Friday, 30 July 2010

Courgette Cake with Lime Curd filling

Following on from my previous post, if you've managed not to eat all of the lime curd straight from the jar with a spoon then this is the cake to go with it. As I suggested, this really is one of the best layered sponge cakes I've come across and I don't know why it's been so long since I first made it some years ago. Don't let the courgettes put you off - they do a similar job to the carrots in a carrot cake by adding moisture. On it's own this is actually a fairly plain tasting cake, however it has a wonderful texture and, when combined with the lime curd filling and cream cheese icing, turns into something pretty amazing. This truly is a five star recipe.

Courgette Cake
(adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson)

60g/2oz raisins (optional)
250g courgettes (2-3), weighed before grating
2 large eggs
125ml vegetable oil
150g/5 1/2oz caster sugar
225g/8oz self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking power

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Grease and line two 8inch/21cm sandwich tins.

2) If you're using raisins, put them in a bowl and cover with warm water to plump them up.

3) Wipe the courgettes with a kitchen towel (but don't peel them) then grate using the coarse side of a box grater or similar. Turn them into a sieve over the sink to remove excess water.

4) Put the eggs, oil and sugar into a bowl and beat until creamy. Add the flour, bicarb and baking powder and continue to beat until well combined. Stir in the courgette and drained raisins.

5) Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 30 minutes until slightly browned and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack.

For the filling
200g cream cheese
100g icing sugar, sieved
juice of 1 lime, or more to taste
2-3 tablespoons chopped pistachio nuts

1) Beat the cream cheese until smooth.

2) Add the icing sugar, beating well to combine, then stir in the lime juice to taste.

3) Assemble the cake. Put one cake on a serving plate and spread thickly with lime curd. Put the second cake on top and spread with the cream cheese icing. If you feel the icing needs firming up a little put the cake in the fridge for a while. Just before serving, scatter the chopped pistachios over the top.

Serves 8 - 12

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Lime Curd

This post is the precurser to my next one as this is the filling for a most excellent cake. If you think that making your own lime or lemon curd is a task reserved only for the most dedicated cook then please think again. This recipe could not be simpler and produces something that can only be described as divine.

It helps if, like me, you love limes. I adore the smell of limes and in this recipe they add the most delicious fragrance and the perfect sharpness against the background of butter, sugar and eggs. If you make anything this year then please make this!

Lime Curd
(adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson)

75g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
75g caster sugar
125ml lime juice (of approximately 4 limes)
zest of 1 lime
1 x 350ml jar (sterilised by washing thoroughly and drying out in an oven heated to 140c)

1) Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan

2) Add all of the other ingredients and whisk to a custard over a gentle heat (this took me 10-15 minutes. Bear in mind that it will thicken further as it cools)

3) Let it cool before filling a jar (or a cake) with it. Keep in the fridge.

See - easy as pie!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Pomegranate Marinated Chicken with Saffron Couscous, Grilled Aubergines & Pomegranate Vinaigrette

This was a surprise hit. Not that I didn't think it would be nice but before I made it I couldn't really imagine what it would taste like. This was because the recipe calls for Pomegranate Molasses - something I've never used before. I'm pleased I tried it though - it gave a lovely, fruity, sweet/savoury flavour and I'd highly recommend it. The soft aubergines made for a lovely side dish and the vinaigrette added further depth and flavour to the whole dish.

I've also since made the marinated chicken on it's own and served it with a roasted vegetable couscous (you can find the recipe I used here) - a simpler dish but still extremely nice.

Pomegranate Marinated Chicken with Saffron Couscous, Grilled Aubergines & Pomegranate Vinaigrette

(adapted from Books for Cooks volume 5, various authors)

8 organic chicken thighs, boned
6 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 pinch ground allspice
1 aubergine (eggplant) sliced
3-4 tbsp olive oil

125ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup pomegranate molasses
juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sugar
125ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup olive oil
salt, black pepper

a pinch of saffron threads
500g/1lb/2 cups couscous
350ml/12 fl oz/1 1/2 cups hot chicken stock
30g/1oz/2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint

1) Put the chicken, pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, garlic and allspice in a bowl and mix well to coat each piece of chicken evenly with the syrup and spices. Cover and let marinade at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 6 hours in the fridge.

2) Mix the ingredients for the vinaigrette together in a bowl or in a jam jar with a lid.

3) Place the couscous and saffron in a large bowl and pour over the hot stock. Cover with a plate or cling film and leave for 10 minutes then use a fork to break it up. When ready to serve, melt the butter in a frying pan over a low heat, add the couscous and heat through gently, fluffing the grains with a fork. Add salt to taste and stir in the herbs just before serving.

4) Brush the aubergine on both sides with olive oil. Grill on a barbeque, on a ridged cast-iron grill pan or under an overhead grill until tender and lightly charred on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Place the aubergine slices in a bowl and gently toss with all but about 4 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5) Take the chicken out of its marinade and grill on a barbeque, on a ridged cast-iron grill pan or under an overhead grill. Start cooking on the skin side and grill until nicely crisp, about 7 minutes (I used skinless thighs which worked just as well). Then turn over and continue until cooked through with no trace of pink. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

6) Arrange the couscous on a large platter, pile the chicken in the middle, surround with the aubergine slices and drizzle over the rest of the vinaigrette. Add a sprinkling of fresh parsley, coriander or mint if you like. Serve at once.

Serves 4

Monday, 12 July 2010

Baked Spaghetti with Aubergines

This is a nice recipe if you fancy something different to your usual tomato pasta sauce. The aubergine adds an almost meaty texture and the chilli flakes provide their usual background warmth. This recipe comes from another of the Books for Cooks compilations, volume 6 this time, and is a dish I've made many times. This time, however, I used a different ratio of tomato and aubergine as I'd been left with just half an aubergine from another recipe (details of that to follow) and couldn't be bothered to deal with half a tin of tomatoes (I was making a half portion to serve two). I have to say I think I actually preferred this combination as I liked the extra tomatoey flavour.

The recipe below is the original, undoctored version.

Baked Spaghetti with Aubergines
(adapted from Books for Cooks volume 6, various authors)

5 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
400g tin Italian plum tomatoes, chopped (I just use a regular tin of chopped tomatoes)
2 medium aubergines (eggplants), diced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
dried chilli flakes
500g/1 lb Italian spaghetti
4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1) Warm the oil in a wide pan (with lid) over a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

2) Stir in the tomatoes, aubergines and oregano. Adjust the heat to low, cover and leave to stew slowly, stirring occasionally, until thick and meltingly soft, about 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and chilli.

3) Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 5. Cook the spaghetti in a pan of boiling, salted water then drain well and mix with the hot sauce.

4) Divide the pasta and sauce between four oven-proof dishes, sprinkle evenly with parmesan then bake in the oven until piping hot and turning crisp on top, about 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Snickers & Peanut Butter Muffins

Now THIS is a muffin recipe and then some. I have to admit that I've had mixed success with muffin recipes. Despite trying desparately not to overmix the batter I've often ended up with muffins that are heavy and just plain disappointing. Not these though! They turn out light and fluffy with lovely chunks of snickers throughout. And peanut butter haters be reassured - it provides just a background hint rather than full-on flavour.

Snickers & Peanut Butter Muffins
(adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson)

250g/9oz plain flour
6 tablespoons/85g golden caster sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons/160g crunchy peanut butter
60g/2oz unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
175ml milk
3 x 65g snickers bars, chopped
12-bun muffin tin lined with paper cases

1) Preheat the oven to 200c/gas mark 6

2) Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the peanut butter and mix until you have a bowl of coarse crumbs. Add the melted butter and egg to the milk, and then stir gently into the bowl. Mix in the Snickers pieces and then divide the mix between the muffin cases.

3) Cook for 20-25 minutes until the tops are risen, golden and firm to the touch. Leave in the tin for 5-10 minutes before removing and leaving to cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Spicy Sausage & Broccoli Tartlets with Roast Cherry Tomatoes

This recipe comes from Books for Cooks, volume 4, a collection of recipes put together by the bookshop of the same name. For more information about what is, in my opinion, one of the best shops in world, have a look at their website here.

I've tried various puff pastry tarts in the past but these ones sounded a bit different. No sauce as such to bind the filling together, just an interesting mix of sausage, tomato, broccoli and spices. I was worried at first that there was too much filling for the pastry but with a bit of gentle stretching and a couple of minor patch-ups I got them into the oven pretty much intact. And, as you can see above, they came out in one piece aswell.

The result was lovely - hearty flavours from the sausage and broccoli, a little bit of warmth from the chilli and a hint of aniseed coming through now and again thanks to the fennel seeds. I'll be making these again.

Spicy Sausage & Broccoli Tartletts with Roast Cherry Tomatoes
(adapted from Books For Cooks Volume 4 - various authors)

375g/12 oz puff pastry
300g/10oz sprouting broccoli, broccoli di rapa or broccoli
3 tbsp olive oil
350g/12oz best meaty pork sausages, skinned
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp crushed chilli flakes
12 (about 200g/7oz) ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt & black pepper
4 tbsp freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan
125g/4oz mozarella, diced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 handful fresh basil, torn
Extra olive oil to serve

1) Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6. Have ready 2 floured baking sheets

2) Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a square about 30 by 30 cm (12 by 12 inches). Cut out four equal sized squares from the rolled out pastry. (If you have a box of ready rolled pastry I'd recommend rolling it out a bit further to the size mentioned above, otherwise you might struggle to fit all the filling on)

3) Cut up the broccoli into 2 1/2cm/1 inch pieces and cook in a pan of boiling salted water until just tender, from 2 to 4 minutes. Drain and straightaway refresh the broccoli pieces in plenty of cold water to preserve their nice fresh green colour, then drain well.

4) Warm the oil in a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Stir in the sausage meat, garlic, fennel and chilli. Fry quite briskly, stirring and squashing with a wooden spoon to break up the sausage meat into pieces, until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the broccoli pieces and cherry tomatoes halves and cook for another minute to flavour with the herby, spicy oil. Add salt and pepper and any extra chilli to taste (the 1/4 teaspoon of chilli flakes don't give a huge amount of heat so if you like a bit of extra kick then I would recommend you add some more).

5) Divide the sausage mixture among the pastry squares, leaving a 2cm/3/4 inch border, aiming to have a few of the tomato halves on top for the best colour, then sprinkle over the grated cheese. Fold over the pastry border onto the filling, pleating as you go.

6) Bake the tarts until the pastry is crisp and golden, about 20-25 minutes, swapping the baking sheets over half way through baking. Transfer each pie to a warmed plate, sprinkle with mozarella dice, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil, grind over a little pepper and scatter with basil. Serve at once.

Serves 4

Friday, 2 July 2010

Vegetable Enchilladas

Oh dear, poor neglected blog. I can't believe it's almost a month since my last post. I've been stuck in a bit of a cooking rut of late but I've had a good rifle through some of my cookbooks and earmarked a few ideas to help me rediscover my cooking mojo.

This recipe is one of my stock recipes and is a great way of fitting in a few of your five-a-day without too much trouble. It's another one of those recipes-that's-hardly-a-recipe but worthy of mention nonetheless. It's very straigtforward to assemble and you can adapt it to whatever you have in the fridge or garden. What I've listed below is my standard recipe but you could add anything you like...courgettes, peas etc.

Vegetable Enchilladas
(origin unknown)

1-2 red or yellow peppers
1-2 leeks
1-2 cloves of garlic
Handful of mushrooms
1/2 - 1 cup of sweetcorn, tinned or frozen
Large handful of spinach
6-8 tortillas
Jar of Tomato & Chargrilled Veg Pasta sauce
Grated cheese

1) Preheat the oven to 180c

2) Slice or chop up the veg into bite sized pieces. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan and add the veg. Cook, stirring regularly, until softened.

3) Pile a spoonful of veg onto a one of the tortillas and fold up (I put the veg on the top half, fold up the bottom of the tortilla then fold in the sides). Place the parcel in a large baking dish and repeat until all the vegetables are used up (6 tortillas are usually enough to fill my large oval baking dish).

4) Spoon the pasta sauce over the top of the tortillas and top with grated cheese. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Serves 2-3