Tag Archives: olive oil

Of lemons and olive oil…

It’s Blue Monday. Apparently it is the most depressing day of the year as Christmas is over, the decorations are down and the reality of an empty bank account sinks in. We’ll ignore that this was first cooked up as a marketing promotion a few years ago to encourage the population to start booking sunny summer holidays when it was cold and wet outside, and use this as an excuse to make something that brings us some flavours of the Mediterranean when the skies are heavy and grey.

To do this, I’ve decided to revamp my take on Spanish magdalenas (and you can read the original post here for all the background and history). These are lovely little cakes made with lemon and olive oil, just the sort of thing to have at breakfast with a cortado or a café con leche. I mean, perhaps this is not how Spanish people eat them, but I’ve eaten them on holiday in Spain, and when you’re on holiday, it is completely legitimate to eat cake for (or at least with) breakfast.


But why a revamp? Am I not a fount of new ideas? Generally I like to look around for inspiration to try new things – it might be discovering a novel ingredient, going on holiday, or acquiring an unusual kitchen implement, all of which are usually pretty good ways to come up with ideas. I’m generally not one for making the same recipe over and over with a different flavour or icing on top. However, I recently started to look back at some of my very early posts and it got me thinking…has the time come to look back at some old recipes, make some adjustments and post them again in their new and improved form? I’m a better cook and baker these days, so it’s quite a fun way to see how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned. So you can probably expect to see quite a few more of those to come over the course of this year.

Ah, those early posts. Back from when I first dipped my toe into the blogging world. You can tell those posts. The writing is enthusiastic, but more tellingly the pictures are not quite as polished, and in particular I had not yet discovered the “flat lay”. It sounds positively risqué, but this is apparently just the technical name for setting things out on a table and then photographing them from above. You’ll probably know it as the look that is so beloved of Instagram influencers who probably spent ages making things look as if they have been effortlessly thrown onto a table. And back in the day, I was also muddling through with a more basic selection of kitchen equipment, so whatever I came up with was inevitably a little more simplistic. Put another way…I was not buying new pans, trays and moulds on a whim, and I didn’t spend as much time hunting down quirky ingredients.


These cakes were actually inspired by a visit last year to visit some friends in Estepona on the Costa del Sol. They had a lovely garden overlooking the sea, but the real highlight for me was the orchard. Avocados, mandarins, lemons, kumquats…all ready for the picking. It rather puts my solitary redcurrant bush to shame, although my garden did come good last summer with enough fruit for two small jars of jelly. But I managed to come home with a large back of kumquats and mandarins which were turned into marmalade, and we finally got to enjoy the last jar over the festive period. It got me thinking that I really do like citrus flavours, and I wanted to have another go at magdalenas.

My previous attempt at magdalenas was way back in 2010. What were you doing back then? It is just crazy to think how much things have changed over that time. Anyway, that old recipe was based on equal weights of eggs, sugar, flour and olive oil. This time I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly – I’ve used large eggs, and added a little more flour and some baking powder to get some extra lift in the batter. I’ve also added a little milk to make the batter smoother, with the hope that the magdalenas will be a little more airy. Finally, I also made two flavour tweaks. First, the lemon zest is enhanced by a little vanilla extract. Second, I have used mostly ordinary (non-virgin) olive oil, with a couple of spoonfuls of extra-virgin oil for flavour. I find that on its own, the extra-virgin stuff can make cakes a little bitter and grassy.


Of course the other big change this time was that I was able to bake my magdalenas in a square shape, like they often do in Spain! Luckily I just happened to have a square muffin pan that I bought a couple of Christmases ago to make another Spanish delight, the almond-flavoured marquesas de navidad. When the tray appeared in the kitchen, I was promptly chastised for shelling out cash for yet another piece of single-use kitchen kit. This batch of magdalenas clearly vindicates my impulse purchase, and I really love the different shape. Does it add to the flavour? Absolutely. It makes them look very pretty on a plate, thereby enhancing the eating experience.


The end result is a great little cake. They have a  lovely light  texture, so the extra baking powder and milk does the trick, and they stay wonderfully moist thanks to the olive oil. Finally, do be generous when sprinkling them with sugar – I think that slightly crisp topping is a fundamental part of them.

If you were to go back to some old recipes, which ones would you want to re-make? If you have any suggestions from my back catalogue, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

To make 12 magdalenas:

• 2 large eggs
• 115g caster sugar
• zest of one large lemon
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• pinch of salt
• 125g self-raising flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 115g olive oil (including 2 tablespoons of extra virgin)
• 2 tablespoons milk
• granulated sugar, to sprinkle

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Place 12 paper cases in a muffin tray (square or round).

2. Put the eggs, caster sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt in a bowl.  Whisk with an electric beater until light and thick (2 minutes).

3. Gently fold the flour and baking powder into the mixture using a spatula.

4. Add the olive oil and fold into the mixture (do this gently but keep going – it will come together). Finally fold in the two tablespoons of milk. You should have a smooth, soft, emulsified batter-like mixture.

5. Divide the mixture between the paper cases. Sprinkle each generously with granulated sugar. Bake for around 18-20 minutes until the cakes are risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

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Tortas de Aceite

If you enjoyed my last post on Spanish picos then chances are you’ll also like today’s treat – tortas de aciete, or olive oil cakes. I say cakes, but they are more like crackers. Or biscuits? Actually, it’s hard to work out quite what to call them – the best I can come up with is “sweet crispbread with aniseed” to give you a hint about what these are like.

Like picos this is another delight from the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. The most famous brand is Ines Rosales, which I’ve seen in Spanish stores in the past – they come in quite a retro blue and white wrapping promising that they are las legítimas y acreditadas. When we were in Seville recently, I finally got round to buying a packet, and when I finally tried them back home, I really was smitten.

I expected them to be savoury, so was surprised to find they are actually sweet. They are thin and crisp, sprinkled with sugar that has lightly caramelised during baking, and flavoured lightly with aniseed. And they’re really quite annoyingly more-ish. They’re great smashed into shards and enjoyed with tea or a cup of coffee.

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Their exact origins are unknown, but they date back to the 16th century where they are referred to in literature. Seen in context, these must have been a luxurious treat – they don’t have much sugar in them, so these seem to me a clever way of making what would have been an expensive ingredient go a long way.

There are, inevitable, lots of recipes to make these tortas. There is, of course, the secret version belonging to Ines Rosales. However, their recipe is safe, as you can make a decent version yourself at home – you just need white bread dough made with olive oil, or just take some pizza dough and work in some oil and aniseed.

Actually, I write that and make it sound so simple. Well, when it came to making these delights, I had to admit that I really, really struggled with them. Really struggled. The dough was soft and a bit sticky, so they were a complete and utter pain to roll out. They stuck to my hands. They stuck to my rolling pin. They stuck to my worktop! All in all, very frustrating! I tried chilling the dough, I tried using flour to dust, I tried using no flour and a drop of oil, but it was all to no avail. I was left facing that most awful of situations…I might have to chuck everything in the bin and admit defeat.

Before giving up, I thought I would give it one more try to make my tortas. I normally put greaseproof paper on my baking tray, but I tried adding the dough directly to the tray. As the dough contained olive oil, I reckoned the baked tortas would not stick, and I would be able to drop the dough on there and just press it out thinly into a circle.

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And…as you can see from those pictures, this worked like a dream! The dough went into a hot oven, and the tortas cooked quickly, browning on the edges and puffing up in places, leaving the typical mottled appearance. Success!

Would I make these again? Absolutely! They are actually quite easy to make, and offer lots of scope to adapt them – you could add other aromatic seeds such as fennel, or spices such as cardamom or cinnamon. Citrus zest would also work well, or you could go completely different – don’t sprinkle any sugar on top before baking, and make them into savoury crackers instead.

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To make tortas de aciete (makes around 25-30):

• 80ml extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 heaped teaspoon aniseed
• 100 ml water
• 1 teaspoon instant yeast
• 50g white sugar
• 250g strong white flour
• pinch of salt
• 1 egg white, beaten
• caster sugar, for sprinkling
1a. If using a bread machine: put everything except the egg white into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

1b. If making by hand: put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a bowl. Add the water and mix well. Knead for around 5 minutes until elastic, and then work in the olive oil and aniseed. Leave the dough a warm place for an hour until the dough has doubled in size. Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

2. Once the dough is ready, turn it onto a floured surface. Divide into equal pieces.

3. Preheat the oven to 210°C (420°F).

4. Roll each piece of the dough into a ball. Put onto a lightly oiled baking tray and press flat into a large, thin circle (12-15cm). I managed to fit 3 tortas onto a large baking sheet. Brush each torta lightly with beaten egg white and sprinkle with some caster sugar.

5. Bake the tortas for around 5-8 minutes until they are golden and browned at the edges. You might want to go easy on the first few to make sure you’re getting the temperature and baking time correct – it will depend on the size and thickness of the tortas.

6. Keep going until all the dough is used up. Once the baked tortas are cooled, store in an airtight container to keep the crisp.

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Picos

Back in May we spent a week in the Seville enjoying the city’s history, architecture and delicious tapas. Oh, and the absolutely roasting hot temperatures! You think I’m joking or exaggerating? At one point it reached a balmy 43°C in the shade. Not much you can do beyond sit in the shade and alternate been a cold beer and glasses of water, before wandering off for a siesta to dodge the worst of the heat.

Actually, things were not that bad at all. It was a dry weather front that had come from the Sahara and was sitting above southern Spain, so as long as  we moved slowly, it was absolutely fine. And the city of Seville is a real treasure trove, full of beautiful squares, hidden streets and some absolutely stunning architecture. The highlights are the cathedral and Alcazar, two gems of Moorish architecture and we spent several hours just wandering around each. I’ve included a few pictures below to give a little flavour of the place, and if you think the gardens of the Alcazar look familiar, that’s because they stand in for Dorne in Season 5 of Game of Thrones (first picture, top left). Yes, I admit that I found that bit quite exciting.

Sevilla
Game of Thrones aside, the Alcazar also featured some wonderful tile work. Intricate mosaics and the typical Seville tiles, and you can see why this was a big industry there – it might have been baking outside, but it remained cool indoors.

For those with a foodie inclination, Seville and the region of Andalusia have a major draw – this is the home of tapas and many of the foods that we tend to think of as typically Spanish. This means that going out for dinner is a bit of a cultural experience in itself – find a little bar somewhere, grab a glass of vino tinto and a plate of food, then hop on to the next place and keep going until late. Of course, you will inevitably finish your evening in the small hours as this is Spain and the locals don’t really start their evening until it is already late. Indeed, given the heatwave, the Sevillanos only seemed to appear in the open-air cafés and bars once the sun was gone and the air had cooled from fiery to warm and pleasant.

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As we were in Seville for a whole week, this also gave us a chance to visit some of the surrounding cities, and when it comes to Andalusia, you’re really quite spoiled. One place that I’ve fancied going to for some time it Cádiz, the city that is almost an island, connected to mainland Spain by a narrow strip of land. I’ll admit that the initial attraction of visiting was down to the unique location of the place, almost lost in the Atlantic Ocean, but it also has a fascinating history – one of the longest continuously inhabited cities in Spain, and grew rich in the 1700s on the back of trade with the Americas.

This place really was quite enchanting – there is a sort of dreamy atmosphere here, a forgotten place, but still bustling and friendly. The cathedral is made from limestone, so is slowly crumbling, but the streets are pretty and the sea offered flashes of brilliant blue at the end of most of the streets. After the hot temperatures of Seville, the cool sea breeze was very welcome. We also got stuck in at the local mercado with fruit and snacks bought to eat later on the beach.

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After all that culture and history, it was a bit of a change of pace in the lovely town of Jerez, the home of…sherry!  We wandered around gardens and plazas with beautiful Jacaranda trees, visited the cathedral and explored the Alcazar. But of course the reason we were here was to find out about the wine that has made this town famous.

Sherry has a bit of a bad reputation, usually due to the sweet cream sherry that is a favoured tipple of grannies and maiden aunts. However, the good stuff is very different – made from the Palomino grape variety, and then left to mature in oak barrels that develop a layer of flor (yeast) on the surface. This transforms the wine into the bone-dry Fino that goes well with tapas, or it can be left longer so that the sherry oxidises to make the darker Amontillado or Oloroso varieties. We did the Tio Pepe tour, we took the little train around the bodega and come back with lots and lots of bottles. Always nice to have a little something to drink back home to bring back those holiday memories!

Jerez

Anyway, that’s enough of the tourism promotional activities. Time for the culinary element of this post, a little pre-meal nibble called picos. Whenever you sit down in a bar in Seville, you’ll order a drink while looking at the menu, and you beverage will appear alongside a bowl of picos.

If you’re sitting there thinking “these are just mini breadsticks” then you’re more or less right, but with one killer difference. While breadsticks are long, and you might think for a moment about having another, a bowl of picos are their squat cousins, and very addictive. They’re so small, surely just one more won’t hurt? And then you realise you’ve guzzled your way through an entire bowl of them. And, most likely, you’ll still want more.

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Now, I did come back from Spain with bag and bags of these little guys, but I still wanted to have a go at making them myself. I thought it would be easy, but recipes seem to be few and far between! Perhaps because…eh…they’re not very expensive?

Anyway, from the recipes that I could find for picos, I noticed that they seemed to have quite a lot of salt in them. I was a bit dubious, thinking that the flavour might end up being a bit too strong, so I ummed and aaahed about how much to add. Then again, the genuine picos were fairly salty, so I figured that I had little to lose and made them with a good amount of sodium chloride.

I started this recipe with a basic pizza dough, made with some extra-virgin olive oil. I wouldn’t bother with it when making a pizza base (by the time it is smothered in tomatoes, cheese and herbs, I don’t think it makes a difference, and in any event, a drizzle of the good stuff at the end provides the magic touch). But here, the flavour would matter, so in with the extra virgin stuff we went.

What really makes the dough into picos rather than a pizza or even breadsticks is how you shape it. This took quite a bit of experimentation and lots of sticky hands. What finally worked was to pinch off pieces the size of a fat olive (but not as big as a walnut), then dust a worktop with flour. Roll the piece of dough into a ball using your hands, then drop onto the worktop and shape it into the shape of a small baguette. If you press harder and work quickly, you will get the fat middle with the pointed end, whereas going slowly and with less pressure will get a longer, more even shape. Both are good!

As you shape the picos, transfer them to a baking sheet, and once you have filled the tray, cover loosely with cling film and leave somewhere until they around doubled in size. They puff up a little more in the oven anyway, so don’t obsess about giving them too long to prove – all you want is for them to be a little bit light and crisp and not too hard when you bite into them.

So I made my four trays of picos, baked the first batch, then tried one of them. They looked like the real deal, had a lovely colour, and the crisp…well, outside was crisp, but the centre was a little softthe texture was more like doughballs! ¡Que Horrible! But that was easy to fix – once I’ve baked all the picos, I dropped the oven temperature and left them all in there until they were nicely dried out and perfectly crisp. Success!

So now you’re made them, how do you eat them? Get the table into the garden or on the balcony, open a bottle of wine or sherry or grab a beer, and munch on them alongside a bowl of olives and some manchego cheese. And if your local climate is in the mood, you might even be able to imagine that you’re somewhere in Spain!

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To make picos (makes around 80, depending on size):

• 350g strong white flour
• 180ml water
• 1 teaspoon honey
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon instant yeast
• 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1(a). If using a bread machine: put everything in the mixing bowl. Run the pizza dough cycle. Simples!

1(b). If making by hand: put the flour and olive oil into a bowl, and rub with your fingers until mixed. Fold in the salt, honey  yeast. Mix in the water – start with a spoon, then work with your hands until you have a smooth, stretchy dough (at least 5 minutes). If too wet, add more flour. Leave the dough a warm place until doubled in size (around an hour). Knock back and knead again for 2-3 minutes.

2. Line a few baking trays with greaseproof paper and dust with flour.

3. Break off pieces of dough (the size of a very fat olive). Roll into a ball, then drop onto a floured worktop. Roll with your palm to make the mini-baguette shapes. Transfer to the baking tray, leaving space for the picos to expand.

4. When the tray is full, cover loosely with cling film. Move onto the next tray and keep going until all the dough is finished. Leave the covered picos until roughly doubled in size.

5. Bake at 210°C (410°F) until golden, 10-15 minutes, turning the tray half-way through.

6. When all the picos have been cooked, put them all on a tray and bake at 140°C (285°F) until they are completely dry and crisp.

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Romantic Seed Crackers

OK, so more hearts! Why? Because…love is crackers? But worth it? And love is a good base for other things, just like a good cracker?

Fine, fine, I’ll stop trying to use bad humour to justify another heart-shaped post. Truth be told, I was really just looking for another excuse to use the rather splendid copper biscuit cutter that I was given as a present back in November, and it does seem such a shame to use it only at Christmas. And so I’ve made my seed crackers, but this time with a bit of a romantic twist.

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Of course this is not a new recipe – I first posted this about five years ago (five years ago!), but I think it is worth featuring again as it really is great. These are really double seed crackers – the simple dough (wholemeal and buckwheat flour, plus salt, oil and a dash of honey) is livened up with ground seeds, and then there are more on top for crunch and to give them some visual appeal. You could use whatever you like and/or have to hand, but I’ve used pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and poppy seeds.

If you make these, be prepared for “the alarming bit”. The poppy seeds and buckwheat flour make the dough a rather unappealing grey colour, but when they bake, the crackers take on this gorgeous conker-brown colour, making a handsome addition to a cheeseboard or any selection of dips.

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If you’re feeling creative and really want to work a heart theme, you can also cut out toppings using your cutters – slices of cheese, pieces of vegetable or whatever else you want. Otherwise, just throw them in a bowl, and use them to scoop up obscene amounts of hummus!

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For around 50 crackers (depends on size):

• 40g sesame seeds
• 30g pumpkin seeds
• 20g sunflower seeds
• 10g poppy seeds
• 120g wholewheat flour (spelt flour works too)
• 40g buckwheat flour
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
• 2 teaspoons honey
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• water, to bind
• egg white, to glaze
• seeds, to decorate

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

2. Mix all the seeds together, and blitz in a grinder until you have a fine powder. Don’t go too far, or they will become oily. The poppy seeds might stay whole, which is fine.

3. In a bowl, combine the ground seeds, flours, salt, honey and oil. Mix well.

4. Add enough water to make a dough (around 75-100ml, but it will vary depending on your flour). It should be smooth, but not sticky. Add more flour if needed.

5. Roll out the dough as thin as you can on a floured surface. Cut out the crackers (either use a cutter or cut with a knife or pizza cutter).

6. Brush each cracker with a little beaten egg white, and sprinkle over some seeds.

7. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crackers become brown. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. If you’re doing lots of different shapes and sizes, bake in batches of the same size to ensure they don’t burn.

Worth making? These are excellent! Quick to make, with delicious results.

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Scottish Food: Skirlie

Burns Night might have passed, but I’ve got one last Scottish recipe that I would like to share. This one is great, as it is both incredibly tasty, very simple to make and really rather healthy given that the main ingredients is the wonderfood that is oats.

This dish is called skirlie, and I’ve been making it rather a lot recently. You can more or less make it from cupboard and fridge staples, and the taste is definitely a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Skirlie is made from onions that have been browned in butter or olive oil, and then you add some pinhead oatmeal and leave the lot to cook until the oats are slightly toasted. Season to taste. Voila! If you’re trying to imagine the taste, it is something like an onion stuffing (or at least, how a vegetarian might imagine stuffing to taste…). If you’re wondering what pinhead oatmeal is, it is the stuff that looks like little grains of oats, rather than the big, fat flakes. I don’t think there is any reason you could not use rolled oats, but don’t try to use oatmeal or oat flour, as they are too fine.

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I’ve tried to find out more about skirlie, but this seems to be one of those traditional Scottish dishes that doesn’t really have a lot to say for itself. No links to the Jacobites, no links to Robert the Bruce, and not (as far as I’ve seen) a favourite of Queen Victoria during her visits to Balmoral. This just seems to be a good, honest, traditional recipe, and that’s that! If you’ve got any secret knowledge, please do share! What I was able to find out is that skirlie is traditionally made with beef dripping as the fat to brown the onions, so if that’s your thing, you might want to have a go for a more “authentic” flavour. I think butter works well instead, but of course you can go for a completely vegan option by using olive oil.

This really does have the flavour of a very traditional dish, but for its simplicity, it really packs a flavour punch. To make this well, I think there are a few secrets: first, get the onions really cook down slowly until they are nicely browned, which can mean taking the time to get them cook for as long as you can on a very gentle heat. Next, let the oatmeal cook for quite a while, so that you develop some “nuttiness” in there. Finally, get a little creative with the flavours. You’ll need to add some salt, but this also benefits from some black pepper and aromatic herbs. One version I’ve seen uses generous amounts of fresh thyme and lemon zest, which makes this into a very aromatic, fresh-tasting dish.

There is, however, one way in which my version of skirlie really veers away from more traditional recipes. All the versions I was able to find told me to add the oats to the onions, and cook the lot, job done. However, I tried this and found the resulting skirlie to be a bit too dry for my liking. This would be fine if you’re serving it alongside something with a lot of sauce, or plan to mix it into mashed potato for some added flavour and crunch, but on its own, I was not convinced. The answer was simple – just add some water at the end of the cooking time, then keep cooking. It will initially boil up and thicken, looking a bit like porridge (at which point you think “oh no, porridge for dinner!”), but keep cooking and it will dry out a bit, but it will turn fluffy and the oats will be slightly tender. The end result is something with a texture a bit like brown rice.

To serve this, I think it really is best as a side dish, to provide a bit of variety from rice or mashed potato (or as I say – mix it into the potato!). You can also add other vegetables, such as mashed carrot or swede, or even some pan-fried spinach or kale for a properly healthy dish. Yes, it contains butter, but all those oats have to be doing you some good!

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To make Skirlie (serves 4 as a side disk):

• 2 large onions or 6 shallots
• 40g butter
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 150g pinhead oatmeal
• 1 lemon, zest only
• aromatic herbs (thyme works well here)
• salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• water

1. Peel the onions/shallots, and roughly chop. As the oats are fairly fine, you want the onions to add some texture.

2. Put the butter and olive oil in a frying pan. Heat until the butter melts, then add the onions/shallots and fry over a medium heat until they have a good brown colour.

3. Add the pinhead oatmeal and lemon zest, plus herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for around 5 minutes, stirring frequently – the oats should start to brown, but should not burn!

4. Optional. Add some water to the mixture – it will thicken initially, but keep cooking until it starts to look try. Try the oatmeal – if you prefer it to be softer, add more water and keep cooking until you get the desired consistency.

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Shredded Sprout Salad

Ooof, still feeling the effects of Christmas and New Year? Even if you’re not into celebrating in a big way, January often comes as a relief when there is just generally less food, drink and sweets on offer. I kind of feel that I don’t really want to go near a spiced cookie for quite some time! At home we’re not doing anything too radical, other than an “eat less rubbish” drive. Everything in moderation and such like.

Well, this salad is a bit of an antidote to all that rich food. It’s actually my preferred way of serving Brussels sprouts, and is really very simple. Rather than trying to boil them, then cooking them too long and ending up with grey mush, you just leave them raw. Then it’s simply a case of shredding them finely, adding some nuts and soft cheese or thick yoghurt, dressing the lot and you’re done.

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If you’re thinking that raw sprouts aren’t really your thing, try one – they’ve actually slightly sweet, with a mild flavour. Not a hint of cabbage!  I’ve matched them with some tangy goat’s cheese, and then a selection of nuts and seeds. I use whatever nuts I have to hand, usually hazelnuts, but here I’ve used sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds, all of them toasted to bring out their flavour. And finally, the dressing is a simply mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice, which makes the whole dish taste really fresh.

There really is not much mystery to making this salad, other than making sure you shred the sprouts finely. This means that you can sort of fluff the greens up, so that everything mixes well. If the sprouts are too large, the nuts, cheese and dressing will stay separate. Other than that, it’s a case of having as much or as little of each part as you see fit. Personally, I would major on the toasted nuts and goat’s cheese, but that’s just my preference.

To serve this, I think it looks best on a flat plate piled up high rather than in a bowl. Given that you’ve got that wonderful green-yellow colour of the sprouts, a dark plate is best for dramatic effect (even it I’ve used a white one for my pictures!).

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So there we have it – a bit of a healthy start to 2015!

To make Shredded Sprout Salad:

For the salad

• Brussels sprouts
• nuts and seeds (I used almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds)
• soft goat’s cheese

For the dressing

• 1 lemon, zest and juice
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• salt, to taste
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Toast the nuts in the oven. Allow to cool and chop roughly.

2. Trim the sprouts and remove any bad leaves from the outside. Finely shred them.

3. Make the dressing – add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper and salt to a jam jar and shake vigorously.

4. Make the salad – sprinkle half the sprouts on a plate, then half the chopped nuts and seeds. Drizzle over a little of the dressing. Add the rest of the sprouts, the rest of the nuts and seeds, then scatter chunks of the goat’s cheese on top with half an eye on coming up with something that looks a bit artistic. Finish with the rest of the dressing.

 

 

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{9} Italian Anise Cookies

I realised that I’ve been doing a lot of baking that uses very rich, heavy flavours. While I love spices, fruit, nut and chocolate, something a bit lighter can be very welcome. In Italy, they seem to recognise this, with aniseed being a very popular flavour. It’s a little bit invigorating and had a very fresh taste that is very appealing. Very different from all those mince pies!

I saw literally dozens and dozens of recipes for these small, round, glazed aniseed biscuits. Probably every Italian grandmother has passed on her own recipe for these things! They seem to go by the name of both angelonies as well as genetti. From my non-scientific research, it seems angelonies are the round cookies with the brightly-coloured sprinkles, whereas genetti are similar but twisted into more elaborate shaped before being baked and glazed. If there are any Italians out there who would like to enlighten me, please do!

This is a very simple recipe, and indeed the biscuits are best enjoyed while they are still very fresh, which makes it a good choice for last-minute unexpected visitors. Well, I say that it is simple, but it took me a bit of time to get a recipe that I was happy with. Yes, I perhaps try to convey an air of perfection in the kitchen, but it’s all a veneer! I have to confess that in developing this recipe, I made a complete beginners error in working out the quantities. I had seen a few recipes using milk, and for some reason added about a quarter of a cup to the mixture. Enough to send everything haywire. I first noticed something was up when I added the flour, and the mixture looked more like batter than a biscuit dough. I started adding a bit more flour, convinced that everything would come together, but no – everything stayed rather wet, then became a sticky mess. No choice for me other than to try again!

The second attempt was perfect – I skipped the milk completely, reasoning that if I needed to add some, it was best to add this at the end only if needed, and in fact, I didn’t need to use any. The dough was soft without being too sticky, and it was very easy to handle. Again, a little sticky to roll into balls before baking, but nothing that I could not handle. Worth also saying that you really should add the lemon zest here – lemon and aniseed really do work very well together, I think it is the fresh and aromatic characteristics that they share. Definitely a case of the two being greater than the sum of their parts in terms of flavours!

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These were really easy to make, just a case of mixing up the sugar, olive oil and egg, then adding the flour and rolling into balls. The mixture was fairly sticky, so with my first failure in my mind, I did have a little doubt in my mind as to whether this second attempt was going to work. I had images of everything melting into a hard, dry cake. However, my fretting was needless – they kept their shape, then puffed up obligingly in the oven, and the kitchen was filled with the rich aroma of aniseed. Probably worth mentioning that you really do need to like aniseed if you’re going to have a go at these!

Actually, if you’re not an aniseed fan, then you can swap it out for just lemon zest (or add some orange too), or go for some other spice in place of the aniseed or flavour them with rose water or vanilla. They will have a very different taste, but they should still work, but I would suggest trying to match the decoration to the flavour (slivers of candied lemon peel if you have just used the zest).

Most traditional recipes seem to use coloured sprinkles to finish these cookies, and is that’s your thing, go for it. I prefer something more muted – you could go with simply white sprinkles, but I happened to have a large jar of whole aniseeds in the cupboard, so I added a few of them to the top of each cookie just after icing, which I think looked rather nice, and added an extra hit of aniseed flavour as you bite into them.

I should sound one word of warning – aniseed extract can be very strong, so use it with caution. You might think you’re not adding enough, but after baking, the flavour will be quite noticeable. If you feed you have not got enough flavour in the actual dough itself, you can always add a bit to the icing to enhance it.

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To make Italian Anise Cookies (makes 16):

For the dough

• 160g plain white flour
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 large egg
• 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
• 50g white caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon aniseed extract
1 lemon, zest only

For the glaze

• 100g icing sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon aniseed extract
• whole milk
• whole aniseeds, coloured sprinkles or white sprinkles (to decorate)

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (345°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and rub lightly with a dot of olive oil.

2. In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat the egg, olive oil and caster sugar for around 5 minutes until pale and slightly thickened. Add the aniseed extract and lemon zest, and fold in the dry ingredients. Mix well, adding more flour if needed – the dough should be soft, but you should be able to form the dough into balls with dampened hands.

4. Take teaspoons of the mixture and roll into balls. Place on the baking sheet, leaving a little space for them to expand.

5. Bake the cookies for around 12 minutes until puffed and the surface is slightly cracked, but they should not start to colour. Remove from the oven when done, and transfer to a wire tray to cool completely.

6. Finally, make the glaze – mix the icing sugar, aniseed extract and enough milk (a tablespoon at a time) to make a smooth, runny icing. Use to coat the cookies, and finish with a sprinkling of whatever takes your fancy.

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Red Kobucha Pumpkin Soup

If you’re a compulsive pumpkin carver, you’re probably left with a familiar issue, namely what to do with all that pumpkin flesh! In years past, I’ve thought that I would use the lot to make delicious pies, curries and soups.

Well, I was swiftly disabused of those notions. For it seems that while those giant sphere-like pumpkins look pretty cool when carved and lit up, the flesh cooks down into something a bit watery and insipid. All is not lost, and you can certainly cook up something if you add lots of spice and a decent amount of cream. However if what you want is something brilliantly orange in its autumnal splendour, you’ve got to look a bit further afield. If this is what you want, then red kabocha pumpkin is a good choice.

Now, it’s fair to say that kabocha pumpkin isn’t exactly what you would call a bit of a looker. It’s a deep reddish-orange, but the skin is rough and irregular. Not great for lantern carving, but excellent for cooking.

Kabocha is perfect for making soup. You’ve got the colour, but helpfully you don’t need to mess about with peeling it. Just cut off any odd-looking bits, remove the seeds, but otherwise you can leave on the skin to boost the colour of the final dish. Something like this.

pumpkin_cubes

I’ve kept the ingredients in the soup recipe fairly simple – it’s similar to a recipe I posted a couple of years ago, with not much more than pumpkin, a little potato, onions and stock. However, I did want to be a little creative, so I added a dash of curry powder, some cumin and a good old dose of…allspice! Yes, a rather strange choice for a soup, but it was a bit of a nod to pumpkin pie spices. It’s a matter of taste, but you want to add enough to add some rich spiced flavour, but not so much as to overpower everything else in the soup.

The soup is topped off with some pumpkin seeds , toasted in the oven and finished with a little more allspice. All in all, a bright orange antidote to all that candy that will doubtless be consumed in the next couple of days.

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So with that, I’ll leave you with a picture of one of my pumpkin lanterns from previous years….Happy Halloween!

To make red kaboucha soup (serves 4):

For the soup:

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 onions, peeled and chopped
• 1 small potato
• 500g red kaboucha squash, skin on

• 1 teaspoon curry powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon ground allspice
• 750ml vegetable stock

For the pumpkin seeds:

• 2 large handfuls pumpkin seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

• 1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Put the olive oil and chopped onions in a large pan. Cook over a gentle heat until the onions are caramelised and lightly browned but not burned (around 5 minutes).

2. Add the spices and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the pumpkin flesh and cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

3. Add the vegetable stock , bring to the boil, and simmer for around 30 minutes until the pumpkin flesh and the potato are very soft. Add any water (if needed) and add salt and pepper to taste.

4. In the meantime, make the toasted pumpkin seeds: put everything into a bowl, stir well, then transfer to a baking tray and bake in the oven at 150°C (300°F) until toasted (watch them – the go from golden to burned faster than a witch on a broomstick!).

5. Once the soup is ready, put into a blender and blitz until smooth. Pass through a sieve, then reheat briefly before serving. Finish each bowl of soup with a sprinkling of the toasted pumpkin seeds.

Worth making? It is indeed! This is really easy to make, vegan, looks great and the allspice adds an unexpected little extra something.

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Aubergine Pasta

When I was younger, I was never really a fan of aubergines. In my student days, I started to experiment with them, and while I was always aware that aubergines mop up oil like a sponge, I still always ended up with something greasy and, well, just not that appealing. I probably made the novice error of adding more and more oil as the aubergine was cooking. Yes, this meant that I endured many, many meals involving badly-cooked aubergine with too much oil served pasta, with salt, pepper and spices seeking to mask the horror that I had cooked up.

These days, however, me and the aubergine have made up and get along just fine. I love them smoked and made into salads or baked and turned into baba ganoush (even if they’ve been known to explode all over the inside of my oven), but most recently I’ve been making lots and lots of this simple aubergine and tomato sauce. Very easy, very delicious and fantastic with pasta.

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This recipe really is sheer simplicity. Just chop the aubergine into small cubes, then put into a pan with some olive oil and salt. At first, all the oil is soaked up, and you think that nothing will happen when you cook it. But be patient, and the  aubergine transforms into something browned, soft and delicious. The flavour is rounded out with some tomatoes and herbs, and that’s about it. This is great on pasta, cannelloni, polenta, gnocchi…with chillier days, that’s the sort of stuff we like!

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To make aubergine sauce (enough to serve 4):

• 2 medium aubergines
• 50ml olive oil
• salt, to taste
• 4 tablespoons tomato paste
• 2 tins chopped tomatoes
• sugar, to taste
• pinch of chili powder
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Cut the aubergines into 1 cm (1/2 inch) chunks. Put into a large saucepan with the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Cook on a medium heat until the aubergine is soft and it is starting to brown, around 15 minutes (At first, the aubergine will soak up all the oil, but keep heating it and it will release the oil and cook down).

2. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well and adjust the seasoning if needed. Leave to simmer on a low heat until the sauce has reduced down. Just before serving, adjust with a little water and/or olive oil if needed (this sauce can be made ahead and reheated at the last minute).

Worth making? I reckon so – I’ve probably made this four times in the last three weeks!

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Fattoush for a final summer hurrah

I’m finding it hard to decide if summer is over. Is that it? Are we going to ease into chillier days via a bright, sunny but fairly fresh period of weather. Is it time to get out the lentils, pasta and various potato bakes? Well, not quite. I’ve still found that there is a warmth in the air in the early evening, so at the moment, I’m still quite happy to enjoy fresh salads before succumbing to cheese pasta bakes that will be on the menu come late September. Indeed, this weekend, it seems we are due to get another blast of heat from Continental Europe, so I’m sure we’ll get one last hurrah out in the park with a picnic before the chilly embrace of autumn comes upon us.

I’ve done posted a few salads recently, so today it’s more of the same I’m afraid. One of my favourites is the Middle Eastern fattoush, which is a lovely collection of fairly chunky vegetables, finished off with lots of crisp bread and flavoured with a sharp, lively dressing made with lemon and ground sumac.

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Fattoush can be made with pretty much whatever you have to hand – I’ve used a fairly traditional recipe with cos lettuce, tomato, red peppers, radishes, carrot, parsley, mint, spring onions and cucumber – and finished it with toasted flatbread and a dressing made with lemon juice and sumac (ground red berries that impart a fruity, sour flavour to the dish). This dressing is key – it needs to be fresh and it needs to be sour. However, you can of course add whatever other vegetables you fancy – like shredded red cabbage, mushrooms or onions – there are no hard or fast rules. In fact, onion is fairly traditional, but it can be a little overwhelming in a fresh salad, so I tend to omit it (and anyway, the milder spring onions seem to do the trick here).

fattoush2

Now, the bread. This is so fundamental to fattoush that it is often called a toasted bread salad. I’ve seen various versions of fattoush that suggest using any sort of bread that you can lay your hands on. I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that this isn’t really the case. When made with things like cubes of sourdough bread, the effect is something more like large croutons than a salad that suggests the warm evening air of the Levant. No, I prefer to use flatbreads (the ones that look like a cross between a tortilla and a pitta), tear them up and toss in olive oil. Popping the bread into a hot oven allows you to keep a close eye on it, so you get pieces that are golden, toasted and crisp, but with none of the burnt bits that you can get it you shallow-fry the bread in a pan.

My three top tips for making excellent fattoush are fairly simple. First, the ingredients should be fresh but at room temperature. Carrots, tomato and radishes taste so much better if they are not icy-cold and straight from the fridge. Second, make sure the dressing is properly sour, made with lemon juice and sumac. This is the proper flavour of this salad. And third, keep the toasted bread apart from the rest of the salad, and only combine the vegetables, bread and dressing just before serving. This will keep the green leaves perky and the bread crisp. The salad tastes so much better if you have all the contrasting textures as you eat it. Colourful, tasty and healthy – you can you resist?

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To make Fattoush:

For the salad:

• 1 large flatbread
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cucumber, halved and sliced
• 1 cos lettuce, chopped
• 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
• 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
• 6 radishes, trimmed and sliced
• 1/2 red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
• small handful fresh mint leaves, finely shredded
• small handful flat parley
• 1 spring onion, finely sliced
• zest of a lemon

For the dressing:

• 2 teaspoons ground sumac
• 1 tablespoon boiling water
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• salt, to taste

1. Tear the bread into pieces. Add the olive oil, tossing the bread to coat it, and place on a tray and bake in the oven at 180°C (350°F) until golden brown (watch it like a hawk – it goes from golden to burn quite rapidly). Remove and allow to cool.

2. Put the rest of the ingredients into a large bowl and toss to mix.

3. Make the dressing: put the sumac in a jam jar and add the boiling water. Allow to sit for a few minutes. Add the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Seal the jar and shake vigorously until you have a smooth dressing. Add more lemon juice or olive oil as needed.

4. Serve the salad – add the bread to the salad, add the dressing and toss to ensure everythign is coated. Serve immediately.

Worth making? This is a great salad with lots of tastes and textures, and very fresh thanks to the use of lemon, parsley and mint. Good for a summer’s day as part of a picnic!

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