Friday, 28 November 2014

Christmas Puddings with a Twist

And I'm not talking Oliver.

If anyone wants some more in my household this Christmas, I'll be only too pleased.
What worries me though, is that I may have the opposite problem.

You see, I have guests coming from abroad and, whereas usually my foreign friends tuck heartily into Sussex pub grub washed down with gallons of Harveys bitter and would eat fish and chips with their buckets and spades if they could, this time I fear it may be different.

My guests have never been to the UK before, never eaten British food (or think they haven't) and, although they avow that they want the full Christmas experience, I'm concerned it might all prove a bit heavy for more delicate constitutions.

Particularly, by the time we get to Christmas pudding.

So, with that in mind I've been experimenting with puddings which are still Christmassy, but are a little bit lighter.

I began by caramelizing some clementines marinaded with a little rum. They were good and would be enhanced by some Cointreau cream or suitably rich ice cream.

Peel your clementines (or tangerines or satsumas) and slice them across the diameter, to make rings. Soak them in a couple of teaspoons of rum. Meanwhile boil up 1 tbsp caster sugar and 2-3 tbsp water until the mixture begins to turn golden. Quickly pour over the clementines and leave to cool.
Caramelized Clementines

Continuing with the clementine theme, I made a Caramel Clementine Upside Down Cake- and this time, I can honestly say it is the best cake I have ever made! I have to share the recipe with you so you can try it yourselves.
Instead of flour, I used part ground almonds and part pulverised almond biscottis (croquants for French readers) plus breadcrumbs for the mixture. I've never made a cake without flour before- but may never go back again! The almonds and the breadcrumbs made for a moist sponge- but the biscottis added a grainy texture which was scrumptious!

Caramel Clementine Upside Down Cake

Caramel Clementine Upside Down Cake

150g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
50g pulverised almond biscuits
50g soft white breadcrumbs
2 tsp baking powder
4 beaten eggs
175ml sunflower oil
5 clementines- all 5 zested and 3 of them juiced, 2 of them peeled and sliced into rings
1 tbsp caster sugar and 2 of water for the caramel

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and grease and line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper
2. Make the caramel by boiling 1 tbsp of caster sugar and 2 of water until golden, then pour into the bottom of the lined tin
3. Lay rings of the sliced clementines in the caramel

4. Mix together the sugar, ground almonds, pulverised biscuits and baking powder in a bowl
5. In a separate bowl, whisk the beaten eggs, oil, zest and juice together
6. Combine all the ingredients well and pour over the clementine slices in the tin
7. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean
8. Allow to cool completely before turning out

I also experimented with a Rum Punch sauce to go with it. I wanted a jammy, fruity, rummy, spicy flavour to the sauce so -guess what- I used jam, marmalade, fruit juice, spice and rum to make it!

Rum Punch Sauce
This is a great way to use up the last remnants in a jam or marmalade jar too.
 Mix together a tbsp of jam, a tbsp marmalade, 2 tbsp fruit juice, 1 tsp rum and 1tsp mixed spice and a sachet of vanilla sugar (25g). Boil until syrupy and pour into a serving jug. Serve warm.

This sauce went beautifully with the cake- but was also good the next day poured over ice cream. Or indeed both!
Clementine Cake with rum punch sauce and ice cream

Mincemeat (the traditional British fruit version- which has nothing to do with meat!) is an acquired taste. I thought I might introduce it into one of the meals, just to see how it goes before unleashing the full might of mince pies with brandy butter.
A gentle introduction would be in a crumble- as here. (Crumbles are very vogue at the moment in Europe, believe it or not!)

I make my crumble topping from 180g flour, 100g butter and 75g sugar blitzed or rubbed togther.

In a bowl or individual ramekins, combine apple compote (apples stewed with a little water and sugar until soft) with 2 tbsp mincemeat.

Top with the crumble mix and bake in a hot oven (190 degrees) until the topping is golden.
Mincemeat and apple crumble

Lighter still- but equally simple- would be mincemeat milles-feuilles, made with baked wontons rather than pastry.

Bake wonton wrappers quickly in a hot oven until golden and dust with icing sugar once cool. Layer with mincemeat and whipped cream.

Mincemeat mille-feuilles

And finally- there's jelly.
It's light, it's fruity, it's Christmassy- and I shall bring it out if all else fails.

Now to get into Christmas pudding mood..

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Going with the grain

So, back to the blog.

I thought I'd look at different types of carbs today- to go with your mains or as dishes in themselves. I'm focussing on 4 different grains (or pulses)- polenta, buckwheat, lentils and couscous. There's two recipes for each.

I'm hoping that these recipes become ingrained into your cooking repertoire!

I'm starting with polenta- (which is  pre-cooked maize meal) -with its bright yellow colour and  creamy consistency when cooked.

For 3-4 portions, bring 1 litre of water to the boil and add a tsp salt. Pour in 225g of polenta.
Continue cooking and stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until the polenta becomes creamy like mashed potato. Beat in a generous knob of butter (and a good grating of Parmesan cheese and/or nutmeg) depending on whether you like those ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve with anything that has a good hearty sauce which needs mopping up (stew, gravy, ragout, even baked beans) Leftovers can be fried and cut into slices like chips.

Creamy polenta mash

For a different take on polenta, I've baked it in a cornmeal loaf, flavoured with spring onion and cheese (some bacon lardons would do well here too).Again, this makes a lovely accompaniment to anything which needs soaking up. (And leftovers are good fried as part of a brunch or blitzed to crumbs to coat chicken or pork escalopes)
Corn bread loaf
Grease a 20cm baking tin generously and pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees.
Mix 110g of plain flour, 170g of cornmeal or polenta, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 1 tablespoon of sugar, a bunch of chopped spring onions (tired ones from the bottom of the salad drawer are fine) together in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Add 2 beaten eggs, a cup of grated cheese and a cup of olive oil or liquid Flora and a further cup of skimmed milk. Stir all the ingredients together and pour into the greased tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm to the touch, golden on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Next, I'm looking at two different ways with buckwheat.

I recognise buckwheat (or ble noir) when I eat in creperies and order galettes de sarrasin although didn't realize at first that they are not made with wholewheat flour but something quite different- light and nutty in flavour (buckwheat flour).
To make crepes or blinis-

Once you have your crepes- you can top them with anything you like or have left over : a full English breakfast with scrambled egg, tomato and bacon as here, cheese and tomato for a quick lunch, leftover ratatouille..just open the fridge and away you go!

Another form of buckwheat is soba noodles- which you probably have eaten in Japanese restaurants. They are simple and quick to prepare- especially if you have stir fry veg waiting to be used up. Again, they make a nuttier alternative to egg noodles - as here in yaki soba:

Yasai Yaki Soba

Just boil the noodles for a couple of minutes in a pan (no need for salt), drain and refresh with cold water in a colander. Meanwhile, stir fry peppers, beansprouts and spring onions in a wok, add 1 beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of soy sauce and stir until the egg is cooked and evenly distributed. Mix in the drained noodles and add a dressing of your choice: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, peanut butter (for a satay style sauce) etc Decorate with crispy onions and sesame seeds.

Yasai yaki soba

My third alternative for you is lentils. I did a whole blog on this back in August when I had just returned from the Auvergne (home of the Puy lentil).

Indeed my recipes feature Puy lentils - as they have a lovely mineral flavour. I'm also using lentil flour (which you can find in health food stores).

My first dish is Parma wrapped chicken with creamy Puy lentils- one of my dinner party favourites.

Allow 2 boneless and skinless chicken thighs per person.

Parma wrapped chicken with creamy Puy lentils


skinless and boneless chicken thighs
Parma ham to wrap each one
green pesto
cream cheese with herbs
a glass of white wine
Puy lentils
creme fraiche
salt and pepper

1. Open out the chicken thighs, spread a teaspoon of pesto on each one and then a teaspoon of cream cheese. (Keep all your teaspoons and spreading knives separate so you do not cross-contaminate the pots with raw chicken.)
2. Roll them up and wrap each one in a slice of Parma ham. Secure with cocktail sticks and place in a baking tray, along with the white wine.
3. Bake at 190 degreees for 40 minutes until the ham looks crispy.
4. Whilst the chicken bakes, finely chop the leek and soften in some olive oil.
5. Bring the lentils to the boil in ...water, turn down to a simmer and cook for ...minutes until all (or most) of the liquid has been absorbed and the lentils are tender to taste. (Do not add salt until they are cooked, as they will toughen).
6. Mix the lentils and leeks together and season. Mix in a tablespoon of creme fraiche.
7. Lift the chicken portions out of the roasting pan, pour in the lentils and mix them with the chicken juices and wine before replacing the chicken pieces.
8. Put back into the oven to heat through (10 minutes) then serve.

This recipe goes really well with fish too- trout in particular or cod as in the picture.
Cod with lentils

Second lentil recipe uses lentil flour to make crepes- which can be filled as for the buckwheat crepes or topped as blinis for a canape. Click here for the link:

Use the recipe to make blinis for canapes.

Finally, I've got a couple of couscous recipes for you. The first one uses this grain as a stuffing for vegetables and the second one takes the leftovers, binds them together with a little beaten egg , coats them in egg and breadcrumbs and deep fries them as arancini.