Thursday, 24 June 2010

Down on the farm

On Wednesday we were finally able to visit our new supplier, Whitethorn Farm at Carey.

A few weeks ago, the owners brought their children into the restaurant for a meal and mentioned that they'd set up an organic farm a few miles out of town several years ago.
'Could you supply us?' we immediately asked.
'Yes, of course.'
'Straight away.'
Contact details were swapped and surely enough, the next day we received an email listing all their current offerings.
We since made an order once a week and have always been blown away by the quality of their produce.
Strawberry seconds we used in a sorbet had barely a spot on them.

We've just finished peeling 2kilos of fresh garlic. Almost still wet and slighty slippery between your fingers, each clove just pops out of its paper with the gentlest nudge.
We look forward to having some beetroot next month in a special and cucumber at the height of summer when all anyone wants to drink is Pimms and lemonade.

It'd be best not to mention how vibrant the colours of all the redcurrants ripening on their bushes were, and how green and purple the seas of mixed lettuce were - you'll only want to go there yourself to take all of the lovely produce home with you.

Just imagine the delights of the orchard fruits later in the year. We feel thouroughly spoilt and so enthusiastic for all the fruits of the land that we could go out and buy a few acres and do all of the hard work ourselves.
Oh wait. No, let's leave it to the professionals.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Yet another chocolate dipped treat on a stick recipe!

Oh dear. You're all going to think that I only eat chocolate dipped treats and that I have some wierd obsession with wanting all my food to be either on a stick or stick shaped. I assure you that this is not the case and that next time I'll have something completely different to show you.
It was Father's day this sunday and although in my family it is not customary on Father's or Mother's day to buy lavish gifts, it is customary to make sure all of the family are together for a good meal, normally cooked by me. I'm sure both of my sisters would do the same, I just always get into the kitchen first!
Over the last 8 months, meals in my family have become a little different and sometimes harder to prepare. Last year my father was diagnosed with a major illness that has resulted in a complete overhaul of his diet. He is now a strict vegan, chooses to eat unrefined foods and has almost completely given up sugar. Only on very, very special occasions will he consent to a small bite of what ever delight we are all tucking into.
Savoury dishes are easily prepared for him and it's surprising how much we seem to eat without dairy as a result of his bad news.
Desserts, however, are a bit more of an issue. Natural sugars are, naturally, allowed, but we still have to steer clear of honey and natural sweeteners like agave syrup are allowed in limited quantities. You'd be amazed at how many times I have referred to baby food packets to see how their food is sweetened in order to create something for my dad.

We started our summer evening supper with a mixed bean and red lentil shepherd's pie, accompanied by oven roasted garlic and thyme carrots, creamed spinach, lemon and olive oil spinach and plenty of green cabbage.

Everyone was overjoyed when I brought a plate of pudding to the table that we could all tuck into - chocolate dipped coconut and pomegrante ice lollies!
Please don't be alarmed by how unconventional these desserts seem. Beetroot, yes that's right, beetroot, is fantastically sweet and is not the predominant flavour. It is there as a background flavour and to give an extra colour boost. Wow, does it work!

Flesh one coconut, brown inner skin removed
320ml pomegrante juice (around 8 pomegrantes if you're going to juice them yourself)
240ml agave syrup
390g precooked beetroot
1 tsp vanilla extract
1tbsp lemon zest
Pinch salt
150g dark chocolate (I used a dairy free)
100g coconut oil (I found mine in Holland and Barratt)

Place all ingredients into a blender and whisk until smooth and creamy. This can take up to ten minutes so be patient!
Pour your mixture into any shape of silicone mould that you have - mine was a heart shaped ice cube tray - and freeze for about six hours.
Next, make the chocolate covering by melting the chocolate and coconut oil together until just liquid adn leave it cool. It won't set for several hours if kept at room temperature, so this can be made well in advance.
When your shapes have set, very carefully pop them out of the moulds and gently push a wooden skewer into the centre of each. Don't wiggle them around though - otherwise the skewer will fall out.
Carefully dip each one into the chocolate mixture, being sure to dip a little of the wooden skewer in too, to help create an extra seal. Watch in amazement as the chocolate quickly sets to create a hard shell around the ice lolly.
Store in the freezer until you are ready to serve them - ideally upright in a vase or tall glass for maximum effect!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A Little Light Baking

As the days get hotter and brighter, I find that the last thing I want to do is spend all afternoon in a hot kitchen (I'll have the pleasure of doing that all evening). Unfortunately, my desire to bake is overwhelming and I just have to get my hands dirty all over again.

At the beginning of the week I took M out in her pushchair and walked up to Sainsburys for a few groceries. Naturally, I came back with a few too many things - some that had caught my eye as I walked up an aisle, and others that were on offer and seemed far too good to refuse. One such item was a packet of Mikado biscuits, something some of my friends had been praising for a little while. I'd not yet tried them and had almost ripped the foil open before I'd left the shop.

What addictive little chocolate biscuits. I understood the hype immediately and promptly scoffed the little packet.

The following day I craved more Mikado. And a session in the kitchen. I opened my well stocked cupboard from the previous days outing and found all the ingredients to make some Mikado of my own. Of course, I couldn't just make a basic version - they had to be bettered with nuts and dried fruit.

At first I tried to make my biscuits round like Mikados are - but it took a lot of time and effort to roll the dough out thinly enough and once the first batch came out of the oven, they weren't as uniform as I'd hoped so I decided to make them square instead. Thank goodness for time saving methods!

Chocolate, pistachio and cranberry dipped biscuits

200g unsalted soft unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
400g plain flour, plus more for dusting
150g dark chocolate
50g shelled pistachios, finely chopped
50g dried cranberries, finely chopped

Using the paddle attachment in an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until creamy.
Beat in the egg until it's well combined. Sieve in the flour and mix until a dough forms.Gather into a ball with your hands and wrap in cling film before putting it in the fridge for an hour to chill.

When the hour is up, turn the oven on to gas mark 4, 180C. Grease and line two baking sheets. Remove the dough from the fridge and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Working quickly, roll out to 5mm thick and trim the edges to form a rectangle. Cut out long sticks of dough, not more than 5mm wide and transfer very carefully to the baking tray. Place the sticks no closer than 1cm in case they spread.
Bake 4-5mins until golden.
Leave the biscuits to set on the baking tray for a few mins before transfering to a cooling rack.

When all the biscuits are cooked and cooled you can get on with decorating them.
Melt your chocolate in a glass bowl over simmering water and pour it into the centre of a baking tray. Have a sheet of greasproof paper out on the worksurface to place your chocolate dipped sticks.
One at a time, lie all but the last inch of a biscuit in the melted chocolate and roll it around until more of it is covered. Drip each over the puddle of melted chocolate for a moment to get rid of any excess chocolate before lying flat on the greaseproof paper. After dipping five sticks, sprinkle with the chopped pistachio and dried cranberry pieces and admire your handiwork.

Of course, any nuts or dried fruits, or indeed types of chocolate, would work well with this recipe. Next time I put a batch in the oven, I plan on coating them in pink dyed white chocolate and dried blueberry pieces.

Best served dunked!