Sunday, 17 February 2013

Store-cupboard Tomato Soup and Rock Buns

Sometimes it's not just what you eat but where and when you eat it: tartiflette after a morning tearing down the slopes; churros and chocolate after dancing until the madrugada; paper-wrapped fish and chips at the seaside; a fragrant tagine on the roof-top terrace of a ramshackle restaurant, taking in the exotic sights and smells of Place Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakech. Moments when all seems just right with the world: a coming together of the senses to create that perfect epicurean experience. These are simple pleasures; nothing to do with expensive restaurants, just the beauty of having the right thing to eat for the time and the surroundings. Often serendipitous moments, never to be repeated only cherished. But, occasionally they can become traditions to which you can return when the mood and time is right.

This week Nick and I headed to one of our favourite beaches at Talacre. The flat-roofed 60s buildings lining the road to the beach promise little, but in winter, once you head over the dunes from the car park, you can find yourself alone on the vast beach but for the odd dog walker and the striking lighthouse. The unsheltered sands are swept by winds that make it perfect for flying a kite and for a blast of cold salty air to make you feel alive. If Evie had been with us we would have built sandcastles whilst trying to hold our hair out of our eyes, instead we just held hands to try and stop the wind from blowing us away. 

The perfect antidote to all that cold air is a flask of steaming hot tomato soup and a cheese sandwich to dunk. I grate the cheese so that flecks of it melt into the soup, making sure I leave a bit of cheese sandwich to mop up all traces of soup before returning the mug to my bag. Cold, salty wind, sharp cheese and sweet, warming tomato soup; a moment of pure bliss. This was the staple winter picnic on walks along the Scarborough prom in my childhood. On particularly stormy days it was your solace for wet feet when you didn't manage to dodge the crashing waves that splashed up onto the pavement.

Store-Cupboard Tomato Soup 

Enough for a 500ml. flask

Olive Oil
1 onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves
1 can of chopped tinned tomatoes
Chicken or vegetable stock (optional)
A sprinkling of sugar
Salt and Pepper
Pesto and/or a splash of cream (optional) 

Warm the oil in a saucepan on a low-medium heat, add the onions, garlic, a pinch of salt and sugar. Soften for about 15-20 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes until they have darkened and reduced. Fill the tomato tin with water or stock if you have it, add to the soup and cook for a further 10 minutes. Blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Stir through a spoon of pesto or a splash of cream to taste. Keep warm on the heat whilst you   warm your flask by filling it with hot water and leaving to stand for a few minutes. Pour out the hot water and pour in the soup. A mug of pleasure when eaten breathing in the salty air on the sea front with grated cheese sandwiches to dunk. 

On the journey home I was yearning for something sweet to enjoy fireside with a cup of hot tea. The lighthouse had made me reminisce about a TV programme my brother had enjoyed when we were children. My mum still has his old battered Portland Bill annual in her kitchen cupboard because it holds the recipe she uses for rock buns, a firm family favourite. That rock bun recipe is a treasured item. They are very quick to make on those days when you need cake and you need it now. Even more pleasing is that rock buns are at their best straight from the oven, no need to wait for cooling, and gobbling them all up whilst they are still warm is the perfect excuse for winter walk-induced greed. 

Portland Bill's Rock Buns
Recipe adapted from the 1985 annual

Makes 12 buns

225 g. self-raising flour
110 g. butter, cut into cubes
50 g. soft light brown sugar
50 g. caster sugar
2 heaped teaspoons of mixed spice
100 g. of mixed dried fruit
50 g. dried apricots
1 egg
3 tbsp. milk

Preheat oven to 180°C. Rub the butter cubes and flour together in a large bowl until you have a sandy mixture. Add the sugars and mix in with a fork. Add the fruit and stir again. Beat the egg and milk together. Stir into the sandy mixture with the fork. You want something that is slightly wetter than scone mix but still holds a firm shape. Using a dessert spoon, spoon rough balls of mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment. Bake for 15-20 until slightly browned. Delicious served simply as they are, warm from the oven, though butter and marmalade do make a pleasing addition.

I would love to hear your simple pleasure eating experiences, send me an email, tweet or leave a comment and inspire me with your favourite food/time/place/season combinations. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the recipes. Vic x

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Crêpes Suzette & Yorkshire 'Breakfast' Puddings

I'm back! I know, I know, it all went quiet. My laptop died and what unfolded was a farcical chain of events that meant that I have been without a laptop for more than 4 weeks. I'll spare you the details of the ineptitude of HP's customer service department and the bad luck of finally receiving a laptop to have it break the very next day! I hope you can forgive me. 

A whole month has passed. New Year's resolutions have been made and broken and we are starting to feel the tailing off of the winter. The snowdrops are abundant and there are days when I am making it home from work during the hours of daylight. Lent is fast approaching so today I offer two recipes for Shrove Tuesday. Though they would equally work for next week's other celebration, St. Valentine's. I think you are allowed a day off fasting in the name of love. That is if you are fasting; many of us forget that Pancake Day is actually the day when the rich ingredients in the house were eaten up in preparation for the fast that marked the run up to Easter celebrations. Pancakes are of course the popular recipe to use up the forbidden ingredients. For my second recipe I will offer a fresh idea for a Shrove Tuesday or indeed Valentine's breakfast but first I will stick with the traditional pancake. 

I have been meaning to include this classic Crêpes Suzette recipe on the blog since I visited friends back in October. We had a wonderful evening of catching up, punctuated with gorgeous food and well-filled glasses, culminating in Crêpes Suzette. I was so excited! Anything orange-scented is always warmly welcomed onto my plate, but in this case the excitement was heightened by the fact that I had totally forgotten about this most perfect pancake recipe. I am a sucker for an exciting new recipe, but shiny and new cannot beat the the delight of rediscovering an old, forgotten favourite.

Crêpes Suzette was one of my first solo kitchen projects. My mum taught me the recipe when I was about 10, and for many years it was my favourite thing to make. Then, over time, I learnt new recipes and moved on. With the waft of the boozy orange juices I was both sad that I had been missing out in the interim years and so grateful to have been reunited with the immediately familiar taste and the associated memories. I was a hopeless Girl Guide, earning only two badges in my 5 years service; my cooking badge, for which I made Crêpes Suzette, was my first. I remember pre-preparing the sauce at home and putting it into an old jam jar to serve with my practiced and perfected wafer-thin pancakes, and my mum allowing me to put in a drop of Cointreau as long as I didn't tell my Guide leader. 

I love the connection food gives us to our past experiences. Without that orange-scented reminder, I would not have relived those happy memories. So, I dedicate this recipe to Clare and Spence in thanks for the simple pleasure of spending an evening catching up with friends, topped off with the perfect nostalgic pudding.  

Crêpes Suzette

For the Crêpes

125g. plain flour
1 large egg
300ml. milk
2 tbsp. caster sugar
1 tsp. melted butter
butter for frying

For the sauce

50g. butter
1 large orange zest and juice
2 large oranges juice only
1 lemon zest and juice
3 tbsp. caster sugar
2 tbsp. Cointreau or Grand Marnier

Sieve the flour into a bowl (if I'm feeling lazy I don't always follow this step). Make a well and crack in the egg. Start beating with a whisk. Then slowly add the milk, beating all the time. Add the melted butter and the sugar. Beat for a final time until the batter is lump-free. Rest the batter for at least half an hour. There's no reason why you couldn't make the batter in the morning for later that day, or even the night before, keeping it covered in the fridge.

Leaving the butter aside, stir together all of the other sauce ingredients in a jug.

Put a pan on to medium heat. Once hot, add a small knob of butter, smooth it around the pan and remove any excess with some kitchen towel. Put in your first test pancake, You want just enough batter so that you can thinly coat the bottom of your frying pan. For my large frying pan, I need just under a ladle of batter. You may find that you need to adjust the temperature of the pan a little if the pancake is not cooking evenly or is burning. Once one side is lightly browned flip the pancake and cook the other side. Place on a plate and cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper repeating the process with the remainder of the batter, aiming for 8 crêpes.

Once the pancakes are ready add the butter for your sauce to the pan and allow to melt before adding the other ingredients and bringing to the boil. Once bubbling, start adding the pancakes one at a time to the pan, immersing them in the sauce before folding them in half, then in quarters, then in eighths. Leaving the pancake in the pan, repeat this with the remaining pancakes until you have all 8 pancakes sitting in the pan. Transfer to warmed plates with a spoon of the buttery orange sauce and a dollop of clotted cream.

My second recipe came about when my pregnant sister came to stay. She'd been having cravings for Yorkshire pudding and was seriously considering eating them every day of the week, so we were discussing possibilities for sweet and savoury recipes and accompaniments. After a few minutes of swapping recipes we both realised we had eaten our county's eponymous pudding in many guises, both savoury and sweet, but never for breakfast. Instantly, I thought of using them in place of pancakes with berries or bacon and maple syrup. The next morning, there was no question as to what we would have for breakfast. They were heavenly, so much lighter and fluffier than pancakes with the added advantage of not needing to be made in batches; perfect for when you are cooking breakfast for the hordes. They are also super-easy to make, maybe for an impressive Valentine's breakfast in bed. Two reasons to never stand flipping pancakes in my dressing gown ever again?

Yorkshire Breakfast Puddings

I have been making Yorkshire puddings since I was very small. I suspect beating this batter was probably my first ever kitchen task and I must have been quite good at it because it is one of the few kitchen tasks that my mum regularly entrusted to me. I have always made them without measuring. You want roughly the same amount of egg, milk and flour; so I suggest this easy method.

Rapeseed oil
Eggs (1 for every 2 people/ 4 muffin sized puddings)
Plain flour
Rashers of pancetta or thin-sliced smoked bacon per person and/or a handful of berries.
Maple syrup to serve

Preheat your oven to 220°C. Put a drop of rapeseed oil into each of the muffin tin moulds and put in the oven to heat.

Crack the number of eggs you require into a measuring jug, make a note of the line that they reach and pour them into a large bowl. Pour the milk into the jug up to the same level as the eggs.  Add the milk to the eggs and repeat with the flour, adding the flour up to the same level as the eggs and milk and then add to the batter. Whisk the batter until smooth, season and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes.

Lay the pancetta rashers on a baking tray. When the batter has rested, put the tray of pancetta rashers into the oven and ladle the Yorkshire pudding batter into the muffin tray. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the bacon is crisp and the Yorkshire puddings are puffed up and crispy on top (I like them a little soggy at the bottom - with apologies to Paul Hollywood). Serve with bacon or a selection of berries and cream, and add a splash of maple syrup.  The berry versions also make a lovely pudding. I use the middle of the pudding to hold a scoop of ice-cream and top with berries and syrup. You can take the girl out of Yorkshire but.... 

Enjoy! Vx