Saturday, 26 May 2012

Caramelised pear, pecan and cranberry upside-down cake

So, dear readers, as we breeze inexorably into the month of June and the blossom is in full swing on the trees and the hayfever is at full saturation point in the air and the hosepipes are at full prohibition point on the lawns, I bring you the most Christmassy, un-summery cake ever.

Would you believe me if I told you that the fresh cranberries used to top this cake have been in my fridge since November? Would you?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Smoked duck, goat cheese, pear and walnut salad with chocolate & vanilla balsamic

I think I may have been a salamander in a previous life, because I just love smoke.

Smoked anything. Anything, for me, is better if it's smoked. Buying bacon? I always go for smoked, even if a recipe specifically calls for unsmoked. Haddock? Smoke it, it makes it better. (Obviously by that I mean hang it up in a room over burning things to give it a unique aroma, rather than stick it in a pipe and inhale it). Smoked garlic has the most incredible rich scent, though I've always found that it mellows disappointingly if you cook it. If you've never tried smoked chicken, you don't know what you're missing. It's like eating barbecue chicken without having to actually barbecue it. Try it in this amazing smoked chicken and mango rice salad. When I don't want to splash out on smoked chicken, I go for mackerel instead. I love mackerel in all its forms, but particularly when it's scattered in firm, meaty flakes over a salad. Smoked trout is a lovely alternative, much more mild but still possessing the richness to accompany ingredients such as eggs or asparagus. 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Strawberry French toast with basil sugar

I was recently invited by Allinson (the bread and flour company) to take part in a recipe challenge. Harking back to founder Thomas Allinson, who in the nineteenth century encouraged healthy eating by prescribing the consumption of two salads a week, Allinson are encouraging consumers to grow their own herbs by offering them a Kitchen Herb Garden when they send off tokens from the Allinson bread range. The herb garden includes a box for growing the herbs, compost, and three packs of seeds - basil, parsley and chives. The challenge was to come up with a recipe featuring one or more of the herbs along with bread from the Allinson range, and to focus on healthy eating, in the spirit of the company's founder.

Like many pioneering geniuses, a lot of Allinson's ideas were regarded as a bit mad during his time. He outlandishly believed nearly all ailments could be cured by a good diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. Apparently this was regarded as 'rebellious' by his peers. Oh, how times have changed.

[If you like this recipe, please vote for me in the Allinson recipe challenge! The link is here on their Facebook page - all it needs is a click and I'd be eternally grateful!]

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Five things I love this week #5

1. Tracklements Caramelised Red Onion Relish. It's National Sandwich Week this week, and so Tracklements were kind enough to send me a selection of their top sandwich-enhancing products. I tried their take on two classics: first, a jar of proper thick, tasty mayonnaise, enhanced with Dijon mustard for a bit of a kick and a delicious creamy flavour; secondly, a lovely tomato ketchup made with ripe Italian tomatoes that had a much deeper flavour than your standard Heinz. I'd much rather use this than something mass-produced on such a large scale. It would be delicious in a classic bacon or sausage sandwich. There was also a delicious country garden chutney - so-called because the first batch was made from all the vegetables Tracklements could find in their garden - with lovely tangy chunks of onion, carrot, swede, parsnip and turnip, and an interesting kick from apricots, tamarind, apple, sultanas and mustard.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Daring Cooks: Boeuf Bourguignon

Our May 2012 Daring Cooks’ hostess was Fabi of fabsfood. Fabi challenged us to make Boeuf Bourguignon, a classic French stew originating from the Burgundy region of France.

This month's Daring Cooks challenge was fairly close to my heart, as a couple of weeks ago I spent my weekend in the picturesque town of Chablis, immersing myself in the Burgundy wine and food culture. Although not all the typical dishes of this region are enduring classics that I am going to enjoy trying to make for years to come - the pig colon sausage, andouillette, being something that I hope I never get within a fifty mile radius of ever again - there is a reason why boeuf bourguignon is one of the classic recipes of the region: it's bloody good.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Lamb, rhubarb and cardamom khoresh

This was almost a culinary disaster. 

Well, as close to a culinary disaster as I ever really get. I've never dropped anything on the floor rendering it totally ruined. I've never burnt anything. I've never accidentally smashed glass into a dessert (though my mother has). I've never curdled mayonnaise (largely because I've never tried to make it, but still), collapsed a souffle, made something involving gelatin that has failed to set or accidentally used salt instead of sugar.

I have, however: sliced off part of my finger on a mandolin; spent the night weeping in agony over chilli burns; hideously overcooked a beautiful joint of beef that I was planning to serve medium rare; attempted to make gnocchi and ended up with a sieve full of watery mashed potato; put contact lenses in too soon after handling chilli; added water to melted chocolate resulting in a grainy mess...

...and nearly made this stew into something totally, mouth-puckeringly inedible.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Venturing into viticulture: my weekend in Chablis

Avid readers of this blog may remember that back in March I was invited to take part in the Chablis blogger challenge, which involved suggesting dishes to pair with two bottles of Chablis I was sent in the post. (Yes, it's a hard life. If you're thinking of getting into food blogging, do consider it carefully - you never know when you might find yourself in the desperate and tragic situation of having to accept free wine). I came up with this four-course tasting menu, inspired by the Burgundy region of France and featuring dishes that I, lacking any knowledge whatsoever about wine and food matching, thought worked pretty well with the bottles I received.

Much to my delight, I won the challenge. My hard work eating cheese, curing salmon and making biscuits paid off, and I won a trip to the town of Chablis a couple of weekends ago, which included a place on the Balade Gourmande, a 12km walking tour around the vineyards of Chablis with stops to drink wine and eat a five-course lunch along the way. I'm sure I've put you off food blogging now, haven't I?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Vanilla and blood orange torta di riso

I don't like rice pudding. Not at all. And I'm not just talking about the weird gloopy stuff you buy in cans or pots, the kind that my boyfriend loves to devour after dinner topped with some tinned pineapple from the tin that I'm eating instead of his horribly ricey concoction. Even the proper homemade stuff. I didn't actually try it until a couple of years ago, when I made a recipe that - on paper - sounded delicious, full of milk and sugar and cardamom and cloves and cinnamon, topped with gorgeous juicy roasted plums. But I totally hated it. The reason? Not, perhaps, what you'd expect. I didn't find it too stodgy. I didn't hate the formation of a slight skin of milk over the top. It wasn't too gloopy for me, or texturally unpleasant.

No. The reason I hated it was simple: it was too similar to porridge.