Right now is a great time of year to be eating kale. Although it’s available all year round in it’s curly variety in most supermarkets, it’s in season between September and February and so at this time of year you might be able to get your mitts on some more interesting varieties. Plus, we’re all trying to be a little virtuous in January, and kale is a vitamin and mineral dense vegetable, packed with Vitamin C, calcium and beta carotene (which no-one really knows what it is, but hey-ho it sounds super healthy). The kale I’ve used in this recipe was grown by my dad at his allotment and is called cavolo nero (“black cabbage” in Italian, where the variety originates). If you can find cavolo nero to use in this recipe then great – it goes perfectly in stews and soups – but if not then use any kale or cabbage that you like.
This recipe is the godsend of all store-cupboard meals. I do think that the combinations below work particularly well, but the beauty is that you can use whatever veggies you have in the vegetable drawer, whatever meat (bacon, sausages, chorizo would all be great) you have in the fridge and any type of beans or pasta shape that you have in the cupboard.
Ingredients (serves 4-6) 100g (about 6 rashers) streaky bacon 1 white onion 2 medium carrots 2 celery sticks 2 garlic cloves 1 tsp tomato puree 1.5l vegetable stock 1 tin or carton of chopped tomato 6-8 large cavolo nero leaves 100g spaghetti 1 tin cannellini beans Olive oil Salt and pepper
Optional topping suggestions: basil pesto, grated parmesan, chopped basil, chopped parsley, croutons
Method 1. Chop the bacon into small pieces.
2. Finely chop the onion and garlic, thinly slice the celery and dice the carrot.
Fry altogether in the remaining bacon fat (topped up with a little olive oil if necessary) for 10 minutes until soft.
I love reading cookbooks. It may seem strange (or, in fact, perfectly normal to any foodies out there), but there is something exciting about starting at the beginning of a new cookbook, reading the introduction, leafing through all the recipes, learning about the author and marking the pages of particularly tasty-sounding recipes with cute little post-it notes. To be honest, lots of these dishes end up never being cooked, but it’s fun to plan and it’s good to get new inspiration for recipes. Christmas is the best time of year to receive gifts of cookbooks, as Christmas Day and Boxing Day were just made for lounging in your pajamas while reading books, right? This year I got Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes (one of my current favourite chefs), Mimi Thorisson’s A Kitchen in France (which is one of the most delightful cookbooks to read, ever) and The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. There may well be some recipes to come on this blog from the first two of these books, but today we’re all about muffins and so obviously we turn to the Magnolia Bakery’s book.
This recipe is almost exactly the same as the recipe in the Magnolia Bakery’s book – we’re using the same ratios of flour to eggs to sugar to butter, and throwing in some deliciously sour buttermilk, as they do, for good measure. I swapped castor sugar for brown sugar, for a hint of caramel , and, inspired by this article by Felicity Cook I went for a double blueberry hit. The trick is to use both fresh and frozen blueberries; the fresh ones mashed and folded through the batter in order to give an even blueberry flavour, and the frozen ones stirred in whole to give those essential blueberry explosions.
A note on buttermilk: this is actually now readily available from loads of shops and supermarkets, but if you can’t find any then simply mix up natural yogurt with a little bit of milk for the same effect.
Ingredients (makes 9 muffins) 250g plain flour 1 tbsp baking powder 110g brown sugar ¼ tsp salt 1 large egg 240ml buttermilk ( or 60ml milk and 180ml natural yogurt) 60g butter, melted 1 tsp vanilla 75g fresh blueberries
75g frozen blueberries
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.
2. Stir through the sugar and salt until well combined – try to break up any lumps that there might be in the brown sugar.
3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the egg, buttermilk, butter and vanilla. Stir to combine, but don’t over-mix.
4. Mash the fresh blueberries with a fork and gently fold through the muffin batter.
5. Stir the frozen blueberries into the mixture, reserving a few for the tops of the muffins. Top tip!…you can toss the blueberries in a teaspoon of flour if you like, which stops them all dropping to the bottom of the muffins.
6. Fill 9 muffin cases nearly to the top and stud with the remaining frozen blueberries.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the muffins are golden brown.
Leave the muffins to cool on a wire rack, though I imagine they would be divine while still warm, especially if you’re having them for breakfast or brunch.
The perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea, when you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Happy New Year gorgeous readers! I hope your festive break was filled to the brim with your favourite people, your favourite food and drink, and your favourite films, music, books and games. I know mine certainly was, and so much more. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. You know that kind of laughter that makes your stomach and throat hurt and your breathing difficult? Yeah, that.
And so now it is January. The fruit bowl has been piled high, the vegetable drawer in the fridge is stuffed full and gym memberships have been renewed with gusto. I have just discovered Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga and what a revelation it is. I had forgotten how amazing just a short yoga practice every day is, plus there is the bonus that Adriene is an absolute babe. Serious babe crush going on.
But on the other hand, we are still in the depths of winter. The days may be getting gradually longer, but it really doesn’t feel like it right now. So let’s all agree that we still need some comfort food every now and then, yeah? We can stick to stir-fry and steamed vegetables and baked fish during the week, but on a Sunday night let’s snuggle up together on the sofa, wearing our comfiest pyjamas, with steaming bowls of stew and glasses of red wine. Cheers to that.
Ingredients (serves 2-3) 1 generous tbsp dried ceps (aka porcini mushrooms) 2 small onions, finely chopped 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped 2-3 small carrots, cut into chunky wedges 2 medium parsnips (or in my case, one daddy, one mummy and one baby parsnip), cut into chunky wedges 350g beef shin 180g mushrooms, either cup or button Large glass of red wine 2 bay leaves 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas mark 2. Lightly crush the dried ceps in a mortar and pestle.
Cover with a few tablespoons of hot water and leave to soak. 2. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole pot or pan and gently fry the onion and garlic over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until soft and just beginning to brown.
3. Turn the heat up so the onions sizzle and add the carrots and parsnips, mixing well to coat them in oil. Allow the vegetables to cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside. Add a little more olive oil and wait until very hot. Generously season the beef shin with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Fry on a very high heat for a couple of minutes until brown and caramelised on both sides.
5. Pour the wine into the pan and bubble for 3-5 minutes to reduce the liquid by about one third.
6. Add the vegetables back into the pan, along with the now-rehydrated ceps (including the soaking water), and stir. Season and tuck a couple of bay leaves into the stew, pop the lid on the pan and put into the oven.
7. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms, peel and cut in half. If you’re using button mushrooms then skip this step and use them whole! Ain’t nobody got time for that.
8. After an hour and a half remove the stew from the oven and stir in the mushrooms and redcurrant jelly. If necessary add a splash of water to the stew.
9. Continue to cook the stew in the oven for a further 30-60 minutes. The meat should be beautifully tender and the relatively large amount of fat in the cut of beef shin should have melted away into the sweet, rich liquid.
Serve with potatoes, cooked in the style of your choice, or some lovely fresh bread which you can use to mop up the delicious sauce. And of course, since it’s January, I suppose some steamed vegetables on the side will help to make us feel that little bit more virtuous.
No blog post from me this week; there’s been plenty of cooking in this household (marmalade roasted gammon, chocolate fudge, mince pies, Christmas pudding, cheese twists…) but it’s all been done with cheesy Christmas music on in the background and lots of people around, rather than with just me, my notebook and my (Ross’) camera. Anyway, I hope you all have a lovely, relaxing, festive day. xxx
Truffles and Christmas go together like Batman and Robin. Or peanut butter and jam. Or gin, tonic and sunshine. They’re the perfect treat to have around the house over the Christmas holidays, but they also make a lovely present for someone special, and they’re surprisingly straightforward to make (once you master the rolling!). Even better, they can be customised so that they are totally unique to you. I think the flavourings in these ones work particularly well with dark chocolate, with a hit of festive brandy and the odd burst of sea salt, but orange zest and Cointreau would be gorgeous, as would coconut-rum truffles rolled in desiccated coconut, or even sea salt and peanut butter truffles.
Ingredients (makes about 20-25 truffles) 150g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) 150ml double cream 25g butter Pinch of sea salt flakes Brandy
Method 1. Finely chop the dark chocolate into as small pieces as you can – you could also pop it in a food processor if you have one.
Tip into a large bowl.
2. Heat the cream until it just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring until it has melted.
3. Slowly pour the cream and butter over the chocolate, whisking continually until you have a smooth mixture.
4. Add a generous pinch of sea salt, and enough brandy to taste. To be honest, my first batch didn’t quite have the hit of Christmas booze that I was hoping for (I had used 4 tsp of brandy) – the alcohol flavour was too subtle, so next time I’ll add at least 6 tsp. However, you can adjust this entirely to your own preference – taste after adding each tsp since you can always add more but you can’t take it back out!
5. Chill in the fridge overnight until the mixture is solid. Sieve a few dessert spoons of coca powder onto a large plate (you do need to sieve it as cocoa powder tends to have a few lumps in it) and get another large plate ready for the truffles.
6. Now comes the hardest part, since the truffle mixture can seem really difficult to work with. The trick is to have your hands as cold as possible! Believe me, it’s a revelation. I was running my hands under cold water in between every one or two truffles and they rolled up so much easier. Use a teaspoon to break up the chocolate and then roll a small amount of mixture into a rough ball.
7. Roll the truffles in cocoa powder (or icing sugar, or chocolate sprinkles, or desiccated coconut, or finely chopped pistachios…) and place on a clean plate. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve.
These can be stored in the fridge for a good 3-5 days (or even longer in the freezer), or box them up and proudly present them to their recipient. Serve in the afternoon for unexpected guests or after dinner with a strong coffee.
I hope you all enjoy the next week of festive fun…only 6 sleeps til Christmas!
I am really pleased with this new recipe. It’s going to be my festive go-to recipe for whipping up a last minute sweet treat from now on. Basically, it’s a mince pie in disguise, and one that is even easier to make and store (which is really saying something, since mince pies aren’t exactly the trickiest kitchen task and don’t take up an awfully lot of room in the freezer). This mincemeat-packed pastry is the most efficient use of freezer space and can be put together in a matter of minutes. I used shop-bought puff pastry for this recipe because it’s all about convenience, but if you have time on your hands you can always make yours from scratch.
If you’re organised and already have homemade mincemeat ready to use then it will be perfect in this recipe. If not, then you can buy lovely mincemeat in the supermarkets, and we’ll perk it up with some orange zest, fresh pear and obligatory Christmas spirit anyway.
Ingredients (makes 24 pastries) 300g mincemeat 1 orange Splash of brandy 2 ripe pears 1 lemon
500g all-butter puff pastry
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6. Measure out the mincemeat into a bowl and add the zest of the orange and a splash of brandy. Mix together.
2. Peel, core and finely dice the pears. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pear to stop the pieces from browning.
3. Generously flour the work surface and roll out the puff pastry into a large rectangle, with the long edge facing you. The pastry should be about 0.5cm thick.
4. Gently spread the mincemeat onto the pastry, right up to the edges of the sides, but leaving an inch gap at the front and back. Sprinkle the pear chunks on top.
5. Roll the pastry into one long sausage-shape. Start by folding over the long edge closest to you (as shown below) and then roll up gently, using both hands. It will get easier as the roll gets thicker.
6. Trim the edges from the pastry roll to neaten it up. Cut it in half to make two manageable rolls. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up the pastry and make it easier to slice. Alternatively you can wrap the rolls in cling film and leave in the freezer, ready to slice and bake whenever you like.
7. Remove the firmed pastry rolls and slice into 24 circles (or 12 if you’re just using one of the rolls). Space out on a large baking tray lined with baking parchment.
8. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Leave to cool on a wire rack (or eat them while they’re warm!).
Dust these flaky, spiced pastries with icing sugar for the perfect snowy effect if you like. Serve with steaming mugs of tea, coffee or (preferably) mulled wine.
Note: if cooking from the freezer, remove the roll about 30 minutes before you slice it. Cut off as many pieces as you need. Use a sturdy and very sharp knife, as the frozen pear makes the roll particularly hard. Bake as instructed above. Feel smug about how organised you are.
Traditional mincemeat is a great little recipe to make around this time of year. It’s incredibly simple, keeps well and your homemade jar can be whipped out the cupboard at a moment’s notice if you’re in need of emergency mince pies. If you’ve already made your Christmas pudding (like this one here…) then it’s highly likely that you have leftover dried fruits or chopped peel or even some suet lurking in the cupboards. This is a great way to use them up, and with 18 days left til Christmas (yes, that’s right, EIGHTEEN DAYS) now is the perfect time to do so. If you can resist, it’s best to leave this recipe to infuse for 2 weeks; and if you manage there will be a jar of perfect mincemeat sitting in your cupboard to use in the days leading up to Christmas – and of course, most importantly, on Christmas Day itself.
Before you begin making this recipe make sure you sterilise the jar, or jars, you are using to store the mincemeat in. You can do this in a few different ways. If you have a dishwasher then the easiest method is to put your already clean jars through a hot rinse. If not then you can wash them out with boiling water (or heat with water in them in a microwave until the water boils – I couldn’t do this since my jar has metal on it!) and leave to dry upside down either naturally or in a very low oven.
Ingredients (makes enough mincemeat to fill a 2 litre jar) 600g mixed dried fruit e.g. raisins, currants, sultanas, cranberries, cherries 300g suet 90g chopped peel 250g soft brown sugar ¼ tsp mixed spice ¼ tsp ginger ¼ tsp ground cinnamon ½ fresh nutmeg, grated 1 lemon 1 Bramley apple, peeled and grated 100ml brandy
2 bay leaves
Method 1. Put all the dry ingredients except the bay leaves (so the dried fruit, suet, chopped peel, sugar and spices) in a large bowl. Mix well.
2. Add both the zest and juice of the lemon, along with the apple and brandy, and give everything a really thorough mix.
3. Carefully spoon the mincemeat into your sterilised jar(s) and push one or two bay leaves into the top. Seal and store for a couple of weeks.
Mincemeat will store for a long time provided you have properly sterilised the jars – lots of recipes say up to 6 months, but I’m pretty sure I have used mincemeat from the year before and it tasted delicious.