Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Proud moments

As William and Kate emerged from St Mary's with their new baby, I was having a proud moment of my own. I was eating my first ever home-grown, perfect and totally organic cauliflower.

Fresh cauliflower
My cauliflower baby
I've tried growing veg before and it always starts well, in an (expensive) rush of enthusiasm, but ends in drought, neglect and a trip to the supermarket. So I was surprised and delighted to return from holiday and find several presents from the cauliflower fairy.

"No need to wash it" I thought, as it has led a pure life, so I blanched it and added it to the party on my plate (shepherd's pie and shrink-wrapped broccoli). It tasted fresh, with a pleasing crunch, but just as I was about to take my last mouthful I realised it had brought a plus one (or plus 2)... I quickly turned it over to hide the pests from my children and tried not to think about how many other camouflaged caterpillars I'd swallowed.

Cooked cauliflower floret with caterpillars on it
The hungry caterpillar and friend
The remaining cauliflowers will be carefully washed, blanched, and frozen for use in soups (where it won't matter if the freezing process has rendered them a bit soggy) such as my Cauliflower Cheese Soup.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Plenty more fish in the sea

What's your worst nightmare? Being trapped in a lift? Naked in public? Teeth falling out? Mine involved a fish shaped cookie cutter...

I had agreed to make 60 iced fish-shaped cookies for a children's party being organised by two ruthlessly efficient mothers - and lost the cookie cutter at the last possible moment. I put out a plea on Facebook, I sent texts to all my baking friends: no-one had a fish. But salvation comes in the strangest forms - in this case the just-opened 'Cake Kit' (sister shop of Kitchen Kit) in Fleet, who offered a choice of fish or dolphin.

Iced fish shape cookies on wire rack
Still looking for Nemo...

The recipe for the dough comes from Annabel Karmel. It's failsafe AND delicious, with a crisp texture and the buttery taste of shortbread. And it's not just for making fish either - roll it into a big fat sausage and cut into slices about half a centimetre thick for boring-but-fast round cookies.

Cookie dough

250g butter - at room temperature
140g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
300g plain flour
¼ teaspoon salt

Pre-heat oven to 180/gas 4. Put everything except the flour and salt into a bowl and beat well. Add the flour and salt, then mix again. Press the dough together firmly with your hands, then wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes. When you get it out, cut into 2 or 3 chunks, and work with one at a time (smaller volume = easier to handle), bringing all the scrappy bits together at the end. Using plenty of flour, roll it out, cut into shapes about half a centimetre thick and bake for 10-15 minutes until light golden brown. And don't have nightmares...

Fish shaped cookies on wire rack
Naked fish

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Peach fool

Have I told you before how lazy I am? It's a good thing for you, because it means every recipe I post is designed for maximum delight and minimum effort. Sometimes I'll cook my way through a long list of ingredients, but I have to be pretty certain the outcome will be worthwhile. So imagine how pleased with myself I was when I concocted this two-ingredient-pudding - a light and creamy, fresh and fruity peach fool.

peach fool in retro cocktail glass

I had the remains of a jar of Bonne Maman peach compote in the fridge (about a quarter of a jar) which I liquidised in a blender and then folded into about 200ml whipped cream. I spooned it into retro cocktail glasses, stuck it back into the fridge until needed and served with a couple of slices of nectarine.

This will work with any fruit puree, blended to the consistency of your choice.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Easy peasy lemon cheesy

This recipe came from a booklet entitled 'Princess Recipes'. "What ho" I thought, "Has the great food guru Pippa Middleton been exploiting her connections once again?" No, instead it was a pamphlet by Annabel Karmel, presumably designed to put boys off cooking for life, and containing some of her trademark easy-and-delicious-for-all-ages confections such as mini lemon no-bake cheesecakes.

My first introduction to cheesecake was the packet mix. Fun to make (as a child), vile to eat. Some years later, living in southern California, I encountered The Cheesecake Factory. Not actually a factory, but a restaurant chain where they serve very large portions of cheesecake - among other things. I went a few times before summoning up the courage to order it, and have never looked back. If you don't like cheesecake, just make the topping and serve it chilled, in glasses, with the blueberries.

I made these cheesecakes mini by using two 10cm springform tins (bought because they looked like toys and I fancied making a cutesy mini Victoria sponge). The recipe serves four and can also be used in individual ring moulds (if you're a pro) or ramekins - or scale it up, make double and pile it into a 20-ish-cm tin.

Lemon cheesecake garnished with bluberries
Sweet yet tart, smooth yet crunchy

Mini lemon no-bake cheesecakes

5 Digestive biscuits (70g)
50g butter
4 tablespoons Greek yogurt
150g lemon curd
1 teaspoon lemon juice
125ml double cream, whipped
a few raspberries or blueberries

Melt the butter. Put the biscuits in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin, then stir them into the butter. Press them firmly into the base of your chosen vessel, then place in the fridge to cool while you make the topping. Combine the yogurt, lemon curd and lemon juice in a bowl, fold in the whipped cream and spoon it on top of the biscuit base. Return it to the fridge to firm up for at least 30 minutes. Garnish with the fruit and sprinkle with icing sugar.