Roast Leek, Feta and Lemon Polenta Cake

The idea of a savoury cake is somewhat peculiar to me, however, the ingredients in the title tempted me to give it a go. I’m really glad I did. It’s very tasty and not at all cake-like. It’s more of a cross between a quiche and a bread. I served it with a couple of salads for a main meal, but this would be perfect picnic food as it’s summery, easy and robust enough to be portable. I made this when my mum came to visit, and she loved it. This recipe comes from Anna Jones’s, The Modern Cook’s Year.

Ingredients

4 leeks (about 500g) cut into 1cm slices

2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing

150g plain spelt flour

120g polenta

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon flaky sea salt

A good grinding of black pepper

2 tablespoons nigella seeds

The zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1/2 bunch of thyme leaves, picked

150g feta, crumbled

4 organic eggs, lightly beaten

100ml milk

200g plain yoghurt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Butter a loose bottom 24cm cake tin and line with baking paper.
  2. First, sauté the leeks in a tablespoon of the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat until soft. This should take about 10 minutes.
  3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and use it to brush the baking paper. Meanwhile, put the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, pepper and a tablespoon of the nigella seeds into a bowl and whisk to get rid of any lumps. Add the lemon zest, red chilli, thyme and the crumbled feta.
  4. Put the juice of the lemon into a small bowl and whisk together with the eggs, milk and yoghurt.
  5. Mix the yoghurt mixture into the flour mixture until just combined (being careful not to overmix). Once the leeks have cooled,stir half of them through the batter. Pour the batter into the lined cake tin and scatter the rest of the leeks on top, then sprinkle the reserved nigella seeds.
  6. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the top is golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then cool on a wire rack to room temperature before slicing. 

Matcha, Pink Peppercorn and Cherry Madeleines

For my birthday, a good friend of mine gave me a book on Japanese patisserie by James Campbell. It’s a stunning book with beautiful photographs of high-end patisserie, a lot of which is way beyond my culinary ability. However, these madeleines caught my eye; very easy to make, exotic flavours and I already had matcha powder and pink peppercorns in the cupboard. All I had to do was to wait for an excuse to make them.

Two things happened in the same week. First, a colleague told me it was her birthday and then another colleague gave me a gift of an edible gold spray, goldas in real gold! So out came the madeleine recipe. It was really very straight forward. I used the spray to add a bit of birthday sparkle to the tops of the madeleines. Admittedly, madeleines are probably not the ideal vehicle for edible gold spray as the contrast of the colour was not strong enough. However, the birthday girl was delighted with her luxurious, exotic madeleines.

Ingredients

150g unsalted butter

50g ground almonds

¾ tablespoon matcha powder

50g plain flour

150g egg whites (about 4 large eggs)

½ teaspoon pink peppercorns, ground

12 cherries, halved with the stones removed

Directions

  • First make a buerre noisette (browned butter). Put the diced butter in a saucepan and set over a medium-high heat for around 5-7 minutes until melted and boiling. The fat at the bottom of the pan should go a nutty-brown colour, but be careful this does not darken too much and burn. Transfer the browned butter immediately to a heatproof dish and set aside to cool until just warm.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the ground almonds, matcha powder and flour.
  • In another bowl, whisk together the egg whites with the sugar until frothy.
  • Carefully fold the dry ingredients, the buerre noisette and ground pink peppercorns into the sugar and egg mixture until fully incorporated and no lumps remain. Transfer the mixture to the fridge to chill for at least an hour. You can also put the madeleine tins, greased with butter and dusted with flour into the freezer.
  • Preheat the oven to 180C/ Gas 4.
  • Put the chilled madeleine mixture into a piping bag and pipe in enough to almost fill the prepared tin. Alternatively, you can spoon the mixture in.

Pistachio Gelato

One of the culinary highlights of a recent trip to Florence was the gelato. Naturally in the name of research I wanted to try as many flavours as possible: lemon and basil, tea and rose and even liquorice. However, the  hands down winner was the classic pistachio; nutty, creamy and very green. When I came back, I was keen to keep some of that Florence magic. So, what better way than to master pistachio gelato?

For me there is only once ice cream maker to go to for a recipe; David Lebovitz. His book, The Perfect Scoop, is devoted to ice cream, gelato and sorbet. His website is pretty cool too: www.davidlebovitz.com. David says that the key to making a truly outstanding gelato is the quality of the pistachio cream. The secret is to use a cream made with at least 40% Sicilian Bronte pistachios. These pistachios are often used in patisserie because of their beautiful green colour. I bought my pistachio cream in Florence, but you can buy it on the internet. It takes a while to make this gelato as the milk needs to chill, preferably overnight before the pistachio cream can be added. Also, you do need an ice cream maker. I can guarantee it’s worth it.

 
Ingredients (makes about 3/4 litres)

500ml whole milk

65g caster sugar (I only used 50g)

2 tablespoons corn flour

200g Bronte pistachio cream (my jar was 190g)

a few drops of lemon or orange juice

Method

1. Make a slurry by mixing the 125ml of the milk with the corn flour, mixing until the flour is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.

2. Heat the rest of the milk in a medium-sized saucepan with the sugar.

3. When it almost starts to boil, stir in the corn flour mixture and cook at gentle simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

4. Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl, and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

5. Once chilled, whisk in the pistachio cream and just a few drops of citrus juice until smooth.

6. Freeze the gelato in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Lavender and Rose Birthday Macarons

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I know I claim not to have a signature dish and that I don’t like to keep making the same things over and over, but when it comes to my birthday, I can’t think of a more delicious, more tantalising treat than macarons. Macarons work for me because they are beautiful, they are small and they should be bursting with flavour (and not just taste sweet, like some shop bought ones; oh the disappointment).  The thing I like about making macarons, is once the basic recipe has been mastered, you can be creative with flavour.  In past blogs I’ve made bergamot macarons, rose, lychee and raspberry macarons; macarons flavoured with salted caramel, lemon, white chocolate and lavender. Pierre Herme is a constant inspiration; his flavour combinations are magical and change with the seasons. This year for my birthday, I’m focusing on two flavours, lavender and rose both recipes are from Pierre Herme’s Macaron book. People may accuse me of using ‘soapy’ flavours, but I love them and it’s my birthday!

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Ingredients for Lavender Macarons

300g ground almonds

300g icing sugar

110g ‘liquified’ egg whites (split the eggs 3 days before using and leave to age)

1 teaspoon dried lavender

5g purple food colouring

300g caster sugar

75g mineral water

110g ‘liquified’ egg whites

For the lavender cream

113g unsalted butter softened

190g icing sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1-2 tablespoons double cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2-3 drops lavender essence

Directions for Lavender Macarons

* Sift together the icing sugar and ground almonds.

* With a pestle and mortar grind the lavender then add to the ground almonds and icing sugar mixture.

* Stir the food colouring into the first portion of the liquified egg whites. Pour the coloured egg whites over the mixture of icing sugar and ground almonds but do not stir.

* Bring the water and sugar to boil at 118°C. When the syrup reaches 115°C, simultaneously start whisking the second portion of liquified egg whites to soft peaks.

* When the sugar reaches 118°C, pour it over the egg whites. Whisk and allow the meringue to cool down to 50°C, then fold into the almond-sugar mixture.

* Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a plain nozzle.

* Pipe rounds of batter about 3.5cm in diameter, spacing them 2cm apart on baking trays lined with baking parchment.

* Rap the trays on the work surface covered with a cloth to remove any air bubbles. Leave to stand for at least 30 minutes until a skin has formed on the surface.

* Preheat oven to 180°C then put the trays in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes.

* When out of the oven, slide the shells onto the work surface.

Directions For the lavender cream

* Beat the butter until light and creamy.

* Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed until medium and whip for an additional 2-3 minutes.

* When cool, spoon the mixture into a piping bag with a plain nozzle. Pipe a generous amount of ganache onto half the macaron shells. Top with the remaining shells.

* Store the macaroons in the fridge for 24 hours and then bring out for 2 hours before serving.

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Ingredients for Rose Macarons

300g ground almonds

300g icing sugar

110g ‘liquified’ egg whites

5g red food colouring

300g caster sugar

75g mineral water

110g ‘liquified’ egg whites

* Sift together the icing sugar and ground almonds. Stir the food colouring into the first portion of the liquified egg whites. Pour the coloured egg whites over the mixture of icing sugar and ground almonds but do not stir.

* Bring the water and sugar to boil at 118°C. When the syrup reaches 115°C, simultaneously start whisking the second portion of liquified egg whites to soft peaks.

* When the sugar reaches 118°C, pour it over the egg whites. Whisk and allow the meringue to cool down to 50°C, then fold into the almond-sugar mixture.

* Spoon the batter into a piping bag with a plain nozzle.

* Pipe rounds of batter about 3.5cm in diameter, spacing them 2cm apart on baking trays lined with baking parchment.

* Rap the trays on the work surface covered with a cloth to remove any air bubbles. Leave to stand for at least 30 minutes until a skin has formed on the surface.

* Preheat oven to 180°C then put the trays in the oven. Bake for 12 minutes.

* When out of the oven, slide the shells onto the work surface.

Rose Cream

200g caster sugar

75g mineral water

150g whole eggs

90g egg yolk

400g very soft butter (unsalted)

4g rose essence

50g rose syrup

* Bring the sugar and water to the boil in a saucepan. When it boils, clean the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush. Heat the sugar to 120°C.

* In a bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks until they lighten in colour. Pour in the hot sugar at 120°C and continue whisking until it has cooled down completely.

* Cream then whisk the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until it thickens. Add the egg mixture and continue whisking to obtain a smooth consistency, then add the rose essence and syrup. Smooth the butter cream by whisking it briskly.

* Spoon the cream into a piping bag with a plain nozzle. Pipe a generous mound of cream on to half the shells and top with the remaining shells.

 IMG_0946 (Edited)

Spinach, Egg and Filo Pie

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This is the dish that I made for the Borough Market cookbook club from the Honey and Co at Home book. I have made many variations of this pie before, including a rather good Jamie Oliver recipe with sundried tomatoes and lemon. However, I was drawn to this one as it looked so pretty. The ochre swirl of the eggs on the top make it look like a piece of art work and the golden, crispy pastry is just so tempting. What surprised me was the use of dried mint rather than fresh.  It really packs a flavour punch. This is a recipe that I will come back to again and again as it is just so delicious.

Ingredients

Makes a 23cm round pie for 8

70g butter

1 small packet of filo pastry

For the filling

50g butter

500g spinach

20g dill, chopped

40g (3-4) spring onions, chopped

A few springs of thyme

2 teaspoons dried mint

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

160g yoghurt

50g plain flour

8 eggs (set 4 aside for the topping)

50g pecorino

50g feta

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Directions

  1. Melt the butter for the filling in a large saucepan. Add the spinach and cover. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the spinach is all wilted, then remove to a colander to drain the excess liquid. Transfer to a large bowl, add the dill, spring onions, thyme, dried mint, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and mix well. Add the yoghurt, flour, four of the eggs, the pecorino and feta, and mix well to combine.
  2. Heat the oven to 200ﹾC/180ﹾC fan/gas mark 6.
  3. Melt the butter for the pastry and spread the filo sheets on the work surface. Brush the first sheet with butter and cover with another sheet. Lift these two into the round baking tin, allowing a little overhang. Repeat this process and lay another layer in the tin, slightly overlapping the first. Continue to do this until the entire tin is lined with filo, with pastry overhanging on all the edges. This will take about 4-5 double sheets.
  4. Fill the tin with the spinach mixture. Scrunch the overhanging filo pastry around the edges so that the top is not covered. Place in the oven for 10 minutes.
  5. Carefully remove the pie from the oven. With the back of a spoon, make 4 evenly placed depressions in the spinach and crack an egg into each depression. Use the tip of a sharp knife to swirl the yolk into the filling, but don’t push it in too much. Return to the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes until the spinach mixture is fully set, the eggs are baked and the pastry is crisp all over.

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Medjool date, honey and macadamia breakfast loaf

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This month’s Borough Market Cookbook Club book was Honey & Co at Home by Sarit Packer and Itmar Srulovich. At the Cookbook Club, one book is chosen and we all make something different from it. There were about 15 of us who made different recipes from Honey and Co at Home, so we got to taste a good range of dishes. This breakfast loaf is not something that I would have chosen to make, and this is the beauty of the club. I’ve made plenty loaf cakes in the past and this seemed pretty ordinary. Well, boy was I wrong. This unassuming loaf is anything but ordinary. It is packed full of flavour. The orange zest and clementine peel elevate this loaf to a whole new level. The dates are soft and sweet, the macadamia nuts buttery and crunchy.  So now I have found my new, favourite breakfast loaf.

 

Ingredients

(Makes one large 2kg loaf or two smaller ones)

150ml full fat milk

110g honey

50g salted butter

280g self raising flour

Zest of 1 orange

Skin of 1 clementine, finely chopped

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground nutmeg

200g Medjool dates, roughly chopped

130g macadamia nuts

2 eggs

For the topping

50g cup macadamia nuts

Sprinkling of demerara sugar

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1.      Heat your oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas mark 4. Line your loaf tin(s) with a sheet of baking paper.

2.      Place the milk, honey and butter in a small pan and heat gently until the butter has melted. In the meantime, mix the rest of the ingredients apart from the eggs in a large bowl. Pour in the melted butter mixture and use a large spoon to stir until just combined. Add the egg and stir again until fully combined.

3.      Transfer to the baking tin, top with the macadamia nuts and sprinkle with the demerara sugar. Bake in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes.

4.      Open the oven and rotate the cake for an even bake, then leave for a further 20–25 minutes. It should feel lovely and bouncy when you press it. If you are using two smaller tins, they will bake in a shorter time – I would rotate them after 20 minutes and then leave for another 20 minutes to bake fully.

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Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti

I often make biscotti at Christmas time. The jewel colours of the cranberries and pistachios look so pretty and the biscuits themselves are not overly sweet, so they are perfect with a cup of coffee.  I found this recipe in ‘Red’ Christmas Food and Entertaining magazine back in 2013. The biscotti are very easy to make; one batch makes a lot, so they are ideal to give as festive gifts.

Over the years I have made dreadful mistakes with biscotti including making them so hard they would break your teeth. So now, I cut the biscotti as thin as I can, around 3mm instead of the ones I see in coffee shops of 1cm. The thin versions mean that you don’t need a visit to the dentist and you can have two per portion so win-win!

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti 2

Ingredients

300g plain flour

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

160g caster sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon orange zest

130g dried cranberries

140g unsalted pistachios

 

Method

Preheat oven to 160 C/ gas mark 3

Place the flour, baking powder and sugar into a bowl and mix until combined.

Add the eggs, vanilla, orange zest, cranberries and pistachios and mix until a smooth dough is formed.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.

Divide the dough into two equal portions and roll each portion into a 20cm long log. Flatten slightly and place on baking trays lined with non-stick baking paper.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until firm. Set aside to cool.

Use a serrated knife to cut the logs into 3mm thick slices.

Lay the biscotti on the tray and bake for a further 8-10 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti 3