Saturday, 28 July 2012

Blackberry, Pear & Ewe's Cheese Salad

A rare day to myself, so I decided to kick it off with some retail therapy in nearby Chester. After some serious shopping my thoughts started to wander towards what to have for lunch. I was thinking maybe one of my favourite lunches; good bread, good cheese and a glass of red. So, I headed off down Northgate Street towards The Cheese Shop. This local gem offers an amazing range of British and Continental cheeses. 

On my way the colourful berries outside the greengrocer's caught my eye, I was particularly drawn to the blackberries and the idea started to develop of a blackberry and cheese salad. Blackberries in the bag, I hurried to The Cheese Shop, I wanted something sharp and salty, maybe Feta or Manchego. I was happy to have a couple in front of me in the queue, they were agonising over their choice, giving me plenty of time to do the same. Having thought that the sharp and salty ewe's milk Manchego cheese would work well here, I was immediately drawn to Swaledale Ewe. A cheese from my home county of Yorkshire, that promised a fresh, clean taste: perfect. Back home, I discovered a very ripe pear in the fruit bowl. I love it when the loosest of plans comes together.

 For the salad

Salad leaves
12 blackberries
1tbsp. orange juice
1tsp. honey
2 tbsp. Rapeseed oil
Sea salt & pepper
1 pear, sliced
Ewe's cheese

For the dressing place half of the blackberries in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add the orange juice, honey, sea salt and pepper and stir. Whisk in the the oil. Have a taste and add more juice, honey or seasoning as you wish.

Add your leaves to a bowl and toss with a little of the dressing.  Add the pear and remaining blackberries. Drizzle with a little more dressing, crumble the cheese on top.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Chilli Pesto

Now that our daughter is little older she likes to stay up a little later and eat her evening meal with my husband and I when he gets home from work. The only downside to this is that she doesn't really like very spicy food. She will tolerate a mild curry or hint of chilli but there are days when I need fire in my belly and mild just won't do. So I decided to devise a chilli pesto recipe. 

I wanted to find something with a robust heat but also a depth of flavour. These musings led me to pasta puttanesca. This traditional Italian pasta sauce delivers on all flavour levels; sweet, salty, hot and sour.  So, after a few childish moments grinning whilst considering the English translation of this dish (whore's pasta) and overcoming my urge to call this pimp's pesto (I am not proud of myself!) I got down to testing a pesto recipe based on puttanesca. It worked a treat. It is delicious stirred through pasta, as you would expect given its provenance. It is also a perfect companion to bread and cheese and will add a fiery intensity to tagines, curries or a steaming bowl of noodles.

For the pesto (enough for 1 jar)

1-3 chillies (depends on their strength and your tolerance)
4-5 cloves of garlic
A handful of black olives 
A handful of sun dried tomatoes
A handful of capers
A handful of mint
A handful of oregano
Sea salt & black pepper
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Olive Oil 

Put all of the ingredients and a few drops of olive oil into a food processor and chop them finely (but not to a puree), you may need to scrape the sides a few times.

Once the ingredients are finely chopped, gradually add some more olive oil whilst stirring until you have a pesto like consistency that you are happy with.

Spoon the pesto into a sterilized jar and cover with a layer of olive oil. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Trout Fillets with Salsa Verde

I spent twenty years not eating fish and seafood. My decision to not eat fish is one of those childhood memories that stand out quite clearly amongst the more faded and incomplete. I was sat at the dinner table eating a whole trout covered in slithers of almonds, picking out bone after bone. The effort far outweighed the enjoyment. Combine this with malodorous trips to the fish market and it was game over for fish and seafood.

Through my twenties when I was seriously getting into cooking, I always felt that fish and seafood was my culinary Achilles heel. I could not consider myself a decent home cook when there was a whole repertoire of tastes and textures that were unknown to me. So, I tentatively started dipping my toes in the water. Encouraged, first of all by my seafood loving husband and then by a desire to make sure that my daughter eats a well-rounded and nutritious diet, I have embraced experimenting with fish and seafood. The fruits of the sea now make (at least) a weekly appearance on our dinner table.

So, it is with a hint of irony that the fish that turned my seven-year-old-self off fish all those years ago is now the fish that I find the most succulent and delicious. It is also a firm favourite with my three year old. Here, it makes for a light summer supper and with the help of your fishmonger, there need not be a bone in sight.

 Serves 2

For the fish
2 trout fillets (bones removed).
2 handfuls of plain flour.
Olive oil.
Sea salt & pepper.

For the salsa verde

2 garlic cloves.
1 tbsp. capers.
3 cornichons.
1 handful of basil.
1 handful of mint.
1 handful of parsley.
1 tsp. mustard.
Juice from 1/2 lemon.
Olive oil.
Sea salt & pepper.  
1 tsp. sugar (optional)

To serve

2 large or 3 medium potatoes.
1/2 cucumber. 
Lemon juice.
Olive oil.

First, the salsa verde. Crush your garlic cloves or sprinkle them with salt and smooth them into a paste with a knife.

Finely chop the capers, cornichons, basil, mint and parsley. Put these and the garlic in to a bowl.

Add the mustard, lemon juice and stir together with a fork. 

Add the olive oil slowly, stirring with a fork until you have a pesto like consistency.

Check the flavour, add a little more lemon juice or oil, the sugar if required and season to taste.

Peel and chop the potatoes and steam or boil them until just cooked (you don't want them to fall apart.)

When the potatoes are cooked, drain and put to one side. Put a couple of tablespoons of the salsa verde into a large bowl and loosen it into a salad dressing consistency with a little extra lemon juice and olive oil. Toss the warm potatoes in the dressing.

Put a frying pan on to a medium-high heat with a drop of olive oil. 

Peel strips of cucumber using a vegetable peeler and arrange on your plates.

Mix a little flour, sea salt and pepper in a large dish or tray. Dip the skin side of your fish in the flour, shaking off the excess and drop into the frying pan to crisp up. When the fish is almost cooked through (it only takes a matter of minutes), take it off the heat and flip the fish to give the flesh side 30 seconds until it is just cooked but still succulent. 

Serve with the potatoes, cucumber and salsa verde.


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Scented Strawberries

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. Honestly, I would be very happy to eat breakfast three times a day; sometimes I do. I wake up hungry and always head straight for the kitchen. So, with the last of the season's strawberries (hand-picked by Genevieve), I decided to make this lovely summer breakfast, which I would be equally happy to eat for dessert later in the day.

A handful of strawberries
A splash of lemon juice
A few drops of rose water
1 tsp. of honey (or more for a sweet tooth)
2 tbsp. of Greek yoghurt 
A sprinkling of granola

Hull and slice the strawberries.

Add the lemon juice, rose water and honey. Stir through and leave to macerate for 20 minutes.

Serve with the Greek yoghurt and granola.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Gooseberry and Elderflower Frangipane Tart

'Un déjeuner au soleil'

A french proverb = Lunch in the Sun = A brief but delicious treat!


Un déjeuner au soleil. If only, the weather is not being kind to us at the moment.  Thus, food has taken on the role of lifting our spirits. I am endeavouring to create summer in the kitchen, in spite of the grey skies and pouring rain outside. During a recent, brief sunny spell my daughter and I visited The Hawarden Farm Shop to play in their wooden fort and say hello to their animals.  As the skies began to darken, we decided to take cover in their café with a hot chocolate and a piece of cake. Before dashing through the rain back to the car I caught a glimpse of these gooseberries which reminded me of a visit by our friends last summer. They arrived with gifts of mini gooseberry tarts and scented sweet peas.  Without giving it a second thought  I picked some up and off we went home to recreate the taste of summer in the kitchen; a brief but delicious treat.

For the shortcrust pastry
300g plain Flour
150g fridge cold butter cut into cubes
1 tbsp icing sugar
Ice-cold water; enough to bring the dough together.

For gooseberry compote
300g gooseberries
A slug of elderflower cordial

For the frangipane
100g butter; at room temperature
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
2 eggs
A sprinkling of flaked almonds

In a freestanding food mixer, using the paddle attachment at slow-medium speed combine the flour, icing sugar and cold butter until they have a fine breadcrumb texture. Alternatively you could rub these together by hand. Then gradually add the ice-cold water until the dough forms into a ball.

Form your dough into a disc, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for about half an hour.

After the rest, Heat your oven to 200°C and roll out your disc on a floured surface; I prefer to do this between two floured sheets of cling film. Then, lift the pastry into a tart tin and gently press into place.

Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork before placing a sheet of baking parchment over the top. Add beans, rice or baking weights. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until cooked but still pale. 

Remove from the oven and take out the baking parchment and beans. Now for the filling...

Put the gooseberries and elderflower cordial into a saucepan and heat on medium until the gooseberries are just softening, check the sweetness and add more cordial if desired.

Beat the eggs and sugar for the frangipane until smooth and pale. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the ground almonds.

Spoon the gooseberry compote into the part baked pastry case, followed by the frangipane, sometimes I dot it around so that the compote bubbles through. Here, I smoothed it out and topped with flaked almonds.

Return the tart to the oven for a further 20 minutes or until the frangipane and pastry are golden.

Serve dusted with icing sugar.

Happy Birthday William! I hope you have got some yummy cake to eat. See you soon. V, N & G xxx.