Saturday, 28 May 2011

French Fruit Tart

I was very excited to know that this month's Random Recipes challenge created by Dom at Belleau Kitchen is all about desserts. If you don't already knew, this is how the challenge works: from the piles of your cook books, select one book at random and then from this book, flip it open to a random page and cook/bake that recipe.

I have several cook books that concentrate on desserts and baking, and the cook book I selected at random couldn't be any more appropriate, and one of my favourites: Desserts by James Martin.

The recipe I selected at random is the beautiful French fruit tart.
This tart is so simple to make, if you're using store-bought puff pastry. If you can make your own puff pastry, congratulations, you may do so.

I think this is one of those recipes that's visually impressive yet easy. Come on, it's (store-bought) puff pastry, melted chocolate, vanilla cream and fresh fruit. I hope you give this a go.

Bon weekend!

French Fruit Tart
Recipe by James Martin
Serves 10

350 g puff pastry
plain flour, for rolling out
1 egg, beaten
85 g white chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 a vanilla pod, seeds only
200 ml double cream, half whipped
100 ml fresh custard
small punnet of medium-sized strawberries, hulled and halved
small punnet of blackberries and raspberries
1 large banana, sliced
small bunch of seedless green and/or black grapes, halved
4 tablespoons smooth apricot jam

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry and cut out a rectangle measuring 36 x 20 cm. Place on a baking tray. Using a table knife, score a 1 cm border around the edge, making sure you don't cut the pastry all the way through.

Brush the border with egg was, taking care not to allow any to dribble down the sides because this will prevent the pastry rising evenly. Prick the base of the tart (not the border) with a fork and chill the pastry for 20 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 200 C. Bake the pastry for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Slide onto a wire rack to leave to cool. Once cooled, gently press the centre of the pastry down to leave the frame around the edge.

Melt the chocolate and brush over the bottom of the pastry. Leave to set. Add the vanilla seeds to the cream and fold in the custard. Spoon and spread the cream mixture over the pastry base. Draw shallow lines in the cream mixture to create even sections of the fruit, and arrange the fruit on top so that each section is a contrasting colour.

Heat the jam and, using a pastry brush, glaze the fruit. Allow to set before serving.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Buffalo Mozzarella, Basil and Lemon Pesto, and Roasted Plum Tomatoes

A couple of days ago, Sandra and I went to The Ivy... as you do on a typical Monday evening in London. We had been wanting to go to The Ivy for a while and when opportunity came that both of us were sent to the same training course, well... you're about to find out...

When we arrived, we were greeted by a very welcoming doorman and the waiters inside were all very friendly too. One in particular commented that he really likes my glasses. I said thanks. When we were seated at our table, we couldn't help to scan around and see if there's anyone famous... None were found. Everybody was very well dressed; they're all like bankers, executives, work for law firms, etc.

The décor is not as posh as I imagined. It's classic (a nice way of saying 'old'?!) but cosy. And the thing about The Ivy is, they have a no camera/photograph policy, hence the lack of pictures in this post.

The complimentary bread bowl and butter were very enjoyable. Bread was warm and butter is soft, just right for spreading. There was no plates though and I had crumbs everywhere. Classy.

Now, the food. To start Sandra had the steamed mussels with cider, smoked bacon and wild garlic. Doesn't that sound delicious? And it was. I had the buffalo mozzarella, avocado pesto and San Marzano tomatoes which was so good, I had to 'recreate' it for lunch today.

Sandra's main was Thai baked sea bass. The sea bass fillet was wrapped in banana leaf and then baked. The fish was nicely spiced and very moist. I had the Ivy hamburger. I know, it's probably strange that I ordered hamburger, but I do like hamburgers and especially great hamburger like this. The thick, flavourful patty was cooked to medium, just the way I like it. I don't know (and not that I really care) about the etiquette when eating finger food when served in an up-scale joint. But, I think food like hamburger, fries, ribs aren't supposed to be eaten with knife and fork, so I was hands on. What do you think?

We also ordered a couple of side dishes to share, minted Jersey Royals and parmesan crusted courgettes. Both were excellent. If I had to choose between fries or fried courgettes/zucchini, I'd definitely go for courgettes. Sandra and I love red wine and the beautiful Argentinian cabernet sauvignon 'La Flor', Mendoza 2010 is rather smooth, juicy, fruitful (plums, I believe) and was a great accompaniment to our meals.

I was full and this point, but I couldn't resist the sound of pistachio and almond tart with Turkish delight ice cream... I'm a big fan of Turkish delight, so this dessert was totally right up my street. I think I have an idea how to make this at home, I just need to find a recipe for the Turkish delight ice cream. Anyone wanna share?

Anyway, for lunch today, I made my version of the starter I had at the Ivy, buffalo mozzarella, basil and lemon pesto and roasted plum tomatoes. I couldn't find good, ripe avocado today, so just the normal pesto with fresh basil leaves, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt and black pepper. I made the pesto using pestle and mortar because I want to control the texture of the pesto. No fancy San Marzano tomatoes for me... just good old British plum tomatoes. I roasted them with a bit of olive oil, dried thyme and salt and pepper. 

To serve, I smeared the pesto abstractly onto the plate and then tear (never slice, I've been told) the buffalo mozzarella into nice chunks and grind some black pepper on the top. Arrange the tomatoes, scatter more fresh basil leaves and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil. Serve with lightly toasted, thinly sliced ciabatta. Yum.

I just love the silky smoothness of the mozzarella, melting with the fragrant basil and lemon pesto, and together with the roasted plum tomatoes are all bursting with flavours of summer. And the best thing is, this one didn't cost me an arm and a leg.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Patara Lamb Shanks

I've been craving this patara lamb shanks for a couple of weeks and so pleased to finally made it today. This lamb shanks stew/curry takes a little over two hours to cook which is not that long, come one, but whilst it's cooking in the oven, there's nothing much you need to do than to enjoy the delicious smell filling your home.

The lamb is exquisitely tender but still holding to the bone... The runny broth is pretty spicy, at least for me. I can only handle certain amount of heat. I like warm heat, not burning. So, make sure you keep tasting and adjust the flavour to your liking.

Unless you know how to make panang/penang curry paste, you may need to make a trip to your local oriental grocery store to find the ready made paste, and Nigella's recommended brand is Mae Ploy. Have a look for Thai basil as well, but you can certainly substitute with fresh coriander/cilantro as I did. I am a freak for coriander though, so do as you please.

I'm gonna be away again from tomorrow to London for work, and I've managed to make a couple of reservations for the evening which I will tell you all about it later when I returned.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday and have a great week ahead.

Patara Lamb Shanks
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Serves 6

1 x 15ml tablespoon vegetable oil
6 lamb shanks
salt and pepper
3 x 400ml cans coconut milk
1 litre water
4 x 15ml tablespoons panang curry paste
3 x 15ml tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 x 15ml tablespoons light brown sugar
spritz of lime juice, plus whole limes cut into wedges
small bunch Thai basil or fresh coriander
rice, to serve

Preheat the oven to 170 C. Heat the oil in a large wide casserole, oven proof pan, and season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper before browning them in the pan. You might need to do this in batches.

Get rid of the oil in the pan carefully, then put the shanks back in with the coconut milk and 1 litre of water, which should cover the lamb. Cover and cook in the preheated oven for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, until exquisitely tender.

Once out of the oven, remove the shanks to a roasting dish, along with 1 litre of the coconutty stock they have been cooking in. Cover with foil and put back in the oven, turning it down to 150 C. Leave the rest of the stock in the casserole.

Add the panang paste, fish sauce, sugar and spritz of lime to a bowl and whisk with a ladleful or so of the coconutty stock from the pan, then whisk the mixture back to the casserole pan. Take the roasting dish of shanks out of the oven and add them back to the casserole, throwing away the litre of the coconut liquid.

Chop the Thai basil or coriander and add most of that, keeping some back for a final sprinkling at the end. Put the casserole over medium heat and simmer the lamb for 5 minutes or so, making sure everything is heated through.

Serve the lamb shanks in wide, shallow bowls with Thai scented rice or jasmine rice, giving each person a shank and a ladleful of sauce. Sprinkle some more Thai basil or corainder over each bowl, and serve with lime wedges.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake

Though they're not favourite, walnuts seem to keep re-appearing in my cupboard. Is my cupboard now start producing walnuts? Or could I possibly, subconsciously actually like walnuts? Or have I been reading too much Freud? Who knows.

Anyway, the important thing is, this coffee and walnut layer cake is delicious; and the beauty of this cake, everything is done in a food processor. The coffee and walnut sponge is soft and moist, and I love the coffee infused buttercream. The recipe calls for instant espresso powder, but if you don't have any, simply replace it with instant coffee granules dissolved in boiling water.

I'm gonna be away in Manchester for a work conference, so I shall catch up with your delicious posts sometime in the weekend. Enjoy the rest of your week. Have a great one.

Coffee and Walnut Layer Cake
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
For list of ingredients and instructions, click here.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Baked Cherry Chocolate Mousse with Vanilla Cream and Fresh Cherries

It's been a busy few days, but I am still enjoying it. I'm in the middle of finalising an essay on 'advertising the new men' for next week; and last night I found myself typing away the delicious beginning of my dissertation which is rather exciting I must say...

A couple of nights ago, I prepared a small, laid-back farewell dinner for my dear friend Kelly who is moving to Australia in less than a week time. I invited along two other close friends, Michelle and Mark.

One of Kelly's request that evening was herbes de Provence and lemon chicken wings. I don't very often do requests, but this is a special circumstance and these wings are so delicious, I know everyone will love them and I was right. They were gone in minutes. Even though these wings is intended as an appetiser, I have previously use the same flavourings for larger pieces of chicken, like bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs will be perfect.

Michelle also made a request (what is going on here? have I gone soft?)... caramelised onion hummus which she described as the best hummus she ever tasted... Well, what can I say? I love compliments. Along with caramelised onions, the hummus is also flavoured with garlic, cumin, lemon, yoghurt and sprinkled with smoked paprika when serving.

We then had lemon roast chicken served with garlicky truffle mash. I think simple dishes, like roast chicken is the universal 'taste of home', but yet it's also elegant and nothing beats a golden bird with crispy skin and tender, juicy flesh. I smothered the chicken with seasoned lemon butter and then roasted on a bed on sliced onions, garlic, thyme and lemon wedges which then became the dressing for the green beans side dish. I also jazzed up a simple creamy mash potatoes with roasted garlic and white truffle oil for instant luxury.

And for dessert, the indulgent baked cherry chocolate mousse with vanilla cream and fresh cherries. Though I make this quite often (with different variations of flavours), I am still amazed by how delicious this mousse is. The sourness of the dried cherries inside the mousse works perfectly with the rich dark chocolate. The baked mousse has this cake-like exterior, and inside is the light as a feather chocolate filling. To make it extra special, the mousse is topped with vanilla cream with real vanilla seeds and sweet red cherries.

Another one of Kelly's request to complete the evening was espresso zabaglione... my favourite. My best description of this zabaglione is like eating clouds, because it's so light and soft with espresso infused in it.

We had a great night with plenty to eat and drink. Kelly, it's been a pleasure feeding you and your company is certainly going to be missed. Have fun and good luck in Australia.

Enjoy your weekend everyone.

Baked Cherry Chocolate Mousse with Vanilla Cream and Fresh Cherries
Recipe by Me

300 g cherry dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa (I use Green & Black's)
150 g unsalted butter
6 eggs, separated
50 g caster sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
200 ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, or 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste
fresh cherries

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line the base and sides of a 23-cm spring-bottomed cake tin with greaseproof paper. Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass/metal bowl over simmering water.

Whisk the egg yolks with sugar and stir in the melted chocolate, stirring well to combine.  In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with the remaining of the sugar until stiff peak. Fold the egg whites gently to the chocolate mixture, and pour the mixture to the cake tine.

Bake for 20 minutes until just firm to the touch. Let cool on a rack to room temperature. When completely cool, remove from the tin, but keeping the base, and put on a platter. Whip the double cream with vanilla seeds or paste for the topping, and scatter with fresh cherries.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Forever Nigella #5: Griddled Aubergine Salad

The theme for this month's Forever Nigella challenge created by Sarah at Maison Cupcake and hosted by Dom at Belleau Kitchen, is all about salad days. Yes, people including myself, might not associate Nigella with salads, but there are actually some very delicious salad recipes in her collections and one of my favourites is this griddled aubergine salad.

There is a temptation to eat this salad straight-away after griddling, but the taste actually gets better as it cools to room temperature, so be patient. The original recipe which can be found below calls for snipped chives, but I couldn't find any chives today at the market or supermarket, so I used fresh coriander instead which is lovely as well.

This salad makes a great accompaniment for Sunday lunch or dinner with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and peas. But for now, I'm very happy to enjoy this salad with thick slices of olive bread and a tub of green olives... my lazy Sunday meal...

Griddled Aubergine Salad
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
From Nigella Bites series

2 tablespoons garlic infused olive oil, plus more
1 aubergine
1 tablespoon snipped chives
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 a lemon, juiced

Place the garlic oil into a shallow dish. Slice the aubergine into long, thin slices and then place into the garlic oil, turning to coat.

Preheat the griddle or stove top grill pan and then place each aubergine slice onto the grill. Cook about 2 - 3 minutes per side. Remove the grilled aubergine slices to a platter and drizzle with more garlic oil. Season with coarse salt, black pepper, lemon juice and snipped chives. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Spatchcocked Poussin with Soba Noodles, Edamame and Chilli

The plan this evening was to chill at home and for some reasons I really fancy a bottle of rosé. I went to the shop, chose a bottle of nice wine and then I was stopped at the check-out for ID. I haven't been asked for ID in quite a while, so it was rather flattering... until I realised I didn't have any ID with me. I showed the lady my rail card which has my date of birth on it, but it's not acceptable as a form of ID (I knew that, but worth a try I thought). I told her I left my driving license at home and I am clearly over 18, but she's not convinced (I am blaming this anti-ageing cream my friend gave me). She told me that I could be working for the police to test their system. I didn't know what to say after that.

So, no rosé today... oh well... I got home and started cooking this lovely springtime spatchcocked poussin with soba noodles, edamame and chilli. I promised Stephen aka the obsessive chef to brine a chicken after Easter and I did. The poussin or Cornish hen was brined in a fragrant liquid made by mixing water with soy sauce, peppercorns, coriander seeds, garlic, onion and sugar for about a day or so, keeping it in the fridge the whole time. The (strange) thing about brining I found is you don't suddenly get an overly flavoured meat, but brining somehow gives a roundness of flavours and prevents the meat from drying out.

I got the baby chicken out of its bath, gave it a rinse, pat it dry and it's ready to be spatchcocked: opening the chicken through its back and flattening it out so it cooks quickly. I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper, lemon zest and olive oil before grilling on a griddle pan to get a nice charred colour and then finish cooking the poussin in the oven.

With the grilled and roasted poussin, I want something light and though soba noodles may not be the first thing that came to mind and obvious pairing, it was utterly delicious. I quite like the contrast of the hot chicken with cold noodles. The Asian-inspired dressing for the noodles is made from soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, lemon juice, sesame oil, a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity, chopped fresh coriander leaves and finely chopped red chilli for some heat. I also added some cooked edamame beans for crunch, sweetness and colour. This is so good, I plan to make this again for lunch tomorrow.

Anyway, with the meal I thought I crack open a bottle of white, then I found an unopened case of wine I received sometime ago from naked wines. I opened the box, and guess what I found... 3 bottles of red, 2 of white and 1 (drum roll please...) rosé. Amazing! It's a Castillo de Tafalla Rosado 2010 by the Spanish winemaker Benoit Dreyer. I'm not a connoisseur but this wine is sweet and fruity with a slight fizz... and it bounces like a fluffy spring lamb on bright green grass (words I found on the website and I like it)...

Back to the rest of the wine.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Chicken with Greek Herb Sauce & Rocket and Lemon Couscous

It's gonna be a busy time few weeks ahead, mostly in my academic life. I am working on another essay which is due sometime this month (I really need to find out the date. Sometimes I am appalled by my own so-called organisation skill). My new 10-week-class started yesterday which can only be described as... I don't even know where to start... let's just say the topic is not my area of interest in the slightest and leave it there. I have lots of reading to do. I also really need to start writing my dissertation. 

My dissertation revolves around the sociology of food and its meaning. Don't worry, you'll be reading more about this (the dissertation and my possible tantrum) in the coming months, I must warn you. I might be asking your opinions too. In the meantime, all the cooking, eating and blogging, I'll count it as part of the research...

Dinner tonight consisted of chicken with Greek herb sauce. I use chicken thighs here rather than breasts and you know why... half the price, twice the flavour. The thighs are marinated quickly in lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper before cooked in the oven. The refreshing Greek herb sauce is made of yoghurt, spring onions, green chilli, garlic, cucumber, fresh coriander and mint leaves. Accompanying the chicken perfectly, is this delicious rocket and lemon couscous. I like the word couscous... funny word isn't it? I'm easily amused. Anyway, this is so good, I'd be happy to eat it just as it is, but absolutely lovely with grilled chicken or lamb and perhaps, tomato-based stews... 

Rocket and Lemon Couscous
Recipe by Nigella Lawson
Serves 4 - 6

800 ml chicken or vegetable stock (made from concentrate, cube or granules), preferably organic
3 x 15 ml tablespoons garlic oil
500 g couscous
zest and juice 1 lemon
4 spring onions, finely sliced
100 g rocket leaves
salt and pepper, to taste

Make up the stock with boiling water. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan that comes with a lid, then add the couscous and fry, stirring at all time, for 2 - 3 minutes.

Pour in the hot stock, still stirring, and keep stirring over a very gentle heat until the stock is absorbed into the couscous, about 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat, leaving the pan where it is, with a tight-fitting lid, for another 10 minutes.

Fork through the couscous, turning it out into a big bowl. Keep working the couscous with the fork to make it lump free. Sprinkle in the lemon zest and juice, sliced spring onions and salt and pepper, to taste, before adding the rocket leaves, and tossing together carefully to mix.