Thursday, 31 January 2013

Creamy Cumquat Delight

Panna Cotta con i Cumquat
Cumquat Panna Cotta

I had the last handful of cumquats... and a hankering for something sweet- but not too sweet! You know me by now ;-) So I decided to improvise a little panna cotta, from a little cream, a little Stevia, a little vanilla and a little magic!

Actually, there was no magic involved as panna cotta is as easy as can be to make! There are a million and one recipes and variations too- using leaf gelatin, powdered, or even agar-agar as a gelling agent. But basically, they all simply require a little warming, a little flavoring and a little chilling :- So just chill-out with me whilst I tell you how I made my little delightful desserts this evening...

I began by dissolving 1 teaspoon of powdered gelatin into a half cup of warm milk, stirring it until it was completely smooth... nothing could be worse than having lumps in a silky smooth dessert like this. I then chopped 2 cumquats into a fine dice, popped them into a small frying pan, poured enough boiling water over them to cover them and let them sit for 2-3 minutes. I turned up the heat until the water evaporated away without stirring, then deglazed the pan with a splash of Cointreau. I took them off the heat, added a squeeze of honey- just a little, stirred once and let them cool.

Next, I warmed up one small carton of cream- a quarter of a liter, in a small saucepan, flavored it with a little vanilla and sweetened it with a teaspoon of Stevia- you can use sugar if you want, but I would recommend confectioners sugar as you want it to dissolve completely and smoothly- and you must not let the cream boil!

Once the cream was hot,  I stirred it little by little into the milk and gelatin mix, then added the flavored cumquats and stirred them in too. I returned the saucepan briefly to the heat and gave it about a minute more time, in order for the flavors to mingle and develop. I then filled the creamy cumquat mixture into 2 little glasses and let them cool for 20-30 minutes on the counter top and then for another couple of hours in the fridge.

And what more can I say? It doesn't get much easier! Simple? Sure? Delicious? Absolutely! Mild and creamy but tangy and full of orange flavor! It's worth a little sinning every now and again- especially when the sins are as teeny-tiny as these were- sigh! Next time I will make more for sure!

Vermillion Dollar Dinner!

Cavolo Rosso in Agrodolce con Cuscus & Cumquat
Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage & Couscous with Cumquats

The color is indeed rather vermillion... but I am not sure that the meal cost much more than one dollar to make- I kid you not! This is another meatless, no-fuss, quick, easy and tasty dish that you can rustle up in just 15 minutes. The ingredients were just a quarter of a small red cabbage, 2-3 cumquats, a Spring onion, a little parsley and a cupful or so of couscous... oh and some spices... so okay, let me say a couple of dollars because there was some lemon juice, a slice or two of ginger and a little honey in there too. But you get the idea! Nothing fancy or expensive... just simple and yummy food!

I think food should always have a contrast of sweet and sour, mild and spicy, soft and crunchy... that's what makes a good meal in my book. It needn't be expensive- it just needs to have a bit of imagination and a lot of flavor! And if it can be light and healthy, like this meal- then all the better!

I started off by copping up the red cabbage finely and boiling it, in just enough water to cover it, in my frying pan. That sounds strange, right? Well... it wasn't really. I often do that when cooking small quantities of food as it gives me a larger surface area for cooking and saves time. The important thing here was to add the juice of a lemon, right at the beginning, as this insured that the cabbage retained its red color and did not turn blue- which is what happens if the cabbage remains alkali... it's a chemical thing. Don't ask me why! Red cabbage is just made that way!

So- I let the cabbage bubble away for 5 minutes or so, until the water was evaporated and the cabbage had begun to soften considerably. I then added some grated ginger, cinnamon, nuztmeg, salt, pepper, finely chopped parsley and the chopped cumquats. I added enough boiling water again to cover everything and stirred all of the ingredients together well. After 2-3 minutes, I added the finely chopped Spring onion and the couscous. Again- I stirred everything together well until the couscous had absorbed all of the liquids... and of course all of the flavors. 

I topped up the water again for one last time, gave it one last stir and then let it sit and soak up the juices and flavors and become nice and fluffy... and oh what a color it was!

I added the honey at the end of the cooking time, whilst the couscous was fluffy but still piping hot, and served it up with a drizzle of sesame oil, agarnish of a little more finely chopped parsley and a few paper-thin slices of a medium hot fresh chili pepper... yum, yum! With the sour lemon tang as well as the bitter-sweet cumquat flavor, the sweet honey and the ginger and spice... it was a real treat in every way- least of all visually! Served either hot like this, or cold as a salad, this is an easy dish that I hope you enjoy... because I for one did so intensely!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Technicolor Squeak-Show!

"Bubble & Squeak" di Patate Dolce e Cavoli Ricci
Sweet Potato & Kale Bubble & Squeak

I know that "bubble & squeak" is traditionally a breakfast dish, usually made of left-overs from a traditional English Sunday lunch- well, from the potatoes and greens that is... what a wonderful combination they make with bacon and eggs the morning after! But obviously I had no left-over veggies this evening and obviously I had a craving for some bubbling and squeaking! So I came up with a little variation on the theme- and took my old favorite up to another level!

Whilst the regular bubble and squeak is one of those guilty pleasures- it does end up looking a little monochrome in comparison to this. I rustled this freshly-made version up in just 20 minutes or so and it made for a yummy, hearty, comforting and filling evening treat! So put on your sunglasses, keep on reading and I will tell you how I did it!

I started off by cutting off about 3" of a large sweet potato, peeling it and chopping it into a large dice. I put this into my steam rack, which I set inside my saucepan containing the kale, so that the sweet potato would steam and be half-cooked by the time the kale was ready... that's what I call multi-tasking! 10 minutes is plenty of time- and after that the fun begins!

Start frying some finely chopped bacon in a non-stick pan and add the sweet potato as soon as it begins to sizzle. Keep the heat up high and and carefully fry from all sides until it becomes nice and brown. Add cumin seed, salt, pepper and nutmeg and make sure everything gets nicely coated. Now add the kale leaves and let them heat through nicely. Whilst that is happening, beat together 2 eggs- but not too thoroughly- I think it is nice for the whites and yolks to set separately.

Add the egg mix here and there around the pan in small batches, not all at once, stirring them in with everything else as soon as they have set- again, this is a personal preference of mine as I think it is much nicer to taste each separate ingredient rather than having a big mess. Season again with a little more salt, pepper and nutmeg and add a little splash of Worcestershire sauce... and you are ready to go!

One last thing- the last guilty pleasure, when enjoying this rather primitive culinary delight is a splash of either tomato ketchup or a steak sauce ;-) True gourmet's will know what I am talking about! And you will too if you try it!

Raw Deal Meal

Insalata di Cavoli Ricci, Cavoletto Rosso, Carota e Feta
Kale, Red Cabbage & Carrot Salad with Feta Cheese

Okay- this is more of an appetizer or a snack than a meal... but the title wouldn't have rhymed if I had called it that! But the fact is, that greens- even the red ones ( ;-) ), taste totally delicious raw and make for a yummy alternative to the usual salad greens... as well as being so crunchy and pretty too!

I made 2 dishes from the last little bit of kale I had this evening- this is one of them. Just 2 leaves each of kale and red cabbage made a wonderful little salad- half a carrot and a the last handful of Feta cheese made it complete... I love that! Waste not: want not as they say! But the trouble is... you will try this and then want some more!

The good news is of course- no cooking! You will be ready to go in just 5 minutes- and you have got to love that! Wash and dry the kale and red cabbage, cut away the tough stalk from the middle of the leaves, lay them on top of each other and cut them into the thinnest strips that you can manage. Place them into a bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Now crunch up the salad with your hands- it will soon lose it's tough structure and become shiny and much more tender.

Peel half a carrot, cut it in half, then into slices, revolve once and then cut those slices into little sticks. Failing this- you could always just grate it coarsely! Add the carrot to the salad, along with the crumbles Feta cheese. Toss together and serve with a little extra olive oil, lemon juice and a nice drizzle of honey- and enjoy! Some things really are so easy!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Indian Begin Again

Strisce di Manzo, Peperone, Piselli e Sugo al Cheet Masala & Tandoori allo Yogurt
Beef, Peppers & Peas in Chaat Masala, Tandoori & Yogurt Sauce

After recently discovering the wonderful "Chaat Masala" and also the secret to making wonderful, rich, spicy and delicious yogurt sauces that do not curdle (!), I just had to try something out once more- it is just so fantastic! The simple addition of gram (chick pea) flour to the yogurt, makes it both stop curdling and also gives it a lovely sheen... oh, as well of course as thickening the sauce at the same time! There is nothing better suited to an Indian sauce! And it's so easy too!

I whipped this meal up out of nowhere- with a left-over slice of beef scallop that did not get turned into involtini the other night- there is only so much you can eat when you live on your own- even if you cook as much as I do! So I cut it into bite-sized chunks, added a red, yellow and orange mini bell pepper, a handful of peas and just a few more bits and pieces- spiced it up... and hey presto! An exotic and delicious meal in just 20 minutes... again!

The blend of coriander, cumin, black pepper, red chilli, salt, dry mango, celery, cassia & cloves is a wonderful, accessible mix which is apparently wildly popular in Indian street-food- and it is pretty clear why- it tastes absolutely wonderful! Spicy but mild and with a slight fruity tang from the dried mango powder, this is a much more interesting flavor than the average "curry" powder. The masala, or ground version, is also much more user-friendly, as you do not need to dry-roast and grind the individual spices before cooking. Which yes, we all know you are supposed to do- but let's be honest... who does? If you are not Indian, chances are you do not have all of the spices required, nor do you know exactly how to use them... so let's get real and let's have fun!

I started off by stir-frying the peppers, which I halved so that I could discard the seeds, in a little clarified butter until they began to brown gently. I then added the beef, making sure to lie the pieces in side by side and not to just drop them into the frying pan on top of each other... because I wanted them to brown and not to stew... that would come later. Once they had begun to brown, I added a little grated ginger and garlic, a handful of frozen peas and a tablespoon of the chaat masala. I stirred everything together well and then deglazed the frying pan with just a splash of water to bring up all of the good flavors that had developed... then prepared the yogurt to make my sauce!

In a small bowl, I dissolved a tablespoon of gram flour into a little water, stirring briskly to avoid and lumps. I then added a teaspoon of tandoori powder and 5-6 tablespoons of yogurt... and that was all I needed to do!

I sliced up a Spring onion and finely chopped a handful of parsley, which went into the frying pan next. After they had been in for a minute or so, I added the tandoori yogurt mix, seasoned everything with salt and pepper, added a tiny squeeze of lemon juice and stirred everything together well. I kept the heat low and let everything simmer away for another 10 minutes or so, adding a little water as the sauce needed it, as the gram flour does a wonderful job! But it also adds a lovely, rich, chick pea flavor which makes everything so much more wholesome and delicious. 

So there you have it- a fantastic dish, served with rice and sprinkled with a little chili- and perfect on a cold Frankfurt evening! Or at any other time, in any other place for that matter! So go ahead- enjoy!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Chipping Away

"Patatine" di Cavoli Ricci al Forno, con Aceto Balsamico, Sale, Pepe Rossi & Parmigiano
Baked Kale Chips with Salt, Balsamic Vinegar, Red Pepper & Parmesan

Kale chips, baked in the oven, healthy, maybe trendy, definitely yummy and nicely seasonal right now... and a very good idea to snack on this evening! These are great snacks for "grown-ups"- lightly bitter and earthy and full of deep flavor- what more do you need to accompany a nice cocktail, beer or wine?

Well for me- just a little variation on the theme- a little more complex taste than the usual salted variety. So I decided to do a salt 'n' vinegar version- with a dusting of parmesan and some cracked red pepper corns... yep! Prettier, tangier, tastier and just plain better! You know you want to try them... and I know that you know that I know you want to try them! And that's why I am going to tell you how...

These are ultra-easy to make! Turn on your oven to 350°F to get it nice and hot in advance, then wash and dry the kale. Tear it into bite-sized pieces and place it in a bowl. Add a light drizzle of olive oil, a good splash of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar and mix everything together well, using your hands to "scrunch" the leaves together a little. Add a dusting of parmesan cheese and toss the leaves so that the cheese distributes evenly over everything- don't overdo it, otherwise the cheese will melt and make the leaves go soggy. 

Spread out onto a baking tray or as I did, onto a sheet of parchment and bake for 10 minutes, then, as soon as the leaves are dry from one side, flip them over and continue baking for a further 5-10 minutes until they are bone-dry and crispy as can be... delicious! Allow to cool and marvel at how easy they have been to make, how wonderful they taste- and how cool you are to have made them! Happy crunching everybody!

Crispy Country Pasta

Spaghettini con la Cicoria, Pancetta & Molica
Spaghetti with Chicory, Bacon & Bread Crumbs

I love chicory- not the white, familiar endives, but the Italian variety, also called "cicoria", with its long stems, lush green leaves and mildly bitter-sweet flavor. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to white beans and spicy sausage, or alternatively to pasta and bacon as I made here... with some wonderfully crunchy toasted bread crumbs to give it that extra "wow!" which I am sure you are going to exclaim too as soon as you try it!

This is another super quick and easy to make recipe- cheap, healthy and full of great flavor... all of my favorite things all over again! To be upfront and honest about this cicoria, it was actually the outer leaves of the "puntarelle" that I prepared as a salad on Saturday... which is even more reason to go ahead and buy them should you be so lucky as to find them in your area, as they offer 2 great meals in one! The inner "pods" to be enjoyed raw as a salad and the outer leaves to be cooked as a green- yum yum! And now on with the show...

The first thing you need to do here is to get your chicory boiling in salted water- it will take about 10 minutes- which is great, because you can be preparing the crispy bread crumbs in the meantime. To make them, simply start a little finely diced bacon sizzling in a dry pan, then add bread crumbs, a little olive oil, salt, pepper and finely grated parmesan cheese, whilst stirring all the time. I think it is only fair to warn you at this point that you WILL taste it and could end up eating the lot before the pasta is ready... so prepare a little bit more than you think you will need :-)

Once the bread crumbs are toasted, set them to one side to cool off and remove the chicory from the saucepan and transfer it straight to the frying pan with a little olive oil and crushed garlic. Pop your spaghetti into the boiling chicory water and cook until al dente, then drain it and then pass that over to the frying pan too. Stir everything together well and then top with the crispy bread crumbs... oh wow! Add a little coarsely ground black pepper, a hint of nutmeg and pull up a chair... it's time for supper! I told you it was quick and easy... all you have to do now is enjoy!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Suppertime Sunrise

Involtini di Manzo con Olive & Origano & Topinambur allo Rosmarino
Beef Roulade with Olives & Oregano on Rosemary Sunchokes

It is Sunday evening in freezing cold Frankfurt, Germany... we have rain, sleet and snow and subzero temperatures... well, I suppose it is still January! And alas, the only sun I could manage to find this weekend were a handful of sun-chokes at the indoor market! Oh well- we have to make do with what we have, right?

So this evening I had sun chokes and very thinly sliced beef that I wanted to transform into supper. I love the taste of sun chokes- something like a cross between a potato, an artichoke and a water chestnut... and sadly a root vegetable that is much neglected- even by me! 

I started off by preparing the roulades and giving them a filling of Kalamata olives and plenty of fresh oregano. I spread these out onto the meat, seasoned with salt and pepper and then rolled the meat slices up nice and tightly. I seared the rolls at a high temperature, with just a little olive oil until they were brown on all sides, then deglazed the frying pan with a splash of Marsala and a little water. I added crushed garlic, salt, crushed black pepper corns, a bay leaf and reduced the heat to a slow simmer... then turned my attention to my side dish...

The main thing to remember about sun chokes is that the oxidize and turn black and unsightly very quickly! So I started off by peeling them and immediately dropping them into my saucepan, which I half-filled with water so that they were entirely submerged. On went the heat, in went some salt and that was the last I saw of them for the next 10 minutes! 

10 minutes later, the meat was nicely cooked and all of the juices had reduced down. I added a fresh splash of Marsala and water, just enough to keep the meat simmering and then drained the sun chokes and popped them into a second frying pan, with some olive oil and plucked rosemary, where I let them sizzle away for almost 10 minutes on a gentle heat until they became lovely and brown. I seasoned them with just a hint of nutmeg, salt, pepper and a clove of garlic to perfume the olive oil a little. I flipped them over and over, kept the oil to a minimum and let them toast in their own time... 

In the meantime, the meat had become nice and tender and the juices reduced down to be rich and full of flavor. I added a few cherry tomatoes, cut into slices, to add a little fresh and fruity flavor to the juices- and also because they are a super accompaniment to the olives and oregano inside the rolls. I let them simmer with the meat for 3-4 minutes and then turned off the heat everywhere and got ready to serve!

I set the roulades on top of the toasted sun chokes and then spooned the tangy tomatoes and juices over the top... delicious! This was the first time I had prepared the sun chokes in this way and I must say it is my favorite so far! Oh, but those involitni weren't bad either! Hope you try them out and hope you enjoy!

Fruit for Fantasy

Torta Sofficissima alla Frutta
Fluffy, Fruity Scoop Cake

Sunday morning, breakfast time and I have blueberries in the house- hurrah! What next?!?
Struggling to come up with anything a little more ingenious than blueberry pancakes (yum!), I finally decided to make a simple clafoutis- basically just a pancake mix, poured over fruit and baked in the oven. Well at least that was how this whole thing started...

I decided to add the kiwi and the cumquats for extra flavor- best make use of those fruits while you have them, right? You can add almost any fruit to a clafoutis and that iswhat is so cool about it. Also, if you intending to make a clafoutis, you could possibly stick to your regular pancake batter and not ad-lib it like I did today! This turned out like a clafoutis on steroids! But no complaints from my side! This was much, much better- believe me!

Basically, there are two simple details that makes this different to a clafoutis- 1.) that I added a little more flour to the batter and 2.) that I whipped the egg-whites separately before adding them. There was no baking powder or yeast added here and the result was so fluffy it was unbelievable! 

So, I made my batter by separating 2 eggs and whisking the whites to a fluffy snow with a pinch of salt and a half teaspoon of Stevia, but you can use sugar if you wish.I added 4 tablespoons of flour to the egg yolks, along with a splash of milk, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of Stevia, a little vanilla essence and a splash of Cointreau - obviously optional if you are preparing this for children! I whisked the egg yolk batter together until it was nice and smooth and then folded it gently into the fluffy egg white. And apart from peeling and slicing my kiwi and slicing the cumquats and discarding the pips- that was all there was too it! Almost too easy!

I poured half of the mixture into my baking dish and distributed half of the berries and cumquats equally over the whole surface, then spooned the rest on top. I then popped it into a pre-heated oven for 5 minutes at 350°F and waited for the outer surface to start to become a little firmer. Then I took it back out of the oven and added the kiwi slices and the remaining fruit on top- gently pressing them in. I did this because if I had added everything at the beginning, they would have sunk down and not looked so pretty... no other reason... but you eyes are invited to this feast too after all!

Back into the oven it went for a further 10 minutes... after which time it came back out again to  have a nice drizzle of honey added. This is important to protect the kiwi a little, so that it does not dry out too much, and also to give a nice, golden glaze to the whole thing. Back into the oven it went for a final 10 minutes and breakfast was ready! Yum! The consistency was similar to a soft, fluffy, lightly sweetened "eggy" bread- and the combination of these 3 fruits along with the cinnamon made this into a wonderful treat! One that you will love too!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

A Little Egg-citement

Piccoli Melanzane & Pomodori Ciliegini al Forno
Baked Mini Eggplants with Cherry Tomatoes

Yes, little is the operative word here! Little eggplants, little tomatoes... what's the big deal, you may ask yourselves? Well, the big deal of course is the flavor! But also, the mini eggplants are just so pretty- it has to be said! So this is a healthier take on the classic "melanzane alla parmigiana"- with no frying involved but with loads and loads of yummy flavor!

Rather than use a tomato sauce, I opted to use cherry tomatoes so that things didn't end up getting too "soupy" during baking... but before I could start baking, I decided to cut some corners and halve my wait, by pre-cooking the eggplants in my little steamer. To do this, I cut away the stems and then sliced the eggplants in half. I seasoned them with salt and allowed them to do their thing for 10-15 minutes, then gave them a quick rinse to remove any bitterness.

I steamed the eggplant for 10-15 minutes, which still left these little beauties with plenty of bite, whilst making sure that they did not soften up too much. Next, I cut 4-5 cherry tomatoes into slices, plucked a good handful of basil, sprinkled everything with pepper and layered everything up in my baking dish. I added a little very finely chopped garlic and then sprinkled everything, one again, with olive oil. Into the oven it went- at a high temperature (around 320°F), covered with foil, for 30-45 mins. 

After that time, the eggplant was tender and the tomatoes SO aromatic with all of the aroma of the basil. So the next thing to do, was to sprinkle everything lightly with coarsely ground black pepper and some grated parmesan cheese- and to return it to the oven for 2 3 minutes under the broiler, to become crispy and golden brown- mmmmh!

So that was it! Simple, healthy and different! There is no real need for all of that frying and for the excess oil you sometimes get in an eggplant parmesan... here is all the flavor and half the hard work... what are good things! Good times! And good for you in every possible way!

You could also make an alternative version using a tomato sauce rather than fresh slices- just make sure to steam the eggplant first and you can save on the frying- the oven and the basil will do the rest- this is one of those crown pleaser dishes! So enjoy!

True Blood Salad

Insalata di Arancia Sanguine, Puntarelle & Cumquat
Blood Orange, Puntarelle & Cumquat Salad

No, this salad has nothing to do with television vampires, but it does have a lot to do with wonderful Sicilian blood oranges and refreshing Roman puntarelle! Now there is a match made in heaven for you! Sure to chase away any of those Winter clouds and replace them with sparkling sunshine! No fear of any vampires showing up when you make this!

Puntarelle are one of my favorite salad greens- originating from around Rome and its valley's, this cousin of the chicoree that we are all accustomed to, it is just much prettier, with its small and juicy, slightly bitter pods. Perfect at any time of year, this cold and snowy January morning in Frankfurt, they were just the thing to brighten my day- and my evening too come suppertime!

I decided to halve the puntarelle for this salad- which still leaves plenty to bite into! I wouldn't cut them any smaller though, as I think it would be a shame not to see their pretty shape anymore. 

For the blood orange, I decided to cut the peel away, making sure to use a sharp knife, then to top and tail the orange as if were intending to filet it, but then cut the orange through its width instead, preferring the look  of the radiating segments in each slice... but that was just my personal preference today... filets are also fine! But they are also a little bit more work! ;-)

I sliced the cumquats and picked out the seeds and then all I needed to do was to arrange the ingredients decoratively and to add the occasional leaf of basil here and there- basil also works wonderfully with both the citrus and the salad- yum, yum!

I kept things very simple and dressed the salad with extra virgin olive oil and honey... the seasoning was a little of my Salt of the Earth... and that was all that it needed! After all, Mother Nature had done her fair share of the work, by making the ingredients delicious, I had combined the great flavors and the proof of the salad was in the eating! There was no need for extra vinegar as the orange was sweet and sour at the same time and the seasoned salt let the natural flavors blend to wonderful effect! So go get some blood oranges and give this a go! You will like it for sure!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Panoramic Pizza

Pizza Croccante in Padella
Crispy Frying Pan Pizza

Yes, yes, I know have done this before- and don't you worry, I WILL do it again! And again and again! Baking pizza in a frying pan is definitely the best way you can possibly do it at home- trust me! Whether you use a store-bought "fresh" dough on a roll as I usually do, or make your own- this is the quickest and best way to bake your pizza and to get a crispy and crunchy base and not to have a soggy mess- let me explain why and you will try it for sure next time!

Living alone, the effort involved and the time I would need to wait, for the sake of making just one pizza, does not really make sense to me. So I go the route of buying a roll of soft, per-made dough and cutting and shaping to fit my needs... which are normally to simply get some yummy pizza made really, really fast! This evenings pizza, with mushrooms, bacon, peppers and Feta cheese took just 15 minutes to make!

I began by cutting the mushrooms into 8ths and frying them in a dry non-stick pan with finely chopped bacon, Spring onions and small red pepper cut into rings. I turned the heat up really high and tossed everything about, seasoning with a little salt, coarsely ground pepper and a hint of finely chopped garlic. After 5 minutes, the mushrooms and the peppers had begun to brown and the onions to soften and become sweet and delicious.

I emptied the ingredients for my topping onto a plate to cool and then turned my attention to the base. I turned on the oven to the highest heat and also turned on the grill. A "real" pizza oven, made of stone, reaches incredible temperatures that we can not simulate at home with our domestic ovens... unless of course we can use some kind of trick... like this one!

I cut and formed my pizza base to the same size as the base of my pan, then laid it inside and popped it onto the stovetop on the highest setting. By pre-baking the base on a high heat, we get some really good crust forming before we even get into the oven. Don't be afraid- turn that heat up and then grab the other pre-cooked topping ingredients so that you are ready to go!

I first crumbled Feta cheese over the base, before beginning with the mushroom, bacons and peppers. These went on top as well as a last few crumbs of Feta. More coarse black pepper, just the faintest drizzle of olive oil- and after 5 minutes on the stove top you are ready to go into the oven!

With the oven, the same thing applied- highest heat, highest shelf and broiler to boot! With the pan already scorching hot, the whole procedure took around 3-4 minutes until the pizza was crispy and brown and delicious! And easy and quick to boot! For me it is the only way to go- only a really high temperature will do for pizza- and this method, though cool- is scorching hot! try it for yourself and see!

Thursday, 24 January 2013

It's Never Too Late for Breakfast!

Budino di Brioche e Albicocca al Forno
Baked Brioche Pudding with Apricot

No, I didn't miss my breakfast this morning because I was too late- I even managed to pick up a brioche quickly that I was intending to eat- everything was ok! Well, except for the sub-zero temperatures and having to wait outside in the cold for my ride. And he wasn't late either- so off we went to do a busy days photo-shooting, off to the market hall to pick up fresh produce,  then straight to the studio to get to work whilst things looked wonderful and fresh, loving my job and eager to get going...

...and that's exactly what I did! I leapt head-first into my busy, busy day and forgot all about breakfast! Only when I took the tram back home did I discover the bag in my backpack containing my lovely breakfast brioche with raisins... now stale and a little less than wonderful!

So, obviously this is simply a bread pudding that I have conjured-up here... but it put my little breakfast treat to good use, warmed me up in the evening and tasted mighty fine whilst earning its redemption! 

To make it I simply whisked an egg together with two cups of milk, added a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of cinnamon. I then carefully cut the brioche into slices and then dipped them in the egg and milk mix. Once they were moist and had softened up, I arranged them in a little ramekin, filling it from the outside inwards. Easy. I poured the excess egg/milk back over the slices to make sure they stayed nice and moist. But then decided that I wanted to add something else, to add a little bit more flavor. After beginning to wish I had spread the brioche with jam for example. or doing something to pep up the flavor... I came upon the idea of slicing a couple of dried apricots and sliding them at equal intervals around, between the slices of brioche... that way, they would warm up and infuse the milk and egg mix as they baked... pretty good idea!

Into the oven it went for half an hour at around 300° F, on  middle shelf

Fry This for Size!

Carciofi al Vapore & Fritti con Couscous allo Pomodoro & Basilico
Steamed & Fried Artichokes with Tomato & Basil Couscous

Small, purple and pretty as a picture, the new batch of Sicilian artichokes that we picked up for todays photo-shooting looked almost too good to eat! And to be honest- they somehow looked as if they may actually not taste so good, being as they looked so sturdy and robust. So this evening it was a journey of discovery to find out how the purple artichokes compared to the green... so exciting!

Usually I buy either the large, green, Roman artichokes and stuff them with herbs and bread crumbs... either those or the baby artichokes which can be eaten from top to toe... these, at about the size of a large lemon, I was not really sure of. But as soon as I began trimming them and realized how aromatic and perfumed they were- it was clear to me that the best approach to take was "less is more"...

So the first thing that I did was to top and tail them. I cut away the stem and then sliced off the top couple of inches- a clean cut right through, to remove the tough, end pieces of the leaves. I immediately dipped each cut surface into lemon juice to prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown, spread the leaves and seasoned them lightly with salt and pepper and then popped them into a small saucepan, on top of a steam rack. And then I let them steam away for a full half hour until they were lovely and soft and tender. You may find you need a little more time- anything up to 45 minutes is still pretty usual... but today I was just really lucky and found mine to be wonderfully tender.

Whilst the artichokes were steaming, I prepared my tomato and basil flavored couscous. To make this, I brought 3 cupfuls of water to the boil and added 2 finely diced sun-dried tomatoes and a tablespoon of tomato paste. I also added a couple of large basil leaves and let the tomatoes simmer gently for 5 minutes- after which time the water was read and flavor-packed from the tomatoes. I added 1 1/2 cups of couscous and a finely chopped Spring onion, stirred it in and removed the pot from the heat... and 15 minutes later had a wonderful and rich tomato couscous! I seasoned with a little pepper and just a hint of salt, as there was plenty of salt in the sun-dried tomatoes and the tomato paste. 

Once the artichokes were cooked and had cooled a little, I cut them in half and then using a teaspoon, scooped away the tiny amount of "choke"... these were so tender that was hardly any there. And lo and behold... the lovely purple coloring was completely gone! They had become as green as any other artichoke- sigh! But they still smelled terrific!

All that I needed to do now was to heat up some olive oil, add a clove of garlic which I squashed a little so that it would release more aroma into the oil, and a twig or two of thyme, a slice or two of lemon and then to place the artichokes into the frying pan with the cut surfaces facing down. After a couple of minutes, I flipped them over, turned off the heat and set about serving up the couscous first. I added a tiny drizzle of olive oil and an even tinier squeeze of lemon, then cut a fine "chiffonade" of 2-3 large basil leaves, stirred these in well and then spread out the couscous on my plate. The artichokes went on top, some chilled white wine went into my glass- and supper was served! The artichokes were full of flavor and soft and juicy. Don't tell everyone- but I just picked them up and bit right into them... the only part I could not eat was the very tip of each leaf- the rest was simply divine! 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Seasons Treasons

Fichi, Rabarbaro e Fragole al Forno con Pasta Sfoglia
Baked Figs, Rhubarb & Strawberries with a Pastry Trim

Strawberries, rhubarb and figs in January? What madness is this!?!? I know... and I agree... but I hope you will not judge me too harshly when I offer you my feeble explanation... you see, these  admittedly rather beautiful fruits were left over from a photo shoot that I did the art direction and food styling for. So of course they are most definitely not in season here... but it would have been a crying shame to not have made good use of them... so I did just that!

The best way to treat all three of these delicious fruits is... very gently! I find the tanginess of the rhubarb to be a great contrast to the sweetness of the figs and strawberries. but I wanted to make sure that the flavors or each were able to stand alone and be well balanced. So I added only a little honey, some cinnamon and a little vanilla, to gently emphasize the natural flavors and not overpower them... and wouldn't you know it- it worked! I added the pastry, just around the edge, for a bit of texture and a neutral flavor to offset the fruitiness, but why only a trim? Read on and you will find out!

I began by cutting the rhubarb to length of around 4" and peeling away the beautiful outer skin- which is always a bit of a sad task as it means sacrificing so much wonderful color... But it has to be done! Not too worry though- the strawberries will see to that for us- just a little bit later. But next, I turned on my oven to maximum heat to get nice and hot and in the mean time, laid out the rhubarb sticks in a baking dish and drizzled them with honey. I then popped it into the oven for 10 minutes and then turned the heat off! Yep- that's right! All I had to do was be patient and wait until the oven was cool again- and by that time the rhubarb was tender and juicy- but not damaged from stirring in any way... and you all know what a fibrous and goopy mess it can become if you do that!

Did I just mention juices? Because you will not believe how much juice the rhubarb will give off and how thick and syrupy it is! Too good to waste- but also way to much for any pastry base to cope with- it would just get soaked and not bake at all- which is why I simply added the puff pastry to the outside edges of the dish. There will still be plenty there- but it wont go all squishy on you!

The juices from the rhubarb were of course a little sour, but that would soon change. I added a couple of pieces of vanilla  to perfume the syrup and added slices of strawberry in between the sticks of rhubarb- these would add sweetness, color and flavor to the whole affair! I then cut a few figs into 8ths and spread the slices decoratively around the outer edge of the dish. Next came a generous drizzle of honey over everything, a splash of Cointreau (optional) and a dusting of cinnamon- and the whole thing went back into the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry was golden and brown, the strawberries were hot, steamy and lightly browned but still intact, and the syrupy juices had reduced now nicely to a thick and yummy sauce... mmm!

A treat whether served hot or cold, as-is or with a scoop of ice cream, a blob of yogurt, a little custard or a spoonful of whipped cream... 

I think I did a good thing- how could I possibly have let good food got to waste?!? When I could also do THIS with it! And I hope you will approve!