Biscuits du jour

My granny had an orange Tupperware for biscuits which usually contained Nice biscuits (Nice you note, rather than nice).  I wasn’t very keen on the container nor on the contents but always forced one down in the way that children seem unable to turn down a biscuit.  Now that I think about it, biscuits in the 70’s were not what they are today.

Bourbons, pink wafers, custard creams, Rich Tea, digestives, gingersnaps. Then there were Garibaldi, exotically named and invitingly glazed but always mouth puckeringly dry.  Viscounts with their pat of mint cream, a real treat as foil wrapped almost counted as confectionery.  Oh and those hefty rectangular shortbread bricks which invariably came in a tartan packet.   We weren’t exactly spoilt for choice back then.

Now however, biscuits practically take up an entire aisle in the supermarket.  All the above remain, time will not wither us etc. but there are now hundreds of newcomers from the white chocolate dipped cranberry beauty to the extraordinary pencil thin Mikado.  There are Belgian chocolate dipped wafers, American Oreo’s and various French sables and galettes.   For the purposes of research you understand I tasted a few old favourites, Breakaway – the chocolate didn’t seem as thick and am I imagining it or are they smaller than they were?  Or perhaps I am just bigger.  Blue Riband which I remember as a proper after school treat were dry and disappointing.  Kit Kat’s happily remain exactly the same.

So I parade up and down the shelves looking at what is there and what is new but then a voice in my head pipes up “we will make biscuits at home – home made are much nicer…” When I was a child these words would make my heart sink, bought things seemed so much more exciting and yet, I can hardly believe it is me saying them now.  True though and here is a recipe which I hope will prove the point.

Vanilla Biscuits

100g soft butter

30g icing sugar (plus a little extra to dust)

90g plain flour

30g cornflour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180 and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.  Cream the butter and sugar together and then add the flours and vanilla until combined.  Put the mixture in the fridge for 20 minutes to make it a little easier to handle.  Take a teaspoonful and roll into a ball, put on the baking sheet and flatten gently with a fork (dip the fork in flour so it doesn’t stick).  Repeat with the rest of the dough and then bake for 20 minutes (check after 15) until just golden on top and cooked on the bottom.  Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar if you want.  Makes about 24.

These are perfect as they are but you can see from the photograph that I sandwiched a few with some chocolate icing I had left over.  My children loved the doubles with the extra treaty filling – I prefer them unadorned with a cup of tea.

 

Harissa Roast Tomatoes with Lentils and Yogurt

I love harissa – for me its fragrant heat seems to go with so many things – and always have a jar on the go.  Inspired by Poilane tartines I’ve tried these harissa roast tomatoes with various other ingredients, stirred through nutty brown rice and on toasted sourdough, all good,  but this is my favourite.  The lentils seem to go with the tomatoes particularly well and the garlicky yogurt is the finishing touch.  It is one of those dishes that is not only yummy but you feel is really doing you good.  Cheap, super healthy and delicious which is a pretty good combination.

100g puy lentils

1/4 stock cube, chicken or vegetable

1 bay leaf

1 clove of garlic, peeled

3 tomatoes cut in half (through their equator)

2 teaspoons harissa

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Parsley, a small bunch

Garlicky yogurt to serve

Preheat the oven to 180.  Put the lentils in a pan with the stock cube, bay leaf, garlic and cover with boiling water, cook for 15-20 minutes (topping up the water if necessary) until cooked but not soft.  Drain and keep warm.

Pu the tomatoes in a small baking tray, try and balance them so their cut sides are flat and level.  Mix the harissa, sugar, vinegar and oil in a bowl with a couple of pinches of salt, pour this over the tomatoes and roast for 30-40 minutes until soft.  You can “baste” them a couple of times if you want.

To serve, pile a couple of spoonfuls of lentils onto a plate, top with 3 tomato halves and a good blob of yogurt.  Sprinkle generously with parsley.  Serves 2.

 

 

Prawn Curry

 

I love to cook.  Partly because I absolutely love to eat and so it is a means to an end.  More than this though, I actually enjoy cooking, whether an old familiar number or creating something new – will it work, will it be a winner, will it be a disaster?  The process and execution, the chopping and stirring, all good stuff in my book.  Despite all this Pollyanna like gladness however, I do find one element sometimes exhausting, even a little dispiriting.  That is the deciding what to cook – the what shall we eat every day this week dilemma.  Shall I feed the children the same safe favourites or risk possible mutiny or delight with new tastes?  Is this the week to cook my husband exciting new suppers or will I be exhausted and only wanting to recreate recipes I know by heart.  Have I asked friends for supper, if so, what am I going to cook?

This is where the perfect Friday night curry comes in.  It is properly quick and easy, immensely casual, absolutely delicious, served with a myriad of bought stuff and always manages to create a fun, end of the week celebratory feeling.

All you have to do is make the sauce which can even be done the night before.  Then it is a case of defrosting the prawns if frozen, warming naan and poppadoms.  Decant chutney and pickle into little bowls, make a cucumber, yogurt and mint raita and cook rice.  Really not hard.  I tend to serve the poppadoms first with chutneys and raita (just like you would in an Indian restaurant really) while the rice is cooking.   Then, all I have to do is warm up the curry and add the prawns, chop some coriander and serve once the poppadoms have been eaten.

I know it looks like a long list of ingredients but you have probably got most of it in the cupboard anyway and it is simplicity itself to make.

Prawn Curry

2 onions finely chopped

Large thumb ginger, peeled and chopped or grated

4 large cloves garlic crushed

1 tablespoon oil

6 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed

1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander

1 level teaspoon ground cumin

1 level teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 red chilli chopped (leave the seeds in if you like your curry hot)

500ml carton passata

250ml water

600g large prawns (raw ideally but cooked are fine)

2 tablespoons natural yogurt

Juice of half a lime

Small bunch of coriander chopped.

Cook the onions gently in the oil for 10 minutes until soft and only just beginning to brown.  Add ginger, garlic, cardamom seeds, coriander, cumin, turmeric, mustard seeds and chilli and cook for 5 minutes.  Add passata, water and salt and simmer gently for 15 minutes.  Add the prawns to either cook if raw or warm through if already cooked, then the yogurt and lime juice.  Sprinkle with the coriander and serve with rice.   Serves 4.

Late Autumn Salad

There has been some super chilly weather with both sleet and snow yesterday, winter would seem to be on the way.  Today however brings beautiful bright sun and clear blue skies not seen for a week or two.  It is days like this when I am torn between cosy warming soup or a rich stew for my internal heating and clinging to the remaining autumnal days with a salad.  Not a light summery salad of warm ripe tomatoes and fresh garden herbs, more a chunky robust salad, a meal in itself rather than a little something on the side, as they say.

A rummage around in the fridge yields beetroot and rocket.  Further search offers up feta and so, we are away.  This salad is both earthy and fresh, salty and sweet, soft and crunchy.  If beetroot is really not your thing and I blame those deep purple vinegary orbs served at school for putting so many people off this fabulous vegetable, then roasted butternut would be an excellent alternative.  Haven’t got any rocket, then dark green peppery watercress would be ideal.  Seeds, schmeeds, pumpkin, sunflower, pine kernals – it doesn’t matter, as long as the balance is retained you can customise at will.

Beetroot and Feta Salad

4 medium size beetroot (nearer snooker than tennis ball ideally)

3 tablespoon olive or rapeseed oil

2 good handfuls rocket

100g feta, roughly crumbled

2 spring onions, sliced

A handful of pumpkin seeds

1 – 2 teaspoons  red wine or cider vinegar, to taste

Pinch of sugar

Preheat oven to 200.  Wash and quarter the beetroot (no need to peel), put in a small roasting tin with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, tumble together and cook for 1 hour.  Toast the pumpkin seeds in a hot frying pan until just colouring and put on one side.  Put the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a small bowl, mix with the vinegar, sugar and season with salt and pepper.  When the beetroot is cooked remove from the oven and allow to cool a little.  Gently combine the beetroot, feta, rocket, spring onions and the dressing, divide between two plates and sprinkle over the toasted pumpkin seeds.   Serves 2.

It strikes me this might be rather good with some roast chicken, not piping hot from the oven but allowed to cool until just warm.

 

Patrick’s Plum Cake

Plums.  Glorious purple, red, maroon juicy plums – delicious as they are but the perfect answer to all manner of puddings, breakfasts, cakes or tarts.  It is getting a little late in the season but there are still plenty around so grab them when you can.  Stewed plums (a compote if you prefer) with Greek yogurt for breakfast, perhaps with a little granola on top for crunch, little plum tarts quick to make on bought puff pastry, their edges sticky and sweet with plum juice.  Or a good old fashioned plum crumble – with custard or thick cold cream – wonderful, and the perfect comfort food now the weather has turned so chilly.   It you see them on special offer buy a load and make the easiest jam to see you through the winter, good on toast, good in tarts.  Now I think of it I am sure there is some sort of Eastern European plum brandy I haven’t tried making yet….

This week we used plums in Patricks’ Plum Cake, so called because my little boy helped me when I was working on this.  He was inordinately proud of it, quite rightly, it is a delicious autumn variation on my Raspberry and Almond Cake.  You can add a little almond extract with the vanilla to beef up the almond flavour or stick with just the vanilla if you prefer.  Can’t help thinking it would make a pretty good pudding with some warm custard too.

Patrick’s Plum Cake (Plum and Almond Cake)

150g soft butter

150g caster sugar

150g self-raising flour

150g ground almonds

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/2 teasp vanilla and 1/2 teasp almond)

3 tablespoons milk

5 or 6 ripe plums, sliced

Icing sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180.  Grease and baseline a 20cm square tin.  Cream the butter and sugar together for 5 minutes until fluffy and lighter in colour.  Add the eggs one at a time with a teaspoon of flour.  When they are incorporated fold in the remaining flour, baking powder, almonds, vanilla extract and milk.  Put half the mixture in the prepared tin, scatter over the plums in an even layer and top with the remaining mixture.  Bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer is removed clean.  Leave to cool for 5 minutes in the tin before removing to a cooling rack.  Sprinkle with icing sugar if you like before serving.

 

Things with drinks…

Having a cold glass of something alongside a crunchy salty little number is a proper treat at the end of the day.  I do like crisps occasionally but would rather turn to these delicious, moreish toasted seeds.  Far better for you, fresh from your oven and what is more customised to taste.  If you like them spicy add more Tabasco, prefer them a little restrained then add less.  These are also fabulous scattered over a green salad or just in a bowl by the hob for cook to pick at from time to time.  Incidentally, if you want to go the whole hog and make them into Bloody Mary seeds then add a sprinkle of celery salt as they come out of the oven.

Spicy Seeds

60g sunflower seeds

60g pumpkin seeds

30g pine kernels

1 tablespoon worcester sauce

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco

Mix everything together and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake for 5-6 minutes at 200, leave to cool briefly before digging in.

 

 

Now, if seeds aren’t quite your thing perhaps Padron peppers will be.  These are green peppers the shape of fat little chillies.  You fry them in olive oil and once blistered sprinkle with sea salt.  They are truly delicious but look out, one in 30 or so is hot hot.  We’ve had bags where several are hot and some where none are but no matter they are still delicious.  The only tricky thing is tracking them down.  I wouldn’t normally suggest an ingredient that is hard to find – consider the irritation of a recipe that requires an unusual cheese from Cornwall when you live in Kuwait – but these are worth the search.  Currently available in a Waitrose reasonably close to me but I am urging one closer to stock them, ask your grocer to do the same.  If all else fails grow your own, we did last year and they were pretty successful but were all very hot!

 

 

Pudding for Breakfast

 

 

A couple of years ago I decided I had had enough of cereal for breakfast.  It has done me proud over the past 40 odd years but I was bored of it and had to call time.  As I am not one to miss out on an opportunity to eat however, alternatives had to be found.  Cereal has become such an integral part of weekday breakfast life that it was rather liberating to know I could now have whatever I wanted.  There was a proviso, of course, that it had to be quick, delicious and couldn’t be a seriously bad influence on my children who are both quite happily still within their first decade of cereal consumption.

We are lucky to have four chickens, Speedy, Swimmer, Essie and Joan Collins who provide us daily with delicious, free range eggs so that was one obvious choice.   For me there is little to beat a fresh, boiled egg with brown toast to set me up for the day.  On cold mornings we would venture down the porridge route which I can manage for a couple of breakfasts in a row before that palls.  Scotch pancakes are a great favourite but something we are more likely to have at the weekend as my daughter enjoys making them for us.  Avocado on toast is a winner but there are days that call for less carbs.

Enter the raspberry surprise – juicy pink berries topped with a dollop of creamy Greek yogurt sprinkled with soft brown or muscavado sugar and left just long enough for the sugar to melt into the yogurt. In winter when raspberries aren’t around we have this with bananas in which case we top it with runny honey.  The children often have this too and if they are getting a good helping of fruit and dairy, I can live with the spoonful of sugar or honey on top.  As this is something we also have at lunch or tea it feels even more exciting, decadent almost – pudding for breakfast.

Lamb Meatballs

Lamb Meatballs with Flatbreads and Garlic Yoghourt

This is a fabulous, hands-on, napkins required lunch that makes me happy just to think about it.  Warm pliable bread, herby and spiced fragrant lamb, cool minty garlicky yogurt all in a spectacularly delicious parcel.  I would consider a drop or two of chilli sauce mandatory on this but that is just me….

500g lamb mince

2 cloves garlic, crushed

50g breadcrumbs

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon cumin

Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper, a couple of grinds

Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly in a bowl.  Roll into small balls, somewhere between the size of a marble and a walnut.  Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and cook gently for 10-15 minutes until brown all over and cooked through (break one open to check and then eat it as cooks perk).  This will do for 2 adults and 2 children but we always want more.

Serve with flatbreads and garlic yogurt.  Heaven.

Garlic and mint yogurt 

250ml natural yogurt

1 clove garlic, crushed

Small bunch of mint, chopped

Pinch of salt

Mix all these ingredients together and taste to check for seasoning.

We had this for lunch on Saturday and as I didn’t have time to make flatbreads we had warmed tortillas and pita breads which were fine.   I put a bowl of rocket on the table too which went down well.  This is also one of my children’s favourite teas and you can easily make the meatballs, eat half and freeze half making it a very easy defrost and chuck in the pan after school number when you are pushed for time.

 

Bashed Chicken

Whilst I don’t believe in “children’s” food per se (why should it be different to grown up food?) there are things I cook specifically for tea for my children.  When we have small friends over I make what you might term child friendly food, after all not every six year old loves a curry.  This recipe falls under that heading and is an all time favourite in our house.  The name came about when my daughter started helping me make it (bash it) – it is also a little more catchy for children than ‘a breaded escalope of chicken’.   This is definitely one of their teas when I will hover greedily in case there is any left which there rarely is, so I make it for our supper too.  Unbelieveably simple but good.  Incidentally when I was young we used to eat this with mayonnaise and redcurrant jelly which may not seem immediately obvious but gosh it is good.

1 large chicken breast

2 tablespoons plain flour

A pinch of salt

1 egg beaten

Breadcrumbs (approximately 2 handfuls, you may need more)

Olive or sunflower oil

Butter

Put the flour seasoned with the salt on one plate, the egg in a bowl and the breadcrumbs on another plate in a sort of production line.  Slice the chicken, you should get 8-10 slices.  Put them flat on a suitable board, cover with clingfilm and bash until flatter and increased in size.  Coat the slices first in flour, then egg and then finally the breadcrumbs pressing gently to coat.  Heat a tablespoon of oil with a teaspoon of butter in a frying pan over a medium heat, cook the chicken in a couple of batches until golden and crispy, keeping the first bits warm while you do the rest.

This serves 2 children but it easily doubled.  You can make this ahead of time and keep the uncooked but crumbed chicken in the fridge loosely covered with clingfilm.

 

 

 

Soup with greens

Chicken Stock Broth with Cavolo Nero

This is for those times when you’ve had a chicken and then had the energy or foresight to make stock out of the carcass.  I know I should every time but I admit I don’t always…. When I do I often use part or all of it for this soup.  It has the most pure and nurturing taste and with the addition of a little finely chopped cavolo nero, or similar, makes a lunch which seems to contain such health giving properties that is should be on prescription.

A tricky one to break down into amounts and ingredients.  In truth this is just the reduced stock – use the amount you need for a couple of bowls of soup – to which you’ve added a few leaves of finely shredded cavolo nero and allowed it to cook briefly in the hot liquid until tender.  I can’t say that a splash of dry sherry wouldn’t finish this off a treat.

If I had a cold I would deem it entirely appropriate to add a little chopped chilli or indeed head East altogether with a bashed stalk of lemongrass, a bruised kaffir lime leaf and a final sprinkle of coriander.  Choices, choices, now all I have to do is go and roast a chicken.  Or, whisper this, go and buy some very good ready made stock……