Categories
Dinner Lunch Soups Starters and Salads Uncategorized Vegetarian

Roast Tomato & Red Pepper Soup with Olive, Caper and Parsley Salsa

This soup offers a splash of colour in these cold winter months. Tomatoes are not at their best in January, but roasting in a hot oven for half an hour or so does have a marvellous effect on their flavour. This soup is lovely as it is but to ring the changes add a little cumin to the onion base. Some finely chopped preserved lemon is lovely in the salsa for more Middle Eastern vibe – this is one you can play around with but just make sure you use top quality olives and certainly nothing out of a tin. You could add a few basil leaves to the soup before blending. Basil, crushed into a paste with oil and salt will also make a lovely garnish.

Serves Four

500g tomatoes
2 red peppers
Rapeseed oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Fresh thyme
1 large onion
1 small potato
2 sticks of celery
Sea salt and black pepper
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

Pre heat the oven to 200c

Halve the tomatoes and remove their cores. Halve the red peppers and de-seed. Put them all in a roasting pan and drizzle over rapeseed oil and the balsamic and lots of fresh thyme. Season well and then roast in the oven for about thirty to forty minutes or until very soft and beginning to caramelise.

Meanwhile, chop the onion, celery and peeled potato. Heat a couple more tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a saucepan and add the onion and celery. Saute for a few minutes until softened. Add half the stock and simmer for a few minutes. Once the tomato and pepper are roasted tip all the contents of that pan into the soup, skins and all and then cover with more stock. Simmer for about five minutes and then blend well, using a hand held blender. If you want a perfectly smooth soup you could sieve it but I find that the skins blend in very well. Adjust the consistency with the rest of the stock and check the seasoning.

Serve with a spoonful of salsa stirred through.

OLIVE, CAPER AND PARSLEY SALSA

50g good quality black olives, stoned
2 teaspoons of small capers
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Juice half a lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
Sea salt & black pepper

Use a pestle and mortar, or if you don’t have that a mini chopper will do, or just a good sharp knife.

Put everything into the mortar and cover with oil. Add a little salt and pound together until all the ingredients are broken down and well blended. Add lemon juice to taste and adjust the seasoning. The capers can be quite salty so bear in mind when adding salt.

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Categories
Dinner Quick and Easy Starters Quick and Easy Suppers Starters and Salads Uncategorized Vegetarian

ORANGE, FENNEL & POMEGRANATE SALAD

This fresh tasting, vibrantly colourful salad is wonderful in January, when oranges and pomegranates are at their best. It is lovely served alongside my chard, spinach and feta pie or you could serve it as a light starter. I love it with some of those tiny black olives tossed through it and if you want to add in some leaves then red chicory or radiccio work well.

Serves Four

2 oranges
1 pomegranate
1 bulb fennel
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
Sea salt & black pepper
A few tiny stoned black olives (optional)
Pinch sumac
1 handful fresh mint

Take a nice serving bowl. Cut the fennel in half and then slice very finely. Add to the bowl.
Cut the ends of the oranges and then slice all around the sides to remove the pith and skin. Holding the orange over the bowl, remove each segment, allowing the juice to fall in as well. Bash the seeds of of the pomegranate and add those and the juice. Add the olive oil and the pomegranate molasses as well as a good pinch of sumac. Season well and toss all together.

Finely chop a good handful of fresh mint and add this together with your little olives. Taste and adjust with a little more pomegranate molasses if you think it needs it. Serve fairly soon, although it will happily wait for an hour.

Categories
Dinner Lunch Quick and Easy Suppers Starters and Salads Uncategorized Vegetarian

CHARD, SPINACH, FETA and RICOTTA PIE

Few people won’t find their spirits lifted at the sight of a good pie. This one has the advantage in that the cook is spared the task of making any pastry; filo is best bought and no less excellent for that. This combination of chard, spinach, cheeses and spice is my version of that well known Greek favourite, spanakopita. It is brilliantly forgiving – as long as your seasoning is spot on and you remember to squeeze all possible water out of the chard and spinach you can’t go far wrong. It’s great as a leftover as well. Even better, somehow the next day. We prefer it warm, rather than very hot from the oven so timings can be relaxed. What you put in is entirely up to you – vary the herbs and spices according to what you have available. Leave out the leek if you don’t have any and if you prefer you could make it with all chard or all spinach. Just make sure you use enough to end up with a vibrant green filling. You may like to add in some finely chopped preserved lemon or some toasted, crushed fennel seed and while the sumac is pretty dusted over the top, a final flourish of nigella seeds would look lovely as well. Take care that the top of the pie doesn’t burn in the oven. Check after ten minutes and if it is getting too dark just cover the whole thing with foil while the pie finishes cooking. You could make mini ones too, in muffin tins.

Serves Four (or two greedy people with leftovers)

1 red onion, finely sliced
2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 clove garlic
Small piece of leek, very finely sliced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
200g swiss chard, stalks and leaves separated
200g spinach
Rind of one lemon
1 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
25g fresh herbs eg mint, dill, basil, chives, parsley, coriander (any or all)
3 large eggs
150g ricotta cheese
100g good quality feta (I use Waitrose barrel aged in the black tub)
4 sheets filo pastry
30g unsalted butter, melted
Sumac
Sea salt & black pepper

1 9″ square baking tin Pre-heat oven to 200c

Heat the rapeseed oil in a shallow pan and add the onion. Fry for a few minutes and then grate in the clove of garlic and add the leeks. Cook a little longer until everything is good and soft. Add the chopped stalks of the chard and then add the spices. Season well and remove from the heat. Tip the whole lot into a mixing bowl. Add in the rind of a lemon.

Shred the chard leaves and cook briefly in a tablespoon of two of boiling water until the leaves are wilted. Drain well and tip onto a chopping board. Wilt the spinach in the same pan with a little more boiling water and drain. Squeeze out all the water you possible can and add to the chard. Mix together well and then stir into the onion spice mixture in the bowl.

Roughly chop the feta and crumble into the bowl. Mix well. Whisk the eggs and ricotta cheese together and add seasoning. Stir this in and then check the seasoning, remember that the feta can be quite salty. Finely chop all the herbs and stir these in with a good pinch of sumac. Finally, stir in the pine nuts. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what order you do all this in as long as it all ends up in the same bowl!

Now melt your butter. Remove from the heat brush a little around the base of your baking dish. I prefer to use a tin one as I think it conducts the heat better around the base of the pastry but if you are serving it at the table then you may like to use a ceramic one. Or enamel may be a good compromise. Take your first sheet of filo, brush melted butter over the whole thing (I do this quite sparingly) and lay it across the base of the dish, allowing the edges to hang over the sides. Butter side should be upwards. Repeat with the other two sheets, alternating the direction of the pastry so you have an even overhang.

Take your filling and put into the dish, spreading it out evenly. Scrunch the filo over the edges, folding it in on itself. Brush these with butter. You will have a gap left in the middle. Use the last sheet of filo, cut into four pieces. Each piece can be scrumpled up and placed on top. Brush any remaining butter over any pastry that doesn’t have a good coating and sprinkle on some sumac.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. You will probably need to cover the pie with some foil to stop it browning too much but this will depend on your oven. So check after ten minutes to see the progress.

Take out of the oven and leave to sit for a few minutes. This pie is lovely warm or at room temperature. Serve with the orange, fennel and pomegranate salad.

The top of the pie will soften fairly quickly. It is a good idea to refresh it for ten minutes in a hot oven just to crisp it up, although I still think it delicious even if the pastry has lost a bit of crunch so good to take a piece to work instead of a sandwich.

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Categories
Lunch News Quick and Easy Suppers Uncategorized Vegetarian

Risotto of Kale & Leek with Mozzarella & Chorizo

Holiday season aside, I spend a fair few nights each week on my own. I have never felt that a solitary supper need necessarily be any less enjoyable than one spent in company – in fact, the beauty of being entirely bereft of company is the total freedom to eat exactly what I like, when I like. Certainly I want it to be easy, reasonably quick and healthy without being puritan about it. This recipe (if you can call it that) for a veg laden risotto enhanced with just a little chorizo is typical of something I might cook for myself midweek. Comforting but not fattening, easy without resorting to anything pre-prepared or processed (okay, the chorizo is borderline but there must be exceptions!) and with bags of flavour.

I seem to be buying a lot of kale at the moment. It is, of course one of the new superfoods and right up there in food fashion but it deserves it’s new status as more than just fodder for cattle. Cooked properly it is delicious; tender, flavoursome and adaptable. It works well with the leek; the chorizo and mozzarella are particularly delicious with it but not esssentil if you want to make this vegetarian or even vegan. Make this for one or six, just multiply the recipe depending on how many people you are cooking for, but I particularly like this when I’m on my own. Fire, dog, telly and this….perfect!!

For One

Handful of carnaroli rice (or arborio if you prefer)
1″ piece chorizo, chopped into small pieces
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic
1 dessertspoon rapeseed oil
Fresh thyme
1 leek, in half moon pieces, 1cm
350ml chicken stock (a knorr gel pack is fine)
Big double handful kale, heavy stalks removed
Small piece mozzarella, chopped
Fresh parmesan and olive oil to serve

Heat a shallow saucepan and add the chorizo. Do not add any oil at this stage. Heat the chorizo until it is starting to release its oil and once nice and crisp remove and set aside.

Put the kale in a separate pan with a dash of water and steam until the kale is wilted and tender. Remove and set aside. Use the same pan to heat the stock.

Add the remaining oil to the pan you cooked the chorizo in and throw in the shallots. Cook for a couple of minutes and then grate in most of the clove of garlic. If very large you will only need half. Add the leeks and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the rice. Stir well and then add ladlefuls of stock at a time, stirring and letting the risotto just bubble very very gently. I add stock, stir and then leave it for a few minutes whilst I get on with other things but for the best result you should really stir constantly. Carry on, adding the stock until the rice is just al dente. You may not need all of the stock. Taste after twenty minutes and it should be nearly ready.

Add the kale (you can chop it smaller if you like) and season. Make sure the rice isn’t too dry; adjust with the stock. Stir through the mozarella and chorizo and then serve in a warm bowl with parmesan grated over the top and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Of course, you could add some white wine or vermouth to the rice at the start if you have a bottle open. Just pour in half a glassful and simmer it away before adding your stock.

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Categories
Fish and Seafood Lunch Quick and Easy Suppers Uncategorized

SMOKED COD & CELERIAC FISHCAKES with SPINACH and TOMATO & CAPER DRESSING

Fishcakes can hardly be described as cutting edge in the culinary world. But they are a versatile and useful way of using any sort of fish, smoked or otherwise and a wonderful alternative to a more pie.

With a little imagination, a good fishcake can rival even the most sophisticated of dishes if presented well and with a delicious sauce or dressing to complement the harmonious mix within a golden crumb. This recipe is a little different and uses celeriac alongside a smaller amount of potato. Celeriac goes beautifully with the punchy flavour of the smoked cod and is arguably lighter in texture. A little potato is essential to ensure the fishcake has enough body to hold it’s shape but it is the celeriac that shines here and is a star player in the autumn kitchen. Mash it, blend it, puree it, use it raw – it is wonderfully versatile and this is a great way of bringing new life to an old favourite.

I never fry my fishcakes. It is so much easier and much less messy to simply toast your crumbs in oil first and then bake the finished fishcake in the oven before serving. You also get a much more even colour and no burnt bottoms! I like this cannonball shape – it looks lovely on the plate, especially propped atop a pile of vibrant spinach but kale or chard would work well too. If you prefer a creamy sauce, then just use whatever your favourite is or whisk creme fraiche, stock and lots of chopped dill and parsley together over a gentle heat.

Serves Six

700g celeriac (peeled weight)
300g potatoes (eg maris piper, king edward)
500g smoked cod
whole milk
Six spring onions
Grated zest of one lemon
Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Dill, finely chopped
150g white breadcrumbs
Rapeseed oil
2 small eggs
Plain flour for dusting

One big spinach leaves, washed
1 large shallot
4 tomatoes, skinned and cored.
50ml Extra virgin or rapeseed oil
Juice of a lemon
tablespoon capers, chopped
Finely chopped flat leaf parsley and dill
Salt & pepper

Heat the oven to 180c. Put the breadcrumbs into a baking dish and drizzle over a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil. Toss well and bake, stirring occasionally for about ten minutes until golden brown. Season.

Cut the celeriac into pieces and also the potato. Simmer both separately in salted water until tender. Drain well and put into a bowl.

Cover the cod with milk and add seasoning and a bayleaf. Bring to a simmer and then immediately remove from the heat and leave to cool with a lid on. The cod will cook as the liquid cools down. Flake the fish into the celeriac and potato. Finely chop the spring onions and add these in with seasoning, the grated lemon rind and lots of finely chopped herbs. Check the seasoning and adjust.

Whisk the eggs and have the breadcrumbs ready. Take a big spoonful of the mix and roll in your (clean!) hands into a cannonball shape. Do this until you have used it all up. You can chill the mixture at this stage or even put in the freezer for a few minutes to make it easier to handle. Dust with plain flour and then dip first in the egg and then the breadcrumbs, making sure they are well covered. Put onto a baking sheet. You can freeze them at this stage or keep ready in the fridge.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to 180c. Put the fishcakes in the oven for about twenty minutes to heat through. Check they are piping hot using a skewer and if not leave them for longer. Meanwhile, roughly chop the tomatoes. Put the shallot into a pan with the oil and gently saute without colouring until the shallot is softened. Add the tomato and capers, the lemon juice and seasoning. Add a splash of water and swirl around to heat the sauce through. Add in the finely chopped herbs.

Heat a little more rapeseed oil in another pan and add in the spinach. Quickly wilt over a high heat and squeeze off any excess water.

Have heated plates ready. Sit the fishcake on top of a pile of spinach and surround with the tomato dressing. Garnish with a little rocket or watercress.

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Categories
Dinner Lunch Poultry and Game Quick and Easy Suppers Soups Uncategorized

CHICKEN LAKSA

Basically a spicy Asian noodle soup, this easy recipe for laksa is big on simplicity without compromising on flavour. Sometimes you just crave those spicy citrus flavours of Asia and if time is short then a bought jar of Thai red curry paste is a great shortcut. Everyone will have their favourites but I have always found Barts to be reliably good. It keeps for ages in the fridge, I always have coconut and noodles to hand leaving only the chicken and fresh herbs to buy. If you have fresh chicken stock then so much the better – like any soup it is only every really as good as the stock it is made with but in this case, there are so many other intense flavourings that you can get away with one of those knorr gel pots if you really haven’t any fresh stock available.

Make sure you are careful how you use the thai fish sauce – it is your salt here and like any seasoning not enough is disappointing and too much is a big mistake! Add a bit at a time and you won’t go too far wrong. Fresh coriander is a must here, as is the fresh lime and it is a wonderful thing that supermarkets are at last stocking fresh kaffir lime leaves. Their exotic, heady flavour is almost irreplaceable but if desperate then the grated rind of a lime could go in instead. Shred fresh lime leaves up finely and they will soften sufficiently.

Chicken is just a suggestion here. Prawns are great as well, either combined with the chicken or on their own. Pork fillet would also work well, as would some lightly seared rump/sirloin steak. Vegetarians could add chopped up tofu or just increase the vegetables. I have used a red pepper but fine french beans, mangetout or beansprouts would also work well.

Lastly, if you are having people round that you want to impress with your beautiful table manners then perhaps this not something for that occasion. Noodle soup is almost impossible to eat in any way other than greedily, messily and probably wearing a washable boiler suit.

Serves Two

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
100g rice vermicelle noodles
2 teaspoons rapeseed oil/sunflower oil
1 tablespoon thai red curry paste
2 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
1 red pepper, sliced finely
250ml fresh chicken stock
1 can full fat coconut milk
Thai fish sauce
Dark soy sauce
Juice of a lime
Fresh coriander
Fresh basil/thai basil
Fresh mint
Sesame oil to finish

Cook the noodles according to the packet instruction. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wide shallow pan. Add the thai red curry paste and cook for a minute or two. Add the red pepper, the chicken stock and the shredded lime leaves and simmer for a few minutes. Add the coconut milk and a tablespoon of thai fish sauce. Add a couple of handfuls of shredded coriander, including the stalks. Reserve the top part of the coriander for garnishing.

Simmer for about fifteen minutes and then add in a tablespoon of soy sauce. Taste and adjust the flavour with thai fish sauce and a bit of the lime juice. Throw in the chicken and simmer very gently for literally just a minute or two until cooked through. Add the noodles and warm the whole thing up, stirring through more coriander, basil and mint if you have it. Serve in shallow bowls with lots of herbs over the top and a drizzle of sesame oil.

chicken laksa

Categories
Dinner Poultry and Game Uncategorized

GUINEA FOWL SUPREME with CABBAGE PARCELS & RED WINE JUS

It’s probably not something that most people immediately think of when planning a special supper, or just an everyday one for that matter. But guinea fowl makes a delicious, healthy and versatile ingredient that is easy to cook and just a little bit unusual. It has a lovely flavour, sort of a cross between chicken and pheasant. I prefer it to the latter – pheasant has a tendency to by dry if not very carefully cooked. Perfect for autumn cooking, it is here beautifully enhanced with a herb butter and made a little bit luxurious with a rich red wine sauce. A simple but effective main course that can largely be prepared in advance and won’t cause any kitchen stress. The cabbage parcels are deceptively easy. Prepare in advance and simply steam for a couple of minutes or so before serving. Celeric & potato puree is great with this.

For four

4 supreme of guinea fowl, wing bone cleaned
2 tablespoons extra virgin oil
Fresh parsley
Fresh thyme
Rind of a lemon
40g unsalted butter
Sea salt & black pepper
300ml Chicken stock (fresh)
200 ml red wine
15g cold butter, chopped

1 savoy cabbage
1 leek
1 tablespoon rapeseed/light olive oil
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
Sea salt & black pepper

Whisk the oil together with lots of fresh thyme and the rind of half a lemon. Season well and add the guinea fowl. Toss well in the marinade, cover and leave for a couple of hours.

Mash the butter with lots of finely chopped parsley and fresh thyme. Season and add the rind of the other half a lemon. Loosen the skin of the guinea fowl and push a knob of butter under each one massaging it all over and then any remaining can also go over the top of the guinea fowl skin.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Remove four large leaves from the cabbage, drop into the water and simmer for two to three minutes until tender. Drain and refresh under cold water. Pat dry with kitchen paper.

Slice the leek finely and about 1/4 of the rest of the cabbage. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the leek and cabbage with salt & pepper. Add a dash of boiling water to create steam to help with the cooking. Make sure you boil it all off before stirring in the creme fraiche. Remove from the heat and set aside. Check the seasoning.

Lay the four leaves of cabbage out and cut out any spine. Trim to a circle shape, the size of a large saucer. Lay on a piece of cling film and top with a spoonful of the cabbage leek mix. Bring the sides up to form a ball and use the clingfilm to shape it and then twist the top to hold it in place. Cut off any excess and put twist side up into a steamer. Set aside until ready to cook.

Heat a frying pan and have the oven heated to 180c. Brown the guinea fowl on the skin side and then place onto a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for about eight minutes until just cooked through. Add the chicken stock to the pan that you fried the guinea fowl in and boil hard to reduce. Add the wine and seasoning. Simmer for a few minutes until well reduced. Remove the guinea fowl from the oven and keep warm to rest while you steam the cabbage for about three minutes.

Whisk the cold chopped butter into the red wine sauce. Serve the guinea fowl with some potato or celeriac puree, some roast/steamed carrots and the cabbage parcel (removed from it’s cling film!!).

guinea fowl

Categories
Dinner Lunch Quick and Easy Starters Quick and Easy Suppers Soups Starters and Salads Uncategorized

BROCCOLI, PEAR & BLUE CHEESE SOUP with CRISPY SAGE

It’s fair to say that the autumnal weather has been unseasonably mild of late and now that the hazy days of summer, such as they were are really well and truly over I find myself hankering after some of the more comforting recipes. Soup is a staple in our household throughout the colder months and much as I lovely the summery gazpachos and chilled offerings that befit a heatwave, there is nothing that can quite beat a bowl of the steaming hearty goodness that a beautifully balanced, flavoursome soup provides.

Stock is everything in a soup – a good one will make the difference between the mundane and the special. There are many excellent ready made ones available to buy but if you can make your own, especially if you have a carcass left from a good free range chicken then you will be rewarded.

This combination of broccoli, pear and blue cheese is a tried and tested favourite. The flavours work brilliantly together and is simplicity itself to make, as long as you have a good stick blender or liquidiser. It freezes well too, so make extra and you will be very glad as the season goes on to find a tub or two on standby in the freezer.

Serves Four

Rapeseed oil
1 onion
1 large potato
2 pears (any variety, slightly unripe)
Fresh oregano and sage, both or just one
1 medium head of broccoli
800 ml or so of chicken stock
Min 50 grams blue cheese (eg St Agur/roquefort)
Spoonful of creme fraiche
A few tiny leaves of fresh sage
Maldon salt & black pepper

Chop the onion and potato. Heat a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil in a large saucepan and saute them for a few minutes until beginning to soften but not colour. Add a tablespoon of the herbs.

Peel, core and chop the pears and add those into the pan. Cook for a few more minutes before adding 300ml of chicken stock. Simmer for ten minutes and then add the chopped broccoli and another 300ml of stock. Cover the pan and simmer until the broccoli is tender. This will be about five minutes.

Add the blue cheese and creme fraiche and a good helping of maldon sea salt and pepper and blend the whole lot together, adding a bit more stock until you have reached the right consistency (about the same as double cream). If you like, add more blue cheese until you feel you have the right balance of flavour.

Quickly fry the sage leaves in some rapeseed oil (cover the base of a small saucepan) and then serve the soup in warmed bowls with a garnish of sage leaves and a drizzle of the oil that the sage was fried in.

Perfect with some good crusty bread.

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Categories
Canapes Lunch Starters and Salads Uncategorized Vegetarian

BORLOTTI BEAN HUMMUS

Surely the prettiest of the bean family, these Italian supermodels of the veg patch provides stunning colour and if growing conditions are right, an endless supply of beans that are so versatile in the kitchen. Add to salads, soups, stews or ratatouille or simply boil until tender and toss in oil, lemon, salt & pepper and enjoy just on their own. I think this hummus recip is a great way to us them. It is so simple – like any hummus it’s just a case of blending the cooked tender beans with your chosen flavourings and keeping it as smooth or chunky as you like. I think borlotti go wonderfully with sage so I have added a little here, but parsley would do as well.

Serves Four

150g fresh borlotti beans, prodded weight
Bayleaf
Fresh sage leaves
One lemon
Tahini
Natural yoghurt (Yeo valley is my top favourite, green pot)
Clove garlic (optional)
Sea salt
Black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Simmer the beans in enough cold water to cover them with a bay leaf, sprig of sage and some salt until tender. This could be twenty to forty minutes depending on how big the beans are. I tend to go for medium sized ones that are a lovely pistachio green colour. Try to keep them evenly sized and reserve any tiny ones for decoration.

Drain the beans, discard the herbs and reserve the cooking liquid. Put the beans into a small food processor or mini chopper. Add a spoonful of tahini, the same of natural yoghurt, the rind of the lemon and juice of half, some finely shredded young sage (about a teaspoon), lots of sea salt and black pepper and the garlic if using. Blend until smooth. Add either some of the cooking liquid or some cold water to help soften the texture. You will need at least two or three tablespoons. Add a tablespoon of the oil and more lemon juice as required. Check the seasoning.

Turn into a bowl and add a few very tiny borlotti beans if you have any, along with more shredded sage and a drizzle of extra virgin oil.

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Categories
Dinner Lunch Puddings Uncategorized

BLACKBERRY & PLUM JELLIES with CREME ANGLAISE & LITTLE BISCUITS

It has certainly been a wonderful year for blackberries. The best are the cultivated sort – these are the ones you will find growing in peoples gardens and allotments. They tend to be larger, juicier and I think more flavoursome than the wild variety found in practically every mixed hedgerow. I have always loved making a classic blackberry jelly that you keep in a jar and spread on toast but lately I have been revisiting that old nursery favourite and serving it as a pudding. Marry it with some home made custard and serve in a pretty glass or tea light and you will have something that can hold its own in the most sophisticated of company.

Make these jellies with just blackberries or add in some plums. The flavours work marvellously together. Raspberries would be delicious as well and at the end of July, when blackcurrants are in season you can use those. Their extraordinary depth of colour and intense flavour is quite wonderful.

This recipe is very simple. Gelatine leaves are very easy to use and as long as you measure the liquid accurately and use 1 gelatine leaf per 100ml of liquid you will have a perfect set. The jellies last for a good few days in the fridge so are brilliant for a dinner party as you can get them made well in advance. The custard is best made the day before so that it has time to chill and thicken before settling on top of the set jellies. Flavour with lemon verbena, vanilla, cardamon, citrus rind or cinnamon.

Serves Eight

JELLIES

400g blackberries
4 plums, chopped and stoned
400ml water
180g – 200G caster sugar
Dash of cassis or creme de mure (optional)
Gelatine sheets (about six)

Put the fruit in a saucepan and cover with the cold water. Add the sugar (save a couple of tablespoons for later) and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer very gently for about ten minutes until the fruit is very soft. Add the cassis or creme de mure. Taste the liquid and if you like add a little more sugar. Strain into a big jug and let any excess liquid drip through. Do not press the fruit as this will result in a cloudy jelly.

See how much liquid you have and take one sheet of gelatine for every 100 ml of liquid. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for a few minutes. Squeeze out in your hands and put into the hot strained liquid. Stir with a whisk and then divide between eight glasses or whatever container you are using. Cool and put in the fridge to set.

When ready to serve, top with the cooled custard and serve with crisp little biscuit (recipes below)

CREME ANGLAISE

250ml whole milk
250ml double cream
Vanilla pod, seeds scraped out or big handful of lemon verbena
or use a dash of vanilla essence or vanilla powder
50g caster sugar
5 large egg yolks

Heat the milk and cream together in a saucepan with your vanilla pod or lemon verbena leaves. Leave to infuse for about an hour.

Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Re-heat the milk/cream mixture and pour through a sieve onto the yolks, whisking gently as you go. Clean out the saucepan and return the custard mixture to it.

Cook over a VERY gentle heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Do not boil or let it get too hot. You will end up with scrambled custard which will have to go in the bin!! It will take about eight minutes of patient stirring. Always make sure you are able to put your have on the base of the saucepan. Also have a bowl of iced water to hand in case you have to cool the mix down quickly. If it does look as if it is going a bit grainy plunge the base of the pan into iced water and whisk like mad until you have a smooth custard again. Better to do it longer and slower or if in doubt, use a bowl over a pan of simmering water. It takes a while but you will have a smooth result. The custard is ready when it coats the back of a spoon. Then take off the heat and continue stirring for a few minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir every time you walk past until cold enough to put in the fridge. Cover and leave until it is time to serve your jellies. Or put in an ice cream machine and turn into ice cream!

Divide amongst the jelly glasses so there is a good thick layer on top. It is quite nice to have a bit left over so people can help themselves to more if they like.

LITTLE CRISP BISCUITS

90g plain flour
60g unsalted butter
30g golden caster sugar
Pinch of vanilla powder or dash of essence

Heat oven to 180c

Whizz everything together in a food processor until just coming together. Turn out and knead to a dough.

Roll out thinly. I use clingfilm to help me do this otherwise it just sticks in a very unfortunate way to the rolling pin. If the dough is getting too warm, just pop back in the fridge for a few minutes and it will be easier to handle.

Use a small fluted cutter to stamp out rounds of biscuit dough and put onto a flat baking sheet. Bake for about eight minutes until just turning lightly golden. Take out and cool on a rack. Store in an airtight tin until needed.

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