Friday, 18 April 2014

Healthy Hot Cross Buns



Alright, so the title of this post is a little misleading.  I'm not entirely sure it would be possible to make healthy hot cross buns, as there is no way of getting around it- they are a treat.  But you can make them a bit healthIER.  I've tried to lighten them up a little with the addition of spelt flour, oats, agave and grated apple for sweetness and oil instead of butter for richness.  There's still plenty of spice there and if you pop them in the toaster, you've got a perfect Easter breakfast.  This was originally a recipe I created for Women's Health Magazine.  You can see it and other healthy treats here.  Make a large batch then freeze the rest for later.

Lighter Hot Cross Buns
Makes 16 buns

You will need:
500ml skimmed milk or dairy-free alternative
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
4 cloves
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 2 oranges
300g spelt flour
300g strong white bread flour, plus about 100g extra for kneading and the crosses
1 tsp salt
100g oats
1 x 7g sachet fast action yeast
50ml sunflower oil
3 tbsp agave nectar
1 large egg, beaten
1 apple, coarsely grated
2 tsp cinnamon
60g currants
2 tbsp apricot or fig jam, ideally a no added sugar brand

Method:

1. Bring the milk to boil with the cardamom pods, cloves, lemon zest and zest of 1 orange. Set to one side and allow to cool to blood temperature.  Meanwhile, sift the flours and salt into a large mixing bowl. Tip in the oats, yeast, oil, agave and beaten egg. Once the milk has cooled, remove the cloves and cardamom and pour into the bowl.  

2. Mix together until the ingredients are well incorporated. Then tip the dough onto a generously floured work surface and knead for a good 10 minutes, either by hand or using the dough attachment of a table top mixer. It will seem like a very wet dough, but keep working it, slapping it onto the work surface to develop the gluten. It will eventually come together to form a sticky, but elastic dough. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove in warmish place for about 1 hour, until risen.

3.     Tip the dough out onto a floured work surface and flatten slightly. Mix together the apple, cinnamon, currants and remaining orange zest and sprinkle over the dough. Knead briefly to distribute all the ingredients. Divide the dough into 16 even pieces and roll into smooth balls. Arrange the buns on 2 lightly oiled baking sheets in rows of 4, about 1 cm apart. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further hour.

4. Heat the oven to 220C/fan 200/gas mark 7. In a small bowl mix together 30g of flour with 2 ½- 3 tbsp water, adding the water gradually until you have a thick paste. Scrape into a small sandwich bag. Once the buns have risen and puffed up, cut off the tip of one corner of the sandwich bag and use to pipe crosses over the buns. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, swapping shelves halfway through. Meanwhile, heat the jam with 2 tbsp of water in a small pan until the jam has melted and is syrupy. Sieve into a small bowl and use to brush over the buns as soon as they come out of the oven. Transfer the buns to a wire rack and allow to cool before tucking in.

 

Monday, 7 April 2014

Kale Pesto

Gorgeous leafy kale

Kale has had some brilliant press lately as a cure-all superfood.  Whoever does its PR deserves one hellova pat on the back.  I mean, it's a cabbage.  And although delicious, who ever thought that a cabbage could have so much appeal?  Yet somehow kale is everywhere now- in juices, salads, stews and even crisps.  A fad, perhaps, but this leafy veg actually deserves it's moment in the limelight- it's full of beta carotene, Vit C, K and calcium.  It has a gorgeous, earthy taste and is genuinely versatile- steam it, bake it, have it stir fried, boiled, juiced or massage it (really) with some olive oil, lime juice and salt for a few minutes to tenderise it, then add pine nuts and cranberries for a salad worthy of a Californian health fanatic. 

I'm putting my two cents in with my  recipe for Kale pesto.  My take has chilli and rosemary in it, for extra punch.  I also bake the garlic and chilli in the oven first as I find this adds a lovely smoky flavour.  This recipe makes a large amount- it should last you all week.  Have it with pasta, gnocchi, drizzled on baked aubergine, roasted sweet potatoes or butternut squash, mixed with a little water for a salad dressing, spread on toasted bread or a homemade pizza, in sandwiches, mixed with mince and made into burgers, stirred through peas with a little goats cheese, in a potato salad, as a dip, dolloped on soup, with white beans, lamb, fish, chicken or swirled through mash.  Your pick.

Frequent readers of this blog (all two of you) will note that there's been a small change to the way I write recipes- I've now added imperial measurements, which I hope will be useful.  

Kale pesto

Kale Pesto

You will need:
200g/7oz kale (approx 1 bag), woody stems removed
4 garlic cloves
2 long red chillies
3 large sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 lemon, juice and zest
25g/1/2oz Parmesan, grated
50g/1oz pine nuts, toasted
150ml/5fl oz extra virgin olive oil

Kale pesto with penne

Method: 

1.  Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.  Place the garlic cloves (still in their skins) and chilli on a small oven tray and bake for about 20-25 mins, until the chilli is starting to char and the garlic is soft.  Allow to cool completely. 

2.  Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.  Add the kale and simmer until just tender, about 3-5 min.  Drain very well, squeezing out any excess water.

3. Place the kale, rosemary, lemon zest, Parmesan and pine nuts in the bowl of a mixer (or use a handheld blender).  Squeeze the garlic out of their cloves and add these along with the chillies, removing the seed if you like.  Whizz to a paste, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the motor running.  Add lemon juice to taste and a little water if very thick. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Paprika Chicken

Photography by Faith Mason
You can't beat a decent bird.  And although the evenings are gradually getting longer and lighter, there is still a definite nip in the air, driving us back indoors for pints, blankets and comfort food.  And there's no better comfort food than a roast chicken.  Although it is delicious served simply, I've also been enjoying different takes on the traditional roast chicken this winter.  Just a few little twists by adding a bit of spice or sweetness, perfect for this time of year.  My Moorish (moreish?) paprika roast chicken with apricots is just the ticket for in-between days.  Or why not try a different beast altogether and roast a pheasant. I know game can seem daunting, all dark meat and heady smells, but it couldn't be simpler to prepare, particularly if served as a one pot marvel. 

These wonderful photos are the result of another collaboration with the brilliantly clever photographer, Faith Mason.  Have a look at her website for more gorgeous shots and check back here in a few weeks for some upcoming Easter treats.  

Photography by Faith Mason
Photography by Faith Mason

Pot Roast Pheasant with Fennel and Chorizo
Serves 2-3

You will need:
2 medium onions, sliced
2 large fennel bulbs, sliced chunkily
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 pheasant
150g chorizo, sliced
100ml sweet and dark sherry, preferably Pedro Ximenez
500ml fresh chicken stock, from the chiller cabinet
1 tin butter beans or cannellini beans
a few sprigs of thyme
crusty bread, to serve, optional

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 160C.  Add a little oil to a frying pan and cook the onions and fennel slices until softened and beginning to go golden.  Add the garlic slices and continue to fry until just soft.  Remove and place in a large casserole dish or pot.  

2. Add another splash of oil to your frying pan and heat until really hot.  Season the pheasant and brown on all sides, this should take no more than 5 mins.  Nestle the pheasant in the casserole dish, sitting on top of the fennel and onion. 

3. Fry off the chorizo slices until browned and crispy.  Add these to the casserole dish as well.  Deglaze the frying pan by pouring in the sherry, simmering for about 5-7 mins, stirring and scraping the pan as you go until slightly reduced and sweet-smelling. 

4. Meanwhile, add the stock to the casserole dish and bring to a gentle simmer.  Add the reduced sherry, beans and thyme sprigs.  Cover and place in the oven for 1 hr 30 mins until the birds are cooked through and the sauce is thick and glossy.  Serve with some crusty bread for dipping and mopping, if you like.

Photography by Faith Mason


Paprika Roast Chicken with Red Pepper, Olive and Apricot Couscous
Serves 4

You will need:
200g dried apricots
75g butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp smoked paprika
handful parsley, optional
1 whole chicken, approx 1.5kg
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 lemons, juice and zest
300g couscous
100g green olives
3 long red peppers, cut into chunks
Rocket, to serve, optional  

Method:
1.  Preheat the oven to 190C.  Finely chop about 75g of the apricots and mash into the butter along with the garlic, 1 tsp paprika, seasoning and, if you like, some roughly chopped parsley.  Loosen the skin covering the chicken breasts and generously dot the butter underneath, smoothing down as you go. 

2. Place the rest of the butter into the cavity of the chicken, along with the juiced out lemon halves.  Scatter most of the apricots, half of the olives and all of the red pepper chunks into a large roasting tin. Mix together 1 tbsp of oil with the lemon zest, juice, 1 tsp paprika and some seasoning.  Use half to toss through the vegetables and the remainder to rub or brush this liberally all over the chicken.  Sit the bird in the roasting tray, tucking in as many stray bits of vegetable and fruit underneath as possible. Roast in the oven for approx 1 hr 20 mins, until cooked through and tender.

3.   Towards the end of the cooking time, cook the couscous according to packet instructions.  I like to tip it into a large bowl, pour over boiling water, covering by at about 2 cm.  Tightly cover with cling then leave for about 10 mins.  The water should have been absorbed and the couscous soft.  Fork the remaining oil through the couscous along with some seasoning.  

4. Once the chicken is cooked, place on a chopping board to rest.  Tip the fruit and veg into the couscous along with the rest of the olives and apricots, as well as a little of the juices from the roasting tin.  Fork through to distribute then season to taste- adding a little more oil or lemon juice if necessary.  Serve with the chicken and a rocket salad.

Photography by Faith Mason

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Blood Oranges and Bergamot



The last few days have been gloriously sunny and bright- a real shock to the system after the wet, dank weather we've had since the start of the year.  The only thing that really keeps me going towards from February to March is the promise of lighter days, warmer weather and finally being able to hang up my winter coat.  It looks like I'll be doing that a couple of weeks earlier this year- this weekend we even sat outside at the pub, squinting into the sun.

There is one bright and brilliant addition to the last push of winter that I always look forward to, though: blood oranges.  It seems strange that this vibrant citrus fruit is in season during the winter, though I'm not complaining, as they always seem to arrive just when I need an injection of freshness and long for lighter foods.  This year, I was lucky enough to find bergamots for sale alongside blood oranges at the brilliant Deli Downstairs, my local treasure trove. So I had a bit of a mad few weeks where every meal was finished with a juicy, plump Sicilian blood orange, bright juices streaming down my hands and feat like some sort of gory feast.  But I also experimented with them in salads, puddings and bakes.  The results are in. 





Blood Orange Curd
Adapted from Steve Parle's recipe, found here.
(makes 1 large jar)

You will need:
400ml blood orange juice (from about 8 blood oranges)
zest of 3 blood oranges
150g caster sugar
10 eggs (5 whole and 5 yolks)
200g butter, cubed

Method:
1.  Sit a medium sized bowl over a pan of just simmering water.  Add the blood orange juice, zest sugar and whole eggs along with 5 yolks.  Allow to thicken for about 15 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the butter, one cube at a time, waiting until each has melted before adding the next one. Tip into a large sterilised jar, allow to cool completely then refrigerate.  Use within two weeks. 



Blood Orange and Mascarpone Victoria Sponge
(Serves many)

You will need:
175g butter
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
175g self-raising flour, sifted
1 blood orange, zest and juice
blood orange curd
1 tub mascarpone

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease 2 x 23cm springform cake tins, lining each with a circle of greaseproof paper and greasing again. Cream the butter and sugar together with electric beaters until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the eggs, continuing to beat between each addition.  Fold in the flour and orange zest, adding 1-2 tbsp of juice to lighten the mixture slightly.

2. Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 25 minutes or until the cakes are risen, golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave the cakes in their tins for 10 minutes, before removing from their tins and cooling completely on a wire rack.  Generously spread one cake with the mascarpone and curd before sandwiching with the second cake. 






Pan Fried Mackerel with Blood Orange and Fennel Salad
 (Serves 2 as a light lunch or starter)

You will need: 
 220g pack of green beans, topped and tailed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
pinch of sugar1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly and any fronds reserved
2 blood oranges, peeled with any pith removed, sliced into rounds
large handful black olives, I used Kalamata
2 mackerel fillets, pin-boned (get the fish monger to do this for you)
small knob of butter
25g toasted flaked almonds

Method:
1.  Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the beans and cook until just tender.  Drain and place in a large bowl of ice cold water to cool and crisp up.  Whisk together 2 tbsp of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, sugar and some seasoning. Place the fennel, blood orange slices, drained green beans and olives in a large bowl.  Add the dressing and toss together then divide between two plates.

2. Add the remaining oil to a large, cold pan. Sit the mackerel, skin-side down, in the pan and turn the heat on to medium.  Frying your fish this way means the fillets don't curl up and ensures perfectly crispy skin.  Keep frying, basting with the oil and adding a little knob of butter if necessary.  Once the flesh of the fish has gone from translucent to opaque, it has cooked through.  Flip over briefly and fry for a further 30 seconds. Top the salads with the fish fillets and sprinkle with flaked almonds and any reserved fennel fronds.



Bergamot and Blood Orange Pavlovas
(Serves 6)

You will need:
5 egg whites (from the curd, see recipe above)
2 bergamots, juice and zest
275g caster sugar plus a little extra
300ml double cream
1 blood orange, segmented
blood orange curd
handful pistachios, roughly chopped

Method:
1.  To make the meringues, preheat the oven to 120C.  Place the egg whites in a large, preferably metal or glass, bowl with a squeeze of bergamot juice.  Whisk to stiff peaks.  Mix the sugar with the zest of 1 bergamot then add in heaped tablespoonfuls to the whites, whisking between each addition.  Line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper, then drop on 6 even dollops of the meringue mixture, leaving as much space between each as your baking sheet will allow.  Use a spoon to swirl each meringue nicely before placing the lower part of the oven for 1 hr 45 min- 2 hrs, until the meringues are crisp and dry and will easily lift off the baking sheet. Allow to cool completely.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the double cream until stiff peaks form.  Add the zest of the remaining bergamot and a squeeze of the juice. Sweeten to taste with a little caster sugar, but keep in mind that the meringues are very sweet.  Once ready to serve, place each meringue on a serving place the pile high with the cream, segmented blood orange slices (in the photos for these posts I used bergamot segments, but feel these were too sour), a dollop of blood orange curd and a sprinkle of the pistachios. Serve immediately.



 Blood Orange Jelly with Custard
(makes 5-6 individual or 1 large jelly)

You will need:
 For the jelly:
3 leaves of gelatine
300ml fresh blood orange juice (about 8 blood oranges)
25g sugar

For the custard:
290ml double cream
zest 1 blood orange
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp caster sugar

Method:
1.  Begin by making the jelly.  Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water so they are completely submerged.  Leave for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, gently heat the blood orange juice and sugar until just dissolved.  Do not boil.  Set the sweetened juice to one side, then squeeze out any excess liquid from the now softened gelatine leaves and add to the pan.  Stir for a few minutes, until all the gelatine has melted.  Pour into a medium sized bowl or, for individual servings, ramekins and wine glasses work well.  Allow to cool before chilling until completely set- at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.

2.  Make the custard.  Place the cream and orange zest into a pan and bring slowly to the boil.  Set aside to cool briefly. Beat the yolks and sugar in a medium-sized bowl briefly until combined and creamy.  Pour over the cooled cream and then clean out your pan.  Return the mixture to the pan and stir over a low heat, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. This should take about 10 minutes- do not simmer or boil at any point.  Strain if necessary and use to top the set jellies.  Return to the fridge for a further hour before serving.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Lemon and Blueberry Pancake Cake



 It's Shrove Tuesday and Pancake Day!  An absolutely brilliant British institution- why don't all nations have a dedicated day for eating pancakes?  We generally go to town and have some savoury (generally stuffed and baked) followed by a few (or perhaps more than a few) with sugar, lemon, melted chocolate, ice cream... It is only once year, after all.

In Sweden, pancake day isn't nearly as big as it is in the UK.  Instead, they have semlor- wonderful cardamom-scented buns, filled with marzipan and whipped cream especially for Shrove Tuesday.  So fair play, really.  However, when it comes to pancakes, the Swedes have got something right.  It's called a pancake cake.  And it is exactly what it says on the tin- a stack of pancakes layered with fillings, most often cream and berries, and served as a cake with messy slices cut out of it. 

One of my favourite books as a child was a beautifully illustrated story book called the Pancake Cake about Mr Pettson and his cat, Findus.  For the cat's birthday, Pettson sets out to make a pancake cake.  For this he needs flour, which involves going to the shop.  But his bicycle has a flat tyre and the pump is locked in a shed.  And the key for the shed is at the bottom of a well, so they need a ladder.  But the ladder is in a field with an angry bull in it. So they have to distract the bull, to get the ladder to get the key to get into the shed to get the pump to... you get the picture.  Hilarity ensues.

This is my hat tip to Pettson and Findus.  A very simple blueberry and lemon flavoured pancake cake that can be made as outrageously tall as you like.  For a smaller cake, simply halve the recipe.


Blueberry and Lemon Pancake Cake

You will need:
400g plain flour
4 eggs, beaten
200ml milk
4 tbsp melted butter plus more for frying
2 lemons, zested and juiced
290ml double cream
blueberry jam- or your favourite jam, raspberry and strawberry also work very well
blueberries, to serve

Method:

1.  To make the pancake batter, sift the flour into a large bowl along with a pinch of salt. Make a well and add the eggs, milk, butter and 100ml of water.  Whisk together until you have a thick batter.  Add most of the zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. Set to one side for about 20 minutes to let any bubbles or lumps of flour settle.

2.  Fry your pancakes.  For this cake I used a small frying pan, but you could just as well use a large one.  Melt a little butter in a hot pan and add half a ladle full of the batter.  Immediately swirl the pan around to evenly disperse the mixture.  Once bubbles start to appear on the surface and the bottom seems dry, flip the pancake over using a spatula.  Fry for another minute or so.  This first pancake is likely to be a disaster- this is the universal pancake rule.  Eat it immediately sprinkled with sugar and then carry on making more pancakes.  As you can gain confidence, you can try having two pans on the go at the same time and perhaps doing some pancake flips?

3.  Allow your pancakes to cool completely on a wire rack.  Whip your cream quite stiffly, adding a little squeeze of lemon juice and any remaining zest.  Sweeten if you like.  Layer the pancakes on a serving plate, alternating with the jam, cream and berries.  Finish by spreading the top layer with cream and decorating with more blueberries and perhaps a sprig of mint.  

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Valentine Cheesecake

Photo by Faith Mason
Photo by Faith Mason

Photo by Faith Mason
I've become a bit of a dab hand when it comes to cheesy Valentine's bakes.  I recently made this loaf cake for work but couldn't stop there so kept going with this Pistachio, Pomegranate and Clementine cheesecake.  The swirly heart pattern is achieved by dotting blobs of pomegranate coulis on top of the cake, then pulling a cocktail stick through them.  It's a lot easier than it looks, but you will need a pipette or a syringe to get really exact dots.  You can, of course, omit the hearts and simply serve the coulis on the side- also delicious.  These gorgeous shots are courtesy of Faith Mason - photographer extraordinaire.  

Photo by Faith Mason


Pistachio, Pomegranate and Clementine Cheesecake

You will need:
200g digestive biscuits, blitzed to a fine crumb
100g unsalted butter, melted
75g shelled pistachios, finely chopped
2 pomegranates, juice only (try my stain-free method in step 2)
2 tsp cornflour dissolved in 4 tsp water
100g icing sugar, plus extra to taste
4 gelatin leaves
300ml double cream
300g cream cheese, room temperature
zest and juice of 2 clementines

20cm loose bottomed cake tin
One plastic pipette

Photo by Faith Mason
Method:

 1. Mix the biscuits, butter and pistachios until well combined.  Pack firmly into a loose-bottomed cake tin, spreading out with the back of a spoon so that it is evenly distributed and coming slightly up the sides of the tin.  Chill until needed.

2. To extract the juice from the pomegranates, split one open then place in a large bowl of water.  Working under the water, separate the seeds from the hard skin.  Any bits of white pith should float to the top, making them easy for you to discard.  Drain the seeds and sort through to remove any extra bits of pith.  Repeat with the second pomegranate then place the seeds in the bowl of a mixer and blitz briefly.  Strain the juice  into a saucepan.  Add the cornflour in water and sift in a few tbsp of icing sugar, to taste.  Gently heat until you have a thick, but still drizzle-able coulis. Allow to cool completely.

3.  Meanwhile, soak the gelatin leaves in a small bowl of water for 5 min.  Pour the cream into a pan and bring to a simmer then remove from the heat.  Squeeze any excess water out of the gelatin leaves and add to the warm cream, stirring until dissolved.  Allow to cool slightly.  Beat 100g of icing sugar into the cream cheese along with the clementine zest and juice.  Add the gelatin cream along with 3tbsp of the pomegranate coulis and beat until smooth.

4.  Pour the cream cheese mixture into the biscuit base. You are now ready to decorate- hope you have a steady hand! Starting in the very centre of the cake, use the pipette to dot tiny circles in a spiral motion all the way around the cake.  I let my dots get bigger as I worked my way around.  Finally, starting in the middle again, use a toothpick to pull through the dots in continuous line- try not to lift your hand up if you can help it!  You should end up with a spiral of little hearts.

5.  Cover the tin with cling (be careful not to touch the top of the cake!) and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight, until set.

Photo by Faith Mason

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Chocolate Pear Tart with Saffron and Ginger


 

New Years seems a long time ago now, but given that I haven't posted anything since the holidays, I thought it worth mentioning. I had a fantastic start to 2014 up in the Lake District, battling downpours but nonetheless finding a break or two between the clouds for brisk walks amongst the valleys and dales.  It is a brilliant place for a party, great for hunkering down, games, the aforementioned walks and, above all, eating.  There were about 25 of us and I was put in charge of pud on the big night itself (no pressure).  I went for a classic pear and frangipane tart, with plenty of boozy cream to go with, of course. 

So I've been thinking a lot about pears and tarts recently as well as sweet spices, like cardamom, ginger and saffron.  The tart recipe in this post was a bit of an experiment, but one that payed dividends.  A decadent dinner party pudding with ginger pastry, saffron poached pears and rich, bitter chocolate ganache.  I implore you to give it a go.





In other news, I was recently given a selection of syrups from Iceland.  These include birch-tree syrup, rhubarb syrup and a berry syrup.  It is very difficult to find anything out about these syrups online, mostly because all my search efforts seem to lead to the budget frozen supermarket chain, Iceland, and its online listing for Lyle's golden syrup.  I'll keep researching, but what I can tell you is that these little pots are a total joy.  I was particularly excited to try the birch syrup as I recently went to Scandinavian food event where I had birch sap sparkling wine by Sav, which was, incidentally, absolutely delicious.

With my birch sap syrup pot, I made a pear and birch spread for toast and cakes.  Fruit butters are really no more than purees and sound much fancier than they are.  But I do love the idea of making these as preserves and having a jar around just for when you fancy it.  This would make a great cake filling as well.  Of course, if you can't get hold of birch sap you can simply use a high quality maple syrup.  I also grilled some pears, brushed them with birch tree syrup and then simply served alongside a simple cardamom yoghurt.  This actually makes a delicious, slightly unusual breakfast and is just the thing to ward against these wet days.


Spiced Pear, Coconut and Birch Butter

You will need:
5 medium pears, peeled
2 tbsp birch syrup (or good quality maple syrup)
pinch sea salt
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Method:

1. Preheat your oven to 200C.  Roughly chop pears and place on a baking tray. In a small bowl, mix together the syrup, salt, coconut oil and ground cinnamon.

2. Toss through the pears and  bake for about 30 min until golden and beginning to caramelise.  Cool thoroughly then blitz in a mixer or using a hand blender.  Spread over toast, muffins or stirred into your muesli for breakfast.  Will keep for 1 week in the fridge.  





This is a rich, decadent dessert.  Perfect to impress as it combines pastry making skills, pear-poaching and chocolate work (ganache).  However, it really is easy as pie to make and looks beautiful once you cut into it.  Definitely one for the grown ups, though, as the chocolate is bitter and the saffron aromatic.

Chocolate Pear Tart with Saffron and Ginger

You will need:
For the pears:
6 pears, peeled
100g caster sugar
100ml pear liqueur
200ml water
1/2 tsp saffron strands
2 slices ginger
1 strip lemon peel

For the pastry:
250g plain flour
pinch salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 egg yolks

For the ganache:
250ml double cream
200g dark chocolate, chopped
2 eggs


Method:

1. To poach the pears,  heat the pear liqueur and water in a large saucepan.  Add the sugar, saffron, ginger and lemon peel and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Add the pears and bring to a gentle simmer.  Top with the round of greaseproof paper and weight down with a saucer.  Cover and allow the pears to poach until just tender, about 30 minutes.  Lift out and allow to cool before halving and scooping out the core with a teaspoon. 

2. Meanwhile, make the pastry.  Sift together the flour, salt, sugar and ginger. Work in the cubes of butter until you have a breadcrumb-like consistency.  You can either do this by hand or in a mixer.  Combine the egg yolks with 2 tbsp of water and add about half of it to the flour mixture.  Work to a dough, adding more liquid if necessary.  Wrap into cling and flatten into a disc then chill for 30 min.  Roll out, line and blind bake the pastry case for about 20 min in a 200C oven. 

3. Place the chocolate in a small bowl.  Bring the cream to a boil and then pour over the chocolate.  Leave to stand for a few minutes, then stir to combine.  Add a few tsp of the saffron syrup to taste along with some additional pear liqueur, if desired.  Finally, stir in the eggs.

4. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Arrange the pears in pastry case then pour over chocolate ganache.  Bake 25-30 mins, until just set with a tiny bit of wobble. 









Monday, 6 January 2014

Swedish Lucia Saffron Buns

photography by Faith Mason
photography by Faith Mason
photography by Faith Mason
Happy 2014!

I hope that you were able to spend some of it with loved ones, some of it relaxing, some of it cooking and some of it eating!

I rather overdid it, partly because as a Swede celebrating Christmas in the UK, I have twice the festive fun.  First there's a traditional Swedish 'jul' on the 24th with a heaving smörgåsbord of ham, meatballs, spiced bread, red cabbage and Janssons temptation (a creamy potato gratin with sweet conserved sprats- odd but delicious). All washed down with plenty of beer and snaps, of course.

In Sweden this gluttony is traditionally followed by an hour of conking out in front of Donald Duck's Christmas, broadcast every year at the same time to the delight of every Swedish child and every exhausted Swedish parent.  Presents are opened when it gets dark (so about 3pm, then) and then just to add some pagan flair, everyone dances around the Christmas tree.  And then if all that wasn't enough I also got to have a proper English Christmas on the 25th with Toby's family- a full turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, mince pies, the whole schebang.  So I'm still pretty much still full.  Roll on healthy eating this month!

In the meantime, here's a recipe for a Swedish festive classic- Lucia buns.  Saffron was, of course, a very expensive spice (and it still doesn't come particularly cheap) and therefore used to flavour sweet bread in the run up to this celebratory season.  But I think these buns are delicious all year round and, seeing as I have a freezer full of them, I may well be enjoying them well into Spring!

The pictures in this post are curtsy of the fantastically talented photographer, Faith Mason.  You can see more of her work here.  More to come from the photo shoot we did together recently, including paprika spiced chicken with apricots and a pheasant casserole!

photography by Faith Mason


Saffron Buns (also called Lucia Buns)
Makes about 30-35 buns

You will need:
200g unsalted butter
500ml full fat milk
3g saffron strands
1 sugar cube
50g fresh yeast
pinch of salt
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten + 1 egg, beaten
1 kg plain flour + extra for kneading
handful of raisins or sultanas

photography by Faith Mason

Method:

1.  Melt the butter over a medium heat in a large saucepan.  Add the milk and heat to body temperature (you can test this by sticking your finger into the pan- it should not feel hot or cold, just wet!).

2.  Bash the saffron in a pestle and mortar with the sugar cube.  The cube will act as an abrasive and break up the strands into a rough powder. Add this to the butter and milk. 

3.  Crumble the yeast into a large bowl and add the salt, sugar and about 3 tbsp lukewarm water.  Mix to dissolve the yeast.  Pour the saffron, milk and butter mixture into the bowl and whisk together before adding the 2 beaten eggs. 

4.  Add enough of the flour, about 900g-1kg to form a dough, mixing with a substantial wooden spoon initially, then using your hands to bring the dough together.  Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until you have an elastic dough.  Clean out your bowl and return the dough to it, cover with a kitchen towel and leave to rise in a warmish place for 1- 1.5 hours, until doubled in size. 

5.  Heat the oven to 220C.  Line to baking sheets with parchment or lightly grease with a flavourless oil.  Tip the dough out onto your floured work surface.  Knead briefly to knock out some air, then divide the dough into 2 parts.  Divide each of these into 4 and then into 4 again- so you end up with 32 pieces of dough, although you may find that you want to divide some bigger pieces into two buns, depending on how accurate you are with your dough-dividing!

6.  Roll each piece into a long, thin sausage.  Place the sausage in front of you, vertically.  Roll the top end down to the right.  Roll the bottom end upwards to the left.  You should end up with an 'S' shape.  Stick a raisin into the middle of each end and place on your baking sheet.  Continue with the remaining dough.   Leave each baking sheet to prove for about 30 minutes before brushing lightly with the remaining beaten egg. 

7.  Bake in the hot oven for 10-12 minutes, until golden and baked through.  Leave to cool under a tea towel- this will stop them from drying out.  Enjoy with a mug of mulled wine or freeze for later. 

photography by Faith Mason

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Leftover pumpkin?


As promised, here is the third instalment of my pumpkin bonanza.  I really enjoyed making (and eating) this autumnal take on pork meatballs.  The pumpkin makes your meat go a bit further and because they are baked in the oven, rather than fried, just that little bit healthier.   You could also use a lean mince to really up the health credentials.  The chèvre cream is one of my favourite things in the world- it works as a dip, a sauce with pasta (see serving suggestion below in step 3) or just as an accompaniment to some grilled meat.  

Pork, Pumpkin and Sage Meatballs 

You will need: 
500g pork mince
1/4 Pumpkin, peeled and grated coarsely
1 red onion, grated coarsely
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp finely chopped sage
2 lemons, zest only
75g plain flour
2 tbsp vegetable oil
handful of pine nuts

For the chèvre cream
125g soft, rindless goats cheese
100g crème fraiche
1/2 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp honey



Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 200C.  In a large bowl, combine the pork, pumpkin and red onion.  Stir through the sage, garlic and the zest of 1 lemon.  Finally, sift over the flour and season generously.  Stir this through the mixture, adding a little more flour if it seems very soft- although be aware that this should be quite a wet mixture, to keep the meatballs moist.

2.  Roll into meatballs, about 5cm in diameter and place on a lightly oiled oven tray.  Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, shaking the tray ever so often, until all the meatballs are nicely golden.

3.  Meanwhile,  mix together the goats cheese, crème fraiche, garlic and honey until smooth-either with a fork to mash up the cheese or in a mini chopper.  Serve the meatballs with the chèvre cream, pine nuts and lemon zest perhaps along side some wilted cavolo nero or spinach.  Alternatively, stir the chèvre cream through some tagliatelle and top with the meatballs. 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Happy Thanksgiving







As I've mentioned before, I do love a pumpkin.  Few vegetables signify a season quite as well.  And, yes, I know this may in part be to our ever-expanding americanization, but I don't mind so much in this instance.  I know that the Yankee abduction of our seasons and traditions over here in Europe is often no more than a marketing ploy, but I'll happily buy into a pumpkin fad.  And anyway, they are the ultimate frugal veg because you can get so much out of them- a bargain rather than a frivolous, unnecessary splurge.  So take that, Hollywood.  

Although I have to admit that for me, Autumn would remind me of the States, even if the shops weren't trying to sell me Halloween (and, at some delis in Notting Hill, even Thanksgiving).  I think partly this is because when I lived in New York I was so struck by the way the city unfolded in shades of terracotta, yellow and umber.   But, mostly, having gone to American schools when I was young, the autumn holidays made quite an impression.  I loved it.  The dressing up, the crafting, the cooking, the excitement and, if I was very, very lucky, an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner from an American friend.  I was so impressed by the ritual of it all and loved the strange, exotic foods- cranberries, sweet potatoes (occasionally studded with mini marshmallows!), the enormous-seeming turkey and, of course, pumpkin pie.  

So every year, I buy a pumpkin and I cook with it.  This year, I managed to get three decent recipes and meals from 1 medium sized pumpkin.  Here are two with the final one to follow.   



Spicy Thai Pumpkin Soup
Serves 4
You will need:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 red chilli, half diced finely and half sliced
1 lemongrass, central part only, finely chopped
1 large handful coriander, leaves and stems separated and roughly chopped.  
1 thumb of ginger, grated1/2 pumpkin, peeled and cut into rough chunks
2 onions, chopped
1 litre chicken stock
200ml coconut cream

Method:
1.  Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan.  Fry off the garlic, the finely diced chilli, lemongrass, coriander stems and ginger until fragrant and aromatic.  Add the onions and fry until softened, then add the pumpkin and stir to coat in the onion and spice mixture. Add the chicken stock bring to the boil.  Simmer until the pumpkin has completely softened, about 15 minutes.  
2.  Blend the soup with a stick blender until completely smooth.  Add all but 2 tbsp of the coconut cream and heat through, simmering for a little longer if not quite thick enough.  To serve, pour into bowls and stir through a little bit of the coconut cream.  Top with the sliced chilli and coriander leaves.  



This recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi's book Plenty.   It would make a delicious side dish to accompany some spicy grilled chicken, or as a meal of its own with some quinoa and leaves.  

Pumpkin roasted with cardamom and tahini dressing
Serves 2
 
You will need:
3 cardamom pods
1/4 pumpkin, cut into wedges
2tbsp olive oil
For the tahini dressing:
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp tahini
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 green chilli, sliced finely
1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped.  
Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200C.  Bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar until you have something you have a coarse powder.  Place the pumpkin wedges on a baking sheet and add the oil, cardamom and season generously.  Toss to completely coat, then bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft and golden.  
2. To make the dressing, stir together the olive oil, tahini, lime zest, about 1 tbsp of lime juice and some salt and pepper.  Taste to adjust the seasoning and lime juice.  It should be about he same consistency as plain yoghurt so it seems very thick, lighten with a little water.  Serve the pumpkin wedges arranged on a large plate, drizzled with the dressing and scattered with the coriander and sliced chilli.  Serve with some additional lime, if desired.