Monday, 27 September 2010

C is for... Cheese and chutneys

Cheese course

I love cheese and there are no shortage of them beginning with C. Richard picked up some delicious camembert from Borough Market and popped to Neal's Yard for some Crozier Blue (similar to Cashel Blue but made with sheeps milk instead of cows), Cardo unpasteurised goats cheese with a washed rind and, of course, we had to have some Cheddar - in this instance, unpasteurised Westcombe Cheddar. I served them with celery sticks and Fudges charcoal crackers and some home-made carrot jam ( a Victorian classic), chilli jam and cinnamon chutney that were gifts from my little sister last Christmas.

Deb's carrot jam
Enough to make 2 medium jars

1 lb, 4 oz/ 500 g carrots
1 lb, 4 oz/ 500 g caster sugar
The zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp brandy

Wash and peel the carrots, cut them into chunks and steam them for 40 minutes or until completely soft. Blitz them in a processor until very smooth and place the pureed carrots with the sugar, lemon zest and juice into a heavy-based saucepan. Stir over a very gentle heat until all the sugar has dissolved, simmer for 10 minutes. Add the almonds and brandy and stir thoroughly. Leave the jam to cool before spooning into sterilised jars. Seal the jars tightly and store in a cool, dry place.

Deb's chilli jam
Enough to make 4 small jars

10 red chillies, roughly chopped (seeds in)
8 red peppers, de-seeded and roughly chopped
A thumb-sized piece of root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
8 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 lb/ 400 g cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 lb, 14 oz/ 750 g caster sugar
8.5 fl. oz/ 250 ml red wine vinegar

Blitz the chillies, peppers, ginger and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Scrape the mixture out into a heavy-based saucepan with the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved and then bring to the boil. Skim off any surface scum and turn the heat down and leave the jam to simmer for about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the jam has started to get sticky, continue cooking for 10 - 15 minutes more, stirring frequently. Make sure the jam doesn't catch and burn on the bottom. The jam should be thick and bubbling. Leave to cool slightly before pouring into sterilised jars. Tightly seal and leave to cool completely.

Deb's cinnamon chutney
Enough to make 1 jar

1 lb, 4 oz/ 500 g plums, stoned and roughly chopped
1 apple, cored and roughly chopped
2 shallots, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
100 ml white wine vinegar
3 tbsp water
1 cinammon stick
4 oz/ 100 g soft brown sugar

In a heavy-based saucepan, fry the shallots in the oil until soft. Add the plums, apple, vinegar, water, cinnamon and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and slightly thickened. Spoon the jam into a sterilised jar, seal tightly and leave to cool completely.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

C is for... Cinnamon, cardamom and cumin chocolate truffles

Chocolates and coffee

Cinnamon, cardamom and cumin chocolate truffles

I am a big fan of spiced chocolate and think the Aztecs were right on the money when they decided to combine chocolate with chilli and spice. Chilli would be a great addition to these truffles if the mood takes you, but I decided to leave the chilli out this time. I'd already included chilli in so many of my other courses, I thought I'd stick to fragrant rather than hot spice for these. I deliberately included cardamom in these truffles as one of my dinner guests, Lisa, is a particular fan of my white chocolate and cardamom cake and I thought the cardamom in these would be right up her street. I served these chocolates with a choice of either coffee or camomile tea.

125 g good quality dark chocolate
125 ml double cream
50 g light muscovado sugar
1/4 tsp cardamom seeds, ground
2 tsp cumin seeds, dry toasted and ground
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
A pinch of salt
cocoa, sifted, for rolling

Roast the spices for 30 seconds in a dry frying pan and tip the spices on to a cold plate. Chop the chocolate into small, even pieces and place them in a medium sized mixing bowl. Place the cream and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to cool for 1 minute before pouring over your chopped chocolate. If you pour the boiling cream straight on without resting it, your ganache will split. Mix the chocolate and cream together with a balloon whisk until smooth and glossy. Stir in your toasted spices and salt and allow the ganache to cool to room temperature before covering with clingfilm and popping in the fridge for a couple of hours or until completely set. Remove from the fridge and use a teaspoon to scoop out even sized balls of ganache and then roll them between the palms of your hands to even out their shape. Roll the truffles in the cocoa and they are ready to serve.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

C is for... Chocolate and cherry clafoutis


Chocolate and cherry clafoutis

Clafoutis is a traditional Southern French pudding, which is basically a batter poured over fruit in a shallow dish and baked in the oven. I decided that the addition of chocolate and kirsch would make an indulgent change and went for individual dishes rather than the traditional single large, shallow flan/pie dish. I tried to find individual (preferably fluted) flan dished for C night, but I left it quite late in the day and the only things I could find were either too big or too small. I plumped for custard pots, as I already have a plentiful stock of them at home. If you have individual shallow dishes, then use them. As they were, the custard pots were fine, although they did take a little longer to cook because of their depth and there wasn't quite enough room for as many succulent, juicy cherries as I'd have liked. Clafoutis proved an excellent choice after all the previous courses, as although it's an indulgent chocolate pudding, it's not so rich that you feel like you need to be carried off your dining chair in a stretcher afterwards. 

You can serve clafoutis straight from the oven, but it's at its best if you leave it to cool for ten minutes or so before serving with a dusting of icing sugar and a jug of cream.

Enough for 8 individual dishes

1 lb of ripe British cherries, stoned
3 large eggs
6.5 fl. oz/ 200 ml whole milk
2 tbsp kirsch (otional)
1 heaped tbsp ground almonds
1 heaped tbsp cornflour
3 heaped tbsp plain flour
4 oz/ 100 g good quality dark chocolate
4 oz/ 100 g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
4 heaped tbsp caster sugar
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat your oven to 180 C (160 C Fan)

Grease you clafoutis dish/es and line each with a generous serving of cherries. If using individual dishes, place all of them on a baking tray for ease. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water. In the meantime, beat 2 eggs with 3 tbsp of the sugar until pale and fluffy, whisk in the milk and kirsch and sift over 1 tbsp of plain flour and mix together. In a separate bowl, beat the remaining egg with the rest of the sugar. Whisk in the cornflour, ground almonds and remaining flour and then stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Fold the milk batter into the chocolate batter. Pour the mixture over the top of the cherries and bake for 20 - 25 mins (or 35 - 40 minutes for one large dish). Once cooked, take out of the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes before sifting over a little icing sugar and serving with fresh, single cream.

Friday, 10 September 2010

C is for... Fragrant carrot and cumin salad and cherry tomato salsa

Main continued...

Fragrant carrot and cumin salad

This is a variation of a carrot salad my mother always makes as a side dish with curry, and which I make now. I love carrots and I love carrot salads and this is definitely one of my personal favourites.

7 - 10 carrots, washed, peeled and grated
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tbsp sunflower/ vegetable oil
The juice of 1 lemon

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds until they start to pop. Pour the hot oil and seeds on to the grated carrots, stir in the salt, cayenne and lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and cover the dish with clingfilm and leave to infuse for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Cherry tomato salsa

A large punnet of cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
4 spring onions, washed trimmed and finely sliced
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
A bunch of coriander, washed and finely chopped
The juice of half a lime
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper

This dish couldn't be simpler to make and it's zingy freshness complements the chicken and couscous beautifully. Simply throw all the ingredients in a bowl, stir, cover with clingfilm and leave for at least half an hour to allow the flavours to intensify.

Monday, 6 September 2010

C is for... Chermoula chicken with courgette and chickpea couscous


Chermoula Chicken

Chermoula is a North African marinade that works brilliantly with fish, lamb or chicken. It's fragrantly spicy rather than tongue tinglingly hot. For best results, marinate your chicken for several hours before cooking to allow the aromatic chermoula to work its magic, but if you're using fish, you'll only need to marinate it for half an hour to an hour. 

On C night, I made this dish with skinless breasts off the bone, which I scored and butterflied and cooked on a hot griddle. I thought the chermoula would marinate the chicken more deeply if it was skinless and thought charred tiger stripes with soft, fragrant, melt-in-the mouth chicken beneath would be just the ticket. The problem was, the marinade got too stuck to the griddle for proper tiger stripes and by the time the chicken finally cooked through, it was slightly drier than I'd have liked, but the flavour was still delicious. I've since decided that oven baked skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts would be more succulent. You can, of course, chuck some thighs and/ or drumsticks into the mix too or substitute the breasts for thighs and drumsticks all together.

1 tbsp cumin seeds, dry toasted and ground
1 tsp coriander seeds, dry toasted and ground
1 1/2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2- 3 inches of fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
3 tsp ground turmeric
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 shallots, finely chopped
The zest and juice of 2 large unwaxed lemons
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, washed and finely chopped
1 large bunch of coriander, washed and finely chopped
2 tsp sea salt
a generous grinding of black pepper
6 tbsp olive oil

6 -8 chicken breasts on the bone, with the skins scored. 

In a large dish, mix all of the marinade ingredients together and chuck the chicken in. Massage the chermoula deeply into the chicken, ensuring that all the meat is fully coated - latex or clean marigolds would be a good move here, otherwise you'll dye your hands yellow from the turmeric. Place some clingfilm over the dish and pop it in the fridge for several hours or overnight, turning the chicken over in its aromatic bath every so often.

Once you're ready to cook the chicken, transfer it to an oven-proof dish and spoon more of the marinade over the top. Place a sheet of foil over the top of the dish and pop it in a pre-heated oven at 180 C (160 C Fan) for 25 minutes. Take the foil lid off, baste the chicken and cook for a further 20 - 25 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear.

Courgette and chickpea couscous

1 large onion, finely chopped
4 - 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 courgettes, cut into quarters lengthways and then sliced.
3- 4 tsp harissa paste
500 g couscous (to feed 6 - 7 people)
The juice of 2 lemons
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
1 - 2 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
olive oil
1 1/1 pints/ 1 litre fresh chicken stock

Fry off the onion, garlic and courgette in olive oil in a large pan until soft and golden. In the meantime, place the couscous in a large bowl, pour over enough boiling chicken stock to just cover it, place a sheet of clingfilm over the top and leave the couscouse to steam for a few minutes. Stir the harissa paste, lemon juice and chickpeas into the vegetables and cook for a few minutes. Fluff up the steamed couscous and tip it into the vegetables and chickpeas. Stir it round to warm the couscous through, season and take off the heat. Drizzle over some more olive oil and lemon juice, if needed, and toss through the chopped coriander. Serve immediately. 

Saturday, 4 September 2010

C is for... crocodile skewers with cashew and coconut satay sauce and a chicory and chard garnish


Crocodile skewers with cashew & coconut satay sauce served with a chicory and chard crown.

Although I'd eaten crocodile before at Archipelago's, this is the first time I'd cooked it. It's a funny looking meat in its raw form - somewhere between chicken and fish, which, coincidentally, is just what it tastes like cooked. It's like a sea bass-y chicken, with a slightly firmer texture than chicken and it seemed to get the thumbs up from my excited dinner guests. Most of them had never tried crocodile before and so there was a buzz of excitement mixed with trepidation around the room. One guest  was particularly pleased with the idea of eating crocodile, delicately exclaiming, "I fucking hate crocodiles. Ugly, nasty-looking bastards" while stuffing an enormous forkful of satay dipped meat into her mouth. Another guest squealed with delight, "I can't believe we're going to eat something that could eat us!"

Tamzin from Animal Crackers, has only fairly recently come back to the delicious dark side after 20 years of vegetarianism, so I really did throw her in the deep end by feeding her croc. But she ate it all up without blinking an eyelid and, what's more, she seemed to enjoy it. Which I was particularly heartened by because of the vast expense. I bought the crocodile fillets from Gamston Wood Farm, who have a stall at Borough Market on Fridays and Saturdays, but I think you can also order it online from their website. It was £40 for a small taste of meat each. The crocodile was good, don't get me wrong, but I can't stop thinking how much fillet of beef you could get for that.

2 crocodile fillets, cubed
Salt and pepper
The juice of 2 lemons
4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 - 2 tbsp soy sauce

Bamboo sticks soaked in water for 20 mins (I cut them in half with a pair of kitchen scissors and gave each guest 2 skewers)

For the cashew and coconut satay sauce

8 oz/ 200 g raw, unsalted cashew nuts
The juice of 2 limes
1 tin of coconut milk
1 medium red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 tsp light brown sugar
A splash of soy sauce to season
A spoonful of white miso paste

The leaves of 1 red and 1 white chicory, washed
Some washed chard

Generously season the crocodile and place it in a large dish. Add the marinade ingredients, stir and cover the dish with clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then it's just a matter of threading the crocodile on to the bamboo sticks and placing under a hot grill or on a barbecue and cooking for a few minutes on each side or until slightly golden.

To make the sauce, blitz the cashews in a processor until finely ground and place them in a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients except for the miso paste. Simmer the satay sauce for 5 to 10 minutes, stir in the miso until it has dissolved, check the sauce for seasoning and serve hot in individual ramekins or custard pots on a plate garnished with the chicory and chard in the shape of a crown, drizzled with oil and lemon or lime juice, and two crocodile skewers.

Friday, 3 September 2010

C is for... Canapes: chorizo crostini and chilli con carne cups with corn chips

Canapes continued...

Chorizo crostini

I adore this spicy Spanish sausage spiked with piquant paprika. Richard made these, well, I helped a bit with toasting the bread and plating up, but that was essentially the full extent of my involvement in the production of this dish. Richard picked up some special cooking chorizo at Brindisa and cut it up and fried it off in a hot pan. Meanwhile, a finely sliced small baguette was toasting under the grill. I rubbed a cut clove of garlic on to the little toasts, Richard topped them with some chunks of chorizo, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a quick grind of black pepper.

Chilli con carne cups with corn chips

Chilli con carne just had to feature somewhere, given the abundant and greedy use of the letter C in just one dish. This is the only "C" I had made the day before, largely so we could eat some for dinner and reheat the rest for the chilli cups. If you're planning on serving these as canapes, I suggest you do the same, or you'll end up making far too much for the cups and besides, it's always much nicer the next day.  I used to add some grated dark chocolate to my chilli, but I don't anymore as I think just a teaspoon of sugar gives a cleaner, fresher result. By all means, if you're horrified by this omission, bung some in - I'd recommend 1 oz of grated dark chocolate or a spoonful of good quality cocoa.

1 lb lean minced beef
1 large white onion, chopped
4 - 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 large red pepper, diced
1 red chilli, finely chopped (seeds in or out, depending on personal taste)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 - 3 tsp cumin seeds, dry roasted and ground
1 tsp brown sugar
generous amounts of salt and black pepper
1 tbsp tomato puree
a splash of vinegar
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tin of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Place the onion, garlic and red pepper in a large heavy based saucepan with some olive oil and fry gently until soft and golden. I always dry fry the mince off in a non-stick frying pan and use a slotted spoon to transfer the mince, minus the fat, into the vegetable saucepan, because that's the way my mother does it and heart disease runs in my family. If you want to keep the fat in, just add the raw mince to the vegetables in the saucepan and fry it all together. Make a paste out of the cayenne, cumin, sugar, salt, black pepper, tomato puree and vinegar. Stir the fresh chilli into the mince, followed by the spice paste. Stir it thoroughly so all the minced beef is coated, then add the tinned tomatoes and about half a pint of boiling water. Stir again and leave the meat to simmer gently for about an hour or an hour and a half before stirring in the beans. Top up with more water if the chilli looks like it's getting dry and continue to simmer for another 40 minutes. Taste for seasoning and heat (if it's not hot enough add a few drops of tabasco. If it's too hot - you'll know for next time, but serve it this time with some fresh avocado on the side, doused in lemon juice to stop it browning. The cold, creaminess of the avocado will cool down the fire in your mouth). Serve in little espresso cups, with a few corn chips on each saucer.

C is for... Canapes: ceviche and crab cakes


I thought canapes would be a fun "C" - all beginning with the letter of the day of course (otherwise it would  have been a bit of a cop out). I had envisioned everyone wandering about or sitting on sofas with a glass in their hand while nibbling away, but my guests chose to be seated at the table. This had the effect of making the canapes feel like a never ending story of starters. Not a bad thing at all, as I'm sure the sensible among you will agree.


In my first Alphabet Soup post, when I outlined the rules for this challenge, I mentioned that the man I share my life and my kitchen with is allergic to fish. Initially, for this reason, I'd ruled out ceviche as it is usually made with raw white fish (just the thing he is most allergic to in all the world), but then I had an epiphany. Scallops! He's not allergic to scallops and they are probably more delicious than most white fish put together - I might have been overstating it a trifle there, but they are certainly very fine specimens of the sea.

Ceviche is a Peruvian dish using raw fish, or, in this case, scallops, which are "cooked" by the acid of citrus fruit. The citric acid, in addition to adding flavour, causes the proteins in the seafood to become denatured, which pickles or "cooks" the fish without heat. For this reason it is absolutely essential that the fish/ scallops you use are fresh and have been properly cleaned.

10 large scallops, diced (with or without the coral, depending on personal preference or availability).
1/2 - 1 medium red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 - 2 shallots, finely chopped
The juice of 2 - 3 limes
The juice of 1 small orange
A large bunch of coriander, washed, dried and finely chopped
1/2 a cucumber, with the seeds removed and finely diced
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Place all the ingredients into a lidded tupperware box and place in the fridge to marinate for between 1 and 4 hours, stirring every now and then to ensure all the scallops get properly "cooked".

Crab Cakes

As these crab cakes were destined as canapes, I made them into golf ball sized bites and served them with wedges of lime for the guests to squeeze over if they wanted to.

1 large dressed crab
2 cloves of garlic
4 spring onions, washed and trimmed
2 tsp wasabi
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce
the grated zest of 1 lime
1/2 red chilli, de-seeded
2 heaped tbsp rice flour

Blitz the garlic, spring onions and chilli in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the other ingredients and pulse until the mixture becomes a thick, doughy paste. At this point, you can scrape the mixture out into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for a few hours to allow the flavous to marry, but if time demands, they're still perfectly delicious if made immediately. When you're ready to serve, roll golf ball sized patties of the crab mixture in your hands and drop them in a frying pan with  a splash of hot sunflower/ vegetable oil in it. Fry off the crab cakes in batches, ensuring you don't overcrowd the pan or the temperature of will cool down too much and they'll end up, Drain them on some kitchen paper before transferring on to a serving plate and serving with lime wedges.

* I don't know how to put accents on letters on blogger.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

C is for...

... Cosmopolitan cocktails with canapes: chilli cashews, ceviche, crab cakes, chorizo crostini and chilli con carne cups, followed by a starter of crocodile skewers with cashew and coconut satay sauce served with a chicory and chard garnish. For main, we had chermoula chicken with chickpea and courgette couscous, fragrant carrot and cumin salad and cherry tomato salsa. Pudding was chocolate and cherry clafoutis and cream followed by cheese with charcoal crackers, celery, carrot jam, chilli jam and cinammon chutney. Lastly, we had coffee or camomile with home-made cinammon, cardamom and cumin chocolate truffles.

C night had a soundtrack made especially by the lovely Richard. The play list included The Cramps, The Clash, The Carpenters, The Cure, The Creatures, Nick Cave and Johnny Cash to name a few.  As well as providing musical entertainment, Richard also doubled as my helper for the event: hoovering, stoning cherries and mixing up an excellent batch of cosmo's were just some of his much appreciated contributions. Guests were coming at 7:30pm and, after a late-morning food shopping trip, lunch out at The Fat Deli seemed like a good idea at the time. Cooking and flat-cleaning didn't commence until 3pm, but I think I managed to pull it off in the end.  Guests turned up with a selection of wines beginning with C. We had chablis, chenin blanc, cava, Chilean cabernet sauvignon, chianti classico and cotes du rhone. It was a good night.

To kick proceedings off, we had cosmopolitan cocktails and chilli cashews. In my early twenties I worked in a cocktail bar for a few months while I was in between other things. The bar seemed to double up as a coke den, but I was so green in those days, I just thought the bosses were moody and erratic and wondered why they always seemed to have colds. While I was there, I was trained in the art of cocktail mixing and, on learning to make my first cosmopolitan, I pressed the wrong "C" on the soda gun and made it with cola instead of cranberry juice. I wouldn't recommend it, though was forced to drink the crapmopolitan and, I must admit, it seemed to get a lot better towards the end of the glass. It was a free-pouring bar, so every now and then they would test us to see how accurate we were. The answer, in my case, was not very. I must be a slow counter and frequently doubled the measurements - I was popular with the regulars. I made an excellent and pokey cosmopolitan by the end of my time there and this is how I did it.

Pre-dinner drinks and nibbles


1 1/2 parts vodka
1 part triple sec (or any orange flavoured liqueur such as cointreau or grand marnier)
1 part cranberry juice
A generous dash of lime juice
Lime wedges or twists of lime rind to serve

If you want to do it properly, you should fill each martini glass with ice while you're mixing up the cocktail to cool down the glasses and then discard the ice before pouring. Simply place all the ingredients except the lime wedge/ rind into a cocktail shaker with some ice, shake and strain into the chilled glasses. If you haven't got a cocktail shaker just stir it all up in a jug. Rub a wedge of lime around the rim of each glass, give it a light squeeze over the drink and drop it (or a twist of rind) in.

Chilli Cashews

8 oz/ 200 g cashew nuts, unsalted and raw
1 tbsp sunflower/ vegetable oil
1 tsp finely ground sea salt
1 tsp of ground black pepper
1/4 - 1 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on how fiery you like your nuts)
coarse sea salt for sprinkling

Roast the cashews on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 180 C (160 C Fan) for 6 - 8 minutes. Give them a shake halfway through roasting. In the meantime, make a spice paste with the oil, fine salt, black pepper and cayenne in a large bowl. Toss the roasted cashews in the spice paste until they are all thoroughly coated and pop them back on the baking tray to roast for a further couple of minutes. Allow the nuts to cool completely before sprinkling over some coarse sea salt and serving.