It was a totally random purchase, in an airport bookstore. I had a couple of minutes to grab a book to read in the plane and this one just got my attention. It looked like yet another expat experience with yet more live changing experiences inducing snooze fest. For extra cynicism, I only found broken hearts in the city of love… But it were the recipes that caught my attention. A love story with recipes? Never mind it is even in Paris – that is totally worthwhile reading. And it was… It is a quick, funny and light read. For a quick sum up of traditional home style french dishes, it is also excellent. I feel I will come back to this book over and over again.
- 120g of all purpose flour (about 1 and 1/4 cup)
- 1 tablespoon of baking powder
- 200g sliced bacon or pancetta
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 120 mL olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
- 120 mL full fat milk (about 1/2 cup)
- 8 soft dried figs
- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley
- 100g of grated Gruyere cheese
Pre-heat the stove to 160oC
Sift the flour with the baking powder to a bawl.
Butter and flour a baking dish (or use a non stick baking spray). Cover the bottom of the dish with parchment paper.
In a small frying pan, fry the bacon strips until all fat is gone. Take them out of the pan and pat them dry with kitchen paper.
In a medium size bawl, beat the eggs with the salt. When they are mixed, add the milk and olive oil. Carry on beating until you obtain a light fluffy structure.
Fold the flower into the mix until is incorporated (be careful not to over mix – a couple of time will do).
Add the remaining ingridients (fried bacon, parsley and grafted cheese) gently mix then in.
Put the batter in the baking dish and transfer to the oven. Let it bake for about 1hour. Test with a knife before taking it out – it should came out dry.
Take it out from the dish while still hot, and let it cool down before serving.
Even food bloggers have really bad kitchen days… Everything seemed going OK until I bumped into the mother of all disaster recipes. Without going into too much detail, the whole thing ended up in the trash bin. Then, I realised I was missing the key ingredient for the next bake. In despair, I turned to google to guide my way out of this mess. “Tea and fruit bread”, said the oracle. “You cannot get this one wrong”. She was right: it is super easy, quick and more importantly, fool-proof. A couple of hours later everything was fine again…
On a side note, this is very close to what my Grandmother used call English cake and insist on buying every Christmas. Us kiddies never thought the point of it – all that crystallised fruit was unappealing. We would patiently wait for it get too dry to eat, so my Mother could convert into a much more appetising bread pudding made with custard.
Tea and fruit bread (adapted from a recipe found in nigella.com)
- 1 cup black tea
- 250g mixed dried fruit
- 250g white flour
- 2 teaspoon of baking powder
- 125g of caster sugar
- 1 large beaten egg
- 2 tablespoons orange marmalade
Grease a loaf tin (about 650g)
Preheat oven to 180oC
Put the fruit in a small bowl, and pour in the tea. Let it soak overnight if possible, or until the fruit is swollen.
In a bowl combine the flour, sugar, egg and marmalade. Then, fold in the fruit and any tea left in the bowl. Mix thoroughly
Put into loaf tin and bake in the oven for 1 hour
Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin
Nothing like a happy chocolate-y orange-y and super rich-y cake moment to cheer up the day. Never mind the calories – they are all worthwhile.
Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Kitchen)
- 160g of soft unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 250g raw cane sugar
- 120g of all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
- 2 eggs
- the zest of 2 regular orange and juice of 1 (1/3 cup)
Preheat the oven to 165oC.
Line the loaf pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.
Beat the already soft butter with the syrup and the sugar until you have a fairly smooth cream (you probably will still feel a bit of grit; should look like a large weak coffee with milk).
Mix the flour, baking soda, and cocoa powder together. Sift the equivalent of a 1 tablespoonful of these dry ingredients into the sugar and butter. Mix well before beating in 1 egg. Then add another couple of spoonfuls of the dry ingredients before beating in the second egg.
Carry on beating in the remaining dry ingredients and then add, still beating, the orange zest and finally, gradually, the orange juice. At this stage, the batter may suddenly look dimpled, as if slightly curdled – if this happens, do not worry.
Pour and scrape the batter into the load pan and put in the stove for 45 minute. Test with a knife before taking it out. A cake tester won’t come out entirely clean, as the point of this cake, light though it may be, is to have just a hint of inner stickiness. Let cool a little in its pan on a wire rack, then turn out with care and leave on the rack to cool.
It was love at first sight. And, timing couldn’t have been better. I was just looking for my annual super baking project when I bumped into this recipe. It was so delicious, I will have to bake it again. And again… and again. Never mind the Modern Art Cakes – this the one I want I want for my birthday. Truth to be said, it is not particularly difficult dish. But the flavours, oh!, the flavours…. It were layers upon layers of fresh, summery and nutty flavours, each mouthful different.
Apricot, walnut and lavender cake (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s column in The Guardian)
- 185g unsalted butter, diced and at room temperature
- 2 tbsp walnut oil
- 220g caster sugar
- 120g ground almonds
- 4 medium eggs, beaten
- 120g ground walnuts
- 90g plain flour
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1½ tsp picked lavender flowers, fresh or dry
- 600g (gross) apricots, halved and stones removed
For the icing
- 50g icing sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
Heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3. Put the butter, oil, sugar and almonds in the bowl of a mixer and beat on a medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs bit by bit, making sure each addition is well incorporated before beginning the next, then fold in the walnuts, flour, vanilla, lemon zest, a teaspoon of lavender flowers and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.
Line the base and sides of a 23cm cake tin with greaseproof paper. Pour in the cake mix and use a palette knife to level it out. Arrange the apricot halves skin side down and slightly overlapping all over the top of the cake, taking them right to the edge.
Bake for 70-80 minutes – cover with foil if the top starts to brown too much; also, note that when you insert a skewer to test for doneness, it will come out a little sticky because of all the moisture in the apricots.
While the cake is baking, whisk together the icing sugar and lemon juice until you have a light, pourable icing (adjust the amount of sugar or juice slightly, to suit your tastes). As soon as the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and brush the icing all over the top. Sprinkle over the remaining lavender flowers and set aside to cool.
In short, this is such a good chicken pie, it is totally worthwhile to endure cooking process. It is arguably one of the best I have ever had. It is hard to believe this dish actually start from, God forgive, leftovers…
A few shortcuts, though: I used pre-made pastry. I know – home made pastry is not that hard to do. But, I didn’t feel brave enough for it… and, the one in the supermarket is also perfectly fine for this purpose… If you don’t have any chicken leftovers, and need to cook it from scratch, add some herbs and vegetables when boiling it (this recipe work just fine). Everything else is so tasty, it is a crying shame to put in some bland rubbery chicken.
2 sheets of basic pie pastry
Chicken Pie Filling
- 1 cup of potatoes cut in about 6cm pieces
- 1 1/4 of carrots cut diagonally in 6cm pieces
- 12 white pearl onions
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 thyme sprigs
- 24 black peppercorns
- 1 1/4 cups of 4-6cm of pieces of celery, cut on the diagonally
- 2 cups of shredded cooked chicken
- 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- 3 cups of whole milk
- 1 salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
- Pinch of cayenne
- 1 egg, beaten
Roll out the dough and line the baking tray with one of the sheets. Put the other one a plate. Refrigerate both.
Place the potatoes, carrots and onions in a saucepan with the bay, thyme and peppercorns. Top with cold water to cover. Gently bring to a simmer. Cook until just tender, about 8-10min (the original recipe asked for each vegetable to cooked in individual pans, but I just put everything together in the same one). Once cooked, drain the water and discard bay, thyme, and peppercorns. Cut the onions in 2 and set aside to cool.
Blanch the celery for just over a minute in a large pot of boiling salted water, until they are tender/crispy. Drain and let it cool in a bowl of iced water. Set aside with the other vegetables
You can now start the béchamel. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed so the mixture does not brown. Whisk in the milk, lower the heat to keep the bechamel at a gentle simmer, and cook, whisking ofter to ensure it doesn’t burn. It should take about 30-40minutes until the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 2 cups. Season to taste with salt, pepper, parsley, thyme, and cayenne.
Put the oven racks in the lower third and center of the oven and preheat the oven to 190 oC (about 375oF).
Remove the pastry sheets rom the refrigerator. Scatter the vegetables and chicken into the pie shell. Pour the béchamel over them. Moisten the rim of pie shell with some of the beaten egg. Cover the filling with the top crust and press the edges of the dough together to seal. Trim away the excess dough that overhangs the rim. Brush the top crust with the egg. Cut a small vent in the center of the dough with the tip of a paring knife to allow the steam to escape.
Bake on the lower oven rack until the crust is a rich golden brown, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If necessary, move the pie to the centre rack during the last 10 minutes of baking to brown the crust. On the other hand, if crust is browning too quickly, cover with aluminium foil.
Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes.
… And we are back to a quasi-Winter weather. While it was meant to brighten any Winter table, it ended up being yet another post of protest against this atrocious Spring.
In any case, after Christmas #beetrootgate , I actually didn’t gave up on cooking them… It sort of become an unavoidable ingredient. It is colourful and sweet and packed with earthy flavours… how could you not want to cook it? Specially when you bump into its 10 best recipes, one of them by the latest foodie TV stars, The Fabulous Baker Brothers? It was worthwhile taking the risk of tarte tatin – the dish was delicious.
Beetroot tarte tatin with goat cheese (adapted from a Fabulous Baker Brother’s recipes found in The Guardian’s The 10 best beetroot recipes)
- 75g golden caster sugar
- 40g butter
- A splash of sherry vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 7 thyme sprigs
- 4 fresh beetroot, cooked
- 250g puff pastry
- 4 slices of goat’s cheese
- Salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Place a smallish, heavy, oven-safe frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sugar to the pan and stir until it dissolves, then add a big pinch of salt, all the butter and a splash of sherry vinegar. Keep stirring until it has turned mahogany brown. It’s a good idea to use oven gloves to protect your hands. Take care not to let the sugar burn.
Add 1 tbsp honey to the pan. Pick the thyme leaves from 6 stalks and add them too. Remove from the heat and stir. Place a long sprig of thyme on top of the caramel for decoration.
Cut the cooked beetroot into nice fat slices and carefully (so you don’t burn your fingers) arrange all the slices on top of the caramel, working from the edge to the centre in a spiral pattern. Season with salt and pepper.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry so it’s big enough to cover the beetroot, then place it on top, tucking the edges down into the pan. Put the whole lot into the oven for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Wearing oven gloves, place an upturned plate over the frying pan (it should be bigger than the pan) and, holding the two together, flip the lot over. Leave it for 30 seconds to let the caramel mostly fall from the pan on to the plate, then slowly lift the pan.
Serve by the wedge while still warm, with a disk of goat’s cheese on top and, if you fancy, a drizzle of honey.
I could be writing about lovely Spring dishes, with plenty of asparagus, rhubarb and green stuff all around. But not – cottage pie it is. No Spring, no Spring food. Anyway, it is either this or start a monumental rant about the weather on Facebook… The pie itself, is delicious, warming and comforting.
Cottage pie (adapted from Dave Myers and Si King’s The Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight)
- 400g of lean minced beef
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 celery sticks, finely sliced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 400g can of chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon of tomato purée
- 500mL beefstock, made with 1 beef stock cube
- 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
- 1 teaspoon cornflour
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Leeky potato topping
- 750g of floury potatoes
- 2 teaspoons of olive oil
- 2 slender leeks, timed and cut into 1cm slices
- 150mL of low fat milk
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place a large non stick sauce pan or casserole dish over a medium heat. No need to add olive oil – it is a non stick pan, after all. Put in the minced meat and cook it together with the onions, celery and carrots for about 10min, until lightly coloured. Use a couple of wooden spoons to break up the meat as it cooks
Stir in the tomatoes, the tomato purée, the beef stock, the Worcestershire sauce and the mixed herbs. Season with a generous pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat. Cover loosely and simmer gently for about 40min, stirring occasionally until the meat is tender.
You can start preparing the potato topping. Peel the potatoes and cut them into rough 4cm chunks. Put them in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then down the heat slightly and simmer for 18-20min or until the potatoes are very tender. Heat the oil in a non stick frying pan and fry the leeks for 5min until softened but not coloured, stirring often. Drain the potatoes, then tip them back into the pan, season to taste and mash with the milk (and a little butter) until smooth. Stir in the sautéed leeks and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 220oC. When the beef has been simmering for 40min, mix the cornflour with the cold flour to make a smooth paste. Stir this into the beef and cook for another 1-2min or until the sauce is thickened, stirring often.
Poor the beef mixture into a 2-liter shallow ovenproof dish. Using a large spoon, top the beef with the mash potatoes and leeks. Spoon the mixture all around the edge of the dish before heading into the middle, then fluff it up with a fork.
Bake for 30min until the topping is golden and the filling is bubbling.
Believe it or not, this was a last minute dessert. It looks spectacular, it tastes scrumptious and is a fool proof recipe. Home cooking doesn’t get much better than this…
- 6 egg whites
- 220g golden caster sugar
- 200g dark chocolate roughly chopped
- 100g pistachio nuts,roughly chopped plus extra to decorate
- 3oo mL double cream (or whipped cream)
Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
In a sheet large enough to cover a baking tray draw a circle with 26cm diameter
Turn the paper around and put it on the tray
Whist the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Add the sugar, one spoon of a time, whisking between every addition until all the sugar is well incorporated.
Fold in the chocolate and the sugar.
Transfer to the baking tray and spread out, keeping the mixture roughly inside the circle.
Put in the oven for about 1h or until cooked through.
Beat the cream to soft peaks, spread over the meringue once it is evenly cool. Scatter with extra pistachios.
A big cooking fail, but nevertheless edible. The
beasts my lovely coworkers ate them all with great speed and delight. They even thanked me and asked for more…. Will try it again, but unless you find someone that bakes this for you, don’t believe Emma when she claims this is ideal for a lazy Sunday morning. It is actually hard work to put these thinguies together.
Cinnamon pecan sticky buns (adapted from Emma Lewis’ entry in the BBCGoodFood)
For the buns
- 450g white flour
- 50g caster sugar
- 85g butter , cut into small pieces slightly melted
- 7g sachet dried yeast
- 2 eggs , beaten
- 150ml full-fat milk
- vegetable oil , for greasing
For the filling
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 85g light brown sugar
- 100g pecans
For the topping
- Melted butter
- 100g pecans roughly chopped
Heat oven to 180C
Put the flour, sugar and 1 tsp salt in a mixing bowl you can put in the kitchen aid. Add in the butter and mix with your hands until all the butter in incorporated into the flour (it feels like bread crumbs)
Add the yeast and the beaten eggs and mix them with flour. Finally, pour in the milk and carry on mixing until you get a soft dough
Put in the kitchen aid with dough hook for 7 mins, until the dough is smooth, soft and springy. If you feel brave enough, you do it by hand – it will take about 15min).
Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Leave in a dark warm place ( about 1 hr or until doubled in size).
While the dough rises, make the filling. In a food processor put thee cinnamon, sugar and pecans. Buzz in the nuts are finely ground.
When the dough has reached twice its size, punch it until the air bubbles are gone, and then split the dough in two.
Roll and stretch each piece to form a rectangle in a floured kitchen top.
Brush each rectangle with the melted butter and then sprinkle half the filling mixture. Press into the dough, using the rolling pin if necessary. Tightly roll each rectangle up from one of the long ends to get a thick log, then pinch the ends together to seal. Cut each log into 8 pieces.
Place the rolls on the tray, leaving a gap of at least 2cm around each roll. Brush again with butter and sprinkle the chopped pecans. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for about 30min in a warm place for about 30 mins.
Bake for 30 mins until the buns are lightly browned and feel firm.