Cauliflower, don’t take it for granted…


IMG_0224I am moved to write about cauliflower for two reasons, (1) many people have asked for the recipe I mentioned in my last post for spicy cauliflower and (2) A Quebecois friend of mine told me this week that the price of cauliflower had rocketed in Canada to $8 Canadian and even more in some places. In Sterling, that’s £4 a piece. For a cauliflower! Apparently this is due to El Niño weirdness affecting the crop this year. At any rate, it has made me thankful that cauliflower is still going for £1 in my local Tesco and I am free to enjoy it without a pain in the wallet.

A recent discovery of an old recipe my Mum used to make has made me appreciate cauliflower anew. I’ve never really been that keen on cooked cauliflower, I love the peppery taste you get from the raw florets, but when served boiled as a side dish or even in cauliflower cheese (which I like but don’t love) I’m not a huge fan. I think the whiteness puts me off it a bit, I like colour on my plate. Anyway, back to Mum’s dish. It’s possibly adapted from Madhur Jaffrey as her (now Turmeric-stained and oil-splattered) book has been the Michie household’s Indian cuisine bible since the 1980s, but I think it has been modified enough to call it our own. It’s a dead easy recipe and the introduction of cumin seed, fresh green chilli, turmeric for that glorious bit of colour and ground cumin and coriander really lifts the vegetable to a new level. The brown bits where the cauliflower catches on the pan add a hit of lovely umami too. Be warned though, this dish is incredibly addictive.  Don’t make it too far in advance or you’ll end up eating a bit every time you pass the pan, and making excuses to pass the pan too!

IMG_0234

Mum’s Spicy Fried Cauliflower

Ingredients

  • 1 large cauliflower broken into florets. If they are large florets, cut them in half lengthways
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or less if you don’t like it hot)
  • 1 green birdseye chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced (again, cut it out or use half if you have low spice tolerance)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

Method

  1. Soak the cauliflower florets for half an hour in a big bowl of cold water
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the cumin seeds. Allow to sizzle for 30 seconds or so
  3. Add the cauliflower and stir well so it is well coated in the cumin seeds
  4. Cook over a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring infrequently, until the cauliflower has plenty of lovely brown spots on it
  5. Cover the pan and turn the heat to low. Cook for 6 minutes until the cauliflower is al dente
  6. Remove the cover and add the rest of the ingredients. Try and sprinkle the spices evenly so you don’t end up with one floret drenched in a particular spice. Stir well
  7. Serve as a side dish with curries. I like to serve it with daal and Lake Palace Aubergine or Gujarati beans (both Madhur Jaffrey specials) for a veggie curry feast. It’s also really nice with simple dishes like flattened breaded and pan-fried chicken breasts or veal escalope.

New year, new opportunities for gluttony!


I was reading a column in the Guardian on Saturday which has made me feel surprisingly good about the whole new year thing. Oliver Burkeman, in his column, ‘New Year, New You – Forget it‘, talks about how the pressure is always on at the turn of the new year for people to make changes to their lives and become a wholly unrealistic new version of themselves, the rub being, of course, that the person who is entrusted with creating this new fitness fanatic with great hair, an amazing sense of style and a positive can-do attitude is the greedy pig who just had a second piece of Toblerone (full-size not mini) and is slobbing around in a hoodie with her split ends in a very sloppy ponytail. Mr Burkeman’s sage advice to those of us with a penchant for making unreasonable resolutions at new year is to just do one of those things today. So instead of sitting around pondering Toblerone wedge no.3, and thinking about how I should blog more, I am instead writing a blog post. And this post, in a slight twist on the popular January, “What’s hot in 2016”, theme instead sets out what I plan to eat more of this year, trendy or not, as well as what I sincerely hope to see / hear / eat less of.

Going Up:

  1.  Home-made ice cream. Not a popular choice for chilly January, but I love ice cream and maintain that it is a dessert for all seasons. I was a bit lax on the home-made ice cream front in 2015, but a Gianduja gelato I made for the Christmas festivities has renewed my passion and I can’t wait for blood oranges to reappear so I can make a deep red, sharp sorbet that wakes up tired post-Christmas tastebuds.
  2. Cauliflower. Not cauliflower cheese, or the trendy palaver that is cauliflower rice, rather fried or roasted cauliflower with Indian spices. Flat, earthy turmeric, the bite of chilli and the citrussy flavours of fresh ginger, coriander and cumin really bring out the nutty flavour of this vegetable, whilst the charred edges and the crunch lift it from the bland side dish it can so often be to something sublime and moreish.
  3. Champagne. I turn 40 this year (gulp!) so I plan to drink as much Champagne as I can get my hands on, following the example set by Lily Bollinger: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone, when I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it when I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.” I don’t want any old fizz though, and sorry Lily, but I’ve never been a massive Bollinger fan. No, I want Gosset and Vilmart, Pol Roger and Alfred Gratien. It must be biscuity and toasty and served in good quality flutes. At my advanced age, one can afford to be picky.
  4. Winter salads. We’ve been eating a lot lately of a salad I first had in Munich when I visited the city to give a workshop at the Chamber of Commerce. I arrived late from Frankfurt and stayed with a colleague who served a light supper which included a simple salad of grated beetroot, carrot and apple. The colour is gorgeous and the sweet, earthy flavours are lifted by a mustardy vinaigrette. At the moment, I can’t get enough of it. It is particularly good with smoked mackerel.
  5.  On the BabMy friend Karina (http://greenbottletree.co.uk and https://flatwhiteandblack.wordpress.com) discovered this little gem of a Korean street food cafe on Ludgate Broadway, behind City Thameslink Station in London. I visited just before Christmas with high hopes and was rewarded with two snowy white fluffy buns stuffed with bulgogi beef, kimchee and salad which I ate at a speed which can only be described as piggy. If I hadn’t wandered down to St Bride’s churchyard to eat my spicy treasures, I most definitely would have ordered seconds. I plan to eat many, many more of these Korean delights in 2016.
  6. The Compasses, Crundale, KentThis little pub in deepest, darkest Kent won my heart on the first visit and has not let me down yet. As you open the door to the bar, you are met with the sight of garlands of hops and roaring fires, it is the very epitome of a country pub, but the food is a cut above. I have eaten confit duck burger with triple-cooked chips, a superb pigeon breast starter, the best sticky toffee pudding for miles around, a beautiful celeriac and butternut squash pie, tiny pasties made with melt-in-the-mouth slow-cooked beef, little deep fried balls of lamb belly, plaice goujons with curried aioli, braised ox cheek… the list goes on. It’s robust, hearty food, but with a lightness of touch too, and you can always take your walking boots with you and work it off on the North Downs.
  7. The Great British Bakeoff. This show has, much to my surprise, won me over. I didn’t want to like it, but it is remarkably compelling viewing and I am totally in awe of the contestants who put themselves forward for it. There is no way I could whip up a nun-shaped tower of choux pastry eclairs and profiteroles that have to be edible, look amazing and not collapse into a rubbish tip shaped mess, so I watch with amazement as ordinary people like me merrily set about doing the extraordinary with pastry / cake / pies etc.
  8. The slow cooker.  I am slowly getting used to my Crockpot and it is fast becoming a favourite item of kitchen paraphernalia. I cooked a ham in it for Boxing Day which was a huge success with everyone, Jamaican Jerk chicken works really well (you have to brown under the grill after the slow cook though) and I’ve started to tweak old favourites like ragu and chilli con carne for slow cooking too. It really is a godsend on weekends when tennis matches take over the Rice/Michie household and I plan to extend my slow repertoire this year.
  9. Marmalade. Marmalade time is looming with the tiny window when Seville oranges are available just around the corner. I love home-made marmalade, it is for some reason a preserve that doesn’t translate well to mass production, and for that reason I will dedicate two days of January to peel, pip, pith, zest and juice. I will endure the pain of citric acid in cuts you don’t know you have, the stress of the repeated setting test and the ache of the wrist after fine slicing several kilos of fruit peel but I will probably swear quite a lot for those two days as well.
  10. Cocktails. I have been watching the marvellous Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries on Netflix. The series is set in Melbourne in the 1920s and as well as having the most amazing wardrobe ever, glossy hair to die for, a knack for solving crimes and pulling young, handsome men, Miss Fisher is constantly hitting the cocktails. I could say that I aim to be as stylish as the Honorable Phryne (pronounced ‘fry-knee’) this year, but bearing Oliver Burkeman’s advice in mind, maybe I should set my sights on more cocktails instead.

Going Down:

  1. Water baths. If I see one more chef vacuum packing a rabbit and cooking it in a water bath, I shall scream.
  2. Sauvignon Blanc.  Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Sauvignon Blanc, be it mineral Sancerre or the tropical, grassy New Zealand version, but it has become the new Pinot Grigio and seems to be getting more uniform in flavour. And pubs and restaurants need to stop being lazy with their stock white wine choices, give us something interesting to sip on like a German Riesling or Austrian Gruner Veltliner. Go on, I dare you.
  3. The croissant. We don’t do croissants well over here and I’m bored of the dry, doughy offerings available in most coffee shops. It’s all about the Danish pastry this year. Make mine a cinnamon whirl please.
  4. The diet. Although I will probably be embarking on some version of a diet regime as it is cheaper than a whole new wardrobe, I still say “pff” to dieting. Well-balanced eating and exercise is the way forward, with treats and tennis matches in a ratio of 1-3 instead of 3-1.
  5. Ridiculous food. Rather a generic topic, but I found myself shouting at the TV the other day, a habit that increases with every passing year and the bobsleigh ride into stupidity that society seems to be taking. I was flicking channels when I found that a programme about the world’s most expensive foods was on. A man with a public school accent and an oily manner was explaining why his water cost £30 a bottle and how the taste was so pure … blah blah blah. Then another annoying man tried to sell the good people at Artisan du Chocolat a bar that cost £230 for 80g of chocolate. No that is not a typo, two hundred and thirty pounds Sterling. It came in a wooden box with tweezers to eat it from. I have never been so pleased than when the lady who tasted it picked it up with her fingers, ate a bit, pulled a face and explained that chocolate needed to taste good in order for her to sell it and sent him packing. I loved Artisan du Chocolat before, but I love them even more now. Foodie culture does have an element of the insane about it though. Sometimes it works, and sometimes expense is justified (diving for prickly sea urchins is a time consuming business for example) but sometimes the whole thing gets a little bit too far up its own arse and it needs a slap in the face, a fish finger sandwich, a piece of Toblerone and a glass of tap water.

Happy 2016 everyone, I hope you have a tasty year.

A Passion for Curd …


Passionfruit curd on toast with jarLemon curd has never appealed to me. I dislike its wobble and its weird eggy/lemony combo, so when a cake recipe which I’d found on Pinterest called for me to make passion fruit curd, you’d have thought I’d have run a mile. Or failing that (me running a mile is pretty unlikely after all) at least turn to a different cake recipe.

The thing is though, this cake looked really good. A beautiful golden loaf cake made with yoghurt for a lovely texture and topped with this seed-studded icing made from the passion fruit curd. It had sat on my Pinterest ‘Cakes, tarts and pies‘ board for a while and was crying out to be made. So I bit the bullet and made the passion fruit curd.

Oh my goodness! Who knew that passion fruit curd would be such a revelation? It is a glorious unctuous buttery spread with no eggy wobble and that distinctive sweet/tart flavour of passion fruit, plus a lovely crunch from the seeds. It has been nothing short of a Damascene conversion for me. Quite apt really as it’s made with passion fruit, which get their name from the Passion of Christ, not from steamy hot sexy Jilly Cooper novel-type passion. Who said this blog wasn’t educational…

Anyway, I appear to have digressed a little. Passion fruit curd. It’s actually really easy to make and will, I promise, prove to be a hit. Better still it is a really useful tool to use as the basis of desserts. You can use it as a simple tart filling, top that with soft meringue and you have a passion fruit meringue pie, sandwich it between a couple of homemade ginger biscuits and you have a tasty twist to an old favourite, fill choux buns or eclairs with it if you’re feeling super fancy, or make the delicious Passion Fruit Curd Cake which was my reason to make the curd in the first place. If all this seems too much hassle, toast some nice bread and spread it with this ray of culinary sunshine.

Ingredients (Makes two regular 250g jam jars worth):

  • 6 large eggs
  • 120g unsalted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g passion fruit pulp* (about 6-8 large passion fruits-worth)
  • 2 x 250g jam jars or one 500g Kilner jar plus paper jam discs, cellophane covers (if the jars have been used before) and lids

Method:

  1. Cut the passion fruits in half and scoop out all the pulp and juice
  2. Boil the kettle, pour a couple of inches of boiling water into the jam jars and swirl it around, taking care not to slosh it over your hands. Tip the water out, place the jars on a baking tray and put them in the oven on its lowest setting whilst you do the rest. This process sterilises them and dries them out
  3. In a large, heavy-based pan, heat the passion fruit pulp, butter and sugar, stirring occasionally until it starts to simmer and the sugar has dissolved
  4. Take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool for a couple of minutes whilst you do the next part
  5. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until they are frothy with lots of bubbles. This is easiest with an electric whisk, but go for it with an old-school balloon whisk if you’re feeling strong!
  6. Whilst this is possible on your own, it really helps if you have someone on hand to help with this bit; pour the eggs into the hot passion fruit/sugar/butter mixture, whilst whisking it. If you have a helper, get them to pour whilst you whisk, or vice versa depending on their culinary prowess
  7. Turn the heat back on (low) under the pan and continue to whisk the mixture until it is thick and curd-like. It will thicken further as it cools so it doesn’t need to be really firm
  8. Remove the pan from the heat, take the jars out of the oven and spoon the curd into the jars. Top with the paper jam discs, cover the jars and leave out on the worktop or a table to cool completely
  9. Store the curd (even the jar which isn’t in use) in the fridge. It should be okay for a few months as the sugar content keeps it from going off, but quite frankly I doubt you’ll have the problem of it lasting for that long!

Passionfruit curd on knife

*I leave the seeds in as I like the crunch and it’s less bother, but you can push it through a sieve for a seed-free curd. Note though that you will need more passion fruits if you are going to do it this way as you’ll lose volume when sieving it.

Saffron, the red thread…


IMG_4363I’ve always regarded saffron as the ultimate in exotic spices. It comes with an air of mystery, steeped as it is in ritual and being cited as one of the most expensive spices on earth. I am not sure if there is any truth in it, but I have often heard the words, “worth more per gram than gold”, attributed to these little red threads.

Although saffron is associated with eastern promise, it is thought to originate on the island of Crete and has been used since antiquity in Greece and the Middle East, with Iran now being the biggest producer of the spice, accounting for 90% of the world’s production. The red threads of saffron are actually the dried stigma of the saffron crocus which is one of the reasons for the high value of the spice; it is incredibly time consuming and fiddly work to pick the stigma from little crocuses.

Saffron has a flavour I find hard to pin down, there is a flat, almost dull element to it on the tongue, warm and mysterious, perhaps a little smoky with a hint of aniseed in there somewhere. I love the complex, subtle notes it brings to a tagine or a bouillabaisse and there is something very decadent about its use as the star of a rich, creamy Risotto Milanese, but recently I have been experimenting with using saffron in baking and that is what I am going to concentrate on here.

If you’re thinking that this is all “trendy baking”, you’re way off the mark, saffron has been used in cakes and buns and fruit breads in the UK for centuries, especially in Cornwall and Essex, where saffron was farmed. It makes a surprising addition to baked goods, infusing cakes and biscuits with a unique flavour and a subtle yellow colour.

IMG_1286In my quest for recipes involving saffron, I eschewed the classic English saffron buns and fruit breads and cast my nets further east. I chanced upon an Indian recipe for saffron and pistachio biscuits which are made as part of the Janmashtami offerings to Krishna. They are crisp and buttery with a whiff of spice and a lovely golden colour. Although the originals are made with ghee (clarified butter) I am not a fan of the flavour, so I replaced it with butter, which probably makes it a bit more western and shortbready, but I can live with that. We ate a load whilst out walking at Oare Marshes near Faversham, Kent watching the Marsh Harriers swoop and glide, they are so moreish (the biscuits not the harriers) and perfectly suited to a strong cup of tea and a chill sea breeze.

IMG_4382The other recipe I will share has its origins a bit closer to home, it is adapted from a Swedish Santa Lucia cake. I was going to stick to the recipe first time around, but having read in ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’ that saffron cake goes really well with marmalade, I couldn’t resist tinkering, hence the sandwich cake rather than just a classic sponge.

Buttery Saffron and Pistachio Biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/4 tsp saffron soaked in 2tsp warm milk
  • The seeds from 8 cardamom pods, ground to a fine powder
  • 1/4 nutmeg, grated
  • A handful of pistachios (about 20), coarsely chopped
  • Milk

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Warm the 2 tsp milk and add it to the saffron in a pestle and mortar. Allow to soften and infuse (the milk should start to go yellow) then grind to a smooth paste
  3. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy
  4. Meanwhile, chop the pistachios
  5. Add the saffron mixture, the ground cardamom and the grated nutmeg and mix well
  6. Remove the bowl from the mixer, add the flour and work in, using a wooden spoon initially, then your hands until you have a dough
  7. If it is too crumbly, add a few drops of milk, but do this a tiny bit at a time, you don’t want wet dough
  8. Split the dough into two balls roughly the same size. Roll out the first one to about a 1cm thickness, sprinkle with half of the chopped pistachios, then roll lightly a little more
  9. Cut out biscuits of whatever size you want (I used a cutter of about 7cm diameter) and lay them on baking trays lined with baking parchment or silicon tray liners
  10. Do the same with the second ball of dough and then re-roll the leftover bits and repeat until you have used it all up
  11. Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until golden, but not brown
  12. Leave on the baking trays for five minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool

Saffron & Marmalade Sandwich Cake

Ingredients

  • 240g plain flour
  • 300g caster sugar
  • 250ml milk
  • 200g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp saffron
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Marmalade (preferably home made)
  • Icing sugar

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C
  2. Butter two sandwich tins
  3. Melt the butter
  4. With a mortar and pestle, grind together the 1 tsp sugar and the saffron until you have a fine powder
  5. In a mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until fluffy
  6. Add the saffron mixture and mix in well
  7. Add the butter and milk and mix well
  8. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and sift in the flour and baking powder. Mix in well.
  9. Pour half of the mixture into each tin (it should come about halfway up) and put them in the oven
  10. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean
  11. Leave in the tins for 10 minutes and then gently remove them and allow to cool on a wire rack
  12. When cool, place one cake (the less attractive of the two) flat side up on a cake stand or plate. Smear with marmalade and top with the other cake (flat side down). Dust with icing sugar and serve

IMG_4383

 

A cooking class…


sui mai landscape

I love cooking, as you might have guessed, but despite the myriad cooking skills classes available to gastronomes, I never thought about actually taking one. I know it’s a bit mad, but I always worry that everyone’s going to be Masterchef / Bakeoff wannabes chopping onions at the speed of light and talking about foams and emulsions and deconstructed classics.

Last Friday evening at about 5 o’clock, this fear of cookery classes was uppermost in my mind as I had agreed to take a dim sum class with my friend Hazel.  As we sat in Wahaca fortifying ourselves with Mojitos, I read the confirmation letter which stressed that we would be using large sharp cleavers. The Mojito began to look like a bad idea and I made Hazel promise to pack my fingers in ice and bring them with us to the hospital, should I lop them off.

Unsurprisingly, my crazy fears were totally unfounded, the class at The School of Wok was a lot of fun, the people taking it were passionate about food, but not in an annoying way, and there were no cleavers involved at all. Instead we made a selection of dim sum, which were then taken off into the kitchen and cooked for us, so the focus was on what was essentially a relaxed evening in a kitchen chatting whilst we rolled and folded, giggled at poor efforts and ultimately feasted on dim sum.

We started off with the easiest dish, sticky sweet and sour chicken wings. These were coated in a combination of Hoisin sauce, tomato ketchup, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and chopped ginger and garlic. I know, I raised an eyebrow at tomato ketchup too, but our teacher assured us that it was classic Hong Kong as British colonialists brought only two ingredients with them to the far east, tomato ketchup and spam. What a culinary legacy we left behind us!

cut bananaOur confidence boosted by the ease with which we made the first dish, we graduated to making little duck spring rolls, a pretty simple folding and rolling task, providing you don’t overfill the parcels. An absolute revelation came with the top tip that a cut banana can be used as a Pritt Stick for sealing pastry. Just roll the cut end along the seams and seal – amazing!

siu maiThings got more complicated by the introduction of siu mai dumplings, a sort of open topped affair stuffed with a mixture of minced pork and white crab meat, laced with spring onions and other herbs, but I think our table made a pretty reasonable stab at these and they tasted pretty good, which probably isn’t the main thing with dim sum as they are meant to be beautiful, but is high on my priority list.

winning dumplingsThe final task was money bag dumplings in two different styles, and here an element of competition was introduced. The folding technique for these is a lot harder than it looked when our teacher did it, but eventually, after a couple of burst bottoms as I squeezed too hard, the technique was mastered, sort of. Both our traditional money bag (at the back of the picture and made by me) and the one which is more like a tortellino (front, made by an Italian girl on our table, who may have had a bit of an unfair advantage) were judged to be the best in show.

All in all, I would recommend this as a good way to get over the fear of cookery classes, if indeed this is something that anyone else experiences. I would have liked to have learnt a little more about the history of the food and the significance of colours, shapes and so on to the Chinese, but I guess in a short evening class there’s not a huge amount of time for that.

School of Wok, 61, Chandos Place, Covent Garden, London

A Sweet, Treacly Pecan Pie…


Last year a friend of mine* went off to Kazakhstan on a bit of an adventure. She came back with a suitcase full of dried fruit and nuts, raving about the amazing markets and the quality of produce she found. Now I was somewhat sceptical that fruit and nuts could be something to get excited about, until, that is, she sat me down for a tasting session. As far as the dried fruit was concerned, it was great quality but I could take it or leave it, but when we started on the nuts I realised that she hadn’t lost the plot. The fresh almonds were creamy and sweet, the ones roasted in caramel were incredibly moreish, but it was the pecans that made me sit up and pay attention. I love pecans anyway, but I had never tasted anything quite like these, they were buttery, sweet, nutty and totally delicious. To eat one of these was to conjure up the treacly delights of a pecan pie, without adding any of the other ingredients. I would almost consider a move to Kazakhstan for these pecans, they were that good! Although actually, since I was later informed that the pecans were probably from over the border in Uzbekistan, maybe I need to start checking out property in Tashkent rather than Almaty.

Anyway, this nut appreciation session kickstarted a bit of an obsession with pecan nuts, starting with a quest for the perfect Pecan Pie recipe. Now a quick look through Pinterest’s offerings made me absolutely certain of one thing: I did not want to make it using the highly refined gloop that is corn syrup. Unfortunately this was the centrepiece of nearly every recipe I came across. I thought about using maple syrup as a replacement but it is more liquid in consistency than corn syrup so I ended up with a combination of medium amber maple syrup and the dreaded Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup, which is probably just as bad as corn syrup really, but let’s face it, Pecan Pie is never going to be a health food, so if you’re going to make it, you may as well resign yourself to the fact that it is a slice of Type 2 Diabetes on a plate.

Yes, the edges could be neater, but I'm a home cook, not a Bakeoff contestant!
Yes, the edges could be neater, but I’m a home cook, not a Bakeoff contestant!

Next thing to consider was the crust. Many recipes call for a sweet shortcrust pastry, but I think that there is enough sugar in the filling without adding it to the crust as well. I’ve seen recipes that include sour cream in the pastry, almonds and lemon zest, but there really is no need, a batch of my Mum’s classic shortcrust does the trick perfectly, allowing the treacly pecans to shine.

Lastly the pecans. I can’t begin to imagine what a pecan pie would taste like made with the gorgeous Uzbek pecans my friend brought back with her as I never got to try that as I couldn’t persuade her to part with that many of her treasures, but I am sure that it would be a very special thing indeed. Failing Uzbek pecans, this pecan pie is rich, sweet and delicious made with pecans from the local supermarket or health food shop. Although many traditional recipes just leave the pecans whole, I roughly chop half of them and fold them into the mixture, it creates a much nicer texture and gives you pecan nuttiness throughout the pie. I’ve also added a good slug of Bourbon, because it wasn’t naughty enough as it was! You could omit this if it doesn’t appeal.

Finally, I will apologise for the mixture of measurements. Mum’s recipes always come in ounces and the pastry is her trusty recipe.

PECAN PIE

For the Pastry:

  • 8oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter (fridge cold is best for pastry)
  • A pinch fine salt
  • Cold water

For the Pie Filling:

  • 100ml Golden Syrup
  • 50ml medium or dark amber maple syrup (the good stuff)
  • 50g Muscovado sugar
  • 50g light brown soft sugar
  • 4 tbsp melted butter (50-75g when solid should be about right)
  • 200g pecans
  • 1 tbsp Bourbon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, beaten

Method

  1. To make the pastry, crumble the flour, salt and butter together until you have fine crumbs
  2. Put a small amount of cold water (75ml or so) in a jug (you won’t use it all)
  3. Add a splash of water to the crumbs and use a butter knife to begin pull it together into a dough, then get your hands in and bring it into a ball, adding more water if needed, but be really careful, you don’t want wet pastry
  4. Put the ball of pastry into a plastic bag, seal and place in the fridge for 20-30 minutes
  5. Lightly grease a pie dish or tart tin
  6. Preheat the oven to 180C
  7. Roll out the pastry and line the pie dish with it
  8. Place a piece of foil over the top and fill with baking beans
  9. Bake for 15 minutes
  10. Remove the foil and beans and return to the oven for a further six to ten minutes or until the pastry is golden
  11. Now put the whole pecans on a baking tray and toast them in the oven for a few minutes. Keep a careful eye on them, you don’t want a burnt flavour in the pie
  12. Set aside roughly half of the pecans (the nicer looking whole ones) for the decoration
  13. Roughly chop the remaining pecans
  14. In a large bowl, beat together the sugars and the syrups with the melted butter
  15. Stir in the vanilla and Bourbon
  16. Stir in the beaten eggs and the pecans
  17. Tip the mixture into the pastry crust then arrange the whole pecans in circles on top, allowing them to sink slightly
  18. Bake in the oven (still at 180C) until the filling has set, about 20-30 minutes. It may still be a little wibbly when you take it out, but it will set further as it cools
  19. Set aside to cool and serve with plenty of whipped cream, or even natural yoghurt, the sharpness cuts through the treacly sweetness rather well
  20. Finally, if you had leftover pastry scraps, don’t throw them away, make a batch of jam tartsJam tarts

*She remains un-named in case the good people at HM Customs are reading the blog, although I dare say pecan smuggling is not high on their list of priorities!

Fajitas…


photo-4Earlier this year we visited my parents and my Mum made fajitas to what she swears is one of my recipes, even though I couldn’t remember it. At any rate, I have developed a mild addiction to making these and I am quite happy to take Mum’s word for it and accept the credit for this one.

These fajitas are nothing like true Mexican food, probably more like Tex-Mex, but who cares when they taste good? I know I don’t. I love the casual, self-assembly element to this meal and the inevitable over-stuffing, juice dripping down chins and finger-licking involved. It’s not a recipe for a formal occasion, but always goes down well with family and friends, especially when accompanied by a few ice-cold beers.

As for accompaniments, I usually go for shredded romaine or little gem lettuce for crunch, some chopped tomatoes, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and home-made guacamole. I prefer the taste of corn tortillas to the flour ones, but use whichever you prefer.

Chicken Fajitas (for 2 people)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil plus some for frying
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin seed
  • 3/4 tsp smoked hot paprika
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 red birdseye chillis, finely chopped
  • 1 red onion, sliced into half moons
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 yellow pepper, sliced
  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • Coriander leaves
  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Shredded romaine or little gem lettuce
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes
  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream

Method:

  1. Put the olive oil, lime juice, coriander, cumin and paprika in a large mixing bowl with a little of the garlic and half a chilli
  2. Add the chicken and leave to marinade for at least half an hour
  3. Prepare the chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, cheese, sour cream and guacamole (see recipe below)
  4. Heat a wok or frying pan and add a little olive oil. Add the onions and peppers and stir fry until they are soft and a few of them have browned a little at the edges
  5. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a minute
  6. Add the soy sauce and fry for 30 seconds
  7. Put the tortillas in the oven to warm up
  8. Then add the chicken to the wok and stir fry until it is cooked
  9. Sprinkle a handful of coriander leaves on top and stir in
  10. Serve the tortillas with all the side dishes and chicken mixture and let everyone help themselves
  11. There’s no one way of doing this, but to assemble a fajita, start with a tortilla, smear it with some guacamole, add some lettuce then a spoonful of the chicken, some cheese, tomatoes and top with sour cream. Then fold the left and right sides of the tortilla over the mixture, fold up the bottom section and scoff greedily!

photo-3Guacamole

There are many variations on guacamole, but I think it is best with as little added to the avocado as possible. I use the tiniest bit of garlic and chilli in mine and a whiff of lime juice, but I like to taste avocado above all.

Ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado, peeled and roughly chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • A tiny bit of chopped garlic (I usually set aside a knife-tip’s worth from the main recipe)
  • A tiny bit of chopped red birdseye chilli (again, set it aside from the main recipe)

Method

Put everything in a hand blender and blend to the consistency you like. I prefer to leave a few chunky bits of avocado, but if you like it completely smooth, go for it