Sunday, 14 September 2014

Ta da!

So it was the Italian Night last night and it was a really fun evening.

I do get what Ina Garten says, that she doesn't feel like it's a party unless the table is set. Having it done allows me to relax and I was pleased with the look achieved with just a couple of candles in bottles, a tablecloth and simple mats and napkins.

So a reminder of what the menu was, for those who managed to escape my previous blogs on the subject.

Antipasti - a selection of italian salamis, parma ham, stuffed cherry peppers, artichoke hearts and olives with breadsticks

Main - Lasagne, green salad with a lemon oil dressing and pao de queijo (brazilian cheese breads, lovely, doughy and totes amaze balls) tossed in garlic and oregano butter with tiny jam jars of extra butter for dipping.

Dessert - Hazelnut tiramisu.

Yes, I did coordinate the butter pots with the tablecloth.  I know.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Preparation, preparation, preparation

For me, the key to giving a dinner party, and being able to enjoy it, is to make as much ahead as possible.  It makes for a relaxing, stress free evening and then I also get to enjoy the process of cooking as I can do it at my own pace, with no time pressure.  Also, as mentioned on a previous blog there are things that have a better taste and texture when allowed to sit in marinades, gravies and sauces.

Today, I've made a hazelnut tiramisu from a Nigella recipe.  I'm not a huge fan of tiramisu when it's too bitter so the sweet, hazelnut liqueur that I bought on my last trip to Calais should be perfect.  I'm also substituting the cocoa powder dusting on the top with toasted chopped nuts and grated chocolate.  It'll get it's topping tomorrow before I serve so for now it doesn't look that impressive but should taste blooming gorgeous.

Next up is the lasagne.  The bolognese is chilled, the cheese sauce is cooling.  If you're making this ahead you want everything to be at the same temperature when you put it together.  As you also shouldn't reheat things more than once, everything is going to be cold.  This way a hot cheese sauce won't warm up the meat sauce, risking bacterial growth.  Food poisoning, never a good look at a get together.

Oops, it would help if I'd actually posted this blog.

Thursday, 11 September 2014


I think mince dishes are always better after 24 or 48 hours of making.  The sauce soaks into the meat, the flavours intermingle and develop.  For that reason I'm making the lasagne bolognese today to put it all together tomorrow.

I can tell you how I make mine, bolognese that is, but the thing about that is that almost EVERYONE has their own version, their own preferences.  And I doubt that many of them resemble what an italian from Bologna would describe.  Then again, what's the betting that the same holds true for the Bologneese.  Yes, that's definitely a made up word but it's cool huh?

So, my version is very tomato biased, with sweetness and lots of red wine.  I do cheat - I use a jar of Ragu per every 500g of lean minced beef.  It speeds up the process significantly and provides a good foundation.  As with most things I do, I adulterate it to my own tastes with lots of wine, mushrooms, onions, extra chopped tomatoes, a sprinkling of sugar and black pepper.

Tomorrow will be the day to put the lasagne together to give time for the flavours to soak into the pasta sheets, and to make the tiramisu.  Both will be easier to cut and serve for making ahead, which makes them ideal dinner party foods.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

A Tast of Brazil - cheese breads, not football

I've had a mix for Brazilian Cheese breads (Pao de Queijo) in my cupboard for a long (very long, cough, cough) time.  As per normal for me, these have languished in their lonely spot due to my anxiety at trying new recipes but from their description they seemed to be the perfect thing to serve as garlic dough balls, of the gluten free variety.

And oh my god they're gorgeous!!!

The pack made 24 balls, which have a light, crisp shell and a really doughy interior.  I didn't measure out the cheese, I just put a couple of handfulls of medium mature cheddar into the dough.  It was enough, these were sufficiently cheesy.  They were very quick to get into the oven, though if I were making them from scratch they'd have taken a bit longer to do.  They're so good and the ingredients are so cheap that I'll be making my own next time.

One other marvellous thing about this recipe is that the other 20 I didn't bake?  You can freeze them and then bake direct from frozen.  This makes them excellent make ahead party snacks.  I'll be serving them hot from the oven, tossed in garlic and oregano butter.

Looking again at the picture, I've realised something.  That's no moon, that's a pao de queijo.  Yeah, I'm never going to be a Photographer or a Comedienne.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Savoiardi and late night baking

Saturday night this week is Italian Night for me and the girls. I love cooking for people, and throwing dinner parties that are about more than just the food on the table. The menu for this weekend is a dish of antipasti, followed by garlic bread/dough balls, lasagne, green salad and then a hazelnut tiramisu.

I used to buy Schar Savoiardi when I saw them but they haven't popped up on my shopping circuit for a long time.  Whilst I could buy them online, the postage costs were more than the price of the biscuits themselves so I started looking around for a recipe.

It turns out they are very easy to do. What put me off and made it more daunting was the fact you had to pipe the biscuits. Piping isn't something I'm particularly practiced at or familiar with so I prevaricated about making them, until late last night where, after feeling like I'd not really achieved much I decided to get off the fence and just do it.

This is the recipe I used this recipe but just in case it disappears I'm posting the details here too.

Savoiardi sponge fingers (aka. Ladyfingers)

Recipe from Le Cordon Bleu at Home, via The Daring Kitchen.
Makes around 35 2cm x 8cm fingers

3 eggs, separated
75g sugar
95g gluten-free plain flour
50g icing sugar
Preheat oven to 175C. Line 2 baking trays with paper.
In a clean, grease-free bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and keep beating until the egg whites become stiff, glossy and smooth.  In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks with a fork. Fold the egg yolks into the egg white.

  • Sift over the flour and fold in gently until just combined.
  • Fill a piping bag/ziploc bag with the batter and snip off the end to create a 2cm wide nozzle. Pipe 8-10cm strips, leaving about 2cm of space in between each strip to allow for the fingers to expand.
  • Dust half of the icing sugar over the strips, wait for 5 minutes (the sugar will become moist and glisten) then dust with the remaining sugar.
  • Bake the biscuits for 10 minutes, rotate the trays, then bake for another 5 minutes or until the fingers have puffed up and become light brown.
  • Take the fingers out of the oven and cool on tray for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack. The cooled biscuits can keep in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.
  • (Note: This makes soft biscuits. If you want the crispier sort, turn the oven down to 120C after the 15 minutes and bake for a further10-20 minutes until hard and crispy.)

When is a hate page, not a hate page?

My favourite TV cookery programs are anything with Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten and my latest cooking crush, Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman.  I like her friendly, accessible style of presenting and pragmatic approach in the kitchen.

Whilst googling around to find more information about her books which aren't that readily available in the UK, I found a site that's all about 'telling the truth about the Pioneer Woman' and how awful she is.  That's the sole purpose of the site.  Someone has spent time, effort and some cash to register the domain to do this.  Now, I appreciate that she might not be everyone's cup of tea - or iced coffee in her case, but to take it to this extreme seems rather sad and bitter to me.  You don't like her shows?  Moooooove along, there's plenty more to see.

Fortunately though it's not a hate site.  Phew, that's a relief.  How do I know this?  How do I know that this site, solely dedicated to snide personal remarks and negativity isn't a hate site?  Well, because the author of the site says it's not.  So that's ok then.  In other news, chocolate isn't fattening, the word nigger isn't racist and the sky is a fabulous shade of cerise.  I said so, so it must be true.

In other kitchen news, it's been a quiet one.  It's too early to do much for the weekend dinner yet and I really can't justify baking anything more (things will change when I get my chest freezer I can tell you).  All I've done is grate loads of cheese (cheddar and grano padano) and put away the big shop.  Tomorrow is garlic butter and having a go at making these little beauties.  I'm planning to bake off 3 or 4 from the mix to see if they work, and if they do I'll be baking the rest on Saturday and tossing them in garlic and oregano butter.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Gluten Free Bore

It's official, I'm a gluten free bore.  As a foodie, being diagnosed with coeliac disease and discovering that I'd never be able to eat 'normally' again without serious, painful and eventually life threatening repercussions, sucked the big one.

Every single thing that goes into your mouth has to be checked.  You do of course learn what's gluten free and safe, and the bulk of your diet is managed accordingly but sometimes a company will change their recipe and you can get caught out.  And of course, if like me you like variety in your diet, you're always on the look out for new fun things.

This means I talk about gluten and gluten free foods, eating out, suppliers and recipes.  A lot.  I'm also a research geek so I've got a lot to say.  So, if you're looking for that elusive gluten free pork pie, pineapple tart, ditali, afternoon tea or recipe for best ever brownies, I'm probably a good place to start.  You know.  If you know who I am.

And, well, if you don't want to know any of those things, you'll probably end up finding them out if you spend any time in my company.  I'm going to try and reduce the boredom impact on non gluten free friends by posting information here about recipes, suppliers and places to eat out (or not as the case may be).

This is one of my current favourite things to make.  According to non GFers, they can't tell that they're gluten free and they were impressed, they're also easy to make, and if you wrap them individually they can be frozen well.  Just remove from the freezer, micro for 20 seconds or so and serve with butter melting into the cheesy lushness.

Cheese Scones
(Makes approx 8 square scones)

225g gluten free plain flour
1 ¼ tsp gluten free baking powder
½ tsp english mustard powder (not the made up version, that's likely to have wheat in it)
55g butter
55g mature cheddar cheese – finely grated plus extra for topping
160ml milk
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 220c/200c fan
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl
Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs
Stir in the cheese
Mix in enough milk to make a dough that's not wet or crumbly, you may not need all of it
Knead slightly on a floured surface
Flatten to 3/4 of an inch thick either with your hands or a rolling pin.
Cut into 2" rounds or shape the dough into a rectangle and cut into 8 pieces
Arrange on a greased baking sheet and brush the tops with milk
Top with a little cheese - or, frankly a lot and bake for 12 mins