Saturday, 30 January 2010

Pop Biscuits

I was an avid reader as a child, particularly enjoying fantasy stories like CS Lewis' Narnia series, and Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree series.  Those of you familiar with Blyton will likely remember as fondly as I do that every story involved food.  Whether it was fresh bread, warm milk, cakes or lashings of ginger beer, the characters always indulged themselves in something that really tempted the senses.  One tidbit that always stayed with me were the 'Pop Biscuits' that Silky the fairy made in the Faraway Tree books.  Biscuits that popped when you bit them, and oozed a liquid honey centre.  They sounded fantastic.

So when it came to planning the Imbolc baking this year, I knew that the milk and honey oriented temptation I would offer to guests had to be pop biscuits.  Had to be!  My first port of call was of course, google.  Someone had to have done this before, right?  Right.  I came across a blogger who had used Brooke McLay's recipe over on Tongue-N-Cheeky to make some little shortbread biscuits with a hollow centre that went pop when you bit into them.  So 50% there.  Had the pop but not the delicious honey centre.  I tried a batch but didn't get the hollows; what I did get however was a particularly hard but tasty little shortbread button.  Which got me thinking.

What about making shortbread, rolling it, and using it to line a little tart tin?  Mince pies, but with shortbread in place of the pastry and honey in place of the mincemeat?  If you baked the shortbread low enough and for a short enough time then that might work, I thought.  So I tried it.

Pop Biscuits Recipe
175g of plain flour (I used Dove's Farm gluten free)
100g of butter
50g of sugar
Set honey

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3.  Cream the butter and sugar until soft, slowly add the flour until you have a stiff dough.  Knead until its sticking together well, then roll out as thin as you can without it tearing and use to line a yorkshire pudding tray.  Add about 3/4 of a teaspoon of set honey to each, then top with a shortbread lid.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, leave to cool before removing from the tin!

I had one still warm from the oven and ooooooh my goodness.  Heaven.  That warm honey centre is such a treat.  When they were cooled they were almost as good though, a crisp shortbread biscuit with a gooey honey centre.  A real treat.  They went down very well with the guests who stopped by soon after!

I think with a little experimentation the biscuit could be improved though, perhaps adapting the Tongue-N-Cheeky recipe a little to get a real 'pop' when the biscuit was opened.  Watching the cooking time and perhaps chilling the honey first could all help contain it (it had leaked in places from this batch).  But honestly? That's just being pernickety.  These were gooooooooood.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Marzipan and Hazlenut Cookies

Remember back in December I was looking for my Marzipan and Hazlenut Cookie recipe and I found a Cherry and Marzipan one instead?  Well, a little post festive sort out had me reunited with my recipe folder, which I sorted into a new expanding file and amongst the mess was the original Waitrose recipe card.  Hurrah!

The perfect excuse to make them was to go visiting a friend who is expecting a baby very soon.  I made a batch and found them as excellent as I remembered - but unfortunately forgot to get any photographs before they were delivered and eaten!  Here is the recipe though:

Marzipan and Hazlenut Cookies
175g of butter at room temperature
175g of caster sugar
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
75g of hazlenuts, chopped and lightly toasted
100g of plain flour
100g of self-raising flour
75g of Marzipan, roughly chopped
75g of dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5.  Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy.  Add the flour to the bowl, then add the other ingredients before you mix it all in together.  Shape the dough into 16 balls, place on a greased baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes.

These are an incredibly indulgent cookie, beautifully chewy with crunchy hazlenuts acting as a counterpoint to little pockets of marzipanny delight and the warm, chocolately goodness.  I will bake some more, soon, and will do my best to take some pictures before they're all gone this time!

Red Onion Tarte Tatin

A friend of my SO's sent him a message to ask for French vegetarian dishes.  He asked me.  I thought about it for a moment or two and suggested a red onion tarte tatin, and then flipped through the nearest cookbook to come up with a gratin recipe.  But the idea of a red onion tarte had worked its way into my brain, and I wanted to make it.  So I looked through a few online recipes and found one on Delia Smith's website which looked like what I wanted.  Except...well I sort of had a feeling that some goats cheese melted on the top would be divine.  The next recipe I looked up was a Jean-Christophe Novelli that was more complicated, but had goats cheese added at the end!  So I decided to marry the two things up.

I halved enough red onions to cover the bottom of my Le Creuset omelette pan, melted some butter and added a little sugar to it, then lay the onions in cut side down and cooked them for a few minutes.  I added a dash of balsamic vinegar and cooked them a little longer, then popped them in the over at Gas Mark 4 for about half an hour (they were small onions, larger ones will take longer!).  Back on to the hob to reduce any onion juices, and I topped them with some gluten free shortcrust pastry I had found in the freezer and baked them for another half an hour until that was golden.  I flipped the whole tarte onto a baking sheet, dotted with goats cheese and popped it back into the oven to melt.  Delicious!

Low carb pancakes

So I am working on losing the half a stone that I somehow (I have no idea how!  It can't have been all the rich food and chocolate, surely?) during the festive season.  One way I've found effective in the past is to eat a high protein, lowish carb diet.  I'm not talking Atkins, as I think that approach is too extreme, but upping the protein content significantly and substituting other things for rice and potatoes.  I lost a reasonable amount of weight doing this last year, so I'm hoping I can do the same again this.  Plus of course, it brings with it a whole range of cooking challenges!

Now, I am not really a breakfast person.  It tends to take me at least an hour after I've woken up before I can face food, and when I can it needs to be something sweetish.  Danish Pastries, pancakes, muffins...and yes, you will see the pattern there that they are all carbs!  So this is my variation on a low carb, gluten free pancake.  You know what?  They're surprisingly good and very filling!

Low carb pancakes
1 tbsp yoghurt (I use Sojade Soy yoghurt)
1 egg
3/4 cup of mixed nuts and seeds (my mix today was linseed, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds and cashews.

Blitz the ingredients together in a blender until they're as smooth as they'll get.  Add to a frying pan that's been greased and cook over a moderate heat, flipping when one side gets brown.  Enjoy!

And yes, I know the maple syrup isn't low carb.  So sue me ;)

Monday, 11 January 2010

Chickpea fritters with tikka sauce

I love chickpeas.  They're substantial and comforting, warming and filling and go well with the other flavours I like to eat.  Tomatoes, aubergines, garlic, harissa paste.  Mmmm.  So when I was leafing through the New Cranks Cookbook this was one that popped out at me for trying.  Now chickpeas aren't a problem, because I love them they are ever present in my store cupboard in both dried and tinned forms however I didn't have any soy yoghurt for the tikka sauce.  I did however have a jar of Meridian Dairy and Gluten Free Tikka Massala sauce so I decided to use that instead.

The basic recipe was for 6 so I halved quantities but it still made enough patties for 4 (unless you're a very big eater!) served with pilau rice.  It was a good meal but would I think have been better paired with some pitta bread and a green salad.  I soaked 4 ounces of dried chickpeas overnight in water, then blitzed them in the food processor for about 15 seconds until they were grainy, then transferred them into another bowl.  I then put a (drained and rinsed) tin of chickpease into the processor with the juice of a lime and a tablespoon of the tikka cause and whizzed them until they were mostly mushed.  That went into the bowl with the dried chickpeas, some diced red onion and it was mixed together and left to stand for 20  minutes to let the flavours mingle. I then formed patties (it made about 10) which I shallow fried on a mediumish heat for a few minutes a side until they were golden brown.

Oh but these were good!  Deliciously crisp and nutty on the outside, and temptingly soft on the inside.  The tikka sauce was a great match (though home made would be a million times better!) and with the rice it was a filling meal.  They were also great cold the next day!  Not so dry as a falafel but not quite a veggie burger either.  They're a part of my repertoire now!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Roast Salmon, Braised Fennel and Wild Rice Pilaf

We're a mostly vegetarian household, but every once in a while we like to eat a bit of fish.  My 3 year old is particularly fond of salmon.  We had some steaks that needed using up tonight, and some 'mini-fennel' that I wanted to braise.  I knew I wanted to make rice the accompaniement, and remembered reading a nice pilaf recipe on Cafe Karma, so refreshed my memory with it and rustled that up too.

I didn't have a wild rice mix, or any spinach, and used a combo of chestnut and oyster mushrooms but otherwise I stuck pretty true to the recipe as it appeared on Cafe Karma.  The fennel was browned in olive oil then popped in a medium oven for about half an hour until soft.  The salmon was topped with freshly ground pepper and a bay leaf and roasted in a hot oven for about 15 minutes.  It was a really great combination!  The rice was nutty and the cranberries added a real burst of flavour, and the whole thing worked together really nicely.

Fresh Bread

You really can't beat the smell, taste or texture of fresh bread, straight from the oven. It's something I really miss about not being able to eat wheat. However my SO and my son are both good with wheat, and if they're going to eat it then I'd rather they were eating good quality ingredients made with care so, when I have the time, I bake bread for them.

I've heard a lot of talk over the years about baking bread being hard, or time consuming or generally too much trouble. I don't agree. The result that you get is so far removed from a loaf of supermarket polystyrene pap that you can't really compare the two things at all! Real bread is crusty on the outside, soft in the middle and packed with flavour. Yes it takes a couple of hours from starting the loaf to finishing it, but you don't need to stand over it all the time! You can just set it to rise and go do something else.

My basic loaf recipe, for a 2lb loaf tin is:

8 ounces of flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 pint warm water

Put the dry ingredients into the bowl then add the water gradually, depending on the flour you're using you may need more or less than the 1/2 pint. Stir some of the water in and mix with a knife until you have a craggy dough, then add the oil, mix some more and start trying to work it into a ball. Stop adding water when the dough comes together into a ball. Knead in the bowl for a while, then transfer to a well floured worksurface and knead for a few minutes before returning to the bowl and leaving in a warm place to rise for an hour.

Take the risen dough (it should have about doubled in size) out of the bowl and knead it well again, then shape it or pop it into the tin and leave it to rise again for about another half an hour. When that's done, it goes in the oven at Gas mark 7 until its brown and crusty (about 45 minutes). To test if its done, turn it upside down and tap the bottom, if it doesn't sound hollow them pop it back in the oven upside down for a few minutes until it does.

Mushroom and Goats Cheese Risotto

Risotto is one of my standby, last minute lunch or dinner ideas.  I admit I don't make it 'properly'.  I usually don't have time to stand there stirring in a little stock at a time, so I tend to bung it all in at once and let the rice cook.  It tastes good, but I will make it the proper way one day just to see if there's a difference :)  Today I was still revelling in the delicious goodies that had come from Ocado, and wanted to use the chestnut and oyster mushrooms I had in the fridge.  Had I been more organised I'd have pre-soaked some dried porchini for that extra mushroomy flavour but...I didn't.

Mushroom and Goats Cheese Risotto
1 red onion
2 cloves of garlic, crushed.
About 250g of mushrooms, best if a couple of varieties are used
1 cup of risotto rice
Vegetable stock
Soft goats cheese
A little olive oil

Add oil to pan and heat, then gently cook the onions until transluscent before adding the mushrooms and garlic and cooking for a while.  Then add the rice, stirring well before pouring in the stock (you need to have about a thumb nails height above the level of the rice in the pan).  Cook until all the water is absorbed then stir in the goats cheese and serve!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Potatoes with Red Onions & Tomatoes and Filled Aubergine Rolls

Last year for Christmas I asked for a copy of The New Cranks Recipe Book by Nadine Abensur.  Cranks was a chain of wholefood restaurants that pioneered veggie cuisine, but sadly closed in 2001.  I can't remember where I came across the book to ask for it, but Santa bought it for me in 2008 and it has sat unopened on my kitchen bookshelf ever since.  We get a vegbox delivery, so can't order in specific things for recipes usually, and when I do want to try something different I usually google for a main ingredient and pick something from the list.  My recipe books are therefore sadly neglected but I wanted 2010 to be a year of experimentation and so, as we were having to order from the wonder Ocado this week, I chose a few recipes I wanted to try from Cranks.

I picked two dishes that were recommended to go together; Potatoes with Red Onions and Tomatoes, and Filled Aubergine Rolls.  The potatoes were tossed in olive oil with crushed garlic, salt and pepper, had slices of tomato and red onion nestled between and popped into a low oven for an hour.

Whilst they baked away nicely, the aubergines were halved and the flesh taken out, then the shells were baked at gas mark 6 for half an hour until they were soft.  Meantime the centres were sauteed with garlic, tomatoes and a touch of balsamic until soft.  Fennel and peppers were quick fried next (the recipe called for courgettes which I didn't have).  The recipe also called for a can of kidney beans, but I could see I was going to have way too much filling anyway so just tossed in some edamame and mixed all the veggies together.  The aubergines came out of the oven, were spread with pesto, topped with thin slices of smoked cheese and topped with the veggie mix before rolling and securing with toothpicks.

Then back in the oven surrounded by the rest of the filling, this time with the potato dish now with the lid off.  A quick blast of heat to get it all crisped and melty.  The aromas wafting from the oven were incredible.

Unfortunately as it was getting late the potatoes were a little less cooked than I would have liked, but it was still a really flavoursome meal and a nice change of pace in the midst of winter and its roots and squashes.  Mmmmm!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Corn Bread and lentil pate

Ah Christmas.  Lovely gifts for using in my kitchen.  This year I got a pretty Ciroa Miniamo Cupcake Stand and some of their silicone cupcake cases too.  Unfortunately I also got on Wii Fit Plus and found out I'd piled on 1/2 a stone in the last few months between comfort eating and celebrating, so making cupcakes was out of the question.  Doh!

I've been inspired lately by reading Cafe Karma which is the blog of the wife of an online friend of mine.  She makes some incredible vegan food and has recently posted about cornbread which reminded me how easy and delicious it is to make and suitable for my gluten free diet!  I sorted out my printed out recipes yesterday and found a few cornbread recipes I meant to try, and some of the lentil pate recipes I used to make quite often for lunch so when my SO asked me today "What's for lunch?" I had an immediate answer!  But more exciting was the prospect of using my cupcake cases to bake the cornbread.  Yay!

Cornbread muffins
2 cups of cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups of milk (I used rice milk)
2 tbsp of vegetable oil.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 8.  Combine dry ingredients in one bowl and wet in another, then mix together.  Pour into muffin cases and bake for 10-15 minutes until they're golden and pulling away from the tin slightly.  Makes 12 muffins.  You can also bake this in a 9inch cake tin and cut into slices.

Lentil Dip
1 tin of lentils
1 onion
Butter or margerine
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp tomato puree
Balsamic Vinegar
Mushroom Ketchup

Fry the onions and garlic gently in a little butter or margerine until caremallised.  Add to the blender with the lentils (drained and rinsed) and the tomato puree and blend until smooth.  Add dashes of vinegar and mushroom ketchup until you have the taste you want.

The cornbread popped out of those muffin tins leaving them squeaky clean, wonderful!  The lunch was enjoyed by all of us, especially my 3 year old who had great fun working the food processer with me and 'tasting' the dip!  I am sad to report the loss of my Global mini-cleaver though, which broke into two pieces on being dropped today.  It was a great knife, but at least I now have an excuse to go knife shopping for the first time in a decade - those Global Knives are sheer awesome.