I love an event or special occasion. Whether it is birthdays or anniversaries or Christmas or Halloween or Burns Night or even an election, I’ll take advantage of pretty much any excuse to do the two things I enjoy the most: planning and partying. I’m not even 100% sure which aspect I enjoy more given my obsession for lists and timetables and A PLAN, but there is nothing better than new decorations, nice drinks, great food, even better company and perhaps even a few days off. Even Valentine’s Day, which I will scorn for being an utterly commercialised “holiday”, gives us a (sometimes much-needed) excuse to make time for our other halves, even if it’s just the simple effort of lighting some candles and having a tasty dinner at home together. Anyway, the latest excuse for some planning and indulgence is Easter weekend.
I think Easter weekend is particularly appealing to me because it marks the change of the seasons from dark, cold winter to cheerful spring. The clocks are going forward, the days are getting longer, the daffodils and crocuses have opened up in all their beauty and the spring break is tantalisingly near. So, hot cross buns and a lamb leg have been bought, the flat is full of spring blooms, Easter eggs are hidden away until Sunday and a long walk has been planned to make the most of the bank holiday Monday. All we need now is for 5pm to arrive and the weekend to begin.
I actually made this particular pavlova for my mum’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, but I think it would be the perfect pudding for a big Easter Sunday roast dinner. This is a relatively straightforward recipe to make for a large crowd, the component parts can be made ahead and assembled at the last minute and most importantly it is totally delicious. The outside of the meringue should be completely dried out and crisp but the inside should be soft, almost cloud-like, in texture. The cool topping balances the sweet meringue, especially with the addition of yogurt to balance the richness of double cream which I think can be too much on its own sometimes, and the passionfruit and lemon add the final sharp bite to the dish. Finally, if you’re looking for something to do with your leftover egg yolks, treat yourself to some homemade garlic mayonnaise, perhaps as an accompaniment for a bank holiday brunch or dinner.
One year ago:
– The Easiest-Ever Loaf: Crusty no-knead white bread
– Vanilla espresso martini
Two years ago:
– Guacamole and zingy bean dip
– Mini lemon curd tarts
Ingredients (makes one large pavlova to serve 6-8 people) 4 medium egg whites 250g caster sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tsp corn flour 1 tsp white wine vinegar 250ml double cream 200g Greek yogurt
3 tbsp lemon curd (homemade is particularly good – find a recipe here)
3 passion fruit
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 10C/130C fan/Gas Mark 2. Separate out the egg whites and whisk until they form stiff peaks.
Following on from the sangria recipe in my last blog post, I have another Spanish-themed recipe for you. This would actually be a perfect dish to serve with a big jug of chilled sangria, either by itself as a main course or alongside a feast of other tapas dishes like tortilla, calamari or patatas bravas.
This is a simple recipe, with ingredients that work together like a dream. The chorizo is salty and spicy, but doesn’t overpower the sweet prawns. The lemon and white wine (or, even better, sherry) add the acidity that the prawns need, and the parsley brings everything together. This dish is best made with raw, unpeeled prawns, but I couldn’t get my hands on any raw ones this time. Using cooked prawns is fine, but reduce the cooking time accordingly – add the prawns and alcohol at the same time, rather than waiting for the prawns to colour first. If you’re not on board with peeling your own prawns then feel free to use ready-peeled ones, but the shells add extra seafood flavour and there’s nothing better than an interactive dinner. Who doesn’t like to play with their food?
Ingredients (serves 1 as a generous main, or 2-3 as a starter or tapas dish) 150g chorizo 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 150g prawns with the shell on 1 small glass (about 150ml) of white wine or sherry 1 lemon
1 small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
Method 1. Slice the chorizo into small bite-sized chunks.
2. Heat a non-stick frying pan and add the chorizo – you won’t need any extra oil as the chorizo will release a lot of its own as it fries. Fry for a few minutes until just starting to brown.
3. Add the garlic and mix well in the chorizo oil. Fry for 30 seconds.
4. Toss the prawns in the chorizo and garlic. If you are using raw prawns then let them cook like this for 2 minutes until opaque, but if you’re using cooked prawns then add the white wine straight away. Allow to bubble for a few minutes until the alcohol has cooked off and the liquid has thickened slightly.
5. Turn the heat off, squeeze over half the lemon and sprinkle with parsley.
Make sure to serve this with lots of nice bread to soak up all the juices, and an extra-chilled wine is essential. You can pile this up on an attractive serving platter and top with more chopped parsley and lemon wedges. Or, if you’re home alone as I was, eat it straight from the pan in your pyjamas. Heaven.
We’re finishing off Salad Week with a vegetable that is very much in the love-hate category for most people. If you love fennel, then you are definitely going to love this salad and will take no convincing to try making it. However, even if you think you dislike fennel, I’m going to try to persuade you to give this recipe a go anyway. I used to despise fennel – I found the flavour of cooked fennel overwhelming and just couldn’t understand how anyone could enjoy it. Then I discovered Jamie Oliver’s raw fennel and radish salad and suddenly I saw the light. Raw fennel is crisp, sweet and juicy. It still has a strong aniseed flavour, but somehow this worked for me in its fresh, raw form. After a few years of enjoying raw fennel in salads, I now find myself liking cooked fennel in certain dishes – particularly with white fish. I’m on the path to fennel enlightenment.
In my mind, this is a perfect way to get on board with fennel. The intense vegetable can stand up to the chilli heat and zesty lemon, and the courgette adds a sweet mellow flavour. If you really can’t stand fennel, but want a similar salad then substitute it for a bunch of raw asparagus sliced into thin shavings with a speed peeler. Or just double up on the courgette quantities, especially if you can get your hands on both green and yellow courgettes for a burst of colour.
Ingredients 1 medium courgette 2 small fennel bulbs A few sprigs of mint 1 red chilli 1 lemon 1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Method 1. Slice the courgette into thin ribbons. You can do this with a sharp knife if you have the patience and don’t want the thinnest possible slices, but the easiest way to achieve ribbons is with a speed peeler. You can also use a mandolin or the slicer attachment on a food processor, if you have those. Place in a large bowl.
2. Remove the fennel tops (keeping the fronds for decoration) and the bases. Thinly slice with a knife (or again with a mandolin or food processor if you wish) and add to the courgette.
3. Finely chop the leaves from the mint sprigs. Slice the chilli thinly on the diagonal. It’s a good idea to try a small piece of your chilli first to find out how hot it is – I used about half of the chilli shown.
4. Add the chilli and mint to the vegetables along with the zest from one lemon. Mix thoroughly, adding the juice from half the lemon and the olive oil. Season to taste and place in the fridge to chill for half an hour or more.
5. Once chilled give the salad another mix up and transfer to your serving bowl. Top with some of the delicate fennel tops and some extra sliced chilli.
This salad is very versatile. We had it with steak, chips and a large glass of red wine, but it would be perfect served with some grilled chicken or fish and chilled white wine.
How do you feel about fennel? Have you always loved it, grown to like it or is it firmly on the hate list? Might this recipe change your mind….?
Last Friday we travelled up north to a beautiful little cottage at the Lake of Menteith to begin the hen weekend celebrations for Abi, the most gorgeous of brides-to-be. The journey was eventful, to say the least. My train was late which in turn made us late picking up the (funky) hire car, half of us got lost on the drive up (due to misdirection, not our own fault of course), we were unexpectedly faced with a pot-hole ridden single track road snaking up the side of a mountain and the airbag light in Kirsty’s car kept coming on. However, good things come to those who wait and once we had finally made it to the cottage, unpacked and put “Now That’s What I Call A Wedding!” on the sound system, it was all worth it. What ensued was a night of food, cocktails, games, onesies, surprises, shots, more cocktails and extremely enthusiastic singing. It all began with an afternoon “tea” – I say “tea” because instead of pots of tea we had pots of Pimms. It’s how it should be done.
The girls had whipped up finger sandwiches, vanilla cheesecakes and red velvet cupcakes, and my personal offering was mini lemon curd tarts. I needed something that would keep well for 2 days and would also travel well. So instead of baking the lemon filling into the tart cases, I made separate tart cases and a pot of lemon curd. All that needed to be done at the cottage was to spoon the curd into the cases and adorn each one with a raspberry. Simple.
This is my grandmother’s recipe for lemon curd and it is delicious. As in, eat-it-from-the-jar-with-a-spoon mouth-wateringly delicious. It reminds me of spring because she, and now my mum, would make it around Pessach (or Passover) time when there is an excess of egg yolks leftover from the Pessach baking. The pastry recipe is a sweet shortcrust pastry from Katie Stewart’s Cookbook. This book is the bible in our kitchen. Although this description in The Telegraph’s obituary for Katie Stewart refers to a different one of her cookery books, the exact same applied to ours: “Unlike some recipe books from the early 1970s, Katie Stewart’s book remains timelessly useful. Alongside the glossily pristine compendia of Gordon Ramsay, Sophie Dahl, Ottolenghi et al, The Times Cookery Book is almost always recognisable from its broken spine and pages dog-eared and stained with the oil and gravy of many years’ service. Clean replacements are hard to find.”. Never have truer words been spoken.
The golden rule of pastry is “Cold, cold, cold”. Keep everything in the fridge until you need it, run your hands under the cold tap and perhaps even open a window. If you don’t have white cooking fat, then just use all butter, but it will enhance the flavour and crumbly texture of the pastry. I wanted my curd to be very set, so took it to a fairly thick consistency. Be careful when doing this as you don’t want the mixture to curdle.
Ingredients (makes 12 tarts, with a little pastry and a half jar of lemon curd to spare) 4 tbsp cold milk 25g caster sugar 100g butter 15g white cooking fat 225g plain flour
A pinch of salt
100g butter 150g caster sugar 3 lemons, zested and juiced
3 eggs, well beaten
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Mix the milk and sugar together and put in the fridge.
2. Chop the butter and fat into small squares and put this in the fridge too.
3. Weigh out the flour and add the salt.
4. With cold hands combine the fats with the dry ingredients, rubbing the ingredients together until you have a “breadcrumb” texture (similar to what we did for the crumble topping).
5. Add the milk and sugar and use a knife to bring the ingredients together, using a splash more milk only if absolutely necessary. Tip out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball with the minimal amount of kneading possible. Cover in cling film and rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry until about 5mm thick and cut circles to line 12 holes of a muffin tray. Prick the bases with a fork, line with small squares of baking parchment and fill with baking beans. If you don’t have ceramic baking beans then any dried bean or rice will do the job.
7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the baking beans and paper and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
8. Melt the butter in a bain marie (or bowl over a pan of water to you and I) making sure the water in the pan does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
9. Add the sugar and mix. Add the eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix well. At this point I like to use a whisk.
10. Stir over a very gentle heat until you have achieved the consistency you want – usually this is when the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remember that the mixture will thicken a little more once cool.
11. Spoon the curd into two small jars or a single large one. Leave to cool and then keep in the fridge for up to 10 days. If you can keep your hands off it for that long.
12. When ready to serve, spoon the curd mixture into the tart cases and top with a raspberry or redcurrants.
We still have a little lemon curd leftover, which is gorgeous spread on top of toasted crusty bread and served with coffee for breakfast.
I had a fantastic time at the hen do and now can’t wait for the wedding to roll around in just over 3 weeks’ time. Better get dress shopping…eek!…
One of the joys of cooking is using fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season. It really does make a difference if your ingredients are at their prime: there is nothing better than the first home-grown artichoke of the year; or biting into a crisp Autumn apple; or the pungent smell of basil as it is crushed to a pulp for pesto in July; or cutting into a pomegranate at Christmas time and seeing the deep red juices run out. I had been planning to make a pomegranate cake for a while, but their best days are nearly over and right now oranges are some of the best fruit you can eat. We have a fabulous local green grocer who provides us with entire crates of oranges. As you can see, ain’t nobody getting scurvy in this household.
We use most of the oranges for juicing – freshly squeezed orange juice is one of the best things you can have on your breakfast table – but it also seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a baking experiment. I gathered the ingredients I had to hand, plus a pile of oranges, and the results were delicious. The structure of this cake holds very well and the brown sugar gives it a rich, caramel-y flavour. The topping adds moisture and a burst of freshness. If you have oranges in the house then I encourage you to give it a go…if not, then go out and buy some! They are the fruit moment.
Ingredients 200g butter, softened 100g caster sugar 100g light brown muscavado sugar 3 large eggs Zest of 1 lemon Juice of ½ a lemon 250g plain four 2½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp vanilla extract
For the topping: Juice ½ lemon Juice of 2 oranges (200ml) 50g sugar
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas 3. 2. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin and line with a circle of baking parchment at the bottom. 3. Beat the butter with the two sugars until fluffy and pale. An electric whisk will be your best friend here, but if you don’t have one then give it some welly with a balloon whisk. 4. Beat the eggs in one at a time.
5. Mix in the lemon zest and juice and the vanilla extract.
6. Sift the flour and baking powder and mix well until all the ingredients are combined to a thick batter.
7. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and spread flat. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 50 minutes. The cake is ready when it is golden brown in colour and a skewer comes out clean from the middle. 8. Place the cake, still in the tin, on a wire rack and leave to cool for 10 minutes. 9. While the cake is cooking, combine the lemon juice, orange juice and sugar and heat in a pan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid to a thick syrup.
10. Peel and slice the oranges. I learnt the following trick years ago and it was such a revelation when using peeled oranges in a recipe. It will be much, much easier if you use a serrated knife.
11. Make holes in the cake with a thin skewer and spread over the orange syrup, reserving a little of it for the very top.
12. Remove the cake from the tin and decorate with the orange slices. Finish by brushing the remaining syrup over the oranges as a glaze.
This cake is perfect served with crème fraîche or natural yogurt, and will keep in a tupperware box for a couple of days.
I’ll just leave you with the little nursery rhyme which inspired the name of this recipe…
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!