If I’d known you were coming I would have baked you a cake…tra la la so it goes and what could be nicer to give to someone but a home made cake? This espresso coffee cake is a sophisticated marble cake with ‘Tia Maria’ liquer rather gorgeous and strictly for the grown ups. Hands off my little ones this is all mine. I’m not really one for the strict New Year resolutions viz a viz the ‘great cake eating/healthy eating debate’ so I’m going for the ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ standpoint. Much more successful with me at any rate-what about you?
I have decorated the cake with chocolate covered coffee beans – you can find them on the counter in some of the larger coffee shops or in Italian type delis etc. They are worth searching out to decorate this cake. Here is my recipe:
Let’s be honest a traditional Christmas pudding is not every one’s cup of tea and…………………….you are a tad late if you want to make one so here is a spectacular alternative. It is every bit as special (some would say more), much lighter and filled with brandy soaked fruit, juicy cranberries and ginger biscuits. In bid to show off (tick) I have decorated mine with shards of white chocolate, crystallised berries and a fair bit of edible sparkle. It looks gorgeous and there will definitely be a Tah ..da..moment when you carry it to the Christmas table.
Don’t be tempted to …….flame this pud…you have been warned..
LUSCIOUS CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM PUDDING WITH SPARKLY WHITE CHOCOLATE SHARDS AND CRANBERRIES
Brr it’s cold and blustery in Cumbria today and this beef bourguignon is a great warming dish on an almost wintery day. A classic French chef may shudder at the thought of adding the crispy baguette dumplings but they make a great topping and an ‘all in one’ meal. The dish uses cheaper cuts of meat which have lots of flavour (more so than expensive cuts) but slow cooking. These cuts are also cheaper so it’s win win for me. Shin beef in particular has a great flavour and almost melts down into a rich gravy, a piece popped into any beef stew takes it to a new delicious level. Trust me I know my shins from my steaks.
My veg patch is still producing salad leaves, spicy rocket, peppery mustard and frilly lettuce. Plus the beans are just starting to produce, picked when tiny-an ‘unbuyable’ late summer treat. These ‘White Lady’ runner beans are delicious and the white flowers very pretty, behind them you can just catch a glimpse of the sultry, dark ‘Purple Cascade’ French beans. Another good looker for the plot. Hmm..now what to make?
This fresh salmon nicoise would be lovely for a late summer evening perfect eaten in the garden with a glass of something cold and fizzy. Ok I know I’m getting carried away here. It is highly unlikely that this will take place in Cumbria in September but perhaps we really will get an Indian summer.
This is easily put together and then whipped out to impress.
FRESH SALMON NICOISE
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as main course with crusty bread.
Today I spied these wonderful, glistening redcurrants and I knew it was time to make…..Summer Pudding. Aptly named as it is made with lots of summer fruits that are at their best now.
This pudding is the quintessential taste of summer and all the more special for being made just once a year. Serve it in small slices, as the flavour is quite strong and lots of double cream. Don’t be tempted to go for a healthier option such as Crème Fraiche-this pudding needs cream and after all it is a once a year treat!
You can make one large pudding with this recipe or approx. 6 small ones. The small ones look lovely but are a bit of a fiddle to make.
I really enjoyed a pasta making demonstration by Carmela Sophia Sereno at the New Bookshop in Cockermouth and loved her book-Southern Italian Family Cooking.
Carmela is very engaging and amusing -a more down to earth sort of Nigella without the affectations and irritations of the latter.
From an Italian family she is influenced by her mother and grandmother’s cooking and has then developed her own style and recipes. Her business ‘Carmela’s kitchen’ has blossomed from teaching in her family kitchen to large scale demonstrations, radio shows and pop up kitchens as well as writing books. Happily, she is enjoying a whirl wind of activity at the moment despite having 4 bambinos at home. I was exhausted just listening to her.
We watched as Carmela made basic pasta, with the speed of someone who does it all the time and knows what she is doing even though she only had a tiny table to work on in the middle of a bookshop! She showed us how to cut all the different shapes and sizes with only some basic equipment. This was an impressive performance whilst keep up the constant chat, anecdotes and tales of her family’s cooking back home. Particularly impressive was the pretty, parsley lasagne-laying individual leaves on the pasta and them repeatedly passing it through the pasta machine until it stretched in situ. Holding the pasta sheet up to the light it did look like very pretty wall paper!
Carmela’s (first) book –SOUTHERN ITALIAN COOKING–simple, healthy and affordable food from Italy’s cucina povera is widely available. I liked it, not least, because it is a small paperback (A5 size) and simply printed, in fact just like a family recipe book. It doesn’t have the beautiful photographs you almost always see in cookery books nowadays and is all the better for it. These, dispiritingly, look nothing like the dishes that you will produce at home. Nowadays the camera, almost certainly, will lie. Her recipes are family friendly, easy to follow and you can really feel the echoes of home Italian cooking. I was intrigued by Carmela’s advice not to put cream in Spaghetti alla carbonara and tried her recipe to the letter (now that’s a first for me) and it was lovely and rich without it. It did remind me of when I travelled around the poorer regions of Italy many (many) years ago. I suppose over the time we have ‘anglicised’ Italian pasta dishes serving them with far too much sauce perhaps to disguise poorer quality pasta. Now I am going to try the lasagne without the béchamel sauce.
Also in the book are recipes for antipasti, homemade pizzas, soups, bread, risotto and biscotti, cakes and desserts including a special Tiramisu recipe from her grand-mother. I must give this a go, it must be one of the most popular Italian puddings made here probably incorrectly.
I like this family friendly, thrifty, and easy to make dish. There are a few, simple ingredients and you may have most of them already. It is much better with fresh thyme but you could use dried. Unfortunately this quickly loses it’s flavour as you only use a little at a time and the little jars can be hanging around in the kitchen for…a very long time!. Try growing your own. Thyme, like lots of herbs from warmer climes such as rosemary and sage ( I feel I should burst into song at this point), are very happy in pots. Buy small plants from a garden centre, which are cheap in summer, add some extra grit to make the compost free draining and site your pot in a sunny place-not too far from your door. Now you can pick as much as you need -fresh herbs make all the difference to your cooking.
I digress……the leeks, cooked slowly, go nice and creamy, make sure you keep stirring as leeks burn easily. I always make a white sauce in the microwave, I can hear ‘proper’ chefs tut, tutting but i find it a palaver making a proper roux with flour and butter etc etc. Not to mention the possible lumpiness, this way is so much easier and with the addition of some butter at the end I certainly can’t tell the difference. Add the cooked leeks and cheese and top with the breadcrumbs, thyme and grated lemon. I make the breadcrumbs from left over crusts of bread, if you have some and don’t want to use them straight away they freeze well.
Try this on a ‘Meat Free Monday’ – I’m sure you will want to make it any day of the week.
Now who can resist this beautifully pink delicate rhubarb with its chartreuse frilly hat…not me..I couldn’t walk past my local green grocers without buying this precious delight. It has a very short season, blink and you have missed it. It also comes from Yorkshire so what more could a Yorkshire girl want. It is mysteriously grown in the dark and cut by candlelight-the lack of light ‘forcing’ it to produce the slim, pink wands. A special ingredient needs delicate handling and a special recipe. So here is my rhubarb and almond tart just for you. It was inspired by a similar tart I had at a very special hotel the AltnaHarrie Inn (now closed) near Ullapool in Wester Ross, Scotland. When you arrived on the quay side you had to telephone (from the red telephone box of course-younger readers -that is how we used to make phone calls) and they would send a small boat to pick you up. Very romantic. I made some scribbles on a napkin and from these wrote this recipe 20 years later.
Here is a Christmas treat, easy for children to make (with supervision) and a lovely present for them to give (if you can wrest it out of their hands). Best to make two lots I think. Don’t deviate from the recipe-it has to be Rich Tea biscuits and mini marshmallows, good butter and good chocolate…simple and delicious for everybody.
False modesty has never been my strong point so I can say, hand on heart, that this is really the best ever chunky guacamole ever! I’m a bit of a nibbler and dipper and would happily forgo any ‘proper’ meals for a life of nibbling and dipping. This guacamole is one of my favourites with a homemade hummus coming a very close second (recipe to come), perfect for sharing with friends (as long as they are not too hungry and leave me with none ) and for casual eating.The only slight problem is the general state of avocados available to buy-they tend to be rock hard so you need to plan ahead, buy them hard and leave them to ripen on a sunny window sill. I suppose I can see the supermarket’s dilemma (although I am not generally sympathetic to them) the problem is that you wait and wait for them to ripen and then they do and very quickly go over and spoil, blacken and strangely fibrous inside.