Orange Shortbread

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IMG_20141222_230117[1] 24/12/2014

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And that means time for biscuits! These shortbread biscuits are great any time of year but the orange adds a festive spin to a classic. Use real butter in this recipe. I often sub it for baking margarine but butter is the only option for that crisp and well… buttery taste. Add a pinch of salt or use slightly salted butter as an extra little flavour enhancer.

This recipe makes 8-12 biscuit wedges.

Ingredients:

  • 4oz plain flour
  • 2oz cornflour
  • 4oz butter
  • 2oz caster sugar, plus extra for topping
  • Zest of 1 orange

Method:

  1. Sieve the flour and cornflour together. In a separate bowl, cream the butter until soft then add the caster sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and creamy. Add the orange zest then work in the flour a tablespoon at a time.
  2. Roll out the shortbread to an 8 inch circle. Transfer to a large baking tray. Pinch the edges and prick the shortbread well with a fork. Cut through into 12 sections with a knife then sprinkle with a little caster sugar.
  3. Leave to chill in the fridge for 15 minutes then bake in an oven preheated to 165C for 25-35 minutes or until pale golden brown. Re-cut down the lines you originally scored. Cool on the baking tray for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tip: If you like a coarser textured shortbread use 2 oz rice flour or semolina instead of cornflour. As a change, soft brown sugar makes a caramel coloured shortbread and this goes well with the orange flavour.

Pizza Wheels

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IMG_20141222_231610[1] 23/12/2014

Pizza wheels are great for dinner or as a different idea for a party snack. I have included two recipes here. One for a pepperoni pizza filling and one for a goats cheese and caramelised onion filling. Both are really tasty hot or cold but it is up to you to put whatever you like in yours.

Ingredients:

For the pizza dough:

  • 450g strong white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 2 x 7g sachets fast action dried yeast
  • 300ml warm water
  • 2 Tablespoons good olive oil

For assembly:

  • 1/2 jar pizza topping sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2-2/3 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 24-30 thinly sliced pepperoni
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup medium yellow cornmeal
  • Goats cheese, smooth and creamy
  • Caramelised red onion chutney

Directions:

For the pizza dough:

  1. Place salt and flour into a large bowl. Add the sugar and yeast.
  2. Pour in the water and olive oil. Mix together with your fingers.
  3. Work the dough into a soft warm ball then slap it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until soft and elastic.
  4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled, large bowl and lightly oil the dough itself so a crust does not form. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and leave in a warm place for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

For the assembly:

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. Place half the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about an 1/8 inch thick rectangle (try to get the dough to 9”x12”). Stick one of the longer sides down to the surface by pressing your finger down along the edge and scraping along the surface. This will help you to roll up the wheels.
  3. Spread half the pizza topping sauce sparingly over dough leaving a 1cm border along the side you just stuck down and top with oregano and garlic.
    Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over sauce and finish by topping the dough with the pepperoni (I like to slightly overlap the pepperoni over one another).
  4. Starting at the long end that has not been stuck down, carefully roll dough into a large, tight log and place onto a tray dusted with cornmeal, seam side down.
  5. Roll out the other half of the dough in the same way, cover with pizza topping sauce then gently and evenly spread over goats cheese and the onion chutney. Roll up into a log in the same way and place onto the tray with the other log, seam side down.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove from the fridge and cut 1”-1 1/2” pinwheels from the logs.
  8. Dredge one cut side of each pinwheel in the cornmeal until well coated and place (cornmeal side down) onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.
  9. Sprinkle the top of each wheel with a small amount of Parmesan and bake for 16-20 minutes or until golden brown.
  10. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve with extra sauces for dipping or leave to cool as party bites.

IMG_20141222_230248[1] IMG_20141222_231650[1]

Seeded Oatcakes

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IMG_20141212_091416[1] 12/12/2014

I have a bit of a fascination with cheese and crackers in all forms, shapes and sizes at the moment. These oaty biscuits are crunchy, nutty, crumbly and buttery and go very nicely with pretty much any cheese you like. Feel free to experiment with nuts and seeds or try adding dried herbs or spices to the mix too.

Ingredients:

  • 50g butter
  • 100g medium oatmeal
  • 100g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 tsp assorted seeds (I used 2 tsp sunflower seeds and 2 tsp pumpkin seeds)

Method:

  1. Heat oven to 200C. Melt the butter in a large heatproof bowl in the microwave then allow to cool slightly. Tip all the dry ingredients into the bowl, with ½ tsp salt and mix to form a crumbly dough. Add 5-6 tbsp boiling water and combine to make a firm dough.
  2. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface then roll out until about 0.5cm thick. Cut into small squares or rounds, place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Leave to cool for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

IMG_20141212_091218[1] IMG_20141212_091253[1]

Lasagne

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IMG_20141210_183439[1] 10/12/2014

This is a classic recipe for lasagne. No fancy adages or variations but a hearty, warming and delicious crowd pleaser.

This lasagne is a big one. It serves eight so you’ll need a big oven dish or you could divide it into smaller dishes and freeze what you don’t want for another night. If cooking from frozen, cook at 180C for 90-120 minutes, depending on the size of your dish, until the lasagne is piping hot, brown and bubbling.

Ingredients:

For the meat sauce:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 140g pancetta
  • 500g pack beef mince (I used extra lean)
  • 500g pack pork mince or British veal mince
  • 2 x 500g cartons passata
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 beef stock cubes
  • 500ml red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • about 400g dried pasta sheets
  • 50g parmesan, finely grated

For the béchamel sauce:

  • 2 Litres full fat UHT milk
  • 1 onion, thickly sliced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves
  • 75g butter
  • 75g plain flour
  • good grating of nutmeg

Method:

  1. First infuse the milk for the béchamel sauce. Put the milk, onion, bay and cloves into a large saucepan and bring very gently just up to the boil. Turn off the heat and set aside for 1 hr to infuse.
  2. For the meat sauce, put the oil, celery, onion, carrot, garlic and pancetta in another large saucepan. Gently cook together until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Remove the vegetables to a large bowl and brown the mince in batches in the same pan. Set each batch aside with the vegetables as you go. Tip all the vegetables and mince back into the pan and add the passata. Using a wooden spoon, stir together well then stir in all the herbs, the stock cubes and wine and bring to a simmer. Gently simmer uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to stop the bottom catching. Cook until the meat is tender and saucy. Taste and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper.
  3. To finish the béchamel, strain the milk through a fine sieve into a large jug. Melt the butter in the same pan then, using a whisk, mix in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the strained milk, a little at a time – the mix will thicken at first to a doughy paste, but keep going, adding milk gradually to avoid lumps. When all the milk is added, bring to a gentle simmer, whisking constantly. Gently bubble for a few minutes until thickened. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
  4. Heat oven to 180C. Spread a spoonful of the meat sauce over the base of a roughly 3.5 litre baking dish or do as I did and make two dishes for four people and store one in the freezer after assembly. Cover with a single layer of pasta sheets, snapping them to fit if needed, then top with a quarter of the béchamel. Spoon over a third of the meat sauce and scatter over a little Parmesan. Repeat the layers – pasta, béchamel, meat and Parmesan – two more times to use all the meat sauce. Add a final layer of pasta, the last of the béchamel and remaining Parmesan. Sit the dish on a baking tray to catch spills and bake for 1 hr until bubbling, browned and crisp on top.

IMG_20141210_174532[1] IMG_20141210_174612[1]

Remove the lasagne from the oven and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes to firm up a little. This makes it much easier to dish up and you won’t burn the roof of your mouth off. Serve this with a light side salad. I used spinach and tomato. And of course, no lasagne is ever really complete without a chunk of garlic bread and a cheeky glass of red wine!

Chicken Tikka Masala

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IMG_20141209_224049[1] 09/12/2014

The most popular curry in Britain, Marks & Spencer claim to sell 18 tonnes of CTM every week with an estimated 23 million portions sold in Indian restaurants each year. Its origins are disputed but chicken tikka masala is a national dish in Britain. It can come in many variations, some much more tempting than others. This recipe is a really flavourful take on the classic with a long marinating period for the tikka and fresh tangy ingredients for the masala sauce.

Ingredients:

For the chicken tikka:

  • 675g (1lb 7oz) boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder
  • 3 heaped Tablespoons thick set natural yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala

For the masala:

  • 2 Tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 2 medium onions, halved and finely sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon chilli powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 4 heaped Tablespoons thick set natural yoghurt
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and very finely chopped
  • 350ml (12fl oz) chicken stock
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped coriander leaves

Method:

  1. Start by marinating the chicken tikka. Put the chicken in a large bowl and rub in the salt and lemon juice and set aside for 20 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, cumin, paprika, chilli powder, yoghurt and garam masala. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for six to eight hours or overnight.
  2. When you’re ready to cook, make the masala. Pour the oil into a large, cast iron pan and set it over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the onions. Stir and fry until they brown, six or seven minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and continue to fry for a minute. Add the ground coriander, turmeric, chilli powder and paprika. Stir for 10 seconds then add a tablespoon of yoghurt. Stir and fry until it is absorbed. Add the remaining yoghurt in this way, a tablespoon at a time.
  3. Now put in the tomatoes. Fry them for three to four minutes or until they turn pulpy. Add the stock and salt and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. The sauce should turn thick. Stir in the coriander and garam masala.                               IMG_20141209_224334[1]
  4. Shortly before you are ready to eat, preheat the grill to its highest setting. Thread the chicken on to skewers then balance them on the rim of a shallow baking tray so the meat is suspended. Place about 13cm (5 inches) from the source of heat and grill for five to six minutes on each side. The chicken should be lightly browned, cooked through and charred in places. Cut a large piece of chicken and check the centre. There should be no traces of pink.                                  IMG_20141209_224212[1]
  5. When the tikkas are cooked, reheat the sauce and fold in the chicken. Serve immediately with rice, dal or Indian breads of your choice.                                    IMG_20141209_224125[1]

Cherry & Marzipan Cake

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IMG_20141204_203958[1] 04/12/2014

A great alternative to a Christmas cake, this cherry and marzipan cake still delivers wonderful Christmas flavours without the hassle of feeding a fruit cake for weeks. The marzipan layer is not coating the cake but runs through the middle and the cherries are cut really chunky to deliver big bursts of fruit in a light frangipane sponge.

I had full intentions of picturing this cake whole but some certain family members (everyone) just couldn’t help themselves as it was cooling and dug right in. I can’t blame them though. It does smell awesome as it bakes and tastes pretty special too.

Ingredients:

  • 8oz margarine
  • 8oz golden caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 8oz self raising flour
  • 4oz ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 8oz glace cherries, rinsed and roughly chopped
  • 9oz marzipan
  • 1-2oz flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Method:

  1. Line and grease a deep 8-inch cake tin with greaseproof paper and margarine. Preheat the oven to 160C.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the margarine until soft. Add the caster sugar and beat until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated then add the flour a third at a time and mix together well.
  4. Fold in the ground almonds, cherries and almond extract then spoon half of the mix into the prepared tin and level out with a spoon.
  5. Roll out the marzipan to a 7 ½ inch round. Dust with icing sugar if it begins to stick and then place this on top of the first cake layer in the tin. Add the remaining cake batter over the marzipan.
  6. Sprinkle with ground almonds and place in the preheated oven for 1 hour 30 minutes. Cover the cake with foil after the first hour to prevent the top over-browning.
  7. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean or with a slight crumb. Remember though that there is a layer of marzipan running through the middle so don’t mistake this as underdone cake batter.
  8. Remove from the oven, leave for 20 minutes in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with icing sugar if you like.

The nuts in the cake keep it moist for a few days as do the cherries and the marzipan layer.