Thursday, 19 November 2009

Boozy Christmas Pudding Trifle

Now that it's getting dark by 4pm and the rain seems to take little respite from lashing against the windows, it would be easy to just grab the duvet and curl up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire watching re-runs of Friends for comfort. But I am resolute in my love for late autumn - a mug of hot chocolate awaiting my return from a rain-soaked walk, visits to cosy pubs with real fires, steaming cups of mulled wine - yes, I am a self-confessed lover of this time of year, not least because it can mean only one thing: it's only five weeks till Christmas.

For me, Christmas is about getting together with friends and family, cooking, eating and celebrating just being together. I love planning and cooking a big roast dinner for my family on Christmas day, or thinking about what nibbles to provide at our party for friends the week before. No Christmas cooking challenge is too daunting for me (she foolishly says) - which is why I leapt at the chance to take part in the Matthew Walker Pudding Challenge to create a delicious new dessert from their venerable 'Recipe 13' pudding. All sorts of festive goodies sprang instantly to mind - truffles, ice cream, creme brulee, spicy strudel - but in the end I plumped for a dessert that would take me straight back to my childhood: a good old-fashioned trifle. Christmas is all about home comforts, after all ...

Boozy Christmas Pudding Trifle
Serves 2

1 x 100g Matthew Walker ‘The Pudding’
1 orange, peeled and segmented
Half a pint of custard (3 egg yolks, 25g sugar, 300ml milk)
100ml double (or whipping) cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
Good quality dark chocolate, grated, for decoration

1. Soak the orange segments in brandy for a few hours, or overnight.
2. Remove the pudding from its packaging and slice into 4 pieces.
3. Make the custard sauce: whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy; heat the milk until almost boiled, then whisk half of it into the egg mix; return this back to the pan of milk and heat gently over a low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens.
4. Place a slice or two of Christmas pudding in a martini glass (or other decorative glass or bowl). Arrange some orange segments on top, along with some of the brandy-juice to soak the pudding. Pour the warm custard over to cover the fruit and place in the fridge to chill for a while.
5. Whisk the cream, icing sugar and brandy together until just firm - not like butter. Spoon the cream over the chilled trifles and sprinkle with grated chocolate.

This is a sure-fire festive favourite. Grab a spoon and dig in!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup

Autumn has well and truly set in round my way, with cloudless blue skies overhead and masses of alternately crisp and soggy leaves underfoot. Edinburgh certainly knows how to do autumn well.

This time of year brings both a glut of wonderful root veg in my weekly organic box, and the desire to really spice things up in an attempt to keep warm from the inside out. To me, parsnips are the king of the root veg, and I love them in any form - roasted, mashed, even in cakes from time to time - but there is something about their savoury sweetness that makes them ideal to transform into velvety smooth soups. And they happen to go particularly well with curry spices. So the other day I came up with this delicate soup, both to warm me up on a cold Wednesday afternoon and to serve as my entry for this month's No Croutons Required competition over at Lisa's Kitchen. It's a real winter warmer, sure to brighten even the dullest, wettest day.

Curried Parsnip & Apple Soup
Serves 4

3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp flour
800ml vegetable stock
1 large cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil and 25g butter
salt & pepper
50ml milk (optional)

1. Heat the oil and butter in large saucepan. Saute onions until soft, add garlic and parsnips and cook gently for a few minutes.
2. Add curry powder and flour, stir to coat the veg and cook for no more than two minutes to prevent the spices from burning.
3. Add the stock and apples and stir well. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the parsnips and apples are tender but not mushy.
4. Blend the soup into a velvety puree. Add a splash of milk if desired and more stock/water if the soup is too thick.
5. Serve with crispy garlic croutons, toasted pumpkin seeds or a swirl of creme fraiche.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Granny Chisholm's Clootie Dumpling

There are some things, usually food related I find, that can transport you back to childhood in an instant. It might be the smell of your mum's chicken casserole, the memory of licking the spoon after a marathon cake-baking session, or the sight of a stack of pancakes for Sunday breakfast. For me, it is Clootie Dumpling. My granny was a wonderful, traditional Scottish cook - mince and tatties, tablet, raspberry jam were all staples - but her greatest recipe, and the one she is most fondly remembered for, was good old clootie dumpling. My family (particularly my uncle) still celebrates birthdays with a clootie instead of the more modern sponge confections, and New Year dinners wouldn't be the same without one.

It seems incredible that I had never attempted to make a clootie dumpling myself, considering how important the recipe has been in my life. Since my granny passed away, the clootie mantle has been passed to my aunt, who lovingly prepares a sumptuous, bulging clootie for my uncle's birthday each year. But recently I've been thinking it's time for me to have a go, to keep the clootie dumpling alive in my generation instead of allowing it to become a relic of the past. Yes it's traditional, yes it's old-fashioned, but I think that's to be celebrated rather than ignored.

So here it is, my granny's clootie dumpling, kept alive into the Noughties.

Serves a big hungry family.

1 cup shredded suet (vegetarian suet is available)
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup self-raising flour
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup sultanas
1 cup currants
1 cup milk
1 grated carrot OR 1 grated apple
1 large teaspoon cinnamon
1 large teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.
2. Flour a large sheet of greaseproof paper and place the clootie mix upon it. Place in a large cloth and then double wrap inside another teatowel/muslin (or old pillowcase!) Secure firmly with string. The clootie should be taking shape now - it should look a bit like a curling stone.
3. Place on an upturned plate in a large heavy pan with about 5cm water and steam on a low heat for 4-5 hours, topping up the water when it gets too low.
4. Remove the clootie from the pan, carefully unwrap it and place on a baking tray in a medium overn (160 C / gas mark 3) for 15 minutes. This will allow the clootie to dry out and form its traditional 'skin'.
5. Remove from the oven, cut into generous slices and serve with either custard, cream or just a sprinkling of caster sugar. Or, for a more modern twist, try serving with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Smoked Garlic Risotto with King Scallops and Prosecco

I was inspired to create this combination of flavours after Niamh at Eat Like a Girl posted a competition on her blog recently. The aim: to find a dish that matches perfectly the fresh fruitiness of Prosecco - Bisol Jeio Prosecco, to be precise. Well, that got me thinking, as in my experience Prosecco has been served more as an aperitif than as an accompaniment to a meal. But I loved the idea of having a glass of chilled, sparkling Prosecco to sip along with a sumptuous treat of a supper dish - and once this seed of thought was planted, I could not get the idea of a rich, creamy risotto out of my mind, delicate in flavour and accompanied by a trio of the freshest king scallops, simply panfried. Why not go a step further and use the Prosecco in the cooking too? Ah yes, that seals the deal. To me, this is a match made in foodie heaven. I wonder if Niamh agrees . . .

Smoked Garlic Risotto with King Scallops and Prosecco
Serves 2

1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
3 cloves smoked garlic, finely chopped
1 mug of Arborio risotto rice
1 glass Prosecco
1 litre of warm vegetable or fish stock
chopped chives
juice of half a lemon
salt & pepper
6 king scallops (roes removed), seasoned on each side with salt & pepper

1. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-based pan and gently saute the onion and celery for a couple of minutes. Add the smoked garlic and fry for a minute or two until the flavours are aromatic, but take care not to let the garlic colour.
2. Add the rice to the pan and stir to mix the flavours thoroughly. Pour over a glass of Prosecco and enjoy the sizzle for a minute until all the wine is absorbed.
3. Add the warm stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until each has absorbed into the rice before adding the next. (The rice should end up just past al dente stage, but not so soft that it turns into a mush.)
4. When enough stock has been absorbed into the rice, add a generous knob of butter to the pan, a good squeeze of lemon juice, some chopped chives, and season to taste. Stir together to make the risotto gloriously shiny.
5. Meanwhile, cook the scallops. Heat some olive oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan, making sure the pan is good and hot before adding the seasoned scallops. Fry for 1 to 2 minutes on either side, depending on the size of the scallop, until they are golden brown. Set aside to rest while putting the finishing touches to the risotto.
6. Serve the golden scallops perched on top of a bowl of the shimmering risotto, along with a glass of chilled Prosecco, of course.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Hearty Tuscan Bean Soup

I found myself pottering around my kitchen on Saturday afternoon, feeling slightly fuzzy round the edges after one too many glasses of wine the night before, but blissfully happy in the knowledge that I had no plans, nowhere to be, and that it was just horrible enough outside to justify my staying indoors all day.

So instead of reaching for the frozen pizza - as I am wont to do on such occasions - I began flicking through a few of the blogs I like to follow, and I came upon this month's No Croutons Required competition, hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes. In the spirit of our recession-hit times, the theme this time is frugality, and the aim is to create a vegetarian soup (or salad) using only storecupboard ingredients, plus whatever you can find in the fridge. That got me thinking - hey, I've got a tin of tomatoes in the cupboard, and a tin of butter beans, plus there's all that veg from our weekly organic box that needs using up ...

And so, with an added dash of inspiration after watching Nigel Slater's new programme the other day, I set about creating my competition entry. A kind of autumnal, warming bean soup with hints of our holiday in Italy earlier this year, I'm calling it my Hearty Tuscan Bean Soup. It's truly one of the most delicious things I've eaten in a long time - far better than that frozen pizza I'd had my eyes on...

Hearty Tuscan Bean Soup
Serves 4

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 stick celery, 1 carrot and 1 red pepper, all coarsely chopped
tin butter beans, drained and rinsed
tin chopped tomatoes
500ml vegetable stock
squeeze of tomato puree
the heel of a chunk of parmesan or pecorino, if desired/available (thanks to NS for this idea!)
pinch oregano
a few sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Saute the onion and garlic in some olive oil for a few minutes, until soft but not brown. Add the chopped veg and continue to saute, covered, for a further 5 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes, stock and tomato puree, stir well and bring to a simmer. Throw in the end of a chunk of parmesan or pecorino, if you happen to have one hiding in the back of the fridge.
3. Add the herbs and seasoning, along with the butter beans, and simmer a few more minutes until the flavours have melded together and the cheese is meltingly soft but not broken up.
4. Remove the cheese from the pot, check the seasoning, and serve the soup with some rustic Italian bread and maybe a drizzle of olive oil.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Sigara Boregi

These cheese pastries are very common on Turkish mezze plates, and although not exactly friendly on the arteries, in small doses they are delcious, smile-inducing and just a little bit exotic. It can't hurt every now and again...

Cheese Pastries
Makes 30

8-10 sheets yufka pastry - or filo pastry would work just as well
4 eggs
450g Turkish cheese such as beyaz peynir - or feta
large bunch of fresh mint, parsley and dill, chopped
sunflower oil for frying

1. Mash the cheese, eggs and herbs into a paste in a large bowl.
2. Lay the pastry on a flat floured surface and cut into long strips, 8cm wide by 20cm long.
3. Take a strip at a time and place a teaspoon of the cheese mix onto the end nearest you. Fold the corners over the mixture to seal it, then roll away from you to create tight, cigar-like rolls. Seal the pastry shut with a dab of water.
4. Heat the oil in a shallow pan - enough for deep-frying. Fry the boregi in batches for approx 3 mins until they are golden brown and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and serve warm.

50 ways with an aubergine?

This was the first dish we made at the Istanbul cookery class, and I reckon it was the biggest hit. Apparently the Turkish have about 50 ways of cooking aubergine, and if you've ever eaten at a Turkish restaurant - at home or in Turkey - you can see that this is likely!

Aubergines with Onion & Tomato
Serves 2 as a side dish

2 aubergines
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large onion (or 3 shallots), finely sliced
3 large tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
Squeeze of tomato puree
6 cloves garlic, finelly chopped
bunch parsley, dill and basil, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
150ml olive/sunflower oil
60ml water
Slices of green pepper and tomato

1. Remove bottom inch of each aubergine, but leave stalk intact. Peel skin in strips, leaving some on to allow aubergine to retain shape.
2. Gently fry onion, garlic and peppers until cooked and soft. Add the tomatoes and puree and stir well.
3. In deepish (one inch) hot oil fry the aubergines gently until brown all over (about 5-8 mins). Drain on kitchen paper.
4. Add water and salt to the tomato mix to make a soup-like consistency. Simmer until this has cooked down.
5. Arrange aubergines in a tray or oven dish and pack the veg and tomato mixture all around. Arrange slices of pepper and tomato over the whole tray.
6. Cook in the oven (180C) for about 15-20 minutes and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and some warm, fresh pide bread.