Monday, 6 December 2010

Broccoli and taleggio soup

Unless you've had your eyes and ears firmly closed of late, you can't fail to miss the weather currently plaguing Edinburgh. Note my deliberate use of the word 'plaguing' as although the two days I got off work last week due to the white stuff did not go unnotticed, I am now, as I'm sure everyone else is, growing rather tired of the various challenges thwarting my attempts do even the most simple of tasks. Exhibit A: I can't get my car moving, and it hasn't moved for a week now, leading me to believe that it will be some time yet before I embark upon another 'Mini Adventure'.

But alas, I feel now is the time to encourage my negativity to thaw out, and what better to help melt my mood than a piping hot bowl of soup. This recipe was born of a lack of stilton, and an abundance of taleggio cheese. I adore the versatility of taleggio cheese, and always have some in my fridge to accompany my other diet staples, wine and olives.

Broccoli and taleggio cheese are two ingredients that when put together produce a vibrant green winter warmer, guaranteed to lift a snow induced mood.

So here we have it, broccoli and taleggio soup. To get started you need:

600g of broccoli

2 carrots

2 sticks of celery

2 onions

1 clove of garlic

200g of taleggio cheese

1.5l of chicken or vegetable stock

Olive oil

Now lets make some soup!

1. Chop the onions, carrots, celery and garlic and sauté with a good glug of olive oil until the vegetables have softened (this should take around 10-15mins).

2. Chop the broccoli and add to the pan with the stock. Boil for around 10 minutes, until the broccoli is cooked and soft enough to blend. Whilst the broccoli is cooking, add the cheese to a clean bowl, and melt over a pan of boiling water until lovely and oozy.

3. Leave the cheese to one side and blend the rest of the soup until you have a smooth consistency. Once the soup has been blended, stir in the melted taleggio. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

The ingredients above should give you 4-6 servings. I would love to hear how people think this compares to the classic broccoli and stilton, so if you have any thoughts, please let me know.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Crunch crunch

Winter is definitely here and although I hate the cold, especially the ice and the unfortunate doggy paddle inspired dance I do when trying to stay on my feet, there are aspects of winter that I love, especially when it comes to food and drink.

As odd as this sounds, I love arriving home to an empty, cold flat. I'm sure you're questioning my reasoning here, but I have an ulterior motive; heating on, candles lit, a boiling hot cup of coffee, and of course, no cup of coffee is complete without some biscotti. Although these amazingly crunchy biscuits can literally be suicide for your teeth, there is nothing better to dunk in coffee. Their robust texture allows them to be dunked in your hot beverage for much longer than other biscuits, whilst avoiding that annoying 'half my biscuit has fallen in my coffee' moment.

They are really easy to make as your about to see. This time I made almond biscotti, but once you know the recipe, the options are endless! Keep your eyes peeled for the cranberry and hazelnut biscotti recipe, which I will be uploading here soon. In the mean time, here's my recipe for almond biscotti. This mixture makes 20-25 biscuits.

Almond biscotti

200g of flour, plus extra for dusting

200g of caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

200g of blanched almonds

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 180° and line two baking trays with grease proof paper.

2. Chop the almonds, leaving some whole. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Now add the almonds and stir.

3. To your beaten eggs, add the vanilla extract. This can now be added to the flour mixture. Mix the ingredients together to form a firm dough.

4. Lightly flour your work surface, so that you can knead the dough lightly without it sticking. Divide the dough in two, and shape each piece into a long thick log, roughly 4-5cm wide. Now transfer the dough to the baking sheets, and sprinkle each log with 1 teaspoon of sugar, and bake in the oven for 20-25mins. You will know they are ready when they are brown and firm.

5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, before transferring to a chopping board to cut. Reduce the oven temperature to 160°, and cut the log into 1cm thick slices. Place the biscuits cut-side down back onto the baking trays. Bake in the oven for a further 15-20 minutes, or until dry and crisp. Allow to cool on a wire rack before munching.

Happy biscotti making! If anyone has any other biscotti combinations, I would love to hear them.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Get it whilst it's hot

You know it's going to be a good day when your morning bagel turns out to be heart shaped in the middle. However, this was not my knife skills at work, but rather I feel the work of a baker who was perhaps feeling a little romantic. This is how my mind works, I manage quite successfully to turn everything into a story. But after my many musings, each one more elaborate than the next, the fate of the bagel had been decided, and after being layered with peanut butter, the love heart had been consumed in a far less romantic fashion. And that's when the realism kicked in. This was not the endeavour of a loved up baker, but merely my ability to see heart shapes in various foods/inanimate objects, which seems to happen on a daily basis. Welcome to my world!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Something for the weekend

I know the vast majority of us wake up on Friday morning, already braced for the after work dinner and drinks which so frequently accompany the birth of the weekend. My relationship with food being what it is, when Friday morning arrives and I'm frantically throwing a glass of smoothie down my neck as I run out the door, I start to get excited. My mind wanders from the predictable 'it's Friday' celebrations onto Saturday morning breakfast, where I am all ready to upgrade my smoothie to something a little more indulgent. I love weekend breakfasts. I get up, take my time and have a good old rummage in the fridge, where I can turn almost anything into breakfast bounty. Today however, I am opting for something a little more traditional, to help counteract the after effects of last nights 'house red'. A bacon roll, served traditionally on a bap with a good squeeze of tomato ketchup and a cup of tea. Is there a better start to a Saturday morning?

Clearly this did the trick, and with a spring in my step, I headed towards Valvona and Crolla on Elm Row. Living so close to this Edinburgh institution is detrimental both to my wallet and my waste line, but there is something irresistible about the smell of the cured meats and cheeses that waft towards you as you walk through the door. This is followed by a dose of nostalgia, as I recall a much smaller version of myself peering into the glass cabinets, even then appreciating the beauty of it all. That was the start of my food obsession, aged 5.

Quite often I visit Valvona and Crolla just for the rush. Todays visit is somewhat more specific, where only V&C can deliver. I have a craving for a soup I used to have as a girl, (nostalgia kicking in again), of stelline pasta (tiny, flat star shaped pasta) with cannellini beans and parmesan. This is a humble yet tasty dish, guaranteed to leave you with that warm feeling in your belly that only soup can deliver, especially on a cold winters day. To make this soup you need:

1 small onion, chopped                                           

1 clove of garlic, crushed
A glug of olive oil

125g of pancetta, cubed

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

300g stelline pasta (or any other small pasta shape if you can't get stelline)

1 litre of chicken stock

400g tin of cannellini beans

30g of parmesan, grated

1 parmesan rind (optional, but really adds to the intensity of the flavour)

Now here are the three simple steps to making this beautiful rustic soup:

1. Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onion, garlic, pancetta and oregano and sauté until the onion has softened.

2. Pour in the cannellini beans along with the stock and parmesan rind. Add the pasta and cook for 10-12 minutes, or according to packet instructions.

3. Once the pasta is cooked, remove the parmesan rind and season to taste with freshly ground black pepper.

This soup really is so easy, and will serve 4-6 people, depending on how greedy you are! It is a one pot wonder that never fails to deliver on flavour. I'll be eating this soup all winter, I can guarantee!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Vero Italiano

Today has been one of those rare days where although I took a very laid back approach to proceedings, I feel like I accomplished something, all thanks to a mug of hot chocolate. A stroll through Stockbridge led me to Sprio, a deli and latteria which I have been meaning to try since I moved into the area, but have fallen fowl of the familiar 'better the devil you know' concept.

The moment I stepped through the door, I knew I would be coming back. The Italian newspapers, radio and general paraphernalia transported me back to the Milanese corner bars I frequented as a former resident of the country. I was braced to order a latte macchiato to accompany me whilst I tried to get into the mind set of Italo Calvino, but almost jumped for joy when I saw the six syllable word 'cioccolatissima'. No more time was wasted over ordering, and as I sat breathing in the aroma of my bowl of chocolate soup, I didn't even bother getting my book out of my bag. But rather, as a true Italophile, I merely sat and revelled in the surroundings.

For those of you who have never experienced a true cioccolatissima, I would like to offer you a few words of wisdom:

1. It's not for the faint hearted. If you can't handle your chocolate, (I'm always suspicious of those characters), this is not the drink for you. It has a thick and creamy consistency and must be eaten with a spoon.

2. If you are fortunate enough to live in Edinburgh, catch the bus, jump in the car, hop, skip or jump along to Sprio and order one instantly! Trust me, you won't regret it.


So yes, in terms of having had a productive day, where items finally get ticked off the never ending to-do list, I failed. But in finding true epicurean pleasure, Chiara one, housework nil.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Sometimes it just has to be....

A club sandwich! A trip into town led me on the hunt for a club sandwich. I have absolutely no idea where this craving came from, but I wasn't about to stop until it was satisfied. This led me to Tempus, where I unashamedly devoured the mother of all sandwiches, unconventionally accompanied by a lovely glass of rosé wine. I'm sure there's not a book in the world that suggests you accompany a club sandwich with a glass of rosé wine, but frankly I didn't care when my belly was full and my mind ever so slightly more relaxed. The most amusing part of it all was the look on the waiter's face when he delivered the three slices of bread, laced with chicken, bacon and mayo to my side of the table, whilst the mini fish and chips were delivered to Rob. I rose to the challenge and felt rather victorious when he collected my empty plate.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Messiest baker of the year 2010

This is what Rob wrote on our chalkboard today after I had been baking, and to be fair I don’t think he was far wrong. I have made no secret of the fact that I love my coffee, but in equal measure, I put a great deal of thought into how I can combine caffeine and sugar successfully in order to create the ultimate buzz.  Today, nothing was going to hit the spot like chocolate. Now let me be more specific, I was not just about to settle for the bar of Green and Blacks nestling in the cupboard, I needed something stronger, richer and more luscious. This was how chocolate and hazelnut cake was born, and also how I earned the aforementioned accolade.
The kitchen was temporarily ruined, and the only reason I have not included the photographic evidence, is due to the sheer shame of the situation, further aggravated by the fact that my camera was buried in a mountain of icing sugar. This however should not put you off. This cake is amazing, and being an experimental cook, the kitchen often resembles a disaster zone when I try something new.
If you love chocolate, trust me this cake will well and truly hit the spot.  What more could a chocoholic ask for? If anyone has any other ideas I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, here is how you go about devastating your kitchen.
200g plain flour
250g icing sugar
200g unsalted butter, softened
150g hazelnuts, crushed
150g plain chocolate
30g cocoa powder
1 tbsp Nutella or chocolate spread
5 free range eggs, separated

1. Preheat the oven to 180°, grease and line a 26cm cake tin.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the softened butter and icing sugar. Then add the egg yolks one at a time, beating the mixture well after each yolk has been added.

3. Add the flour, cocoa powder, chocolate and hazelnuts to the bowl. When I made this recipe, I put the hazelnuts in a sandwich bag and bashed them using a rolling pin. This creates a range of hazelnut chunk sizes, which gives the cake a great texture.

4. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the cake mixture, alongside a tablespoon of Nutella. Finally bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

I served my cake with some homemade blackberry compote and of course a cup of coffee. It would be equally delicious served with cream or ice cream.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Rice and peas

Another busy weekend full of culinary delights. Yesterday we went to a friend’s engagement party, with a buffet that literally had something for everyone. Although a lover of the buffet, they do play havoc with my self control and before I knew it I had made three visits to the table, had one too many potato croquettes and then desert appeared. What a spread!
Today my culinary exploits have been a little more restrained, with not a muffin in sight. I even managed to resist the gorgeously gooey looking cake on offer at Artisan Roast, and opted merely for a soya latte, which accompanied me on my walk through Stockbridge and the New Town.
Upon coming home to a cold flat and in desperate need of something warm and filling, I turned to one of my favourites for our evening meal, the mighty risotto. I fell in love with risotto whilst living in Verona, although I must confess my first experience of cooking it turned out to be more of a rice soup than a bowl of creamy meaty rice. Now, after years of practise I can confidently say that I have mastered cooking with the thirsty grain. I am patient enough to understand it is not a dish that can be rustled up in ten minutes, but something that needs a little more time and attention.  
The beauty of risotto lies in its versatility. It is a grain of rice that is open to any number of ingredients and flavour combinations. But in our household, the firm favourite is risotto with pancetta and peas,  or to put it a little more eloquently, risotto con pancetta e piselli. Here’s what you need to make enough for four generous portions:
300g of Arborio rice
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
75g of pancetta, cut into cubes
1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
1 small glass of white wine
2 tbsp of olive oil
100g of peas
30g of parmesan, grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper to season
1.   Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy based pan. Add the onion, garlic and pancetta and sauté until the onion has softened.

2.   Turn up the heat,  add the rice and the second tbsp of olive oil to the pan, stirring constantly to ensure that each grain of rice becomes coated in the oil.  Then add the wine and stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid.

3.   Start by adding a ladle of stock to the rice, and turn down the heat to a simmer as you don’t want to cook the outside of the rice too quickly. I always keep my stock warm on the stove as I feel it makes for a much better risotto. Continue adding the stock ladle by ladle, always waiting for the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. After roughly ten minutes, add the peas.

4.   Around 15 minutes into your cooking time, taste the risotto to check if it’s cooked. If it still needs more cooking time, continue to add stock until the rice is soft.

5.   When the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and add the parmesan, stirring it through the rice. Place a lid on the pan and allow the risotto to sit for two minutes. This is the final stage in helping the risotto achieve its wonderful creaminess. Finally, season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Never have I made this dish without someone asking for seconds. I hope this has the same effect on your friends and family too!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Happy products for happy people

Ah Sunday. I love Sundays. It’s the one day of the week I dedicate to complete and utter indulgence, otherwise known as doing all the things in life that make me happy. Today was spent reading the papers, shopping, drinking coffee and baking. To be honest, this is what I do almost every Sunday, as when I’m in my kitchen cooking I am most definitely at my happiest. My mood was further elevated by adding to my Pip Home crockery collection. I discovered Pip Home on a trip to Bliss on Broughton Street a few weeks ago, where I bought a blue cup and bowl, both featuring a hand painted bird. I went back today to try and get the matching plate, and it transpires that I’m not the only person who has been seduced by the bright colours and beautiful detailing. This resulted in me moving onto one of the other colours on offer, just to add to my collection.

So back home with my new crockery, and what better to do than put it to good use. I had a real craving for a fresh warm muffin today, something sumptuous but not too naughty. Upon raiding the cupboards for inspiration, I found I had rather a large number of dried apricots, which have now been chopped up and turned into Apricot and Vanilla muffins. Although only out of the oven an hour ago, there are now only two left. Of course, you must be thinking that I am incredibly greedy. I have however shared the fruits of my labour with friends and family, who have all asked for seconds. The lovely thing about these muffins is that they are very light, and due to all the apricot, you don’t feel like you need to run a mile afterwards to burn it off. Here’s what you need to get started:

300g self raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

50g butter

75g caster sugar

200g dried apricots

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

2 eggs

225ml milk

apricot jam (for the unexpected gooey apricot filling)

Here is where the fun begins:

1. Preheat the oven to 200. Grease a muffin tin, or line with cases. This mixture makes around 10 muffins.

2. Mix the flour and the baking powder in a large bowl, then rub in the butter. You should end up with a mixture that resembles fine breadcrumbs. Now stir in the sugar and the chopped apricots.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract before adding this to the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

4. Spoon a little batter into each of the muffin cases. At this point you should aim to have each case half full. Using a teaspoon, take a small amount of jam and place on top of your mixture. Now cover the jam with the rest of the batter, filling each case up to the top.

5. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until well risen, golden and firm to the touch. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

I recommend topping this off with a mug of coffee and a magazine. This is exactly what Sundays are made for.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Time for tea!

And so it begins, my first blog. Whilst contemplating what to write, I am sipping on a cup of tea, which has made me think about the intricacies of the ‘perfect cuppa’. There are so many factors to consider in even this most mundane of everyday tasks; the cup, when to add the milk, how long to leave the tea bag in? It is something you could give a lot of thought, (clearly I have), but I feel confidently that it has a great deal to do with the cup.

High society drink from bone china, a delicate vessel for the more refined flavours of Earl Grey and Darjeeling. The more modest drink from thick white mugs, robust enough to hold the tar like tea that helps to get you going on a sleepy morning. Personally, I drink from a mug that doesn’t in any way match my pretty floral mug collection bought specifically to brighten up my kitchen. Instead I opt for something more festive, a red conical mug with a picture of Rudolph etched into the ceramic. This was initially considered a tacky Christmas gift, but I now turn to this mug time and time again to help in delivering that perfect cup of tea.

However, I am feeling a little disappointed at the moment. I have taken my own advice, used my trusty mug, added the water and then the milk, but somehow it hasn’t worked and I have been left with a second rate hot drink that really isn’t cutting it. What I would have preferred is one of those occasions which rhyme nor reason can explain, where you make that perfect cup of tea. A time where your cup tastes that little bit different from your average 3 o’clock caffeine hit. But try as you might to recreate this experience, it seems to me to be impossible, which makes me wonder, how exactly do you get that perfect cup every time? I think this may be a case where practice doesn’t always make perfect!