Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Ajo Blanco

Tanzania makes it 106, welcome!

We're experiencing a bit of a heat wave here in the UK so a perfect cooling soup to make if ajo blanco. I make this soup a day before serving when I can, the overnight rest in the fridge allows the flavours to further develop. The soup keeps perfectly well for 3 or 4 days in the fridge and I find in that time the flavour keeps improving. Ajo is the Spanish word for garlic and as such I think the garlic flavour should be one the predominant flavours, I take a whole head of garlic and apart from 2 fat cloves I blanch the others in boiling water for 5 minutes just to take off the raw flavour. This will boost the garlic flavour whereas adding more raw garlic in my opinion produces too harsh a flavour. I always blanch almonds for this and most recipes, it's an easy thing to do and the benefit is well worth the little effort.

For this recipe you will need;
300g of almonds with there skins on
200ml of good extra virgin olive oil
100g of good sourdough white bread
1 whole head of garlic, possibly more depending on size
1 dessertspoon of sherry vinegar
1 dessertspoon of dry sherry
1 small cucumber peeled
2 teaspoons of salt
A little ground white pepper

Begin by skinning the almonds, simply place the almonds in a large bowl. pour over boiling water to cover and allow to cool completely. You can easily pop the kernels out of their skins by squeezing gently. Set the almonds to one side. Blanch all but two fat cloves of a large head of garlic in boiling water for 5 minutes. Place the almonds, garlic, both blanched and raw, cucumber, bread cut up in cubes, vinegar, sherry and seasoning in a blender with 600ml of cold water. blend for at least 3 minutes.  Leave the contents in the blender for 10 minutes or so then blend again for a really smooth soup. Strain through a fine sieve and adjust the seasoning if required.

Personally I like a soup not to be very thick, soups that have bread in them often are and certainly the traditional garnish of halved grapes requires a certain thickness in order for the grapes to float. Adjust the amount of water in order to produce the consistency you prefer.

Moist Chocolate Cake

Now producing a cake which is moist is straightforward enough, moist and light, is also not that difficult, moist, light and a chocolate cake and immediately I run into trouble. I can't count the number of chocolate cakes I have made where I have tried to achieve a moist light crumb, the flavour is always good but it's always a trip back to the drawing board for me.
This latest attempt, probably not my last, is I believe worth publishing. Despite having a good history of producing delicious cakes in this country, I turn to the US when it comes to working with chocolate; the tradition of using oil rather than butter and the addition of sour cream both help.

Click here for the latest recipes

For this cake you will need;
280g of caster sugar
240g of plain flour
100g of good cocoa
125ml of vegetable oil
300ml of sour cream
200g of ready to eat soft prunes
60ml of espresso
60ml of Di Saronno amaretto liquer
3 medium eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 teaspoons of Bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Prepare either 2, 20cm cake tins or 1, 26cm tin,by lining with baking parchment. Turn the oven on to 180C. Sift all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Place the other ingredients, including the prunes having double checked there are no pips in them, in a blender and blend for 30 seconds. Add the blended mix to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly, then pour the batter into the prepared cake tin or tins if you are using the smaller ones. Bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

I topped my cake with a chocolate ganache made by melting 200g of good quality 70% cocoa solids chocolate in 200ml of double cream, add a pinch of salt and whisk together as it cools, When the mix is at room temperature, whisk in a further 50ml of double cream.

Put raspberries and a jug of cream on the table and people get creative.

The prunes in this cake add not only a delicious flavour but a degree of moistness which is most welcome.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Dahl with Broad Beans & Aubergine

This dish of course doesn't exist in the vast repertoire of Indian Cuisine, however I'm almost certain that when faced with 1 aubergine that needs using up and a handful of the season's first broad beans, it's entirely plausible that a dish like this could be made in India.

Mayanmar (Burma) makes it 104, welcome!
Mongolia makes it 105, welcome!

To make this dish you will need:
250g of orange split lentils
1 aubergine (plus oil for deep frying)
150g of broad beans (weighed after shelling)
2 medium sized onions
8 cloves of garlic
2 thumb sized pieces of fresh ginger
3 fresh green chilies
1 dozen fresh or dried curry leaves
4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 dried red chilli
4 cloves
1 teaspoon of salt plus more for sprinkling on the aubergine.

Gertrude Jekyll, one the most fragrant of roses.

Soak the lentils for an hour or so in a litre of water then cook either in a saucepan or in the microwave until they become tender, set to one side.
Begin by making a puree of the onion, 5 cloves of garlic and ginger. I find the addition of 1 tablespoon of the oil and the tablespoon on vinegar make it easier to blend the ingredients into a fine puree. If your blender complains, the addition of a further tablespoon of water may be required.
Heat up a saucepan or karahi on a high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil, when the oil is hot, add the mustard and cumin seeds and as soon as they begin to spit, add the onion, garlic & ginger puree along with the turmeric, dried red chilli, cloves and salt, turn down the heat and fry gently stirring occasionally until the puree is reduced and becomes translucent. You should also notice the oil beginning to separate from the puree which is a sign that it is cooked. Add the tomato puree and cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the curry leaves and the cooked lentils. Add more water if you think the mix is a little thick and add the broad beans. Cover with a lid and cook gently over a low heat. Meanwhile cut the aubergine up into cubes and sprinkle with a little salt; this allows for some of the moisture to be drawn out of the aubergine and most importantly I find the cubes soak up far less oil when they are deep fried. After half an hour rinse the cubes of aubergine under a running tap for a moment or two and pat dry before deep frying in very hot oil until they become golden brown on all sides. I keep them moving with a slotted spoon in order to achieve this. If you don't wish to deep fry the aubergine, simply cook in a single layer in a heavy based pan moving them around until all sides are browned, I find using this method the aubergine actually soaks up more oil and becomes more fragile so it's deep frying for me. The finished dish serves 4 to 6 people and the overall fat content isn't particularly high if served with boiled rice or naan. Add the cooked aubergine to the dahl. Place the remaining tablespoon of oil in a small pan and fry the remaining 3 cloves of garlic having sliced them wafer thin, along with the green chillies, chopped. Fry them gently but long enough for the garlic to become a little coloured. Burnt garlic becomes bitter tasting so achieve a golden state by taking your time. Add to the dahl and continue to cook gently over the lowest heat for a further hour. Serve this dish with rice or naan and perhaps 1 other vegetable dish.

The flavour of this dish is enhanced by the addition of the vinegar in the making of the puree, considering the modest nature of the ingredients, it really is a delicious dish.
The addition of vegetables to the dahl need not be confined to broad beans and aubergine of course, you can add whatever vegetables you choose, simply consider whether or not, like the aubergine, they need prior cooking before adding.

Prune & Chocolate Torte

When a dessert contains, prunes, chocolate and pecan nuts, it's already a winner in my book, add a smidgen of bourbon to the mix and it becomes a certainty. I came up with this idea when I was making my Bakewell Tart click here for the recipe, almonds need not be the only nut that would work and trying to match ingredients that would work with pecans I created this, an altogether more grown up cake.

for this recipe you will need:
250g of either pate brisee or a sweet shortcrust pastry
240g of unsalted butter
240g of caster sugar
200g of ready to eat prunes chopped
3 medium eggs
150g of pecan nuts
150g or dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
60g of self raising flour
50ml of bourbon optional otherwise 50ml of espresso
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt

Begin by lining a 25centimeter fluted tin (removable base makes life easier) with the thinly rolled out pastry, blind bake for 15 minutes at 200C then reduce the temperature and remove the parchment and baking beans and continue to bake for a further 20 minutes at 140C until the base looks nicely dried out and has taken on a little colour. I take this opportunity to toast the pecan nuts by placing them in the 140C oven on a baking tray and toasting them for 15 to 20 minutes.
Prepare the filling by grinding up the pecan nuts in a food processor being careful not to continue doing this any longer than it takes to produce a fine breadcrumb state, pecan nuts can turn into something resembling peanut butter is processed for too long. Remove from the processor bowl and do the same to the chocolate, it helps it you add the flour and the baking powder at this stage. Again you just want a fine breadcrumb texture. Tip out of the bowl to join the pecan nuts. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl and process until light and fluffy, add the eggs, one at a time and finally the bourbon if using or the espresso. Add the ground pecans and the chocolate & flour mixture and process just long enough to make a cohesive mix. Tip half out into the cooked pastry shell, cover with the chopped prunes and finally spread over the remaining mix. If ever a spoon or spatula of the cake mix tasted good, believe me this does! place in the oven at 180C for 30 to 35 minutes. Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

This cake can be made entirely gluten free if you substitute potato flour for the self raising flour and increase the baking powder to 1 teaspoon, omit the bourbon and use only espresso and of course only do all of this if you are happy with a sweet pastry recipe which at this point in time I can't claim to be, but I'm working on it.
This is a great cake to serve with coffee, but equally it makes a very acceptable dessert, served with a big dollop of creme fraiche.


Tapenade is another of those dishes which it is hard to believe folk buy rather than make. Assembling a number of your preferred tapenade ingredients and blitzing them together is all that is required, the end product keeps in the fridge for a week or two, but the biggest advantage is you can vary the proportions or even the ingredients to suit yourself. On the whole the ingredients are already preserved, olives, anchovies and capers, with the addition of fresh garlic, olive oil and a little lemon juice, but I like to occasionally add sun dried tomatoes or preserved artichokes or spike it up a little with some cayenne pepper and dried savoury.

Few jobs are messier than stoning black olives

For this recipe you will need:
250g of stoned black olives
50g of capers rinsed under running water
50g of anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
Ground black pepper

Simply put all the ingredients apart from the olive oil in a food processor and pulse until you have a fine textured pate, scrape the sides down a couple of times and trickle in enough olive oil, usually around 50 to 100ml to slacken off the mixture.

If you are a bread maker like me, having a jar of tapenade in the fridge is always useful when you wish to make a loaf that you can serve at the beginning of a meal to tear and share, simply roll out white dough into a large rectangle, spread with the tapenade, cut it along it's length and twist the two long pieces together before placing in a large cake tin and baking, having given it an hour or so to prove. click here for a similar recipe and more detailed instruction.

Roasted cauliflower Pilaf

Cauliflower has been losing popularity in Britain for the last couple of decades, it's a mystery as to why, one possibility is the prevalence of cauliflower, boiled until it's waterlooged then served up with an insipid cheese sauce. Cauliflower in a cheese sauce can be delicious of course but far too often, it isn't. All brassica vegetables, produce unwelcome flavours when over boiled, however this recipe produces perfectly tender delicious cauliflower florets which marry up beautifully with the wild rice and golden raisins in this pilaf.

For this recipe you will need:
1 large cauliflower cut up into small florets
3 small onions
250g of wild rice
150g of golden raisins soaked in 100ml of hot water
1 tablespoon of oil, the choice is yours
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of turmeric powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper

Begin by placing the oil, cumin seeds and seasoning on a large baking tray, mix together a little then add the cauliflower. Peel the onions and keep as much of the root ends in tact as you can, when you then cut then into 6 segments each, the layers should stay together reasonably well. Add to the caulifower and toss together to get each piece at least introduced to the seasoned oil. Place in a hot oven 220C for 10 to 15 minutes, take the tray out, you'll find the tips are beginning to char; using a couple of tablespoons, move the contents around in order to expose more of the uncharred cauliflower and onions. Place the tray back in the oven and repeat this process until you find the cauliflower is tender and most of the florets are showing signs of a little charring. This takes between 35 and 45 minutes depending on how efficient your oven is. I have forgotten them before now and the extra charring was wonderful, but until you are familiar with the process, perhaps it's just as well to keep the charring to a minimum.
Boil the wild rice in vegetable stock until cooked. Each grain of rice should split open and have all the lovely colours of darjeeling tea leaves. Add the cooked rice to the cauliflower and toss in the raisins. Personally I find the dish moist enough without adding a dressing of any kind. I have served it hot with spiced salmon in a coconut, ginger and chilli sauce, I think it would be equally good served as part of a cold buffet with other salads.

 Brassicas have long struggled with abuse in the kitchen,  over boiling being the main crime against them, however, roasting in a little oil in a hot oven transforms them into the most delicious of vegetables, I would encourage all to experiment and risk getting the edges charred

Hedd's Bread

I have been convalescing after a spell in hospital and during that time not only did my daughter come up to look after me, but she attempted to make a batch of my sourdough with gruel bread click here for the recipe. We used this opportunity to see if it was possible to produce a good batch of bread using only the ingredients, a large bowl and finally the oven to bake it in; when making bread I almost always make use of my Kenwood Major food mixer. I'm pleased to say the bread was equally good made by hand. I'm well on the road to recovery thanks to the help of very dear friends.