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Category Archives: Vegetarian

Tomato, Caramelized Onion and Goat’s Cheese Tart

While we are making slow cooked casseroles and warming winter pies here in Sydney in winter, others in the northern hemisphere are enjoying cooking in summer.

This is a recipe that suits any climate, a tasty tart that would be great for an alfresco summer lunch or a warming supper dish with crusty bread and a salad.

Store-bought puff pastry tart base, some caramelized onion for the base, then topped with goats’ cheese, cherry tomatoes and a scattering of fresh herbs. I made mine in a rectangular flan tin, but a round one would do as well. You might have to adjust the quantities.

Ingredients

320g store-bought puff pastry (I used 2 sheets from a pack of Pampas puff pastry). Use more or less, if needed, to fit your tin.

1 red onion, chopped

1 teaspoon butter

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Goats’ cheese – or similar crumbly soft cheese. You will crumble this into the tart, so quantities are flexible, about 100gm should be enough

15-20 cherry tomatoes, or more if you want to pack them in, on the vine

Fresh thyme leaves for scattering

Sea salt and ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Butter a  flan tin and fit with the puff pastry sheets which you have cut to shape.

Fry the red onion in the butter in a small frying pan over a low to medium heat, until the onion begins to soften. Add the brown sugar to caramelize the onion and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Lay the caramelized onion onto the pastry base. Crumble the goats’ cheese into the tart. Cut some of the cherry tomatoes in half and place on top of the goats’ cheese, place a few whole ones on, too for effect.  Scatter a few fresh thyme leaves over the tomatoes with sea salt and black pepper.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the puff pastry is nicely browned, the cheese melted and the tomatoes softened. Nice served with a green salad.

Vanilla and White Chocolate Fun Cake

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Here’s one from the vault – a simple vanilla and white chocolate cake pimped with some hundreds and thousands or sprinkles.

Usually these are just used as decoration on the icing on top of the cake, but I folded a few through the cake batter too – for a bit more fun!

This is a beautiful moist butter cake with a rich vanilla and white chocolate flavour. It is a colourful cake with hundreds and thousands baked into the mixture and sprinkled on top.

Lots of butter cream icing flavoured with vanilla paste makes it really yummy!

Butter Cake

Ingredients

250 gms butter softened

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups caster sugar

3 eggs

2 1/4 cups self-raising flour

3/4 cup milk

100 gms white chocolate, melted

A handful to taste of hundreds and thousands

Method

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C or 160 degrees C fan-forced. Grease and line a 22 cm round cake tin.

Beat butter, extract and sugar in a food processor until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in flour and milk in 2 batches.  Stir in melted white chocolate. Gently mix in hundreds and thousands.

Spread mixture into the tin. Bake about 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of  cake comes out clean. Stand in cake tin until cake is cool. Turn out onto wire rack.

Butter Icing

3 tbls softened butter

Enough icing sugar to make a butter cream

1 tbs milk

1 tsp vanilla paste

2 tsps hundreds and thousands

Method

Cream butter with icing sugar, adding more icing sugar and the milk to make a smooth paste. Add vanilla paste.

The main thing is to add as much icing sugar sugar as is necessary to reach the required icing consistency that will be thick enough to stay on the cake but not too stiff.

Ice the cake, top and sides, and scatter hundreds and thousands on top of the cake.

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Poached Quince Tart



May 2020. Two months into isolation in the era of Covid 19. Things are looking a little brighter – Australia has some great statistics in dealing with the virus, and some restrictions are being lifted. I was very excited to be able to visit the wonderful Orange Grove Market the Saturday before last, the market opened again for fresh food. I’ll be there this Saturday, eager to pick up some lovely local  produce.

Autumn in Sydney means the start of the quince season, and I bought some beautiful quince the other day. With no particular recipe in mind, I just needed their heady perfume in the kitchen.
Of course I had to cook with them – I poached them to a deep, deep red ruby colour, in a sugar syrup and vanilla. I put half the poached quince into a short crust pastry tart, and I’ll be making a fabulous quince crumble/betty recipe with the rest this weekend.
Here’s the tart recipe. There’s no other filling apart from the quince – you could fill it first with a frangipane or creme patissiere, but I think pastry, quince and a good spoonful of cream or Greek yoghurt is sufficient.
Ingredients

Poached quince
2 quince

300g caster sugar

500ml water

Thinly peeled rind and juice of an orange

1 vanilla bean, split in half

1 tablespoon butter

Short Crust Pastry
250g plain flour

50g icing sugar

125g unsalted butter (cold)

Zest of half a lemon

1 free-range egg

Splash of milk

Method

Preheat oven to 120 degrees C. You will need a large casserole that you can put on the stove top and then transfer to the oven. A cast iron casserole is ideal.
Peel and core the quinces, reserving the peel and cores. Cut each quince into eighths, but don’t worry if you can’t cut neat slices – quinces are notoriously hard to manage!
Put the sugar, water, orange rind and vanilla bean into a large casserole on the stove top over a medium heat, and stir to dissolve sugar. Add the quince pieces. Cover the quinces with a cartouche, a circle of baking paper. Lay the peel and cores on top of the baking paper. Place the lid on the casserole and put in the pre-heated oven.
Bake until the quince is ruby red. This should take about 4-6 hours. You should check the quince after 3 hours to see if it is turning red. Remove the quince and strain and reserve the quince liquid. You can discard the peel and cores. Keep the vanilla bean, dry it and pop it in a jar of sugar to create vanilla flavoured sugar.

To make the pastry, sift the flour and icing sugar together, and put into the bowl of a food processor.   Add the cubed butter. Carefully pulse the flour, sugar and butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Pulse in the lemon zest.
Mix the egg and a splash of milk, and add this to the mixture, and pulse a few times until the dough comes together into a ball. If you’re having trouble, you can add some iced water, literally a drop or two at a time, to help form the dough into a ball. Be careful not to overwork the dough, as it will end up being tough.
Place a large piece of baking paper or cling film on your work surface. Tip the dough from the food processor onto the baking paper/cling film, and pat into a round. Cover the round with more paper/cling film and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C, or 170 degrees C fan forced. Remove the pastry from the fridge. Grease an 18cm (7inch) tart tin. A 20cm tin would work too, you would simply roll the pastry a little thinner.
The easiest way to roll out the pastry is between 2 sheets of baking paper. Put the pastry onto one sheet, cover with the other sheet, and using a rolling pin, roll into a round big enough to fit into your tart tin. Ease the rolled pastry into the tin.  Put the tin into the freezer for at least 30 minutes, to make sure the pastry is really cold.
Remove the tin from the freezer. Line the tin with baking paper, and fill with pie weights. Dried beans or rice will work just as well. Bake for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the paper and weights. Return the pastry to the oven and bake for further 5-10 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.

To assemble the tart, carefully take the tart shell from the tin and place on a plate. Choose the nicest pieces of quince and arrange in the tart shell.
Put about 50mls of the reserved quince liquid into a saucepan with the tablespoon of butter, and cook until the butter is incorporated.
Spoon a little of this quince buttery liquid over the tart, which will give it a nice glaze. I scattered a few sprigs of my favourite herb, lemon thyme, over the tart. Serve with spoonfuls of the aforementioned cream or Greek yoghurt!

Giant Yorkshire Pudding with Smoked Salmon – Jamie Oliver

This is a recipe from Jamie Oliver that everyone loves to cook. I first posted it in 2014! The recipe is from Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals. I think it’s a perfect meal to cook up in isolationist times, as it requires very few ingredients. Also, while the Yorkshire pud is draped with lovely smoked salmon, you could just as easily serve it with ham, left over roast beef or lamb, even hunks of nice cheese. In other words, the pudding is a great base for whatever protein you fancy, plus salad veg!

Jamie’s original Yorkshire pudding is served with smoked salmon, char-grilled asparagus and baby beetroot, with a yoghurt sauce. When I made it, I added some char-grilled green beans.

Jamie cooks the Yorkshire pudding in an oven proof frying pan. I cooked mine in a cake tin, which actually worked really well. A casserole dish would be fine, too.

Ingredients

Yorkshire pudding
Olive oil
2 large eggs
150ml low fat milk
65g plain flour

180g smoked salmon
1 bunch of asparagus
A handful of green beans
Juice of ½ lemon
6 baby beetroot

Sauce
3 heaped tbsp fat-free natural yoghurt
1 heaped tsp horseradish or French mustard

Method

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sized cake tin and place in the oven and heat till the oil is really hot.

Put the eggs into a blender or food processor, add the milk and flour, then blitz until smooth.

Carefully pour the batter into the hot cake tin and cook in the oven until golden (about 12 minutes). Don’t be tempted to open the oven door!

Trim the asparagus and beans and put dry on a hot char grill plate or barbecue, turning until nicely charred on all sides.

Drain and slice the beetroot, then place over some salad greens on a board or plate. Mix the yoghurt and horseradish or mustard in a bowl, then season to taste with salt.

Squeeze lemon juice over the asparagus and beans, add salt and pepper, and pile on the board or plate.

When the Yorkshire pudding is really high and puffed up, remove from the oven, slide it on to the board or plate and place the smoked salmon on top of the pudding. Delicious and different!

Cherry and Apricot Upside Down Cakes


Today I’m posting easy and delicious recipes for upside down cakes.  And they can be made with store cupboard ingredients!

I thought it would be good to give bakers, and particularly novice bakers, a simple recipe for a cake that uses basic ingredients, can be whipped up in a flash, with or without specialist equipment.

And don’t be put off by all the instructions – both cakes really are super easy!

I made two, a cherry almond upside down cake, and an apricot upside down cake. I made the cherry one first, then realised that not everyone has bottled cherries and ground almonds lying around in the pantry. But I figured that everyone has tinned or canned fruit like apricots – peaches or plums or pineapple are just as good – and ordinary flour, in the cupboard.

I make this cake in various forms all the time. The flour version is a basic cake mix that is good for cupcakes and bigger, iced or layered cakes. The almond version makes a frangipane cake, very moist and a perfect receptacle for fruit.

And putting the fruit on the bottom is genius – making a lovely, sticky, fruity topping.

I make the cakes in the food processor. It’s really simple and fast.  You could use a stand mixer, or hand held electric beaters. Or beat the old fashioned way with a spoon. So anyone can make these cakes, regardless of what kitchen equipment you have!

You will need an 18cm (7inch) cake tin. Bigger is fine, the cake will just be a little flatter.

Cherry Upside Down Cake

Ingredients
400g pitted cherries from a jar or tin/can*
150g butter
150g sugar
3 free range eggs
I teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
1 teaspoon almond essence
125g ground almonds
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

*A jar is about 670g, a tin/can is about 415g

Method
Preheat oven to 160 degrees C fan forced. Butter a 18cm/7 inch cake tin thoroughly, and place a circle of baking paper on the base of the tin.

Combine butter and sugar using a food processor/ electric mixer/spoon, with vanilla extract or paste and almond essence. Add eggs one at a time and mix well well. Don’t worry if the mixture looks a bit lumpy or curdled, it will come together once the almonds and flour are added.

Fold in the ground almonds, plain flour, baking powder and salt.

Drain the cherries from their juices, reserving the syrup. Place the cherries onto the baking paper in the tin. You can be artful and make a pattern, or just place them any old how.

Carefully spoon the mixture on top of the cherries into the tin. Smooth out the dollops, but don’t worry too much, the mixture will even out in the oven.

Bake for 45 minutes  – 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake. This cakes takes a while to cook. Start checking at 45 minutes and take out of the oven once cooked. Cool in the tin 10 – 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the reserved syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 3 or 4 minutes or until the liquid has reduced and is thick and syrupy.

Carefully turn the cake out onto a plate, and peel off the baking paper. The cake will now have a lovely cherry top! Spoon some of the reduced syrup over the cake, as much or little as you wish. Personally, I like it with lots of syrup and really gooey!

Apricot Upside Down Cake 

The recipe is pretty much the same, but I have written it again just to highlight the different ingredients and slightly different method.

Ingredients
400g apricot halves from a tin/can *
150g butter
150g sugar
3 free range eggs
I teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
150g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

*Peach slices, plum halves or pineapple rings will work well too, all from a tin/can

Method
Preheat oven to 160 degrees C fan forced. Butter a 18cm/7 inch cake tin thoroughly, and place a circle of baking paper on the base of the tin.

Combine butter and sugar using a food processor/ electric mixer/spoon, with vanilla extract or paste. Add eggs one at a time and mix well well. Don’t worry if the mixture looks a bit lumpy or curdled, it will come together once the flour is added.

Fold in the plain flour, baking powder and salt. Using only flour can mean a drier mixture, if the mixture is too stiff, loosen it with a tablespoon of milk.

Drain the apricots from their juices, reserving any syrup. Place the apricots onto the baking paper in the tin. You can be artful and make a pattern, or just place them any old how.

Carefully spoon the mixture on top of the apricots into the tin. Smooth out the dollops, but don’t worry too much, the mixture will even out in the oven.

Bake for 45 minutes  – 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted in the cake. This cakes takes a while to cook. Start checking at 45 minutes and take out of the oven once cooked. Cool in the tin 10 – 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the reserved syrup in a small saucepan. If there is not enough syrup, add a tablespoon of apricot jam if you’ve got it, or honey or maple syrup. You really just want a sweet glaze to go over the cake! Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 3 or 4 minutes or until the liquid has reduced.

Carefully turn the cake out onto a plate, and peel off the baking paper. The cake will now have a lovely apricot top! Spoon some of the reduced syrup over the cake, as much or little as you wish, to give a delicious sticky glaze.

 

 

 

Anzac Biscuits 2020

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Anzac Day is tomorrow – 25 April 2020. The day is always marked, though tomorrow will be quite different, with marches and services not happening in Covid 19  times. Traditionally Anzac biscuits are baked and eaten around this date.

While the biscuits were made during World War One by women’s organisations in Australia, my reading has come up with a recipe for the biscuits that predate WW1. There is a fascinating article from The Cook and the Curator, at Sydney Living Museums, which describes a recipe from the early 1900s. The link to the article is here. One thing is definite, coconut is a later addition. Which suits me fine, as I am tired of the presence of coconut shreds and shards in biscuits, cakes and muesli!

“It is universally agreed that an Anzac biscuit is oat based, contains no eggs, and is made with melted butter rather than butter creamed with sugar.”

The first-known published recipe in Australia appeared as “Anzac Biscuits or Crispies” in the Melbourne Argus in 1920. New Zealand lays an earlier claim for an “Anzac Crispie” in the St Andrew’s Cookery Book, in 1919. The titles of both recipes seem to answer the big question – should an Anzac biscuit be crispy or chewy? Crispy obviously.

I’ve made a few Anzac biscuits over the years, and I rather like this recipe. It’s from “Better Homes and Gardens” May 2015, and purports to be similar to the original recipe, the ingredients being rolled oats, sugar, plain flour, butter, golden syrup or treacle, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water.
Golden syrup makes lighter coloured biscuits, while treacle makes the biscuits darker. Both are yummy!

Ingredients

125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp golden syrup or treacle*
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp boiling water
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
¾ cup caster sugar

*Golden syrup is more traditional in Anzac biscuits, but treacle also works well, giving the biscuits a nuttier flavour and darker colour.

Method

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C. Line 4 oven trays with baking paper. Combine butter and golden syrup or treacle in a small saucepan and cook over a low heat until butter is melted. Add bicarb and water and whisk to combine. Remove from heat.

Combine rolled oats, flour and sugar in a large bowl, add butter mixture and beat until combined. Form into small balls and put on prepared trays, allowing space for spreading. Flatten slightly with a fork.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until biscuits are golden. Cool the biscuits on the trays then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Good Friday Fish Pie


It’s Easter week 2020 and Good Friday approaches, traditionally a day to eat fish.

Last year I made a lovely fish pie, and really easy! Here’s the recipe again, great to make this Friday but also nice to make in the cooler weather for us Southern Hemisphere residents.

It’s a dish to lift your spirits at Easter in our time of trial.

I’ve been experimenting with fish pies recently, with the memory of a great fish pie cooked for me by an Englishman who clearly knows his pies and his fish. Thank you Ken, for your inspiration!

My version is quite simple – smoked fish fillets and poached fresh fish, with some braised leeks, in a white sauce. Topped off with creamy mashed potato and a liberal scattering of grated cheddar. Great on the day, and even tastier reheated the next day, too, when the flavours have developed.

These quantities make a very substantial pie for two, or would serve four with smaller portions too. Double the quantities for a really big pie.

Ingredients

4 large potatoes, good for mashing

3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter

300 mls full fat milk

1/2 tablespoon olive oil

2 leeks

100g white fish

150g smoked mackerel

150g hot smoked salmon

1 tablespoon plain flour

75g cheddar cheese, grated

Method

Wash the potatoes thoroughly and place whole into a large saucepan. Cover completely with water. Bring to the boil and cook on a medium heat until the potatoes are cooked through. Be careful not to overcook – you don’t want the potatoes breaking up. Remove from the heat and strain in a colander.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel quickly and place the still warm potatoes in a bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons butter and 50 mls of milk. Season with salt to taste. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes really well with the butter and milk, making sure there are no lumps.You can of course adjust the butter and milk amounts to personal taste and because potatoes do vary, requiring more or less butter/milk to get the right consistency.

Cover the mashed potato bowl with aluminium foil to keep warm.

Wash the leeks well and slice into ½ cm rounds. Heat 1 teaspoon butter with the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the leeks and cook over a low heat until the leeks are soft, about 15-20 minutes. Just make sure temperature is low and the leeks don’t brown. Once cooked, remove from the heat.

Heat the remaining 250 mls milk in a wide saucepan until just at a simmer. Place the white fish fillet into the milk, and continue to simmer and let the fish cook for 5 to 8 minutes. Check if the fish fillet is cooked by putting a skewer into the thickest part of the fish. If the skewer goes in easily and is also easy to remove, it should be cooked.

Remove the fillet carefully with a slotted spoon. Roughly break into chunks. Strain the poaching milk into a bowl or jug.

There’s no need to cook the mackerel and salmon, just break into chunks.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

To make the white sauce, melt 1 tablespoon butter, over a low heat, in the saucepan in which you poached the fish. Add the plain flour, and mix together to a smooth paste, making sure to use a wooden spoon. Cook for a couple of minutes. Add the poaching milk, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, combining the paste with the milk. Turn the heat to medium, bring to the boil, then reduce to low and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened, stirring regularly. Season generously with salt and cracked pepper.

To assemble the pie, place the leek slices and fish chunks in a baking dish. Gently stir through the white sauce. Top with the mashed potato, roughing up the potato with a fork for a little artistry. Scatter the grated cheddar over the pie.

Cook the fish pie in the preheated oven for a 20-30 minutes or until the potato is brown and the mixture underneath is bubbling.

Serve with a green salad or green veggies like peas, beans or zucchini. When I made it last year I served it with some roasted young garlic. Actually any veggies would do!

Isolation Sourdough


Strange times, strange world. It’s 1 April  2020 and definitely not April Fools’ Day. Life is too serious for jokes. But one good thing is happening, people all over the world are enjoying cooking at home, and “from scratch”.

There is a renewed interest in baking your own bread. That’s great! Bread making is a wonderful skill, so satisfying and therapeutic. You can practise mindfulness when kneading a loaf!

But yeast is in short supply (unavailable for me currently), as would be bakers raid the stores to get supplies for making bread.

The good news is you can make brilliant bread without commercial yeast, if you embrace sourdough, the ancient and enduring method of turning flour and water into a risen loaf.

So I thought I would put my sourdough recipes into one post, or at least the links to the posts. I have been refining sourdough making over the last few years, and I am now confident, actually quite chuffed, with the bread I bake today.

I should mention that everything I’ve learnt about sourdough has been through the books of breadmaker James Morton: Brilliant Bread, Shetland:Cooking on the Edge of the World and his latest book Super Sourdough. The latter, in particular, is an excellent guide to sourdough bread making.

Another thing to mention is that to make sourdough bread you need a sourdough starter. But it’s not as daunting as it looks, and I give plenty of instructions in the posts.

Here are 3 links to my sourdough journey. All are good recipes and procedures to make sourdough. I think Sourdough, Ultimate Bread  is the best. It’s the most recent, and has some good tips and tricks, particularly in proving and shaping bread.

Here are the links. If you’re in home isolation and want to make bread, give sourdough a go. You won’t regret it!

1. Sourdough, Ultimate Bread: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2019/12/05/for-the-love-of-sourdough/

2. Shetlandic Sourdough: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2019/08/10/shetlandic-sourdough/

3. Simple Sourdough: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2015/08/01/simple-sourdough/

Homemade Granola with Dried Grapes and Figs



Looking back over my blog there are several posts for granola. I love eating homemade granola – you know exactly what’s in it. Important if you don’t want added sugar. The recipe, or rather procedure, is super easy and quick. I make it every few weeks. The granola keeps well too, in a jar with a good seal like a clip top jar.

So here’s the granola recipe once more. And it’s another food staple that you can rustle up if you’re staying at home in isolation.

I usually add a variety of dried fruit like sultanas and raisins and apricots. This time I added my own version of raisins, black grapes that I dried in the oven. I had some grapes that were past their best, and reluctant to throw them out, I stuck them in the oven on a baking sheet at a very low temperature. Of course ordinary raisins are just fine! I did something similar with figs too. A quick how-to for the dried grapes and figs at the end of the recipe. I also threw in some some glacé orange slices left over from Christmas. This time I didn’t add seeds, however I have included them in the ingredients.

The proportions in the granola are really up to you. The quantities here are a guide only, feel free to add more or less of something to taste. And add different cereals, fruits, nuts or seeds to taste too!

Ingredients

2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of any cereal you have in the cupboard eg weetbix, corn or bran flakes
1/2 cup of salted nuts like macadamias, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts
A handful of mixed seeds like pepita, linseed, sesame
1/3 cup of honey, warmed with 1 tablespoon of water to pouring consistency in a microwave
1/2 cup of any dried fruit – dried grapes, figs, sultanas, raisins, apricots, cranberries, or even glacé fruit

Method 

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C. You could try 160 degrees C for a quicker toasting but be careful you don’t burn the mix. Line a large baking tin with baking paper. You need to be able to spread the mix out so that all the mix is exposed to the heat.

Mix the oats, cereal, seeds and nuts together in a large bowl. Loosen the honey before microwaving with the water to make it more runny and easier to mix. Pour the warmed honey onto the mix and quickly stir it through. The mixture will be quite sticky, so stir fairly aggressively.

Spoon the mixture onto the baking paper in the tin, spreading it out so that it covers the base of the tin and there aren’t any big lumps.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the mixture is golden brown and thoroughly toasted. You will need to turn the mixture over half way through cooking, so that the underneath mixture gets its time on top and gets toasted. The oven time is a bit of guess work – just keep checking and remove when the mix is golden and not burnt!

Let cool for 5 minutes then add the fruit, combining everything well. Don’t worry if there are some clumpy bits stuck together with honey – they are a bonus!

Delicious with Greek yoghurt, milk or almond milk, or sprinkled over a big bowl of fresh fruit like stone fruit or berries.

Dried grapes are rather like muscatels in that they are more juicy than raisins. I guessed that drying grapes in the oven would work – and it did!

Take any black grapes you have that are just past their best. Pull individual grapes off their stalks or you can leave a few on stalks if you want. Lay the grapes on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Put the baking sheet into the cold oven, then turn oven to 100 degrees C. Bake until the grapes have not completely dried out, but are looking more like raisins. This process should take about 4 hours, but you can decide just how dehydrated you like your grapes.

Store in an airtight jar. You can use them in granola, or as part of a snack mix, or lovely with cheese.

Dried figs are easy to do too. Again, I use figs that are past their best. Cut them in half and place the halves on the baking sheet. Drizzle just a little bit of honey over each half. Bake in the same way as the grapes.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage and Walnuts: Isolationist Cooking

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It’s Sunday 22 March, the fourth Sunday in Lent, traditionally a time when children spend time with their mothers. This seems very apt, as many families now have to spend a lot of time together, as we go through these isolationist times.

So here’s another recipe in the series “Isolationist Cooking in the Covid 19 Era”. Last week I made pumpkin gnocchi – they were so easy – and quick to make, perfect for cooking as a family, and great to do with the kids! You can knock them up in under an hour, from preparing the pumpkin through to actually making the gnocchi dish.

Uncooked, they keep for a day or so in the fridge and freeze really well.

All the ingredients are fridge or pantry staples, except the pumpkin, and once you’ve bought some, it keeps very well in the crisper of the fridge for a couple of weeks. The aim of isolationist cooking is cooking from what’s at home, rather then running to the shops and markets for a whole list of ingredients.

Anyway, give gnocchi making a go. And once they’re made, they pair well with lots of sauces – tomato based, cream based or the one I made, brown butter sage and walnut.

Ingredients

Gnocchi

125g mashed pumpkin (about 300g uncooked)
100g ricotta
185g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
30g parmesan or pecorino cheese, finely grated
1 free-range egg
Salt
Black pepper

Brown Butter Sage and Walnuts

2 tablespoons butter
A handful of sage leaves – at least 10, more if you like sage!
A half handful of walnuts, at least 10, some pieces left whole, some roughly chopped

More parmesan or pecorino, for scattering over the gnocchi

Method

Chop the pumpkin into manageable pieces, skin on, and place in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Remove from the microwave, allow to cool until easy to handle, then peel. Mash with a fork until smooth.

The pumpkin has quite a lot of water, so you will need to drain it. Put the pumpkin into a strainer or colander lined with absorbent kitchen towels. After 5 minutes remove the pumpkin in the paper towels and squeeze out any excess water.

Put the pumpkin and all the rest of the gnocchi ingredients in a bowl. Mix well with a spoon to a firm paste.

Dust a large wooden board or the bench top with flour. Put the pumpkin dough on the board or bench top and gently pat the dough into a roll shape, using a little more flour if necessary. Be careful not to add too much flour – this will toughen the gnocchi.

Cut the roll into 6 pieces, and then shape each piece into smaller rolls. Cut each roll into slices using a sharp knife. Press down on the one of the cut sides of the gnocchi with the flat side of a fork.



At this point, you can freeze if desired, or store in the fridge. I recommend putting the gnocchi you want to eat in the fridge for 20 minutes just to firm up a bit, to make sure they stay intact in the pot when you cook them.

Put a large saucepan of water onto the stove top and bring to the boil. Carefully drop the gnocchi into the water once it’s boiled, one at a time, working quickly. Cook for 1 minute or so, or until the gnocchi rise to the surface. Have a strainer or colander handy, and put the gnocchi into the strainer or colander once cooked. (Have the straining utensil over the saucepan so you are not dripping water everywhere!)

Leave the gnocchi  in the straining utensil, while you make the sauce. Melt 1.5 tablespoons of the butter in a large frying pan until it is foaming. Add the gnocchi and fry until they are turning brown. Add the rest of the butter, throw in the walnuts and sage leaves and cook until the leaves are just crispy. The butter will have turned brown by now, but make sure not to burn it.

Serve the gnocchi, sage leaves (saving a few for decoration) and walnuts, in a big bowl, making sure to pour the lovely buttery sauce over the gnocchi. Scatter some finely grated parmesan or pecorino over the gnocchi and scatter the reserved sage leaves over the dish at the end. A sprig of fresh sage is nice too!

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