine nuts and coriander and serve hot in the pan.
This vibrant dish can be served warm or cold. Kasha, or roast buckwheat is so good for you and has a nutty taste and texture that complements the sweet roast vegetables.
What I really like about this dish is it has loads of flavour, texture and colour and is healthy too. I didn’t this time, but in future I think I’ll serve it drizzled with a basil and cumin yoghurt.
Serves: 2Preparation time: 20 minutesCooking time: 30 minutes
Ingredients2 tbsp rapeseed oil2 eggs, boiled for 6 ½ minutes then run under cold water to refresh2 garlic cloves150g buckwheat1 red pepper, seeds removed and cut into chunks1 fennel bulb, sliced thinlyA handful of button mushrooms, halved1 red onion, peeled and quarteredA large handful of kale, stems removed4-6 cherry tomatoes½ tsp rosewater1 tbsp chilli flakes1 tbsp ground coriander2 tsp ground cumin2 tsp ground turmeric1 tbsp toasted fennel seeds3 tbsp each of chopped coriander, chives and parsleySalt and pepper to seasonMethod1. Bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the buckwheat, return to the boil and simmer for five minutes. Drain and set aside2. Place the garlic and vegetables – apart from the tomatoes – on a roasting tray and drizzle with the oil then season generously. Roast at 220c until they start to char – about 25 minutes.3. Stir in the buckwheat, spices, cherry tomatoes and rosewater, check the seasoning and keep warm.4. Peel and halve the eggs. Divide the vegetables between two plates and serve with the eggs and chopped herbs.