Spiced Madeleines

If you have made the Burnt Orange Ice Cream I put up here last week, you may be wondering what to do with all the egg whites that were left over. By a stroke of serendipity these gorgeously crispy and chewy spiced Madeleines not only go perfectly with the ice cream, they will also provide a use for your egg whites.

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RECIPE makes 24

225g ground almonds

125g plain flour

200g golden caster sugar

350g unsalted butter, softened

150g runny honey

300g egg whites

1/4 tsp Chinese 5-Spice

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground star anise

the finely grated zest of a large orange

the finely grated zest of a large lemon


METHOD

Mix the ground almonds, flour, sugar and spices in a large bowl, mix together thoroughly, then add the honey, butter and citrus zest and beat together well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until fully aerated and at least doubled in size.

Take a large spoonful of the whisked egg white and fold through the batter, to loosen it. Now add the remainder of the egg white and carefully fold it through the loosened batter, taking care not to lose all the air in the egg. Put in the fridge for 20 minutes while you heat the oven to 180C/ gas 4 (if you can avoid it, don’t use a fan oven as it cooks too quickly).

If you have them, lightly grease some Madeleine moulds, then scatter a light dusting of plain flour over them. If you don’t have Madeleine moulds then just use small bun trays.

Carefully pour the mixture into your moulds, not too much in each as they will spread out and rise.

Bake for around 15 minutes, when the tops will be golden and a skewer inserted will come out clean. Leave to cool in the tray for five minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

These freeze particularly well, so if 24 seems a few too many then save some for a picnic.

Burnt Orange Ice Cream

I have had a bottle of Cointreau sitting, unloved, in my cupboard for twenty years. Twenty years! I knew it would come in useful one day, and now it has found it’s raison d’etre, as a key element of this fantastic ice cream, courtesy of Tamasin Day-Lewis.

Anyone who has ever had an artisan ice cream knows that there is a gulf between the generic, chemical-laden ice cream van version and something made using a handful of natural ingredients. This recipe is a bit involved, but it’s not difficult and it is absolutely worth the faff.

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RECIPE makes about 3/4 litre

300ml double cream

300ml full-fat milk

the grated zest of three large oranges

the juice of three large oranges

150ml Cointreau

150g golden caster sugar & a further 2 tbsp

the yolks from ten large eggs (keep the whites, for meringue or Madeleines)


METHOD

In a medium saucepan, combine the double cream and milk and grate the orange zest directly in to it. Over a medium heat, bring it to scalding point (where the edges of the liquid just start to move) then turn the heat off, put a lid on it and set it aside to steep for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another pan, combine the orange juice and Cointreau and simmer until the volume has reduced by about half. Whisk it into the milk and cream mixture, then strain all of the liquid through a sieve into a clean pan to remove the solids. Keep warm.

In a scrupulously clean, large saucepan, heat the 150g of golden caster sugar over a high heat and allow it to melt and caramelise until it is a very dark brown. DO NOT BURN IT, AND DO NOT STIR IT. You can swirl the sugar in the pan so it melts and colours evenly, but that’s all.

Remove the caramel from the heat and wrap your dominant hand in a damp dishcloth. Using that hand to hold a whisk, temper the caramel by slowly pouring a small amount of the warm orange cream into the caramel, whisking vigorously as you go.

BE CAREFUL, the caramel will spit and bubble violently. Keep adding the orange cream, slowly and whisking all the time, until it stops bubbling, then add the remaining orange cream to it and whisk thoroughly.

Place the pan back back on the heat and bring it to scalding point once more. Remove from the heat, and turn to your egg yolks.

Add the yolks to a mixing bowl with the 2 tbsp of golden caster sugar and whisk until fully combined then, with the whisk still running, temper the yolks by pouring a slow, steady stream of the hot caramel cream. You don’t need much, aim to double the initial volume of the yolks. Now pour the tempered yolks back into the cream and return to the stovetop over a medium heat.

Whisk gently and continuously over the heat until the mixture forms a perceptible custard which coats the back of a spoon. Don’t overcook it, otherwise it may curdle.

Strain the custard through a sieve into a large bowl, to remove any lumps of caramel, and leave to cool completely. You can leave the custard in the fridge overnight if you wish.

You will no doubt have stuck your finger in it to see what it tastes like, and you may be surprised at how intense the flavour is. That’s good, when frozen the flavour doesn’t come through as strongly so it needs to be dominant.

When the custard is completely cold, churn it in an ice cream machine or, if you don’t have one, put it into a tray that will fit into your freezer. If you use the tray method, take it out of the freezer after an hour and scrape the sides into the middle with a fork, and again a couple of hours later, to prevent ice crystals forming.

Store in the freezer in a suitable lidded container. The Cointreau will prevent it becoming rock solid in the freezer, but take it out 15-30 minutes before you serve it, so that it softens to an edible consistency.

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Brownies

I look after one of my grandsons before school, and one of the things that he loves to do is baking. I therefore have a stock of easy recipes that he can follow, without too much risk of disaster! It keeps him occupied, gives him a huge sense of achievement, and is also a valuable learning experience as he learns the role and function of the various ingredients.

These brownies are particularly delicious; we made them the first time yesterday morning, and they were so good we decided that it would be a nice gesture to make another batch for his class and teachers. We did that this morning, and they are cooling on a rack as I write this.

I have specified spreadable Lurpak here, just because Delia Smith has tested every brand of spreadable butter and Lurpak is what she recommends. I have however baked using all kinds of spreads and there isn’t so much difference that you need to worry about it. Use whatever spread you have to hand and you will still be delighted with the results.

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RECIPE makes 18

175g spreadable Lurpak (unsalted)

350g golden caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 large eggs

125g plain flour

1 level tsp baking powder

50g cocoa powder

a couple of good handfuls of cacao nibs


METHOD

You will need a small ovenproof dish – I use one that is 10 inches by 8 inches.

Preheat the oven to 180C/ gas 4 – don’t use the fan if you can avoid it, it cooks too quickly.

Cut a sheet of baking parchment to fit the bottom of the dish. Grease the bottom and sides of the tin with a little of the Lurpak, lay the parchment in the bottom of the tin and grease the parchment as well.

Melt the Lurpak over a low heat, put the sugar into a large mixing bowl. When melted, pour the Lurpak over the sugar, add the vanilla extract and stir well until completely incorporated.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into the mixture and stir well until completely incorporated. Add the cacao nibs and stir again.

Break the eggs into another mixing bowl and whisk (preferably with an electric whisk) until the eggs are foamy and their volume has tripled. Pour a little of the whisked egg into the mixture, stir well to loosen the consistency, then carefully add the rest of the egg and gently fold through the mixture. The idea is to keep as much air as possible, so this is a job that I normally do. Children tend to have two speeds: dead stop and sprint!

When the eggs are completely incorporated, pour the mixture into the baking dish, gently pushing into the edges and corners.

Bake for around 25 minutes, until a thin crust has formed but the mixture is still slightly sticky inside, you want a fudgy interior so use a skewer to give you an idea when it has reached the correct consistency.

Leave to cool in the dish for ten minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely before cutting into the desired number of brownies.

Poor Man’s Potatoes with Roasted Cod Loins

This rich, oily, garlicky Spanish dish is the very definition of peasant food: a few simple ingredients gently introduced to each other over time to create something quite delicious.

You might baulk at the amount of olive oil used, but fear not. The deliciously aromatic oil is decanted before serving, leaving a heady gloss on the vegetables.

I use the decanted oily broth as a flavour base in soups and casseroles, just divide it into convenient portions and freeze until needed. It lifts anything it touches.

Amazingly, we had some leftovers when I made this last night. I intend to process the remains into a pulp to use as an aromatic thickener to the vegetable soup I am making today.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 thick cod loins

225ml olive oil

3 large onions, thinly sliced

6 fat garlic cloves, thickly sliced

3 peppers, 1 each of red, yellow and green (often that’s how they are sold)

4 fresh bay leaves

1kg new potatoes (or firm, waxy potatoes if it is winter)

300g cherry tomatoes

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped (optional)


METHOD

In a very large, heavy bottomed casserole, heat 75ml of the olive oil over a gentle heat and when hot add the onions with a little salt and cook gently for about 20 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the garlic, peppers and bay leaves (lightly crushed, to release their scent) and cook gently for a further 15 minutes.

Cut the potatoes into small chunks and salt them lightly. Pull the vegetables aside and add the remaining oil, when the oil is hot add the potatoes and tomatoes, stir thoroughly and leave to simmer for 45 minutes over a low heat under a lid. By this time the potatoes should be completely soft, but not mushy. The tomatoes will have pulped down and there will be a lot of liquid in which everything is braising.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/ gas 6. Rub the cod loins lightly with oil and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Place the fish into a gratin dish and 10-15 minutes before serving roast in the oven. The fish should take around 12 minutes to cook through until the flesh just begins to flake, but keep an eye on it, there are few worse crimes than overcooked fish.

Warm a large serving dish, and using a spider, or a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked vegetables to it, leaving as much liquid behind as possible. Serve in bowls with the fish on top.

This dish stands all by itself, it needs no accompaniment other than a glass of sharp, dry white wine.

I like to stir a small bunch of chopped flat-leaf parsley through it just before serving, but this is entirely optional.

Sea Bass in Acqua Pazza

Life has a habit of getting in the way, as I have been reminded these past few weeks. Much of my cooking has been quick and simple, and I haven’t found the time to write about it.

Just because you’re short on time doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well, as this simple, quick and elegant dish illustrates.

Acqua Pazza translates as crazy water, the fresh and zingy poaching liquid which perfectly complements, and enhances, the soft white flesh of sea bass. You can make this with small whole fish (as the recipe below), a larger single fish, or fillets. Only the cooking time will change, just keep an eye on the fish and serve it as soon as the thickest part of the fish begins to flake.

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RECIPE serves 4 

4 small whole seabass, gutted, cleaned and scaled

75ml olive oil

2 thick garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

1 red chilli, finely chopped

500g cherry tomatoes, halved

120ml dry vermouth

a small handful of capers, rinsed

a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

a small handful of basil leaves, torn


METHOD

In a very large, high-sided pan (preferably one with a lid, if not you can use foil) heat the olive oil with the garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt over a medium heat and lay the fish in it side by side.

After four minutes, gently turn the fish over and add the tomatoes. Cook for another four minutes then add the vermouth and capers. Cover, simmer for a further four minutes or until the fish is just cooked.

Lay the fish onto warmed plates, add the parsley and basil to the pan, turn the heat up for a couple of minutes to reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency, then spoon over the fish.

Serve with some steamed rice and a simple lemon-dressed rocket salad.

Mushroom and Lentil Pappardelle Bolognese

This is a wonderfully rich, low-calorie vegan version of Bolognese, so good that even the hardened meat-eaters in my family love it. The key is to use puy lentils (the dark speckled green type) which hold their shape and bite when cooked, and building flavour through the use of minced mushrooms, a good quality vegetable stock and a rich tomato sauce.

It does take a little time to put together, but most of that time it is bubbling away doing its own thing and it is very simple to make. This is an adaptation of a Jamie Oliver recipe, so you know it’s going to be good…

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RECIPE serves 4 

For the tomato sauce:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp dried oregano

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

For the Bolognese:

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 stick of celery, roughly chopped

2 fresh bay leaves

a small bunch of fresh thyme, leaves picked

4 large portobello mushrooms

100 g dried Puy lentils

400 ml dark vegetable stock

350 g dried pappadelle

To garnish:

freshly picked basil leaves

vegan Parmesan cheese


METHOD

First, make the tomato sauce:

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the garlic, cook gently for a minute until aromatic, then add the chilli flakes and oregano. Cook for a further minute, allowing the flavours to infuse the oil, then add the tomatoes and fish sauce. Mix thoroughly, bring to the boil, then simmer gently for an hour to allow the sauce to reduce, thicken and intensify.

After an hour, add the red wine vinegar and cook for a couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and prepare the carrot, onion and garlic, trim the celery and roughly chop it all. Pulse it all in a food processor, until finely chopped.

Heat a good splash of oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the chopped veg mixture and bay leaves, pick in the thyme leaves and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until soft.

Blitz the mushrooms in the food processor until finely chopped. Add to the pan and cook for 3 minutes, until softened.

Stir in the lentils, tomato sauce and vegetable stock, bring to the boil and simmer uncovered on a low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Check and adjust the seasoning right at the end.

When the lentils are almost done, cook the pappardelle according to the packet instructions, until al dente.

Drain the pasta and stir it through the Bolognese sauce. Pick the basil leaves and sprinkle over the Bolognese with shavings of vegan Parmesan to serve. The Parmesan is used as a seasoning here, so feel free to omit it if you cannot find the vegan version.

Serve alongside a bowl of rocket, splashed with a little freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Vegetarian Gravy

Most great gravy recipes are based on the juices from roasted meat. When cooking for vegetarians that is, of course, out of the question so, how do you pack flavour into a vegetarian gravy?

The key is to remember that gravy is just another word for sauce, and the French have spent hundreds of years creating and refining the art of sauce-making. Taking cues from that tradition, making a thick, rich, glossy and flavourful gravy isn’t hard at all.

As with all cookery, building flavour is a simply a matter of understanding where flavour comes from, and sensibly layering it into the sauce. The caramelised onions provide the base flavour, the butter adds richness and unctuousness, the wine brings aroma and the Marmite and mustard bring punch.

This gravy is not second-class, it has become my regular go-to recipe. You can (as I have) fearlessly serve it alongside roasted beef or a nut roast and everybody will be delighted.

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RECIPE makes enough for six people

2 onions, thinly sliced

50g unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

100ml Madeira or Marsala

600g dark vegetable stock

1 tsp Marmite (or similar yeast extract)

4 tsp vegetarian gravy browning (Bisto is vegetarian-friendly)

1/2 tsp English mustard powder

a small knob of butter to finish


METHOD

In a large pan, melt the butter with the oil (the oil prevents the butter from burning) then fry the onions over a medium-high heat until they are well coloured and starting to catch. Stir frequently but not constantly.

Meanwhile, prepare and heat the vegetable stock and add the Marmite to it.

Add the Madeira/Marsala to the pan and it should bubble vigorously, for a bit of fun you can set light to the alcohol fumes as they bubble off – just be careful. Scrape any caramelisation from the bottom and sides of the pan, then after a minute add the vegetable stock and bring it to the boil.

While bringing it to the boil, combine the gravy browning with the mustard powder and then add a little water to make a thin paste. When the gravy is boiling, add the paste and stir constantly until the gravy is thick.

Sieve out the onions, and test and adjust the seasoning. You can now leave it to sit until you are ready to eat.

Just before serving, reheat the gravy and when it is hot add a small knob of butter and whisk it in until the sauce is glossy. Transfer to a warmed jug and serve.

Yorkshire Puddings

They are big, they are ugly, and they are light and delicious!

Yorkshire puddings are one of those things that people tend to struggle with. They either don’t rise, or they collapse, or they’re greasy and chewy, or all three. It doesn’t need to be that way, you just need three things: a good batter recipe; well-developed gluten, and heat.

The key is time. If you are going to be cooking a roast dinner at, say, 5pm, then make your Yorkshire pudding batter at lunchtime. If you give your batter a good long beating and then plenty of time to sit, then the gluten in the flour will develop, giving the puddings lots of strength. You also need plenty of heat; heat when you add the batter to the tin, and lots of heat in the oven. The batter will spring up, and as the heat hardens the mixture the strong gluten will enable them to hold up and they won’t collapse. There is no need to use self-raising flour, or any raising agent at all. If you get plenty of air into the batter then that will do the trick.

The result will be great big puddings that literally leap out of the tin. They will have lots of air in them so they will be light, and not at all stodgy. Try it, you’ll never look back!

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RECIPE makes 12

115g plain flour, sifted

a pinch of fine sea salt

2 large eggs

140ml whole milk


METHOD

Several hours before cooking (or the night before, just leave the batter in the fridge) sift the flour into a mixing bowl with a pinch of fine sea salt. Lightly beat the eggs together, and start to whisk the flour and salt gently before you add anything else.

While whisking, gradually add the eggs, with a little of the milk, to make a smooth paste. When all the eggs have been incorporated, gradually add the rest of the milk, increasing the whisking speed. Obviously this is much easier if you are using a stand mixer. When everything has been added then whisk the mixture at high speed for three minutes or so, this will get air into the mixture and also work the gluten in the flour. Now just leave the batter to stand, and go and do something else with the rest of your day.

When the time comes to cook, get your oven up to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7. This might not be possible, or advisable if you are cooking something else in there at the same time, but get it as hot as you dare. In a 12 hole metal muffin tray, pour a little vegetable oil into each hole and put it into the oven for a few minutes to get hot.

Go back to your batter and give it a final whisk for a minute or so, to wake it up and ensure that everything is evenly distributed.

Take the muffin tray out of the oven and put it on the stovetop, with a burner underneath it on a high heat. This will keep the oil very hot while you work.

Now, quickly – but carefully – ladle the batter into the muffin holes, filling each approximately half-full.

Quickly again, put the muffin tin back in the oven, close the door and DO NOT OPEN IT FOR 20 MINUTES.

After twenty minutes, you will be greeted with the best Yorkshire puddings you have ever eaten. I promise.

Garganelli with Salmon and Prawns

Two places you should never allow me to enter without somebody keeping a close eye on me: 1) a charity shop, and 2) a good delicatessen.

In the first I’m liable to walk out with an armful of old cookery books, and in the second I’m prone to loading myself up with obscure liqueurs (oh yes, I have a growing cocktail and aperitivi obsession) and obscure foodstuffs that catch my eye – like garganelli pasta (pictured below).

I never fail to be amazed at the way that plain old pasta can taste so different just because the shape of it is different. The shape and decoration of pasta can indeed offer a different ‘mouth feel’, fooling your palate somewhat*, but the real difference is that various shapes catch and hold sauce in different ways.

This recipe is a classic example of that. You can substitute penne for the garganelli if you don’t have a deli near you that stocks it, but it will be a very different dish. The quill shape of the garganelli catches and holds the seafood and tomato within it, while the external grooves allow the sauce to collect and stay attached while you bring it to your mouth.

Make it with penne, and while it is still delicious, you have to spend the effort of gathering all of the different elements together on your fork, for each and every mouthful. Even so, this is well worth making even if you only have penne – spend the effort, you will be rewarded.

Garganelli

* If you think this is mumbo-jumbo, there is a fascinating book – ‘Gastrophysics’ by Professor Charles Spence – which examines the ongoing research into how we actually experience flavour, and how inventive chefs such as Heston Blumenthal are using that science to enhance their food, without changing the food itself.


RECIPE serves 4 

350g salmon fillets

200ml dry white vermouth

a small handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish

150ml double cream

6 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped

350g garganelli

125g king prawns


METHOD

Pour the vermouth into a wide, shallow pan with the basil leaves and some seasoning. Bring it to the boil, then put the salmon fillets – skin side up – into it, cover it and hold it at a very gentle simmer for four minutes. Carefully remove the fish and set aside to cool slightly.

Add the cream and tomatoes to the vermouth in the pan and bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce and thicken for twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of salted water at a rolling boil. Cook until the pasta is just al dente. My pasta takes just under ten minutes, so I set it going ten minutes into the sauce reduction time.

Just before the pasta is ready, check and adjust the seasoning of the sauce then put the raw prawns into the hot sauce to cook, and flake the salmon into large pieces then add that to the pan together with the drained pasta.

Toss well so everything is coated in everything else, scatter some more basil leaves over the top and serve immediately. This is best accompanied by a bowl of rocket dressed with a little lemon juice.

Roasted Tomato Soup

At this time of year it can be hard to get hold of ripe, tasty tomatoes and even if you can, expect to pay through the nose for them. That means that this wasn’t exactly a good time for my lovely wife to request a big pot of tomato soup for her lunchtime meals for the next few days.

Fear not. I’ve been cooking long enough now to know that even the humblest, firmest, blandest tomato, if treated correctly, can reveal from deep within itself the most spectacular flavours. If you don’t believe me, then this recipe will be an eye-opener. I simply picked up a couple of cheap nets of B Grade tomatoes from my local supermarket, which cost just a couple of pounds altogether. I shudder to think how good this soup would be at the height of summer when tomatoes are at their best.

The trick is to slow-roast the tomatoes with a few aromatics, and to be brave with the garlic. When it is roasted, garlic takes on a deeper, richer palette of flavours, nothing at all like the pungency of the raw version. I used a whole head of garlic for this soup yesterday, and nobody in my house had bad breath last night.

You can, if you wish, add some double cream to this soup just before you serve it. In my opinion though, it is rich and creamy enough as it is.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1.5kg ripe tomatoes, halved

4 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and left whole

75g tomato puree

2 tsp dried thyme

50g caster sugar

1.5 litres vegetable stock

a small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas3.

Place the halved tomatoes in a large, deep roasting tin, together with the onion, garlic cloves,  tomato puree, thyme and sugar, and drizzle the olive oil over it all. See the picture above. Using your hands, mix everything together, pushing anything that is likely to burn rather than caramelise (such as the ends of the onion slices) down under the tomato halves.

Roast in the middle of the oven for between 60 and 75 minutes, keeping an eye on it. You want the tomatoes and onion to start to brown and caramelise, maybe even char a little in places, but burning is not good.

When cooked, transfer the juicy, pulpy contents of the roasting tin to a large pot, add the stock and season lightly, then bring it to a simmer.

Remove the pot from the heat, and add the coriander. Leave it to cool slightly, then using either a stick blender or a worktop blender (in batches), blitz until it is smooth.

Check and adjust the seasoning and serve, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil, and/or perhaps a dollop of double cream.