Monday, February 28, 2011

Classic Pancakes

When it's the weekend there's nothing nicer than having the time to sit down and have a proper, relaxed brunch. For me, one of my favourite things to have is a stack of hot, light and fluffy pancakes drizzled with warm maple syrup and topped with some crispy bacon. Add to that a glass of orange juice, a hot cappuccino and some fresh fruit and you have the perfect start to the day..... Bliss!

Makes approx. 16 pancakes

210g/ 7 ½ oz/ 1 ½ cups all-purpose or plain flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
400ml Milk
2 eggs
3 tbsp melted butter, cooled

To serve:
Butter (optional)
Lots of good quality, warm or room temperature maple syrup
Streaky bacon, cooked to your liking

In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl or jug combine the milk, eggs and melted butter. Whisk well then add to the dry ingredients. Mix everything together until smooth.

Heat a griddle or frying pan then drizzle a little extra butter into your pan. Ladle some of the mixture onto your cooking surface, leaving room for them to spread. Cook for roughly 2-3 minutes until you have lots of small bubbles on the surface then flip the pancakes over and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute or until they are golden. Keep the cooked pancakes warm and continue making pancakes until you have used all of the batter. Serve with a little butter, lots of warm maple syrup and crispy bacon! The perfect start to a Saturday or Sunday!

*If you like you can add a handful of fresh blueberries to the batter for blueberry pancakes or if you are still able to get fresh pomegranates try my Pomegranate & Orange Pancakes for a change – absolutely delicious!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Penne Arrabiata or 'Fiery Pasta'!

Anyone that knows me knows that one of my favourite things to eat is simply pasta with a good tomato sauce (perfect example – my pasta with fresh tomato sauce), however add some heat to that tomato sauce and I'm really happy!

People say when you eat out (especially if you don't do it very often) you should try and order something that you wouldn't make at home, however I have to admit if I ever see Penne Arrabiata on the menu I am absolutely torn as I love it so much(and normally end up ordering it!)

Years ago when I was at University I was told by an Italian friend that Arrabiata literally means “fiery pasta” which I absolutely love, so feel free to make this sauce as fiery and spicy as you like! To make it more substantial you could add meat such as some spicy sausage.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper, Chicken & Goats Cheese Quesadilla

This isn't a new post but this recipe has been so popular that I decided it needed it's own page! Hopefully it's now easier for you all to get to quickly when you want the recipe. (To see the rest of the original post - 'Cute As A Button' - click here!)

This is so easy and quick to make but so tasty! I use my griddler but you could easily use a normal griddle pan or if you have neither of those a good old frying pan does the trick! For this recipe I only use 1 tortilla per person and just fold it over, however if you're feeling particularly hungry you could use 2 tortillas and make it like a sandwich - you might just need to add a few more peppers and some extra goats cheese but there should be enough chicken. The quantities for the red pepper mayo makes more than enough, but it's so tasty and can be used for lots of other things.

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

2 flour tortillas
1 cooked chicken breast, shredded
55g/ 2oz roasted red peppers
100g/ goats cheese
Small pinch of salt and good grind of black pepper

Roasted Red Pepper Mayo:
30g/ 1oz roasted red peppers
125ml/ ½ cup mayo
Squeeze of lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil
Good grind of black peppercorns

To serve:
Rocket (optional) with a squeeze of lemon

Make the mayonnaise by putting all of the ingredients into a jug or small container then blend with a hand-held mixer (or use a small bowl of a food processor or blender). Mix until well combined then taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Sprinkle in the parsley, mix, then transfer to a small serving bowl.

Pre-heat your griddler, grill pan or frying pan.

Scatter half of the shredded chicken on one half of the tortilla then layer half of the peppers on top. Crumble over some goats cheese then add a touch of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Fold the other half of the tortilla on top and press down a little. Put the tortilla on the griddler (or whatever you are using) then simply grill for a few minutes until golden and crisp on the outside and melted and oozy in the middle! Cut the tortilla into 4 wedges and serve with some rocket on the side and the red pepper mayo for dipping. Do the same for the second quesadilla (unless your pan is big enough to fit 2 on at once!) then eat and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Little Bit of Food Luxury

Some people get excited about buying a new outfit or a killer pair of 4 inch high heels, I sadly get excited about buying food. Yep that's me....the sad food geek that can't resist buying fancy food items. Take last week for example – I was over the moon to track down some beautifully elegant and exotic Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup! Perfect, a total delight and just in time for Valentines Day! I also particularly love gourmet items like flavoured oils, salts and spices. You can imagine my delight therefore at some of the beautiful Christmas presents I got from my brother and sister-in-law. As mentioned in my 'Cute As A Button' post, the beautiful, sparkly, pastel sugar buttons were from them. But they didn't stop there! Add to the buttons 12 pastel silicon cupcake cases and I was all set for making my pretty little cupcakes. Next (and like the buttons, also from Paris) was a delicate jar of dried purple flower petals, ideal for scattering over cakes and desserts for a beautiful finishing touch.

Merging into the savoury side was a jar of vanilla salt (courtesy of Heston & Waitrose). I don't think I've mentioned it yet but I have a slight thing for different types of salt and can't resist buying anything I see that is a little bit different. Up until Christmas I certainly didn't have any vanilla salt but I couldn't be happier to add it to my collection (which I will tell you about later). Also added to my collection (yes there was more!) was a bag of gleaming pink “Diamond Crystals of Rose Salt” - the name says it all! From Terre Exotique ( these rose hued Himalayan rock salt crystals came complete with a fine grater ready to be put on a dish and on the table for everyone to help themselves to – what a conversation starter and another salt ticked off my list that I didn't have!
And last, although I have purposely saved the best for last, was the most amazing and magical box I have ever seen for the kitchen - Laura Santtini's Alchemical Larder. Entitled '16 magical ingredients & some notions for potions' just looking in this box makes me schoolgirl giggly and gives me a ridiculous sense of being somewhat closer to being a student at Hogwart's and concocting delicious, but magical meals! Within the box are 16 little glass pots ranging in colour from yellow, orange and fuchsia to lavender, jade and turquoise, all sealed with a gleaming gold lid. Each beautiful pot contains its own special ingredient. Some are filled with spices that you will have heard of and possibly have such as Sumac, Saffron, Nutmeg and Smoked Paprika, but then there are the real 'magical' ingredients like White Mischief; Persian Rose; Grains of Paradise and Carnal Sin to name a few. I could tell you what they all actually are but for the time being I'll leave you guessing what wonders are contained within those beautifully named jars. Honestly just peering into this box at the gleaming jars makes me feel like an alchemist! To go with the box was a little cylinder of 'Inca Stardust Savoury Sprinkles', an alchemy of bitter chocolate, chilli, burnt orange, edible silver & gold dust! It is without doubt the most amazing food-related present I've ever had, so thank you Scott and Susan!

Unfortunately however since I'm not an alchemist my culinary skills related to food luxuries only goes as far as some flavoured oils, salt and syrups. That being said the whole point of the Alchemical larder is to add flavours that enhance your meal and really it is just a blend of spices and salts that enhance certain flavours so I get pretty excited by my own flavour enhancers!

In the UK you can very easily get flavoured oils that aren't overly expensive,however I've noticed that here in Canada it's not only quite difficult to get such items but if you do track them down they are generally pretty expensive, which is why I decided to make some of my own and share them with you.

I don't expect you to get as excited as I do, but for me knowing that I have some homemade oils and salts in my cupboard ready and waiting to enhance something with makes me happy, so let the magic begin!

Wickedly Hot Chilli Oil

I use this intensely hot oil to drizzle over things just before serving. Since I don't generally cook with it I like to add a little Extra Virgin Olive oil once it has cooled – if you prefer though you can miss this out. Delicious drizzled over pizza, pasta, mozzarella and other salads that you want to add a little heat to!

250ml olive oil
4-5 dried red chillies, cut lengthwise in half (stopped just before the green stem)
100ml extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Put the oil and chillies into a small pan and heat over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before transferring to a bottle or jar.

Garlic Oil
Since I use this oil to cook with I use a mild olive oil. Use it whenever you would normally use ordinary olive oil and would like an extra flavour of garlic.

5-6 cloves of garlic
300ml olive oil

Using the flat side of a knife (or can can just use your hands) crush the garlic cloves. Peel the crushed cloves then add them to a small pan. Add the olive then gently heat until the edges of the garlic are just beginning to bubble and sizzle ever so slightly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely before transferring into a bottle or a jar. (You can add the garlic cloves to the decanted oil if you want - I normally do but only leave them in for a couple of days before removing them.)

Gourmet Salts

Porcini Salt

30g/ 1oz/ ¼ cup approx. Sea salt – I always use Maldon Sea Salt
14g/ ½ oz dried porcini mushrooms

In a coffee or spice grinder, whizz the mushrooms until almost dust form. Carefully open the grinder – you will likely have a small plume of porcini dust – then add the salt. Grind again once more until mixed then transfer to a container. Perfect sprinkled on meat (especially steaks), potato wedges, pasta and anything else you want to add an intense, 'meaty' flavour to.

Chilli & Lime Salt

I love the combination of chilli and lime. It perks everything up and is completely delicious! Since I love chilli so much when I make this salt I make more than I do with the porcini salt as I use it more. If you prefer you can easily half the recipe though. This salt takes a little longer to make as you have to let it dry out overnight since it's involves using fresh chillies.

75g/ 2.5oz/ ½ cup approx. Sea salt – Maldon is my favourite
3-4 red chillies, depending on how hot you want it
Zest of ½ lime

Roughly chop up the chillies, de-seeding them if you prefer a slightly milder salt. Put into a small food processor and blitz until chopped. Add the salt and continue pulsing until the chillies and salt are well combined. Add the lime zest then transfer onto a baking tray and leave to dry in a cool place overnight. Transfer to a jar as use as needed.

Lavender & Orange Salt

Ok, this one I have to admit was a bit of an experiment and I'm still deciding what to use it on! That being said it is delicious and delicate and I'm sure would be delicious on scallops, a goats cheese or feta salad or even as a little sprinkling on something sweet!

I don't blitz this salt as I like to keep the texture of the salt flakes and lavender buds. If you prefer though you can easily grind it so that it's a finer texture and the flavours more combined.

30g/ 1oz/ ¼ cup flaked sea salt such as Maldon
1 tsp dried lavender
Zest of 1 orange

In a small bowl mix together the salt and lavender – using your finger tip gently crush the flakes together a little so help realise the flavour and mix then salt with the lavender. Add the zest of the orange then mix well. Put on a plate or baking tray and leave to dry in a cool place overnight. Transfer to a jar as use as needed.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentines Day Meal

Valentines Day is a day you either love or hate. For the smug few that are very into it then it's great – showered with flowers and gifts it's your day to be ridiculously over-affectionate without being glared at (too much). For others it's a day where you are just reminded that yes you are single and no you don't have someone to be stupidly mushy with and a day to avoid restaurants at all costs. And then there are the rest who are happily in a relationship (or not and just don't care about Valentines Day) but see it really as a day fabricated by Hallmark to pressure you into buying cards, chocolates, extremely over-priced roses and fluffy, pink and red stuffed toys! I tend to fall some-what into the latter category. Yes I admit I would be in the huff if I didn't get a card from my other half, and yes it is lovely to get flowers (only cause it's a rarity in this house!) and I do always get him a card, but that generally is as far as it goes...... until it comes to the meal (of course!).

For me, going to a restaurant on Valentines Day is my idea of a complete nightmare. Instead I see it as the perfect excuse for us to have an evening together where we make some effort, cook a nice meal that we are both going to enjoy, crack open a bottle or two of wine and sit at the table with some candles, music of our choice and just relax..... bliss!

This menu is for those of you that would rather stay in and have a nice meal at home for a lovely Valentines Day. That being said this is the meal I made for Mr. Vanilla the first time I was really trying to impress him! It obviously worked and since then it has become a bit of a 'special occasion' meal so enjoy it on Valentines Day or any other day you want to impress!

Valentines Day Menu

There are meals that you want to enjoy together as a couple that are tasty and delicious but still quick, easy and non-stressful. Then there are times when you really want to push the boat out and make that extra effort which means spending a bit more time in the kitchen. This is one of those meals – you have been warned! However with every bite you take you will realise it's worth it. That being said, there is quite a lot you can do in advance to make it easier at the end and I recommend doing this unless you are happy to be in the kitchen, cooking together!

*All of these recipes were originally intended to serve 4 however since it's Valentines Day I thought I should half the quantities (with the exception of the dessert). That means that if you would rather serve this meal for 4, everything is very easily (and successfully) doubled.

I've separated each recipe onto it's own post so that this isn't the longest post ever!


Wild Hibiscus Royale

On Valentines Day you can't beat a glass of sparkly with a strawberry in it, but for something extra special try a Wild Hibiscus flower for a truly elegant and unique drink.

This is my variation of a Wild Hibiscus Royale which is served at the royal Dorchester Hotel in London. Not only does this cocktail look stunning but it tastes pretty fabulous too! Ideal for Valentines Day, with it's pink hue, this cocktail is so delicate and delicious – make sure you have enough for a couple of glasses each as trust me, you'll want it!

(To find out where to get some Wild Hibiscus Flowers have a look at their website – it has a handy little store locator which will tell you the nearest supplier to you!)

Per glass:
¼ tsp rose water
1 Wild Hibiscus Flower
Champagne, Cava or Prosecco to top up
2 tsp hibiscus flower syrup

Pour the rose water into the bottom of a champagne glass then carefully add the Hibiscus flower. Top up with the sparkly of your choice then add the syrup. Cheers!

*If you would prefer a layered or two-toned effect add the syrup to the bottom of the glass with the rose water.

Mushroom Bruschetta with Aioli

The great thing with this dish is that you can use any mushrooms you like and it will taste fantastic. The addition of the aioli really lifts its up and turns the dish into a fantastic starter or lunch.

Things you can do in Advance (if part of the Valentines Meal):

*Make the cheat's Aioli
*Cut up the mushrooms
*Toast the bread and rub with the garlic

Serves 2

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 clove of garlic, crushed
200g mixed wild mushrooms of your choice, sliced or cut as you please
2 tbsp White wine or water
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped plus extra for garnish
Salt and Pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
2 slices of ciabatta, thinly sliced (or other similar bread of your choice)
1 whole clove of garlic, cut in half
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

To serve –
Cheat’s aioli (see recipe below)

In a large frying pan heat 1 tablespoon of the oil with the butter until the butter has melted. Add the mushrooms and cook in a single layer (in batches if necessary – you don't want to overcrowd the pan as they won't cook well) until golden. Add the garlic and cook for another minute being careful not to brown it then add the wine, half the parsley and seasoning. Cook gently for a few more minutes until the mushrooms are tender and the wine has been soaked up (if you need to, cover the pan with a lid for the last few minutes). While the mushrooms are cooking, drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the baguette slices and lightly toast them until they are golden. Rub the toasted slices of bread with a little of the cut clove of garlic. Just before serving add the remaining parsley to the mushrooms and check the seasoning. To serve put half of the mushrooms on top of each toasted baguette and sprinkle with a little extra parsley, a drizzle of the extra virgin olive oil and a spoonful of the delicious aioli.

Cheat’s Aioli

This is a really fast and easy way to make a mild version of aioli. It is so versatile you can use it with the mushroom bruschetta or as a dip for some cooked prawns or even potato wedges. This condiment with soon become a staple in your repertoire. If you are feeling brave use more garlic.

125ml good quality bought mayonnaise
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed (I use my microplane grater)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Simply mix all of the ingredients into a small bowl and use as needed. Keep any leftovers in the fridge.

Pan-fried Duck Breasts with Red Wine Sauce

I absolutely love duck but it is definitely something that we only really eat for a special occasion meal (though I'm not really sure why!). If you've never tried it please do – as long as you are a meat eater I'm sure you will love it! The key is to keep it pink so that the meat is melt in your mouth – just like you would eat a steak. The red wine sauce is the perfect accompaniment and goes so well with the caramelized shallots.

I appreciate that serving Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes might not be your idea of something to eat for a romantic meal, however my theory is as long as you're both eating it, then it's fine! That being said if you'd rather miss out the roasted garlic you can easily serve plain mashed potatoes or add some finely chopped herbs such as parsley and chives to make it herb mashed potatoes.

White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Rose Syrup

My rule of thumb for a special meal is always to have a dessert that you can make ahead of time – that way once you sit down for your main course, your work is done and you can completely relax and enjoy yourself. This dessert needs to be made ahead of time (a day is ideal however you can make it two days ahead if that's easier) as it needs to set overnight.

This dessert is light and delicious and the perfect ending to this meal, but of course it still has chocolate in it as you can't have Valentines Day without chocolate!

The quantities for this recipe make enough for 4 generous servings, however I thought that if you are going to go to the effort of making a delicious dessert you might as well make enough for left-overs the next day!

500ml double or whipping cream
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise in half
100g good quality white chocolate
3 fine gelatin leaves

For the rose syrup:
125g sugar
125ml water
1 tbsp rosewater
Pink food colouring (optional)

To serve:
Rose petals (optional)

Heat the cream in a pan over a medium heat until it just starts to boil. Turn the heat down to it's lowest setting then add the seeds from the vanilla pod and the white chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts then remove from the heat and set aside.

Put some cold water into a shallow bowl then add the gelatine leaves. Leave for 5 minutes until they have softened then remove and squeeze out the excess water. Add to the cream mixture and stir until well combined (you can use a whisk if you prefer at this point) then leave to cool slightly before pouring into individual moulds. Put the panna cottas in the fridge and leave to set overnight.

To make the rose syrup put the sugar and water into a pan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved, stirring from time to time. Once the sugar has completely dissolved turn the heat up and bring it to boil. Reduce the heat then add the rose water then leave to simmer for 10 minutes until it has thickened and reduced slightly. Remove from the heat then add a little pink food colouring (if using). Allow the syrup to cool completely then transfer into a bottle or jar.

When ready to serve, dip the base of the moulds very briefly ( a matter of seconds) into hot water and turn out onto serving plates (or if you prefer you can serve them still in the moulds if you have used tea cups or wine glasses). Drizzle over a little of the rose syrup then garnish with a few rose petals (or any thing else you prefer).

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Valentines Cookies

As you will see from my next post I generally don't go all-out on Valentines Day, however I've decided this year to share the love (of course purely for the sake of my blog) and do a little more than I normally would.

Both the cupcakes and cookies are so easy to make and of course all of the fun is in the decorating. Ideal for making with children if you have willing participants around looking for something to do, or in my case a fun and relaxed evening in the kitchen alone!

Sugar Cookies
The recipe I use for my sugar cookies is taken from Peggy Porschen's book, Pretty Party Cakes. They make delicious, crisp cookies that taste wonderful but also provide a nice smooth top perfect for icing and decorating as you please. For these particular cookies I used the zest of a lemon to make them lemon cookies as it was a beautiful sunny day when I made them, however you could use the seeds from a vanilla pod or the zest from a orange or lime.

200g unsalted butter
200g caster or berry sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
400g plain or all-purpose flour

To decorate:
12g / 1 heaped tbsp dried egg white powder (meringue powder)
500g icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
5-6 tbsp water
Pink & red food colouring
Edible red & pink glitter (my glitter is from Edible Glitter)

Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest (or other flavouring of your choice) using an electric mixer. Be careful not to over mix as this can cause the mixture to spread during baking. Lightly beat the egg then mix into the creamed sugar until well mixed. With the mixer on low gradually add the flour until a dough forms. Take the dough out and form it into a large disc then wrap in cling film and chill for at least 1 hour.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

Sprinkle some flour on a large chopping board or your work surface. I tend to cut the dough in half and work on one half at a time. Put the dough onto the floured surface and knead slightly before rolling out to roughly ¼ inch in thickness. Using cookie cutters of your choice (obviously since these are Valentines cookies hearts were the shape of my choice!) cut out the shapes and carefully place onto the lined baking tray. Once they are all cut out chill the cookies for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C/ GM 4. Bake the cookies for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of cookie, until they have just turned golden-brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

While the cookies are cooling make up your icing. Sift the dried egg white (meringue powder) and icing sugar into the bowl of a free-standing mixture or large bowl, then add the lemon juice and 5 tbsp of water. Starting on a very low setting mix everything together then increase the speed and mix until well combined, glossy and smooth. In order to pipe the outlines you want the icing to be fairly thick so don't be tempted to thin it too much. Divide the icing into bowls depending on how many colours you want to make, then add a little food colouring to each bowl (I use gel paste food colouring so it doesn't thin the icing anymore and use a cocktail stick to add the colouring – a little goes a long way!). Put a little of each icing into a piping bag – I use sandwich bags then cut the very corner off so you just have a small hole. Carefully pipe the outline of the cookies. Once they have all been done you can add a little extra water to each icing to thin it slightly. Spoon some icing into the centre of each cookie and carefully let it flood to the edges, helping it with the back of the spoon or a small spatula. Once the cookie is evenly covered set aside and repeat using up all of that colour. Once you are finished sprinkle over the edible glitter if using then let dry completely. Repeat with all of the cookies then sit back and admire your handy work!

Valentines Cupcakes

Once again this is my standard cupcake recipe that I use, taken from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. This time I have adjusted it by adding some rose water to make them rose flavoured cupcakes, perfect for Valentines Day. Feel free to change the flavouring to whatever you like.

For the icing I did half of my cupcakes using the rest of the Royal icing I made for the Valentines Cookies and the other half was rose buttercream. The quantities below for the buttercream are for 12 cupcakes but can easily be halved if you want to do a variety like I did.
Makes 12 cupcakes

120g plain or all-purpose flour
140g caster or berry sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, softened
120ml milk
1 egg
½ – 1 tsp rose water (depending on how strong your particular brand is)

Buttercream Icing:
250g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter, softened
25ml milk
a few drops of rose water

Decorations of your choice

Preheat your oven to 170C/ 325F/ GM 3 and line a cupcake tin with medium sized paper cases.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter into the bowl of a KitchenAid (or other freestanding mixer) and using the paddle attachment mix slowly until everything is combined and you have a sandy consistency (if you don't have a KitchenAid use a hand-held electric beater). While the mixer is running, slowly pour in the milk and mix until it's just incorporated, then add the egg and rose water and continue beating until it's mixed in. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is properly mixed but be careful not to over beat the mixture.

Evenly spoon the cake mixture into the cupcake cases (book says until two-thirds full) and bake for 20-25 minutes until the sponge bounces back when touched (with my oven 22 minutes works perfectly every time) and a skewer comes out clean with put into the centre of the cake. Leave to cool for a few minutes then transfer the cupcakes onto a wire rack.

To make the icing sift the icing sugar into the bowl of a free-standing mixture or large bowl, then add the butter and beat on a low setting until it comes together. Turn the speed up a little and continue beating until it is well mixed. Turn it back down to low then add the milk and the rose water and mix until it is well combined and smooth. Add a little food colouring then turn up to a higher setting and beat for roughly 5 minutes until the icing is light and fluffy.

Once the cakes have completely cooled ice and decorate them as you please. I used a variety of decorations including edible wafer roses, edible glitter hearts, sugar diamonds and sugar hearts.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Beetroot Risotto with Seared Steak

There's no doubt about it, wherever you go in February you are surrounded by pink and red! So I thought what better time than to post my recipe for my vivid cerise Beetroot Risotto with Seared Steak.

I know a lot of people are put off making risotto because there is a fear that it's difficult to make or at the very least, time consuming, however it's really not that bad. It certainly isn't difficult to make, but you do need 20 minutes of uninterrupted time when making risotto as it requires a lot of stirring, so take the phone of the hook, put on your favourite music, pour a glass of wine and relax while making yourself a delicious meal!

For a vegetarian option use vegetable stock and miss out the steak and if you like, serve it with some slices of a good quality goats cheese on top.

3 medium raw beetroots
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
300g/ 10.5oz Arborio or carnaroli rice
125ml white wine
1250ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 tbsp Parmesan, finely grated

2 Sirloin steaks
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt & pepper

To garnish:
Pea shoots (optional)
Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/ 400F/ GM 6. Wash and trim the roots and stalks of the beetroot then wrap individually in foil and roast in the oven for 1 hour then leave to cool.

If you would like to avoid pink fingers I would suggest putting on a pair of rubber gloves to peel and cut the beetroot, however quite often I don't bother as I find it washes off if you are prepared to scrub a little! A tip that I would recommend however, is to put a piece of wax paper or baking parchment on your chopping board to save that from being stained bright pink. Peel the beetroots then roughly chop 2 of them. Put the chopped beetroots into either a blender or a jug and use a hand-held blender to puree them until they are completely smooth then set aside. Slice the remaining beetroot as thinly as you can then set aside for until you are ready to serve the meal.

Put the stock in a pan and keep over a low heat as it’s important to keep it hot whilst you are making the risotto so the rice can absorb it easily.

In a large frying pan melt 1 tbsp of the butter with the oil then sauté the onion for 5 minutes, being careful not to colour it.

While the onion is sauteing heat a griddle or frying pan until really hot (if you prefer you can also cook the steak on a barbecue as Mr. Vanilla normally does!). Drizzle a little oil over the steaks then season with some salt and pepper. Cook the steaks for 3-4 minutes for medium-rare, then remove and cover with tin foil to rest while you continue cooking the risotto.

Add the garlic to the onion and cook for another minute then increase the heat slightly and add the rice. Stir well so that every grain of rice is covered in the butter and onion mix. Cook for 1 minute stirring continuously then add the wine. Once it has been absorbed by the rice, you can start adding the stock. It is important that you only add a ladle or two at a time and let the rice absorb all of it before you add anymore. Keep stirring it so that it doesn’t stick and reduce the heat slightly. After a few ladles of stock season the risotto with salt and pepper then add the pureed beetroot and stir well. Continue to add the stock and keep stirring as you do so. After about 15 minutes check the rice to see if it is cooked. If it still has too much bite, continue adding the stock until it is al dente.

When the risotto is ready remove from the heat and add the remaining tablespoon of butter in small cubes over the top of the risotto, along with 3 tbsp of the Parmesan and the parsley. Cover with a lid and leave for 1 minute.

While the risotto is sitting slice the steaks into thin pieces. Add any juices from the steak to the risotto and stir gently to mix it all in along with the melted butter, Parmesan and parsley.

Spoon the risotto onto 4 serving plates then top with some of the steak. Garnish with a few slices of beetroot and if using I like to top it all with some fresh pea shoots. Drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil and finish with some shavings of Parmesan.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Little Taste of Morocco

If you are in need of some escapism from the cold and dark winter days but can't afford to hop on a plane, try making my warming Chicken Tagine with Almonds served with my Jewelled Couscous. Perfect for a mid-week meal or special enough to make for friends this recipe will transport you to warmer climates and charm you with a taste of the unfamiliar.

Chicken Tagine with Almonds

Since I have never actually been to Morocco I can’t guarantee you that this recipe is 100% authentic, however what I can guarantee is that it tastes fantastic. For me, when I think of Moroccan cooking I think of bright, vibrant dishes full of exotic spices and flavours. This tagine (which is the name of the stew as well as the dish they cook it in) is a deliciously aromatic stew enhanced with the mellow sweetness of honey and the refreshing zing of lemon zest. The turmeric turns it a brilliant golden colour, guaranteed to warm you up on a cold day.

Like my Friday Night Chicken Curry recipe, this dish has a lot of sauce. That's the way I love it because then I can drench my couscous in it soaking up all of the rich, aromatic goodness, however if you would prefer a thicker sauce reduce the amount of chicken stock to 350ml.

Serves 4

2 tbsp mild olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp Ras el Hanout* (if available)
Pinch of saffron strands
500ml chicken stock (see above)
2 tbsp honey
4 thick pieces of lemon peel (use a peeler)
60g/ 2oz ground almonds
4 chicken breasts, skinless & boneless
Salt & Pepper
3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Small scattering of toasted flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C.

In a large pan or casserole dish, heat the oil over a medium heat then sauté the onion for roughly 8 minutes until it is starting to soften but not coloured. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another couple of minutes. Turn the heat down slightly then add the cinnamon sticks, turmeric, cumin, ginger and coriander and ras el hanout (if using). Stir well so that all the spices are mixed thoroughly with the onion and garlic. This will also make sure that your stew doesn’t have a raw spice taste at the end. Add the stock, saffron, honey and lemon zest and ground almonds. Cut each chicken breast into 3 or 4 large pieces then add to the casserole along with some salt and pepper. Cover with a tight fitting lid and put in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.

When ready to serve sprinkle over the chopped parsley and flaked almonds and serve with the jewelled couscous.

*Ras el Hanout is a wonderfully fragrant Moroccan blend of spices that includes a huge selection of spices including my favourite ingredient - rose petals. If you can track it down it really is worth the effort as I think it really makes this Tagine. In the UK it's easy enough to find (most supermarkets carry the Bart spice range), however in Canada I find it harder to source. If you can't find it in your local supermarket or spice shop try online at The Silk Road Spice Merchant.

Jewelled Couscous

I absolutely love couscous especially cause it takes no time at all to make - this is literally fast food at it's best! This is perfect with the Chicken & Almond Tagine, however it is also perfect for a quick and easy lunch.

If you can't get pomegranates just miss them out however it won't have the wonderful 'jewelled' look that makes it so uplifting in the dark winter months. For some extra colour you could add some finely chopped red pepper or for a bit of heat, a chopped red chilli. I find most varieties of couscous vary in the ratio of couscous to stock however, he quantities below work for me with the brand I use. If in doubt though you ideally want a good cm or so of stock above the couscous when you first cover it for perfect fluffy couscous.

Serves 4 (with left-overs for lunch!)

250g Couscous
Enough hot chicken stock to just cover the couscous (make up 500ml/ 2 cups and you will have plenty)
2-3 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped
3 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
Juice & zest of ½ lemon
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Put the couscous in a medium sized bowl then cover with the chicken stock. Stir quickly with a fork then cover tightly with cling film and leave for 5 minutes. Once the couscous has absorbed all the stock, fluff and separate the grains with a fork, then add the coriander, parsley, mint, pomegranate seeds and lemon zest. Gently mix together then add the lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir well then taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve at once.

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