22/12/2015

Microwave Christmas Pudding

Yep! Microwave. I thought I'd lost this, but just dug it out again. :)

We made this last year at my Mum's in Cyprus, and as we were on the watch for powercuts, it had to be fast. It turns out that this is really, really good. Light and tender on the 1st and 2nd days, but on the 3rd day it had sort of solidified, so we called it fruit cake and ate the rest of it with cream.


200ml of water

100ml Kommandaria wine or spiced rum or apricot brandy

450g mix of dried fruits – Sultanas (whole), chopped apricots, figs, dates and/or prunes
(200g of the fruit should be sultanas and rest made up of approximately equal parts the other fruits.
We used apricots, dates and cherries)

225g butter

250g of soft brown sugar or dark muscovado, your choice

½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

2 tablespoons of mixed spice

Simmer the above all together in large pan till fat and sugar is dissolved (don’t let it go beyond melted – you are not trying to cook it just melt it all).

I let it sit until it had cooled as it plumps the fruits up nicely.

Dry ingredients

250g plain flour

1/4 tsp salt

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

Sieve dry ingredients Into a large bowl, mix…

Beat 2 eggs into the cooled fruit and liquid.

Mix wet and dry ingredients well.

Put into suitably sized, well buttered microwaveable dish.

We used a plastic pudding bowl but the original author used glass.

Place in microwave.

Cooking times.
900 watts for 8 minutes - Check cooked in centre with skewer – if not done keep adding 2 mins until the skewer comes out clean.

We have an 800 watt microwave and it was 10 minutes altogether.

We tipped it out onto a plate and there was a tiny bit at the bottom that hadn't cooked, so we stuck it back in for a minute.

You can eat it hot or cold, with breakfast or after dinner as a pudding….


13/12/2015

Belly porchetta, with Christmas flavours

First, apologies if things look slightly out of kilter for a while. Blogger in their wisdom have been making changes, and LiveWriter, which I use to compose and publish posts, will not talk to Blogger any more. A fix is being worked on, but will not be available until next year.

We went out for a work Christmas lunch recently, and went to Jamie’s Italian. Two of us chose the porchetta, and it was very nice, but way too heavy on the black pepper for my tastes. The pepper and the lemon overpowered everything a bit, so I wondered if I could make it myself.

This weekend I was just going to use up what was in the freezer, but then I went to the butcher just to say hi and saw the pork belly.

Sunk.

I had prosciutto in the fridge that needed to be used up, and lots of clementines starting to look sad. I also had a packet of ready roasted chestnuts from the local Turkish shop, that I was dying to try.
Roasted belly pork and the chance to use up lots of bits and pieces? Definitely.
I asked the butcher to debone the belly, and score the skin, and I took the bones as well.


1 piece deboned pork belly, approx. 2-3lb in weight

1 pouch of ready cooked chestnuts

6-8 slices of prosciutto

Zest of 2 clementines and 1 lemon

1 tbs fennel seeds

1 tsp sea salt flakes

2 cloves garlic

olive oil

Oven 170C fan

Toast the fennel seeds in a dry pan until they darken a little, then grind in a spice grinder with the sea salt. Bingo, fennel salt for all your porky needs.

Mash the chestnuts with some olive oil and the zest of 1 clementine.

Grate in 2 cloves of garlic to it, and mix very well.

Lay the pork out flat, skin side down.

Sprinkle with a little fennel salt.

Lay the prosciutto slices on top, tucking them into any crevices, and add some orange and lemon zest.
Smooth the chestnut mixture all across the prosciutto.



Grate over the lemon and the remaining clementine, and sprinkle more fennel salt. I had more clementine than lemon, and I think that worked well.




Roll the pork up, starting at the thicker end, then tie inexpertly with string.



Rub olive oil into the skin, then add some more fennel salt, rubbing it all over the skin and getting it into the cracks.

Place the rib bones into a roasting pan, sprinkle some fennel salt on to them and drizzle some olive oil so that they don’t stick to the pan. You want to eat them later!

Rest the rolled pork on top.

Roast for around 2 hours.

Test the internal temperature at 1 and 2 hours. (It needs to get up to 71C, so that will depend on how big your piece of meat is. My meat thermometer has turned into a bit of a godsend, I have to say.)
When the roast reached the correct internal temperature, I switched the oven to the grill setting, in order to crisp up the skin. That took about 5-10 minutes and possibly created a little smoke. [ahem]

Let it rest for at least 15 minutes still sat on the bones to let it relax a bit. Made it easier to get the string off too.



The prosciutto had crisped up inside, so it was a bit resistant to being carved, but I got a slice off in the end, and a really sticky, caramelised rib to have with it too. I served mine with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and honey glazed baby beetroots.



All in all, I call this a big success. The clementine zest works extremely well with the chestnuts and the fennel, and both work with the sweet meat. I’ll definitely do this again, and I am going to make sure to go back to the Turkish shop for more chestnuts. So much easier to buy them that way.

I think a bigger version of this would make quite an impressive centrepiece. Or a lot of leftovers, which is no bad thing.

06/12/2015

Christmas: Kourabiedes, or Greek Butter Cookies

I have a cookbook. (Nobody is surprised at this.)

I have 2 copies of the same cookbook, because the first one fell apart.

My Mum used it to learn to cook Greek food for my Dad after they got married, then I found it, and started reading it. It had a cover, back then. One of those 1970s brown ones, all earnest and lentilly.

The back pages came off, then the front cover, and then the book itself started to disintegrate. I put it away on the bookshelf, and it survived 2 house moves, probably by staying hidden at the back of the shelf, sheltered by Delia and Nigella.

I found it again when I needed a recipe for tahini cake. It had the recipe alright but there was a small drawback.

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Time to see if I could find another copy. Thankfully the wonder that is Abe Books came to my rescue. When it turned up, the cover was a bit of a surprise!

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But it’s the same book alright. So tahini cake was made. (Write up on that soon.)

My next favourite recipe is the one for Greek Christmas Cookies. We have them at weddings too. Essentially a very buttery shortbread with icing sugar and brandy. LOTS of icing sugar. Sometimes we add almonds, or pistachios too. I’ve had them with a cinnamon walnut mix in the middle, and even rose Turkish delight, which melts to a beautifully soft centre.

The original recipe calls for unsalted butter, bicarb and no added salt, but to my mind that makes everything too sugary and sweet, and possibly a little bland, so I use salted butter (grass fed for preference), and no bicarb as I hate the taste.

This time I wanted them plain and simple. I only had an evening in which to bake, as I needed to take something along to Thane Prince’s cookbook club the next day, and I had all of the ingredients in.

Off I went! Once I’d sorted out the cup measurements. Handy guide here! http://www.butterbaking.com/conversions/

The recipe called for a moderate oven *rolls eyes* so here’s a useful table:

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I set my not terribly accurate oven dial to about 165C fan.

Kourabiedes

1 cup soft salted butter (it worked out to 225g)

1 cup icing sugar (I just used my American measuring cup for this one)

1 egg yolk (that meant I got to make meringues later)

1 tbs brandy (I used apricot brandy but you can use orange juice)

1 tsp vanilla or almond extract

1 tsp orange flower water

3 cups plain flour

(You can also add in 1/2 cup blanched and very finely chopped almonds)

1lb icing sugar to dredge (I DID NOT USE THIS MUCH. I don’t think they need it.)

Whisk butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy.

Mix in the egg yolk and brandy, then add the sifted flour a cup at a time and mix it all in.

Bring it together as much as you can then tip out onto a work surface and knead well until the dough is smooth. This is a beautiful dough, very easy to work with. Too easy to eat, if truth be told…

If it’s too soft for shaping, add a little more flour.

The book says to shape into balls, the size of a small egg, but I made mine smaller, maybe the size of a walnut. Don’t worry at all about perfection, make them any shape you want!

Place on a lined baking tray about an inch apart, as they do spread a little.

I pressed each one down with the back of a fork, because I like the pattern, and the ridges hold some icing sugar.

Bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes.

They will spread a little, puff slightly and then gradually turn lightly golden.

You are then supposed to roll the warm cookies in that 1lb of icing sugar, but I just put them in a box, and sprinkled maybe a cup of it in. It did stick to the cookies, and in some cases it will form a soft buttery layer on top. THIS IS FINE. It is also delicious.

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They keep quite well in an airtight box, if you can stop yourself eating them all at once.

If you do want to sneak one, here’s a tip; don’t wear all black.

05/12/2015

A good day

Not strictly a food post, or a recipe post. But a post nonetheless.

It's been a hard week, and the planes taking off from Cyprus to bomb the oil fields was just the last straw.

Facebook is full of people talk talk talking non-stop about the bombings, the politics, analysing over and over again but to what end? All it did was bang and bruise my heart more and more until, combined with the usual job wibbles (being contract'll do that to you), I was in a state of low grade panic all the time. My Mum's in Cyprus, people I call family are on the Syrian/Turkish border.

My Facebook has now been deactivated for a while. My brain needs a break.

Mum sent me a message yesterday saying

We have had no warnings so don't panic and don't read the news. We have masses of Turkish army around us. If any retaliation occurs it would probably be the British bases, 2 hours away.

I sat at work and read that, with tears rolling down my face, so sad that she even had to be saying things like that in this day and age but it made the panic die down a bit.

She and my 'sis' called me today, so I could hear their voices. They then told me just how many troops were there. 55000 at least. She told me the location of the army bases. There are THREE within a mile of her house, and I have never, ever seen anything of them, not even a truck! What are they, 55000 ninjas??


Anyhow. After all that, hearing that Nigel Slater was going to be doing a book signing in Leadenhall Street market made me decide on the spur of the moment to take today off, and go. I don't usually do short notice days off, but...you only live once, right?

Today dawned sunny and clear. Perfect.

I had a leisurely breakfast, put on my new 2 sizes smaller skirt (I've lost about a stone and a half since mid August), did my make up for the first time in a year, and headed out, feeling rather Nigella.

I wanted to take a present for this kind man that I have been talking to on Twitter, and email, since 2008. Someone who has brought me comfort, and a friendly voice, through some dark times and hours.

So I took what seemed appropriate.

1 jar of lovely olive leaf tea.
1 individually boxed homemade Greek Christmas butter cookie.

I included a note.

I wrote instructions on how to brew the tea, added "inhale the gently scented steam, sip slowly, and then relax." (I think, I can’t remember the exact words) put a snow scene on too, inspired by his recent trip to Norway, then tucked it around the inside of the jar.

snow

I hope he likes it.

He's so NICE. I think he recognised me as I walked up to the table, because he smiled and then said "Hellooo..." in that way he does, signed my book, and then when I plucked up the courage (now or never woman) to ask if I could have a hug, said "Oh I think so", got to his feet and hung on briefly.

Mission achieved! He thanked me for managing to make it to the signing. He thanked me...bless him.

I have altered my Instagram profile from ‘aims to hug Nigel Slater’ to ‘Finally hugged Nigel Slater.’

Leadenhall in the sun. It really did look gorgeous in there.

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I wandered around, coat off as it was so warm, bought lovely discounted things from the fabulous butcher, then found a café so I could sit and smile to myself.

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I even got ripped off by a Big Issue ‘seller’ because I wasn’t concentrating, but you know? Good luck to the man. A fiver to him might actually be worth something, and if not, then it’s only a fiver, and I  laughed out loud at the sheer cheek of the man as he walked off with the magazine I’d just paid double for…

He may not read this, and may not say even if he does, but for Nigel, thank you. Thank you for being a constant, and kind presence across the years, making time for a fangirl such as I.

This morning you made me feel utterly special.

To you and yours, sir.