Friday, 26 February 2010

blood orange cake

this was a happy coincidence - i saw a recipe on elana's pantry website a few days ago (yes, i know it seems that half of what i cook comes from there). then last night, while putting the living room blinds down for the evening, i noticed three blood oranges sitting in a bowl on the windowsill.

i guess using fruit for decorative purposes is a bit mad but sometimes i do put things in the lounge because i like looking at them. they invariably go off because the room is too warm. these were heading that way - they were beginning to look a bit shrivelled - which seemed a shame. blood oranges are delicious and their season is pretty short. fortunately, i remembered the cake recipe, and the whole thing was put together while waiting for the dinner to cook.

this is really an unsweetened version of those flourless orange cakes you can see in places like starbucks. it's the same principle: you boil the orange whole and then whizz it up in a blender, skin and all. i cut down the sweetness for this one - the original recipe uses about 3/4 of a cup of agave nectar and i just added a tiny squirt of honey. it is probably an acquired taste and it would not be sweet enough for most people. use agave by all means if you want. you can obviously use normal oranges - though i'd use two and not three as they are bigger.

BLOOD ORANGE CAKE

3 blood oranges or two normal ones
2 cups almond flour
a squirt of honey (or 3/4 cup of agave nectar if you want a sweet cake)
a teaspoon of baking soda
4 eggs
40g dark chocolate

preheat the oven to 190C.

boil the oranges whole for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender. cool them a little, then whizz them in a food processor whole (minus the water in which they boiled but plus skin, pips, etc). if the mixture is really hot, let it cool down a little or you will scramble the eggs. next, add all the other ingredients and blend until thoroughly combined. if it looks really wet and sloppy, add a little bit more flour.

pour into a greased and lined 9in cake tin and cook for 45-50 minutes. test with a skewer and if it's wet, cook a bit more. leave to cool in the tin but, while still hot, break the chocolate into pieces and plonk on top of the cake. the heat will melt it in 3-4 minutes and you will be able to spread a thin layer of chocolate all over the whole cake.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

roast chicken with prosciutto and celeriac

roast chicken on a cold february weekday is better than therapy. not only does everyone love a roast chicken but having one on a tuesday rather than for sunday lunch feels extra naughty (we did in fact crack open a bottle of wine to go with it - seemed a shame not to).

it's a jamie oliver recipe and came about less by design than by a lucky dip in the ever-multiplying cookery books. a plain roasted chicken, maybe with some lemon, will always be my favourite but this makes a pretty nice change.

ps - i won the battle for the skin and therefore the stuffing - it was a trade-off for giving him both legs. not a contest, if you ask me (though i know he always sneakily eats bits of skin while carving).

ROAST CHICKEN

1 1.8kg organic chicken
1 large lemon
8 slices of prosciutto, thinly sliced
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 handfuls of fresh thyme, finely chopped
115g of butter, softened
1/2 head of celeriac, chopped into large chunks

preheat the oven to 220C and put your roasting tin inside it to heat up at the same time.

work the prosciutto, garlic, thyme and the zest of the lemon (save the lemon for later) into the softened butter. take balls of the mixture and push them carefully under the chicken skin on the breast. make sure you don't break the skin or it will all be ruined. now cut the lemon in half and stick it inside the chicken.

put the chicken in the roasting tin and cook for 25 minutes. after this time, take it out and chuck the celeriac in. roast for another 45 minutes. that should be it but do pierce the chicken with a skewer to ensure juices run clear. leave to rest for ten minutes before tucking in.

almond butter chocolate cups



i've said it before, and i will say again - i do love elana's pantry (www.elanaspantry.com). she comes up with all sorts of crazy things you can make when you're craving something other than veg. and i adore almond butter - i keep buying it to keep in my desk at work, thinking i will just spread a bit on a piece of fruit, or eat a little after lunch. it goes without saying that i invariably end up eating the whole jar with a spoon and feeling sick afterwards.

these little things were genius - like a reese's peanut butter cups which i used to love - but minus the nasty bits. you can sweeten them if you like - elana does and i didn't, and you can use different chocolate. i guess 85% stuff is a bit hardcore but don't make it with less than 75%, i'd say.

i can't tell you how much of what you need because it was all a bit of a guess (i was in the middle of cooking dinner when i thought i'd give this a go). you can look for the original on elana's website, or jump in and hope for the best.

ALMOND BUTTER CHOCOLATE CUPS

about 1/2 jar of almond butter
about 75g chocolate
some vanilla essence (or extract - can never remember which is which but you want the good stuff)

you will also need silicone moulds, which i oiled lightly, and a pastry brush. it will be extremely messy without either of those things.

all you need to do is stir about 1/2tsp of vanilla essence into the nut butter and sweeten with honey if you like.

melt the chocolate in a double boiler, gently, and when it is completely melted, paint the sides of a silicone mould with it. stick it in the fridge or on a cold window sill and leave it to harden. i found i had to repeat this process several times as the effect of gravity was that the chocolate slid off the sides of the mould. it became obvious after the first one that there was no way the whole thing would come out - hence the repainting and leaving it to set process. it doesn't take long so don't worry about it.

next, spoon about a teaspoon of the nut butter inside the hardened chocolate cup. leave it to set a little, then paint the top with the chocolate. this is much easier - you can just drop a bit of melted chocolate on and swirl it around.

stick them in the fridge for a little while, so the whole thing hardens. unmould carefully, proceed to eat several, and forget to take a picture. finally take a photo of the last, misshapen cup once you have eaten all the other ones.

doh.

Monday, 15 February 2010

venison burgers


i used to rather like februaries. they were the coldest, nastiest of months which is probably one reason why i was quite partial to them. the other must have been the imminence of spring – march in sarajevo used to bring the kind of early spring that still makes me slightly demented, if that’s the right word. it is probably the equivalent of april in the UK, it being the cruellest month, etcetera. (in april, you’d get blossoms and the city would probably be at its prettiest, and then by the end of may, it was summer.)

i am not so keen on februaries now. there is nothing much to recommend them – they are a bit cold and a bit wet and a part of that indeterminate season that lasts from about october to about may, where months, marginally more or less wet and/or cold, merge into one.

plus, february has to be the worst month when it comes to food. gone is the excitement of stodge – you’ve had three months of comfort food by now. the sight of a butternut squash or a jerusalem artichoke fills me with despair. and it’s still a long way to spring despite the first daffodils at the farmers’ market (and our kitchen). you have to wait until at least the middle of march for things to start looking up.

so...i am running out of ideas for dinners. the venison thing was a fluke – we just happened to buy some at the marylebone farmers’ market the previous sunday and i’d bunged it in the freezer. i didn’t buy it for a reason, i just like having mince in the freezer as a back-up for when there is nothing else to eat – you can usually find enough things in the cupboard to throw something together.

mixed with some pork mince for fat and a few juniper berries, these burgers were brilliant. super quick and easy to make and only take a few minutes to fry. we ate them with roasted red peppers and some battered aubergines.

VENISON BURGERS

500g venison mince
250g pork mince
1 tsp juniper berries, crushed
2tsp white peppercorns, crushed (or just use normal black pepper)
½ red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2tbs or more finely chopped parsley
lots of salt and pepper

just mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. you will have to use your hands to squish the whole thing together. i am sure i read somewhere that the more time you spend doing this, the better the final product is but i see no logical reason why this would be the case. as long as everything is thoroughly combined, you can stop. some suggest you take a small ball and fry it to check to seasoning but i didn’t bother.

still using your meaty hands, form golf-ball sized balls of meat, then flatten them with your hand to make burgers. you can make them as little or as big as you want but adjust your cooking time accordingly. i made five big ones. now, you can put the meat in the fridge at this point to allow flavours to develop a little – it also helps them firm up so they fry easier.

fry for 4-5 minutes each side, depending on size, until cooked through.

Friday, 5 February 2010

new year - paprika and fried shallot pork tenderloins


back is still giving me gyp but i am learning to live with the pain, in a way that one learns to deal with irritations - like sharing room with a stranger or having an ingrowing toenail. on the plus side, it makes all other aches and pains seem trivial. i have breezed through a nasty cold, the kind i’ve not seen for decades. it felt minor and, somehow unexpectedly, terminal. in a weirdly self-obsessed way, i have enjoyed monitoring its progress, feeling a little better each day, and knowing it will peter out soon.

anyway, despite my less-than-stoic approach to pain, i have cooked a little more. i guess another reason for my laziness in the kitchen is the winter. i love food but my heart sinks at the sight of the fridge full of cabbages and celeriac. it has felt like a long winter too - properly cold, with lots of snow.

incidentally, as soon as the snow starts falling, i seem to become a self-appointed expert on the stuff. much to my own annoyance, i can’t seem to stop myself from making slightly pompous and entirely unhelpful remarks about the various aspects of it. like – the sky is a bit yellow, that usually means it’s going to snow properly. or – no, that’s not real snow, the flakes are tiny and i am sure it will stop soon. it’s as if eighteen years of sarajevo winters have somehow made me into an expert. i have to remember to bite my tongue a bit more often, or i'll become a parody of myself.

anyway, nothing much to say about this dish except it was the first in ages i've felt like noting down. it's an amalgamation of two recipes which somehow worked quite well together - the slightly spicy pork, redolent of chorizo, tasted better with the addition of shallots and thyme. i'd say you should definitely fry the shallots in butter rather than oil, as that is what makes them so sweet.

PAPRIKA AND FRIED SHALLOT PORK TENDERLOINS
for two

2 pork tenderloins, about 200g each
1 heaped tsp sweet paprika
4 banana shallots
1 tbsp chopped thyme
20g butter
seasoning
olive oil

preheat the oven to 200C. rub the paprika all over the pork, then oil lightly and season with salt and pepper. leave to stand for a little while. chop the shallots and fry them in hot butter until they are crispy and brown. drain on kitchen paper, then mix with the chopped thyme and a little sea salt..

now heat a little oil in an ovenproof frying pan and brown the tenderloins on all sides. stick the pan in the oven for 12-15 minutes - do check after a while as you really don't want to overcook it. once it's done, leave to rest for a few minutes, then serve with the shallot mix on the side.