Thursday, 27 September 2012

Roasted Beetroot Soup with Horseradish Cream

You just can't beat biology. A year ago, I was merrily blathering on about how, despite my Polish roots, I didn't really like beetroot. But somewhere among all the recipes, genetics laughed in my face and made me eat my words. 15 months on, the cold, hard evidence of this blog proves that beetroot is now one of my favourites - and this soup is nothing more or less than liquidated cwikla, the Polish beetroot and horseradish relish I disdained for the first 26 years of my life. Oooh, I'm sure my mum is laughing her head off right now. She and her purple-stained fingers always knew this day would come.

Also, what a sign that Autumn is well and truly here - this is my second soup in a week. But I couldn't help it, honest guv. Just look at these beetroot. Aren't they beautiful? Lustrous and glowing, jewels scrubbed from the mud, they almost justify the magenta splashes all over my sink, my hands and my (of course) white jumper. They cried out to be the star of the show, my arteries cried out for a bit of a break, and we met in the middle on soup. Needless to say, it might be my new favourite.

Of course, it's not for the faint-hearted. Not only will it turn everything in your kitchen pink (ahem, see photo evidence of the food processor), but the horseradish has quite a kick. But it's fiendishly healthy and matches my new autumn skirt and really, what more could you want from a weekend soup than that? Ok, ok, fine, add plenty of bread and butter on the side (we didn't have any left, but the maple walnut bread would have been great with this). 

So in summary, listen to your mother, your vegetables, your arteries, and the peasant blood leaping through your veins. Or just listen to me and look at these gorgeous beetroot (beetroots? beet roots? betruetoyourroots?). Either way, you should try this soup. It's Hugh! How far wrong can you go?

Roasted Beetroot Soup with Horseradish Cream

Again, from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day 
Serves 2-3

- 4 whole beetroot

- 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled but well-squashed
- a few sprigs of thyme
- a bay leaf
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 500ml of vegetable stock
- one and a half teaspoons of creamed horseradish
- three teaspoons of plain yoghurt or soured cream
- some dill or chives to garnish

Preheat the oven to 200C and scrub the beetroot really well, leaving them whole. A word of warning - it is almost inevitable that, at some point in this recipe, you'll end up covered in splashes of magenta. But there isn't really any way to avoid it, so just roll your sleeves up and cultivate a sense of Zen.

Put the beetroot, garlic, bay leaf and thyme in a roasting tin with some salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and toss around until it's all coated. Then pour in a wine glass of water, cover tightly with foil and roast in the oven for at least an hour, or until the beetroot are tender.

When you can poke a knife into the beetroot easily, let them cool slightly then top and tail. Hugh said to peel the beetroot too but I'll be honest, we didn't bother. Put the beetroot in a food processor with the squeezed-out garlic and about a quarter of the stock, and blend until silky smooth. Pour into a saucepan and slowly, gently bring it up to heat, stirring in the rest of the stock to thin it out to the right consistency. 

While it's warming up, stir together the horseradish and yoghurt. Serve the soup with a dollop of the cream, and the herbs snipped on top.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Pear and Ginger Muffins

I fell down the stairs this weekend.

How's that for an attention-grabbing opener? Don't worry, it was nowhere near as dramatic as I'm making it sound. As I turned the corner of our (carpeted) stairs, my treacherous slipper went from under me - turns out the clue's in the name with those little bastards - and I smacked right down on my arse and slid the rest of the way. I won't lie, there may have been a shriek. Not to mention quite a sizeable thump.

Luckily, oh so luckily, I didn't take anyone else down with me, least of all my beautiful baby niece who was in her dad's arms just three steps further down. No, the only casualties from this particular incident were my dignity, and my bottom. Honestly, you should see the bruise on my bum - black and blue doesn't even begin to express the colouration I've got going on. You know those images from the Hubble telescope of nebulae in outer space? That's the sort of thing we're dealing with here.

But why I am yanking this unseemly discussion of my subcutaneous haematoma into the blog? Because it was just so very unexpected. I don't know about you, but before Saturday I genuinely can't remember the last time I fell over - yet I'm sure that when I was little, I fell over all the time. Almost without noticing, I seem to have become an adult and gained control over my wayward limbs. Given that I don't play any kind of contact sport and gave up life-threatening heels years ago, I generally manage to get myself from A to B without too much bother. But playing with the afore-mentioned gorgeous four-month-old reminds you that this unconscious mastery of motion is still quite a big deal. After all, she's only just getting the hang of rolling, and even then she can only turn one way. There will be many, many falls in her future before she can tick "learn to walk" off her to-do list.

Since we are grown-ups now, with all the walking, gainful employment and god-not-more-tax-paying that that implies, the least we can do is commune with our inner child and have cake for breakfast. Or, to use the great cake-smuggling ruse of our time, muffins for brunch. These ones paired some beautifully fresh pears from the farmers' market with suitably autumnal spices, in a recipe which originally came from Sophie Dahl (like this flourless chocolate cake). However, I fiddled with it a bit to remove the more unnervingly healthy bits - swapping spelt flour for normal and 4 egg whites for 2 eggs. That makes me sound like those mums who pushed chips through the school railings on Jamie's School Dinners. Anyway, like all muffins, these were lovely fresh from the oven and much tougher and less tasty the following day, so I'd advise eating them all on day one or whacking them in the freezer pretty much as soon as they've cooled. But even with my bastardisation of the recipe, they're still quite a healthy little weekend treat - just the ticket for this time of year and an excellent option for breakfast, brunch or afternoon tea. Or, in my case, treatment for a bruised bottom. I'm no doctor, but I'm fairly sure this cure is working. 

Pear and Ginger Muffins
Originally from Sophie Dahl's cookbook, adapted from this blog

- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of bicarb
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- quarter of a teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- 145g plain flour (the original recipe said spelt flour, but clearly I didn't have any)
- 145g rolled oats
- 100g raisins
- 100g walnuts, if you like - I didn't
- 225g pear puree (the blog where I found this recipe used baby food, I made a quick pear compote out of two further pears - see below)
- 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten (the original recipe says 4 egg whites)
- 125ml natural yoghurt
- 240g honey
- 1 firm pear, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks
- another pear cut into small, thin slices to decorate
- demerara sugar to scatter over the top

If you've got a jar of pear puree or baby food, ignore this step. If not, then core and chop two pears and put in a small saucepan with a splash of water and a teeny squeeze of lemon juice. Cook over a low heat for around 10-15 minutes, or until the pears have collapsed into mush. Then blend in a food processor into a puree and set aside to cool - you don't want the puree so hot that it curdles the eggs when you mix it all together. I didn't bother to peel the pears or strain the puree because it's rustic, innit, but you can if you like. 

Preheat the oven to 190C and cut squares of baking parchment to line a muffin tin.
Mix together the baking powder, spices and flour in a large bowl, then stir in the raisins, nuts (if you're using them) and oats. Add the eggs, yoghurt, honey, pear puree and chunks of pear and mix together until just combined, being careful not to over mix. I used a whisk so as to combine the ingredients in just four or five strokes.
Spoon into the lined tin, then scatter on a teeny bit of demerara sugar and place the pear slices on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Serve with butter and jam, or just on their own.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Chestnut and Sage Soup

I'm experiencing kitchen paralysis. Not in terms of what to cook next - my recipe books are still bristling with post-its and the top shelf holds a sheaf of pages ripped out of magazines, pages which flutter onto the floor approximately once a day. No, this paralysis relates to the kitchen itself. You see, eight months after moving into this house, we're about to embark on our biggest DIY to date - and I just can't decide what I want. 


The kitchen we inherited is workable - sensible layout, nice butler's sink, decent oven and hood - but that's where the good things end. The orange pine doors hurt my eyes every single day. The upper cupboards are pitifully small, with random gaps in the skeletons which means that things fall through from one shelf to the next, landing on the countertop with a thud just when you're not expecting it. The backsplash (as you've no doubt spotted in photos) is a symphony in stained and dirty beige, the solid wood counter top has been used as a chopping board for years and has the scars to prove it. The paintwork is filthy, the lighting abysmal - honestly, I blame it for the terrible photos - and the dining area is lacklustre. We wanted to wait a year or so before tackling it, but honestly, the time has come. We just can't take it any more.

Given that the basic layout and the appliances are all fine, it doesn't make sense to rip it all out so we've decided to go for a cosmetic revamp. The grotty tiles and upper cupboards are going to bite the dust (hallelujah!); new, bigger top cupboards are going in, raised right to the ceiling to make the most of the space. Open shelving over the sink because I love it, new doors and drawer fronts for the lower cupboards to match the top. A crisp new backsplash will banish the beige forever, and with a lick of paint and some new lighting, presto changeo new kitchen! Or at least, better kitchen for not much of our hard earned dough. Geddit? Dough? In the kitchen? I crack me up.

But simple as it sounds, I just can't decide on the new doors - aka the most important bit of the kitchen. I've spent longer than I care to mention trawling Pinterest, collecting 50 inspiration images, but I just can't make up my mind. Fresh and white, a classy grey or deliciously dark? I just don't know. In the meantime, I'll get on with the type of kitchen decision I can handle. Last weekend, to accompany this maple walnut bread, that meant finding a suitably autumnal soup from Hugh F-W - smooth and velvety, rich and nutty, with a surprisingly moreish tang from the yoghurt and crunchy herbs on top. It was another delicious winner from Veg Every Day, perfect for the season - the soup equivalent of a forest floor of crisp brown leaves. Only without the insects or small burrowing rodents. Wait, you've lost all appetite for the soup now, haven't you? Well, at the very least, please make the decision about the kitchen cupboards for me? Choosing soup is about as far as I can go right now.

Chestnut and Sage Soup
Adapted from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day
Serves 2 for lunch, or more for a starter

- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 smallish clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 3 leaves of sage, roughly chopped, plus a few more to decorate
- 200g of cooked, peeled chestnuts (the vac packed ones, basically)
- half a litre of veg stock (homemade if you're Hugh, from a cube if you're us)
- 50ml of creme fraiche or natural yoghurt

Melt a small knob of butter in a large saucepan with a splash of oil, and add the onions. Cook over a low heat for 5-10 minutes or until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, then add the garlic and sage and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the stock, most of the chestnuts (keep one or two aside as garnish) and some salt and pepper and let it simmer gently for fifteen minutes. Then blend with a stick blender or food processor until very smooth, and pour back in the pan. Add the creme fraiche/yoghurt and bring slowly up to heat over a gentle flame,  trying not to let it boil.

Add a splash of oil to a small frying pan and fry the sage leaves for a few minutes or until crisp. Slice the reserved chestnuts - they're already cooked, so you don't need to do anything else to them. Serve the soup with a drizzle of olive oil, the sage leaves, the sliced chestnuts and a good grinding of black pepper. And, if you fancy it, some maple walnut bread.   

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Maple Walnut Bread


There's a nip in the air, and a soup in my belly. Three girls I work with have had to make emergency mid-morning tight-purchasing trips in the last week. Our tomato plant needs to be harvested daily; Strictly is back on TV. My scarves have been rescued from the shadowy recesses of the wardrobe and let loose in public again. In the immortal words of Pinterest - It's Fall, Y'all! 

And even though I know that the death of summer should be a sad thing, I just can't resist the urge to fall headlong into the new season. I LOVE Autumn. In my head, I'm already striding through crunchy brown leaves and cuddling up with a cup of mulled cider and the papers. Shopping trips for holiday clothes have seen me come back no better equipped as far as swimming costumes are concerned, but proudly sporting a maroon corduroy mini skirt and an elbow-patched tweed jacket. Strictly and Downton are already set to series-record, and a bunch of blowsy, mustard-yellow dahlias is splaying all over the dinner table. If I had pencils to sharpen for the new school term, I'd be sharpening.  

Autumn also means a return to proper food. I've been vaguely wanting to make more bread for a while but I could never summon up the urge in summer - too busy getting mini milks out of the freezer and chasing the sun around the garden with a deckchair. This weekend, though, you couldn't keep me out of the kitchen. And nothing seemed more perfect for the change in seasons than this brown, nutty bread.

It's one of Nigella's and even though the very centre of my loaf needed a few more minutes (I fear Paul Hollywood would have stared at me with ice-blue eyes and prodded the dough with a disappointed finger), it was still a winner. Sweet and nutty, with a proper crust and a proper crumb, this is definitely Autumn food - and definitely worth doing again. 

Although bread making is a faff - all those comings and goings, punching and proving - my beloved KitchenAid means that it's never actually difficult. And it's just so satisfying to bring a loaf out of the oven and say "I did that". Never mind the B&Q ads, home made bread is where it's at. The bonus is that you get to eat the evidence.

If you need further convincing, just look at the picture below. Home made bread, home made butter, melt-tastic. It's practically a whiff of bonfire smoke and carpet of brown leaves in bread format. What better way to welcome the new season of good telly?

Maple Walnut bread
Adapted from Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess

- 500g wholemeal bread flour
- 150g strong white flour
- one tablespoon of salt (this felt like an awful lot - the finished bread didn't taste salty, but next time I'll still do less)
- one 7g sachet of easy blend dried yeast
- 300 to 400ml of warm water
- 4 tablespoons of maple syrup
- 50 to 100g chopped pecans or walnuts (she suggests the former, we only had the latter)
- a teeny bit of sunflower oil

Stir together the wholemeal and white flours, salt and yeast in a big bowl (or the bowl of your freestanding mixer). Measure out 300ml of water and mix with the maple syrup. Then pour wet ingredients into dry and mix it all into a rough dough, adding up to 100ml more water if you need to -  I did. Knead for a couple of minutes then leave for twenty.

After twenty minutes, sprinkle in the nuts then knead until it feels smooth and elastic - just about five minutes in my KitchenAid. Lightly oil a bowl and add the ball of dough, turning it over in the bowl so that the dough has a light coating of oil too. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise, either for 1-2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 220C. Punch the dough down with your fist, knead it again for a minute or so then plonk it on a baking sheet, shaping it into a loaf. Cover with a tea towel and leave for half an hour, then slash the top three times diagonally with a sharp knife. Bake for 15mins, then turn it down to 190 and give it another 20 or so. She says to test if it's done by rapping the bottom, but I can never tell if it sounds hollow or not, so just guess. Mine could have done with a bit longer, but it still tasted ace.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Chocolate-Poached Pears

Excuse me while I wipe up some drool. I know that photo is (again!) terribly lit, posed and shot. I know it might look like nothing at all to you - just another iteration of the pear and chocolate combo which I keep banging on about around here. But to me, that photo is a reminder of pure heaven. Pure poached pear-and-oodles-of-chocolate-sauce heaven. Hence the dribble. I just can't help myself.

We've just got back from a few days down by the seaside in sunny Devon, a late Summer hurrah of fish and chips, National Trust, fancy B&B and countryside walks in wildly inappropriate outfits. When we tackled the  coast path (complete with panoramic views, persistent rain and yes-I-had-thought-they-were-practical pale blue brogues), two kagoule-clad locals actually stopped us, pointed at my feet and said we'd never make it. But we showed them! We also trespassed, fell over, collected a beach's worth of gravel in our shoes and ended up taking our lives in our hands among the traffic on a single lane, 40 mile an hour road but, you know, details.

I couldn't live in the country, though. Boring clothes aside (and yes, in a world when the B&B owner commented that my necklace had "brought a touch of glamour to the breakfast room", I did feel ever so slightly the overdressed Londoner), it's just so slooooooooooooooow. The village where we were staying was very proud of having a bus service - with four buses a day. Four a DAY. And none on Sunday, of course. The Sunday when we went to check out the local pub, and found it closed at 6pm. As for the village shop, I don't think it had ever seen the light of day. What do they do in the country? How do they live? 

But the long drive down did also give us the opportunity to debate an ever-engrossing subject - if you could only ever eat five puddings, for the rest of your life, what would they be? Honestly, don't roll your eyes - it takes endless agonising to achieve the best bang for your buck. What ratio of chocolate to fruit, what makes the ultimate crumble and  how do you decide between pavlovas? It took us until Somerset to decide, and I'm still not sure if I made the right choices. But this pear - which we tried for the first time the night before departure, which I've only ever eaten once - actually made it onto my top 5 list. It's THAT good. So, come on, I'm dying to know. What would yours be?

Chocolate-Poached Pears
From The Times magazine a couple of weeks ago. My ripped out page doesn't have the date or the author, I'm afraid, so that's all I can tell you.
Serves 4 - we halved it for the two of us but the quantities were tricky (if enough liquid to submerge the pears, the sauce was too thin; if the sauce was right, the pears weren't covered), so my advice is just to do the full amount and eat the others too. Or, you know, put them into the fridge and eat them tomorrow.

- 4 medium-ripe pears
- 400ml water
- 100g caster sugar
- 100g dark chocolate, finely chopped
- juice of half a lemon

Put the water, sugar, chocolate and lemon juice in a medium saucepan and heat gently, stirring a few times, until the chocolate is totally melted. Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the pears. The recipe says to scoop out the core with a melon baller, but we don't have one, so just put them in whole - which made for difficult eating later. So have a go at scooping with a teaspoon, or invest in a corer (like we just did).

Put the pears into the poaching liquid, cover with a piece of parchment, then put a heatproof plate or bowl over the pan to keep them submerged. Turn the heat right down and poach for 30-40 minutes or until properly soft.

Remove the pears with a slotted spoon, and turn the heat up under the sauce until it thickens and looks luscious. Pour over the top of each pear, and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Aubergine Parmigiana

Considering how much time I spend pissing around on the internet (ans: a lot), it's remarkable that I haven't found a way to make my photos on this site any more attractive. All over the webs, food bloggers nonchalantly display gorgeous photos - artfully-rumpled napkin here, faux-casually tilted fork there. Photos so incredible that the food leaps off the screen, out of its elegantly off-focus background and straight into your dinner plans that evening. Smitten Kitchen's photos are so stomach-rumblingly appealing that she sells prints of them, for god's sake. For actual money! 

But me? Nope. My pans are battered. My plates are smeared. My tiles are woeful (I blame the previous owners) and my counters are scratched. My hob is all too often spattered with crud - and my stock of antique linens and vintage pewter teaspoons is woefully low. I know, I know, it's a disgrace. I should hand in my food blogger membership card right now.

The fact is, although I wish I could claim that this is a deliberate statement about keeping it real, I'm just too greedy to faff around. Last week, for example, I stumbled across a Pinterest tutorial on how to take beautiful food photography. But when I clicked through (as I obviously did - see earlier comment about pissing around on the internet), the chirpy first line of the tutorial promised that "each shot only takes 10 minutes to set up!". Immediately I clicked the small [x] on the top right of the window. Ten minutes? For each photo? Ten minutes before I get to eat the bloody thing, which is no doubt collapsing or cooling or congealing while I snap? You must be joking, sunshine.

So I apologise for the fact that this looks like a murder in a marshmallow. I wish it were more attractive, truly I do. But what I can promise is that it tasted fantastic. And, honestly, this isn't Great British Bake Off (much as I love it - and oh, I do!). Flavour is the only thing that really matters for a weeknight dinner.

The recipe comes from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day (again) but we were lazy and hungry and streamlined it. Despite our shortcuts, it was still a winner - rich, thick and covered with melted cheese (just how I like my men, guffaw guffaw). Perfect for an Indian summer, for one of the last opportunities to eat outside and the start of a huge harvest at the market. Just a shame it's not more photogenic, really. Has anyone invented Smellovision yet? 

Aubergine Parmigiana
Adapted from Hugh F-W's Veg Every Day
Serves 3-4 as a side, or 2-3 as the main bit of the meal
- 2 aubergines, sliced lengthways into slices about half a centimetre thick (he says to salt them first, we didn't bother)
- an onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (we whizzed the onion and garlic together in the food processor)
- a bay leaf
- a 700g bottle of passata, or two tins of chopped tomatoes 
- a ball of mozzarella, torn into little lumps
- parmesan, pecorino or mature cheddar, at a push
First, preheat the oven to about 180C and get out an oven proof dish which looks big enough to hold it all.
Start by frying the aubergines in olive oil until lightly golden in a wide frying pan or (as we did) a griddle - our decision based purely on aesthetic grounds. They'll slurp up as much oil as you give them, so I'll leave that between you and your conscience (although don't go too wild, it's not great when they're super greasy). Keep frying in batches, draining them on kitchen paper as you go.
While the aubergines are cooking, get out a saucepan and cook the onion and garlic in a splash of oil until soft but not coloured - about 10 minutes. Add the passata/tomatoes, some salt and pepper and the bay leaf, and let the whole lot simmer for about 10 minutes or until you've finished doing the aubergine (he says half an hour, but we were hungry). Beware of the unexpected lava eruptions of tomato sauce, your hob and your arms may be casualties by the end of it.
Place a third of the aubergine slices in the base of your dish, cover with a third of the sauce, then a third of the mozzarella and a good grating of parmesan. Continue in two more layers, finishing off with cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is browned. Any leftovers reheat well.
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