Friday Night Fakeaway!

Autumn has well & truly painted the garden some beautiful bronze, ruby & amber colours this year.  Our little cherry tree saplings seem to be in some sort of Fall foliage competition with each other, while the tomato plants are still heavy with their fruits, defiantly resisting the change in seasons.  The warm October sunshine has kept the garden blooming with bright bold colours, especially the vivid, almost flamingo pink clematis flowers climbing their frame.  Even the potted chrysanthemums have tiny buds of deepest magenta & pure white emerging from their greenery.

After a busy week of flying by the seat of my pants, Friday is a rather welcome change in pace.  Usually, I tend to cram as much into every day of the week as possible, prepping meals, writing, baking cakes for people & creating various sugar art, which means I get to relax on Friday.  Recently, my Husband took me out for a couple of lovely weekend day trips (we’ve been a bit like ships that pass in the night in the last few weeks), which involved walking for miles & indulging in some well-deserved treats, so it was really nice to spend some time together.  Friday nights are great for getting all the family together & having a relaxing dinner, but trying to get everyone in the same room at the same time can be a bit difficult, as we all work different shifts & have various commitments.

It’s not every weekend that our Son comes home to visit because of this, but sometimes he will turn up with his friends as a surprise, knowing that there will always be a mini feast (yes, I know – I don’t do mini, let’s just say I do more of a small banquet).  Sometimes I get a call en-route, giving me time to do some prep in advance – a whole chicken can be filleted,  vegetables sliced, then everything bagged up & popped in the fridge, so whatever time our Son arrives, a takeaway-style dinner can be whipped up at warp speed!   I’m not sure how other parents feel when their adult offspring come home, but for me it’s an opportunity to cook some of his favourite foods & spoil him while he’s here (for my Husband, it means he can share the truckload of treats I make & I swear I can hear his waistband breathe a sigh of relief).  The hardest decision the guys will have to make is what they want to eat (I try to limit them to about half a dozen options, because I want to eat before midnight).   Within a few minutes, we can have the whole weekend’s main meals decided, along with a few breakfast requests thrown in for good measure!

The guys love a homemade sweet & sour chicken with fluffy egg fried rice, along with a few bowls of locally bought prawn crackers (even I draw the line somewhere & the Chinese restaurant up the road makes the most lovely huge, crispy crackers, so it would be rude not to buy them).  It’s hard to resist those thinly sliced strips of brightly coloured peppers & baby button mushrooms, with wafer thin wheels of chopped spring onions & slender baby sweetcorn, all stir-fried into a sumptuously sticky, scarlet-hued sauce.  Pretty, plump pineapple chunks are sprinkled across the top, sinking into the simmering liquid like little yellow pebbles.  Then everything is tipped into a casserole dish, lid on & goes into the oven (on very low), just to keep warm while I make the egg-fried rice.   Lots of munching & crunching later, plates are empty & everyone’s full, happy & relaxed.  Mission accomplished!

This recipe was given to me some years ago & to be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d like it at first (it’s got ketchup in it?!).  However, after my first attempt was rather well-received, it became a regular favourite fakeaway & perfect for impromptu last minute meals with friends.  The best bit is it takes very little time to prep & cook – you can generously feed four hungry people in well under half an hour (because Friday nights mean you want food fast!).  It also tastes amazing as a vegetarian dish & I like to make a huge pan full of the sauce – maybe add a handful of cashew nuts, bean sprouts or sliced water chestnuts too (my fave).  It’s great for freezing the sauce as it is (you can always pour over cooked chicken or prawns for the non-veggies), or pour into pots for packed lunches  – it reheats in a couple of minutes & trust me, when that microwave pings, suddenly everyone in the office wants to be your friend!  Ready to whip up a swift sweet & sour?  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

2 Chicken breasts, skinned & sliced thinly
1 each of Red & Green Peppers, deseeded & sliced finely
1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed, trimmed & sliced finely
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth & sliced finely (I use little closed cup ones, but you can use whatever mushrooms you like)
1 pack of Baby Sweetcorn, washed & sliced
4-6 Pineapple slices, chopped into chunks (fresh or tinned is fine)
3 cloves Garlic, chopped finely
1 chunk of fresh Ginger, skinned & grated (about the length of your thumb & twice as wide)
500ml bottle of Tomato Ketchup (I tend not to go for the branded ones because they are too sweet)
2 tablespoons Runny Honey
Balsamic Vinegar (a good splash will suffice, about a tablespoonful)
Soy Sauce (a sprinkle of this will be fine)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil if you prefer)

For the egg-fried rice:
3 large Free-Range Eggs (I generally use one egg per person)
Cooked Rice (either cook dried rice, according to the instructions on the packet, or you can use microwave rice which takes 2 minutes)
1 tablespoon Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil) – for your pan

What to do:

Assemble your prepared ingredients, ready to go into the pan in order: chicken, vegetables, ginger & garlic, liquid ingredients, pineapple (if you’re adding cashews & water chestnuts, keep them until the end too).

Pre-heat a large skillet or frying pan on a medium heat & add a little olive oil.  Pre-heat the oven at 150*C too (if you’re cooking egg-fried rice, chances are you’ll need the same pan & some room on your stove top, so this is for when your sweet & sour is cooked).

Stir fry the chicken slices for a couple of minutes until opaque (no pink bits, just white).

Add the vegetables & stir fry well with the chicken, keeping everything moving (I use a good pair of silicone tongs or a wooden spoon/spatula).

Add the garlic & ginger, mixing thoroughly with the chicken & vegetables, then stir fry for a few moments. 

Pour in the tomato ketchup, all around the pan & add the honey, balsamic & a few spots of soy sauce (I prefer the light one, but you can use the dark if you like).

Taste your sauce & if you are happy with it’s sweety sourness, pop in the pineapple chunks, dotting them all around the pan & gently stir in.  Simmer everything gently for a couple of minutes on a low heat.

Take a piece of chicken out & cut in half – it should be pure white inside, moist & lovely.  Chuck it back in the pan (or eat it if you like – chef’s perks).  Turn off the heat.

If you want to use the same frying pan for your egg-fried rice, carefully transfer the sweet & sour into a large casserole dish or similar, pop some foil on top or a lid & put it in the oven to stay warm, then wash your pan out.

Prepare your rice, whether you prefer cooking it yourself or using the pre-cooked packs.  For speed, I usually open a couple of packets of microwave rice (the ones that take two minutes are brilliant for this & I use Aldi or Lidl rices – both taste great).

Heat a tablespoon of oil in the clean pan on a medium heat.

Beat the eggs in a bowl & tip into the hot pan.

Stir fry until you start to get fabulously fluffy egg pieces & then add the rice.  Stir fry everything together for a few moments to combine & it’s done!

Serve your sweet & sour & the fluffy egg-fried rice in separate serving dishes for everyone to help themselves at the table, or just spoon some onto individual plates, with a plentiful supply of crispy prawn crackers for dunking.  Usually this is when I have to tell my guys to wait until I’ve dished up, because they’re jostling behind me with plates, ready to tuck in!  If you do have any leftovers, either box them up for lunch tomorrow or freeze them for those lazy nights when you want something nice, but don’t have time to cook.

So next time you fancy a takeaway, rather than doing the “dial a dinner” thing, have a go at making your own fast food Friday fakeaway!  Stay hungry!  😉  A x

 

Pollo Put The Cacciatore On, Let’s All Have Tea!

After a truly magnificent Summer, the sweltering heatwave has subsided into a beautifully balmy Autumn, bringing with it an array of amber & ruby rouge coloured leaves in the garden.  Sultry Autumnal evenings require soothing, slow-cooked, substantial suppers full of rich colour too.  Working long hours or shifts, whatever your line of work or study, can have a knock-on effect when it comes to preparing a hearty, satisfying evening meal.  As  the nights start to draw in, we begin to crave richer & robust fayre to comfort us in the cooler evenings ahead.

Preparing meals in advance is a definite must for the cooler seasons, so with a little planning you can have a tantrum-free tea-time without a fuss & feel good about feeding a wholesome, homemade meal to your family.  Not everyone has the luxury of a couple of spare hours in the day to prepare food & sometimes it can all seem a bit too much, so ready meals become a regular option.  It’s easy to come home, flop into an armchair & dial up a delivery dinner, but it’s not a good idea every night.  When I worked in an office, I would prepare food at every opportunity I had – the night before, in the morning, the weekends, even during my lunchbreak on occasion!  It just needs a little organising & teamwork – I have help from my fabulous assistants (aka Husband & Son).  Whole chickens are boned & filleted, before being turned into simple suppers & frozen in readiness for rewarding after-work dinners.  Vegetables are sliced & chopped (my little food processor is an absolute treasure for this!), then popped into pans of water or stored in the fridge for when you just need a handful of veg.  Pots of stock can defrost on a cooling rack, waiting to be whipped up into a rich, rib-sticking risotto, topped with a couple of roasted, crispy chicken legs.  One of the best things about a risotto is there’s always enough left to make arancini for lunch the next day too, which means you’ve already covered meals for two days & there’s no waste!

Pollo alla Cacciatore is one of our favourite Autumnal dinners & it’s really easy to cook too.  The name cacciatore means “hunter” (so does chasseur in French too), & this dish is cooked or prepared in the hunter’s style.  Apparently, it was usual for the hunters to cook the meat, whether it was chicken, rabbit, boar or whatever they had, adding some slices of speck (a type of cured pork) or pancetta to the pan, along with a few foraged mushrooms & herbs.  Some would add wine (depending on the region, it would be red or white), some would add tomatoes & maybe a few carrots, then everything would simmer slowly in a steamy cooking pot.  Obviously, there are a few different recipes out there, as everyone has their own version & it’s down to personal choice.

My recipe is one I’ve been cooking for over 30 years (in my kitchen, I might add, not the woods!) & is always warmly welcomed on chilly evenings.  All it takes is a few minutes to prepare & an hour to slowly stew in the oven, so all the meat falls off the bone & the flavours infuse into the sumptuous sauce.  You can buy ready prepared chicken portions if you prefer & use whichever cut you enjoy.  Chicken legs & thighs are perfect for this recipe as they are much more flavoursome, especially when they’re cooked on the bone.  These portions of meat tend to be overlooked & so often wasted, yet they are a much cheaper, just as tasty alternative to chicken breast.  If you do use chicken breast, you will need to reduce the cooking time as they cook quicker & the meat can go stringy (don’t worry, I’ll remind you later on in the recipe).

Two things I will recommend are: (1) get yourself some good tongs for cooking the chicken (trying to manoeuvre slippery chicken portions in a hot pan with a spatula is a bit tricky!).  (2) If you do add wine, only use the stuff you would drink – don’t use cheap plonk, it will make your dish taste cheap (there’s no wine in my recipe, however you can add a small glass of red wine with the tomatoes if you wish).  Those dinky two-glass mini bottles are brilliant for these types of recipes.

My recipe feeds four hungry people, but you can halve it if it’s just two of you dining (I regularly do this if I’ve got a couple of spare chicken legs).  Ready to prep your pollo?  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

4 Chicken Legs or 6-8 Thighs (skin on & bone in) or 4 Chicken Breasts (skin on, halved)
4-6 rashers Smoked Streaky Bacon (freeze the rest in 4 rasher batches, so you always have some when you need it)
2 tins Italian Plum Tomatoes, crushed by hand in a bowl (get your hands in, you’ll wash!)
Half a tube of Tomato Puree
6-8 cloves fresh Garlic, chopped finely or crushed
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (at least 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons Dried Oregano
Half a dozen fresh Basil leaves, chopped roughly (or 2 teaspoons Dried Basil)
1 or 2 teaspoons Sugar (this is to soften the acidity in the tomatoes)
1 large Red Onion, topped, tailed & chopped chunky
1 each large Red & Green Peppers, deseeded & chopped chunky
1 punnet Mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth & quartered, or left whole if small
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper to taste

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 180*C & get yourself a large, lidded casserole dish big enough to take your chicken & the sauce (there is always more sauce than you think & you don’t want it overflowing!).  Sometimes I use two dishes & then leave one untouched for freezing.

Prepare the onion & vegetables, chop the garlic & set aside.

Prepare your chicken (if you’re doing it yourself, please have a look at my blog here: http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bird-in-the-hand-is-worth-ten-in-a-dish/).  Trim off any excess skin on the underside of the legs (use kitchen scissors to save yourself any stress of chasing a raw chicken around a chopping board).

Do NOT wash the chicken – the heat will kill any bacteria, plus it’s going in a hot pan & believe me, cold water & hot oil do not mix!  Do wash your hands well though.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan, then fry the chicken portions skin side down for about a minute.  Add the bacon & fry this alongside the chicken.

Turn over the chicken portions once they begin to brown & fry the underside for another minute – for chicken breasts, ensure all the sides are sealed & there are no pink bits.  If you’re pan isn’t hot enough or your chicken portions are big, it might take a couple of minutes each side.  You just want to seal the meat here, not cook it through.

Once browned, transfer the chicken & bacon to a large casserole dish.  Using scissors, snip the bacon into pieces & scatter over the chicken, then put the lid on.

Strain off any excess fat, leaving just a little of the cooking oil & juices in the pan (add a little drizzle of oil if you think you need it).

Add the chopped onion, vegetables, mushrooms & garlic to the pan, stir frying for a couple of minutes to soften slightly.

Add the tomatoes, their juice & the puree.  Give everything a good stir & then add the herbs, mixing well.  Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Season to taste with the sugar, salt & black pepper (the sugar simply softens the acidic taste of the tomatoes, so you only need a little).

Remove the lid from your casserole dish & pour the sauce all over the chicken portions.

Put the lid back on & cook in the oven for about 30-40 minutes for chicken breast, or 45 minutes to an hour for legs or thighs (I usually leave it in for an hour).

To test if it’s cooked, pierce the thickest part of the meat with a metal skewer or sharp knife.  If the juices run clear & the meat is white inside, it’s cooked.

Put the lid back on & leave the dish on a wire rack or trivet for about 25 minutes or so.  Once rested, the meat will literally fall off the bone & be easy to pull apart if you want to remove the bones (please remove them if serving to young children).

Usually, while it’s resting, I’ll pop some dinky jacket potatoes on metal skewers in the oven.  By the time they’re done, the chicken will have rested sufficiently & you can dish up!

Serve hearty, heaping spoonfuls of this rich, ruby red chicken casserole into large pasta bowls or deep plates.  Add a few of the mini-jacket potatoes on the side, crushed up with puddles of butter & dusted with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan.  This goes very well with freshly baked, warm focaccia – just dunk chunks in the sauce to mop up all that goodness.

This recipe is brilliant for freezing, just spoon leftovers into individual pots or bags & freeze (lay an open freezer bag in a bowl, then fill & seal – it won’t move around & spill sauce all over if you do it this way).  Defrost & warm through when you fancy something warming (great for those evenings when you know you’re going to need a speedy supper!).  Any leftover sauce is really versatile too!  Simply freeze in single portion pots & use as much or as little as you need.  It’s lovely ladled onto well-buttered jacket potatoes, poured over a pile of papparadelle, or even just heated up & eaten as a chunky soup with fresh crusty bread!  I’ve even made a lasagne with it, layering between thin sheets of pasta & creamy cheese sauce.

When the evenings start to get chilly & you’ve had a long day, don’t reach for the ready meals – put the Pollo alla Cacciatore on & you’ll all have tea ready in no time!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

Fig-get Me Knot Tartlets

Now that the Summer has slowly slipped into Autumn, the sunrises are arriving a little bit later & the mornings are just a little bit fresher.  One of my favourite things about Autumn is the amazing array of vegetables & fruits in season, all ready to create rich warming suppers & decadent desserts.  On my way back from the train station on Friday, I decided to pop into my local shops to pick up a chicken for dinner & somehow got side-tracked by the most delightful fresh figs.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I can’t just pop in anywhere for one thing & will always leave with a jam-packed shopping bag, crammed full of inspirational ingredients that take my fancy.

This is where my little flaky fig tartlets began.  A shelf full of soft, jewel-coloured deep purple beauties just sat there, seeming to whisper “pick me!” & as thoughts of crisp puff pastry parcels with slender slices of sweet, jammy baked figs took over, I swiftly put two trays in my basket.  Obviously, once home, I decided that I would need some rather special ice-cream to top them off.  An hour later, I returned to buy Greek yoghurt (more about that later) & ended up chatting to the lovely Assistant about what I was going to make (I love sharing food tips & have been known to scribble random recipes on scraps of paper for people, as some of you will know!).

Usually, I would make a rich buttery shortcrust pastry for a fruit tart of any description, as I find it a bit more substantial.  However, something as delicate as fresh figs requires a lighter, crisp casing to contrast against the jammy fruit centre.  Now you all know that I like making my own flaky puff pastry & it does take more time to make, but once you’ve tasted this you’ll understand why all the effort is worth it!  If you do prefer to buy ready-made puff pastry, please make sure it’s got proper butter in it.  As I’ve shared my puff pastry recipe before, I’ve copied it here for you (to save you having to wander off & find it in my blog).  Ready to begin?  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

For the pastry:
8oz Self Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
6oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge & cut into 4 equal pieces (I used salted, as it omits the need for additional salt)
100ml Cold Water

For the filling:
4 fresh Figs, washed & stalks trimmed, each fig cut into 8 wedges
Half a jar of Apricot Jam or Preserve (you can use whatever flavour you prefer)
1 teaspoon of Runny Honey

1 large Egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (this makes it smoother to brush onto your pastry)

What to do:

Firstly, you need cool hands so wash them under the cold tap, rinsing your wrists well – trust me, pastry likes cool conditions & this works.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & add one of the butter pieces.  Rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Using a round-ended knife, stir together & slowly add enough water, just a little at a time, to bring it all together – take your time, as you don’t want a sticky gooey mess.  Once you have achieved a thick, dough-like consistency, that should be enough.

Turn out your pastry onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rectangle.  Roll away from you into a long piece, about a centimetre thick.  Try to keep the edges as straight as you can, but don’t worry too much or you’ll drive yourself loopy!  Using a dry pastry brush, dust off any excess flour as you go, especially when folding the layers (otherwise it may affect the recipe & you want flaky pastry, not floury).

Take one of the three pieces of butter & cut into small chunks of about 1cm (you can just pull it apart, but the heat from your hands might melt it).

Dot the butter all over the top two thirds of the pastry.

Fold the bottom plain piece over the next third of pastry, then fold the top piece over that.  Brush off the excess flour & press the open edges together to seal the layers of butter & air in.

Dust the worktop with a little more flour.  Turn the pastry one turn to the right & roll out again, just as you did above.

Repeat the above steps a couple more times, using up the last two pieces of butter.  Then turn the pastry to the right, roll it out again & fold into thirds, brushing off the excess flour as you go.

Lay your pastry on a piece of greaseproof paper, fold the top of the paper over your pastry & put it on a plate in the fridge for an hour (you might need to leave it longer during hot weather, so probably add another ten minutes if you’re not sure – I’ve left it a couple of hours before & it didn’t do any harm).  If you’re like me & like to get organised, this would be a good time to make the ice-cream (my recipe is a bit further down).

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & then prepare your tin by brushing with melted butter all around the inside, then run under the cold tap to add a film on top, shaking off the excess.  Your pastry should just lift off after cooking.

Once your pastry is rested & chilled, it’s time to get rolling!  On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the pastry (not too thinly).

Cut into squares, about 4 inches long on each side.  At each corner, make a cut towards the centre, stopping about half an inch from the middle (so everything is still attached).

Mix the honey with the jam & give it a good stir.  In the centre of a pastry square, put half a teaspoon of the jam mixture & top with a couple of fig wedges, skin side down.

Take the pastry edges of one of the four sides of the pastry & pinch together.  Do this to the other three sides & then pinch them all together in the centre above the figs, twisting them to make a little knot on top.  Repeat until you have used all the figs & pastry up.

Place them all on your prepared baking tray & brush with a little beaten egg.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until golden & risen.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool if you want to serve them later, or you can serve them warm if you prefer.

Now onto the adornment of such a dainty delight!  This ice-cream actually came about from a rather lovely July Sunday afternoon & a random tub of Mascarpone in the fridge.  It goes with pretty much everything & it’s light, yet creamy flavour tastes incredibly decadent.  This is not the traditional way to make ice-cream, because (a) I don’t like custard & (b) I’m not making custard.  You don’t need a special machine, there won’t be any churning or standing on one leg with your left eye shut type of nonsense either.  If you prefer not to use Greek yoghurt, simply replace it with double cream & give it a light whip up beforehand to give it a bit of body.  Ready to get started?  Here we go!

What you need:

2 tubs of Mascarpone Cheese
500ml tub of Greek Yoghurt (the proper stuff, not diet)
Juice & zest of a Lemon (if you have large lemons, just use half)
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 tablespoons Runny Honey

What to do:

Wash your lemon in warm, soapy water to remove any dirt or wax from the skin.

Zest the lemon using a fine grater or zesting tool (I use my fine cheese grater).  Leave to one side for now.

Juice your lemon into a jug or large cup.  This is so that if you have any pips or pith, they will go straight into the jug & you can strain it into another cup before adding it to your ice cream (nobody wants a sour lemon pip in their ice-cream!).  Set to one side with the zest.

Tip the Mascarpone & Greek yoghurt into a large mixing bowl.  Add the vanilla extract, one tablespoon of the lemon juice & a good pinch of the zest (you want a subtle hint of lemon here, not a “smack you round the chops” kind of taste that makes your ears flap).

Using an electric whisk, mix for about a minute or so, until everything is blended together into a creamy fluffy mixture.

Get a teaspoon & have a little taste.  If you think it needs a bit more honey or a bit more zest, add a tiny bit more – don’t go mad with them, because once it’s in you can’t extract it!  Give it another quick whisk & taste again (with a clean spoon please!).

Once you’re happy with it, spoon the mixture into a couple of plastic tubs, only filling about halfway up & put the lids on.

Place in the freezer for an hour, then remove & using a fork, give everything a thorough stir to remove any ice crystals that may have formed.

Smooth it back down into a nice swirly pattern, sprinkle a little more zest on top & put the lid on.  Replace in the freezer for another hour at least, or until you are ready for dessert.

Serve a generous scoop onto your crisp puff pastry fig tartlets (or spooned in a quenelle shape if you want to impress your dinner guests).

This light, fluffy ice-cream can also be layered onto crisp wafer cones, or any dessert that requires a simple adornment of light, lemony cool creaminess (& not a custard in sight!).  It’s also nice with a drizzle of Limoncello over the top, but that’s definitely one for those nights curled up on the sofa!

Next time you see fresh, fragrant figs in the shops, remember this recipe for my fig-get me knots!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

 

 

Not Any Run of the Mille-Feuille!

August is always a busy month of celebrations for our family & this one is no exception.  It begins with our Son’s birthday, swiftly followed the very next day by mine (he is truly the best birthday present I could have wished for) & finally crowned with our wedding anniversary just after mid-month.  There are some pretty cakes to be shared & catch ups with family & friends, sometimes with a glass of Prosecco of course (although I never get to finish my drink because we’re all too busy chatting).

This year, we also made our own Nocino for the first time too & by happy coincidence, it was ready to drink on our anniversary.  The recipe is from the late great Antonio Carluccio’s book “An Italian Feast” (highly recommended reading) & requires green walnuts (we got ours from a lovely gentleman at Potash Farm in Kent – here’s the link www.kentishcobnuts.com).  It is a dark smooth, slightly spicy, warming liqueur & perfect for sipping after dinner.

Along with our busy August of celebrations, this glorious, sun-drenched Summer month also delivers some spectacular sunrises & sunsets, but you have to be up early!  This one was caught by me recently, early one Sunday morning while everyone else was sleeping, as I’m half hanging out of the bedroom window (our neighbours must think I’ve lost the plot, but I got some amazing shots of this beautiful sky).  Fresh berries are at their peak now too, as we see all the wild bushes & trees heavy with ripe, jewel-like luscious fruits.  Raspberries are always welcome in any kind of dessert & especially in a glass of the aforementioned fizz too, giving it a delicate pink tint if they are really ripe!  When I first started baking cupcakes many years ago, I would add a handful of fresh plump, ruby raspberries & creamy chunks of white chocolate to the batter.  Although my decorating skills left a lot to be desired back then, they always vanished rather rapidly!  Our little raspberry bush in the garden isn’t ready to give fruit this year, so I picked up a few punnets from our local shops & stashed them in the fridge to keep them firm.

Following on from my last blog about making puff pastry, I wanted to share another dessert from my childhood: the magical millefeuille (try saying it as “meal-foil” & you’re close enough).  The name literally translates as “a thousand leaves”, which is how the layers of pastry become as they bake.  As a young girl, I would watch with amazement as flat sheets of pastry would magically puff up into pillows of crisp, lighter-than-air slices.  These would then be split, filled with fruit or jam & piped with cream, then layered up into a tall, slender slice of sweetness.  Sometimes the top would be iced with white & chocolate icing in a delicate feathered pattern (so simple, yet so effective), then sometimes it would simply be dusted with a light sifting of icing sugar.  Either way, they would always be welcome as a tea-time treat or special Sunday dessert!

Millefeuille are perfect pastries for those special dinners, celebrations or just a beautiful addition to afternoon tea.  Although they do take a little longer than usual, the effort & effect is definitely worth it!  The pastry recipe is the same as in my last blog, so I’ve added it again here for your ease of reference.  Traditionally, they would be served as three layers of pastry & two layers of crème pâtissière.  However, I’ve kept these simple with just the two layers of pastry & one of cream (I think you all know by now that I don’t like custard!).  Ready?  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

For the pastry:
8oz Self Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
6oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge & cut into 4 equal pieces (I used salted, as it omits the need for additional salt)
100ml Cold Water

For the filling:
2 punnets of Raspberries (rinsed & placed on kitchen paper to dry)
300ml Double Cream
1 tablespoon of Icing Sugar (plus extra for dusting)
Lemon Zest (remember to wash your Lemon before zesting to remove any wax or dirt)

What to do:

Firstly, you need cool hands so wash them under the cold tap, rinsing your wrists well – trust me, pastry likes cool conditions & this works.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & add one of the butter pieces.  Rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Using a round-ended knife, stir together & slowly add enough water, just a little at a time, to bring it all together – take your time, as you don’t want a sticky gooey mess.  Once you have achieved a thick, dough-like consistency, that should be enough.

Turn out your pastry onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rectangle.  Roll away from you into a long piece, about a centimetre thick.  Try to keep the edges as straight as you can, but don’t worry too much or you’ll drive yourself loopy!  Using a dry pastry brush, dust off any excess flour as you go, especially when folding the layers (otherwise it may affect the recipe & you want flaky pastry, not floury).

Take one of the three pieces of butter & cut into small chunks of about 1cm (you can just pull it apart, but the heat from your hands might melt it).

Dot the butter all over the top two thirds of the pastry.

Fold the bottom plain piece over the next third of pastry, then fold the top piece over that.  Brush off the excess flour & press the open edges together to seal the layers of butter & air in.

Dust the worktop with a little more flour.  Turn the pastry one turn to the right & roll out again, just as you did above.

Repeat the above steps a couple more times, using up the last two pieces of butter.  Then turn the pastry to the right, roll it out again & fold into thirds, brushing off the excess flour as you go.

Lay your pastry on a piece of greaseproof paper, fold the top of the paper over your pastry & put it on a plate in the fridge for an hour (you might need to leave it longer during this heatwave we’re having, so probably add another ten minutes if you’re not sure – I’ve left it a couple of hours before & it didn’t do any harm).  Get yourself a cuppa, put your feet up & read a book or something (if you’re like me, you’ve probably been whizzing around, so relax for a bit).

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & then prepare your tin by brushing with melted butter all around the inside, then dusting with flour & shaking off the excess.  This makes it non-stick & your pastry should just lift off after cooking.

Once your pastry is rested & chilled, it’s time to get rolling!  On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the pastry into a wide rectangular strip, about a centimetre thick.

Cut the pastry into equal sized rectangles, using a ravioli or pizza cutter (I find these give a smoother, clean cut).

Place the rectangles on the baking tray & dust with a little icing sugar on top of each (don’t go mad with it, you just want to give them a crispy top).

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 6-8 minutes, until fluffed up & slightly risen.  They won’t be very coloured at this stage.

Turn down the oven to 190*C & bake for a further 10-12 minutes, until golden & crispy.

Remove from the oven & carefully transfer each pastry slice to a cooling rack.  Leave them to go completely cold.

At this stage, if you have any trimmings leftover from creating your rectangles, brush them with beaten egg & chuck on some grated cheese, then twirl them up & bake in the oven at 220*C for 8-10 minutes to produce cheese straws (see my previous blog for more info).  There are no leftovers allowed when you’ve put so much effort into making that pastry!

Once your pastry slices have cooled completely, they’re ready for filling & stacking.

In a large bowl, whip up the cream with a tablespooon of icing sugar, until fluffy & smooth.  The icing sugar just adds a little stiffness to the cream & allows it to set, which is perfect if you’re serving them in Summer.

Fold in the lemon zest & scoop some into a piping bag (it’s up to you if you want to use a nozzle, but I prefer not to).

Time to cut your pastry pieces in half.  Along the side of each piece of pastry, you will see where the layers have separated.  Using a serrated knife (a sharp bread knife will do), slice carefully through the centre horizontally.  Lay them on the cooling rack.

Pipe neat, small splodges of the cream on the bottom layer of pastry – you should be able to comfortably get eight spots of cream on there.

Next take eight raspberries & pop them on top of each spot of cream, making sure they are firmly on, just don’t press too hard!

Pipe a splodge of cream on the gaps in the centre of the raspberries – this will hold the top of your millefeuille in place & make it taller.

Repeat the above stages, until all your millefeuille are finished!

Dust them lightly with icing sugar, using a tea strainer to get a fine sugar powder.

Place your millefeuille on a decorative plate or cake stand & serve!  If it’s warm weather, place them in the fridge for 30 minutes on a plate to allow them to set.  These won’t keep for very long, probably until the next day at the most, so they really should be eaten on the same day they are made.

If you don’t have raspberries, why not try strawberry slices instead?  This works just as well with other berries too, so you could make them with blueberries, blackberries or cherries.  Sometimes, I just use a little jam or preserve on the bottom instead of fruit, so the choice is yours (try apricot – it’s fabulous!).

These delicately crisp, light layers of fruity pastry perfection will wow your guests at any dinner or afternoon tea!  However you indulge, millefeuille are meant for sharing.  Stay hungry 😉  A x

 

Puff Up The Volume!

Driving home this morning, seeing the luscious much-needed rain has brought the gardens back to greenery & lowered the temperature slightly, I felt rather peaceful.  Last week was particularly interesting, especially as we had to part with our beloved little Peugeot, Phoebe.  Although over the years she leaked, shivered & shook, little Phoebe was like driving a rocket strapped to a rollerskate & I adored her.  So it was rather reluctantly that we drove her to our local “Car Spa”, thinking we would never find another like her.   Fortunately, thanks to the magic of the internet & a rather brilliant chap called Richard (who really knows his stuff!), we bought a beautiful cream coloured Renault & promptly named her Erica (after Eric Clapton, because he was in a band called Cream & calling her Buttercream would have been a bit weird!).  Stress levels deflated, I could concentrate on baking again & two rather rapidly approaching birthdays!

Twenty-four years ago, I was nine months pregnant with my handsome Son & as he was born the day before my birthday, we always celebrate in a double way.  Some of my friends will know that I’m making a sugar lion at the moment (hopefully it will be ready in time!) & it’s rather large, so most of my fridge is full of lion parts (not real ones – please be assured they are all made of marshmallow, chocolate ganache & rice crispies!).  Once it’s finished, I’ll share some pictures with you.  When I bake up a birthday banquet, it’s usually a relaxed affair with everyone helping themselves to the various nibbles & treats, with a triple layer, triple chocolate birthday cake in the midst of it all.  One of our favourite nibbles is cheese pastry straws made from delicate flaky, buttery puffed-up pastry.  You know the sort I’m talking about – the crisp, light, shatter-into-a-squillion-shards-in-your-mouth kind of pastry that melts into a swirl of savoury cheesy butterness once it hits your tongue.

Now usually I would buy some shop-bought puff pastry, as it’s pre-made & quick to roll out – job done!  However, despite my best efforts, I can’t find one made with just butter so I make my own version, using a recipe my Mum & Grandma made when I was younger.  My Mum used to make all kinds of delicious pastries when I was a little girl & the scent of baked buttery delights would always entice me to the kitchen.  Sat on a high stool by the door, I would watch her working her magic & creating all kinds of tantalising treats.  Delicate voluminous layers of flaky fabulousness would crown rich fruit pies, be wrapped cocoon-like around sausage rolls or made into swirly sticks, simply showered in shavings of cheese.  Of course, all magic takes a little time & I was fascinated at how a few simple ingredients can be made into something magnificent (I still am!).  This pastry recipe is really simple to make (the basic recipe is just three ingredients BC – before cheese) & although it takes a little more effort to make than shortcrust pastry, the taste is amazing & it’s really worth it!

One of the most important things when making pastry is cool conditions, so it’s best to make it first thing in the morning (I like to do this when everyone is still in bed at the weekends).  To make sure your hands are cool, after washing them run your wrists under the cold tap for a few moments (trust me, it works).

The next thing to remember is take your time.  Some foods should be made slowly, it’s like a ritual binding all the ingredients together & each process is important, so you can’t skip anything.  This pastry is one of those slow foods, lovingly created by hand – your hands & not squished out of some huge machine into a packet (don’t get me started on the random ingredients list of unnecessary additives either!).  Once you master this flaky-layered lovely, shop-bought pastry will never taste the same again!  Ready?  Aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the Pastry:
8oz Self Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
6oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge & cut into 4 equal pieces (I used salted, as it omits the need for additional salt)
100ml Cold Water

For the Filling:
1oz Medium Cheddar, grated
Half an ounce each of Parmesan & Grana Padana, grated finely
Freshly ground Black Pepper
A bit of melted butter (a teaspoonful should be enough)
1 large Egg, beaten (for glazing)

What to do:

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & add one of the butter pieces.  Rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Using a round-ended knife, stir together & slowly add enough water, just a little at a time, to bring it all together – take your time, as you don’t want a sticky gooey mess.  Once you have achieved a thick, dough-like consistency, that should be enough.

Turn out your pastry onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rectangle.  Roll away from you into a long piece, about a centimetre thick.  Try to keep the edges as straight as you can, but don’t worry too much or you’ll drive yourself loopy!  Using a dry pastry brush, dust off any excess flour as you go, especially when folding the layers (otherwise it may affect the recipe & you want flaky pastry, not floury).

Take one of the three pieces of butter & cut into small chunks of about 1cm (you can just pull it apart, but the heat from your hands might melt it).

Dot the butter all over the top two thirds of the pastry.

Fold the bottom plain piece over the next third of pastry, then fold the top piece over that.  Brush off the excess flour & press the open edges together to seal the layers of butter & air in.

Dust the worktop with a little more flour.  Turn the pastry one turn to the right & roll out again, just as you did above.

Repeat the above steps a couple more times, using up the last two pieces of butter.  Then turn the pastry to the right, roll it out again & fold into thirds, brushing off the excess flour as you go.

Lay your pastry on a piece of greaseproof paper, fold the top of the paper over your pastry & put it on a plate in the fridge for an hour (you might need to leave it longer during this heatwave we’re having, so probably add another ten minutes if you’re not sure – I’ve left it a couple of hours before & it didn’t do any harm).  Get yourself a cuppa, put your feet up & read a book or something (if you’re like me, you’ve probably been whizzing around, so relax for a bit).

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & then prepare your tins (you’ll need a couple of baking trays).  Brush melted butter all over the inside of the baking tray & then run under the cold tap.  Tip away the excess, leaving a wet film on the tin.  Repeat with the second tray & set them to one side.

Once your pastry is rested & chilled, it’s time to get rolling!  On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the pastry into a wide rectangular strip, about a centimetre thick.

Cut into two equal pieces & on one of them, brush a little melted butter all over the top & sprinkle on two thirds of the cheese.

Place the other piece of pastry over the top, press down & roll out again, about 1cm thick.

Brush the top of your cheesy pastry with beaten egg – just the top, not the edges, otherwise your pastry won’t rise properly.

Using a knife or a ravioli cutter (my fave tool de jour), cut into finger width strips & twist each one loosely into a twirl of pastry with the egg glazed side outwards.

Place on the baking tray & repeat with the rest of the pastry, until you have a couple of trays of twirly swirls with about half an inch between them.

Sprinkle with the remainder of the cheese, taking care to get the majority of it on the actual pastry (although you will love the crunchy cheesy chips that this produces).  Give them a quick dust with some black pepper.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 10-12 minutes, until they have risen & turned a gorgeous golden hue.  Carefully transfer them onto a cooling rack using a pallet knife or thin spatula.  Remember the crunchy cheesy chips?  Shake them into a dish for sprinkling on salad as a crispy garnish or just eat them as they are – Chef’s perks!

Serve your cheesy sticks either on their own or maybe dunked in an oozy, warm baked Camembert with a glass of chilled wine (you’ve worked hard & deserve a treat).  I doubt they will last long, but if you do have any leftover just pop them in an airtight container (they will keep for a couple of days, so I’m told).

So when your pastry needs to be buttery, puffed up, flaky & fabulous, have a go at homemade!  Stay hungry!  A 😉 x

 

 

It’s Hip to be Squarecake!

The sun is shining, the bees are buzzing & Summer is definitely making her presence felt, especially in the garden!  We might have had a few soggy moments (although the grass is still a bit straw-like), but that hasn’t stopped the bees from busily working their magic & the plants from producing a beautiful bounty of fruits & berries.  Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants & blackcurrants, are all gracing shop shelves in their punnetfuls!  When I was a little girl, gooseberries (or “goosegogs” as they were known) were more readily available too, but seem to have become a bit rare these days.  These crunchy pale, zesty-green oval berries would turn your mouth inside out & make your ears flap with their tart tang if you ate them raw, but they also made lovely preserves & pies.  Recently, a lovely friend gave me a huge bowlful of these gorgeous green berries after she had been fruit picking with family.  We shared them with my Mum & simply ate them by the handful the next day!  Whatever your berry preference, the temptation to just eat them as they are is rather difficult to ignore, but they will give any dessert a deliciously luscious lift!

One of my best memories as a child is picking & eating strawberries.  There is nothing quite so fabulous as the heavenly scent of softly sun-ripened strawberries & it takes me right back to garden picnics, with a bowlful of berries & dipping them in sugar (it was the same with rhubarb & blackberries too).  We didn’t need fancy desserts as kids & would just pop down to the garden & pick whatever your Mum asked you to get in for dinner.  Obviously, a few things kind of evaporated on the way back from garden to kitchen (especially peas & their pods, which would be munched by the handful, fresh from the vine).  My freshly washed strawberry swag would be daintily dipped in a little bowl of sugar (I’m talking a couple of teaspoons here, not a kilo!).  It was bliss!  Now when I’m buying strawberries, I always smell them before putting them in my basket for an instant trip back in time.

As a result of a rather impromptu dinner party on a warm Summer evening (where I had to quickly improvise with what was in the fridge at the time), the simple yet spectacular Strawberry Sponge Square Cake was created!  Family, friends & neighbours have all indulged in a slice of this sweet strawberry delight & it has become a firm favourite!  Another lovely friend gave me a bowl of beautiful ripe strawberries the other day & obviously, I thought of making this cake.  This lighter than air sponge cake is one of the swiftest I’ve made, plus the sponge itself can be made the day before & kept in an airtight container with greaseproof paper between the slices, then all you need to do is assemble it!  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

2 large Eggs
3oz Self-Raising Flour
3oz Vanilla Caster Sugar (or give normal sugar a whizz in a coffee grinder like I do)
A little melted Butter for preparing your tin
1 heaped tablespoon extra Vanilla Sugar (for laying your sponge on)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C.  Get a shallow baking tray or Swiss Roll tin & brush the melted butter all over the inside, or just get your fingers in it & rub it all around.

Line the tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper that is slightly bigger than the tin, leaving half an inch of paper out of the tin all the way around – you will need this to lift your sponge out at the end.  Push the paper into the corners, smoothing it down in the tin & making sure it is completely covered with the butter.

Take the greaseproof paper out, turn it over & repeat, leaving it in the tin, with the edge sticking up all the way around.  The paper will turn translucent, so you can see through it.

Crack the eggs carefully into a mixing bowl & give them a whisk to break them up.  A little tip to test if your eggs are fresh:  half fill a jug with cold water, gently plop the egg in & if it sinks, it’s fresh.  If it floats, probably best not to use it.

Add the sugar & give it a good firm whisking.  I usually use the electric whisk for this (even I have my limits!) & whisk for about 4 minutes, until you have a fluffy, pale & cream coloured cloud-like mixture.

Next, you need to fold in the flour.  Folding is easy, just take your time – you don’t want to undo all that whisking by knocking out the bubbles you’ve just put in.  Sift the flour into the bowl, then using a large metal spoon, make a figure of eight & tip the flour over into the liquid.  Repeat until all the flour has been incorporated into a lovely, thick foamy mixture.

Using a spatula, scrape the mixture into your prepared tin.  Make sure you get it into all the corners & level it out with the spatula if necessary.  Then pick up the tin about six inches off the worktop & drop it – this will knock out any large bubbles.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 6 – 8 minutes, until it is lightly golden & slightly risen.  Give it a gentle pat with a finger & it should spring back – that’s when it’s ready.

Sprinkle the other sugar onto another sheet of greaseproof laid on top of a wire cooling rack.

Remove your sponge from the oven & carefully, but swiftly, flip the whole thing over onto the sugared greaseproof paper, using the edge of the cake paper to help you if need be.

Pull off the greaseproof paper from the sponge cake & discard.  It should come away easily (& the smell of baked butter is just beautiful!).  Leave to cool for a few minutes.

Once completely cooled, take a large knife with a smooth blade (like a French cook’s knife) & trim the edges of your sponge (you can eat these or feed them to the birds).

Cut the sponge into three equal sized rectangular pieces & set aside while you make the filling.  The filling can be prepared the day before too, just keep it covered in the fridge.

For the filling:

600ml fresh Double Cream (the real stuff)
1oz Icing Sugar, plus extra for dusting
1 large punnet of Strawberries

What to do:

Wash, trim & hull your strawberries – that’s the tough bit under the leaves in the top of the strawberry.  Just run a little paring knife under the leaves, all the way around & it should come out.  The more ripe the strawberries, the easier it is.

Stand them pointy end up & using the paring knife, slice thinly – keep the trimmed edges to one side for decorating (or munching).  Put to one side in a bowl or large cup.

Get the electric whisk out again & whisk the double cream in a large mixing bowl, adding the icing sugar as you do so, until it is in soft peaks – the icing sugar gives the cream body & will hold it’s shape when piped.   You can whisk it by hand if you need to release some stress, but it’s really important that you don’t over-whip the cream, otherwise you’ll end up with butter (yes, really – I’ll cover that in another blog when we’ve all got more time).

Now you’re ready to assemble your sponge cake!  Take your first layer of sponge & lay it on a serving plate.

Scoop the cream into a piping bag – if you want to use a nozzle, that’s fine, or just use the smooth end of a piping bag.  Pipe a layer of cream in a decorative pattern around the edge to start, then fill in the centre.  Take your time over this, there’s no rush & you can do whatever pattern you like, whether it’s swirls with a star nozzle or plain plump splodges!

Place a single layer of strawberry slices all over the cream, leaving the pointy tips over the edge slightly & using the end slices to fill any gaps in the centre area.

Take the next layer of sponge & squeeze a few little splodges of cream on the underneath side, then carefully lay it on top of the strawberries.  Press gently to make sure everything is sandwiched together.

Repeat with the next layer in exactly the same way, leaving a layer of sponge cake on the top.

When you’ve finished, you should have a beautiful strawberry sponge square cake (yes, I’m aware it’s more of a rectangle, but just go with it).  Dust lightly with icing sugar all over the top (use a tea strainer for this & you only need a couple of teaspoonfuls of icing sugar to do the whole thing) & serve immediately.

Use any remaining strawberries & cream to decorate each person’s plate, maybe dusting with a bit more icing sugar if you like.  Or you could just hide the rest in the fridge for nibbling on later (I think you’ve earned it!).  If you don’t like strawberries, maybe use raspberries, blackberries, cherries, blueberries or even your favourite jam!  I’ve used all kinds of different fruits for this & it always turns out beautifully!

One of my favourite treats for afternoon tea is to cut the sponge into individual fingers, pipe with dark ruby-red cherry jam & whipped double cream, then sandwich together.  These fruity, fluffy pillows are then generously dusted with icing sugar, before being topped with a whole Amareno cherry & fresh mint leaf.

Another way I like to serve them is to create bite-sized sponge circles using a cookie cutter, then pipe a swirl of sumptuous strawberry conserve on the base, followed by whipped cream & make mini-sponge sandwich cakes, before sifting with a light layer of icing sugar.

For a truly scrumptious Summer treat, why not have a go at making my strawberry sponge square cake, or maybe try one of my other versions for your next afternoon tea!  Stay hungry 😉  A x

Kick Start Your Tarts!

Here we are in the middle of a perfect July & let’s face it, Summer has been a long time coming!  Due to the magnificent mini-heatwave we’re having, all the pretty pots of plants are sprouting with lots of lovely flowers & fruit.  Sitting on the patio having coffee early in the morning is one of the best feelings, just relaxing & starting the day with a little sunshine.

Although I love rich, comforting food as much as anyone, it’s time to lighten up & let loose with the luscious array of amazing produce available to us right now.  One of the best things about Summertime is that we have a rainbow of fabulous fruits & vegetables coming into season, all ready to inspire us into cooking something fresh & exciting.  Bright berries & vivid vegetables to fill you with inner sunshine, giving you a well-deserved boost after being wrapped in woolly pullys for so long (that’s sweaters if you don’t know).

Food shopping is part of the anticipation of cooking & I shop like a butterfly, flitting from shelf to shelf, selecting colourful choices & deciding what to transform them into as I go (most people have a list, I have a recipe agenda in my head).  Thanks to the temptation of my local shops, I recently stocked up on some beautifully fragrant fruits & vegetables, perfect for pairing with pastry!  Forget those overloaded, soggy-bottomed, smudgy layered mouthfuls of the past (that’s where they should stay).  Savoury or sweet, tarts should be sumptuously satisfying & stuffed with just enough filling to keep you happy.

Now just to clarify, a fruit tart should be a fruit tart & not a hidden layer of custard or crème patissière under a pile of fruit!  I’m not a fan of custard & especially surprise custard!  As a child, I remember excitedly biting into a sweet, strawberry laden pastry, only to get a mouthful of cold custard (it didn’t end well).  An attentive boyfriend in my early 20s used to bring me a strawberry tart for our mid-morning coffee breaks & would always ensure they were custard-free, so I didn’t have to relive the horror.  Obviously, I make sure my own home-baked versions are definitely free of custard too.

This particular recipe is for a delectable apricot tart called Crostata di Albecocche, which is bursting with plump, peachy-blush tinted apricots.  Tinned apricots are beautiful too, but there’s something spectacular about the flavour of fresh ones!  They taste of Summer for me, all golden glorious sunshine wrapped in a soft velvet skin, delicately perched on a pastry blanket.  This tart is great as a tea-time treat or as a relaxed dinner party dessert, just add great company.    Ready to get baking?  Aprons on, hands washed!

What you need:

For the filling:
1 punnet of fresh Apricots
1 jar of Apricot Conserve or Jam (use a nice thick jam for this recipe)

For the pastry:
12oz Self-Raising Flour, plus extra for rolling out
4oz Vanilla Sugar (stick a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar & leave for a couple of hours or overnight, then you’ve got vanilla sugar)
4oz Salted Butter (plus a little extra melted for lining your tin)
2 large Eggs
Zest of an Unwaxed Orange & Lemon (optional, but very nice)
2 teaspoons of Ground Almonds
2 tablespoons Milk (for brushing pastry with)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.

Prepare your tin.  You don’t need a fancy pie tin for this – I use a pizza tin, but you can use a loose bottomed one if you like.  Brush the inside & outer lip of the tin with melted butter (you can use your fingers for this too, whatever you find easiest).  Sprinkle with a little flour & shake it all around the tin, tipping out the excess onto your worktop.

At this point, you can always add a disc of greaseproof paper in the bottom (or criss-cross a couple of long strips of greaseproof paper & hang over the edges by a couple of inches).  I’ve baked this tart so many times over the years, both with & without greaseproof, so it’s up to you if you want to add this extra lining.

Sprinkle with the ground almonds & ensure the bottom of the tin is completely covered.

Now to make the pastry!  Into a large mixing bowl, add all the pastry ingredients together – the flour, eggs, sugar, butter & some zest.  Get your hands in & squish everything together to form a silky soft ball of pastry.

Dust the worktop & your rolling pin with a little flour (dust, not drench!), cut off two thirds of the pastry & roll out carefully, gently lifting & turning it then rolling again, until about half a centimetre thick & slightly bigger than your tin.  Dust more flour underneath as you go, so that it doesn’t stick.  If it’s too moist, roll it up & reshape, then start again.  Because the weather is warm, you might experience this – don’t worry, it will be fine (just go steady with the flour dusting, as you don’t want to use too much or it will alter the recipe & not in a good way!).

Lay the pastry carefully over your rolling pin & slide the tin underneath the pastry, laying it loosely onto the tin.  Push gently into the edges of the tin, being careful not to poke your fingers through.  Trim the edges off the pastry base & put back in the bowl (you’ll need these for decoration later).

Wash the apricots in cold water & gently pat dry.  Run a paring knife along the natural line around the middle of each fruit, then twist as you pull them apart (the riper the fruit, the easier this is).  The stone/pit will stick in one side, so just prise it out with your fingers & discard.  Continue until you have stoned all your fruit.

Cut each half apricot into half again, so you have apricot quarters & leave to one side.

Spread the jam gently all over the pastry case & then start adding your apricots in a pretty pattern, until the base is completely covered.

Now to decorate the top.  Take the leftover pastry & roll out into about half a centimetre thick.

Cut into strips about the same size – if you’ve got a pizza or ravioli cutter, use this & make life easier for yourself.

Take a pastry strip & pinch or twist it carefully, so you don’t break it, then lay it across the middle of the tart.  Brush the ends with a little milk & attach to the edge of the pastry base.

Do the rest of the strips in the same way, then do the same with more strips going over the top.

Gently brush a little milk on all the pastry edges & place on a baking tray in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes, turning halfway through cooking.

Once the pastry has turned lightly golden & puffed up, the tart should be ready.

Remove from the oven & place the tin on a cooling rack to rest until thoroughly cooled (you don’t want to eat it hot, it will be like lava).

 

Once cooled, serve generous slices with a splodge of silky smooth cream – whether clotted, whipped, poured or iced, they all work well with this dessert (although clotted is my fave).

If there is any left, wrap in greaseproof paper & take it to work for a little treat the next day (probably best not to tell anyone at the office though, or it might evaporate).

This fabulous fruit-filled pastry can be made a few hours in advance & stored in the fridge on a serving plate until dinner (slide a pallet knife under & gently lift it out of the tin).  I can’t tell you if it freezes or not, because none has ever lasted that long, but I have frozen the pastry before & it always comes out perfectly.

So next time you see a punnet of peachy petite apricots, turn them into something special & kick start your tastebuds with this tasty apricot tart!  Stay hungry 😉  A x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pining For a Proper Pasta Pile Up!

Here we are in the middle of glorious Summer sunshine, bright blue skies & toasty temperatures!  When it’s hot like this, the last thing anyone wants is to be cooking some long-winded dish in a hot kitchen.  Salads are great, but when you’ve had a long day, a more substantial supper is required to hit the spot.  Pasta is probably the most loved food in our house (well, apart from cake obviously).  We indulge in this versatile staple several times a week (that’s not including leftover lunches).  If I’m not making it, I’m thinking about making it & what I can put in it or on it.  I’ve even got a dedicated pasta shelf in the pantry!  We don’t live in a vast mansion (it’s more like a doll’s house), so a few years ago we put the cupboard space under the stairs to better use than a home for the hoover!  It’s now fully stacked & packed with all our staples – pasta, tins & jars of various sweet & savoury delights to whip up a wonderful plateful at a moment’s notice.  Obviously, that’s where all my sugar paste lives, because it’s cool & out of the way (the marzipan lives here too, but don’t tell my Husband or I’ll have none left!).

A couple of years ago, our Son was working in Naples, Italy & staying in the rather picturesque Pozzuoli (he took the lovely pictures of the sea I’ve shared here).  During one of our daily chats, he sent me a picture of him cooking Spaghetti alla Carbonara (he has the cooking bug too).  I was so proud that he was cooking proper Italian food actually in Italy – especially when he reminded me of how I used to cook the same dish when he was young.  Over the years, I adjusted the recipe & used a variety of different pasta (spaghetti is still the best), but I had forgotten just how beautiful the original recipe is.  It also made me realise how much of an impact my cooking has had on our Son & his approach to food.  It’s kind of big when you think that the simplest of things, like preparing food for our children, is something they carry with them into adulthood.  Obviously, as soon as I put the phone down, I headed off to the kitchen to make a pile of pasta!

One of our favourite pasta dishes is “The One With The Pine Nuts” (as it is fondly known in our house).  It’s colourful, cheesy & quick to make – what’s not to love?!  It’s great for using up vegetables in your fridge that are starting to look a bit tired & all those little leftover bags of pasta in the pantry that everyone has.  If you don’t like bacon, you could leave it out altogether & maybe add courgette slices, or swap it for thin strips of chicken instead – it’s your choice.  This is one of those great last minute dishes too, so if you suddenly have a houseful you can feed everyone easily (I get 4 huge portions out of this).  Hungry?  Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

Approx 250g dried Pasta (Fusilli, Farfalle, Penne, Conchiglie – whatever you like)
200g Gorgonzola Dolce
8-10 rashers of Bacon (smoked or unsmoked)
2 Peppers (I’ve used 1 red & 1 yellow, but use whichever you like)
1 Red Onion
1 bag Fresh Baby Spinach (about 4 huge handfuls), washed
100g Pine Nuts
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Sea Salt (for your pasta water)

What to do:

Firstly, we need to toast the pine nuts, so gently heat up a large skillet or frying pan & add the nuts to the dry pan.  On a low heat, keep moving the pine nuts around the pan so they don’t burn.

Once they have turned a golden colour, turn off the heat & tip into a bowl to cool – don’t be tempted to eat them at this stage!

Next, prep all your veggies!  Top & tail the red onion, deseed the peppers & chop everything into chunks (don’t worry about them being perfect, just get chopping).  Set aside.

Trim & cut the bacon into roughly one inch pieces, removing any fat (I like to use scissors for this, as it’s much easier than chasing a slippery bit of bacon around the chopping board!).

Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in the skillet, add the bacon pieces & stir fry on a medium/low heat.

While the bacon is cooking, get the kettle on & boil some water for your pasta (quicker than waiting for it to boil on the stove!).

Add roughly 1 teaspoon of sea salt to a large, deep saucepan, carefully pour in boiling water (about half way) & put on the heat until you get a rolling boil.

Add your pasta to the water, stir with a wooden spoon & cook according to the instructions (usually dried shapes take about 10 minutes max, giving us time to cook everything else).

The bacon should now be going a bit crispy, so add the vegetables & stir fry for a few moments until they are slightly softened, but still firm.  Turn off the heat.

The pasta should be done now, so take a piece out & taste it – it should be al dente (“cooked to the tooth”, meaning to your personal preference, your individual tooth).  Strain the pasta & set aside for a moment.

Sprinkle handfuls of spinach onto the bacon & vegetables in the skillet.  Now tip the pasta carefully all over the top – this wilts the spinach nicely, so it softens slightly.

Add the Gorgonzola now – break it up with your fingertips or cut into small pieces & dot all around the pan.

Sprinkle about three-quarters of the toasted pine nuts over the top, then get a couple of wooden spoons & gently toss everything together, until fully combined.

That’s it!  Dinner’s ready to dish up – a huge skillet full of crispy, smoked bacon pieces with gorgeously glossy, jewel-like vegetables & vibrant emerald-green spinach leaves.  Generous chunks of Gorgonzola melt into the warm swirls of pasta, giving it an oozy smoothness that attracts all the other ingredients together, followed by a substantial showering of the toasted pine nuts, adding an almost popcorn-like flavour to everything.

Grab a few bowls or pasta plates & dig in!  Just before heaping a huge helping into a bowl, I sprinkle on a few more pine nuts, followed by a couple of twists of freshly ground black pepper (maybe a dusting of Grana Padana too).  On sultry Summer evenings, this goes well with a couple of glasses of good wine & maybe some fresh, warm slices of baguette to scoop up any gooey, cheesy remnants that attempt to escape – in Italy, this is known as “fare la scarpetta”, which means to “make the little shoe” with the bread to mop up any sauce (now that’s a shoe I do love!)

If there is any left, once cooled divide it into plastic tubs with lids & stick them in the fridge – that’s tomorrow’s lunches sorted!

Next time you’re pining for a proper pasta pile up, why not give this a twirl!  Stay hungry!  😉 A x

 

A Dessert Storm

Sitting at my desk writing my blog this morning, drinking a cup of tea as the warm sun is sparkling through last night’s rain on the window, it occurs to me that we’re hurtling into Summer rather rapidly.  The changeable weather is free-wheeling, which is giving us all wardrobe issues (cue carrying various rainproof supplies – brolly, raincoat, shoes instead of sandals, to name a few!).  We layer up in the damp, chilly morning, only to find that by lunchtime it’s blazing brilliant sunshine!  One thing that is benefiting from all this random weather is the garden.  Our pots of plants are flourishing & fabulous flowers are blooming between splashes of rain & sporadic sunshine, giving us some glorious fruit & vegetables to look forward to, hopefully very soon!

The bees seem to be having a great time in the blossoms too.  My Husband calls me the Bee Whisperer, because I’m always rescuing them.  The bees are very important to us & we should look after them – after all, no bees means no fruit & veggies (or wine, beer & chocolate!).  If you see one resting on the ground, he’s probably just tired & needs a rest.  Gently move him to safety (use a piece of paper to slide underneath) & give him an energy boost – dissolve a little sugar in some tepid water & put it in a little bottle cap next to him.  Trust me, once they’re rested & recuperated, they will buzz back with all their little friends (aka the Pollinators!).

Bees aren’t the only ones to like the sweet stuff & sometimes we need a little treat too.  When it’s warm outside, it’s hardly surprising that no-one feels like standing in front of a hot oven, baking a selection of sweets & treats for dessert.  Even I like a day off every now & then!  Recently, I’ve had a couple of friends ask me for oven-free dessert ideas, so here are a few to inspire you.  Whether a couple of unexpected visitors turn up or a crowd of friends, these luscious little lovelies should keep everyone happy!

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have seen a couple of my no-bake easy desserts before.  There are recipes for a gorgeous Greek yoghurt & fruit ice cream (just chuck everything in a blender & serve), plus a very easy chocolate sauce (this also tastes great on toast too!).  Here’s the link:

https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/love-love-love/

These next two desserts are fabulous favourites of ours & perfect for when you need a sweet fix.  I’ve been making them for many years & these bake-free beauties always do the trick!  The first one is a gorgeously gooey chocolate tart.  Now this perfect pud does need at least an hour in the fridge before serving, so you can make it in advance & forget about it until dinner.  Ready?  Hands washed & aprons on – let’s get chocolatey!

What you need:

For the base:
12 plain Digestive Biscuits (you could use Biscotti or cookies – have a look through my website for recipes)
2oz melted Salted Butter (plus a little extra for greasing your dish)

For the chocolate sauce:
4oz softened Salted Butter
8oz Chocolate
14oz can of Sweetened Condensed Milk

A few fresh Raspberries
A sprig of fresh Mint leaves
A teaspoon of Icing Sugar (optional)

What to do:

Firstly, make prepare your dish – you can use a loose-bottomed tin for this too if you like.

Brush a little melted butter all around the inside of your dish or tin with a pastry brush (you can use your fingers, but this way you get into all the edges quicker).  If you wish, line with a little greaseproof paper (you can take this off just before serving).

Now to make the base!  Crush the digestives in a large bowl or chuck them in the blender, whizzing them up until fine crumbs.

Add the melted butter & mix well together, until you have a crumbly mixture resembling moist sand.

Tip the crumble mixture into the bottom of your dish, pressing firmly into all the edges to form a nice smooth base.  Place in the fridge while you make the sauce.

Pour the condensed milk into a saucepan with the butter & chocolate.  Heat gently to melt, stirring carefully until everything is fully combined & melted into a dark, delicious pan of gooey gorgeousness (resist the urge to taste it – it will be quite warm!).  Turn off the heat & leave to one side to cool for a couple of minutes.

Remove the biscuit base from the fridge & pour the chocolate sauce on top & return to the fridge to set for an hour.

Just before serving, remove from the fridge for a couple of minutes to soften slightly.  Decorate with a few fresh raspberries & a couple of mint leaves, maybe give them a light dusting of icing sugar (I use a fine mesh tea strainer for this).  Here’s a little tip to make slicing easy:  boil the kettle & half-fill a mug.  Put a sharp knife in the mug to warm through for about 20 seconds, then dry it before slicing your tart – it will cut through cleanly & effortlessly!

Sometimes I like to use ginger biscuits for the base, adding a few slender shards of stem ginger to the chocolate sauce at the end, piped with a little splodge of whipped cream & delicately dusted with grated dark chocolate.  And then there’s always the coconut version which goes down well (add a little dessicated coconut to the chocolate sauce before pouring for a tropical-tasting treat & decorate as above).

Hungry for more?  Thought so!  These sweet shots of fast fruity cheesecake can be prepared in moments.  As these are individual portions, I prefer to serve them in some pretty wine glasses, such as  Champagne saucers, Martini glasses or just large wine glasses (you can use tea-cups for children’s portions – the handles make it easier for them too).  Aprons on, here we go!

What you need:

4 plain Biscuits – Digestives, Biscotti or a handful of Amaretti, etc (whatever you have in the pantry is fine)
2 heaped teaspoons of Strawberry Jam
1 tub Mascarpone Cheese
1-2 tablespoons Greek Yoghurt (or Natural Yoghurt)
Fresh Strawberries
Icing Sugar (optional)

Crush up a couple of biscuits & place some in the bottom of each glass.

Whip up a tub of Mascarpone cheese with the Greek yoghurt to loosen it up a bit.  You can always use a little semi-skimmed milk, just a tablespoon will do.

Add the strawberry jam & slowly stir into the Mascarpone, until it turns a beautiful blush pink colour.

Spoon or pipe swirls of the strawberry Mascarpone generously over the crushed biscuits, or perhaps add a few chopped fresh strawberries to the mixture beforehand.  If you’re going to pipe it, forget using a nozzle, just snip the end off a piping bag instead.

Top with a couple of fresh strawberries, dust with a little icing sugar if you like & serve immediately.  I like to slice them 3/4 of the way to the top & leave them attached, then fan them out on these dinky desserts.   If you don’t want to use strawberries, try using apricots, raspberries or blueberries, swapping the jam for whichever fruit you use.  If you fancy something a bit special, cherries go very well with the delicate almond flavour of crushed Amaretti biscuits – just sprinkle a few toasted almonds on top to decorate before serving.  Bellissimo!

So when you need to whip up a dessert storm, try these swift, sweet solutions for after dinner!  Stay hungry 😉  A x

 

 

An Afternoon Tease!

Beautiful blue skies & big blossom trees in full bloom must mean Summer is finally making her grand entrance & I for one am rather pleased!  The last couple of months have been a rollercoaster of rain, sunshine & hailstorms, giving us all wardrobe issues (you go out in the morning dressed for freezing rain & by lunchtime it’s sweltering sunshine!).  It’s May Bank Holiday weekend & although it’s probably not shorts & scanty vest weather just yet, hopefully it will be soon (fingers crossed though, this is the UK remember).

May always evokes fond memories of when I was a young girl, running around the lawn barefoot in the warm sunshine, the scent of tiny pink Dianthus filling the air & lovely long Lupins, standing tall in the flowerbeds with their umbrella-like leaves.  The anticipation of indulging in various delectable delicacies was always exciting, as I could hear the faint clinking of china cups & saucers, as plates were piled high with treats & loaded onto the table, one after another.  My Mum would spend all morning baking up a storm in the kitchen & filling the house with the heady perfume of pastries & cakes!  It was bliss!

All my friends know that I absolutely love making afternoon tea & on one occasion, I made cupcake shoes for my guests to take home.  Afternoon tea should be a lavish affair – all those miniature, elegantly decorated cakes, plump sumptuous sultanas embedded in fluffy scones, fragrant ripe fruit & berries perched on pastry cups & delicious dainty sandwiches, crustless with cream cheese & cucumber.   Of course, there’s the endless cups of Earl Grey tea, with wafer thin lemon slices floating like lilypads on the surface, sometimes accompanied by a flute of fizz (or two, because there’s no such thing as leftover fizz – it’s a myth, like leftover chocolate).

Because scones are synonymous with afternoon tea treats, I wanted to share a really easy scone recipe with you.  They take very little effort to make & always look rather impressive.  If you’re going to put dried sultanas in them, I suggest you soak them first to plump them up – nobody likes shrivelled sultanas in their scone, they’re just chewy & not very squishy!  Put a large handful of dried fruit in a large mug or a bowl with a tea bag (try Chai tea) & cover in warm, boiled water (let the kettle cool for a couple of minutes first).  Give it a stir, put a plate on top & leave it for an hour or two (overnight if you can) & then drain to reveal sumptuous, squishy sultanas!   Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need (makes about 12 scones):

8oz Strong Bread Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
4 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 large Egg
100ml Semi-Skimmed Milk (approx)
2oz Butter (or Stork or Sunflower Spread) – room temperature is best
1oz Sugar
2oz Sultanas (optional – if you don’t like them, just leave them out)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your tins – simply line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper (which means no washing up, always a bonus!).

Into a large mixing bowl, sieve the flour & baking powder, then add the sugar & stir everything together.

Cut the butter into pieces & add to the dry ingredients in the bowl.  Using your fingertips, rub everything in together to form a fine, crumbly mixture (a bit like fine breadcrumbs).

If you are adding fruit, strain your sultanas & add them to the mixture, stirring well to combine.  Remember, these will add moisture to your mixture.

Crack the egg into a measuring jug & top up to a quarter of a pint with semi-skimmed milk, then beat together.

Pour most of the egg & milk into the mixture, keeping some back for brushing on top of your scones.

Mix everything together with a fork, until all the ingredients have formed a slightly sticky ball of dough.

Lightly dust your worktop with some flour & tip the dough out.  I like to knead mine gently for a moment, just to make sure everything is mixed in.

Roll out on the worktop (dust on top with a little flour if you need it) & get it to about a quarter of an inch in thickness.

Using a pastry or cookie cutter, cut into circles or shapes & place each one on the baking tray, leaving a couple of inches between each.  Repeat until you have used all the dough – any leftover bits can be gently rolled into a ball in your hands & pressed onto the baking tray.  We don’t waste anything & this one can be your taste test scone (Chef’s perks).

Using a pastry brush, lightly dip in the egg & milk you saved from earlier, then brush each scone on the top to glaze.  Don’t brush the sides, because it will stop them from rising properly.

Let them rest for five minutes – your scones will start to grow & rise slightly.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 10 minutes, until risen & the tops have turned a gorgeous golden colour.

When cooked, remove from the tray & leave to cool on a cooling rack for a few minutes.

Once cooled, simply stack them on a huge plate, ready to be smothered with strawberry slices, juicy fruit-filled jam & splodges of cream (whipped or clotted cream is fine, whatever you like!).  They also taste fabulous eaten slightly warm, sliced in two & spread with a bit of softened butter, which melts into the scone beautifully.  Any spares can be stored in an airtight container (they will keep for a couple of days, but freshly baked on the day is always best).

If you’re doing them without fruit, why not add a few chopped nuts instead?   Of course, everyone likes scones their own way – my Son prefers plain or walnut scones (actually, he makes the best walnut scones!).

Treat yourself & a few friends to your own afternoon tea, while relaxing (hopefully) in the garden.  However you do it, afternoon tea should be frivolous, fabulous & fun!   Stay hungry 😉   A x