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Monthly Archives: March 2012

When I cook risotto, my favourite five minutes lie in the final stages before plating up. Swirling in a cool pat of butter. Grating in a large lump of parmesan cheese. Folding in each ingredient into the pan, one by one, until they melt and combine together to make a great, oozy risotto. Apart from that moment they don’t. What happened to food harmony?

Butter and parmesan were my go to staples. If a mashed tattie was too dry, add a knob of butter. If the pasta was crap, parmesan would comfort the soul. Joined together, they are the integral ingredients in making a killer risotto. But these two pairings, although helpful, cannot always save a poorly made risotto that is destined for the compost bin.

Meet risotto, my favourite dish and yet, often my nemesis. The tender rice. The sweet onions. The pungent garlic. If foodie poetry was based on any dish it would be risotto. And yet, there can be something of a love/hate relationship between me and the arborio. Sometimes in our relationship things go really well (like Rosé Risotto) or things can go really badly (like Smoked Bacon Risotto).

It’s like any good relationship really. Things will go well if you take your time, let things happen naturally and don’t force it to work. Same goes for risotto. Made carefully and treated well, it will provide you will a plate of food heaven. But if you rush it, you’ll upset it, she will huff with you and you’ll end up in food hell, with a burnt pan and risotto that has little burnt flecks swimming round its soupy texture. That will teach you for your impatience if you couldn’t be bothered to wait for the rice to absorb that last little bit of stock. Patience is a virtue in the kitchen, especially when risotto is involved.

I don’t want to put you off making it though. The beauty of this dish is that it’s so versatile; any vegetable will happily climb into the pot and give you some beautiful flavours. Soft flakes of fish and juicy strips of chicken can give carnivores their protein fix encased in the thickness of a risotto. It’s so simple, cheap and can be made in well under an hour if you take the time to care for each grain, cube of onion and glug of stock. And in that sense, its perfect student fodder that can be pulled off as ‘posh’ because all good Italian restaurants serve it.

So what have I learned in the past 6 years of making this dish? Firstly, slowly sweat your onions over a low to medium heat. Don’t fry them, or they will burn your pan and your end result will be peppered with black flecks of burnt onion. Try using a non stick pan and stick to olive oil, as butter will just burn at this point. Secondly, toast the rice for a few minutes until translucent before you add any liquid. This will ensure a nice texture when finally cooked. Thirdly, add the stock slowly. Don’t throw it all in at once, because if your temperatures too high, the liquid will disappear and your rice will be eons away from being ready. Fourthly, remember that if you do run out of stock, don’t panic. Simple top up with boiling water from the kettle until fully cooked. And of course, don’t skimp on the butter and parmesan. The whole dish won’t work unless you have something to melt into the rice and bind the grains together to create a great oozy risotto. Lastly, a small smattering of freshly chopped basil lifts this dish to a fragrant new level.

So don’t panic about risotto. Love it and it will love you and your tummy.

Peach is coming back into fashion. And no, I don’t mean in a foodie sense; I mean the literal fondant-coloured hue gracing catwalks, makeup palettes and bouquets of flowers. Gone is the hideous memory of 80’s dresses with a lurid satiny sheen, and in its place, a soft palate of eye-pleasing shades that truly make the mouth water. Of course, this is what leads us back to the literal peach; sweet, soft and a childhood memory in the form of James and said Giant Fruit.

Peaches love a dash of cream, and as my mother tucked into a plate of said combination last night, I thought that I could go one better and turn it into a frothy, delicate milkshake. And today, the weather couldn’t have been better as I sliced up some tinned peaches, scooped up some ice cream and blended in some milk to create a truly refreshing treat when the sun has his hat on. Forget the 80’s, peach is back big style, and with one of these milkshakes, you will feel like the cat that got the cream.

 

Makes 2 Large Milkshakes

 

You Will Need

3 tinned peach halves, sliced

1 heaping scoop good quality vanilla ice cream

½ teaspoon vanilla paste

1 glass of milk

2 ice cubes

Place all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth and frothy. Alternatively place in a jug and whizz with a stick blender. Pour into clean jam jars or glasses and serve outside with sunspecs.

Do you have a staple recipe that sees you through the times when your imagination has left you? Is there one particular recipe in a much-loved cookery book that is stained with splashes of milk, thumbprints of chocolate and the pages stuck together with caramel? Well for me, this is one of those recipes.

My copy of Gizzi Erskine’s Kitchen Magic has been well thumbed having bought it two years ago, and suffice to say it has stood me in good stead. I have made gorgeous southern fried chicken, perfected my scrambled eggs, tried my hand at gnocchi and won a few prizes using her recipes (most notably a second for the Earl Grey Chocolate Fudge Cake and first prize for the Scones) at my local flower show. As for the Millionaires’ Shortbread, it is a fabulously modern take on a classic that has won over numerous friends, colleagues and family members with its crumbly base, rosemary scented caramel, sweet crunch of sea salt and a sliver of dark chocolate. This traybake oozes sophistication and is a far cry from the familiarities of tiffin, Mars Bar crispy cakes, and in my humble opinion, the horrific Malteser cake.

The beauty of this traybake is the ability to make it in stages. Delicately crumbling the butter, flour and sugar together then pressing into a tin to bake. Wandering back into the kitchen a few hours later to make the caramel. Then, having watched some horror films and eaten an obscene amount of Dominos food, carefully melting the chocolate over a slightly simmering pan of water and swirling across the top of the caramel, pretending to be some fantastic chocolatier when the finished product has a delicate figure of eight dancing across the top. This is baking simplified and can be made across a long, languid day as a distraction from all the toils a Journalism project can bring. And of course, there’s always the promise of a square with my afternoon coffee to perk me up again. Gizzi, I salute you.

 

Recipe from Gizzi Erskine’s Kitchen Magic

 

Makes 20 squares

 

You Will Need

For the Shortbread

200g butter

225g plain flour

85g caster sugar

 

For the Caramel

115g butter

1 tin of condensed milk

4 tablespoons golden syrup

2 sprigs rosemary

1 tablespoon sea salt

 

To Finish

200g Dark Chocolate

Preheat the oven to 170oc/150oc fan/Gas Mark 3. Line a rectangular shaped baking tin with baking paper and stick down with a few dots of butter. To make the shortbread base, mix together the flour and sugar, then crumble in the butter, feeding it through your fingertips until the mix resembles a sandy dough. Tip into the baking sheet and press into the tin using your knuckles, making sure to keep the shortbread even, then prick with a fork several times. Place in the oven for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven to 150oc/130oc fan/Gas Mark 2 and bake for a further 30 minutes until the shortbread is golden and no longer doughy. Leave to cool in the tin.

To make the caramel, melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the condensed milk, golden syrup and rosemary sprigs. Mix well to fully incorporate the butter, then bring to a simmer and keep stirring for 10 minutes until the caramel is a golden brown colour. Holding a metal sieve over the shortbread base, pour through the caramel to remove the rosemary, then spread evenly across the shortbread and sprinkle with the sea salt. Leave to set.

Break up the chocolate and place in a glass bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Slowly melt the chocolate, taking care not to burn it, then pour over the caramel. Swirl the chocolate to create a neat finish then leave to cool.

To serve, cut into 20 squares and enjoy with a cup of coffee or a pot of tea.

I appear to be on some sort of liquid diet at the moment. I think in the past two weeks, me and my flatmates have consumed over eight different types of smoothies, milkshakes and frappacinos, interspersed with the solid food group that is Kettle Chips. My logic, however skewed, is that all that fruit means I’m allowed to eat a large bag of said crisps as I watch Masterchef. Now there’s a foodie-contradiction.

But I’m reforming my ways. Partly due to having no Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar crisps left, but also my new breakfast regime. Gone are the days of two coffees and then finally eating about 2pm, I am now in love with my freezer muffins and a morning burst of fruit. Ok, so I might sneak in the odd coffee, but I’m trying to be good, honest. And what better way to do so than sip a smoothie that’s crammed full of vitamin C?

Kiwis are the answer it would appear. Filled with vitamins and a good source of fibre, they are the perfect start to a morning smoothie. Add a couple of juicy pears, a sliced apple and a squeeze of lemon and you have a breakfast smoothie filled with goodness in a totally healthy shade of green. Serve up with a straw and a Blueberry and Lemon Crumble Muffin and the day will start to look brighter already.

Makes 1 large smoothie

You Will Need

2 kiwis

2 pears

1 small apple

A squeeze of lemon

Slice the kiwis in half and scoop out the insides into a jug. Squeeze the skins as well to get out as much juice as possible and discard. Peel the pears and apple, then core and slice. Add to the jug alongside a squeeze of lemon and blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Taste and adjust with more lemon or a dash of honey if required. Serve immediately with a straw and a couple of ice cubes alongside a breakfast muffin.

What’s your idea of the perfect breakfast? Is it a roll and sausage slathered with tomato sauce and a strong cup of coffee? Is it a dainty pain au chocolat and a teacup the size of a thimble filled with Earl Grey, pinkie out? Or do you like a packet of Monster Munch, a Snickers and a bottle of Diet Coke, because you’ve forgotten to go food shopping and are living out of a vending machine? I’d be happy with any of the above, because for me, the perfect breakfast goes hand in hand with a perfect day. I’m a firm believer in starting the day with a smile on your face, and things like a pretty breakfast are definitely the way to put a spring in your step.

Of course, most of us lead a get-up-and-go kind of lifestyle (or at least an oh-damn-I-hit-the-snooze-button-again lifestyle), so making something the night before to grab for the bus is a helpful hand in starting the day right. And what better way to do so than making a batch of muffins, freezing them individually, then defrosting when needed. Now that is the perfect solution for those who want to kill the person who invented the noise alarm clocks make.

These muffins are the perfect antidote to the morning blues, as they are so pretty and crammed with some seriously delicious flavours. The crème fraiche gives them a dense bite, whilst the berries burst into pools of juicy violet alongside the lemon zest which hums sweetly in the background. Topped with a crunchy crumble, these muffins are vibrant and fun, and are sure to put a smile on your face come 7am. Look out world, today my breakfast is awesome and so is my day!

 

Makes 10 Muffins

 

You Will Need

For the Crumble

50g demerara sugar

50g plain flour

25g porridge oats

1 teaspoon cinnamon

50g butter

Tip: You may not need all of the crumble, so simple place the leftovers in a sandwich bag and freeze for the next time you make an apple crumble!

For the Muffin Mix

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 egg

125g caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

2 tablespoons crème fraiche

1 tablespoon milk

125g blueberries

1 lemon, zested

200g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

 

Preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/ Gas Mark 5. Line a muffin tin with 10 cases and set aside. Prepare the crumble topping by mixing together all of the dry ingredients, then rubbing in the flour with your fingertips until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside.

To make the muffin mix, whisk the cooled melted butter, egg, vanilla, caster sugar, crème fraiche and milk together until smooth. Stir in the blueberries and lemon zest with a wooden spoon, then add the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder.

Once combined, spoon the mix into the muffin cases and sprinkle with the crumble. Place in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. Remove and leave to cool slightly on a wire rack. Serve warm with a smoothie for a gorgeous breakfast bursting with flavour.

Once cooled, wrap each individual muffin tightly a few times in clingfilm and keep in the freezer for up to a month. To us, simply defrost overnight and warm in an oven or microwave for a few moments.

Mushroom soup isn’t exactly renowned for being an extraordinarily pretty thing. It’s usually grey, the type of grey that lines the skies just as you step out your flat in a great Spring outfit ensemble. Ominous, dark and depressing, grey isn’t a nice colour.

But this soup is different. It is completely and utterly vegan, which is good news for my friend Georgia, who is contemplating going over to the vegetable side, and asked me to make a vegan recipe a while back. This little bowl of goodness tastes just as good as cream of mushroom, without getting all heavy on the cream. Instead, the soup is lightened with home-made cashew cream, a blend of nuts and water to the thickness of single cream. Totally natural, totally creamy and it’s been nowhere near a cow. Food magic!

This vegan soup is enhanced with all types of natural flavours. Pungent garlic, the fungi’s best friend (arf) is thrown in alongside woody rosemary, to give a great herby flavour. Plus a zing of lemon zest will put a spring in your step alongside a very-Italian drizzle of olive oil and some fresh rosemary needles. This soup is pretty and tasty and quite possibly 100% nicer than the tinned stuff. Go fresh, natural and vegan this March. Make Soup!

 

Recipe adapted and inspired by Joy the Baker

 

You Will Need

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 white onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 rosemary sprig, stalk removed and finely chopped

700g mushrooms, sliced

600ml vegetable stock

¼ pint plain cashew nuts

¼ pint water

Zest of 1 lemon

Plenty of salt and pepper

Olive oil and rosemary needles to finish

Place a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the olive oil. Throw the chopped onion into the pan and cook slowly for around 7-8 minutes until translucent and golden. Add the garlic and the rosemary and cook for a further minute.

Throw all of the sliced mushrooms into the pan and cook down for around five minutes, turning every so often to fully incorporate the onion mixture with the mushrooms. Pour over the stock and leave to simmer for 15 minutes.

To make the cashew cream, fill a measuring jug with cashews up to ¼ pint. Add ¼ pint of cold water and leave to soak for 5 minutes. Using a hand blender, carefully blitz until the mixture is smooth and resembles single cream. Set aside.

Once the mushrooms have cooked, remove from the heat and blend the soup until smooth. Stir through the cashew cream and season generously with salt and pepper and the lemon zest. Place back on the heat to warm through.

To serve, plate up into bowls and top with fresh rosemary needles and a drizzle of olive oil.

 

Last week, one of our halls cleaners got a little clear-up-happy and decided to bin a load of nearly finished but still useable lotions and potions from our bathroom. One the casualties was my shower gel, so I duly trudged into town to Superdrug to grab a bottle to replace it. But as soon as I stepped into the eponymous aisle, I saw the one. It was a soft pink, in a pretty little bottle and was raspberry scented. I tentatively opened the bottle and was met with a gorgeous smell of vanilla and raspberry, in a heavenly partnership that had eluded me all my life. I had found the shower gel. It would make my showering days so fragrant and wonderful. I was in love. Then I noticed it was half price. I’ve never ran to a till fast enough.

I don’t think I’ve ever been inspired by a beauty product before, let alone a shower gel, but it got me thinking about milkshakes. Every time one of my friends orders one alongside an Extra Value meal in McD’s, I shudder at the prospect. I attempted Krusha as a child and yet I only wanted to mix the syrup with water to make diluting juice. Generally, I am a milkshake failure. But suddenly, I had a craving for some ice cold raspberries, a big hunk of vanilla ice cream and a pint of milk. And of course, a smidge of vanilla paste to double up the vanilla goodness.

This shake is so simple to make that you will throw out your Nesquik instantly and go au-natural instead. Ok, so it’s not exactly healthy, but it’s the perfect afternoon treat when the sun’s out. Just don’t break my heart and serve it with a burger, kay?

Makes 3 Milkshakes

 

You Will Need

175g frozen raspberries, plus extra for decorating

6 scoops good-quality vanilla ice cream

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

1 pint milk

Heat up an ice cream scoop in a mug of boiling water, then scoop the ice cream into a blender. Mix the vanilla paste into the milk and stir to evenly distribute the seeds. Place the raspberries and the flavoured milk in a blender and whizz until smooth. Pour into tall glasses and serve with a sprinkling of frozen berries and a straw.

When you ask people what their favourite herb is, more often than not you will either get a chorus of ‘Basil’ or a random shout of ‘Tarragon!’ ‘Dill!’ ‘Sage!’ ‘What, like the kids TV programme?’ Herbs are an absolute necessity when cooking for me and it brings me out in a cold sweat when a kitchen cupboard doesn’t have dried oregano and basil at the very least. Of course, the fresh stuff is always the best, but it’s so damn expensive that I wish I had a whole allotment to hand so I could fully indulge in attempting any of Jamie Oliver’s recipes. “Just grab some basil guys, just tear it up!” Sorry Jamie, my one attempt at a owning a basil plant failed miserably, despite me regularly topping it up with water from an old Fanta bottle.

But the packaged stuff can be made to last and my favourite herb for its sheer robustness is rosemary. It’s beautifully fragrant, and goes so well with a roast shoulder of lamb, in a zesty herb butter smeared under the skin of a whole chicken and gives a kick ass punch in a slow roasted beef ragu for a lasagne. Yet, when it comes to the world of butter and sugar, can rosemary stand up alongside rosewater, orange blossom and vanilla as a suitable natural flavour?

It turns out this baby can do more than savoury, and can be as sweet as the other potions stored in your cupboard, by turning it into a delicate rosemary syrup. Simply sugar, water and a couple of sprigs stand between you and a great cocktail syrup, or in this case, a gorgeous cake glaze to create a tooth-suckingly sweet addition to the humble Vicky Sponge. Add a lime frosting made lighter with crème fraiche and a delicate wispy decoration of fresh zest and you have the perfect cake for afternoon tea with a difference. Say goodbye to the traditional sponge, there’s a new cake in town.

 

Rosemary Syrup recipe from Joy the Baker

Basic Sponge recipe from Kitchen Magic by Gizzi Erskine

 

You Will Need

For the Rosemary Syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

2-3 sprigs rosemary

 

For the Sponge

170g butter

170g caster sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

170g self raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

1 tablespoon milk

 

For the Frosting

50g butter

50g icing sugar

150g crème fraiche

1 lime, zested and the juice of ½

 

To make the syrup, place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and cover for 30 minutes to infuse. Remove the rosemary sprigs and allow the syrup to cool completely before pouring into a clean jar. This will keep for a week in the fridge and can be made ahead of time.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 170oc/190oc fan/ Gas Mark 4. Grease and line two sandwich tins with baking parchment and set aside. Cream the sugar and the butter together with a hand mixer for 5 minutes until pale and fluffy. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time and mix until fully incorporated. The mixture may split at this point, but will come together again with the dry ingredients.

Sift in the flour and the baking powder, and fold in carefully with a metal spoon. Once incorporated, add the vanilla and milk to create a batter that falls off the spoon easily. Divide between the two sandwich tins and bake for 25 minutes until golden, and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Carefully remove the baking parchment. Prick the cakes with a cocktail stick and paint over some of the syrup with a pastry brush. Leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting, mix together the butter and icing sugar with a hand blender until pale and creamy. Add the crème fraiche and the lime juice and whisk until fully incorporated. Taste and add more lime juice if necessary.

Place one cake on a piece of baking parchment on a board and top with 2 spoonfuls of frosting. Using a palate knife, smooth across the cake until evenly distributed. Place the other cake on top and add the remaining frosting, smoothing neatly with the knife. Finish by sprinkling the lime zest around the edges of the cake.