Tuesday, July 8

Brownies (no flour)

I was recently set a challenge. Not being able to describe myself as goal-orientated (except on my cv) any whiff of a test is enough to set me into an internal spin. That hunger to win, I just have hunger...mostly for chocolate (I am not fussy, Angel Delight will do if the craving strikes). But for those of you who chew up and spit out a triathlon for breakfast, who have the entry date for the London marathon as an alert, and consider Sunday morning an ideal time for putting in some miles on the bike rather than for reading the papers, I think you may believe this particular challenge to be somewhat pedestrian.

Bake something sweet...wait for it... without flour. Gulp. Cold sweat. I need an ice bath.

I consider my options:
Flapjacks? It's a possibility but I tend to either cook flapjacks into a cobbled paving slab of solid uncrackable oat, or undercook, resulting in a crumbly mess. 'Short' may be an endearing quality of pastry, but with flapjacks it's effectively just a pile of crumbs. Hey, it's granola. (Check back in a couple of months for a two birds with one stone flapjacks-come-granola post)
Meringue? I am totally fine with a pavlova for breakfast if one presents itself in the fridge, but I am guessing that others may not dig a dessert with their morning coffee.

The answer... it's brownies!

And with that realisation I punch the air, Yeah! This is how my marathon running friends must feel when they cross the line and are wrapped in a foil blanket. Yeah, definitely I think, reaching for the greaseproof and lining my tin.
I know what it's like to reach my goal, overcome adversity, beat the odds. I am on a wave, I've beaten my demons, risen to the challenge...Ok  I did it in my kitchen listening to The Archers Omnibus but isn't it the output that matters (that's the jargon of a SMART objective by the way). I eat challenge for breakfast, hey, I eat brownies for breakfast!

Flourless brownies

75g unsalted butter
250g dark chocolate
1 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp vanilla essence
250g caster sugar
4 eggs
100g ground almonds


1. Preheat the oven to 180 (160 fan). Line an 8inch square tin.
2. In a large pan gently melt the butter and chocolate over a low heat.
3. Take off heat and whisk in sugar, vanilla and cocoa.
4. Once combine whisk in the eggs, one at the time.
5. Lastly fold in the ground amonds.
6. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 25-30 mins. Leave to cool completely in tin before cutting.

flourless brownies

flourless brownies


Tuesday, June 24

A fresh dal


What did you cook when you were a student? Or should that be phrased what did you eat when you were a student? Pot Noodle? Takeaway pizza? Beans on toast? Baked potatoes? Maybe some pasta if you were particularly sophisticated. I had a thing for hash browns during my student years. One thing I am pretty sure about though, is that lentils, be that puy, red or green, they were most definitely not in your repertoire.

I blame the obligatory Student Cookbook (usually with a picture of an omelette on the front) for perpetuating the myth that lentils were the preserve of those that consider a 10am lecture 'early' and defined 'seasoning' as one of those sachets in a Supernoodle packet. Whilst my IKEA sieve saw many a meal of pesto pasta I don't believe it was used to 'rinse thoroughly' any lentils during my 3 years of study.

And yet most would believe that if you're paying for your food with a wage packet rather than a student loan then you would not actively choose a bag of lentils for a midweek dinner.

We've all been duped. Let's reclaim the lentil! 

If Tomorrow's World was still on TV I am convinved they would be trumpeting the meagre lentil as the food of the future.
Listen folks, do your prep now, and so in a few years when a packet of chicken thighs costs the same as a steak of Kobe beef, and a tin of tuna sets you back as much as a tin of caviar, you won't spin into a panic with the realisation that your only option is to reach for a packet of pulses.

So let's examine the lentil: their long and nomadic journey starting with the flagship 1970s classic, the Lentil Loaf,  rather misleadingly getting labelled as staple student food, moving into the mainstream as puy lentils became a standard accompaniment to fish and now capturing the zeitgeist and enjoying its' time centre stage. Truly a food which is sustainable, healthy, and economical. This pulse may be meek but it will inherit the earth.

A fresh dal

200g red lentils
350ml water
1 onion - finely chopped
1tsp chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic - finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
10 curry leaves
400g can tinned tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp fenugreek
50g butter
Bunch of coriander
Juice of 1 lime
small pot of Greek yoghurt

1. Wash lentils and leave to soak in the 350ml water
2.  On a medium heat gently cook the chopped onion, garlic and ginger until soft. This will take approximately ten minutes.
3. Once softened add the spices: ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika and curry leaves. Cook for a further three minutes.
4. Add the lentilsand their soaking water. Stir in the tinned tomatoes, sugar and finally fenugreek. Give everything a good mix, cover the pan and simmer for around twenty minutes (or until lentils are soft).
5. Stir through the butter, lime juice and torn coriander leaves
6. Serve with a dollop of Greek yohurt.

'Never a dal moment' Michael Caine



Monday, June 16

Lemon shortbread

I am an unashamed Archers fan. Immediately soothed by the famous opening bars of the dum-di-dum  theme, there can be no more pleasant a way to spend one and a quarter hours than to listen to the omnibus. The gentle drama placed against a backdrop of the changing seasons and countrylife not only delivers me my soap fix but provides a constant stream of culinary references. Don't listen when hungry.

Does my love of The Archers make me old before my time? I am not sure, but if I add to the mix my penchant for Horlicks I am starting to feel more Jill Archer than Pip. Or for those of you yet to experience the delights of Ambridge, more Camilla than Kate.

I got a pair of slippers for Christmas... and I was very pleased. When I recently listened to (a documentary on) 1Xtra I had to turn off with the depressing realisation my street vernacular is at least fifteen years out of date.

As I come to the conclusion that in tastes I am a pensioner not a party animal I can think of no more fitting a biscuit to bake than the mighty shortbread.

In a tin from Marks and Spencers at Christmas, dressed in tartan on the Scottish tourist trail and topped with strawberries and cream on a summer dessert plate. The instituion of shortbread stretches far and wide. I even have a recipe in my Archers cookbook.

Lemon Shortbread

225g plain flour
100g cornflour (I hear semolina gives a slight crunch but I didn't have any)
225g butter
100g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon finely grated
demerara sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven 160/140(fan)/gas 3
2. Lightly grease a 30 x 23 cm shallow roasting tin.
3. Mix together flour and cornflour.
4. Add butter, sugar and lemon zest. Rub together with your finger tips (as you would making pastry) until the dough binds together.
5. When the dough is formed press it into the greased tray. You can use the back of a large spoon or spatula to smooth it down.
6. Prick the dough all over, and bake for 35 minutes.
7. The dough will be a pale golden cream when cooked. Leave to cool in tray for a few minutes and then cut into fingers and carefully lift out to continue to cool on a wire rack.


Lemon shortbread
lemon shortbread

Tuesday, June 10

Chickpeas With Roasted Carrots and Caraway Seeds

 The Season, that quintisentially English run of events, spreading the warmer months and taking in such traditional sloane preserves as The Boat Race, Badminton and Cowes. Whilst the cast of Made in Chelsea and their chums might mark the passing of the summer in a series of marquees, heals gently sinking, flutes in hand. I suggest the English Season is most definitely not for Non U (and I).

I present to you The Alternative Season. The warm up act that is Cleaning The Garden Furniture, the pivotal moment of The First Lunch Outside, what's a bank holiday without The First BBQ, and everymans Henley...The Paddling Pool. These are the events that real English summers are made of. Who needs Glyndebourne? I've got the iPod dock and an open kitchen window.

Afterall, nothing beats scurrying back and forth between kitchen and garden table too many times to mention... food...plates...glasses...drinks...condiments...move the table (aiming for shade and sun)... everyone sit down.  Where's the cutlery? Back to the kitchen... Oh it is fun.

I for one don't want to be in the Cartier tent, polo sticks clattering in the background. I've got the buzz of a lawnmower and the heady aroma of lighter fluid creating all the atmosphere I need for our inaugural event of The Alternative Season: The First Lunch Outside.

And what food for this feast day? Why chickpeas of course with their nod to sunnier climes and store cupboard availability.

Chickpeas with Carrots, Caraway Seeds and Beans

1 clove garlic
4 medium carrots (cut into narrow sticks, not quite julienne)
1 400g tin of chickpeas
1 onion
1 tsp of caraway seeds
250g fine green beans (cooked)
handful of chopped mint

1. Preheat oven to 180
2. Toss carrots in olive oil and caraway seeds. Roast for 20 minutes (until soft and slightly caramelised)
3. Meanwhile saute onion, garlic and cooked green beans.
4. Once carrots are finished, add to saute pan along with drained chickpeas.
5. Mix and cook for 5ish minutes. Finally add torn mint.
Serve with yoghurt and pitta



Tuesday, June 3

A Raclette

If I had a time machine I would most definitely have a Tudor Banquet on my wishlist of experiences past.

If you've ever been to the Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace and you've also thought about owning a time machine then you'll just be nodding your head and silently thinking "why of course", but if neither of the above are true I suggest a pronto trip down to the south west London 'burbs and maybe a History magazine subscription for Christmas. Picture the scene: imagine, Henry VIII as wide as he was tall, his  doublet embroidered with a gold thread so valuable one line of stitch could see a peasant family good until Elizabeth died and the Tudors were no more. Henry casually tossing  a swan leg over his shoulder and tucking into a pie of four and twenty blackbirds as Wolsey sniped at his side and Catherine of Aragon remained depressed but dignified in the wings.













I'd like to think the food got wackier as the mead flowed and the banquet progressed. Perhaps starting with a baked pike accompanied by thirty six hard boiled eggs and some minced veal, and ending with a dozen roasted peacocks served atop of a wild boar from the Kings own Windsor estate. These Tudors laughed in the face of a Mediterranean diet.

And so channelling our inner Tudor we assembled our version of the modern day banquet, The Raclette. This very European cooking invention is guarateed good times, think a Christmas game of sherry-fuelled Pictionary (tap your inner creativity) crossed with the best buffet you've ever been to.

I know it's a chore but I do need to explain the concept of a Raclette to you. I know I know, we've all been to those restaurants where the waiting staff ask if you've been before and attempt to teach you how to read a menu. It's tedious. But, and I am cringing as I write, a Raclette is less recipe and more concept. Ugh.

Essentially, it's a hot metal plate on which the participants in the Raclette feast can use their own mini pan to fry a series of mini dishes, and under which they can also grill. Anything you like, take inspiration from the Tudors and go random. The list of ingredients is endless, fresh meat, fish, vegetables, sauces, marinades, spices, herbs, and seasonings. Whatever you have in your cupboards, your fridge and your fruit bowl (maybe).

Here are some of my favourite combinations:
1. Cod, chorizo, tomatoes
2. Chicken, Thai-ish marinade (limes, garlic, coriander, olive oil, lemongrass, ginger)
3. Beef, shallot, mushroom, cream
4. Peppers, mushroom, egg
5. Salmon with lemony marinade (lemon, garlic, rosemary, olive oil)
6. Chicken, ginger, soy sauce
7. Beef, Boursin and sour cream
8. Chicken, chorizo, tomato, white wine
9. Chicken, onion, tomato, basil, cream
10.Courgette, peppers, tomatoes, melting cheese

Now if that's not enough to make you say YES! to Europe I don't know what is. I think the Lib Dems missed a trick here.

a modern day banquet


Sunday, May 18

Gingernuts

Continuing the theme of Sugar The Bad Guy, I offer the nemesis to my last recipe, muesli. Here, I present the Luxury Gingernut. I am conflicted when it comes to baking, my thinking swinging wildly between a guilty butter/sugar hangover and  wanting to believe Mary Berry when she espouses the virtues of baking as being good for my heart (if not its' arteries). Maybe a Victoria Sponge really can be my chicken noodle soup for the soul?

Well if you're in the place today where the enticing smell of a biscuit in the oven will bring cheer to your spirit rather than leave your willpower in tatters, these added-value gingernuts are the ones for you.

100g butter
1tbsp golden syrup
350g self-raising flour
100g demerara sugar
100g light brown sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 (level) tsp ground ginger (test this out, if you like the spice, add more)
1 egg, beaten
75g plain chocolate, chopped
3 pieces of stem ginger, finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C Fan/Gas 3. Grease 3 baking trays
2. Place butter and golden syrup in small pan and gently heat until butter has melted and combined with syrup.
3. Mix all dry ingredients (except chocolate and stem ginger) in a large bowl.
4. Add the belted butter mixture and egg, and mix thoroughly.
5. Finally fold in chocolate and stem ginger.
6. Form the dough into walnut sized balls and place on baking try. You'll end up with approx 45 smallish biscuits. Press each ball lightly with a fork so the top is slightly squashed down.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Leave to harden up for a few minutes on trays and move to cool completely on a wire rack.




Tuesday, May 6

Muesli

I've always been rather sceptical about muesli and it's worthy connotations. I felt it was a great achievement to finally graduate to Crunchy Nut Cornflakes from Cocoa Pops (at the age of 20). But many years have passed since those halcyon days of devouring a packet of Opal Fruits and knocking back a Sherbet Fountain chaser.

 Sugar is about as cool as Gary Barlow in 2003. And even I with my limited working knowledge of Sugary Foods Which Pretend They're Good For You have registered that many cereals are most definitely unreconstructed Gary. Not Cool. (I am still hoping the next phase of research may reveal sugar to actually be a super food, and my Gary Barlow metaphor will work well: like Gary it has a makeover and comes back bigger and better than ever, and everyone is so relieved they promise to cherish it forever.)

But living in the present, and working with the sad and dull truth that sugar is persona non grata, I set about ditching the Cheerios (hey, I am in my 30s now) and procuring a proper grown up breakfast. And I failed. With each promise of a 'healthy' and 'delicious' cereal I was met only with a cardboardy and effectively tasteless pap. And the nice ones were full of sugar. So I set about doing something I had never done before, making my own.

Muesli
750g rolled porridge oats
150g pumpkin seeds
150g sunflower seeds
150g flaked almonds
200g dried fruit (eg raisins, cranberries, blueberries, go mad)

Mix, serve.

In my early days, as a proper sugar addict I splashed some apple juice over the muesli to soak in and sweeten the oats. I've abandoned it now and it's still good.