Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The News We Have Waited Six Months For

Last Friday we found ourselves smiling, shouting and almost jumping for joy when our solicitor called and said "We've exchanged, you'll be moving next Monday!"

Overjoyed is not the word. This house sale has been six irritating months in the making and we have pestered those acting on our behalf, considered trashing the house for the next owners and almost cried ourselves to sleep when we discovered that yet another moving date was postponed because the other parties involved were not acting as fast as we would have liked.

We have entertained, lived and loved among these walls as much as we could.

We are moving from a Victorian terrace to a Victorian semi detatched cottage with the extra space we craved and a beautifully established garden. We are looking forward to a glut of eight types of summer and autumn fruits and long summer evenings spent amongst the fragrant herbs already established. We are so eager to get into the house that we have already done a lot of packing and are picturing where all the furniture will go. Little diagrams illustrating where all the kitchen equipment might go litter the dining table. We have chatted about paint to go on the walls and the possibility of a few changes to the house.
It has a new kitchen that is only slightly bigger than our current one but has a huge window and seems so light and airy. L has already started planning a house warming for once the boxes are unpacked.

There are some very busy and exciting times ahead for the three of us. We know it's going to be stressful and a bit mad for a couple of weeks, and so this will be my last post for a fortnight or so.
I'm busy trying to empty the freezer and found some puff pastry lurking at the back. All three of us seem to be tomato mad at the moment, so plenty of ripe ones had to match it somehow. A few days before I threw the words 'tarte tatin' into a conversation with L at the dinner table who confessed he'd never tried one. Okay, okay. I know this is not a traditional one with apples and a beautiful sticky caramel sauce oozing around them, but it's a start and L and M both loved it.

Tomato Tarte Tatin

500g ready-made puff pastry
40 cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp runny honey
plain flour, for dusting
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
small bunch fresh basil
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5.
Pack the tomatoes tightly into a 20cm/8in ovenproof frying pan or cake tin with the olive oil, salt and pepper and drizzle over the honey.
On a well-floured work surface, roll out a circle of puff pastry the same size as the top of the frying pan. Place the puff pastry over the tomatoes, tucking it around them so the tomatoes are encased.
Brush the top of the pastry with the lightly beaten egg.
Bake in the oven for 35 - 40 minutes, until the puff pastry is well puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to sit for a few minutes, then carefully tip away the excess liquid and put a large plate upside down on top of the frying pan. Using oven gloves, press the plate down hard and then quickly flip the whole thing so the frying pan is upside down and the plate is on the bottom.
Remove the frying pan. Once the tart is cold, rip up some basil leaves and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Bread for Life

Bread making seems to have become an unintentionally fulfilled new years resolution. I have made a variety at least once a week since 2011 began.

It's one of those things I always promise to make more but never seem to commit to properly. We eat so much bread, probably too much, but having it by the side of your plate at most meals to mop up sauces or salad dressings seems to be an integral part of the Italian side of the family.

Lately, we have had pizza (or course), three seed and oat soda bread, basic loafs and rolls. I ran out of yeast and flour within a few weeks and so enjoyed a little trip to the wholefoods shop to restock the cupboard with umpteen different varieties of flour and have my eye on a few more.
I am particularly itching to try Kamut flour, a wholegrain bread flour grown by the pharoahs of ancient Egypt, that is also great for making your own pasta. Being a bit of an ancient Egypt fanatic, to me there's something very magical in indulging in the same basic grain the great Kings once wore their teeth down on. I'd love to hear if anyone has used it before.
Kamut is a little pricey, so it will have to wait for another time. Wholegrain spelt flour however, seems to be very in vogue at the moment and is quite a bit cheaper too. I've used it with great success in sweet and savoury crumbles, pastry and cakes. For me though, bread is where it really seems to shine. It adds a nutty taste, even when, as below, a recipe doesn't use it as the main ingredient.

While I try to wean Leo on to brown bread, I use a 1:1 ratio of white bread flour to wholegrain spelt flour. He can tell by the doughs colour that I've been messing around with a recipe again (somehow a stray fennel, parsnip, jerusalem artichoke or swede often ends up in his meal, much to his disgust but he eats it anyway to set a good example for M and to make me happy), but this is one variation he seems to enjoy - especially with a good lump of creamy salted butter to pour all over it.
We ate these with a hot batch of homemade lemony chickpea burgers and all the trimmings. Delish!

Seeded Wholegrain Spelt Bread Rolls (makes 8)

1 7g sachet dried active yeast
300ml lukewarm water
1tbsp olive oil
250g strong white bread flour
250g wholegrain spelt flour
1tsp salt
100g mixed seeds

Stir the packet of yeast into the warm water and leave for 10 minutes until the yeast is visibly foaming and creamy.
Measure out the flours and seeds and salt into a large mixing bowl and give it all a quick stir. 
When the yeast mixture is ready, pour it and the oil into the flours and stir to form a dough. 
When the dough has come together, gently knead by hand for 8 minutes, or for 4 minutes using the dough hook in a freestanding mixer. It is ready when it is silky smooth, elastic and bounces back when you push a finger into the dough.
Place in a large bowl, loosely cover with a teatowel and leave in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.
When risen, knock the air out of the dough and place on a well floured surface. Knead for another 2 minutes before dividing into 8 equal pieces.
Shape into balls and place on an oiled baking tray, closely together and leave for another half an hour to rise by the oven which you should at this point preheat to gas mark 5.
Place the slightly risen rolls in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes until they are browned, crispy and sound hollow when you tap the bottom of them.
As with all homemade bread, this is best served warm.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

World Nutella Day 2011

A bowl of defrosting raspberries has been sitting in the fridge for two days now. L took them out by accident and I forgot to put them away again.
They look so beautiful sitting in all their crimson juices that I almost don't want to use them. Defrosted raspberries have the unfortunate luck of immediately losing all physical structure when you try to use them. No matter how gentle you are, they turn to mush.
It's been a funny little week to - we are tired even though we don't seem to have done anything and a busy night ahead means I know I want to eat them with minimal preparation involved.

In case you hadn't noticed, it's world Nutella day today. L is overjoyed that such a celebration exists and has been telling customers about it all week.
'Make sure to eat lots of Nutella on Saturday!', he has called after people leaving the restaurant. 
What better than stealing a bowl or two of the restaurants Nutella ice cream supply to devour the raspberries with? The mere thought of eating a pudding for once (it's been a few weeks since we ate more then fruit after a meal) restored my energy and I made a little framboise syrup and some oatbran florentines to accompany.
I love finding that all the ingredients I need are already in the cupboard. Do try the Florentines on their own one day too. I like mine slightly undercooked so they are chewy but L prefers them crispier and with a snap as you break them with your teeth.

Florentine Cookies (adapted from the Nestle website)
75g unsalted butter

80g oatbran
115g granulated sugar
40g plain flour
30ml agave nectar
30ml golden syrup
30ml whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to gas mark 5. Prepare your baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper
Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then remove from the heat.
To the melted butter add oats, sugar, flour, agave nectar, golden syrup, milk, vanilla and salt. Mix well.
Drop a tablespoon full, three inches (75 mm) apart, onto your prepared baking sheet. Flatten slightly with the back of your tablespoon, or use a spatula. They mixture spreads a lot during cooking.
Bake in preheated oven for 6-8 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Cool completely on the baking sheets. If you wish to neaten yours up like I did, after five minutes, press a cookie cutter firmly down into the florentines to neaten up the edges.

Framboise Raspberries

250g defrosted raspberries
1 tbsp sugar still in their storage bag
1 tbsp Framboise liqueur

Carefully sieve the raspberries over a small saucepan so none of the juices are wasted. Don't try to squeeze them so they stay as intact as possible.

Remove the raspberries to a bowl.
Add the sugar and Framboise to the raspberry juice and bring to a rapid boil.
Simmer for about 4 minutes, stirring often, until reduced and syrupy. Set aside to cool.

Serve Nutella ice cream drizzled with the syrup and the raspberries, using the florentine as a spoon as and when necessary.