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Wednesday, 4 January 2012
In fact the picture shows a Pandoro as this year I rather overbought Italian sweet breads and having tried several of them during the holidays I had the Pandoro open and getting in my way.
I find some of the most delicious recipes are the ones that combine thrift with simplicity and this works on both counts.
It also gives me a chance to talk a little about the urge to diet once the last moments of the New Year's parties have faded.
When watching the film Notting Hill I felt a special twinge of sympathy with Julia Robert's character when she mentions she has been on a diet her entire adult life. How dreadful, I thought, to have to be judged so much for one looks and especially ones weight. We see all too often girls who develop worrying relationships with food due to their own lack of self esteem, but this does not mean we should not take care with what we eat.
In a time of unparallelled obesity I can see it makes perfect sense to think about a new approach to ones diet at the beginning of a New Year. We make resolutions about joining book clubs and visiting art galleries more so why not about what we're eating?
Many folk scoff at the idea of calorie controlled diets, indeed there has been a storm of young women on Twitter talking about how they laugh in the face of people talking of weight watching. Well fine if you are happy with your weight and have checked your BMI is roughly normal. But note I mentioned young women. Many of those tweeting have not yet had children and quite definitely have not reached menopause.
Just upping your exercise rate when having seconds of chocolate pudding won't work then.
And what of men who are less lean than ever before? There are many social factors that have caused this change. Few marry in their twenties, there is more disposable income, more good and not so good low to middle priced restaurants, low cost booze and much to my joy, many men now simply love cooking and eating and entertaining.
What was once a aptly name fat cat lifestyle of plenty has spread to the rest of us and if we don't choose to have a good new look at what we are eating and drinking we are just putting off the inevitable. The simple fact is that it is harder to loose weight than to put it on in just the same way as it is harder to pay off debt then to acquire it.
The books need balancing and for me New Year is quite the right time at least to have a good look at the figures.
A plan is always a good idea and treats essential. So eat more vegetables, put less fatty food on your plate, save chips and cocktails for very special occasions and most importantly never talk about any diet , that includes wheat free, Dukan or vegan, at the table.
Meanwhile enjoy this lovely dessert on these cold January days.
Panatonne Bread and Butter Pudding
About 500gms Panatonne or Pandoro cut into thick slices
4 large free rang eggs I love to use Clarence Court for their rich yellow yolks
500ml milk or milk and cream mixed
1-2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
If using Pandoro I add a handful of dried fruit
Arrange the slices of Panatonne in a baking dish, adding the fruit if used. I like to have the crusty points of the bread sticking up so they caramelise as the pudding cooks.
Whisk the milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla together and strain over the Panatonne. Allow the bread to soak up the custard for a couple of hours occasionally gently pushing the floating slices back into the liquid.
Once the bread is soaked through place the dish in a cold oven and turn the temperature to 140 C 300F gas mk 3.
Cook the pudding unlit golden and puffy about 20minutes from when the oven is hot.
I find that placing the dish in a cold oven helps the custard not to curdle. A bain marie works this way too.
Serve at once with extra cream or a dash of almond liqueur.
Thursday, 29 December 2011
I love shellfish. I was brought up in Norfolk in a house about 500yards down a steepish cliff path to the beach. Some of my earliest memories are of standing with my father and watching him hook crabs from under the many seaweed covered rocks that formed the glistening chain of rock pools along the cliff base.
He was scrupulous at measuring the crabs for legal size against a mark on the handle of his homemade crab hook and whilst my mother preferred the hen crabs I loved the larger claws on the cocks.
We would dig for cockles too and use our wooden shrimping nets to sweep the shore line at the tide’s turn for shrimps to boil in seawater and then painstakingly peel to make in the most wonderfully tasty warm shrimp sandwiches.
Those tiny pink and brown shrimps are a pest to peel, so I use the same rule my mother did all those years ago: you eat all you peel!
New Year's Eve is not a time for rules but for fun so I suggest you buy the biggest and best prawns you can find. Do check the provenance of your prawns and make sure they come from a good clean supply. You can talk to your fishmonger, those in supermarkets especially Waitrose are most helpful if you don’t have a local fishmonger or buy frozen raw prawns from a reputable source.
Raw prawns are usually but not always grey turning pink when cooked. As I like to cook my prawns shell on I don’t worry about deveining, but if you wish to there are many videos of “how to” on You Tube.
This easy dish is perfect for a casual supper served with lots of fresh bread and chilled fizzy wine.
Garlic chilli prawns
Allow about 300gms unpeeled raw prawns per person But how many is up to you and your budget!
Good olive oil I always use extra virgin
A slug of white wine
1 head of plump garlic cloves peeled and chopped
Either 2-3 red chillies chopped or a couple of good pinches dried chilli flakes
A big nob of butter
A handful of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
This dish takes about 5 minutes star to finish so get everything else ready heat the bread and pour the wine.
Heat a large pan over a moderate flame for about 5 minutes. Now pour in the oil and add the prawns almost at once, pour in the wine and cook over a highish heat turning often until they change colour and become pink. Most of the liquid will have evaporated
Now add the garlic, chill and butter and cook stirring often for 2-3 minutes.
Toss in the parsley and scrape the contents of the pan into a warmed serving dish.
Serve at once with plenty of paper napkins.
Sunday, 11 December 2011
Easy to make and everyones favourite nibble at parties cheese straws are robust enough to stand up to the most highly spiced mulled wine
The secret to a great cheese straw is to use masses of really tasty cheese. You can spread the pastry with mustard before scattering on the cheese if you fancy the idea, or even some fairly smooth chutney.
I’ve given a recipe for pastry here but if you can buy a good ready made one fee free to use it, after all it’s Christmas!
340g 12oz grated extra mature cheddar cheese
225g 8oz cold butter
350g 12oz plain flour
2 egg yolks
Rub the butter into the flour and salt, and then add the egg yolk, 2oz cheese and enough cold water 2-3 tablespoons to form a stiff dough. Chill for 30 minutes.
Form the dough into an oblong and roll out very thinly onto a board.
Sprinkle some cheese over two thirds of the dough, bring the un-sprinkled part over half the sprinkled part in such a way as to trap air then bring the remaining two third over to make three layers. Press the open edges together lightly. Turn with the folds to the left hand side.
Roll out again into an oblong and repeat the sprinkling of the cheese and folding of the dough. Roll out to ½ inch 10mm thick and trim the edges. Cut into strips 2 inches long and then into wafers ½ inch 10mm wide. Place on a baking sheet, chill for 20 minutes. Brush the straws with a little beaten egg and sprinkle on some extra cheese, poppy seeds or some cumin seeds.
Pre –heat the oven to 220C 425F gas 7 and bake for 8-10 minutes or until a good golden brown.
Monday, 5 December 2011
Christmas Planner - Week OneAt this stage you need to be making lists, gathering recipes and placing orders. Here are some points to start with.• Make a comprehensive list of who has been invited and for how many meals.• Order the turkey• Order a ham• Make Christmas pudding and steam for 8 hours• Make or buy your un-iced Christmas cake, pour over a few tablespoons of brandy each week.• Buy crackers, candles and napkins for Christmas table• Stock up on soft drinks, long life juice and Squash• Re-arrange freezer to allow room for Christmas supplies• Buy and freeze chiabatta loaves for use as pizza bases, crostini etc.• Buy chicken winglets and make some concentrated chicken stock as a base for the turkey gravy. Store in freezer• Check cupboard for dry goods, tins, spices, mincemeat, etc.• Make and freeze batches of pastry for mince pies• Make cranberry relish and store in fridge/freezer• Make cheese straws and shortbread, store in air-tight tin.• Order extra cream and milk for 24th December• Make extra ice cubes and store in plastic bags in freezer• Check recipes and make a list of ingredients needed
Christmas Planner Week Two
Check wine rack and order wine, sprits and after dinner drinksBuy mixers, soft drinks, mineral water and long life juiceBuy long life milk for emergenciesOrder cheese, one or two large pieces of cheese will look better than a collection of small slices. Try an alternative to Stilton such as Been Leigh or Cashal, both blue cheeses, this year and have beautiful mature farmhouse cheddar such as Montgomery or Quickes as the second cheese.Buy cheese biscuits and nuts. Store fresh chestnuts in the refrigeratorCount china and cutlery borrowing or buying extra as needed.Make sure you have a roasting pan and serving platter large enough for the turkey or goose.
During the course of this week you should aim to:• Cover the cake with almond paste then white icing store in an airtight tin.• Make brandy butter and store in fridge or freeze• Draw up a table plans and check for any dietary problems• Count cutlery and china to check quantities, wash any little used dishes, clean silver, rinse and polish glasses.• Buy cheese biscuits, coffee beans, tea• Make a list and order as necessary all fruit and vegetables remembering onions, fresh herbs, lemons and salad ingredients.• Make an oven-ready dish for Boxing Day, e.g.: lasagne, fish pie, root vegetable gratin etc., cover, label and store in freezer.• Buy tomatoes and store in a bowl in a cool room• Check Christmas wine, beer, sprits and mixers• Buy supply of bottle water• Buy large size foil, cling film and greaseproof paper• Stock freezer with croissants or home made muffins for breakfasts• Buy extra butter, soft margarine and cooking oil• Order bacon, sausage meat and sausages from butcher
Christmas planner - Week Three
Buy fruit and vegetables making sprouts your last purchase. These really do taste better if cooked as soon after picking as possible so these really should be a Christmas Eve purchase.Ice cake and decorateMake more mince pies and this time store out of reach of marauding familyBuy fresh dairy products cream, milk, butter and cheeseBuy fresh orange juiceBuy Panatonne for Christmas breakfast, excellent with ham!Make trifle, ice cream or other alternative pudding
Play carols loudly on family stereo
Christmas EveCollect Turkey and ham from butchersGlaze ham, leave in cold place overnightMake stuffings and store in fridgeMake bacon rolls arrange on baking sheet, place in fridgeMake stock from Turkey gibletsPeel potatoes, carrots and parsnips and place in bowl of cold water over night.Peel sprouts and place in polythene bag in fridge overnightArrange sausages on oven roasting dish, place in fridge
Thursday, 1 December 2011
I first tasted Panforte in Sienna when, having finished teaching a class at a cookery school set in the hills above Orvieto I spent a couple of days being a tourist before coming home. I love Sienna maybe even more than Florence as, especially twenty years ago, it was less packed with visitors and cheap pizza dives.
I love the irony that we all exhibit when abroad, It’s fine for us to be there but we look with absolute disdain at other tourists, never considering we are of their number!
So it was in a back street in Sienna that I found an ancient sweetmeat shop selling all manner of things I had no knowledge of. The Panforte was wrapped in beautifully illustrated paper and tied with a thin gold ribbon. I bought some on impulse, having no idea what I was buying.
About a couple of months later I found my Panforte in the back of a cupboard and opened and ate it. It was quite simply unlike anything I’d tried before. At first I was unsure but when I found that all that was left was the wrapper I knew then I would be adding to my list of must have goodies along with Turron and nougat.
Made with candied peel, almonds, cocoa and honey, Panforte dates from around the fourteenth century, when the spice trade was in full flourish and spices were shipped overland often entering Italy through Venice.
The spicing is unusual as peppercorns and coriander feature along with the more usual sweet spices of clove and nutmeg.
Traditionally made in December it symbolised a prosperous and sweet New Year. Serve cut into small pieces, it is very sweet!
Panforte Di Siena
360 gm 12 oz whole unskinned almonds
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoons coriander seeds
6 black pepper corns
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
! heaped tablespoon cocoa powder
245gm 8oz caster sugar
120gm 4oz clear honey
450gm 1lb whole preserved candied fruit, chopped
30gm 1 oz plain flour
I tablespoon icing sugar
1 tablespoon corn flour
Rice paper ( available from specialist cake shops)
Preheat the oven to 180’C/350F/Gas 4 and roast the almonds and walnuts until golden.
Line the base of a 20cm 8” spring form tin with rice paper.
Either grind all the spices plus the walnuts in a coffee grinder or pound the cinnamon stick, walnuts, coriander seeds, cloves and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Stir in the nutmeg and cocoa powder.
Heat the caster sugar and honey in a saucepan, stirring continuously until the mixture comes to a gentle rolling boil.
Continue to stir for half a minute, remove and stir in the almonds, fruit, walnut and cocoa mixture and sifted flour.
Pack the mixture in a round baking tray. It is very hot and stiff at this stage, but work as quickly as you can, flattening it down into the tin with the back of a spoon. Cut more rice paper to fit and cover the top of the Panforte.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Once the Panforte has cooled, take it from the tin. You will need to do this whilst it is still warm. Run a palette knife around the edge of the tin the open it. Lift the Panforte from the base and using your hands press and mould any loose bits back into shape. Once cold dust with a mixture of icing sugar and corn flour.
Panforte keeps for months wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in an airtight tin.
The lovely picture above was taken by the very talented Diana Miller
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
These misty days just scream for bright food and things don’t get much brighter than pumpkin. Ravioli was also what my stomach demanded and rather than pop to Farringdon Road and buy my pasta fix from Gazzano’s I though I’d make my own.
It all very simple and like any craft rather soothing, but with moments of frustration. I learned fresh pasta making during my stays in in Italy and love it texture and silkiness. I also learnt most definitely that dried pasta was often the pasta of choice and that you never, never put oil in the pasta water to cook it.
Many of my most humiliating food moments have been when in Italy: asking for cappuccino after 11 am, hanging onto your red wine when you have asked for dessert, wanted Parmesan on seafood risotto…….. My cheeks have stung often with the scorn of the waiter as I make yet another Faux Pas!
But I have learned and now only drink macchiato after 11am and finish my wine before ordering dessert. I do occasionally add Parmesan to crab risotto but only in the privacy of my own home and then only when the curtains are drawn!
So to the pasta: I make mine in a food processor though any freestanding mixer works well and I would use a dough hook in preference, or naturally you can knead the dough by hand.
I use the usual ration of eggs to flour: 100gms pasta flour to 1 medium egg just adding a couple of pinches of salt. If my egg is a bit on the large side I add flour a sprinkle at a time. It’s worth spending time getting the texture right so the pasta rolls evenly. It should be malleable but not stick to the heel of your hand when push away from you.
To make the filling I roasted a butternut squash with olive oil and a few cloves of garlic until it was soft. I then peeled the squash and whizzed it in a processor with plenty of freshly ground pepper and lots of fresh Parmesan. Nutmeg or cinnamon would work and many add amoretti biscuit crumbs but I find that makes the finished dish too sweet.
As the sage in my garden was way past it’s best I used a sauce of warm extra virgin oil with chopped pecans, fresh thyme leave and some lemon zest.
300gm pasta flour
3 medium eggs
2 pinches salt
I medium butternut squash
4 plump cloves garlic
90gm finely grated Parmesan
freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
fresh thyme leaves
30gms pecan or walnuts finely chopped
a little finely grated lemon zest
Make the pasta by mixing the flour and salt with the eggs, kneading until you have a smooth firm dough.
Allow it to rest under an up turned bowl for 30 minutes
Cut the squash into pieces and place in a dish in the oven with the garlic and a little oil roasting until soft.
Peel off the skin and peel the garlic cloves. Whiz the flesh with the cheese and season well.
I lay the made ravioli on trays dusted with polenta to stop them sticking.
Bring a big pan of water to the boil add a couple of tablespoons of salt to it and when you’re ready drop in the ravioli. They will need about 3 minutes rapid boiling though the degree of “al dente” is personal!
While the pasta cooks warm the oil, nuts and herbs together and when the pasta is drained toss the ravioli in this sauce.
Serve at once.