A Sweet (and Savoury) Treat

I have always had this thing for salty/sweet foods. As a wayward youth, I would dip McDonalds French Fries into their thick chocolate shakes. I have also been known to eat Kit Kat Chunky bars with a packet of Ready Salted Crisps. And of course, I adore anything that combines peanut butter with chocolate.
However, this strange compulsion did not manage to reach the dinner table. That is, until Sunday.
Cooking an ad-hoc and very late Thanksgiving Meal for Paul and a couple of friends, I was asked to prepare Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows, Green Bean Casserole and Cranberry Sauce. It was the least I could do, considering I refused to cook a large turkey (a turkey for four equates to lots of leftovers that just end up in the dogs bowl – not that they mind) and forgot to make any stuffing for the organic chicken I prepared instead.
Paul has been requesting Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows (known in the US as Candied Sweet Potatoes or Yams) every Thanksgiving that I’ve known him and for some reason I’ve never actually prepared it. This year though, I relented. I pulled out a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Feast and got to work.
The sweet potatoes are drizzled with a little olive oil, wrapped in foil and baked at a reasonably high temperature until meltingly soft. The orange flesh is then stripped easily from the skin and whipped up with some butter, cinnamon, salt and lime juice. This mash (tasty enough to serve alone) is then topped with marshmallows and seared in a really hot oven for 10 minutes until melty, crusty and browned. And that first taste? It is like an orgasm of flavour on the tongue. Every mouthful offers complete and utter satisfaction, whether you smear a dab of it on the chicken, or mix it with a little mashed potato or just savour it alone. Quite simply, it is the best side dish I have ever tasted, all other dishes fading into simple mediocrity when pitched against this ambrosial treat.
Furthermore, the dish transported me, via its heady, scented taste to America, where I have never eaten them before. I have, however, smelt this cinnamon sweet smell all over the US at Thanksgiving. A simple, sweet aroma that I truly gave thanks for.
The best thing about Thanksgiving? I never thought I would say this, but the leftovers. Our guests were sitting on the fence about the Sweet Potatoes (but they loved the Green Bean Casserole) and apparently aren’t as fiendishly desiring of vegetables in various states of mashed-ness. The next day, we fried up the mashed potato and mashed parsnip (another fantastic way to serve this underused vegetable: boil until tender, then mash with lots of butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg, dash of maple syrup and a small glug of brandy or rum) with some leftover brussel sprouts: a slightly different version of Bubble and Squeak. This was served alongside the reheated Sweet Potato Marshmallow nectar (still just as good), and some baked beans. Sure, it was a little strange but it was more than just a little great. And not just for Thanksgiving.

If the taste alone isn't enough to get you try it, there are the health benefits from eating Sweet Potatoes (if you minus the marshmallows). They are rich in complex carbohydrates, Vitamin C and Vitamin B6 plus Beta Carotine. In 1992, the Sweet Potato ranked highest, compared to other vegetables, for nutritional content and benefit. They are incredibly good for diabetics (definitely minus the marshmallows!) as they can stabilise the blood sugar levels too.
And if you’ll excuse me, I have to go out and buy some Sweet Potatoes – I have half a bag of marshmallows that desperately need using up.

Now, A Reason to Use Up That Sherry....

If you have ever wondered what to do with the bottle of sherry that your friend brought back from Spain, I (or rather Delia Smith) have the perfect recipe.
I am not a big sherry drinker, finding it too heavy and sweet for sipping purposes. However, it is an excellent all-round alcohol for cooking with, whether you want to add a bit of depth to a stir-fry or gravy, bolster a rich, meaty ragu or to bring out the natural sweetness of berries. You might even use it in a trifle.
Sherry, or particularly Marsala, is used to it's greatest success though in that most traditional of all Italian sweets, Zabaglione. A simple mousse-like dessert, comprising of egg yolks, sugar and Marsala (but other sweet wines can be used for different flavour) whisked in a double boiler, until light and fluffy. There is a charming story from 15th Century Italy that describes the initial process of how Zabaglione was discovered. A skillful and fierce Umbrian nobleman called Giovan Baglioni (known locally as Zvan Bajoun) was forced to keep his army of men happy (apparently they would switch sides if they were not given suitable rations – a case of politics being ruled by the stomach) when they were fighting and, discovering that he only had some eggs, honey and sweet wine at his disposal, ordered his cooks to boil everything in a pan and serve up the resulting dish. The solders so enjoyed this sweetened, slightly frothy mixture that they asked for seconds, slept soundly that night and fought with such vigour the next day that the surviving opposition asked them what was their secret. They simply replied Zwanbajoun. Over time, the name has been refined to Zabaglione, the method has been made simpler and the honey replaced with sugar. However, It is still considered as a “pick-me-up”, no doubt due to the high alcohol content, although I am not sure if the Italian army are still served it as part of their daily menu!

Delia Smith, Britain’s first true TV domestic goddess, has generously visited Harry's Bar in Venice on our behalf, sampled the many Venetian treats they have to offer and returned with a truly stunning torte that is both simple and wonderfully delicious, Harry's Bar Torta di Zabaglione.
An all in one, featherlight sponge cake, so light as to be almost of pudding texture, filled generously with a rich, thick Zabaglione-inspired cream.
The cream needs to be chilled for at least two hours, so make this first. The cake can also be made a few hours in advance and wrapped in clingfilm when cooled, ready to cut in half when you are.
It is simple enough to serve for a casual afternoon tea on Sunday but looks glamorously pale enough to be served for a special occasion too. In her book, How to Cook Pt.3, Delia ices the sides but leaves the golden top plain, just dusted with icing sugar. However, you may find, as I did, that this was a little hard to achieve. Despite being chilled, the filling remains just a bit too creamy to give a perfect presentation to the cake. I simply slathered it on all over. And you will have cream left over. Just eat it with a spoon. Cooks treat, of course.

Oh, and it is just as good a couple of days later, providing it has been well fridged. At this point, heavily laden with the boozy cream, it really does become pudding like. And terribly, wonderfully, moreish.
The perfect Pick-Me-Up!

HARRYS BAR TORTA DI ZABAGLIONE from Delia Smiths How to Cook Book 3
For the Zabaglione filling:
3 large egg yolks
3 oz (75 g) golden caster sugar
1½ oz (40 g) plain flour, sifted
9 fl oz (250 ml) Marsala
12 fl oz (340 ml) double cream
For the cake:
4 oz (110 g) self-raising flour
½ level teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 oz (110 g) very soft butter
4 oz (110 g) golden caster sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
a little sifted icing sugar, to dust

You will also need a 1½ in (4 cm) deep sponge tin, 8 in (20 cm) in diameter, lightly greased and the base lined with silicone paper (baking parchment).
First of all make the Zabaglione filling. Using an electric hand whisk, beat the egg yolks for 1 minute in a medium bowl, then add the sugar and beat until the mixture is thick and pale yellow (about 3 minutes). Next, whisk in the flour a tablespoon at a time, mixing in very thoroughly, then gradually whisk in the Marsala.
Now tip the mixture into a medium heavy-based saucepan and place over a medium heat. Then, cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it has thickened and is just about to boil; this will take about 5 minutes. Don't worry if it looks a bit lumpy, just tip it into a clean bowl, then whisk until smooth again. Let the custard cool, whisking it from time to time to stop a skin forming. When it is cold, cover with clingfilm and pop in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C).
Meanwhile, make the cake. To do this, take a large mixing bowl, place the flour and baking powder in a sieve and sift into the bowl, holding the sieve high to give them a good airing as they go down. Now all you do is simply add the other cake ingredients to the bowl and, provided the butter is really soft, just go in with the electric hand whisk and whisk everything together until you have a smooth, well-combined mixture, which will take about 1 minute. What you will now end up with is a mixture that drops off a spoon when you give it a tap on the side of the bowl. If it seems a bit stiff, add a little water and mix again.
Now spoon the mixture into the tin, level it out with the back of a spoon and place the tin on the centre shelf of the oven. The cake will take 30-35 minutes to cook, but don't open the oven door until 30 minutes have elapsed. To test whether it is cooked or not, touch the centre lightly with a finger: if it leaves no impression and the sponge springs back, it is ready. Remove it from the oven, then wait about 5 minutes before turning it out on to a wire cooling rack. Carefully peel off the base paper, which is easier if you make a fold in the paper first, then pull it gently away without trying to lift it off. Now leave the sponge to cool completely.
To assemble the torta, whip the double cream in a large bowl until stiff, then add the Zabaglione custard to the bowl and whisk again until thoroughly mixed. Place the cake flat on a board, then, holding a serrated palette knife horizontally, carefully slice it into 2 thin halves. Next, reserve 2-3 heaped tablespoons of the Zabaglione filling to decorate the sides of the cake and spread the rest of the filling over the bottom half, easing it gently to the edges. Place the other cake half on top and press down very gently. Before you spread the mixture on the sides of the cake, it's a good idea to brush away any loose crumbs, so they don't get mixed up in it. Now, using a small palette knife, spread the reserved filling evenly all around the sides of the cake. Finally, dust the top with the icing sugar before serving. If the cake is made and decorated ahead of time, store it, covered, in the fridge (to keep it firm), but remove it half an hour before serving
(recipe taken from directly from Delia's website, as I cannot possibly improve on it!)

A Sweet Thanksgiving Pt.2

The second of our Sweet Thanksgiving desserts, Banana Cream Pudding, holds a very special place in my heart for two reasons. Going way back to my childhood, a stripped down version of Banana Cream Pudding, sliced banana smothered in packet custard. A virtually instant and gratifying finish to a homely meal. I feel particularly fond of Banana Custard because it is my grandfather’s favourite pudding; in fact anything with bananas is his favourite. My grandad was the one who first showed me how to slice a banana before peeling it, and afterwards he would have to feign mock surprise as I demonstrated my new trick to him.
The second reason I am so fond of Banana Cream Pudding is that the true ingredients of the dish, Vanilla Pudding and Nila Wafers remind me of my first road trip to the US with my then-to-be husband, Paul. We put on pounds travelling around US, eating Nilla Wafers from the box and scooping out various flavours of Pudding with our our already Cheetoe-orange strained fingers. I later returned to the UK with boxes of powdered pudding in all sorts of lurid flavours and broken Nilla Wafers that hadn’t entirely survived the manhandling of the luggage handlers.
I hadn’t eaten banana custard OR Nilla wafers OR pudding for some time and Paul had requested that his Mom send us a box of the wafers over in a large care box containing several now-well thumbed issues of Gourmet Magazine. Suffice to say, the request for Banana Cream Pudding was soon demanded but I was given one proviso: I cannot use custard, I have to find a recipe for Vanilla Pudding. Just between me and the UK readers, custard is a fairly good representation of Pudding, particularly if you make it really quite thick, or use a cartoned brand (they keep forever – literally – in the pantry).
However, in this instance, I conceded and found a recipe on the Nabisco (home of the Nilla Wafer) website. Pudding is easy to make, flour, sugar, milk, egg yolks whisked up in a double boiler until the lumpy gloop turns smooth and thickens. It is then liberally, generously blanketed over sliced bananas and Nilla Wafers (there is no UK substitute for these – and, even though I am a biscuit connoisseur, I cannot think of a similar alternative. Some of those fancy Breton-style Butter rich shortcake biscuits would be just as yummy though), covered with Meringue and flashed briefly in a hot oven to brown. I thought that a sweet meringue topping would be too much sugar so replaced this with another childhood favourite, Dream Topping.
Dream Topping is our nearest equivalent to America’s Cool Whip, an amazing demonstration of what a evil genius with a craving for whipped cream but no refrigerator and open access to a cupboard full of chemicals, can produce. Both Dream Topping (a powder that you whisk up with milk) and Cool Whip are airy creams, with no hint of dairy flavour and a slightly sweet demeanour. I find both of them completely alluring and perfect for this already calorie laden pudding.
You can, of course, use regular whipped cream or go for the meringue option.
For a real retro treat, here’s how to whip up Banana Cream Pudding:
serves at least 6-8
5 Bananas, peeled and sliced, sprinkled with a little 7-up or lemon juice to stop them browning
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/3 Cup Plain Flour
Pinch Salt
3 Egg Yolks (reserve the whites for meringue topping, if making)
2 Cups Milk
½ Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Box Nilla Wafers (or similar buttery-style biscuit)
Whipped Cream or a Sachet of Dream Topping or Cool Whip (if not making the meringue)
In the top half of a double boiler, whisk together the flour, sugar and pinch of salt. Then whisk in the milk and egg yolks. Place over the bottom half of the double boiler (which will need to be quarter filled with water and brought to a brisk simmer).
Whisk mixture for 10-12 minutes, or until thickens.
Pour a little of the mixture into a heatproof serving dish, layer with the Nilla Wafers or biscuits, then a layer of sliced bananas.
Repeat this layering twice more, ending with the Pudding.
If you are going for the cream topping, slather all over the top and decorate with some more Nilla Wafers and slices of banana.
If you want to make the meringue topping, whisk the egg whites until stiff, pour in a quarter of a cup of sugar and whisk until stiff and glossy. Spoon over the pudding, taking care to cover over all the edges and bake in a pre-heated oven (175c) until browned, about 15-20 minutes.
Spoon into large bowls and straight into mouth.

A Sweet Thanksgiving Pt.1

Just because Paul and I ‘eat sensibly’ during the week doesn’t mean that we don’t treat ourselves at the weekends. And this weekend was no exception. In fact, I probably went a little OTT with the sweet treat, making not one, not two but three puds!
OK, so one of them had to be made for Paul’s pumpkin Thanksgiving treat. The other two, well, I just felt like making them.
Here then, is the part one of our Sweet Thanksgiving Weekend one off series: Cafe Sperl's Plum Squares.
The recipe, taken from Diana Henry’s wonderful Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, has been tempting me for some time. I haven’t done a lot of baking for a while and this recipe seemed like a gently re-introduction into the fine world of blending cream, sugar and flour to produce something sublime.
This recipe involves a vanilla scented shortcrust base that is easily whipped up in the food processor (although could be mixed up by hand), chilled for half an hour and then pressed into a baking sheet. It is then topped with stoned and halved plums or damsons, sprinkled with a generous amount of sugar and baked until fruit is verging on sweet, sticky collapse. The fruity shortbread is then glazed with hot apricot jam, left to set and cut into squares.
Aside from the dazzling, gem-like finish, this is otherwise a fairly unassuming looking cake/biscuit(?), with a flat base. Once you bite through the sticky tart and sweet fruit into the fragrant crumbly pastry, you are transported (with a bit of imagination) to a baroque-style café in Vienna, sipping hot chocolate and watching children sweep by in velvet coats on ice skates.
There is something timeless about these simple sweetmeats, so easy to make and yet incredibly complex on the taste buds.

I used some frozen plums left over from late Summer, but you could also use slices of pear or apple, fresh blackberries, greengages or gooseberries. The fruit doesn’t need to emit too much liquid as it cooks, lest you should suffer a soggy bottom, although a light dusting of fine cornmeal (polenta) on the base before you layer up the fruit should soak up too much ooze if you really fancy trying it with strawberries or raspberries.
A simple, sweet treat that can be made the day before you want to serve it, looks just as charming served casually with a cup of tea or coffee as with a generous slug single cream for a decadent pudding.

CAFE SPERL'S PLUM SQUARES (from Diana Henry's Roasted Figs, Sugar Snow)
200g Plain Flour
100g Butter, not fridged
175g Caster Sugar
1 Egg Yolk
1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract
675g Plums or other soft fruit, de-stoned if necessary
2 tbsp Sugar
200g Redcurrant or Apricot Jam
To make the base, place the flour and butter in a food processor fitted with the plastic blade and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and salt, mix again.
Add the egg yolk and vanilla and process until it forms a rough ball.
Scoop out of the processor bowl, form into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill for half an hour.
Preheat oven 180c.
Halve the plums and de-stone.
Into a lined baking sheet 8 x 12" square, press the dough out.
Press the plums into the dough rectangle in rows, making just one layer.
Sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and bake for 35-45 minutes until the fruit is soft, sticky and caramelised. The pastry, where exposed, should be a golden brown colour.
Leave to cool.
Melt the jam with a little water and brush generously over the fruit. It should be gleaming and glossy.
Leave to set, then cut into 3" squares, larger or smaller if you'd prefer.

The Puddings Start Tomorrow!

The joy of soup is in its relative simplicity, quickness and the instant gratification you get from the very first spoonful.
But, when I tell my Mother that I’m cooking soup for tea, she’s quick to point out: “how on earth will Paul be full on that?”
I have noticed that certain people from a certain generation feel that meat and two veg is the only meal you can serve your hardworking husband when he gets home from work.. After all, a strapping young man like that needs his nourishment.
What most people don’t know about Paul though, is that he was a vegetarian in his youth and in college survived on a diet of boiled rice and soy sauce. For which I thank him profusely.
Our conjoined lives are made that much easier by our non-committal to a raging, carnivorous desire to eat red meat garnished with the odd overcooked sprout or soggy carrot. We don’t spend our evenings gnawing on ribs and tossing the bones to our drooling, anticipatory hounds, or nibbling chicken wings clean, cartilage, tendons and all.
That’s not to say that we don’t have our moments. On next weeks menu is Oxtail Soup, made with one of the most gelatinous, meaty and flavoursome parts of the bovine beastie. And any leftover meat I plan to throw into a hearty Mulligatawny Soup.
But for last nights meal we tucked into steaming bowls of Green Thai Curry Soup, bolstered generously with Mange Tout, shredded chicken breast, French Beans and Beansprouts.
And that’s the thing about soup. You think it’s never going to be enough, but as you reach the bottom of the bowl, scooping out all the best bits that have sunk to the bottom, concealed like buried treasure beneath the pale green broth, you start thinking: “I couldn’t manage another bite. Well, maybe a couple of peanut M&Ms.”
For those of you who are Thai Green Curry virgins or have only used the stuff in jars, I would suggest that you try to make your own paste. Most ingredients are readily available from your local supermarket now and it keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge in a seal tight container (I keep mine in the little coffee/spice grinder I make it in), and in fact, improves over time, becoming more mellow and flavourful. At a push, the jarred pastes are generally quite good.
One final note: the vegetables and meat recommended are just that: a recommendation. We use what we have lying around. You could use prawns instead of chicken, or one of those mixed seafood selections (just remember to put them in at the very last moment lest the squid turn into rubber). Thinly sliced beef or pork would also add a good flavour to the soup. And just for the record: the meat is entirely optional. Vegetables could include fresh thinly sliced Shiitake Mushrooms, baby corn, Bok Choi, Aubergine, Courgette or perhaps even some diced squash. I also place some Straight to Wok noodles in the bottom of the bowls and pour the soup over the top. You could boil up some regular dried noodles if you’re not a fan of the Straight to Wok ones.
TIP! A way to make the soup even more nutritious and savoury is to add half a block of creamed coconut to a pint of boiling chicken/fish/vegetable stock and then stir in a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter. Whisk together well then add to the paste where you would normally add the coconut milk.
serves 4-6
Paste (from Nigel Slater's Appetite)
4 lemongrass stalks, tougher outer leaves discarded

2-6 green chillies (the 3” long ones), deseeded or not depending on your heat tolerance
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2" galangal or ginger, peeled
2 shallots or half a small white onion, peeled, cut in half
4 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chopped lime zest
1 tbsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)
½ tsp ground black peppercorns
1 Tin Coconut Milk
400ml Chicken/Fish/Vegetable Fish Stock
500g Vegetables: baby corn, mange tout or sugar snap peas, halved Green Beans, Beansprouts, Diced Aubergine (nb: If you are using Aubergine, I would recommend frying it off with the meat before you add the paste, otherwise it just doesn’t taste that great), sliced Shiitake Mushrooms etc.
500g sliced Chicken (I used breast but thighs have a better flavour)/raw Prawns/thinly sliced Beef or Pork
3 Tablespoons Groundnut Oil
1 Tablespoon Nam Pla
Juice and Zest from 1 Lime
Half a Bunch of Chopped Coriander
Seasoning to Taste
To make the paste, throw all the ingredients into a spice grinder and whizz until fragrant and smooth. You may need to add a little more lime juice to get everything to cohere. Alternatively, you could probably do this in a blender or, the worst possible scenario, in a pestle and mortar.
To make the curry, heat the oil in a wok or shallow frying pan. Fry off the meat (i.e. chicken, beef, pork or aubergine if going for the vegetarian option) until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate.
Turn the heat down to medium and add a little more oil if the pan seems dry. Stir in a couple of tablespoons of your freshly made (or jarred) Thai Green Curry sauce. It will sizzle but then start to simmer. After a couple of minutes it will smell deliciously fresh and fragrant.
Pour over the coconut milk and stock or coconut/peanut butter mixture and bring to a brisk simmer. Leave to mingle for 5-10 minutes then add the Nam Pla, Lime Juice and Zest, browned Meat, Vegetables and half the chopped Coriander. Leave to simmer for another 5 minutes.
Taste for seasoning. I always need to add a little salt and pepper but you may not need to.
If you are using prawns or seafood add them now and simmer for a couple minutes more.
To serve, ladle into deep bowls and sprinkle with the remaining chopped Coriander.
You can also make this into a more substantial meal by adding a little cornflour dissolved in cold water to thicken it and serving with Jasmine Rice.

Pot Stickers

Dim Sum are not particularly popular over here in the UK yet. I mean, it took us more than 40 years to catch onto sushi and I still can’t imagine anyone over the age of 70 relishing a delicious Salmon Skin Roll. My own grandfathers’ face, contorted into a mask of disgust at the thought of cold rice AND raw fish, will be forever etched into my mind when I first introduced him to the joys of supermarket sushi (and, as our dear old Coney would say, leave ‘em be).
Dim Sum is another matter altogether though. There is no searingly hot chilli to contend with, no raw fish to dice with and the chopsticks are entirely optional. Add all these winning factors to the irrefutable fact that they taste mighty fine and you’re onto a winner.
Or so you would think.
A local Dim Sum restaurant has opened up near us. Keen to visit, we checked out their website, only to be greeted with incredibly expensive delicacies that will surely mean that the death knell of this local restaurant is looming with great rapidity.
Why so expensive though? Sure, Dim Sum are fiddly, they are delicate and dainty. But the ingredients are dirt cheap. Pork Mince? Prawns, and seasonings. We are not talking about lobster and caviar folks, just honest, decent ingredients served in whimsical (to a Brit) steamers. Alas, in this instance, the name Dim Sum (roughly translated: Order to your Hearts’ Content) is – as usual - betrayed by British commercialism and greed.
But, there is hope for those of us who are not fortunate to live near a Dim Sum restaurant that offers great value as well as great food: make your own!
Don’t be shocked, it’s easy to wrap things in, er, wrappers. You’ve made egg rolls, right? Used Filo pastry? Wrapped a Band-Aid around your bleeding finger, using your non-dominant hand? Dim Sum are, therefore, a piece of metaphorical cake.
And, if you’re scared of wrappers, then take heart. Not all Dim Sum is fiddly. Chicken Feet, Spare Ribs, Congee Rice all take the form of Dim Sum. And for the sweet-toothed among you, there are the delicious dumplings, tarts and puddings, made with Red Bean Paste, Mango, Tapioca and, curiously, very little chocolate at all.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can organise a Dim Sum feast for friends and get most of the prep work completed the day before.
As for us, sitting here all smug proselytising about the joys of Dim Sum, we can confirm that yes, we have made some and yes, they were entirely successful, if not aesthetically pleasing (although for a first attempt, still quite cute really): Savoury Dumplins’, known in China as Jiaozi and in Japan as Gyoza.
The dumplings, little savoury morsels of ground pork, prawn, water chestnuts, cabbage, ginger etc, encased in Wonton Wrappers can be poached, steamed or shallow fried (Pot Stickers), served with a dipping sauce or dropped into broth. I favour the Pot Sticker method. It gives a delicious triple texture: the tender upper half of the dumpling which is steamed, the bronzed derriere and the innards, both soft and crisp, depending on the filling. Pot Stickers are traditionally served at special occasions and when turned out, they certainly look stunning when turned out onto a serving platter.

And, despite them looking complex, they are simple to prepare (Paul even made his own Wonton Wrapper dough, which was incredibly quick, simple and easy to work with) and it would be fun to get your guests in the kitchen, forming the little dumplings and arranging them in the frying pan, then digging in with chopsticks around the cooker.
We served our Pot Stickers with some takeaway noodles and rice, but they make a filling treat by themselves.
To make your own Dim Sum Delight, here's how:
SHRIMP AND PORK POT STICKERS (from Gourmet Magazine Feb 2006)
(or you can use ready made Wonton Wrappers which are available on your local Asian supermarket or deli in the chiller)
1.5 Cups Plain Flour
1/2 Cup Lukewarm Water
3 or 4 Water Chestnuts (I used canned), chopped into small dice
1/2Lb Prawns, chopped
1/4Lb Ground Pork
3/4 Cup Chopped Spring Onion (about 4-5)
1.5 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Teaspoons Minced Ginger
1 Teaspoon Sesame Oil
To make the dough, stir together the flour and water in a bowl until roughly combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and kneed until a smooth dough is formed. Add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.
Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to an hour.
Whilst waiting for the dough to chill, you can mix the filling together by throwing all the ingredients into a large bowl and mixing well. The filling will be sticky. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the wrappers, roll out the dough until very thin, the thickness of a sheet of kitchen roll, cut into 3.5" rounds using a smooth biscuit cutter, lightly dusting them to avoid them sticking together. You should get 24 rounds out, reusing scraps.
To form the dumplings, hold a round wrapper in the palm of your slightly cupped hand and, using a measuring tablespoon (rather than a serving tablespoon), scoop some mixture onto the middle of the wrapper. Wet one half of the edge with some water and bring the edges up to the middle and crimp with your finger tips until completely sealed. We did this part wrong and folded them in half, like little Empanadas. If you find this easier, you will still get an impressive looking turnout in the end.
Once you have made the 24 dumplings, heat 1 tablespoon of peanut oil in a 10" frying pan over medium high heat.
To arrange the dumplings, place 7 in the middle of the pan in a simple Chrysanthemum shape, then arrange the remaining dumplings around the outside. You may have to jiggle them around a little to fit, but they will go.
Cook over relatively high heat for 3-5 minutes (depending on how hot your hotplate gets) until the bottoms are browned. We actually needed longer than this because our oven is very temperamental.
Once evenly and deliciously browned, pour over 1/2 cup warm water. It will sizzle a little. Tilt the pan to ensure that the water is evenly distributed, cover and steam for about 10 minutes.
To turn out, carefully get a large plate with no tilting edges, hold over the frying pan and flip over quickly but carefully.
Serve with some dipping sauce, Sweet Chilli is always popular but I mix up my own with a little Soy, a little Nam Pla (Fish Sauce), some Lime Juice, a sliced red chilli, minced garlic and ginger and some sugar to taste. Leave for at least an hour for the flavours to mingle. This sauce keeps really well in the fridge too.

Another Daring Weekend

This month's Daring Bakers challenge comes courtesy of baker extraordinaire, Peabody and of course, it wasn't an easy one.

After last month's gentle Bagel challenge, the Strawberry Mirror Cake sounds pretty fancy, right? A swiss roll sponge adding gentle support to a Barbie pink Strawberry Bavarian Cream, topped with the mirror element: a ruby clear jelly, flavoured with strawberry juice and a liberal dash of Kirsch.
I would never have dreamt of making this cake, imagining it to be horribly complex but, aside from being time-consuming and a bit fiddly, it was actually very simple.
Having a fear of gelatine after several nightmarish experiences with leaf gelatine, I have since found that the powdered stuff is the way to go. It might seem a little more old-fashioned than those charming little panes of gelatine glass but trust me, the powder will set anything to the thickness of a rubber tyre if you add enough of it.
This isn't a cake you would make for everyday occasions. It is quite expensive to make, utilising several punnets of fresh strawberries (and for some reason, fresh fruit is always cost-prohibitive over here) but I think it would be wonderful for a pink-loving girl's summer birthday party. It is visually stunning enough to receive plenty of oohs and ahhs. Flavourwise though, it was unsophisticated, reminding me slightly of Strawberry Angel Delight topped with Strawberry Jelly, the sponge reminscent of Frozen Swiss Roll cakes.
However, if you were to sharpen the mousse up with raspberry and blackberries, I think this cake could be suitable for a grown-up dinner party instead.
In spite of my disappointment with the final flavour though, the cake was a glowing success. Paul has taken it to work for the final taste test so only time will tell if it's merely my fussy tastebuds or if the cake really was bland. I feel particularly proud of myself for producing a cake with such a stunning mirror finish, and I would like to thank Peabody for choosing the Mirror Cake and for making me bake outside of the box (so to speak).
For those of you non-Daring Bakers who are tempted by this lovely looking cake and want a challenge, here's the recipe:
STRAWBERRY MIRROR CAKE - serves easily 8
Cake and Soaking Syrup
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 TBSP sugar
2/3 cup sifted cake flour
½ cup water
1/3 cups sugar
2 TBSP kirsch or strawberry liqueur
Strawberry Bavarian Cream
2 ½ TBSP unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cups strained strawberry puree(1 ½ baskets)
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ cups milk
1 TBSP lemon juice
several drops of red food coloring
1 ¾ cups whipping cream
Strawberry Mirror
1 tsp lemon juice
1 TBSP kirsch
1 TBSP water
1 TBSP unflavored gelatin
Few drops of red food coloring
Strawberry Juice
1 ½ pints of strawberries(18 oz)
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
1.Preheat oven to 450F. Butter and flour the sides of an 11-by-17 inch jelly roll pan(rimmed baking sheet). Line bottom of pan with a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit bottom pan exactly.
2.Beat eggs, egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar together in a medium bowl until thick and light. Beat in the vanilla.
3.In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, ad cream of tartar and beat until whites begin to form peaks. Add the 2 TBSP sugar and beat until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks(do not over beat).
4.Sift flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold in . Stir in one fourth of the whites. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites.
5.Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake until light brown and springy to touch(7 to 10 minutes). Cool in pan 5 minutes. Run a knife along edge to loosen. Invert cake tin to cut out 8 ¼ inch circles of cake. Wrap the cake layers, separated with waxed paper, and set aside. Cake may be frozen at this point.
6.To make soaking syrup: Combine water and the 1/3 cup sugar in saucepan; bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Cool to room temperature; flavor with liqueur. Set aside or refrigerate in glass jar until ready to use.
7.To assemble cake: Brush sides of 10-inch springform pan lightly with flavorless salad oil or almond oil. Cut out a cardboard circle that is exactly the same size as the bottom inside of the pan; cover cardboard with aluminum foil and fit into bottom of pan. Center one layer of the cake bottom of pan. Brush the cake with some of the soaking syrup to just moisten(not drench) the cake; set aside.
8.Prepare Strawberry Bavarian Cream. Immediately pour about half of the Bavarian Cream over the first layer of cake in the pan. Set the next layer of cake on top of the cream. Pour remaining Bavarian Cream over cake and smooth top of the cream with spatula. Refrigerate until the cream sets(1 to 2 hours).
9.Prepare the Strawberry Mirror.
10.To serve: Wrap a hot towel around the outside of springform pan for a few minutes. Run a small sharp knife tip around the edge of the Strawberry Mirror to separate it form the sides of pan. Mirror will tear when sides are unlatched if it is stuck at ANY point. Slowly unlatch the pan and slide it off the cake. Slice cake in wedges and serve in upright slices.
Prep Work:
Strawberry Bavarian Cream
1.Sprinkle the gelatin over the strawberry puree in a small bowl and set aside until spongy.
2.Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl' beat until light. Bring milk to a boil in sauce pan. Pour hot milk into yolk mixture ans stir with a wooden spoon(it doesn't say so but I would temper the egg mixture first to be safe). Return this mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until your finger leaves a clear trail in sauce when drawn across the back of the spoon.(Do not boil or mixture will curdle.) Immediately remove from heat and stir in softened gelatin mixture. Pour into a stainless steel bowl places over a bowl of ice water. Stir in lemon juice and a few drops of red food coloring. Cool over ice water, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens to the consistency of softly whipped cream.
3.White gelatin mixture is cooling, whip the whipping cream until it holds soft peaks. When the gelatin mixture resembles softly whipped cream, fold the whipped cream into the gelatin mixture.
Strawberry Mirror:
1.Prepare strawberry juice.
2.Place lemon juice, kirsch, and water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over this mixture; set aside until spongy and soft.
3.Measure 1 ½ cups Strawberry juice into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; pour over gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve gelatin. Tint to desired color with red food coloring. Place bowl over bowl of ice water and stir occasionally until the mixture is syrupy and just beings to thicken(do not let jell); remove from ice water.
4.When mixture is syrupy, pour a 1/16-inch layer over the top of cake. Refrigerate until set.
Strawberry Juice
Wash and hull strawberries; coarsely chop. Place strawberries in saucepan; crush to start juices flowing. Place over low heat; add sugar and water; simmer slowly 10 minutes. Pour juice and pulp through damp jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander and drain into a bowl for 15 minutes(Do not press down on fruit).
Adapted from Cakes and Pastries At The Academy by the California Culinary Academy 1993

An Italian Dessert

Tiramisu means "pick me up" in Italian and if ever a dessert comprising of booze and coffee soaked ladyfingers, layered with mascarpone cream and dusted with cocoa powder could induce a feeling of being "picked up", it would be this one.
Yet another one of those once-popular restaurant dishes from the 70s and 80s, Tiramisu was relegated to "plastic pot sealed with foil lid and placed on the supermarket shelf" status, which happens to be where I first discovered this Italian delight. Although several years past its halcyon restaurant days, the Tiramisu deserves to be given another chance. It is surprisingly simple to make and never fails to please coffee or trifle lovers.
Like that other Italian classic dessert, Zuppa Inglese, Tiramisu is like a hassle-free trifle with its sponge fingers and eggy custard-like sauce. Unlike trifle though, it eschews the fruit element in favour of caffeine rich ingredients. The only thing that you need to prepare in advance is some espresso, the rest of the dish takes no longer than 15 minutes. Of course, the waiting comes with the refrigeration of the Tiramisu and it is crucial, not only to set the raw custard but to improve the flavours, that it sits in the fridge for at least 12 hours.
The traditional recipe might use Zabaglione between the sponge layers but this simpler method is just as delicious. The alcohol combined with the coffee can also be altered to suit what you have available. Coffee liqueur is again traditional, but I used Crème de Cacao (a remnant from the days when I used to make cocktails - Maraschino Liqueur anyone?) instead. You could use dark rum, or hazelnut liqueur, maybe even brandy. One of the characteristics about the Tiramisu is the strong coffee and alcohol flavouring punctuating the soft, billowy cream - not a dessert for children!
TIRAMISU - serves 4-6
12 Savoiardi Biscuits or Ladyfingers
2 Eggs, separated
250g Mascarpone
3 Dessertspoons Vanilla Sugar to taste
125ml Freshly brewed but cold Espresso Coffee
125ml Coffee Flavoured Liqueur (or alcohol of your choice - not a cream based drink though)
Cocoa Powder for dusting
In a large, clean, grease-free bowl, whisk the egg whites until very stiff.
In another bowl, whisk the mascarpone cheese with the egg yolks and sugar until well combined.
Fold in the egg whites.
Mix together the alcohol and coffee in a shallow dish.
You are now ready to start assembling the Tiramisu.
Spoon a third of the Mascarpone mixture into your dish.
First dipping them one at a time in the coffee/alcohol mixture, turning them quickly so that they don't disintegrate, layer six of the Savoiardi biscuits on top of the cream. Top with another layer of cream, then the remainder of the sponge fingers. Spoon over the final blanket of the creamy sauce, then dust generously with cocoa so that the cream is completely obscured.
Cover gently and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
To serve, remove from the fridge, uncover and dust with another layer of cocoa and some shaved chocolate if desired.

More Simple Food

There exists a special alchemy between Pork and Cabbage. Served apart, they are delicious, but when cooked together, the co-joining of the strong, definite flavours produces something truly sublime.

Europeans have long known the brilliant simplicity of using as few ingredients as possible in their cuisine. Not only does this spring out of frugality but from the sheer knowledge of the flavours.
Whilst some of us are lucky enough to be seemingly born with that knowledge of ingredients, it can also be learned through time and tasting.
This gathered experience warns us that certain foods are not good together. For example, cheese is rarely served with fish, beef isn’t generally served in a white wine sauce and ketchup isn’t poured over a roast dinner. However, there are always exceptions to every rule and it is wonderful to find an obscure taste sensation in the most unlikely place, the most recent of which might be salted caramels.
Even people with the most jaded taste-buds will know that some foods just belong together: cheese and tomato, chicken and tarragon, cabbage and sausage.
I know, the coupling of sausage and cabbage could sound like a nightmare school dinner. Washed out flabby cabbage with gristly, synthetic pink sausages that are more water and sawdust than anything resembling pork are the things bad childhood meals are made of. But imagine this! Crisp Savoy cabbage, dark green and rich in iron, combined with artisinal sausages that are now so easy to find in any supermarket, accessorised with a blanket – no, pashmina – of thick cheese sauce, then browned in a hot oven until golden and bubbly. Served with nothing more than some crusty bread or Pommes Anna, this is an easy, all-in-one dish guaranteed to satisfy that intrinsic need for comfort food. Thank heavens for the always reliable Jane Grigson with her wealth of knowledge and non-fussy dishes. This recipe comes from her indispensable Vegetable Book.

SAUSAGE AND CABBAGE IN THE DUTCH STYLE serves 4 with a side dish
Taken from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book
1 Large Cabbage, Savoy is best for flavour but you can use almost any kind, shredded and par-boiled.
8 Excellent Quality Sausages
A little Olive Oil (Jan Grigson recommends using lard so you could use this instead)
3 Heaped Tablespoons Plain Flour
2 Tablespoons of the oil from the cooked Sausages
¾ Pint Milk
2 Tablespoons Grated Cheddar or Parmesan, grated – a strong flavoured but good melting cheese is needed
1 Tablespoon Gruyere, cut into small dice or grated
Seasoning and fresh Nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 180c. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of the olive oil into the bottom of a roasting tin and place in the oven to heat up.
When the oven and oil are hot, place the sausages into the hot fat. They should sizzle immediately. Return to the oven and roast for about half an hour, turning once or twice to ensure a fairly even brown.
Meanwhile, parboil the cabbage. Leave to drain in a colander.
Once the sausages are richly coloured, remove from the oven and drain off 3 tablespoons of the oil (the sausages will have exuded some) into a large saucepan.
Stir the drained cabbage into the sausages and return to the oven whilst you prepare the sauce.
Add the flour to the sausage oil, turn the heat up to medium high and cook briskly to make a roux.
Pour over the milk and whisk until thickened. The sauce needs to be thick as the cabbage will still give off some water, thus diluting the sauce further in the oven. Season with salt, pepper and a rasp of nutmeg.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses, whisking well to ensure that they are melted thoroughly into the sauce. Taste again for seasoning.
Remove the cabbage and sausage from the oven (turning the oven up to 220c), ladle over the sauce and mix well. Sprinkle over some grated cheddar or Parmesan if desired and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or so. You will hear the bubbling, indicating when it’s ready to serve.
The cabbage will have turned an unctuous sticky brown on the underside, seasoned generously by the sausages and the sauce will be coating everything snugly.
Serve with some sliced potatoes (Pommes Anna) or perhaps a green, bitter salad to counter the richness. Thick crusty bread is an essential.

A Lasagne For Summer

A few weeks ago, we wrote about that Italian Restaurant/Frozen Meal/Much Maligned Classic, Lasagne. The debate between Paul and I, Bechemal Sauce vs. Ricotta or Cottage Cheese, is always omnipresent whenever one of us makes Lasagne. Some things will never change.
And whilst I had stated that I would never fiddle around with the original recipe, retaining its slow-cooked ragu, I found myself bored in the kitchen last Sunday, wondering to prepare for supper. I wanted Lasagne but it seemed a little pointless spending three hours simmering a meat sauce for just the two of us. I got to thinking. As usual I had a drawer full of vegetables going wrinkly quickly. I had a tomato sauce recipe that was quick and delicious and I had a craving for pasta so I devised a vegetarian lasagne.
I have a work colleague who is proud of her Lasagne. She says it has a “vegetarian layer of spinach”. I question her time and time again on this “vegetarian layer”.
“Don’t you mean it’s a layer of vegetables? Because you can’t serve an otherwise meat-based Lasagne to vegetarian friends, vegetable layer or not.”
But she remains adamant – and proud – of her invention of the vegetarian layer.
And I digress.
My Lasagne truly is vegetarian but the addition of sautéed mushrooms (long known as the vegetarian’s meat) and courgettes (zucchini) would fulfil even the most fervent carnivore. Paul said it reminded him of Manicotti (the famous American dish of pasta tubes stuffed with ricotta and spinach that most Italians have never heard of, despite the Italian sounding moniker) but I thought it was perfect summer alternative to the richer meat Lasagne.
There are no hard and fast rules with this recipe, if you have a favourite tomato sauce recipe, then use that. It is a great dish to showcase seasonal vegetables – thin layers of squash would make this a lovely, warming Autumnal dish, whilst chargrilled peppers or slices of sautéed aubergines are perfect for the summer. You can replace even the Bechemel with Ricotta if you must…
You can also assemble the whole Lasagne (or just the tomato sauce) well in advance before baking. If you are making it the day before, make sure to cover it with tin-foil or clingfilm and refrigerate.
One final handy hint that I recently picked up is to stir the tomato sauce into the Bechemal sauce for a no-fuss assembly of the Lasagne.
1 Box Dried Lasagne
Parmesan and Mozzarella or Cheddar for grating on the top
Tomato Sauce:
2 Cans Tinned Tomatoes
1 Onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and finely chopped.
Teaspoon Sugar
Teaspoon Vinegar, Malt is fine
Squirt of Tomato Puree (Paste)
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Olive Oil
Some Basil Leaves or Parsley or a pinch of dried Oregano
Bechemel Sauce
25g Butter
25g Flour
1 Pint Milk
Salt, Pepper and a rasp of Nutmeg
“Vegetarian Layer”
1 Courgette, topped, tailed and sliced lengthwise, thinly
150g Mushrooms, cut into slices
30g Butter
To make the tomato sauce:
Soften the onions and garlic in a little warm olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree sugar, vinegar and a little seasoning.
Squidge the tomatoes down if they are whole so that they break down into the sauce quite quickly. You can play safe and chop them up in the can first, but I always like to avoid the little squirts of tomato juice that comes shooting out at you when you pop them with a wooden spoon.
Bring the sauce up to the boil, then turn down to a brisk simmer. Leave to cook for about half an hour or until thickened and reduced slightly. Add the herbs and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, sugar, pepper if necessary. You may even need to add another squirt of tomato puree if it’s not tomato-y enough for you.
Leave to cool slightly. This can be made well in advance.
To make the Bechemel Sauce:
Heat the milk gently in a saucepan.
In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium high heat, taking care that it doesn’t burn, and add the flour. You should get a thickish, yellow paste. Pour over the warmed milk and whisk to whilst the sauce comes up to temperature. Add some salt, pepper and nutmeg. Keep whisking until the sauce has thickened to the consistency of thick cream, then turn down the heat and leave to simmer gently for about 5 minutes more, to cook out the flour taste. Remove from the heat.
To sauté the vegetables:
Divide the butter over two saucepans, melt over medium heat and place the courgettes in one, the mushrooms in another, seasoning lightly. Cook the courgettes for no longer than 2 minutes, or until lightly golden. Drain on kitchen paper.
Fry the mushrooms gently until the water they have exuded has evaporated. Remove from the heat.
To assemble:
Mix the tomato sauce into the Bechemel Sauce (optional). Place a thin layer onto your Lasagne dish, then add a layer of the Pasta sheets.
Put another layer of the red and white sauce(s), the thin layer of the courgette, then the pasta. Repeat but with a layer of the mushrooms instead.
Continue until you have used up all your sauce and mushrooms, ensuring that you end with a layer of the white (or mixed) sauce.
Smother with grated Parmesan and Cheddar or Mozzarella. At this point you can now bake the Lasagne in a hot oven (about 200c) for between 30-45 minutes or cover and refrigerate until you are ready to cook.
Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to stand to set up for about 10 minutes or so. This makes removal from the baking dish much easier.
Serve with a salad and some crusty bread.