Asparagus and Poached Egg Risotto

Bath Asparagus (racheldemuth.co.uk)

Asparagus seems to be one of the last remaining seasonal treats. I know you can buy it in November but the spears that arrive from Chile, or where-ever the out of season stuff comes from, are fairly slim and rather like drinking cold red wine, somewhat tasteless. Talking of red wine, we are also home, in this neck of the woods, to Bath Asparagus a throw back to the Roman Era when the local area was populated with colonisers from Rome bringing with them colonisers of their own. Bath Asparagus (above) looks like a pretty, if slender, version of the hearty native plant and is only found north of Italy in the immediate Bath locality! We are not allowed to pick it let along eat it, but one can see it growing quite abundantly in the lanes around us as Roman villa remains are dug up periodically…..

IMG_0880Anyway, we’ve just eaten the British stuff, grown in Evesham I dare say,  for dinner this evening and I have to say it’s a very cost-effective way to stretch a bunch of asparagus around four people. The kids are a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing but as they like risotto with poached eggs they’re willing to overlook the presence of the asparagus. One could easily substitute the asparagus for peas the rest of the time.

So for 4 people you will need: 2 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 small Onion, diced, 1 stick of Celery, diced, 1 clove of Garlic, crushed, or a squirt of garlic puree, 400g Risotto Rice, 1.2 litres of Vegetable Stock, 1 bunch Asparagus (however much you want really) tips cut off as shown in the photo and the rest of the usable stem (not the woody end part) chopped, zest of half a Lemon, Parmesan Cheese, grated, a knob of unsalted Butter, 4 Eggs, Salt and Black Pepper.

So in a large heavy based saucepan, heat the oil over a moderate heat and add the onion, cook until transparent.

Meanwhile pour the stock into a smaller saucepan and heat until simmering point. Turn the heat under the stock right down once simmering. Add the asparagus tips to the stock to cook for 5-7 minutes until tender then remove and set aside.

Once the onions are transparent add the celery and garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes stirring from time to time. Add the risotto rice and stir around so that the rice is coated with the olive oil, then start adding the stock. As with all risotto, you can add a glassful of white wine or preferably Vermouth at the start of the absorption process if you wish, or just stick with stock which of course you add, ladelled in from the saucepan at regular intervals, stirring all the time as you go. The whole absorption process takes about 15-20 minutes over a moderate heat. After about 5 minutes from the point where you start adding stock add the chopped asparagus so it has a chance to cook and then about 5 minutes from the end, as the rice seems to be almost tender add the lemon zest, a little finely grated Parmesan cheese, the butter and seasoning as required.

Whilst all this is going on fill a large saucepan or frying pan (this is a hob heavy meal) with boiling water from the kettle and allow it to reach simmering point over a medium heat, add a pinch of salt, then, when the risotto is done, crack the eggs carefully into the water, depending on the size of your saucepan you may have to cook the eggs in 2 batches. Cook the eggs for 2-4 minutes depending how soft you like them, and, remove to a wad of kitchen paper using a slotted spoon. The kitchen roll will soak up excess water from the egg. Dish up the risotto, add the asparagus tips and the poached egg, a little more Parmesan and black pepper if desired.

What else is there to say? I love Spring……

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee Kahlua Crown Cake

The very wonderful Mary Berry has filmed a new series ‘Mary Berry Cooks’ which aired this week (Mondays 8.30pm, BBC2), and this week’s subject matter was Afternoon Tea.

This is a type of meal which is fairly close to my heart for obvious reasons and also a treat I like to indulge in, in celebration of life events. The idea that on a regular basis anyone needs 4 ‘meals’ a day is fairly ridiculous, but like the feasting we enjoy at Christmas, weddings and other high days and holidays, Afternoon Tea, preferably at a posh hotel and accompanied by a glass of Champagne to go with the tea and goodies really must sum up what we Brits do best to make you feel special. I had Tea at the Ritz as part of my Hen Party (a million years ago), and I had no problem convincing a whole bunch of female friends and relatives to munch through fabulous sandwiches, scones and cakes for an hour or two, despite the usually obsequious diets most of them generally adhered to.

Anyway, coming up with cake recipes and ideas these days is much like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, there’s not much left that hasn’t been tried already, however, reminding others of, perhaps forgotten, treats is the name of the game here.

IMG_1192This is, as the title of the post suggests, Coffee Kahlua Crown cake. Meringue on top of cakes is a bit of a favourite of mine from the aesthetic point of view and although I have offered up something similar before it was a bit of a half-baked (!) affair, this is far more sophisticated both in looks and flavour.

So essentially we have a coffee walnut sponge cake, 6 smallish meringues, butter icing and glace icing to decorate. Where to start; making the meringues perhaps.

Very straight forward really, the day before you plan on making the cake, you will need 3 medium egg whites and 150g caster sugar, you can add pinches of salt and vinegar and vanilla extract, but it’s not necessary, egg whites and sugar is enough!

So whisk the egg whites so that they form stiff peaks but the mixture hasn’t gone over and become ‘dry’. This is clear when you see it so whisk more circumspectly as you reach the stiff peak stage to see off this point. Then, turn the motor on the whisk down a bit and start adding dessert spoonfuls of sugar gradually allowing each spoonful to be fully incorporated before adding the next one. You are aiming for a stiff, glossy white state. It must hold it’s shape. You can colour the meringue if you wish at this point using colour pastes ideally, or not as the case may be.

Preheat the oven to 120°C/Fan 100°C and cover a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper. You can then either pipe the meringue using a nozzle like this → IMG_0756

or just use 2 teaspoons to create blobs, a bit bigger than a golf ball, spacing them with room to expand a little on the baking sheets. this amount of mixture will probably make about 12.

Bake for 1 – 1.5 hours until hard to touch and slightly browned. Leave the door of the oven ajar to let them cool.

They will store for a couple of weeks in an airtight tin.

Next the cake: a Mary Berry recipe if the truth be told (and she must be credited) with a minor tweak.

So you will need: the oven on to 180°C/Fan 160°C, grease and line the bases  of two 8″ sandwich tins.

The ingredients are as follows: 4 large eggs, 2 heaped teaspoons of instant coffee powder (use the fancier instant espresso as it’s more of a powder and less granular), 225g soft butter, 225g caster sugar, 225g self-raising flour, 2 level teaspoons of baking powder, 50g chopped walnuts.

It couldn’t be easier, crack the eggs into a jug and add the coffee powder and whisk together (yes really), weigh out all the other ingredients into a bowl and then add the egg/coffee mixture. Beat together until smooth. Divide between the two sandwich tins and level with a spoon. Bake for 25 minutes or so until a small sharp knife blade comes out clean and the cake is starting to come away from the edges. Leave to cool in the tins initially and them remove to a wire rack until cold.

To assemble: for the buttercream you will need 75g softened butter and 210g icing sugar, 1.5 tablespoon of milk and 1 tablespoon of Kalhua. Begin by beating the butter and sugar together, slowly initially to incorporate the sugar into the butter otherwise there will large sugar clouds everywhere. Then add the milk and Kahlua and turn up the mixer to beat quickly for 5 minutes. Stop half way through and scrape the sides down to ensure everything is mixed evenly.

IMG_1191Lay the bottom half of the cake on a plate or cake stand, level the top of this layer with a long sharp serrated knife if necessary and then, coat with 2/3rds of the buttercream. Layer the top half of the cake on top and check whether it appears level. Spread the remainder of the buttercream thinly over the top of the cake and place the meringues (probably around 6) on top of the buttercream.

As a final flourish pop two spoonfuls of icing sugar in a small bowl and add just enough Kahlua to give a thick runny consistency so you can drizzle. Using a teaspoon go ahead and drizzle this icing over the meringue and cake. Dust with a little cocoa powder if you like.

The crowning glory of an Afternoon tea.

Almond Milk Smoothie

IMG_0880

Was it almond milk that Cleopatra used to bath in?

If it was I don’t blame her. The stuff is just wonderful. I have been making all kinds of things with it. Rice pudding, porridge, lattes and now smoothies. Our smoothie drinking has unfortunately been somewhat curtailed by the blender on my ancient food processor breaking down, but despite that I have a great recipe to share.

The mention of smoothies tend to go down with a bit of a groan in this house. It’s not that people don’t like them, but when you live in a house full of blokes, this type of drink having a girly reputation, seems to invoke much macho scoffing. I am relatively thick-skinned and choose to ignore most of this. Also the arrival of ‘vintage paper straws’ seems to sweeten the deal and happily this pastel-coloured creamy delight has been slipping down a treat.

You will need (for 2):

300ml Almond Milk, 1 Banana, about 5 Strawberries, a working blender, 4 ice cubes.

Pop everything into the blender and blend until smooth, although the odd lingering lump of ice-cube will be fine. Pour into suitable glass and enjoy with breakfast or as an after school fill you up.

Almond Milk: I buy it in Sainsburys, so unlike Coconut Water, it is readily available in the section with the longlife milk, milk powder and longlife soya milk. It has a natural very slightly sweet taste and in coffee imparts a flavour not dissimilar to using one of those syrups. To my mind this is infinitely more pleasing than the soya milk alternatives to milk. I also understand (although don’t quote me on this) that it is anti-allergenic so even better for you soya milk (to which some are allergic).

Chilli with the Black Eyed Peas (Beans), and a few cake designs for chilly spring

Sounds exciting doesn’t it? No bands involved I’m afraid and sorry for the REALLY long gap in between posts at the moment. As I have said before we have the builders in and my new kitchen (which is under construction from the ground up) currently looks like thisIMG_0856

It’s not it’s best side and is sorely lacking in kitchen units, but any minute now they will arrive and the fun will really start.

I’ve also had plenty of work on despite the upheaval, which has been a little challenging. Nevertheless I have been producing seasonal stuff:

IMG_0802IMG_0807

and more seasonal stuff: IMG_0848

and also very specific stuff: IMG_0776

that last one being Taylor Swift’s electric acoustic guitar!

So on with the recipe, I have concentrated so far this year on cakeage, so I think it’s time for a family favourite. This comes with many variations but is, in essence, as supplied below. Instead of aubergine, we commonly use butternut squash, but the fresh, spicy flavours permeate come what may.

You will need for 4:

1 Onion, chopped, 1-2 tbsp Sunflower Oil, ½ tbsp Olive Oil with Garlic, or a clove of Garlic, crushed, a sprinkling of Crushed Chilli Flakes, 2 medium Carrots, grated, ½ Aubergine or ¹/3 Butternut Squash, roughly chopped, 1 tin Tomatoes, chopped, ½ Vegetable Stock cube, 1 300g tin of Black Eyed Peas/Beans, 1 400g tin of Kidney Beans (or Mixed Beans) in chilli sauce, 1 Red Pepper, chopped, juice of a Lime, 2 tbsp of chopped Coriander, a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce, Salt and Pepper.

It’s all very straightforward, fry the onion in the oils over a medium heat in a fairly large saucepan until soft and translucent, add the garlic if using, chilli and carrot IMG_0860and cook over a low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the aubergine/ butternut squash and again cook for 5 minutes or so over a low heat. Add the tin of tomatoes, stock cube, some just boiled water, start off with 250ml and the Worcestershire sauce and allow the come up to simmering point and then cook with the lid on for 10 minutes or so, add the two tins of beans, the pepper, lime juice, coriander, salt and pepper and cook over a lowish heat again with the lid partly covering for a minimum of 30 minutes until everything is tender, adding more water as necessary to prevent any sticking to the bottom of the pan.

This is one of those great stew type dishes where the longer you leave it the better it will taste. If you have the time, go Greek and cook it at lunchtime to eat in the evening. Even a couple of hours between assembly and consumption will make a difference. Serve with rice, bread or tortilla!

Burgers with Hidden Vegetables!!!

Now I’m not pretending that this IS the answer to everyone’s prayers, nor am I suggesting that this idea is unique (I’m probably late to this party), but if you really need to entice kids to consume their 5 a day this would be an easy place to start.

I’m just going to jump straight in with this, any further talk about whether or not one’s kids eat veggies and how enthusiastically is totally unnecessary.

This makes around 5 or 6 depending how big your kids are; however don’t go too small if you are tempted as the veggie bits will then seem more prominent. Making burgers is very easy but if you really can’t bind the constituent parts by hand, you might struggle. So in a large bowl you will need:

400g lean minced steak, 1 slice of any bread whizzed up to make breadcrumbs, 1 medium carrot, grated,  1 medium courgette, grated and then pressed between kitchen paper towel to squeeze out the excess moisture (repeat this process 2 or 3 times), ½ tsp dried oregano, a large pinch of salt, a grinding of black pepper, a dribble of Lea and Perrins (optional) and 1 egg.

Combine everything with your hands, squeezing and mushing until thoroughly combined, then form into 5 or 6 burgers and arrange on a plate. Set aside for 5 or 10 minutes whilst the grill or BBQ warms up, you want it hot.

Cook as usual for 15-20 minutes or so, turning from time to time. Obviously check they are cooked through before serving.

The Kids were aware of the veg inclusion but keen to eat these nonetheless. Normally, if I try to pull this sort of stunt, I receive plenty of complaints that I am ruining a perfectly lovely tea/dinner/cake etc etc.

Early Morning Victory for Murray so it’s Vermont Maple Syrup Breakfast Muffins

Well, finally we have a tennis champion after millions of years or whatever the statistic is. Fantastic news! So to celebrate I am making Vermont Maple syrup breakfast muffins with a British Autumnal twist as we woke up to the news early this morning here in the UK.

This is based primarily on a recipe in the muffin lovers Bible: The Joy of Muffins by Genevieve Farrow and Diane Dreher which is still in print I see and a snip at about £6, but with the addition of oat bran and blackberries.

You will need (for 12):

1 ½ cups of Plain Flour, ½ cup Oat Bran, 4 tsp Baking Powder, ½ tsp Salt, 1 large Egg, ½ cup Milk, ½ cup Maple Syrup, ½ cup melted Butter, cooled slightly, 1 cup Blackberries and a sprinkling of icing sugar.

Preheat the oven to 210°C/Fan 200°C.  Combine the flour, oat bran, salt and baking powder in a bowl and in a separate bowl combine the egg, milk, syrup and whisk together and then whisk in the butter. Add the wet to the dry and fold for about 10-15 fold actions and then add the blackberries and continue to fold in for another 5 fold actions or so. Don’t forget: a light touch makes for lighter muffins. Dollop into a 12 hole muffin tin, with or without cases and bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with icing sugar.

The kitchen will take on a fabulous aroma of maple syrup firstly and then blackberries and when you try one, hopefully warm you have the rich flavour of butter behind the main ingredients and a lovely nutty texture. Yummy.

You can always leave out the oat bran and use 2 cups of plain flour instead and blueberries instead of blackberries.

Posts, I think are going to come weekly for the time being as we have very recently welcomed the gorgeous creature below into our home:

She is a cocker spaniel, 8.5 weeks and we named her Kenya.

Anyway, it won’t be long before she settles down, I hope, and the baking can continue in earnest, but in the meantime I am cooking speedily!!

Waffly Good Breakfast where the Old Countries Meet the New

Hello again, we are back from our holiday, the school term has started and cake orders are coming in again after the summer break.

We have been lucky enough to have seen this:

Had a go on this :

Eaten massive sandwiches looking like this:

and seen plenty of these:

Fantastic!!

And of course. maple leaves are on the flag for a reason and vats of syrup have been consumed and transported back to blighty. I feel a few maple syrup recipes coming on!

For starters how about this:

Waffles with mascarpone cheese, fruit, toasted nuts and maple syrup.

Child two has been eating toasted waffles like they have been going out of fashion. Here in the UK we don’t seem to sell the frozen boxfuls like they do in North America, however we do sell them fresh in packets or if you are feeling really virtuous you can buy a waffle maker and do it yourself. We ate breakfast at a diner called Tutti Frutti and as the name would suggest anything you ordered came with a huge pile of fruit, so inspired by Child two and Tutti Frutti, I made the following, (serves one):

2 or 3 waffles (warmed), 2 or 3 tbsp of mascarpone cheese (light or regular) or a mixture of mascarpone cheese and 0%fat Greek yoghurt, fruit of your choice, I used a banana, sliced, a nectarine, sliced and a handful of blueberries, a sprinkling of toasted nuts (almond, pecan, whatever you want) and a drizzling of maple syrup.  Pile it all up on the plate and off you go.

(Europe is referred to as the old countries by Canadians and the recipe fuses Italian and Spanish ingredients with Canadian; oh and these waffles were Belgian!).

More from the Unloved Vegetables: Broad Beans pep up a Ham and Watermelon Low Carb Lunch

It’s the end of term this week and as fate would have it the work load has increased to celebrate. Hmmm….

I have been up to my elbows in melting moments, photogenic cupcakes and Sleeping Beauty↓

However I’m not eating any of this and in fact the recent cream fest has led to a week or so of obsequious eating, and I am happy to share.

The following was absolutely delicious and uses a very unloved vegetable: the broad bean. I have to say I’m not keen on them ‘skin on’ so my advice is to pop them out of the skins once cooked and cooled a little. This does not remove all the bitterness but makes a surprising difference!

Based on the classic ham and melon Italian antipasta dish, you will need for 1 serving: a thick slice of Watermelon, a handful of cooked Broad Beans, skinned, some Feta Cheese, diced, a couple of slices of Parma ham or prosciutto crudo, Mint, chopped, a sprinkle of Pumpkin Seeds, toasted, Lemon Dressing made with 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar).

Start off by expelling some of the pips from the melon, just the big ones, and then using a pastry cutter (around 5cm in diameter), stamp out two or three circles, arrange on the plate, then arrange the ham, shredded roughly, feta cheese, broad beans, mint, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Drizzle over the dressing and you are ready to go. I added a couple of diced cold new potatoes I had lying around as well and it all looked like this:

Despite the work load, roll on the summer holidays…

N.B. You can buy conservative slices of Watermelon in supermarkets and unless you are very keen on the stuff I suggest you seek out these.

Beach Hut Food (or almost half a dozen things to do with Tortilla Chips)

Despite the distinctly mediocre weather we have been experiencing this week, we have found our collective stiff upper lip and pressed on with our half term/Jubilee plans regardless. We like to book a beach hut on Studland beach for a week each year and this week has been the appointed one. The weather on the Isle of Purbeck can frequently render national forecasts useless and certainly for part of the time I think we have managed to suffer far less rain than some. Sunday tea time we returned from a very pleasant afternoon at the beach, switched on the TV, to find the National Anthem in full flow on the River Thames and a bedraggled choir trying to look cheerful notwithstanding the driving rain. Nightmare.

Kitchen for the week

So during a typical week, we like to cook at the beach as much as possible and over the years we have developed Beach Hut Food. This can easily be regarded as camping food and so with the camping/glamping/festival season upon us some might find the following useful. I’m not really suggesting anything very revelatory just jogging memories I suspect.

The return of the 5 layer dip; the original recipe is here but an easier or possibly more child friendly version would be as follows:

Small tin of refried beans spread on the bottom of  the bowl/saucepan/suitable receptacle.

A layer of sweetcorn from a small tin to cover the beans or a layer of guacamole from a ‘ready to eat’ tub

A layer of tomato salsa, strength to your taste

A layer of half fat soured cream

A layer of grated cheese

Arrange the tortilla chips around the bowl as illustrated. This is really good as an accompaniment to a barbecue. N.B. Doritos are not very strong and therefore not good for scooping. Sainsburys Basics Tortilla Chips are much much better in this regard.

Tortilla Soup; British summers being what they are, soup is still a must even in July at times. Cuppa soup Cream of Tomato or a tin of Heinz Tomato can be pepped up with a few drops of Tabasco sauce and tortilla chips to dip with.

Camp style Caesar Salad; this is adapted from a Nigella recipe so she deserves all the credit. Arrange some salad leaves (Little Gem are good here) in a bowl and dress with Caesar salad dressing (we like the Pizza Express Light variety). Add to that handfuls of tortilla chips and grated Parmesan or any grated cheese.

Tortilla chip sandwiches; if you are at the beach, the ‘do I have sand in my sandwich’ concern can be offset by adding tortilla chips to the filling. The crunchy sensation they provide will mask any actual sand. Again grated cheese, a drop of Tabasco and chips work well and should you have these ingredients around because you made the 5 layer dip, will help with using stuff up.

As it was Jubilee weekend, we really pushed the boat out however and had my favourite sandwich of all, baguette with smoked salmon, lots of dill, lemon juice and black pepper and whilst barbecuing constructed this user-friendly arrangement.

Frozen raw King Prawns can defrost throughout the day in a cool box. Thread onto the skewers as the barbecue is lit to finish defrosting if necessary. Fill a fish holder with the skewers and cherry tomatoes for ease of handling.

The fish holder is often filled with Bream stuffed with dill. If you have sea air up your nostrils, this barbecue dish has to be one of life’s great pleasures.

Warming up for Wimbledon

Gold is on the birthday brain and a few Cutest Cakes explained.

It’s Child 2’s birthday tomorrow – Happy Birthday Darling Boy.

What a week for a birthday. The town is decked out with flags and bunting as the Olympic flame passed through this afternoon. Truly momentous. I have been desperately teaching myself to use a Christmas present I haven’t really had time to play with – a video recorder, to provide footage of this historic event, I don’t think I shall be posting the results, a normal jpg will have to do.

Child 2’s party has already been held. With a mid-week birthday, this is inevitable. In fact he shared his party with a friend as many in his class have May birthdays. I supplied them with one or two birthday cake books for inspiration a couple of weeks ago and suggested they choose something together to avoid arguments over the nature of the party cake and they plumped for this:

Gold mining Goblins! what more could you want in this year of Olympic excitement.

This is copied from the phenomenon that is Debbie Brown’s Cakes. The modelling guru who has turning cake decorating into an art form, like no-one else in my view. If you read the blurb on the back of one of her cake books she started out making cakes for her children’s birthdays and her talents and business grew from there. I adore her work and often use her cakes as a starting point for other designs. She is fearless with shape, carving cakes into every imaginable form and manages to get modelling paste, used to make figures and features, to defy gravity. My favourite of her books are Magical Cakes and Enchanting Cakes for Children. The cake above is from the former.

This idea of using something in print as a launch pad for a cake design is as fairly common one. I have been ruthless in this regard. For example, if you need a ski piste then Debbie’s enchanted castle atop a mountain can be converted into a ski hut up a mountain instead:

or if you ditch the hut/castle you can have an alpine scene:

The trick with carving cake into shapes is to use a stiff madeira cake recipe. Essentially if you use the recipe I give for making a sponge, add half as much again of plain flour, to the quantity of self raising, and bake in a deep tin to produce a cake which can be sculpted into a variety of shapes, in Pyrex bowls for round or egg shapes (stick 2 together) or even cooked in the ‘shaped’ cake tins one can hire to look like footballs, giant cupcakes, books, Mickey Mouse, that sort of thing. A sharp serrated knife, buttercream, a sugarpaste coat and your imagination will do the rest!

I will provide a few hints and tips on modelling paste on the ‘Baking and What not page’ very soon…..

Previous Older Entries

The Cutest Cakes: Classic Cakes

Lilies and Pearls

The Cutest Cakes: Cupcakes

Rosebud Vanilla Cupcake

The Cutest Cakes: Individual Iced Cakes

Miniature Fruit Cake

Details for The Cutest Cakes can be found at www.cutestcakes.co.uk or if you click the image on the side bar you will be transported there.