Saturday, 29 December 2012

Merry Christmas (with biscuits)

We've had some sort of biscuits at home at Christmas for as long as I can remember, and a few years ago I started adapting a recipe for traditional Speculaas biscuits. As well as being super yummy, they also make great presents - either for Christmas presents or post-Christmas thank yous. Also you're allowed to make them after Christmas so long as you're still within the twelve days of it, I've decided. So GET BAKING PEOPLE.

- 200g/8oz plain flour
- 2tsp cinnamon
- 1tsp ground ginger
- 1tsp nutmeg
- 1tsp baking powder
- ½tsp salt
- 100g/4oz soft brown muscovado sugar
- 2tbsp milk
- 150g/5oz butter
- 2tbsp glacé ginger
- 1tbsp candied peel
- zest of 1 orange
- zest of ½ lemon
This is meant to make 24, but I used a variety of cutters and ended up getting 40. But honestly? You can't really have too many biscuits.

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper
2. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and spices in a bowl, then rub in the butter. Add in the sugar, mixed peel, glacé ginger and zest and mix well to combine.
3. Add the milk, a little at a time, and use your hands to bring the mixture together into a soft dough.
4. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface, and roll out to about 0.5cm thick. Cut out your shapes and use a spatula to help transfer them to the baking sheet.

Tip: there'll probably be bits of flour on the biscuits from rolling out - if you dip a soft brush or even just your finger in a bit of water you can use it to brush the flour off and ensure an even colour after baking
5. Bake for 15-18 minutes - they should be puffed up and turning golden brown. Let the biscuits cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

You can decorate them however you like - I mixed some icing sugar with the juice of half the orange I'd zested, put it in a plastic bag, cut off the tip and iced around the edges of my shapes. I also stuck on some dried cranberries, and added edible glitter to a few for that extra festive sparkle.

So, enjoy! A very merry Christmas to you all from myself and Zosia, and all the best for your 2013s!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Hangover Heaven: Eggy Bread

I handed in my last essay of term on Tuesday, and I feel more than due a good night out in celebration. Luckily there are two of those lined up for this week, but not-so-luckily they're one after the other. Plus, Fraser's coming to visit and will be here for the second one, so I need to be alive rather than wallowing in the hangover hell.

Solution: Eggy bread (or French toast, if you want to be fancy). And also tea. Lots of tea.

It couldn't be simpler really -
1. Heat up some olive oil in a frying pan. You can add some butter too, if you're feeling extravagant.
2. Grab some bread, it doesn't matter what sort, and slice it up.
3. Then in a bowl, beat together an egg per person, add a good dash of milk and season.
4. Soak your bread in the eggy mixture (flipping over so both sides get done), then transfer to the pan.
5. Cook for about 3-5 minutes and then turn over and cook for a few more. Both sides should be gorgeously dark gold and crunchy-looking.
6. When it's done, transfer to some kitchen towel and whap your next lot in the pan.

If you run out of mixture, just top it up with another egg and some more milk. Easy peasy.

Serve with ketchup, or, for an alternative, you could skip the peppering stage of making the mix, then once the bread's cooked serve it with a sprinkle of caster sugar and cinnamon. That one would go well with fruit, too.

And don't forget the tea.

Monday, 10 December 2012

This Is Uni Christmas Dinner

There is something quintessentially British about a roast dinner, particularly at Christmas, and I'm sure I'm not alone in saying it's my favourite day of the year. We've just had our last weekend at university before the holidays, so we decided to make it our honourary Christmas so we could celebrate together. Earlier in the week we Christmas-ified the house, and yesterday Jamie and I went out to pick holly before I embarked on the epic mission that was the roast dinner. It was beautiful.

 Not just the food (though that was pretty darn good if I do say so myself), but the company and the laughs and the cracker-hats and just everything. It was a good day. BUT I'll stop being sentimental now and get on with the recipes - I'm going to go through all the elements (in the order I started making them), so this'll be quite a long post, but it'll be totally worth it, promise.

Meat substitute:
I decided to make some awesome veggie pies, because I couldn't find anything nice in tesco. This made enough for four of us, as I did gluten-free red onion and rosemary sausages for Zosia.
- 1x 500g pack puff pastry                                            - 150ml white wine                         
- 25g butter                                                                  - 1½ tbsp plain flour
- 6 shallots, roughly chopped                                       - 250ml veg stock          
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed                                              - 75ml double cream                   
- half an onion (save the other half for gravy)              - sprinkle of dried thyme            
- 4 new potatoes, peeled and chopped                        - salt and pepper             
- 1 pack asparagus tips, washed and chopped              - 1 egg       

1. Melt the butter in a pan and add the shallots, onion and garlic, then cook until soft and just beginning to colour - about 8 minutes.
2. Add the thyme, new potatoes, asparagus (not the tips yet) and wine, and boil 'til the wine has almost gone. Add the flour and stir well.
3. Pour in the stock and add the tips of the asparagus, then season to taste. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring fairly regularly so it doesn't stick to the pan.
4. Add the cream and cook for another 3 minutes. Voila, filling done.
5. Roll out the pastry to about 1cm thick, then cut into small and large circles (I used a cup for the smaller ones and a bowl for the larger). Put the smaller ones on an oiled baking tray, then pile on as much filling as you can stack up, leaving a rim around the edge. Wet the rim and then put the larger pastry circle over the filling, making sure it sticks to the rim of the smaller circle. If you like you can also make decorations for the top, and stick those on with water too.
6. Beat an egg, then brush the pies with it. This will make them all golden and lovely. Once that's all done, they want about 30 minutes at 200°C in a preheated oven.

Roast potatoes:
This, like the yorkshire puddings, is Andy's recipe - a mix of his ideas, Nigel Slater's and Nigella's. A mix which certainly works, because roast dinners should not be as good as Andy's are, so I'm copying.
1. Begin by heating about 1-2cm of vegetable oil in a roasting dish at 200°C.
2. Peel enough potatoes for the number of people, and put into a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil, and cook for a MAXIMUM of 5 minutes.
3. Drain the potatoes in a colander, then put the colander on top of the empty pan and place the pan lid on top for about 5 minutes, or until you're ready for them. This will steam dry them and make them extra crunchy later.
4. Sprinkle over some plain flour (or semolina powder if you have it - I was on flour) and some salt and pepper, then do the hokey cokey (aka shake it all about) and get them all scuffed.
5. CAREFULLY, place the potatoes into the super-hot oil, making sure they're completely coated. Really do be careful - I was rushing too much yesterday and I have the burn-marks to prove it.
6. Put the dish back into the oven and let the potatoes cook for 35-40 minutes, checking and turning them half way through.

I over-did them a bit, but honestly it just added to the crunch. YOU CAN'T LOSE WITH THESE.
Yorkshire puddings:
This was my first time making Yorkshire puddings, though I've had Andy's and Mum's homemade ones for years. Mine therefore weren't quite as awesome as hoped, but practise makes perfect.
Ingredients (makes 12 - you'll need muffin tins):
- 4 eggs
- 250g plain flour (I used gluten free)
- 350ml milk
- pinch sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to at least 240°C, and fill each muffin tin cup with 1cm of vegetable oil. Put the tins in the oven for the oil to heat while you prepare the batter.
2. Whisk the eggs, milk and salt in a bowl for about 5 minutes using an electric whisk, longer if by hand. The mix should increase in size and be all bubbly, then leave to stand for 15 minutes.
3. Whisk in the flour a little at a time 'til there are no lumps. You should have a smooth batter, and the oil in the oven should be beginning to smoke slightly. 
4. Evenly distribute the batter into the muffin tins (I found it was about 4tbsp per cup), being very careful 'cos they're pretty darn hot. Bake for 20-30 minutes, leaving plenty of space for them to rise. Do NOT open the oven door while they're cooking, or they'll sink and it will be sad.

No, mine weren't as spectacular as Andy's, but it was my first time. And also I was using gluten free flour which is a bitch to work with. So really, all in all: SUCCESS.
Roast carrots and parsnips:
1. Grab enough carrots and 'snips for the number of people, then peel them all and top and tail them.
2. Carrots - chop roughly in diagonal-ish chunks, then place in one half of the baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and a handful of either tarragon or thyme. You can also add garlic too, if you fancy. Give them a good stir so they're completely coated in everything.
3. Parsnips - chop either into small chunks, or cut them vertically and keep them long and thin. Pop them in the other half of baking dish and do the olive oil/salt and pepper thing like with the carrots, then give them a squirt of either honey or maple syrup. Stir to coat.
4. Cook for 30-45 minutes at 200°C, taking out to stir every 15 minutes or so to prevent them burning on top.

I forgot to get a picture of them cooked, but you can see them on the finished plate.
Cheesy leeks:
This is my Mum's recipe adapted from a Jamie Oliver one, and for me no roast is complete without them.
Ingredients (serves 4-6):
- 800g leeks, washed and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 30g butter
- tsp mustard (French is always best)
- 200ml single cream
- 100g cheddar cheese, grated
- thyme (6 sprigs fresh/decent sprinkle of dried)

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the garlic, leeks and thyme. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the leeks have softened and shrunk down.
2. Tip into a baking dish, then season, add the cream, mustard and half the cheese and mix together.
3. Top with the remaining cheese and bake for 20-25 minutes, 'til golden and bubbling.

This is not my picture. I forgot to take one... though in my defence I was incredibly busy. I'll update this the next time I make them, and for now you can have Jamie Oliver's as a rough guide (although I use a deeper dish and fill it more).
You can use whatever you like for these - I used a pack of tender-stem broccoli, some green beans, a few handfuls of kale and some sprouts. Because even though I hate sprouts, it's Christmas, and in my house that means being given two sprouts and being made to eat at least one of them. It's all good fun.

1. Chop the broccoli, sprouts and beans how you want them. Melt some butter in a saucepan, then add the broccoli and sprouts. Cook these for about 8 minutes, stirring regularly, and then add the beans and cook for another 5 mins.
2. Finally add the kale, and cook for about 3 more minutes, until it's shrunk down. Then season well and add a good squirt of lemon juice, and serve.

I made up a pint of Bisto caramelised onion gravy, to which I added a teaspoon of marmite, a dessert spoon of cranberry sauce and (after frying in olive oil 'til soft) the other half of the onion left over from the pie filling. Waste not want not.

Merry Christmas, all.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Culinary Christmas Spirit

Around this time last year, my dad took me to a gastro-pub-type-place in East Dulwich called The Palmerston to celebrate the end of term and get into the general Christmas spirit. We had a great time, and culinary-wise I tried a whole bunch of things I'd never had before.

This weekend, Jamie and I decided that we'd organise afternoon tea as a break from the ridiculous amount of work we both have at the moment, and I decided to recreate/adapt the starter I'd had and loved so much at the Palmerston last year. The result was pretty darn good.

The original was a breaded goats' cheese served with chicory leaves, chestnuts, pomegranate seeds and cranberry sauce. My version used walnut kernels instead of chestnuts (not in the picture because I forgot about them 'til we'd already started eating) and a mixture of spinach and pea shoots instead of chicory (as chicory was not to be found in all of Egham/Englefield Green). And it was awesome, as well as being incredibly easy to make with not much actual cooking involved.

- a pot of soft goats' cheese each. I think the original probably used rounds, but actually I thought this was a more airy, less stodgy way of doing it.
- 1 egg
- white breadcrumbs
- few sprigs fresh thyme (dried would do)
- black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and oil a baking tray.
2. Strip the thyme leaves from the stalks, then mix together with the breadcrumbs and pepper in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg.
3. Using your hands, mould the goats' cheese into flat cylinders. Dip it in the beaten egg, then into the breadcrumbs so the cheese is coated.
4. Place on the baking tray and stick it in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are golden.

Serving (in case you're as persnickety as me):
1. Grab a teaspoon of cranberry sauce and dollop it on the opposite side of the plate, then use the back of the teaspoon to drag it into a cool curvy line.
2. Wash the spinach and place on the opposite side of the plate to the sauce. Half your pomegranate and use the tip of the knife to pick out the seeds, then scatter over the spinach along with the pea shoots and walnut kernels.
3. Whap on the baked goats' cheese and present to hungry guests.

Of course, proper afternoon tea requires cake as well, and not gonna lie - the ones I made were pretty darn good. So watch this space - they'll be following soon.