Friday, January 18, 2008

Hurray hurray hurray! I have been asked to start adding to the content on - and help build it into a baking, eating, drinking resource all about chocolate. Can you think of anything better? Okay, I am often to be found writing for a website - one day about finding work in Newcastle, the next about selling scrap gold online - but rarely are they as close to my heart! I can think of no better way to spend a Friday.

And while I'm here, and we are talking about chocolate, would you like a recipe for the Starbucks winter special? Well, not the official recipe, but an extraordinarily close approximation. Here's what happened: I walked past a Starbucks. The "Toffee Hot Chocolate" advertisement called to me. I stopped. It carried on yelling, with all its creamy, toffee-coloured might. "I'll come right back," I promised. And I did.

And seriously, could I get addicted to those things. Fortunately, as I wrapped my hands around the warm brown cardboard and sipped, I remembered that I had recently bought some Caramel Sale (Toffee Nut) Syrup from an online drinks store. It was, in fact, sitting in a dusty corner of the kitchen (with its friends Green Apple and Gingerbread) as I drank. So the next day, I whipped up a couple of Toffee Nut Chocolates for us, at home. Whipped cream optional...

Per person, you'll need:
3tbsp real drinking chocolate (I used 'Liquid' by Hotel Chocolat)
1mug-full of milk (measure in the cup and then tip into saucepan or jug)
2tbsp Toffee Nut (Caramel Sale) Monin Syrup

Having measured and emptied your milk into a saucepan or jug (depending how you plan to heat it), put the drinking chocolate and syrup into the bottom of your mug, add a splash of the cold milk from the pan, and stir it to a paste. In a saucepan over the hob, or in a microwave (go slow), heat the milk to just below boiling. Pour it over the mixture in the mug, and stir well. Using a handheld frother or the steam spout on a coffee maker, froth up the top of the milk, and sprinkle with cocoa to serve.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fannie Cradock (TV chef)

I've been spending a happy half-hour (of work time, naturally) with The Greens Cookbook. How come nobody told me about this before? It's practically the Vegetarian's Bible. I keep spotting recipes that I've seen other veggie books or restaurants plagiarise. Like Rose Eliot (who gave birth to the Nut Roast), Deborah Madison was a forerunner of today's vegetarian cookery. She really knows her flavours, combining surprising ingredients that I suspect would work every time. I'm a cookbook pro, and I've seen a million recipes for chestnut bourgignonne and mushroom stroganoff. So I am DEEPLY shocked to be surprised by a recipe. In a really good way. Buying this yet? If you aren't clicking through to the online shop right now, then maybe you WANT to only eat cauliflower korma and penne arrabiatta for the rest of your life? (Hm, should do another post on great veggie books - wouldn't that be fun? For me, at least.)

ANYway, this Vegetarian Bible contains probably hundreds of recipes, and each one manages to be innovative. I have already tried some of its ideas - stolen from other chefs who stole them from Madison - and so I can tell you that Rosemary Linguine with Caramelised Onions and Walnuts is an incredible combination of flavours. Or that Red Onion and Goat's Cheese Pizza really, really does work. (Thanks for tempting me, Pizza Express.)

Which leads me on to the recipe. It's hardly even a recipe: just a suggested combination of ingredients for a quick dinner. Deborah Madison includes snipped sundried tomatoes, green olives and shredded mozzarella on top of hers. But we ate it fast and simple, with a green salad. And I didn't even cook it. Anything that gets my husband in and out of the kitchen this quick is definitely worth a try! Here's our rustic version of Deborah Madison's 21st-century classic.

1 pizza base (buy, or make your own)
2-3 red onions
1-2tsp red wine vinegar

1 log mild goat's cheese
Olive oil, salt and pepper

Stretch out the pizza base as thinly as you can on a large baking sheet, and preheat the oven to about 180 C. Set the base aside, and slice the onions very thinly. Soften them on the lowest possible heat with a slug of oil and red vinegar, for at least 15 minutes. Taste to adjust the balance of flavours - adding salt, sugar, pepper and vinegar according to your liking. (The onions should be quite sharp and sticky to work with the mild cheese.) Spread them all over the pizza base, top with crumbled goat's cheese (and optional mozzarella), and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 20-25 minutes and serve with green salad.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Dreaming of spring...

Okay, much as I love mashed potato and celeriac, I have now officially Had Enough of winter. The worst part is, it's only getting started - soon we will be cowering beneath stormy January skies and skating on icy February paths.

I have retreated to my seed catalogues, to choose all the new produce for next year - including some climbing beans especially for drying and storing (such as the purple-flowered bean above), and plenty of green things. Although salad is scarce right now, salad is just exactly what we feel like after the heavy Christmas eating. So, I am trying to grow Arctic King (for early spring lettuce) and planning red chard and perpetual spinach for next year. (Both can be cut and eaten young, and will keep on producing.)

Here is one of my favourite ways to use up the leeks that arrive, every week, in our vegetable box. This is good with a green salad, or maybe with a fresh coleslaw - shredded carrot and cabbage dressed with vinaigrette - and some bread if you like; it's a good source of protein. It looks pretty boring, but it tastes fantastic.

2 cups dried butter beans
1 large leek
1 cup creme fraiche OR 1 cup double cream with a squeeze of lemon in it
2tsp grain mustard
1tsp sea salt

Soak the butter beans in boiling water, in a heavy casserole with a lid, for as long as you can (at least one hour). Drain the water and fill with fresh water, then bring to the boil and simmer the beans for about 30 minutes (but keep an eye on them - don't let them turn squidgy - aim for beans with bite). Drain the beans immediately into a colander and run some cold water over them. Now pull off the skins. It's a boring job but worthwhile. If the skins are soft and not hanging off you don't need to take them all off. Put the skinned beans into an ovenproof dish. Now finely shred the leek and mix it with the beans, adding the rest of the ingredients too. Cover with foil and bake at 160 degrees for twenty minutes, removing the foil for the final five.