Sunday, May 29, 2011

Candy Cupcakes

Once again this is my standard cupcake recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, this time flavoured with vanilla. Ideal for a birthday party, get together or even a rainy Friday afternoon when you all just need a little cheering up! I've used my regular royal icing recipe but if you prefer a buttercream icing then it works just as well – just sprinkle the sweets {candies} over them at the end.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vanilla Clouds with Lemon Cream

Meringues are a lovely light and elegant way to finish any meal and they are so easy to make. I call them vanilla clouds for the obvious reason that that’s exactly what they resemble – beautiful white clouds that are crisp on the outside and deliciously soft and chewy in the middle. This is my classic recipe for meringues which I always use – I just vary the toppings. For this lovely light Spring version the meringues are topped with soft and perfectly whipped cream rippled with lemon curd and a little limoncello – delicious!

4 egg whites
225g/ 8oz caster (superfine) sugar
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white vinegar
few drops of vanilla extract

250ml double or whipping cream
½ – 1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp lemon curd
1 tbsp limoncello
Preheat the oven to 225F/ 110C. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and set aside.
In a very clean mixing bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff (you should be able to hold them over your head and they won’t fall out!). Slowly add in the sugar and continue to whisk until they are very stiff and glossy. Sift in the cornflour then add the vinegar and vanilla and carefully fold in.
Using a large metal spoon carefully put spoonfuls of the meringue onto the baking sheets making sure to leave room in between each one. Using the back of the spoon, swirl the meringues slightly so they resemble beautiful, bright white clouds.
Bake in the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes until they are crisp on the outside and lift easily from the parchment paper. Turn the oven off then leave the meringues to cool completely before removing.
Just before serving whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form. In a small bowl mix together the lemon curd and limoncello until well mixed and the lemon curd has thinned a little. Add ¾ of the lemon curd mixture to the cream and gently fold through.
When ready to serve put the meringues onto a large serving plate then spoon the cream mixture over the top. Drizzle over the last of the lemon curd and using the end of a spoon gently cut through the cream to create a ripple effect. Serve at once for a deliciously light and zesty dessert.
*If you like, scatter over some fresh raspberries for an extra special touch.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Grilled Chicken with Orange & Feta Salad

This is such a wonderful meal that will refresh you on a warm evening or equally revitalize you and lift your spirits on a cold January night. The orange and feta salad works so well with the grilled chicken as it has the perfect balance of sweet, sour, salty and a little spice. Serve with a simple green salad and if you want some crispy garlic and thyme potatoes. This is a recipe that you will want to make over and over again!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Asparagus Soup with Parmesan & Black Pepper Crisps

This soup is absolutely perfect for continuing to make the most of beautiful seasonal asparagus. It is perfect on it's own but for an extra special treat serve it with the Parmesan and Black Pepper Crisps.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, cleaned & roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
500g Asparagus, with the tough roots trimmed off
1000ml/ 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt & pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
100ml cream (optional)

In a large pan melt the butter with the oil. Sauté the onion and leek for 5 minutes then add the garlic and asparagus. Cover and gently sweat for 5 minutes then add the stock and seasoning. Simmer for roughly 10 minutes until the asparagus is tender. Leave to cool and then blend until smooth. When ready to serve gently reheat the soup until hot then add the cream if using. Check the seasoning before serving and adjust if necessary then serve with a little extra garnish of cream and the Parmesan and Black Pepper Crisps on the side. Elegant and delicious – the perfect Spring soup!

Parmesan & Black Pepper Crisps

85g/ 3oz Parmesan cheese
¼ - ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper {fairly coarsely ground}

Preheat the oven to 400F/ 200C. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and set aside. Grate the cheese into a medium sized bowl then stir through the pepper. Put heaping tablespoons of the cheese & pepper mixture onto the baking tray and spread out until you have even circles roughly 2 ½ inches in diameter. Bake in the oven for 4-5 minutes until golden then remove and allow to cool.

*If you prefer you can miss out the black pepper and keep these crisps as pure Parmesan crisps.


Just a quick reminder to all of you that you can follow Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops on Facebook. As soon as I reach 200 followers {or 'likes'}, as a thank you I'll be giving away a beautiful, seasonal cookbook. In addition, if you would like to enter more than once simply become a follower on the blog then send me a little message to say you have done so. Lets get up to 200 people!

To all of you that are already followers you are already entered into the competition but please feel free to mention it to any family and friends that you think would enjoy reading Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops and fancy a new cookbook!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ham & Pineapple Pizza

I absolutely love a good pizza! During my pregnancy when I had the worst morning sickness, pizza turned out to be pretty much the only thing that didn't turn my stomach and make me ill!! It therefore has to go down in my top 10 things to eat! That being said it has to be a perfectly cooked, thin crust pizza. My favourite pizzas are generally wood fired pizzas that have that thin crust with little trapped air pockets that are slightly crisp and charred but still delicious and chewy at the same time. Unfortunately not many of us are lucky enough to have access to a wood fire so instead I go to the next best thing (which is also conveniently easily accessible) – the barbecue. If the barbecue is still too much of a stretch (which during the winter it tends to be) then this pizza is still fantastic in the oven (and the best option if you are a fan of thick crust pizzas).

This is my basic pizza recipe which is fail-proof and even more importantly, makes the most delicious pizza. Whether you want thin or thick crust, baked or barbecued this pizza will delight every time! {Although I really suggest trying it on the BBQ!}

The quantity for the toppings are enough for one large pizza. Normally I'll make a Ham & Pineapple pizza and then a Salami and Garlic Mushroom pizza (recipe will follow soon) or classic Margarita with the remaining dough. Obviously add your favourite toppings but if you are barbecuing it, keep it simple so that everything cooks properly.

Makes 2 large pizzas or 4 individual ones – freezes well.

Pizza base:
2 tsp active dry yeast
½ tsp caster sugar
1 ½ cups/ 375ml/ 12fl oz warm water
4 cups/ approx. 1lb 4oz plain or all-purpose flour
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt

Tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
400g tin of crushed tomatoes or passata
2 tsp dried oregano
Pinch of chilli flakes {optional}
1 tsp of sugar
Salt and pepper

150g black forest ham {or your choice of ham}
½ large tin of pineapple pieces in natural juice, drained {or you could use fresh pineapple}
2 balls of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Maldon sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Small handful fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

Place the yeast and sugar in a small bowl or jug and add the water. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to activate. Meanwhile put the flour & salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the olive oil to the water and yeast mixture then add to the flour.

If you are using a stand mixer attach the dough hook and mix on slow until the dough forms a ball. At that point allow the dough to be kneaded for a further 2-3 minutes. If you are kneading the dough by hand, slowly incorporate the yeast and oil mixture with the flour and then knead until it begins to form a smooth dough.

Transfer the dough onto a floured board or work surface and continue to knead until it is smooth and elastic – you shouldn’t need to do this if you used a stand mixer. (It should be soft to the touch and should spring back if you press it gently.)

Sprinkle a little flour into a large bowl and then put the dough into it. Cover with a clean dish towel and set aside in a warm place for at least 1 hour or until the dough has risen and doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, make the tomato sauce. Heat the oil in a pan and add the crushed garlic. Gently sauté for a minute, being careful not to brown it. Add the tomatoes to the garlic along with the oregano, chilli (if using), sugar, salt and pepper. Stir well then leave to simmer and reduce slightly for 30 minutes. When it looks ready, taste to check the seasoning and then set aside to cool.

To barbecue the pizza, divide the dough into 2 pieces for 2 large pizzas or 4 for smaller ones. Roll out each piece of dough on a floured surface until you get the thickness that you like (thin works really well). Brush the top of one large pizza (or two small ones) with some olive oil then place the oiled side on a preheated barbecue over a very low heat. While the under side is cooking brush the top with some more olive oil. Once the bottom is slightly charred and golden brown, flip the pizza over then spoon the tomato sauce onto the cooked side (as much as you like).

Top with the ham before scattering over the pineapple pieces. Finish with the sliced mozzarella then put the lid down on the barbecue and leave for a few minutes, allowing the bottom to cook and the cheese to melt on top. When the pizza is ready, scatter over some fresh basil leaves, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a good sprinkling of Maldon sea salt. Amazing!

*To cook in the oven, preheat it to 415F. Roll the pizza dough out and either put on a baking tray or a pizza stone. Spoon over some of the tomato sauce, toppings of your choice then top with the mozzarella. Cook in the oven for 12-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the pizza dough golden. Before serving, drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil over the pizza and scatter with the fresh basil leaves and some Maldon sea salt.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Baked Brie with Asparagus & Prosciutto

Asparagus is back in season and I can't think of a better way to enjoy tender, fresh asparagus than wrapped in crispy prosciutto and dipped into rich and creamy melted brie. The perfect way to celebrate the start of asparagus season!

Serves 2 for an indulgent and delicious lunch

1 small round of good quality brie
Splash of white wine
Few sprigs of thyme
12 stalks of asparagus, bottoms snapped off
6 pieces of prosciutto
Drizzle of olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice, plus wedges to serve
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Crostini or fresh French bread to serve

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper then place the brie on top. Cut a large cross in the brie then drizzle over the white wine. Add the sprigs of thyme and a good grinding of black pepper. Bake in the oven for roughly 15-17 minutes until the brie is melted and oozing!

While the brie is baking prepare the asparagus and prosciutto. Cut each slice of prosciutto in half, lengthwise and wrap a piece of prosciutto around each stalk of asparagus.

Heat a frying pan with a little olive oil then cook the asparagus until the prosciutto is golden and starting to turn crispy. Remove from the pan and put on a serving plate. Spritz over a little fresh lemon juice and season with a little freshly ground black pepper.

When the brie is ready carefully transfer to a serving dish and serve with the asparagus and some crostini or bread. A quick and easy decadent fondue for 2!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Prawn & Avocado Tower with Citrus Mayonnaise

Close to where we live is a lovely spa which has a wonderful restaurant attached to it. I know it sounds ridiculous but every time I go there (whether I'm lucky enough to be having a pampering spa session or just a relaxing lunch) I have to have the same thing – this prawn and avocado tower – I just can't resist it!

This is my version of it which I have to admit tastes just as good as the real thing. Juicy and succulent prawns coated in a delicious and rich citrus mayonnaise topped with avocado, tomato and sprouts on a crisp muffin – absolutely perfect! Trust me, once you try it you'll be wanting it over and over again!

It's a perfect treat for a special lunch so pamper yourself without having to leave your own home and make yourself this treat or even better make it for your mum this Mother's Day. Enjoy!

{Serves 4}

Citrus Mayo:
125ml good quality mayonnaise
Zest of 1 lemon, plus good squeeze of juice
Zest of ½ lime, plus squeeze of juice
Zest of ½ orange
Good grinding of black pepper
Small pinch of sea salt (optional)
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

170g/ 6oz small cooked & peeled prawns (shrimp)
4 English muffins, cut in half
Drizzle of olive oil
2 handfuls of mixed lettuce leaves
1 avocado, peeled & sliced
1 - 2 tomatoes (depending on size), thinly sliced
2 handfuls of sprouts
4 wedges of lemon
Cucumber slices to serve (optional)

Cocktail sticks or small skewers to keep everything in place!

To make the mayonnaise simply combine all of the ingredients together in a small mixing bowl. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.

When you are ready to assemble the towers put the prawns into a medium bowl and add roughly ¾ of the mayonnaise. Stir well so that all of the prawns are evenly coated in the mayonnaise. If the mayonnaise is a little too thick you can add a splash of water to thin it down.

Place the muffins on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Toast under a grill or broiler until golden then remove and let cool.

Place one half on the muffin on serving plates then add ½ a handful of the mixed lettuce leaves. Top with ¼ of the prawns then add the top of the muffin. Layer the avocado and tomato slices on top of the muffin and top with the sprouts. If you like you can add an extra drizzle of the mayonnaise over the sprouts. Take a wedge of lemon and place a cocktail stick through it then place it on top of the tower and skewer it to keep everything in place. Serve with the cucumber slices on the sides then enjoy, but just so you know, a knife and fork is recommended for this one!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Vegetable & Bean Soup

Spring seems to be a little stubborn right now – one day it's a beautiful sunny day that makes you feel like you have almost bypassed Spring and gone straight into Summer, the next day its cold, grey and raining – not my idea of spring! This soup however is a perfect Spring soup that will leave you without any doubt that Spring is here...somewhere! It is healthy, delicious and filled with vibrant green vegetables guaranteed to put a spring in your step!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tin of cannellini beans
1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
1 courgette, finely diced
8 asparagus stalks, finely chopped
150g green beans, finely chopped
100g frozen peas
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Heat the oil in a large pan then add the leek and sauté for roughly 7 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the beans. Using a potato masher (or you could just use a fork) roughly crush about half of the beans, then add the stock. Bring to a boil then add all of the vegetables, a little salt and some ground black pepper. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender but still have a little bite. Squeeze in some lemon juice then taste to check the seasoning. Drizzle over a little good quality extra virgin olive oil and an extra squeeze of lemon juice. Serve straight away while piping hot so the vegetables are tender but have a little bite and are vibrant green.

*For a variation you could add some broken up spaghetti (or other pasta of your choice) and serve topped with a small spoonful of pesto for a Spring Minestrone.
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