Sunny poached apricots

Apricots

A slightly revised version of a BBC recipe. It’s just made for the tart, red-tinged apricots we get here. Apricots are nearly always disappointing raw, but brief cooking really intensifies the flavour. Baking in the oven rather than cooking on the stove top is gentler and means they are less likely to collapse. I do them when I am using the oven for something else anyway. Do plenty, and store in the fridge for instant dessert with cream, fromage frais, or ice cream.
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Easy fruity cakey pudding

As you can see, it was difficult to decide what to call this. I freely admit to lifting it almost wholesale from Baking in Franglais, because I had a few ripe apricots that needed using quickly. As usual, I made a few changes; I forgot to buy an orange, so I added lemon zest instead, and I used only apricots because I’d eaten all the cherries. Also, the recipe specifies a 20-cm springform tin. In my cupboard I have an 18-cm and a 22-cm one. Hmph. I decided to go for the 22-cm one until I saw what a tiny amount of mixture there was. The 18-cm one was the perfect size, producing a taller cake than Jean’s. I reckon I could have doubled the recipe if I’d used the 22-cm tin.

Verdict: a really good, light cake with very little fat and sugar. Cold, you can eat it as cake; we had it slightly warm for dessert with a dollop of chilled fromage frais, but cream or custard would be fine too, of course. It’s a keeper, for those times when you have a small amount of ripe fruit to use up. I’m sure it would be great with plums, cherries or peaches, apples or pears, or any combination. You can vary the other flavourings according to what fruit you use.
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Pot-roasted chicken and root vegetables

I cooked this based on a recipe from Slimming World, believe it or not, adapted to my own tastes and what I had available. It will be appreciated by slimmers and non-slimmers alike. The vegetables become meltingly soft and sweet, imbued with the flavour of the stock. Very easy when you have guests too, because you can just put it in the oven an hour before the meal and leave it to cook. I added roast spuds for a complete meal, followed by a crisp, simple green salad.
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Lemon chicken stir-fry

This is based on a recipe from the Hairy Bikers’ diet book. It’s quick, delicious, cheap, and less than 200 calories a portion — definitely worth saving for posterity. If on a diet, serve with plain boiled rice or Chinese noodles.

Note, no rice wine here so I used Noilly Prat. You could use not-too-dry white wine, or sherry.
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Romesco sauce

Calçots and salsa romesco

This is a truly classic Catalan sauce. Pounded nuts, usually almonds, are a strong feature of Catalan cooking, used to thicken sauces, whether savoury or sweet. Romesco sauce is very versatile: you can serve it with plainly grilled or baked fish, for example. Or steak. Or even escalivade. A very traditional combination is with calçots, young green onions that are grilled over an open fire in winter and early spring. They’re served on a roof tile to keep them warm, and eating them (with your fingers) is a messy business; when I ate them in a restaurant, I was provided with a bib!

It’s an uncooked sauce which is ridiculously easy to make — it will take you five minutes if you use a jar of peppers and a food processor or blender. I used the method in this video, substituting salt for the anchovies. Anchovies are not traditional, and they make the sauce unsuitable for vegetarians.
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Elizabeth David’s Christmas: potato, tomato and celery soup

An Elizabeth David book in the reserve collection? Yes, really! This was a Christmas present a few years ago, and I confess I’d forgotten I had it, so I pounced on it with a cry of delight. It was actually published posthumously; in her preface her editor Jill Norman says they’d discussed the concept off and on for years, but it never came to anything, so after Elizabeth’s death she was surprised to find a box with a pile of notes and clippings for the book, and even an introduction. So she pulled the material together and published it.

Many of the recipes are from ED’s other books, but it’s nice to have all these seasonal recipes in one place. Not that ED was much of a fan of the traditional British Christmas. She got bombarded with calls from friends and family asking how long to to cook the turkey or the pudding, or saying they’d lost the recipe for Cumberland sauce so could she give it them again — to the point where she printed a pamphlet of the most popular recipes and handed it out to them. Classic ED:

If I had my way — and I shan’t — my Christmas Day eating and drinking would consist of an omelette and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine at lunchtime, and a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne on a tray in bed in the evening.

What frenetic cook preparing for a family Christmas can’t empathise with that in the days leading up to “the Great Too Long”? It certainly makes a refreshing change from other Christmas cookbooks.

That being said, although there are token recipes for traditional Christmas food like mincemeat and Christmas pudding, much of the focus of this book is on simple but impressive small dishes that can be prepared ahead, pâtés and terrines that can be kept in the fridge for nibbling, and better-than-average ways of using leftovers (including one of my all-time favourite leftover dishes, émincé de volaille au fromage). And like all of ED’s books it is designed to be read for pleasure, not just to cook from. I happily spent an afternoon lounging on the sofa by the fire reading it while my untended bread dough bubbled over the edge of the pan.

Happily, the organic veg box provided all I needed for a simple soup of tomato, leek and celery. She writes “This is one of the most subtly flavoured of all these vegetable soups … a good soup with which to start the Christmas dinner.” It was indeed. Celery is something I don’t like as a vegetable, but as a herb it adds a nice peppery edge to soups and stews. My tail-end-of-season tomatoes weren’t the best, but they did the job — if I make it again at Christmas I’ll use tinned ones in preference to tasteless fresh ones (one day I’m going to start a campaign to ban the sale of fresh tomatoes between October and May).

Unfortunately, the box also contained parsnips, for the third week in a row. So I decided to give her cream of parsnips and ginger with eggs a go. I got as far as cooking and mouli-ing the parsnips and adding the ginger, and the result tasted so unutterably foul that I almost threw it straight in the bin. We just had soup and cheese and biscuits that evening. I don’t think I can blame Elizabeth David for this though — I just don’t like parsnips, and somehow mashing them makes them taste more parsnippy than just roasting would.

This book will definitely stay in my collection. And it’s a good Christmas gift for foodies as well, a reminder of how truly good food writing is impervious to fashion. So much so that the modish soft-focus photos that the publishers obviously felt had to be in any modern cookbook are entirely superfluous. Elizabeth David’s words are enough
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Bookmarked recipes: Chilli jam

Spicy preserves 2

I bookmarked Jacqueline’s bookmarked recipe challenge, originally started by Ruth, a couple of weeks ago. I have tons of bookmarked recipes: a long list in my browser bookmarks, a few more stashed in Evernote, a box full of magazine and newspaper clippings, cookbooks bristling with Post-Its and bookdarts. Where to start?

Well, my recent browse through Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookbook provided inspiration in the form of tomato and pepper chutney, now maturing nicely in the larder. There’s something very satisfying about starting out with a pan full of chopped vegetables, reeking of vinegar, and finishing with these glowing jars of glossy red chutney, and it kickstarted me into more preserving. After a quick detour into Delia’s famous mincemeat, which I’ve had a printout of for ages and never made, I was prompted by the Cottage Smallholder site, fount of all knowledge about preserving, to make some sweet chilli jam using a recipe from the BBC Good Food site, a frequent source of bookmarked recipes. I love chilli jam and jelly — they make a lovely relish for cheesy and eggy things, and I’m also partial to them with scallops. I bet both jam and chutney will go very nicely with turkey too.

This is my version of the chilli jam recipe. I found the original rather imprecise in some ways. For example, it gives weights for some ingredients but then just specifies “8 red peppers”. Mine were huge, at least double the normal size, so I used four. Then it says “10 red chillies”, without any qualification — a little dangerous in my view. Throw in 10 Scotch Bonnet chillies with their seeds and the jam will blow your head off. I did like one comment on the BBC site which queried the “finger-sized piece of ginger” because “I have big hands”! As always, nothing beats tasting and adjusting as you go.
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Moroccan carrot salad

A carrot salad might sound a bit dull, but this Ottolenghi recipe is really lovely. It reminds me of the delicious carrots I had as a side dish at a Lebanese restaurant in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain. I tweaked it a bit for French tastes (no chillis!). It’s very versatile — it can be served warm or at room temperature, as a dish in its own right, as one of a selection of hors d’oeuvres, or as a side dish. You can of course vary the spices according to taste.
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Roasted plums with balsamic vinegar

balsamic roast plums

Plums can be a bit bland and mushy, but this recipe really gives them some zing. Use smallish red plums. I used these to make little plum tarts: blind bake some tartlet cases of pâte sablée until crisp and golden, then tuck two or three roasted plums into each, drizzle over a very little syrup, and top with a blob of crème fraîche flavoured with finely chopped crystallised ginger and a little black pepper. You can cook the pastry in advance, but don’t assemble the tarts till the last minute.

The plums are fine on their own too, with cream, ice cream, or Greek yoghurt, and keep well in the fridge for up to a week. Or you can freeze them.
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Tartare de tomates

OK, this is just tomato salad presented in a trendy form. But draining and marinating the tomatoes really concentrates the flavour. Assuming your tomatoes have flavour in the first place. If all you’ve got are Dutch hothouse tomatoes, don’t bother.

This is good served with mild fresh goat or sheep cheese. But I think it would go well with fish too. Or thinly sliced raw vegetables (fennel, baby artichokes…). Maybe even roasted garlic. Note that you need to start preparing it at least 8 hours before you want to eat it.

I had a photo, but I deleted it! Oh well.
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