Saturday, 30 June 2012

Peanutty, Herby Noodle Salad




This is one of those dishes that's positively glowing with health. I don't know what it is about crunchy salads - maybe because you have to work a bit harder to eat them, compared to a big bowl of buttery, cheesy mash? - but you can practically see the halo hovering above the plate. Lots of green veg, a zingy chilli dressing, a few peanuts for texture and enough herbs to make you feel as though it really is summer, dark clouds be damned. I don't care if you tell me this should be low-carb, or there's too much sodium in the soy sauce, or that nothing is healthy if you eat it in huge quantities. Some recipes just feels virtuous and this is one of them. Consider it my concession to bikini season.


Like everything else around here recently, the recipe comes from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day. My husband was actually the one to suggest it, which I choose to see as a sign of my good influence on him. This is a man who, before I came into his life, never ate nuts, refused to go near dressing, and didn't really see the point of salad - definitely not as a whole meal. But voila! Yes, I do take all the credit. And yes, I may have pointed this out to him once or twice in the course of the meal.


More importantly, he loved it and so did I. It was quick to prepare, if not simple (something about blanching veg always just feels faffy), but the end result was totally worth it. If it had been sunny, we'd have eaten it outside. If it had been sunny and hot, we'd have packed it in a tupperware and taken it on a picnic - with no lettuce or anything wussy like that, I think it would hold up really well. But in the wettest June on record (sigh) we ate it inside, watching 30 Rock, and it was perfect. Another definite do-again from Saint Hugh! I think it's love. 





Peanutty, Herby Noodle Salad
Surprise surprise, it's from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day

- 150g fine noodles
- 150g green beans
- a cucumber, finely sliced (we did it in the food processor)
- 4 spring onions, finely sliced 
- 2 large handfuls of peanuts (we bought unsalted roasted - if yours aren't roasted, you might want to do so in the oven for 8 mins or so)
- 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
- zest and juice of one lemon or lime 
- 1 clove of garlic
- half a red chilli
- a few sprigs of mint, leaves roughly chopped
- if you have them, some basil and coriander, roughly chopped
- (optional) any extra veg you fancy. We added a few broad beans, lightly cooked alongside the green beans, but you could maybe try some finely sliced carrot and pepper? some kind of leaves? broccoli?

Cook the noodles and green beans in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain. Dunk them all in a bowl of cold water, then drain again.

Whiz up the chilli and garlic in the food processor until finely chopped. Then add the vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and lemon/lime zest and juice and blitz it all together until well blended.

Toss the noodles in the dressing. Then add all the other veg and herbs and mix until everything's coated in dressing. Serve scattered with peanuts, and with extra soy sauce if you want it.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Aubergine, Green Bean and Cashew Curry


It's not something I'm particularly proud of, but I'm a creature of habit, through and through. I have the same breakfast, every weekday - and, unless I'm meeting someone, exactly the same lunch (if you were wondering, it's a medium salad from the salad bar in the office canteen - and I always have the same ingredients, making my way around the bar in the same order). I've worn my hair in pretty much the same style ever since I had any control over it. I get into weird, obsessive ruts with books, lipsticks, tv programmes, blogs, watching/wearing/reading them over and over again for months. Every day, I walk to work along exactly the same route and take a different (but always exactly the same) route on the way back. Wow, I'm sounding like a barrel of laughs, aren't I?


So I'm afraid to say that, when something tickles my fancy, you see a lot of it round here. And Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day is my newest obsession. We've already blogged two recipes in quick (ish) succession, but there are more to come - and today's is yet another example. What can I say? Every browse through the book just reveals more and more things we want to try. And although the same could be said of the rest of my poor, neglected cookbooks, the brutal truth is that they're up on the shelf and Hugh is lying out on my kitchen table, tempting me. Wait, that sounds wrong. Ignore that last bit.



My point is, there's going to be lots of Hugh around here and today's is another capital W Winner. This was absolutely, positively delicious. We've only started cooking curries around here relatively recently (see this post for the tedious exegesis of My Curry Journey) and this is already far and away my favourite. The sauce is creamy and hot with just enough of a kick, the veg are squidgy and crunchy respectively, and the cashews over the top just tip it over the edge into perfect. I'm serious, perfect. You should really try this.



So delicious was it that, even though we froze half of our big batch, we wanted to eat it again almost immediately - and did so just two days later. Weird obsession? Sorry, nothing I can do about it. You know what I'm like. And you know that the next recipe will be a Hugh one too. Just in case you got any crazy ideas about something unexpected around here.



Aubergine, Green Bean and Cashew Curry
Again, from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day
Serves 4
 
For the curry paste (makes enough for 2 curries, but you can freeze it)
- 2 sticks of lemongrass, tough outer layer removed and the rest cut into chunks
- 2 thumb-sized bits of ginger, peeled and cut into chunks
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 5-6 green chillis, deseeded (we only had four but they were quite powerful)
- 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric (or we used curry powder because we didn't have any)
 
For the curry
- 3-5 large aubergines, cut into big chunks (HFW suggests 12 chunks from each aubergine)
- about 6 tablespoons of sunflower oil
- tin of coconut milk
- 300ml of tomato passata
- 300g green beans
- a handful of red lentils (optional)
- handful of cashews 

 First off, make the curry paste by whizzing all the ingredients together with a tablespoon of water - you might need to scrape down the sides a couple of times.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and cook the aubergine in batches, until lightly browned. As they're done, remove them to a plate lined with kitchen towel and keep cooking the rest, adding more oil as and when you need it.

Add a splash of oil to a large saucepan and put it over a medium heat. Add half the curry paste (the rest will keep in the fridge or freezer) and cook, stirring constantly, for three or four minutes. Then add the aubergines, stir to get them coated with the paste, and cook for another couple of minutes. At this point we also chucked in a handful of red lentils, which worked out really well.

Pour in the passata and coconut milk, and simmer the whole lot, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Add the beans then give it another five minutes' simmering, or until the beans are cooked. Season well and add some chopped coriander if, unlike me, you don't think it's the devil's foliage.

Serve with cashews scattered over the top and some lime wedges if you have them. We didn't, and the world did not end, but I'm sure Hugh knows what he's doing and he recommends it.  

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Baby Beetroot Tarte Tatin with Spring Onion Vinaigrette


I recently read quite a cheesy, self-helpy book called "The Happiness Project". Don't judge me! I'm not a self-help person, normally - I've never read any of those "Why Men Don't Fall In Love With You (It's Not Them, It's You)" books. But I'd heard good things about this particular one, so I downloaded it for free through my local library (which also allows you to download audio books for free - it's one of the wonders of the modern age). And as you'd expect, I Learnt Something. It's that kind of a book.


One of the main nuggets that stuck with me was that, in order to be happy, people need to feel as though they're growing in some way. That is, you're happier if you're getting better at golf (but still quite rubbish overall) than if you're amazing at tennis, but gradually getting worse. So the happiest people in real life tend to be those who are developing their skills, learning something new and getting better at it - not just stagnating, sitting around on the sofa and watching telly. See, it all makes sense now, doesn't it?


I think that's one of the best things about this blog. In a trivial, tiny way, I can see that I'm getting better - mastering caramels, learning to make custards, even a fancy bread. I'm even getting better with the camera - god, some of the photos in the early posts make me cringe more than you would believe. But overall, if I flick back over the last year or so, there's progress. Even if I'm starting from a low base, it's encouraging.


And I can also see how I'm training myself to like things I used to shy away from - how I'm forcing myself to become a bloody grown up, in other words. As I've said before, I was a ridiculously picky child and the list of foods I disliked was looooooooong. But now, there's barely anything left on that list. Goat cheese, yes. Still don't like tea. And there will never be any excuse for fennel, so don't even try to persuade me otherwise. But everything else is gradually moving over the line from disdain, to indifference, to outright enthusiasm. It's progress!


Take beetroot, for example. Despite declaring (in its first appearance on this blog) that I just didn't like it, a quick skim of the archives shows all sorts of beetroot recipes, recipes which I genuinely like and I still make often - salad with cottage cheese, salad with smoked mackerel, risotto with smoked mackerel (spot the theme), and a rosti with celeriac and red onion. I think I can officially say: Beetroot Appreciation, Job Done. To celebrate, here's the best beetroot recipe yet!


This tarte comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Veg Every Day" (yep, told you we were obsessed with it) and it was absolutely DELICIOUS. I make no apology for the all caps. DELICIOUS. Honestly, we went straight out and bought more of everything so that we can make it again, as a matter of urgency. It might be my new favourite way to cook beetroot - and as we now know, that's saying something.


The beetroot itself is tangy and sweet, the pastry is the perfect mix of flaky and squidgy, and the vinaigrette on top just brightens and livens it all up with something sharp, sour and savoury. Hugh (we're on first name terms) also suggests crumbling feta over the top instead of the vinaigrette, which sounds fantastic - and a good way to make it more hefty, if you're worried this won't fill you up. But honestly, try it this way too. I'll get out the all caps again. It's DELICIOUS. 


Baby Beetroot Tarte Tatin
From Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day

For the tarte tatin 
- a pack of ready made, all butter puff pastry
- butter and olive oil
- 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons of soft brown sugar (in fact, I think I used demerara)
- three or four small beetroots, scrubbed and halved (he suggests 300-400g in total)
- salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette
- 2 spring onions, trimmed 
- a teaspoon of English mustard
- a tablespoon of cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil (he says rapeseed but tough, we don't have any)
- pinch of sugar
- handful of finely chopped, fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 190 and roll out the pastry. Get out an ovenproof frying pan, or a tarte tatin dish, or whatever you propose to bake it in, and place on top of the pastry. Cut around the pan, then wrap the pastry circle in clingfilm and put in the fridge until you need it. Turn the leftover pastry into cheese straws or something.

Melt a knob of butter in the frying pan with a splash of oil. Add the vinegar, sugar and some salt and pepper, stir well then chuck in the beetroot. Stir it around a bit, then cover the pan with foil and put it in the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the beetroot is tender (this can take bloody ages, so be prepared to give it longer).

When you think the beetroot's done, take out the pan WITH AN OVEN GLOVE and shimmy the beetroot halves around until the cut sides are all facing up. Lay the pastry on top and fold the edges down over the beetroot as if you're tucking it into bed. Put back in the oven for 20 minutes, until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown.

While it's cooking, make the vinaigrette. Finely chop the spring onions (or shallots, if you'd rather) and shake together with everything else. Or be lazy like us and just blitz it all in a food processor - slightly less attractive but a hell of a lot quicker.

Ideally, leave the tarte to cool in its tin for a quarter of an hour before you flip it out onto a plate. However, realistically you'll be starving by now, and you won't want to wait another sodding minute, ok?? So hold a plate over the top of the pan, then confidently flip it over. Make sure you scrape out any juices from the bottom of the pan over the beetroot. Then drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and eat nownownow. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Courgette and Pinto Bean Chilli


The other day, when TheBookPeople made their monthly visit to our office canteen, I bought a book. I know, stop the presses! She's out of control! Somebody tell the President! But honestly, this is quite an event. Normally their stall is overflowing with tatty stocking-fillers, children's books about Hairy Harriet or Naughty Nick and his Nine Ninnies or whatever, and naff tv cookery books. When I say naff, I mean properly useless. The Hairy Bikers (shudder), Gok Wan, Rachel Khoo and their ilk. Incidentally, I opened up the Khoo book in three random places just to see if it was any good. What did I find? Three full double-spread pictures of her. I appreciate that there may be a market for such things, but this is not what I want from a cookery book (no matter how winsome her lipstick). 


But the other day, as my eye flicked desultorily over the table, I spotted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Veg Every Day" - and wanted to eat everything in it. Every single thing. I snapped it up for a bargain tenner, and was accosted by no fewer than four women on the way back to my desk. Each one swarmed up to me, grabbing my arm and saying with the hushed voice of a convert, "oh I've got that, it's very, very good, you must try XYZ". Honestly, it was like a cult where I was a newly-inducted member, not quite sure what I'd got myself into. But I liked it!



So basically, what I'm saying is that there'll be many more HFW recipes around here from now on. And although he seems to suggest making up for the lack of meat with either a) pastry, b) cheese or c) both, I'm still assuming the recipes are healthy - don't disillusion me. This particular one was the first we tried and although it was perfectly nice, I think we gave it an impossible job - no vegetarian chilli could ever live up to our tried and tested favourite. But my enthusiasm and appetite are no whit abated, and we've already got another recipe lined up for tomorrow. Welcome to the cult! There's no going back. 


Courgette and Pinto Bean Chilli
From Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Veg Every Day"
Serves 4


- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, ditto
- 2 green chillies, seeds removed, ditto
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon all spice
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- two courgettes, cut into chunks
- a red pepper, also cut into smallish chunks- red wine
- 2 tablespoons of tomato puree
- a tin of tomatoes
- a tin of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- 100ml red wine
- fresh parsley and oregano

Add some oil to a large pan over a medium heat and cook the onions gently until they're soft but not too browned. Add the chillies, garlic and spices and stir for a minute. 

Chuck in the courgette and pepper and stir, then add the tomato (puree and tinned), pinto beans, wine, herbs and some salt and pepper. Pour in 200ml of water and simmer the whole thing for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the veg are soft and the sauce is thick. 

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Banana Bread with Rum-Soaked Raisins


So, funny story. Being middle-class cliches, as we are, we made the momentous decision a couple of years ago to stop braving the bustling, crowded supermarket aisles in person (and in our hard-earned free time) and move to online shopping. Which, by the way, is one of the wonders of the modern age and I won't hear a word said against it. Wait, don't yawn! I haven't got to the funny bit yet!




And before you say it, I know that some people claim "they like to choose their own courgettes" or some rubbish like that, but I think they're totally deluded. Don't try to tell me that you wouldn't prefer to order the boring stuff in your pyjamas and let someone else hoik around 8 tins of tomatoes, hulking great barrels of washing powder and a couple of frozen chickens? Not just hoik it around, but bring it at a time of your choosing, right into your kitchen? Everyone would! It's amazing! Anyway, where was I? Oh right, funny story.




Over these few, blissful years, there's only been one slight hitch. This problem - the only teeny weeny snag - happened a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of those nice people from Waitrose. They came, they carried, they deposited, and departed with a cheery wave. But as we unpacked the shopping, we saw that there had been a slight misunderstanding. You see, we'd ordered 6 bananas. They thought we'd ordered 6kg of bananas. As it turns out, there's quite a difference between those two.





Now we're sure that we didn't make the mistake, but I just can't imagine what they thought when they saw our order. Did they imagine we were monkey-breeders? We're talking serious bananas here. There were loads of them. Hundreds. We had bananas piled up on every surface, speckling and ripening by the second. It was madness. The whole situation was bananas! Sorry, couldn't resist. But seriously, banana mayhem. I've never seen so many.




We ate as many as we could in their natural state, gave them away left right and centre, and then took the obvious step. Banana bread. Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess supplied the recipe, we doubled it up (for obvious reasons), and the results almost made the whole banana shebang worthwhile. God, I love banana bread - and particularly with rum-soaked raisins. This one's got a slight crust and a tender crumb, packed full of banana flavour and just dying for a nice cup of tea and a sit down. We made two, took some to work and packed half away in the freezer - along with the remaining, black-skinned bananas. Good thing this turned out well! I think it's due for a repeat any day now. 




Banana Bread with Rum-Soaked Raisins
Adapted from Nigella, available here
NB: these are the normal quantities, that is half the amount we did. Feel free to double up if you've had a banana explosion too.


- 100g raisins (or sultanas)
- 75ml dark rum
- 175g plain flour
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
- half a teaspoon of salt
- 125g unsalted butter, melted
- 150g sugar (we used regular caster)
- 2 large eggs
- 4 small, very ripe bananas (about 300g, weighed when peeled), mashed
- 60g chopped walnuts (skip these if you're nut averse)
- half a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste


You'll need a loaf tin - she says 23 x 13 x 7cm, I just used whichever sizes I had.


Start by chucking the raisins and rum in a small saucepan together and bring to the boil. Then turn the heat off, cover the pan and leave it for an hour or as long as you can. The aim of the game is to get the raisins to absorb the booze and get plump and sticky. After that time, drain and get rid of the raisiny rum (either down the sink, or down your throat).


Preheat the oven to 170C and mix the flour, bicarb, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another bowl (or a mixer), beat the butter and sugar together until well blended. Add the eggs, one by one, then the mashed bananas. Stir in the walnuts, vanilla and raisins. Add the flour mixture in three goes, mixing well after each. Then pour it all into the loaf tin and bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until a skewer comes out cleanish. Cool in its tin. Yum!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Courgette and Chilli Pasta with Crispy Spinach Balls


Over the five years or so that I've been gainfully employed, I've realized something staggeringly obvious. Something, it has to be said, which reveals that I am unutterably stupid and wasted months, if not years of my life. And if I can use this little patch of the internet to pass on this insight to even one person, then I'll feel like I've achieved something with my life. So here it is: there's no secret.


You see, I always felt that I understood the world of school and, later, university. You study, you read, you think, you write. Sometimes teachers agree with you, sometimes you're wrong or under-prepared, and sometimes you're just talking rubbish. But either way, you understand how to do well, and what you need to do to get better. If you fail to do it, then that's fine - but at least you know where you stand.



But for some reason, when I entered the world of work I was dazzled. I saw all these older people swanning around in suits and ties, talking knowledgeably about clients and strategies and objectives and stakeholders, and I felt very young, very green, and very under-qualified. I had spent four years of my life studying Classics, for god's sake- who was I to tell anyone what to do? 


So for years I kept quiet in meetings because I didn't feel that I had anything to contribute. If I did have to give an opinion I panicked, hoping against hope that I didn't sound too stupid. Basically, I thought that there was a secret to Work that everyone else knew - a code they'd cracked, a qualification they'd gained - and I didn't. I kept shtoom because I didn't want to be found out, or chucked out.


Then gradually, as I moved from job to job, became older and more disillusioned, I realized the truth. NO ONE really knows what they're doing. Sure, doctors and accountants and people like that have to pass an exam before they can do their jobs, but in my line - where you can turn up with an Arts degree and a hopeful smile - there really is no secret. Everyone's just blagging.


Not blagging, really, because that word implies that they're deliberately pretending to be something they're not. But there's no right or wrong. You're paid to have opinions, based on nothing more technical or difficult than what you think. I'm sure this sounds ridiculously obvious to anyone else, but it's taken me five years to realize it. Why shouldn't I be the person to take on a difficult job, write something important or go into the scary meetings? There's no secret that I'm missing. No one else really knows what they're doing either.



Where I've never really felt like an imposter is in the kitchen. I have a go at difficult recipes, fancy pastries or death-defying caramels, without fear - because there's never that much at stake. What's the worst that can happen? Chuck it in the bin, make some toast instead. If it does work out, all the better.


This is a perfect example of having a go at a restaurant dish in our own home. Every single time I go to Carluccio's - without exception - I always order their huge penne with courgette, chilli, parmesan and deep fried spinach balls. Delicate, delicious, my mouth is watering at the thought of it. But the other day we had courgettes in the fridge, chillis in the garden and we just thought, why not? So I googled for a recipe, altered it to our tastes (we like a higher sauce: pasta ratio, so made the full quantity of sauce and only half the amount of pasta) and it was perfect. As good as in the restaurant, a hell of a lot cheaper and in our own home. Why can't Work be as easy as that?



Courgette and Chilli Pasta with Crispy Spinach Balls
Adapted from Antonio Carluccio's recipe here

Serves 2

For the spinach balls
- 100g bag of fresh spinach (in future we'd use the frozen stuff - already blanched and chopped, and you get a lot more of it)
- 1 garlic clove, crushed or very finely chopped
- 45g fresh white breadcrumbs (one slice of bread, whizzed)
- 1 egg, beaten
- a few grinds of salt and hefty amounts of black pepper
- pinch of nutmeg
- 25g freshly grated parmesan

For the pasta and sauce
- 200g dried pasta of your choice
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped
- 2 courgettes, finely grated (the food processor was amazing for these)
- olive oil
- salt and lots of black pepper
- parmesan

If you're using fresh spinach for the spinach balls, blanch the leaves in a pan of boiling water for 1-2 minutes then drain, dunk in a bowl of cold water and drain again. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible with your hands, then finely chop (I did it in the food processor and chucked the garlic in at the same time). OR do what we're going to do next time, and use some of that frozen spinach that comes in pellets - already blanched, already chopped, and saving you from the depressing experience of seeing great handfuls of spinach reduced to a blob the size of your fingernail. (edited to add - we tried it with frozen spinach and it was brilliant, much easier. I thawed the spinach in the microwave, pressed it in a sieve to get rid of excess water, then proceeded as before. Use frozen spinach!)


Whichever type of spinach you've gone for, mix it with the rest of the ball ingredients until it all binds together. You need the mixture to hold its shape, so add more water or breadcrumbs as needed, then roll it into walnut-sized balls.

At this point, Antonio says to shallow fry the balls gently in olive oil over a low heat for 4-5 minutes each side. We did this, but to be honest they never really got crispy enough - if you want that incredible crunch you get in the restaurants, I reckon you've got to deep fry them. That's what we'll be doing next time, giving them 5 mins or so or until golden-brown all over - do let me know if you try it. (edited to add - we tried deep-frying for 2-3 minutes this weekend, and they were much better. Definitely deep fry them!)



When they're done, drain on kitchen paper and keep warm. If you couldn't do them all at once, repeat with the remaining balls.


Boil some water for the pasta and set it on the heat to cook according to the instructions on the packet. Note that when it's done, you're going to want some of the cooking water - so don't pour it all down the sink without saving a mugful first.


For the pasta sauce, heat some olive oil gently in a frying pan, chuck in the garlic and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes or until soft but not coloured. Then add the courgettes, and fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the parmesan, salt and pepper, mix well, then stir in a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water (see, told you you'd want it) until the sauce is the right sort of consistency. Mix with the drained pasta, serve and plonk some spinach balls on top - plus extra parmesan, depending on how greedy you're feeling.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Jubilee Cheesecake and Red, White and Blue Salad (Apple, Watercress, Walnut and Blue Cheese)



And we're back. Flags have been waved, flotillas have been cheered, Queens have been sighted (we were at traffic lights, her car zoomed past on the other side of the road - and she waved right at us!). Union Jacked plates/glasses/party hats/napkins/socks/cufflinks/hankies/headbands have all been displayed, enjoyed, then quietly put away or discarded. We made and hung bunting, then hastily ripped it down when the rain drenched it and the colours ran all down our house. It was epic. I'm a bit Jubileed out now, to be honest.
 

Before signing off for the weekend I promised some patriotic recipes and a mere matter of days a week later, here they are. Admittedly, far too late for anyone to use them for the Jubilee but there are still the Olympics ahead. The Union Jack is for life, you know, not just for Jubilees. That sounds a bit BNP, doesn't it? Let's move swiftly on.


Exhibit a) is yet another shameless rehash - and, just like the cupcakes, the Jubilee theme all came down to the decoration. I reprised the clementine cheesecake from earlier this year, reducing the citrus element to just the juice of half a lemon, and adding a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. But this time, I made it in a square tin and arranged raspberries and blueberries in a Union Jack on top. Jubilee genius! Also easy, do-ahead and delicious. There's just something about a fridge cheesecake which is so lusciously creamy, so rich but light, that I find it totally irresistible. Sod the flag, any fruit will make this a winner all summer. 
 

Exhibit b) was a bit more of a wild card. Tasked with bringing a salad to a party, I tried desperately to stick on-theme - and found it almost impossible. There's just not enough blue food in the world, that's the problem. So I started flicking through the most overtly British cookbook we have - Jamie Oliver's Great Britain - and bingo, there it was. A salad of red and white apple, blue cheese, oh-so-English watercress and a few walnuts for good measure. I patted myself on the back with a sigh of satisfaction and thought no more about it.
 

And the results? Well, I'll be completely honest. When I decided to make it, the theme was far more important to me than the flavour - but I LOVED it. The dressing is pretty strong (although obviously this depends on the cheese) but it all just worked perfectly with the peppery watercress, fresh, sweet apple and intermittent nuggets of nut and cheese. I couldn't stop going back for more - and I even scoffed the leftovers the next day when the watercress was really the worse for wear (top tip, only dress it just before you want to eat). I haven't even got proper pictures because I didn't think it would be worth a blogpost, but I was wrong. Make it, try it. Even when there isn't a jubilee.
 

What about you? Did you have a good time? Wasn't it a shame about the weather? Weren't the Queen's outfits perfect - ditto Kate's and even Beatrice and Eugenie? And oh, for the love of god, why Cliff Richard? Why did he smack his bum? I'm still scarred.  
 
Red, White and Blue Salad (aka Apple and Watercress Salad)
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain
 
For the dressing
- 50g blue cheese
- 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar
3 tablespoons of plain yoghurt
- olive oil
- pinch of ground black pepper
(- I didn't have a spring onion, but he says to chuck one in)
 
For the salad
- a bag of watercress
- a couple of eating apples, finely sliced in the food processor or on a mandoline (or with a knife if you're a glutton for punishment)
- handful of walnut bits
- more blue cheese
  
To make the dressing, just whiz up all the ingredients in a food process or blender (or a bowl with a fork). To make the salad, just scatter all the bits on a platter or in a bowl. Then pour the dressing over just before you want to eat it - I only used about half the amount of dressing, which was plenty. Toss, serve, yum.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Jubilee Strawberry Cupcakes


Just a cheeky reminder that last year's Royal Wedding Cupcakes are perfect for this weekend's Jubilee, so check them out here. What do you mean, this is shameless recycling? They're covered in sparkly icing Union Jacks, what more could you want?

There'll be brand new Royal-themed food on the blog soon - in the meantime, hope you have a lovely weekend! 

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