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.
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
- 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
- As soon as they are blackened, pop them in a bowl and cover with cling film, till they are cool(ish)
- 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
- 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.
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
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!!
- 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).
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Spoon the mixture into the piping bag and pipe even sized circles of macarons mixture onto your baking tray.
- Turn the oven on: 140C or GM3.
- Now leave the tray of uncooked macarons at room temperature for about 15 minutes so the surface dries out ever so slightly.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool still on the tray.
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
- Melt the chocolate
- Beat the butter, and add the icing sugar and orange zest. Keep beating
- Fold in the melted chocolate and mix together
- 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.
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)
- 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.
- 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.
- Now, chop your onion, into small and even sized pieces and add this to the pot.
- 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.
- Add the caster sugar and salt to the pot.
- Bring slowly to the boil, stirring as you go.
- 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.
- Now add the vinegar to the pan, and stir again
- 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.
- 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.
I’m one of those people who likes their sweets to be slightly salty.
I don’t cook with a lot of salt, preferring to use herbs and spices. I’ve bought into the ‘fact’ that too much salt is bad for you. However, there was a credible article in the Sunday Times the other week, highlighting new evidence which showed that the low sodium diet was as damaging as the high sodium one. My father has always just tipped the salt pot upside down and sprinkled it liberally over his plate, often then creating a small salt mountain on the side of the plate to dip forkfuls of food into. He’ll be 95 in a couple of months, so his super-high salt diet hasn’t exactly limited his life too much.
Anyway, although I like my sweets salty, I’m less keen on my savoury dishes being too sweet. I’m not a big fan of putting fruit into a stew or casserole. My exception is good redcurrant or rowan jelly with a roast meat. Or a not-too-sweet apple sauce with roast pork.
But back to the salty sweetness. When I was in the US last year, with a work colleague, we discovered Nature Valley’s Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bars. It was love at first bite for me. They aren’t available here in the UK, although there’s a huge variety of similar products. But I can’t be trusted in a sweet shop, so have to confess I haven’t tried terribly hard to find a suitable substitute.
I hadn’t thought of making my own. Why hadn’t I? I must be entirely mad.
Anyway, once the thought came to me, I flicked through all my recipe books and scoured the internet for the perfect sweet and salty crunchy nutty bars. And then I adapted. This isn’t entirely true. I can’t lie. What really happened is that I came across a recipe on Half Baked Harvest’s blog and decided it was time to get experimenting. This recipe is adapted from hers. It is the perfect crunchy, sweet, salty, nutty snack. But it’s not as healthy as eating an apple, so although they are addictive, try to ration them.
Crunchtastic sweet and salty nutty bars
- 250g / 3 cups porridge oats
- 35g / 1 cup rice krispies (or any puffed rice cereal)
- 40g / 1/4 cup roasted salted nuts (peanuts is fine, but mixed nuts would work just as well)
- a pinch of salt
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 125g honey
- 130g peanut butter
- 30g butter or coconut oil (I prefer to use coconut oil these days)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F or GM4. Line a 9″ x 13″ baking tray with greaseproof paper. Leave an overhang of paper over one long side of the tin (to make it easier to remove the bars later)
- Mix porridge oats, krispies, nuts, salt, and bicarb of soda in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre
- Put the honey, peanut butter and butter (or coconut oil) in a small pan and warm gently till all the ingredients are melted
- Add the vanilla
- Stir the melted ingredients till they are all combined into a sweet and goopy sauce
- Pour all this melted mixture into the well in the centre of the dry ingreds.
- Stir well to combine it all together. Try to make sure there are no dry bits left in the bowl
- Pour this into the prepared tin. Get a big metal spoon (or a metal measuring cup) and lightly oil the back of it, then use this to press all the mixture down into the tin
- Put in the oven and bake for about 20 mins, or until golden brown. Watch out, it can go from perfect to ‘slightly burnt’ quite quickly.
- When you take it out of the oven, try to slide the whole lot out of the tray onto a heatproof surface, and then walk away from it for at least half an hour. (I’m only telling you to do this so that you don’t end up trying to cut the bars when they are still in your baking tray, and you end up ruining your tray, with knife scores across it)
- Once it is cool, try to cut it into pieces. You’ll need a sharp knife, and some of it might crumble a bit. Any extra crumbs left, pour into an airtight pot and use for sprinkling over yoghurt, or ice cream or in a crumble.
- Keep the bars in an airtight tin, for as long as possible. You may need to put them on a very high shelf, out of your reach. Or to give them to friends.
Suggested adaptations – you could add dark chocolate chips, or dried fruit (cranberries, chopped up apricots, raisins). Or desiccated coconut. Or, cinnamon would be nice, Or chopped dried apples, with some cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and some ginger. You could probably replace the honey with agave syrup, or golden syrup, although I’m not sure why you’d want to do that.
And apologies if you don’t have digital weighing scales. I was old-school for YEARS, but bought a digital set recently (so I could weigh out my 7g of yeast to make home made bread) and it has entirely changed how I bake. Just pop the bowl on the scales and add the next ingredient. Easy peasy. They’re not expensive and take up hardly any room in your cupboard. Isn’t it time to treat yourself?
Is salted caramel still on trend? A couple of years ago it seemed to be everywhere. And I was happy. I love that combination of sweetness and saltiness. I adore peanut butter, adore it even more on hot buttered toast with marmite. Or incorporated into a sweet with chocolate and a biscuit base.
So, a simple salty, nutty caramel brittle is pretty much the perfect sweet to make. And it turns out it was pretty much the perfect home-made Christmas present to give to nephews too! (Although obviously not for you, if your nephews have nut allergies).
Salty nut brittle
- 340g mixed nuts, preferably not salted. The type of nuts doesn’t really matter, but why not buy a bag of peanuts, of brazil nuts and pecans. Or hazelnuts, and macadamia and almonds. Whatever you prefer.
- 400g sugar. Ordinary granulated sugar is fine, or you could use caster, or golden caster
- 120mls water
- 100g unsalted butter
- 100g golden syrup
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- Maldon sea salt (there are other brands, but please use a good quality salt in flakes, not ordinary table salt)
- Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / GM 4
- Spread the nuts onto a big baking tray, as big as you’ve got – you’re aiming to get them into a single layer, if possible
- Roast the nuts in the oven for about 8 minutes, give or take. You’re looking for a golden browniness, not burnt.. and there’s a relatively short window of opportunity between the two. To make it easier in a minute or two, pour the nuts onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper or kitchen foil, or a bowl (this is so that you can QUICKLY pour them from whatever receptacle they are in, into a pan of hot hot hot caramel later on). While you’re at it, get another sheet of greaseproof paper, and line the baking tray with it, and leave to one side. You’ll need it soon.
- Now put the sugar, water, butter and golden syrup into a heavy based saucepan, and gently heat, stirring till the butter is melted and the sugar has all dissolved.
- Pop a sugar thermometer into the pan, and leave it in there while the mixture heats up to the boil. Keep it boiling, and stir occasionally if you can’t stop yourself
- Keep an eye on that sugar thermometer, and as soon as it reaches 150C (which incidentally is between ‘soft crack’ and ‘crack’ on my thermometer) take it off the heat, and quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
- It should all swoosh up a wee bit which is exactly what you want it to do. Work quickly – pour in the nuts and stir them in. And then pour the whole lot out onto a baking sheet, with a piece of greaseproof paper on it
- Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture nice and thinly … but not TOO thin
- Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes
- And now walk away for a while. Leave it be. Come back when it’s cool
- Break it up with your hands and store in an airtight container. Then hide it somewhere you can’t reach, just to save yourself from eating more than you really should
I popped great big shards of this into kilner jars as Christmas present this year, and they went down a treat. If the shards had been smaller, I might have considered dipping them in chocolate to add to the sugar-salt-nut treatiness. It wasn’t required, but just imagine it enrobed with lush dark chocolate. Mmm.
For more recipes, go to my index here.