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A post-Christmas soup

4 Jan

We were given a lot of cheese just before Christmas. When I say a lot, I mean really an awful lot. Almost more than was possible for just the two of us to eat.

It included Grana Padana, Brie, Feta and Gorgonzola.

So I have discovered many things to make with cheese, Continue reading

Quick butterscotch sauce

9 Oct

It’s Autumn. I’ve spent the day in the kitchen, mostly making things with this year’s harvest of pears, apples, tomatoes and chillies. It’s been pure pleasure. And having jars of hot tomato chutney, apple ginger (the amazing toffee apple flavoured syrup), pears, mustard fruit and apple chutney over the winter will mean tasty meals are guaranteed.

For supper tonight I made a pimped up corned beef hash – chillies go in almost everything these days, so I added some chopped chilli in with the onions, and then took a notion to add some fresh tomatoes and some chorizo too. The Captain’s verdict was that it was good, but he prefers it plain. I think I’d have got away with the chilli, but the chorizo was a pimping too far.

Anyway, afterwards I fancied ice cream and butterscotch sauce. I used to make a butterscotch sauce when I was wee – I couldn’t find my old recipe book, and can’t remember it exactly, so had a quick online search to see how I could make it. Most recipes add double cream, and I have none in the fridge, so I kept looking. And once I’d read a few, I headed for the kitchen, and improvised.

Butterscotch Sauce

  • 1/3 cup soft light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • some vanilla essence
  1. Put the sugar and butter in a small pan over a medium heat
  2. Stirring constantly, melt the butter and sugar
  3. Keep stirring and boil it up for a while
  4. Take off the heat and add the milk, keep stirring
  5. Stir in the vanilla essence
  6. Cool slightly and serve with ice cream

You can add sultanas and brandy or rum if you want to zizz it up a bit.

No pictures, because we ate it all.

Lush smoky pepper paste

28 Sep

I bought a new gadget recently. I’d been vaguely wanting it for a while and then found myself in the cookshop next to Glasgow’s Central Station with some time to spare, and my credit card in my pocket. I didn’t need my credit card though, did I, because this isn’t an overly expensive gadget,

It’s the Kenwood Mini Chopper. Some of you may be aware that I’m a fan of Kenwood, and would loyally buy their products over any other for no other reason than that my mother had a sturdy Kenwood mixer (1962 vintage) which I used when I learned to bake. It’s still going strong, although it gets little use these days (my mother occasionally uses the mincer attachment, because life might be too short to stuff a mushroom or to bake your own cakes in my Mum’s world, but never too short to mince your own meat. Go figure).

Anyway, you’d think that as soon as I got the mini chopper home I’d be chopping everything, wouldn’t you? But no. It just sat there at the edge of my vision for some weeks. And then it went into the cupboard under the drinks cupboard. You’d think that would mean it would never ever get used, but I think I was just waiting for the perfect moment.

My lovely new gadget - Kenwood mini-chopper

My lovely new gadget – Kenwood mini-chopper

I didn’t have to wait for long.

Rick Stein created that perfect moment.

He has a new TV series out, From Venice to Istanbul.  I only caught a couple of the episodes, but it included Paddy Leigh Fermor’s Moussaka, and I was smitten. This Moussaka was made for PLF by his cook, even though he had stated he didn’t like Moussaka. Of course he loved this dish and finished it all off and then asked what it was. Or so the story goes. Anyway, she puts potatoes in the bottom of the dish and whisks up the cheese sauce in a lovely light whippy sort of a way.  Buy the book, it’s great. I did. Of course.

And I discovered this lush red pepper paste. It’s seriously to die for, and I’m likely to use it in almost everything for the next few weeks, until I find the next thing I love most.

I’m reproducing the quantities for the recipe exactly as I find it, but with my own narrative.

Lush red pepper paste

  • 660g red peppers (I use those long pointy ones which have such good flavour)
  • 50g tomato puree
  • 1tsp cayenne pepper ( I’ve used sweet paprika instead)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 30ml olive oil
  1. Cut the peppers into big chunks and place them skinside up under a super hot grill till the skins are blackened. You may need to do this in batches
  2. As soon as they are blackened, pop them in a bowl and cover with cling film, till they are cool(ish)
  3. Using your fingers (there really is no other way to do this) slip slide the skins off the peppers and pop them in your mini chopper
  4. Add all the other ingredients and zizz to your hearts content.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea if I have made this with 660g of peppers or not. I’ve used a couple of peppers with about an inch or two of tomato puree squeezed out of a tube, a good shake or three of paprika and a healthy old glug of olive oil.

Smoky roasted peppers ready for zizzing

Smoky roasted peppers ready for zizzing

Zizzing!

Zizzing!

 

And what to do with this mixture? Well here are some suggestions:

  • mix it with mayonnaise and make a dip for crisps, chips or crudites if you’re doing the healthy thing
  • add it to any tomato-y stew or ragu to give an additional depth
  • spread it lightly on sourdough bread, and then add goats cheese
  • make sweet wee canapes with teeny tiny oatcakes, chicken liver pate and a wee dollop of this on top
  • mix with yoghurt to make a salad dressing
  • use it like a pesto
  • make savoury muffins, once you’ve made the batter add 2/3 into each muffin case, then add a dollop of red pepper paste, then add the final 1/3 of batter. Cook as usual. This works brilliantly with these Parmesan and Courgette Muffins
Cheesy courgette muffins with red pepper surprise

Cheesy courgette muffins with red pepper surprise

Macarons – easier than you’d think

23 Sep
Chocolate orange macarons

Chocolate orange macarons

When I was wee we called them macaroons, but I’m going with the zeitgeist and will refer to them as macarons. Whatever you call them, they are the most scrumptious light almondy sweetie bonbons you will ever come across.

I always had this idea that macarons were tricky to make, that they wouldn’t rise properly, that they would just be too solid and not light and airy like they should be. Or that they’d be dry and crunchy instead of deliciously softly moist.

So, what changed my world view of macarons? Firstly it’s that I love them, and wanted to be able to make them. But mostly it was getting chickens. And then once we had so many eggs, I started making my own mayonnaise. And once you make your own mayonnaise you have a plentiful supply of egg whites. And I don’t like meringues much, so macarons were the obvious solution.

Don’t you love your life when macarons are the obvious solution!!

Basic macarons

  • 175g icing sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 75g caster sugar

To make these properly you need a few bits of kit. For starters, a food processor. You know, the kind that whizzes round and round and chops everything up really fine. You’ll also need a piping bag with a large plain nozzle. And your life will be a whole lot easier if you have either a food mixer too to whisk the egg whites.

Before you start, get your piping bag ready with the right nozzle in place, and prepare your baking tray (I line mine with non sticking baking parchment, but you could use rice paper, or a re-useable silicon mat).

  1. Combine the icing sugar and ground almonds and pop them in the bowl of the food processor. Whizz it briefly. Well not too briefly, get it all a bit more powdery and mixed together
  2. Put the egg whites into a scrupulously clean bowl (any hint of anything greasy and you will have a FAIL), and whisk them until you have soft peaks. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar, and get it all glossy and thick and gorgeous. At this stage I whisked in a few drops of orange essence.
  3. Now get yourself a big metal spoon (or a spatula) and fold half of the sugar/almond mixture into the egg whites. Once they are combined, add the remaining sugar/almonds and fold them in to make a light smooth mixture. Don’t over mix or you’ll lose all the air, but try to get rid of all the lumps.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and pipe even sized circles of macarons mixture onto your baking tray.
  5. Turn the oven on: 140C or GM3.
  6. Now leave the tray of uncooked macarons at room temperature for about 15 minutes so the surface dries out ever so slightly.
  7. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool still on the tray.
Macarons out of the oven

Macarons out of the oven

Make the chocolate orange filling…

  • 50g good quality dark chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • zest of an orange, and some orange juice
  1. Melt the chocolate
  2. Beat the butter, and add the icing sugar and orange zest. Keep beating
  3. Fold in the melted chocolate and mix together
  4. Mix in some orange juice or cointreau if you want an adult version – enough to make the mixture just squidgy enough

You know what to do now.. spoon (or pipe) some chocolate orange filling onto half of the macarons. And pop a second macaron on top of each, to make lovely macarons sandwich. YUMMY.

 

 

 

Hot tomato chutney

4 Sep
Jars of goodness

Jars of goodness

I sowed a few tomato seeds this year. And miracle, of miracle, most of them grew. They grew slowly, mostly because it’s been colder than usual all year, but they grew. And now I have a LOT of tomatoes.

I get my seeds from The Real Seed Company, which you should go visit if you have any interest in growing your own vegetables. They encourage you to save your seeds year on year, which if we all did, then they’d have no business. But mostly I don’t. And anyway, they have crazy unusual varieties of things, often from far flung parts of the world, and they have new seeds each year. I grew a Russian melon one year (I figured if it could grow in Russia it might just survive our Scottish summer) and this year I chose Grushovka and Urbikany bush tomatoes. The Urbikany comes from Siberia, and the Grushovka sounds like it’s of Russian extraction too. Anyway, so far I’ve picked 7.4kg of tomatoes, so I’ve been eating quite a lot of my favourite tomato salad: panzanella. It’s got that perfect balance of flavours and textures, and also uses up 2 or 3 day old sourdough bread (if any ever gets to be that age in our house!).

I’ve been making my super tasty tomato sauce (to use on pasta) which I’ll share with you later.

But for now… Another of my favourite tomato recipes is my hot tomato chutney. It’s super-easy to make and is the perfect accompaniment to cold meats or cheese. In fact when I’ve got a jar of it in the cupboard, it gets added to almost every sandwich, or salad platter. It’s just sweet enough, and just hot enough, with that lovely tang of sharpness too.

I’ve been making it for years, so don’t really know why it’s taken so long to add the recipe here. Anyway, here we go:

Hot tomato chutney

  • 1.8kg tomatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 6 red chillies
  • 450g caster sugar
  • 1TBsp salt
  • 300ml vinegar (malt, or it works well with a mix of red wine and cider vinegar)
  1. Peel the tomatoes. You know how to do this, right? OK, here’s how I do it. With a wee sharp knife, just nick the skin of each tomato, you don’t need to go through all the flesh, just break the skin. Now put a full kettle on to boil, and pop some of the tomatoes into a big heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling water over the tomatoes. Leave them for a wee minute, and then, using a holy willie spoon (that’s a slotted spoon), take a tomato out, and using your fingers, peel/slip the skin off the tomato. Repeat. And repeat and repeat again until all the tomatoes are peeled.
  2. After you peel each tomato, roughly chop it straight into a large pan. It’s easiest just to do this while holding the tomato in your hand, over the pan, so you catch all the juice into the pot.
  3. Now, chop your onion, into small and even sized pieces and add this to the pot.
  4. Chop the chillies into teeny wee bits, and add them to the pan. Leave out the membrane and seeds, which are the super hot bits.
  5. Add the caster sugar and salt to the pot.
  6. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring as you go.
  7. Now simmer it for an hour and a half. Yes, an hour and a half. You should stir it occasionally, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, but you don’t need to hover over it all the time. Go read a book. Or water your tomato plants. Or whatever.
  8. Now add the vinegar to the pan, and stir again
  9. Bring it back to the boil and boil it, stirring occasionally, for 10 – 15 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when you pull the spoon across the bottom of the pan, and it does a sort of “Moses Parting the Red Sea” thing, with the chutney ‘holding back’ and not immediately all slooping back into the base of the pan. You might not understand what I mean until you see your chutney doing it. But really, this is the best test I know for readiness of this chutney.
  10. And that’s it. It’s ready to pop into sterilised jars. You’ll probably fill about four 350ml jars, and it will keep for around 4 months. It might keep for longer, but I’ve never had any last that long.

And, if like me, you have a glut of tomatoes, make lots of this. And tie pretty fabric squares to the pot lids, with a ribbon, and there you have your first homemade Christmas presents of the season.

Mini oatcakes with cheese & chutney or ham & chutney. You choose.

Mini oatcakes with cheese & chutney or ham & chutney. You choose.

 

The greatest thing since sliced bread…

1 Jun
Freshly baked home made bread

Freshly baked home made bread

Bread. I love the stuff. But it’s the real stuff that I love, the sourdough, the slowly-risen loaf. It doesn’t seem right that commercially produced highly processed loaves, made by the intensive Chorleywood process can even be called by the same name. They just are not the same thing. So, the greatest thing sliced bread is…. unsliced bread. Naturally.

Rant over. Probably.

Bread. When I think of eating bread, I think of friends, of sharing it, of tearing off great chunks and dipping it into olive oil & balsamic vinegar, of making slices of toast and spreading them with butter and marmite. And sometimes peanut butter too. Of my father, sitting at the head of the table, and cutting the bread, then spearing the slice on the point of the bread knife to pass it to your plate.

And all this sharing with friends is appropriate: the word companion literally means ‘with bread’ from the Latin ‘com’ (with) and ‘panis’ (bread).

I’ve been a baker for years, but most of my baking was biscuits and cakes and scones and traybakes, basically things without yeast. And then we started using the bread machine. Unlike many bread machiners, we used it 3 or 4 times a week, and with a bit of trial and error, and the purchase of some super-tasty stoneground flour, we started making really amazing loaves. I occasionally made a loaf by hand, but not so often.

I bought lots of books, made sourdough starters, killed sourdough starters when I forgot to do anything with them. And replaced the bread machine, three times. (Yes, we used it so much we wore it out).

And then I bought the best bread baking book: James Morton’s Brilliant Bread. He writes easily. Or perhaps he doesn’t, but it reads easily. His explanations make sense, and help you understand why you are carrying out each process. And he starts you off with the easiest bread in the world – it needs no kneading. It takes up so little of your time to make it. And it tastes delicious.

I’ve adapted it slightly, to make use of my sourdough starter, which gives it a wee bit extra flavour and chewiness, which I like.

A few things before we start:

  • this recipe requires NO kneading. It is easy peasy. You have no excuses not to make it
  • buy a set of digital scales. They aren’t terribly expensive but they will repay you every time you use them, and quite possibly will change the way you bake (in that you can weight things directly into any bowl or pan, rather than into the bowl provided with the weighing scales)
  • use the biggest bowl you own; if you don’t have a really big bowl, consider buying one
  • procure a shower cap – the ones you get free from hotels are fine, in fact perfect. Using this, and re-using it over and over again, is much more sensible (and easy) than using cling film
After proving, ready to bake

After proving, ready to bake

There are other things you might want to buy if you really get the bread-baking bug, but wait a while to see if you get it or not. Otherwise you’re going to end up with an unused proving basket in your cupboard, which will just annoy you (instead of giving you these lovely ‘flour rings’ on a loaf).

The best white bread (and it’s easy)

  • 500g strong white flour (I use a stoneground from Bacheldre Mill, it’s lovely and comes in big 16kg bags if you get the bug!)
  • 10g salt (see why you need digital scales)
  • 7g dried yeast
  • 330g tepid water
  • a good dollop of sourdough starter (about 50g)
  1. Put the flour in a big bowl
  2. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl
  3. And the salt on the other
  4. Keeping them on their own sides of the bowl, mix them in with your fingers and then make a slight well in the middle
  5. Pour in the water, and add the big dollop of sourdough starter
  6. Now, using your hand like a paddle, mix all the ingredients together, until they are all combined
  7. Cover the bowl (with a shower cap if you have one, with cling film if you don’t) and leave it for about half an hour
  8. Go off and do something for a while; I recommend watering your tomatoes in the greenhouse, if you have any. Or reading the magazine section of the Sunday paper
  9. Now, take the shower cap off the bowl. Wet your hand under a tap, and keeping your hand a bit like a paddle, put your hand under one side of the dough and scoop it up, folding the dough over itself.
  10. Twist the bowl a quarter of the way around and do this again. Repeat several times, going all around the bowl, and round again. You should notice that the dough feels much smoother, slightly silkier than it did half an hour ago.
  11. OK, once  you’ve got it back in a nice wee lump in the middle of the bowl, pop the shower cap on again and leave it for a couple of hours at room temperature.
  12. Just get on with your life, and ignore the dough.. it’ll do its doughy thing quite happily without your interference or worry.
  13. This time you’re going to need a wee bit of flour and either a proving basket (if you’ve got the bug) or your baking tray. Prepare the proving basket / baking tray by dusting it with flour. Dust your table or board with flour too.
  14. Now scoop the dough out of the big bowl onto the floury surface. You’ll see that there are lots of bubbles within the dough and that it feels a bit like a balloon full of water, sort of squishy, but not really squishable.
  15. Try to work relatively quickly with the dough… Make it into a sort of brick shape, and then pull it at each end and fold those ends over into the middle, and squish it down a bit. It might be a sort of round-ish shape now. Squish it in the middle and pull it at the ends to make an oblong brick again. And pull those ends out and over into the middle again to make a round. Do this another couple of times if you want, or not if you’re bored by now.
  16. Place your dough on the baking tray (or into the proving basket) – either make it a nice round ball shape, or a sort of oblong.
  17. And walk away and leave it, for an hour or two, depending how warm your room is (the warmer the room, the less time it should be left). The dough is now ‘proving’ which just means that it is rising again – the wee bubbles in the dough are expanding and the gluten in the flour is nice and elastic now, so it’s stretching, and holding those bubbles in place. You want the loaf to almost double in size, but don’t fret if it hasn’t
  18. Heat your oven to GM7 / 425F / 220C. And when I say heat it, I mean switch your oven on a good 10 minutes before you pop the loaf in the oven, to make sure the bread goes into a properly hot oven. If you want a scrummy crust, put a dish of water in the bottom of the oven, to create some steam.
  19. Before you put the bread in the oven, cut a slash in it, which will allow it to stretch as it rises again in the oven. For a round, you can just do a cross on the top, and for an oblong try a long cut down the middle and then diagonal cuts on each side, like a leaf, or a feather. The cut doesn’t need to be deep, just cut through the skin of the dough.
  20. Bake for about 40 mins.
  21. Place on a baking tray once it’s cooked, and try not to slice it and eat it till it’s cool.
Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Some loaves are unpredictable shapes

Top tips

  1. Complete up to stage 11 in the evening, and then pop the dough in the fridge with its shower cap on. It will be quite happy overnight in the fridge instead of 2 hours at room temperature. The next morning, start from step 13.
  2. If you have a proving basket, use a really liberal dusting of flour before you leave the dough to prove in it. Once it’s proved, turn it out onto the prepared baking tray, and slash its top and pop in the oven.
  3. Use semolina or polenta instead of flour on the baking tray
  4. Increase the volume of sourdough starter, and reduce the water slightly
  5. Don’t worry about timings at all – if it’s left for 4 hours instead of 2 it will probably be fine

Want to see more recipes? What about making some lemon curd to spread on your home made bread? Or imagine how good it would be with home made chicken liver pate?

All my recipes are here: SheWolfInTheValley.

Boozy mini cakes for BozzyFest

10 May

We get the Sunday Times every weekend. And occasionally the Times on a Saturday too. Last weekend the Times promoted that it had recipes for Bank Holiday baking. So, of course, I didn’t see much of the rest of the paper (apart from the utterly ace column by Caitlin Moran).

The artisanal approach, smooshing gin and white choc icing on top mini pear cakes

The artisanal approach, smooshing gin and white choc icing on top of mini pear cakes

I was kinda sniffy about the Bank Holiday Baking initially. I mean, it’s just the very beginning of May and the first thing I’m being encouraged to bake is Blackberry and Crumble Cake. Now, I’m sure the Blackberry and Crumble Cake is lovely, but brambles are seasonal fruit, and this really  is NOT their season. Get real cookery writers! And please stop encouraging supermarkets to stock fruit and veg that is out of season – it is more expensive to produce and ship and probably doesn’t taste as good.

There, rant over.

Then I moved on and spied Pear Cakes with White Chocolate, and Lemon Curd. I had literally just made some lemon curd (in a bid to do something else with our glut of eggs – my girls laid seven in one day earlier this week). And I’d just bought some pears. Yup, I know, pears aren’t in season either. But there they were on the shelf at the farmshop, and they looked delicious. And they store better than brambles, so perhaps it’s not quite so mad to buy them out of season?

Anyway, given that I clearly don’t have a leg to stand on in the ‘seasonal rant stakes’ I’ll move on. The recipes are all from Andrew Dargue of Vanilla Black. I’d never heard of Vanilla Black before, but now I’ve looked at the website, they are ‘Michelin-recommended’ and they have a book coming out this week. So that’ll be why I’ve seen his recipes in various places.

I made the Mini Pear Cakes, complete with white chocolate frosting, but something made me add a slug or two of gin to the frosting. And it was ace.

Mini gin infused pear and white chocolate cakes ak the Boozy Bozzy Fest Cakes

Mini gin infused pear and white chocolate cakes aka the Boozy Bozzy Fest Cakes

This weekend I made the cakes again, adding some gin to the cake batter too, and took them along for the volunteers at the wonderful Boswell Book Festival.  It wasn’t an entirely selfless act, supporting both the literary and volunteering community, for I wanted to see Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown give a talk. He’s the most remarkable man – he has flown more different types of aircraft than any other person, living or dead. And it is unlikely (allegedly) that his record of 487 aircraft will ever be beaten. He also interrogated a number of Hitler’s henchman, including Goering, Messerschmitt and Himmler, and the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His description of what he witnessed at the camp, in its last few days was incredibly moving – after almost exactly 70 years to the day he still can’t stop smelling the stench of the dying and near dying in that awful place.

But anyway, I digress.  These cakes were just going to be called Mini Pear Cakes with Gin and White Chocolate Frosting. yes GIN! But they clearly need to be called the Boozy BozzyFest Cakes instead. They are utterly delish. I’ve adapted the original recipe, but only slightly, so thank you The Times and thank you Andrew Dargue. These rock.

And so long as you use GF baking powder, these are gluten free badboys.

Boozy BozzyFest Mini Cakes

Preheat the oven to 155C / GM3. Grease a large muffin tin – this quantity works well for 12 proper-sized mini cakes. Don’t bother with muffin or cake cases, you don’t need them if you prepare the tin well, with lots of butter to prevent the cakes from sticking.

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 125g light brown sugar
  • 100g buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 small very ripe pears, cut in half and cored
  • 1 TBsp gin
  • 1/2 tsp almond essence (or vanilla, depending on what mood you are in

For the boozy icing

  •  100g white chocolate
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 TBsp gin
  1. Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl
  2. Add the flour, baking powder and salt, and mix well together
  3. Add the gin and essence
  4. Using a large grater, grate the pears into the mixture. This should be possible if you hold onto the skin side, and just grate the flesh – you should be left holding the skin, with all the flesh grated into the cake batter
  5. Mix again, but only lightly to combine everything
  6. The batter is pretty runny, but don’t worry – it’ll work out. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin, filling each hole about two thirds of the way to the top.
  7. Bake for around 20-25 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
  8. Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, then use a knife to run around the rim of each cake to loose them from the tin, and turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
  9. For the icing: melt the chocolate in a microwave on the lowest power setting, or in a bowl over a pan of hot water.
  10. Beat the butter and icing sugar together. Add the gin.
  11. Fold in the melted chocolate until well combined
  12. Smoosh the icing on to each cake or if you want to be a bit posher, pipe it on (it’ll look smart but not too twee if you use a plain round piping nozzle).

Want other recipe ideas? Take a look at my index of recipes. It’s got everything from croutons (I kid you not!) and boiling an egg (twice) to spicy turmeric chicken, which I’m going to eat tonight. Oh, and more recipes for brownies than is strictly necessary.

 

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