Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Full of Eastern Promise - Pistachio Yoghurt Cake with White Chocolate and Cardamom Frosting

A rather tenuous link here between the phrase that makes me think of Turkish delight and the fact that this has rosewater in the frosting, but what I will say is that this is from Silvena Rowe's wonderful book 'Orient Express' which is full of luscious recipes from the eastern Mediterranean and (slightly further) beyond... and the cake is full of when I say Turkish I am not that far from the actual truth.
This is a cinch to make if you have food processor. The basic gist is that you just blitz the stuff that needs to be blitzed and then add the rest of the ingredients and then blitz some more. Put it into a prepared tin and you are done. And since I found myself a 10 cm cake tin, it means I can have my cake and eat it, since I don't have to make a full size cake and then be responsible for eating it all. Which unfortunately in the long term is probably a good thing.
Anyway, the coarse texture of this cake marries well with the cream topping, and even though I had no rose petals to garnish (a month too early for my garden, I fear) this cake still looks beautiful unadorned, the swirl of frosting hiding the nutty, ever so slightly verdant centre. Try it; it's lush!
Pistachio Yoghurt Cake with White Chocolate and Cardamom Frosting adapted from 'Orient Express' by Silvena Rowe
I halved the recipe below to make a cake that cuts into 4- 5 slices. The ingredients below make a cake that cuts into 8 - 10 slices
For the cake
200g ground pistachios
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
150g unsalted butter
225g self-raising flour
185g caster sugar
3 eggs
125ml thick yoghurt ( I used strained Greek yoghurt 0% fat - it worked!!)
a pinch of salt (optional)
For the frosting:
100g white chocolate
200g cream cheese
1/2 tsp rose water
1 tbsp icing sugar
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1-2 small edible roses
1 tbsp icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 6. Butter and line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
Blend the ground pistachios, cardamom, butter, flour and sugar in a food mixer. Then combine with the eggs and yoghurt in a mixing bowl.
Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for one hour. Cover the cake with foil halfway through cooking then allow to cool on a rack.
To make the frosting, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, and allow to cool. In a separate bowl combine the cream cheese with the rose water, then add the cooled chocolate. Sift in the icing sugar and sprinkle in the ground cardamom. Mix well until you have smooth cream.
Serve cake accompanied by the chocolate and cardamom cream. Sprinkle with edible roses and dust with icing sugar. (I just covered my cake in frosting instead of serving it separately; a frosted cake is such a pretty thing!)

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

I'm thinking of France - Provencal chicken

Actually, I am often thinking of France. I don't know if I am so disenchanted by this country  that I see France as some kind of example of the good life,  although I think the warm sun, a sense of society and a two hour lunch has a lot going for it. In fairness I could also counter that with the fact that trying to get anything done in August is a thankless task because everyone is on holiday and maybe, thinking about it, it should be. I don't really appreciate the way that so many of us are worked like dogs for so little tangible benefit and maybe a little more time where you could actually stop and appreciate the simplicity of life rather than not seeing any of it because you're sat in front of a computer screen or (insert suitable phrase for whatever is the bane of your working life) for hours on end would be beneficial to all of us.  Anyway, before this gets too overly political, let me just say that I see myself with a little house with a little bit of land -nothing grand, just room enough for a little pool and somewhere to put a table and chairs, and then the rest given over to an array of fruit trees, rows of herbs and a veg plot where I don't have to be concerned about whether my tomatoes ripen or not. Because they will. I have, too many times, converted those sad looking green things withering on the vine in my garden into some kind of green tomato chutney because it's been yet another year of Atlantic storms and general greyness.
And if I were somewhere in, say, Provence, I might get on my bike one morning (yes, really!) and go off to the market and buy myself a chicken and a few other bits and bobs, and I might return home and cook something like this and the heady smells of rosemary and garlic will envelop my simple little kitchen just as it did when I made this in my real kitchen. If you want one of those meals which has you feeling hungry half an hour before you are due to eat it because is smells so damn good, then this is the one for you.
And, it is so easy to make - far easier than roasting a chicken and the meat is moist, flavourful and falls off the bone.
Provencal Chicken, loosely based on the version from the Low Carb Cookbook by Annie Bell
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad
olive oil
one medium free range chicken
two - three onions, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
12 - 15 cherry tomatoes
150ml white wine
2 tsp chopped rosemary
a handful of green and black olives, pitted (optional)
salt and pepper
(There is an option to make a type of pistou with this, by blitzing basil leaves with olive oil, but I didn't bother as Lola and Finn are not pistou (or, indeed 'pesto') fans. One day they will discover that just because it is green, it is not horrible...)
Sadly blurred, but you catch the drift...
Rub a little of the olive oil onto the whole chicken and season it. Then, in a large enough pot that will contain the chicken and the sauce once assembled, start to brown the chicken all over. Remove to a plate.
Add a little more olive oil to the pan and start to sauté the sliced onions over a medium heat for about five minutes or so until they are translucent. Add the garlic and cook briefly until it is fragrant, but take care not to burn it.
Add the wine, the tomatoes and the rosemary and stir together. Season. Place the chicken on top of the sauce and put the lid on the pot. Lower the heat and cook for about an hour or so, until the juices from a knife inserted into the thickest part of the chicken run clear.
At this point, you can remove the chicken to a plate, wrap it in foil and allow it to rest for a little whilst you attend to the sauce. It may be that the sauce is greasy (mine wasn't) but you can allow the sauce to settle and skim any fat off the top. It may also be that the sauce is too liquid. If that is the case, raise the heat and reduce the sauce.
If you are using the olives, stir them into the sauce once you have removed the chicken and allow them to warm through. Check the seasoning. It should be very intensely tasting, to counteract the relative blandness of the chicken.
Serve the chicken and the sauce together - you could bulk this out with potatoes or rice or salad if you like.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

We had Summer last week and this is what we cooked... - Thai Style Marinated Pork with Chilli Dressing

Ah Summer. That one day of the year in England when the sun comes out, and the results are profound. Flesh that has been hidden for the 364 days previously is revealed and consequently burned, Argos sells out of inflatable swimming pools, and any shops that sell either bread, burgers, beer and charcoal have their shelves decimated of these items as soon as the doors open and if you leave it too late on in the day to decide you are getting the barbecue out, then you will be left with some squashed sliced white and the odd vegetarian sausage to try and get the best out of. Which I suppose is okay if you are a vegetarian...
I have to say though that I am a bit of a miserable bitch and the thoughts of getting the barbeqce out does not fill me with brimming joy. It is mainly to do with the feeling of having to create stuff to go with it, like salad, or else scrabbling through the cupboard for the burger relish that you remember using the previous summer and there is no way you are going out and getting another one (if you are me, that is...) And then there are the accompaniments to the burger, and slicing the bread, and keeping the flies off the food, and keeping the kids away from the barbecue and because of my disorganised nature I always seem to be traipsing back to the kitchen for something. And another thing, whilst I am not averse to a tasty burger, I am sick of having them off barbecues. It is like that is all there ever seems to be...
So I got out some pork fillet. I buy so many pork fillets for great prices because I don't think anybody who shops where I shop actually knows what to do with them. I decided to adapt Bill Granger's recipe for Thai Marinated Pork and Chilli Dressing from his book Easy Food, where he marinated pork chops for this, and it worked a treat. Cooking the pork fillet over the coals created meat that was succulent and tasty and it was just so nice to taste something different. This is different, and next year when Summer comes again, you should try it.
Thai Style Marinated Pork with Chilli Dressing, adapted from 'Easy Food' by Bill Granger
My adaptations in red
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad.
4 brown shallots, sliced (I used a medium sized onion)
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Handful coriander, including stems, coarsely chopped
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp caster sugar
4 pork cutlets (I used 420g pork fillet)
Olive oil
For the sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp. caster sugar
1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 long red chilli, finely chopped
1 tbsp. thinly sliced spring onion
1/4 cucumber, seeds  removed, finely chopped
Tastes better than it looks!!!
Place shallots, ginger, garlic, coriander, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, sea salt and pepper in a food processor and whiz to a paste.
Still tastes better than it looks...
Transfer to a shallow, non-metallic dish and add the pork.
Mix well, then cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. (I left mine for an hour and a half)
Preheat a barbecue or chargrill pan to medium-high heat and brush lightly with oil.
Grill the pork for about 4 -5 minutes on four 'sides' (you might have to squash it a bit to do this) or until cooked to your liking.
For the chilli dressing, place vinegar, sugar and fish sauce in a bowl and stir until sugar has dissolved.
Stir in chilli, spring onion and cucumber.
Serve pork with cucumber, chilli dressing. In a completely authentic Thai way, I got some tortilla wraps and just put the meat and the dressing on that. Messy but really tasty!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Take it easy chicken! Chicken and Pepper Traybake

This is so easy and so good. And colourful too, from the moment you scatter the ingredients over the bottom of the tray to the point where you put it all on the plate, this is food to make you feel summery. A scattering of parsley makes the red and yellows brighter somehow, and then you have the golden glow of the roast chicken, nestled, waiting to be torn from the bone, if you are Finn that is. His general finickity behaviour does not stretch to 'meat with bones' surprisingly. He relishes sucking every inch of sinew from the bones and licking his fingers. I have often said that the 21st century is not necessarily the place for his preferred way of eating; instead I see him at some long table in a draughty castle round about the time of Henry VIII, devouring with gusto whatever had been hunted in the name of survival.
Anyway, I am not sure one of our most famous monarchs would have gone for this tray bake - mainly because I don't think we had the peppers back then, but luckily we do now. I am wondering whether there is any better taste than a roasted pepper, and with a splosh of balsamic vinegar to finish, it makes them even better.
The inspiration for this recipe was from Annie Bell's 'Low Carb Cookbook'. She cooked this with chicken breasts, but I only had boned thighs. I deviated from the recipe by browning my chicken thighs in a frying pan first before putting them on a bed of peppers, onions and herbs, thinking that it might speed up the cooking process a little bit; I didn't want cremated vegetables and undercooked chicken. I also tried to drain off some of the oil, once the chicken and vegetables were cooked and then try to reduce the chicken, pepper and herb flavoured sauce a little. I did find that what sauce there was needed seasoning and a couple of teaspoons of balsamic vinegar to make it zing.
The good thing is that it was one of those meals which is healthy, lacking in faff and quick. 5 minutes prep and 30 - 40 minutes cooking and you have yourself something wonderful to eat.
Chicken and Pepper Tray Bake, adapted from 'The Low Carb Cookbook' by Annie Bell
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad
two onions, sliced
two red peppers and two yellow peppers, cut into chunky slices.
a teaspoon of dried thyme and oregano
olive oil for drizzling
six chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
salt and pepper
two tsp of balsamic vinegar, or more to taste.
chopped parsley, for scattering
Preheat the oven to 180c
Scatter the onions and peppers over the bottom of a suitable tray. drizzle with the olive oil, salt and pepper and the herbs. Mix it around to ensure everything is evenly coated.
Put some olive oil into a frying pan. Season the chicken then put it skin side down into the pan to brown the skin.
Once the chicken thighs are brown, place them amongst the onions and peppers.
Cook for about 30 - 40 minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to caramelise and the chicken juices run clear when a knife is inserted into the thickest part of the meat.
Remove the chicken to a board and taste the peppers and onions. They may need more seasoning. Stir the balsamic vinegar into the tray and taste again.

Serve the chicken with a helping of peppers and onions. I served a bit of couscous on the side.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Clearing the freezer out - Ratatouille Tart

I wish it could always be this way, a mooch through the cupboards and fridge, finding some sad looking ingredients and transforming them into something happy looking, but I am not that good and I don't have time. However, what I do know is that good shop bought pastry is worth buying and stashing in the freezer, (particularly if you stock up on the way back from France after a couple of weeks of quality time with the kids and Phill), some vegetables do not necessarily suffer from being frozen, particularly if you roast them with a little bit of olive oil and some herbs, and three eggs sets 300ml cream - so tart time it is, with some ingredients that needed using up.
I bought some ratatouille mix from the frozen aisle at Tesco as previously I had bought their roasted peppers and really liked them. I used some of them for a pasta sauce and then I forgot I had them. Then we moved house and whilst transferring undistinguishable zip loc bags of 'something' coated in permafrost from the old freezer to a new freezer (new house, new freezer...) I found them, and I thought to myself I must use these. Then I found the pastry. And there it was. Dinner.
šTo make this a bit more French, like that was possible, I cut up some chunks of goats cheese, the rind of which had seen better days, but the inside was still smooth and creamy. I then felt mightily self satisfied that I had made something effectively out of what I had and leftovers and then wished I could always be this good. We waste too much, and I wish I had the time to be more savvy with the ingredients that I do have.
Ratatouille Tart
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum, Dad and one other
One pack of ready rolled shortcrust pastry
half a pack of Tesco ratatouille mix
olive oil
two teaspoons of dried herbs (I used herbes de Provence)
50g goats cheese, cut into cubes.
three eggs
300ml cream
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180c. Put the ratatouille mix onto a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and scatter the herbs over. Season and mix around so that everything is evenly distributed. Cook according the instructions, but it will probably take about 25 minutes for everything to become caramelised. Allow to cool to just warm.
Put another baking tray into the oven to heat up.
Meanwhile, unroll the pastry and carefully place it into a greased 8 inch loose bottomed tart tin. Let the excess hang over the sides of the pan. Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork and then place a piece of greaseproof paper into the bottom and then pour in some baking beans. Put the tart onto the baking tray that you placed in the oven (this will help you to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom), Bake the tart case blind for about 20/25 minutes, removing the greaseproof paper and the beans for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Take the tart case out of the oven and allow to cool.
Make the custard by beating the eggs and the cream together until thoroughly combined. Season, bearing in mind that the roasted vegetables and the goats cheese will contain some saltiness.
Scatter the cooled ratatouille over the bottom of the part baked tart case. Then place the cubed cheese over the ratatouille evenly.
Pour the egg and cream mixture into the tart case, Pour until the case is full, but do not over fill.
Put the tart case onto a baking tray and place in the oven. Cook for about 35 minutes at 180, or until the top is starting to brown and the custard is set. If it is browning without setting, cover the tart with foil.
Serve warm (not hot) or at room temperature.


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