January 2009


baked-pears-with-fudge-sauce-on-blue-plate

Ok, so you’ve been good all month. You’ve eaten healthily… most of the time. You’ve kept to all your new year resolutions (well, you have, haven’t you?). So you certainly deserve a little treat.

This is a slightly elaborate dessert of pears stuffed with dried fruit and nuts, bathed in a sweet spice-infused honey and citrus sauce, dolloped with hot chocolate fudge sauce. What’s more, the heart-shaped fruit is perfect to feed your loved one on Valentine’s Day. Tempted?

So how does this healthy but indulgent treat fit into the concept of ‘global veggie’? Well, it’s loosely inspired by the poached pear desserts of Italy (I also make those), the stuffed baked apple puddings of England (I spent my childhood making those), and the classic Pears Belle Helene of French cuisine. But to be honest, I never need an excuse to whip up a sweet treat.

Ideal for dinner parties, these pears can be served with the sauces on their own, or accompanied by double cream, mascarpone, or vanilla ice cream for an extra flourish of extravagance. Serves 6.

For the pears:
6 ripe but firm, unblemished pears (any variety)
2 oz/ 50g hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
2 oz/ 50g almonds, toasted and finely chopped
2 dried ready-to-eat apricots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon apricot jam
Amaretto liqueur, to taste

A little softened butter, for greasing

For the honey and citrus sauce:
5 oz/ 125g aromatic honey (such as orange blossom)
3 fl oz/ 100 ml orange juice
Juice of 1 lemon
3 fl oz/ water
2 cloves
1-inch piece cinnamon

For the hot fudge sauce:
3 oz/ 75g unsalted butter
1 oz/ 25g good-quality cocoa powder
1 oz/ 25g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated
6 oz/ 150g white or light golden brown sugar
3 fl oz/ 85 ml evaporated milk
Small pinch of salt
A few drops vanilla essence

Edible flowers for garnish (optional)

1.    First, prepare the pears. Peel them, but leave the stems intact. Using a corer, carefully remove the cores from the bottom end of the pears.
2.    Mix together the nuts, apricots, jam and liqueur. Stuff the mixture into the pears, packing in firmly.
3.    Grease a baking dish that’s just large enough to hold the pears. Arrange the pears so that they are closely huddled together, stem side up.
4.    Heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4.
5.    Combine all the ingredients for the honey and citrus sauce in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil.
6.    Pour the honey and citrus sauce over the pears. Cover the dish with a lid or a piece of aluminium foil, and bake in the pre-heated oven for approximately 40 to 50 minutes. The pears should be tender, but not falling apart. Take the baking dish out of the oven every 15 minutes or so, and baste the pears with the sauce.
7.    Meanwhile, make the hot fudge sauce. Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan, add the cocoa powder, and whisk until smooth.
8.    Stir in the chocolate, sugar, and evaporated milk. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously so that it doesn’t stick. Remove from the heat immediately.
9.    Add a pinch of salt and a few drops of vanilla essence, and mix well. Cool a little.
10.    Place the pears in individual serving dishes along with any remaining honey and citrus sauce, and pour the hot fudge sauce over each pear. Garnish with edible flowers, if you like.

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citrus-spiked-chinese-noodle-salad

As it’s the Chinese New Year – the year of the Ox – I wanted to share a recipe for Chinese noodles. Uncut and unbroken noodles are eaten during the New Year in China as they symbolise longevity. Here they are coated in a spicy lemon and orange sauce and served at room temperature. Leftovers are excellent for lunchboxes, or eaten straight from the fridge.

If you can’t find Chinese sesame paste in Asian grocers, use tahini, peanut butter, or 1 teaspoon pan-roasted sesame seeds, crushed and blended with 1 tablespoon cold water. Cider vinegar can be substituted for the rice wine vinegar; and the chilli oil should not be the sort of chilli-infused olive oil found in supermarkets. Sichuan peppercorns have a distinctive, subtly hot, spiky flavour and fragrance – but if you dislike their grainy texture, use ordinary black pepper.

The addition of oranges and lemons to the aromatic sauce will brighten up the greyest of winter days. Serves 2 as light meal, or 4 as appetiser/ side dish/ snack.

For the sauce:
Finely grated zest of 1 medium organic orange
Finely grated zest of 1 organic unwaxed lemon
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon groundnut (peanut) oil
1 heaped tablespoon Chinese sesame paste
4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon Chinese white rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Chinese dark soy sauce
¼ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, finely crushed
1 tablespoon Chinese chilli oil
½ teaspoon red chilli flakes
A pinch of sugar, to taste
Salt to taste

For the noodles:
9 oz/ 225g dried egg noodles, OR 1 lb/ 500g fresh egg noodles
1 tablespoon dark toasted sesame oil

Fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves for garnish

1.    To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Set aside, or chill until ready to use.
2.    Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain and plunge in cold water to prevent further cooking. Drain again, and toss in sesame oil. Set aside until ready to use.
3.    Just before serving, toss the noodles with the spicy citrus sauce. Garnish with coriander leaves Serve at room temperature (or chilled).

stack-of-breakfast-pancakes

This recipe isn’t traditionally Swiss – but the original, rather plain and straightforward version (simply comprising Swiss muesli, eggs and milk) was given to me by a Swiss chef in Switzerland. Hence ‘Swiss inspired’. I have adapted it quite a bit, adding fresh and dried fruit. I have suggested apricots and figs to keep with the ‘Swiss muesli breakfast’ theme, but use any dried fruit of your choice.

The batter for these pancakes should be fairly thick, but add a splash or two of more milk if you think it needs it. The pancakes are similar in concept to drop scones. They are ideal for a leisurely weekend breakfast, especially when you have guests staying over. Serve with fresh fruit or fruit compote, honey, or thick creamy yoghurt. Makes around 24 small pancakes/ serves 6.

2 oz/ 50g medium oatflakes
1 large egg, beaten
5 fl oz/ 150 ml milk
Small pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped
2 ready-to-eat dried figs, chopped
2 tablespoons sultanas or raisins
1 tablespoon chopped mixed nuts
1 small apple, cored and coarsely grated
1 small baby carrot, trimmed, peeled and coarsely grated
Small pinch of cinnamon powder

Mixture of unsalted butter and light, unflavoured oil for frying

Icing sugar for dusting

1.    Combine well all the ingredients for the pancakes in a bowl. Leave the mixture to rest for 30 to 60 minutes, so that the oatflakes have a chance to plump up.
2.    Heat a mixture of butter and oil in a non-stick frying pan, a little at a time. Turn the heat to very low. Drop in the pancake batter by tablespoonful, two or three at a time. Flatten the pancakes into circular shapes with the back of a spoon. Cook gently for approximately 3 minutes until the edges begin to set. Flip over and cook the other side until lightly browned. Repeat the process until the mixture is used up, working as quickly as you can (use another frying pan if necessary).
3.    While you are making the pancakes, place the cooked ones on a warmed plate, and wrap them in a clean tea towel so that they don’t go cold.
4.    Dust the pancakes with icing sugar. Serve as warm as possible.

stir-frying-broccoli-and-tofu

I realised with some alarm that I hadn’t yet done a broccoli dish on this site. This is most unusual, as my passion for broccoli borders on obsession. This pretty emerald-coloured vegetable is the ‘default’ item that I put in my shopping basket whenever I haven’t worked out my menu plan, because I know that I’ll always find a use for it. If I don’t eat broccoli at least once or twice a week, I’ll start having serious cravings for it. I cook the vegetable in many different ways – but because I cook it so frequently, I’m always on the lookout for new broccoli recipes, so if you know any good ones, do let me know!

This authentic Chinese recipe is one of my favourite ways of cooking broccoli. It’s based on two cooking techniques commonly used in Chinese cookery: stir-frying and braising. I adore tofu, too – especially its texture – and in this recipe, it absorbs the sauce, giving it a lot of flavour.

Use light soy sauce for a lighter colour, as the addition of dark soy sauce will give it a darker colour and denser flavour. Using preserved black soy beans will give the dish an earthy depth; but go easy on the quantity, otherwise the dish will taste ‘muddy’. (About 7 times out of 10 when making this dish, I omit the black beans).

Use any sort of broccoli you like – Chinese (gai lan), ordinary, or tenderstem – but not purple sprouting, as its taste and texture is too coarse for this dish. I have tried numerous variations over the years – mixing the broccoli with cauliflower, pak choi or cashew nuts, for instance – but I always come back to this basic combination. I have to admit that I’m a little precious about this recipe – which is why my cooking instructions are more than usually detailed.

As it is so delicious, I cook this dish frequently. I like eating it with plain, steamed white basmati rice. I know Chinese short-grain rice would be more authentic, but I like the way the intense earthy savouriness of the dish plays off with basmati’s floral, exotic perfume. Serves 4.

For the sauce:
3 teaspoons cornflour (cornstarch)
12 fl oz/ 350 ml mild vegetable stock made with instant stock powder
2 tablespoons Chinese shaohsing wine (rice cooking wine), or dry sherry
2 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon preserved Chinese black soy beans, rinsed and chopped (optional)

For the broccoli and tofu:
9oz/ 225g broccoli
9oz/ 225g plain firm or silken tofu (both will give a different texture)
4 tablespoons groundnut (peanut) or corn oil
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 or 2 fresh red birdseye chillies, sliced (optional)
6 spring onions, trimmed and sliced widely on the diagonal
Salt

1.    Start by making the sauce. In a bowl, place the cornflour and gradually add 4 fl oz/ 125 ml of the vegetable stock (leave the rest for the braising that’s required later in the cooking process). Mix well, making sure there are no lumps. Add the wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, and black beans if using. Combine thoroughly and set aside. (Incidentally, this basic sauce is wonderful for any vegetable stir-fries).
2.    Cut the broccoli flowerets in medium pieces. Peel the stalks, and chop them in similar-sized pieces to the flowerets.
3.    Drain the tofu on several layers of kitchen paper, then cut into cubes, long slices, or triangles.
4.    Heat a wok on medium heat. When it’s hot but not smoking, lower the heat and add the oil. Then add the ginger, garlic, and chillies (if using), and let them sizzle for a few seconds. They should not become brown or burn.
5.    Add the spring onions and broccoli, and stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Add the remaining 8 fl oz/ 225 ml stock and salt, and bring to the boil. (Go easy on the salt – because the vegetable stock and soy sauce are already salty, you won’t need much – if at all). Lower the heat, and simmer with the lid on for a couple of minutes until the broccoli is tender but still al dente. Do not overcook – the broccoli should preserve its vibrant green colour.
6.     Remove the broccoli from the wok with a slotted spoon and set aside. (Some of the spring onions clinging to the broccoli will come out, too – this is okay!).
7.    Turn the heat to very, very low, and add the tofu pieces to the remaining liquid. (If you’re using silken tofu, handle it gently as this is the point where it’s likely to break up).
8.    Once the tofu is heated through, give the cornflour-based sauce a stir and pour it in. Mix very gently. Cook until the sauce begins to thicken and reduce in quantity.
9.    Add the cooked broccoli back to the wok. Once again, mix gently and thoroughly, so that the broccoli and tofu are coated with the sauce.
10.    Once the sauce has thickened, remove the wok from the heat. Serve immediately.

sweet-potatococonutpistachio-cake

I have a friend who maintains that drinking is good for him – because he only drinks organic wines and beers. I feel similar way about this recipe – it’s packed with vegetables and nuts, so surely it must be good for you… even if you are detoxing?

Traditional Caribbean cakes are scented rather heavily with sweet spices and essences. While they are delicious – especially with a cup of coffee made from freshly ground Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans – I have reduced the amount of spices that would normally be used in this cake, and have made the essences optional. This suits my own personal tastes but you can, of course, be more liberal with them if you wish.

For the best flavour and an appealingly moist texture, use freshly grated coconut. However, if it isn’t readily available or is too much of a hassle to prepare, desiccated coconut (sweetened or unsweetened) will still be delicious. You may reconstitute it in hot water, if you wish – though this is not strictly necessary for this recipe. If you use dried desiccated coconut, the cake will keep longer than it would if you were to use fresh or reconstituted coconut.

Use any kind of nuts you like – cashews, almonds and walnuts are all traditional, and I often ring changes by using different varieties in this recipe. If using pistachios or almonds, you may want to dip them in boiling water for a minute or so and remove their coarse skins – but again, this is not strictly necessary.

This is an old-fashioned cake recipe that’s quite forgiving – you can put as much or as little effort into it as you like, and the end result should still be finger lickin’ good. The only thing you have to remember is not to be heavy-handed in mixing the cake mixture, and not to over-cook the cake. Serves around 6.

9 oz/ 225g orange-fleshed sweet potatoes
Juice and finely grated zest of ½ lemon
4 oz/ 100g fresh grated or desiccated coconut
3 oz/ 75g sultanas
3 medium eggs
4 oz/ 100g white or pale brown caster sugar
6 oz/ 150g unsalted butter, softened
9 oz/ 225g wholemeal flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
¼ teaspoon allspice berries, freshly ground
A couple of drops natural almond or vanilla extract (optional)
2 oz/ 50g unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts, chopped

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ 350F/ gas mark 4. Grease a deep, 8-inch round cake tin, and line the base and all the sides with lightly buttered greaseproof paper.
2. Just when you’re ready to bake, peel and grate the sweet potatoes (not too far ahead in advance, otherwise they’ll start turning grey-black). Combine them with lemon juice and zest, coconut, and sultanas.
3. Beat the eggs, and whisk in the sugar and butter. Add to the sweet potato and coconut mixture, and mix well.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and all the spices, and fold them into the cake mixture. Add the almond or vanilla extract, if using, and the chopped pistachios.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for 1¼ to 1½ hours. Pierce a skewer or knife into the centre of the cake to make sure it comes out clean. If not, place the cake back into the oven until done, taking care not to overcook.
6. Leave the cake in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack to cool before serving warm or at room temperature.

lentil-and-root-veg-stew-with-topping2

This recipe isn’t authentically Middle Eastern – but it’s authentically credit crunch-friendly. And, let’s face it, we could all do with a few of those right now!

Normally, when I go out for food shopping, I automatically reach for green leaves and brassicas (which I simply can’t get enough of), or buy glamorous veggies like aubergines, artichokes, asparagus or wild mushrooms. So my rather idiosyncratic new year resolution is to try and incorporate more root vegetables in my diet. After all, they are tasty, healthy, filling, and economical.

The tempering technique used here is found in Middle Eastern as well as Asian cuisines. So if you want this stew to have, say, Indian flavour, omit the thyme and parsley, and replace them with fresh coriander leaves (cilantro). Then cook in water rather than vegetable stock, and add a little red chilli powder and garam masala to the onion-garlic mixture. Again, not totally authentic, but delicious nonetheless.

In fact, that’s what I like about this recipe – that you can change its identity completely by changing the flavour profile. Which just goes to show how connected cuisines from different parts of the world are, and how historically they have influenced each other.

Eat the stew with warm pita bread, and some green salad if you like. Serves 3 to 4.

1.5 lb/ 750g mixed root vegetables: choose any combination of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, swedes (rutabaga), kohlrabi, and celeriac (celery root)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 sticks celery, peeled and sliced
150g/ 6 oz dried split red lentils, rinsed and drained
1.5 pints/ 750 ml vegetable stock (instant is fine)
2 dried bay leaves
8 oz/ 200g tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned ones are fine)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
Salt and pepper
Juice of half a lemon

For the tempering:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 level tablespoon ground cumin
1 level tablespoon ground coriander

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Lemon wedges, to serve

1. Trim, peel and dice the vegetables in even-sized pieces, so that they all cook together consistently. (You can boil the discarded peel and trimmings with water to make vegetable stock – or not, as you prefer).
2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and cook the onions until they are slightly golden. Add the garlic and celery, and sauté for a few minutes, taking care not to burn.
3. Add the prepared vegetables and lentils, and sauté for a further 5 minutes.
4. Add the stock, bay leaves, tomatoes, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the lentils cooked.
5. Meanwhile, for the tempering, heat the oil in a small frying pan on medium heat. Add the sliced onion and fry for 5 – 10 minutes until it’s golden brown.
6. Add the garlic until it’s tinged with light brown colour. Add the spices, and let them sizzle for a few seconds until they are cooked and they perfume your kitchen. Remove from the heat immediately and set aside.
7. Add the seasoning and lemon juice to the stew, and mix well. Then pour in the spice tempering (or, alternatively, the tempering could be poured onto individual servings). Garnish the stew with chopped parsley, and serve with lemon wedges.

potato-croquettes-in-a-pan

This is comfort food, plain and simple. And anyway, when is the last time you made croquettes? Potato croquettes are found all over Italy (and other parts of Europe), but the addition of chilli flakes is a typical Sicilian touch. These flavourful specimens are a fry cry from the bland, greasy abominations that go in the name of ‘vegetarian croquettes’ in supermarket chiller cabinets.

Don’t use your best extra virgin olive oil for this recipe – use a combination of light olive oil (which is more suitable for frying) and a mild vegetable oil, such as sunflower. Use a good quality potato variety with floury (rather than waxy) texture.

Serve with salad for a simple lunch or supper; or with plain steamed spinach, buttered sweetcorn, and grilled tomatoes for a more substantial dinner. Makes 8 croquettes/ serves 2 (for main meal) to 4 (as appetiser).

1 lb/ 500g large potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 oz/ 100g parmesan, pecorino, or locatelli cheese, grated
1 oz/ 25g mozzarella cheese, grated
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g plain white flour or semolina
5 oz/ 125g fresh or dried unflavoured breadcrumbs
Mixture of olive oil and sunflower oil for frying

1.    Boil or steam the potatoes until very tender. Drain in a colander, and cool a little.
2.    Mash the potatoes until they are creamy, making sure that there are no lumps. Cool thoroughly.
3.    Beat one egg and add it to the mashed potato, along with parsley, garlic, the cheeses, chilli flakes, nutmeg and seasoning. Mix thoroughly with lightly greased palms, and divide the mixture into 8 pieces. Roll the mixture into cylindrical croquette shapes.
4.    Sift the flour onto a large plate. Roll the croquettes in the flour so that each side is coated evenly.
5.    Beat the second egg and pour it into another plate. In a third plate, spread the breadcrumbs. Lightly roll each flour-coated croquette in turn in the beaten egg, and then in the breadcrumbs.
6.    Pour the oils in a frying pan so that they cover about ¼ inch of the base. Heat on medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Fry the croquettes in batches of 2 or 3, turning them from time to time so that they are evenly browned on all sides.
7.    Drain on kitchen paper. Serve hot.

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