Shrove Tuesday

February 21st, 2012

Pancake

Whether sprinkled with sugar and squirted with lemon, filled with something savoury or drizzled with Maple syrup, warm pancakes fresh from the pan are pretty hard to resist. And what’s more they’re such fun; fun to make, fun to dress and fun to eat! I love them with lemon and also filled with banana and honey, and for a savoury version this steak, mushroom and Camembert filling is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself! Here it is in full:

Steak, Camembert and mushroom pancakes

Makes 4 pancakes

For the pancakes
60g plain flour
1 egg
150ml semi-skimmed milk
vegetable oil, for cooking

For the filling
2 large, flat mushrooms
olive oil
1 onion, sliced
250g rump or sirloin steak, thickly sliced into strips
100g Camembert, thickly sliced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C /Gas Mark 6.

To make the batter for the pancakes, sift the flour into a medium mixing bowl and make a well in the centre, then crack the egg into it. Whisk the egg, gradually incorporating the flour until it starts to form a paste and then slowly mix in the milk using a small whisk, so that you get a smooth mixture the consistency of single cream. Leave the batter to stand for 30 minutes.

Once the batter has rested you can start making the filling for the pancakes. Wipe any dirt from the mushrooms (never wash them as they’re porous and will absorb water) then slice them. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat then add the mushrooms and onion. Sauté them for a couple of minutes, then turn the heat up to high, add the steak and continue sautéing for a few more minutes, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, until everything is cooked through. Keep warm in the pan, covered with foil, while you make the pancakes.

To make the pancakes brush a little oil onto the bottom of an 18-20cm frying pan using a pastry brush or some kitchen towel. Heat the pan over a high heat so that it’s nice and hot and then turn the heat down to medium. Add a ladleful of batter to the pan and swirl it around so that it covers the bottom of the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the bottom of the pancake starts to turn golden. You can check this by loosening the edges with a palette knife and checking underneath. When the bottom of the pancake is cooked flip it over with the palette knife or by tossing it in the air. The other side won’t take as long to cook; only about 30-60 seconds. Place the cooked pancake on a plate with a sheet of greaseproof paper on top. Repeat to make 3 more pancakes, layering them with greaseproof paper as they are cooked.

Put a quarter of the steak mixture in the middle of each pancake with a quarter of the Camembert. Roll the pancakes up and place them on a medium non-stick baking tray and bake them in the oven for about 5 minutes or so, until the cheese starts to melt. Serve straight away.

What is Shrove Tuesday?
Shrove Tuesday is the day before the first day of Lent – Ash Wednesday – in the Christian calendar. It was traditionally the day when foods were used up and eaten before fasting started, and this is how it came to be associated with the making of pancakes.

However you eat yours tonight, enjoy.

Game for a Pie

January 25th, 2012

Game Pie

January. It’s a bit of a D month, don’t you think? Dreary, drizzly, dull. It’s not really A-list, not like, say, blossoming April or sultry August. OK, enough of the word play, you get my drift. Christmas has long gone, everyone’s broke…it is, officially, the most depressing month of the year. Still, we’ll soon be crossing the boundary into February, onto Valentine’s Day and one step closer to spring.

But January has got at least one thing going for it: game. Whether you go for deep rich venison, flavoursome pheasant or the more delicate rabbit, game feels like a real luxury in this bare month. Make the most of the season while it lasts and why not mix up the meats with a hearty, full-bodied pie like this one?

Game Pie

Serves 4

Olive oil
500g mixed game (such as venison, partridge, pheasant), diced
2 rashes of streaky bacon
200g mushrooms
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon plain flour
A good slosh of red wine (optional)
400ml beef stock
A generous pinch of Herbs de Provence
A packet of ready-rolled puff pastry
Salt and pepper

Add a little oil to a large pan and brown the game over a medium heat. Remove it and set aside.

Add the bacon to the pan and sauté it for a few minutes then add the mushrooms and onion. Continue to sauté for until the onion and the mushrooms start to colour and then add the browned game back to the pan.

Stir in the flour until everything is coated and then add the wine, if using, stock and herbs. Season well and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the game is tender and the sauce reduced and thickened. If the sauce thickens too much stir in a little water.

Preheat the oven to 200c, fan 180c.

Transfer the game to a pie dish and then top with puffed pastry. Put a small hole in the middle, using a knife, to allow steam to escape.

Bake the pie for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden.

Slice of Game Pie

Chorizo and Savoy Cabbage Risotto

January 17th, 2012

risotto_4721
Photograph by Cristian Barnett

As the weather has turned frosty and wintery I thought I’d share this recipe from the ‘Snow Flurries’ chapter in my cookbook. It’s just the thing for cold, cold days.

Chorizo and Savoy cabbage risotto

I love this colourful and mildly spicy risotto in the winter when I want some warmth and cheer; it brings summer back for a fleeting moment. The crunch and deep flavour of the Savoy cabbage is robust enough to stand up to the chorizo and the rice marries them together in perfect harmony.

Serves 4

1.5 litre chicken stock
250g fresh uncooked chorizo sausage, skinned and diced
1 onion, finely diced
300g risotto rice, such as Arborio
100ml dry vermouth
6 Savoy cabbage leaves, shredded into bite-sized pieces
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

Heat the stock in a medium pan until it is hot but not simmering, ready to ladle into the risotto.

Sauté the diced chorizo in a large, non-stick, dry frying pan over a medium heat until it’s cooked through. Remove it with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil that comes out of the chorizo in the pan.

Next, add the onion to the pan and sauté it for a couple of minutes, coating it in the oil that has been released from the chorizo. Add the rice and stir well, coating it in the oil, until it starts to turn translucent then pour in the vermouth and stir the rice for about 30 seconds while the alcohol sizzles and burns off.

Start adding the hot stock, one ladleful at time, stirring continuously. Allow the rice to absorb each ladleful before adding the next. About halfway through add the cabbage to the risotto, stirring it in.

Keep adding stock until the rice is al dente, not totally soft all the way through but still with a bite in the middle, and the risotto has a sauce-like consistency. Different varieties of rice absorb differing quantities of liquid so you may not need all of the stock.

Add the chorizo towards the end and ensure it’s heated through before serving. Season to taste and serve with grated Parmesan cheese if liked.

Cook’s note
Chorizo is a spicy Spanish sausage made with pork and paprika, which gives it its characteristic smoky, spicy flavour and beautiful red colour. You can get lots of different types, varying in spiciness and flavour. Whichever you choose, make sure it’s fresh, uncooked chorizo so that the oil and juices can be released and absorbed by the rice, giving it that all-important flavour.

Lavender Milk with Vanilla Shortbread Biscuits

January 10th, 2012

Rose, Lavender and Vanilla

I am a creature who likes her comforts. A fire to warm my toes by; a soft wool throw to wrap myself in; a hot bath to sink my body into. But my greatest comfort of all is my bed. With a squashy duvet, puffy feather pillows, a bedspread and cushions this is my haven and when I sink into it I cocoon myself. And at the end of the day this sleep-inducing drink promises to bring peace and sweet dreams.

Lavender Milk

a mug full of milk
¼ tsp dried lavender buds
sugar, to taste

Pour the milk into a small pan and add the lavender. Slowly heat it through and then sieve it into a mug, discarding the lavender. Stir in sugar, to taste. Serve warm.

Lavender Milk and Vanilla Shortbread on Plate

Milk and biscuits, or cookies, is one of those ultimate pairings and for nursery comfort vanilla shortbread is wonderful with the lavender milk. The perfect bedtime story. Goodnight, my lovelies, sleep tight.

Vanilla Shortbread Biscuits

Makes approximately 16 biscuits

115g butter, at room temperature
55g vanilla caster sugar
150g plain flour, plus some for dusting
sugar, for dusting

Beat the butter and sugar together and then beat in the flour. Now bring the mixture together with your hands until you have a smooth dough.

Flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Carefully roll it out until it’s about 1cm thick and then cut it into circles using a biscuit cutter.

Preheat the oven to 150c/fan 130c.

Lay the biscuits onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment and back for 20-30 minutes until just set. They will continue to set as they cool.

Turn the biscuits out onto a wire rack and dust them with a little sugar before leaving them to cool.

Lavender Milk and Vanilla Biscuits on Plate

Steamed Sea Bass with Jasmine Rice

January 5th, 2012

Steamed Sea Bass with Jasmine Rice

It’s the same story every January. Having overdosed on heavy meats, chocolate, cheese, mince pies, cake, alcohol, we resolve to start that diet, join the gym, cut out alcohol, detox. Certainly this January, more than any before, I feel the need to cleanse and am craving healthier food. This Christmas break was far too slovenly and, whilst enjoyable at the time, left me feeling the need to shake it all off, get out into the fresh air and back to the routine.

There is still food leftover from Christmas to be eaten and there seems to be chocolate everywhere, so this isn’t going to be a case of going cold turkey, if you’ll forgive the pun, but I can start to introduce healthier meals back into my week. Fish is of course incredibly good for us, being full of vitamins and minerals – particularly oily fish, and steaming is the healthier way to cook it.

This Thai inspired dish is not only good for you but a great to blow away the cobwebs with a kick from chilli and ginger and awakening flavours such as lime and lemongrass. I played around with the combination of ingredients a few times until I was happy with the flavours and you can do the same, as you like. Not only is it healthy and full of flavour but very quick to make; it cooks in ten minutes flat with minimum prep. Can’t be bad, eh?

Serves 2

160g jasmine rice
a stick of lemongrass, bruised
4 fillets sea bass

For the dressing
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
a few drops toasted sesame oil
1 tsp fish sauce
Juice ½ lime
2 spring onions, sliced diagonally
½ red chilli deseeded and finely chopped
a sliver of fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced

For the accompanying vegetables
2 pak choi, roughly choppped
a handful of mangetout
a handful of tenderstem broccoli, roughly chopped

Line a steamer with foil to cook the fish in.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and then add the lemongrass and rice and simmer for 10 minutes, until cooked. Drain immediately and discard the lemongrass.

While the rice is cooking place the sea bass fillets into the foil lined steamer. Mix together the ingredients for the dressing and then pour it all over the fish. Steam the fish for approximately 8 minutes until cooked. It may take a little less or a little more time depending on the size and thickness of the fillets.

In the meantime steam the accompanying vegetables until al dente.

To serve divide the rice and vegetables between two large bowls, place 2 sea bass fillets into each and pour over the dressing.

Roast Chicken & Shredded Sprout Risotto

December 26th, 2011

Roast Chicken and Brussels Sprout Risotto

Brussels Sprouts, nothing divides the family at Christmas quite like them. I’m not sure that any other veg consistently arouses quite a reaction: ‘urghhh’; ‘None for me’ (said with a grimmace); ‘You’ve got to have sprouts at Christmas’. I don’t think it’s quite as clear cut as saying you either love them or you hate them; how you cook them makes such a difference to their taste and texture. I’m sure many of us have been scarred by soft bordering mushy, greying overcooked sprouts force fed to us at some point in our lives as children. Those poor sprouts have been done such an injustice and are a million miles away from fresh, vivid green al dente orbs lightly seasoned or finished in a pan with pancetta and chestnuts. But the scars run deep and many can never get past the trauma of those sprouts boiling away to within an inch of their existence giving off a smell disturbingly like old socks being boiled in that pan.

Which is a real tragedy.

I’m convinced that cooked in a completely different way either as a star on their own or to mingle with other ingredients in a fine dish those memories can be overcome and sprouts can be seen, and tasted, in a whole new light. And I proved it with one of the biggest sprout-haters I know. My husband.

These days I don’t like to save sprouts just for Christmas day but I don’t buy them as much as I would like as it’s only me here that eats them. When I did buy some the other day I didn’t know what I was going to do with them but then an idea struck me like a bolt from the Sprout Elf King. Hmm, what’s that you say? You’ve never heard of him? I can’t believe it! Well I’ll have to tell you all about him another time. Anyway, as I was saying, here I was standing in the kitchen with divine inspiration: I would make a risotto with leftover roast chicken and use the sprouts in it like cabbage. And with the Sprout Elf King whispering mischief into my ear I decided I would tell Rob cabbage was exactly what it was.

I had to work quickly, shredding those sprouts like lightening until they resembled nothing of their former selves before Rob caught me. Job done I began working the risotto and when Rob came into the kitchen and saw the pile of shredded green veg I smiled serenely and nodded as he asked ‘is that raw cabbage? I love raw cabbage.’ and popped it into his mouth. Seconds passed in silence and I scanned his face for a reaction. None. As he walked out of the kitchen I breathed out. First psychological test passed with flying colours.

20 minutes or so later I watched with a twinkle in my eye as Rob devoured the risotto. ‘Did you like it?’ I asked innocently. ‘Yes it was really good’ he replied as he settled back in his chair. ‘Oh, you liked the Brussels Sprouts in it then? with the same innocent voice…’Brussels Sprouts?’ a flicker of surprise and then realisation that he’d been had ‘OK, you got me. Well I’m surprised, they taste different like that. Really good.’.

Mischief managed.

Serves 4

Approximately 200g Brussels Sprouts
1.5 litre chicken stock
Olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
300g risotto rice, such as Arborio
100ml dry vermouth
A couple of large handfuls of roasted chicken, cooked through
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

Finely shred the Brussels Sprouts using a food processor or using a sharp knife to thinly slice them.

Heat the stock in a medium pan until it is hot but not simmering, ready to ladle into the risotto.

Next, add a little oil to the pan then the onion and sauté it for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and stir well, coating it in the oil, until it starts to turn translucent then pour in the vermouth and stir the rice for about 30 seconds while the alcohol sizzles and burns off.

Start adding the hot stock, one ladle-full at time, stirring continuously. Allow the rice to absorb each ladle-full before adding the next. About half-way through add the cabbage to the risotto, stirring it in.

Keep adding stock until the rice is al dente, not totally soft all the way through but still with a bite in the middle, and the risotto has a sauce-like consistency. Different varieties of rice absorb differing quantities of liquid so you may not need all of the stock.

Add the chicken and Brussels Sprouts towards the end and ensure the chicken is completely heated through and hot before serving. Season to taste and serve with grated Parmesan cheese, if you like.

I reckon this would be fabulous with leftover turkey. Let me know if you give it a go.