ArchiveFebruary 2021

The Joy of Winter Rhubarb

I’ve just had my first rhubarb of the year, a sublime bowl of roast rhubarb drizzled with Jersey pouring cream – 

Every year in January and February, I crave the flavour of the first rhubarb after the ‘fruitless’ winter months…. Yes, I know that the shops are full of fruit but most apart from beautiful citrus, are under ripe, out of season fruits from the other side of the world with a fraction of the flavour they have in Summer, I certainly can’t be bothered to spend money on strawberries in February…?

I used to be frightfully ‘sniffy’ about the early forced rhubarb but this year when I found some in the brilliant Village Green Grocer in Castlemartyr, I fell on it and practically whopped with delight. 

I scooped up the pale pink petioles…. I’ve just learned that beautiful word petioles, apparently it’s the correct term for what you and I call stalks…. 

 Despite Brexit it had come all the way from the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire where it is lured out of its natural Winter hibernation in long dark forcing sheds, principally around Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. 

In the pitch dark warm atmosphere the stalks grow faster than usual as the plant searches for the light it desperately needs to make chlorophyll. The sweet glucose produced in the plant, normally used to grow those large rhubarb leaves remains in the stalks resulting in a less sour flavour and a tender less fibrous texture than their semi feral cousin that is still struggling, valiantly to emerge from the cold winter soil in my garden.  

I am looking forward to that too, but it’ll be at least a month before the stalks are mature enough to harvest.  

Meanwhile, I’m loving the delicate less assertive flavour of forced rhubarb, grown in darkness and hand harvested by candlelight as they leaves unfurl in long low barn like sheds, often by families who have passed the skill from one generation to another since the early eighteen hundreds.  

Rhubarb is not the only vegetable (yes technically it is a vegetable), to benefit from early forcing, white asparagus, sea kale, chicory, and even dandelions are other examples. 

Too late for this year, but you can actually do this in your own garden, by covering a couple of rhubarb ‘stools’ with a black plastic dustbin to exclude the light when the plant starts to emerge from the ground in December. Either way if you don’t have a rhubarb plant, order a couple from your local garden centre and pop them into your garden or even your flower bed, or a half barrel…. 

Back to the kitchen again, so what to do with this beautiful rare treat?

Roast rhubarb is a revelation, super easy and super delicious. Remember this Winter rhubarb is sweeter, and I also think it cooks faster than the main crop, so you can reduce both sugar and cooking time.  

I’ve also included a winter rhubarb crumble recipe, my favourite rhubarb pie, rhubarb muffins, rhubarb and custard tart with a scattering of pistachio nuts. 

Roast rhubarb also makes a delicious filling for scones or a sponge with lots of softly whipped rosemary flavoured cream or how about a rhubarb Eton mess, with chunks or meringue, roast rhubarb and lots of rosewater cream, and then there’s rhubarb fool… Too many suggestions for one article – almost need to do another piece. Perhaps when my garden rhubarb is ready to pick… 

Meanwhile, dash out and buy some Winter rhubarb while the season lasts.  

Roast Rhubarb with Jersey Cream

Serves 6 

 Years ago. I always just stewed rhubarb but I’ve become a huge fan of the sweet and intense flavour of roast rhubarb plus there’s less chance of ending up with a pot of rhubarb sauce if you overcook it…

900g (2lb) rhubarb 

200-250g (7-8oz) sugar  

Jersey Cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400F/Gas Mark 6. 

Slice the rhubarb into 2 1/2cm (1 inch) pieces and arrange in a single layer in a medium size oven proof dish or sauté pan.  Scatter the sugar over the rhubarb and allow to macerate for a little while until the juice starts to run. Cover with the lid or a sheet of  parchment and roast in the pre-heated oven for about 10 min, remove the covering and continue to roast for a further 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the stalks – until the rhubarb is just tender, careful it doesn’t overcook.  

Serve alone or with thick Jersey cream……

Rhubarb and Custard Tart with Pistachios

Serves 10-12 

Pastry 

225g (8ozs) plain flour 

175g (6oz) butter 

pinch of salt 

1 dessertspoon icing sugar 

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind 

Filling 

600g (1 1/4lb) or a little more rhubarb, cut into small pieces 

1-2 tablespoons castor sugar 

300ml (10fl ozs) cream 

2 large or 3 small eggs 

3 tablespoons caster sugar  

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Garnish

45 grams, 1.1/ 2 ozs coarsely chopped pistachio nuts

1 x 12 inch (30.5cm) tart tin or 2 x 7 inch (18cm) tart tins 

Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way (see recipe) and leave to relax in a fridge for 1 hour. Line a tart tin (or tins), with a removable base and chill for 10 minutes. Line with paper and fill with dried beans and bake blind in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, paint the tart with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes.   

Arrange the cut rhubarb evenly inside the tart shell.  Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons caster sugar.  

Whisk the eggs well, with the 3 tablespoons sugar and vanilla extract, add the cream. Strain this mixture over the rhubarb and bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, for 35 minutes until the custard is set and the rhubarb is fully cooked. Scatter with coarsely chopped pistachios.  Serve warm with a bowl of whipped cream. 

Cullohill Rhubarb Pie

This is a gem of a recipe – a real keeper. The pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.

Serves 8-12

Pastry

225g (8oz) soft butter

50g (2oz) castor sugar

2 eggs, preferably free range

350g (12oz) white flour, preferably unbleached

Filling

900g (2lbs) sliced red rhubarb (about 1cm thick)

370g (7 – 12oz) granulated sugar depending on whether you are using forced or garden rhubarb

egg wash-made with one beaten egg and a dash of milk

castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve

softly whipped cream

Barbados/ soft dark brown sugar

tin, 18cm x 30.5cm x 2.5cm (7 x 12 x 1 inch) deep

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4.

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs one by one and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour slowly. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 2 hours otherwise it is difficult to handle.

To make the tart

Roll out the pastry 3mm (1/8 inch) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Place the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the apples are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.

Rhubarb Crumble

Serves 6-8

Crumbles are everyone’s favourite comfort food, vary the fruit according to the season.

1 1/2 lbs (700g) Rhubarb

4ozs (110g) granulated sugar

1-2 tablespoons water

Crumble

4 ozs (110g) white flour, preferably unbleached

2 ozs (50g) cold butter

2 ozs (50g) castor sugar

1 oz (25g) chopped almonds or hazelnuts (optional)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

2 pint (1.1L) capacity pie dish

Slice the rhubarb into 1 inch pieces, place into a pie dish and sprinkle with the sugar.

Rub the butter into the flour just until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs, add the sugar and cinnamon and chopped nuts if using. Sprinkle this mixture over the rhubarb in the pie dish. Bake in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 30-45 minutes or until the topping is cooked and golden. Serve with whipped cream and soft brown sugar. 

Rhubarb Polenta Muffins 

Makes 20 – 22 muffins 

Half Roasted rhubarb… 40  -44 pieces in 2 in lengths.. see recipe 

250g (9oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

440g (15 3/4oz) almond paste or marzipan broken into pieces

125g (4 1/2oz) caster sugar 

zest of 1 orange 

3 eggs 

1 teaspoons baking powder 

1/2 teaspoon salt 

225g (8oz) polenta flour 

Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F/Gas Mark 5 

Double line a 12 cup muffin tray with paper cases. (Use two cases per muffin because the fruit makes these particularly juicy.) 

In an electric mixer, cream the butter, almond paste, sugar and orange zest until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs slowly and mix well. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking powder, salt and polenta flour. Add this to the butter mixture and mix well. Scoop into the paper cases filling 2/3 full and gently press the pieces of fruit on top of the muffins. 

Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes, until an inserted skewer comes out clean and tops of the muffins spring back to the touch. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before removing from tray. These keep well for up to 4 days in an airtight container. 

Dishes From Around The World in my Kitchen

Doesn’t this Lockdown seems like an eternity – even the most resilient of us are really struggling to keep our spirits up and remain positive and optimistic for the sake of those around us.

Like many of you, I SOO miss travelling….

I have had to content myself with skimming through photos and little videos on my iPhone, reliving and experiencing heady trips down memory lane.

I miss so many things – the blast of heavy spicy air that greets me as I disembark after a long haul flight to India. Walking out of the airport a riot of colour everywhere, the crazy traffic, honking of horns and the frenzy of cars, tuk tuks, rickshaws, bikes, scooters and cows ambling nonchalantly through the mix .

I miss my trips to London, and silly little things like sitting in the Quiet Zone in the Paddington Express on my way into the city, drawing up my list of restaurants, cafés, Farmers Markets, theatre and exhibitions that I’m hoping to squash into two or three days.

I‘m LONGING to sit sipping a glass of wine at a café table on a sidewalk in Paris, Rome or Barcelona watching the glamorous world go by. I’m aching, to wander around Union Square Farmers Market in Manhattan and feeling the irresistible buzz of New York under my feet. Or once again experience the craziness of Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh after sunset.

Most of all, I MISS THE FOOD…..

New flavours, new ingredients, the flutter of excitement generated by a new discovery, the comforting feeling of revisiting old haunts…

And how I MISS STREET FOOD!

Hainanese chicken and rice or a steaming bowl of Laksa from a hawker stand in Singapore. A fatty pork stew from an open air eatery in Myanmar, a glass of frothy turmeric latte, a flaky samosa or pakora from my favourite ‘hole in the wall’ in Maheswar….A handmade, masa harina quesadilla from an indigenous Mayan woman in an exquisitely embroidered blouse on a street stall in the zocala (zocala really stands for central square) in Oaxaca.

I can but dream, travel is still out for virtually all of us at present, and there is no end in sight. There is a relentless sameness to most of our days. So many, are either Zoomed out working from home, out of work altogether or demented by home schooling.

Some of us are crazy busy, others are creeping up and down the walls from boredom – not much in the way of a happy medium.

So difficult to make an effort to keep motivated, to resist the lure of the sofa but we CAN’T have that…

I found a clump of snowdrops and crocuses under the mulberry tree in the garden, and then joy of joys a few spindly stalks of rhubarb to cheer me up. Apart from getting super excited, my personal solution is to ‘travel’ in my own kitchen. I’ve been doing just that through favourite recipes from my reconnaissance trips around the world. It prompts me to forget the misery and give thanks for how fortunate I’ve been to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I did.

So, here are some favourite dishes that my happy memories are made of, to cheer us all up until we can travel once more.

Keep safe and well and meanwhile Happy Cooking!

Singapore Chicken and Coconut Laksa

Serves 6-8 as a starter

150g (5oz) fine rice noodles (eight of an inch/3mm)

2 red chillies, chopped with seeds

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2,5cm (1 inch) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

150g (5oz) fresh coriander, leaves and stalks coarsely chopped

juice of 1-2 limes

50ml (2fl ozs) toasted sesame oil

1 chicken breast, free range (cut into very thin shreds) (250g/8oz)

2 x 400ml (2 x 14ozs) tins coconut milk

generous 700ml (1 1/4pints) homemade chicken stock

1 tablespoon Nam Pla, fish sauce

salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 spring onions, finely sliced at an angle

Fresh coriander leaves

Pour boiling water over the bowl of rice noodles and allow to soak until soft – 10 minutes approximately. Drain and cut into 5cm (2 inch) lengths. Put the chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander and juice of one lime into a food processor and pulse to a coarse paste.

Cut the chicken breast in half lengthwise and then thinly slice at an angle (1/8 inch wide) and set aside.

Heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan and fry the chilli paste for 3 minutes. Add the whisked coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the thinly shredded chicken, bring back to the boil and barely simmer for a further 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the fish sauce (Nam Pla) and taste and add more lime juice, salt and pepper if necessary.

Divide the noodles into serving bowls, ladle in the hot soup and garnish with spring onion and coriander leaves.

Note

Do not allow the soup to boil once the chicken is added, otherwise the meat may toughen. 

David Tanis’ Pakistani Potato Samosas

If you don’t have the inclination or you can’t spare the time to make the dough, filo pastry could be used though it’s not traditional!

Makes 20 small samosas approximately

Samosas are popular snacks in Pakistan, India and elsewhere. The delicious fried parcels are often sold on the street, but the best ones are made at home. You can make the flavourful potato filling in advance if you wish. The highly seasoned potatoes can be served on their own as a side dish. Ajwain seed, a spice with a thyme-like flavour, is available from south Asian groceries or online spice merchants.

Dough

300g (10oz) plain white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ajwain or cumin seeds

50ml (2fl oz) vegetable oil

110ml (4fl oz) cold water

Filling

700 (1 1/2lbs) russet potatoes, peeled, in 1-inch cubes

3 medium carrots, chopped, optional

2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus about 3 cups more for frying

1 chopped onion, about 1 cup

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon grated garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

2 Serrano chillies, finely chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup chopped cilantro, tender stems and leaves

Make the dough: Put flour, salt and ajwain seeds in a medium bowl. Drizzle in oil and work into flour with fingers until mixture looks mealy. Add water gradually, stirring until a soft dough has formed. If dough seems too dry, add a tablespoon of water; if it seems wet, add a tablespoon of flour. Knead for 1 minute and form into a ball. Wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.

Make the filling: Simmer the potatoes and carrots in well-salted water until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Put 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a deep, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Put 3/4 tablespoon oil in a very small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add cumin and mustard seeds. When seeds are fragrant and beginning to pop, stir in garlic, ginger, chillies, turmeric and garam masala. Allow to sizzle for a minute, then add the contents to the onions.

Add reserved potatoes and carrots and stir well to coat. Check seasoning and adjust salt. Remove mixture to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. When cool, add lemon juice and chopped cilantro. Mix well, smashing the potatoes a bit in the process.

Make the samosas. Portion the dough into 20 pieces, each weighing 40g (1 1/2oz). Form each piece into a ball and place on a large plate. Cover with a damp napkin.

Roll each dough ball into a thin disc about 15cm (6 inches) in diameter, as if rolling out pie dough. Cut each disc exactly in half, leaving 2 pieces with a straight side and a round side.

Form each half-disc into a cone by folding it over and pinching the straight sides together. Put 2 1/2 tablespoons filling in the opening on the round side, then pinch closed to make a stuffed triangle. Form the rest of dough balls into samosas.

Heat about 5cm (2 inches) of oil in the bottom of wok over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to maintain the oil at 350 degrees. Slip samosas 4 at a time into the hot oil and let fry on one side until golden, a minute or so, then flip and cook other side. Lift from oil and drain on paper towels. Serve samosas hot or at room temperature, accompanied by your favourite chutney.

Burmese Pork and Potato Curry   

Serves 4-6

We found a version of this dish in virtually every local eatery in Burma, the pork was always fat and succulent.   I found this version at a cooking class at the Thiripyitsaya Bagan Sanctuary Resort, in Myanmar.  The chef used water and included a teaspoon of ‘chicken seasoning’ but I have substituted some homemade chicken stock instead.   I have also reduced the chilli powder from 1½ teaspoon to ¾ of a teaspoon over all, but you can use the maximum amount if you like it super hot.

The sauce is packed with flavour, it reheats brilliantly and even a little will electrify a bowl of rice.

450g (1lb) fat streaky Heritage pork with rind on.

Marinade for pork

½ – 1 teaspoon chilli powder

2 teaspoons fish sauce, Nam Pla

½ teaspoon Indian masala (see recipe below)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon white sugar

350g (12oz) potato, peeled and diced (1 large potato)

Marinade for potato:

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon chilli powder

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2.5cm (1in) piece of ginger peeled and grated – (1 dessertspoon)

1 large ripe tomato, or 6 cherry tomatoes, chopped

½ teaspoon turmeric

½-1 teaspoon chilli powder

1 tablespoon fish sauce

½ teaspoon Indian masala (see recipe below)

125ml (4fl.oz) homemade chicken stock

1.2 l (2 pints) homemade chicken stock

Indian Masala

Makes 1 dessertspoon

2 bay leaves,

2.5cm (1 inch) piece cinnamon

1 whole star anise

3 cloves, crushed

To make the Indian Masala – whizz the ingredients together in a spice grinder or crush in a pestle and mortar and mix together.

Pork:

Cut the fat streaky pork into 2cm (¾in) strips.   Mix the marinade ingredients and rub all over the pork with your fingers.  Leave to marinade for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Potato:

Cut the potato into 2cm (¾inch) cubes.

Put into a bowl and add turmeric, chilli powder and fish sauce.     Toss to mix.  The turmeric stops the potato from blackening.

To cook:

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or sauté pan.   Add the chopped onion, cook for 3-4 minutes, add the crushed garlic, grated ginger, chopped tomatoes, turmeric, chilli powder, fish sauce and Indian masala.  

Stir well, add 125ml (4fl.oz) chicken stock.   Cook until all the liquid has evaporated – 2 -3 minutes.   Add the pork pieces and enough of the remaining chicken stock to almost cover.   Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1½ hours until the pork is almost tender. 

 Remove the lid and add the cubed potatoes, cook uncovered, for a further 20-30 minutes.    Taste and add a little more salt if necessary.

Serve with sticky rice or Basmati rice.

Note:  The cooking time will depend on the type of pork and may be much less for the heritage pork we use.

Moroccan Harira Soup

In Marrakesh steaming bowls of Haria are ladled into large bowls every evening in Djemaa el-Fna. It is also an important part of the festivities of Ramadan. It’s the traditional soup to break the fast.  My brother Rory O’Connell shared this particularly delicious version with us and everyone loves it.

Serves 6-8

110g (4oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained

110g (4oz) Puy lentils

450g (1lb) leg or shoulder of lamb, diced into 7mm (1/3 inch) cubes

175g (6oz) onion, chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon each ground ginger, saffron strands and paprika

salt and freshly ground pepper

50g (2oz) butter

110g (4oz) long grain rice

4 large ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

4 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

lemon quarters, to serve

Tip the chickpeas and lentils into a large saucepan. Add the lamb, onion, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, saffron strands and paprika, then pour in 1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints) water. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Bring to the boil, skimming all the froth from the surface as the water begins to bubble, then stir in half the butter. Turn down the heat and simmer the soup, covered, for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until the chickpeas are tender, adding a little more water from time to time as necessary – it can take up to 900ml (1 1/2 pints) more water or stock, it should be soupy in texture.

Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare the rice. Bring 850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) water to the boil in a saucepan, sprinkle in the rice, the rest of the butter and salt to taste. Cook until the rice is tender. Drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the liquid.

To Finish

Cook the chopped tomato in the reserved rice cooking water, seasoning it with salt, pepper and sugar. It should take about 5 minutes or until the tomato is “melted”. Add this and the drained rice to the pot and simmer for a further 5 minutes to allow the flavours to mix. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper and perhaps a pinch of salt. Add the chopped herbs, stir once or twice and serve accompanied by lemon quarters.

Tumeric Latte

One serving

350mls (12floz) whole milk or almond milk

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

sugar or honey to taste

a grind of black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a heavy saucepan and whisk constantly over a gentle heat until it comes to the boil. When hot, pour the frothy latte into a heavy glass and enjoy. 

Pancake Party for Valentines

This year, Valentine’s Day and Shrove Tuesday almost coincide so let’s have some fun with both. It’s unlikely that young lovers will be able to celebrate in restaurants, so how about a ‘pancake party’ at home? Rather than staring into each other’s eyes and whispering sweet nothings over a glass of bubbles, let’s make pancakes ….you can still sip fizz!

Show me anyone young or old who doesn’t love pancakes? All my children adore them. When they were little, they queued up by the Aga waiting for the speckled pancakes to come off the pan. They brushed them with melted butter, sprinkled on some caster sugar, then a squeeze of lemon, rolled them up and ate them out of their hands as they joined the end of the queue for the next one.

Pancakes or crepes (as they are now more grandly called) were always my ‘go-to’ recipe when we arrived home from a drive with a car full of squabbling hungry children.  I’d dash into the kitchen, put the pan on the Aga, the batter was made in minutes in a blender, melt a bit of butter, grab a bowl of caster sugar and a couple of lemons.

Add a couple tablespoons of the melted butter to the batter so the pancakes wouldn’t stick annoyingly to the pan. Start to film the base of the hot pan with some batter, run a palette knife around the edge, flip over and hey presto, the first was off the pan and onto a hot plate in seconds. Soon peace was restored, as they gradually filled up with yummy pancakes, all those protein filled eggs, milk and butter….so nourishing.

My grandchildren love them too, but more often than not, they ‘pooh pooh’ lemon and sugar in favour of chocolate spread or banana and jam or peanut butter….

They also love buttermilk pancakes for breakfast or tiny silver dollars with honey or maple syrup. Bramley apple slices dipped in batter are also a hit. They are fritters really, but my granddaughter Ottilie christened them ‘Scary little monsters’ because of the funny weird shapes they assume as they cook on the pan, and I have to tell you that it is not just the kids who love all these treats. We all love them, and the best thing about batter is that it really is the great ‘convertible.’ A trillion variations can be made on the theme with ingredients you will virtually always have to hand, and who is to say it wouldn’t bring on a proposal just as fast as hot buttered lobster (too extravagant) or chocolate mousse cake (too fattening). After all, someone who can whip up something tasty, delicious and nutritious in minutes, that doesn’t cost a fortune is worth having around!

If you really want to go all out, try these Japanese soufflè pancakes, they definitely take much more effort and tweaking than ordinary crepes, but Boy are they good plus, they are so ‘on trend’. Can’t wait for someone to start making them over here. So get started and let me know if it brings on a proposal….meanwhile, Bon Appetit…..

Shrove Tuesday Pancakes – Comfort Dish of the Week

Pancakes/crepes can be rolled, folded into fan shapes or slathered or stuffed with your favourite filling.

Serves 6 – makes 12 approximately

6oz (175g) white flour, preferably unbleached

a good pinch of salt

1 dessertspoon castor sugar

2 large eggs and 1 or 2 egg yolks, preferably free range

scant 15floz (450ml) milk, or for very crisp, light delicate pancakes, milk and water mixed

3-4 dessertspoons melted butter

Castor sugar and lemons to serve

8 inch (20.5cm) non-stick crêpe pan

First, make the batter. Whizz all the ingredients together in a blender or a food processor.

Alternatively, sieve the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the centre and drop in the lightly beaten eggs. With a whisk or wooden spoon, starting in the centre, mix the egg and gradually bring in the flour. Add the liquid slowly and beat until the batter is covered with bubbles. (If they are to be served with sugar and lemon juice, stir in an extra tablespoon of castor sugar and the finely grated rind of half a lemon).

In an ideal world allow the batter stand in a cold place for an hour or so – longer will do no harm, but if you are in a hurry start to cook the pancakes straight away.

Just before you cook the crêpes, stir in 3-4 dessertspoons melted butter. This will make all the difference to the flavour and texture of the crêpes and will make it possible to cook them without greasing the pan each time.

Serve immediately on hot plates with butter, castor sugar and lemon or your favourite topping.

Posh Crêpes with Orange Butter

This crêpe recipe is very nearly as good as those Crêpes Suzette they used to serve with a great flourish in posh restaurants when I was a child. These crêpes are half the bother and can be made for a fraction of the cost.

Pancake Batter as above.

Orange Butter

6oz (175g) butter

3 teaspoons finely grated orange rind

6oz (175g) icing sugar

freshly squeezed juice of 5-6 oranges

First make and rest the batter. Cook the pancakes and stack one on top of another.

Next make the orange butter.

Cream the butter with the finely grated orange rind. Then add the sifted icing sugar and beat until fluffy.

Make the crêpes in the usual way. Heat the pan over a high heat until really hot.  Grease lightly with butter and pour in just enough batter to cover the base of the pan thinly.

* A small ladle can also be very useful for this, loosen the crêpes around the edge, flip over with a spatula or thin egg slice, cook for a second or two on the other side, and slide off the pan onto a plate. The crêpes may be stacked on top of each other and peeled apart later.  The greasing of the pan is only necessary for the first two or three crêpes.

Good to Know: Crêpes will keep in the fridge for several days and also freeze perfectly. If they are to be frozen it’s probably a good idea to put a disc of silicone paper between each for extra safety.

To Serve

Melt a blob of the orange butter in the pan, add some freshly squeezed orange juice, toss the crêpes in the foaming orange butter. Fold in half and then in quarters (fan shapes). Serve 2 or 3 per person on warm plates.  Spoon the buttery orange juices over the top. Repeat until all the crêpes and butter have been used.

Scary little monsters

Funny how one sometimes forgets a recipe; we hadn’t had these apple fritters for ages, but I remembered them recently and they taste just as good as ever. As children we particularly loved fritters because they used to fry into funny shapes, which caused great hilarity and many squabbles. These can also be shallow-fried in a pan. You can add a teaspoon of cinnamon to the sugar to toss the apples in for extra flavour.

Serves 6–8

Batter

110g (4oz) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 organic egg

150ml (5fl oz) milk

450g (1lb) cooking apples (about 4), Bramley’s Seedling or Grenadier

good-quality vegetable oil, for frying

Cinnamon Sugar

4oz (110g) granulated or Demerara sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Whizz all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Alternatively, sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre and drop in the egg. Use a whisk to bring in the flour gradually from the edges, slowly adding in the milk at the same time. Leave the batter in a cool place for about 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer to 190°C (375°F).

Peel and core the apples. Cut into rings, no thicker than 1cm (1⁄3 inch). Dip the rings into the batter and lift out with a skewer, allowing the surplus batter to drain off a little. Drop a few at a time into the hot fat. Fry until the batter is golden brown and the apple is tender.  Drain well on kitchen paper. Toss each fritter in caster sugar or cinnamon sugar. (Note: Eat immediately while still crisp. If the fritters are left sitting around they will soften and become less delicious). Serve immediately on hot plates with softly whipped cream.

Fritters can also be cooked on a frying pan in about ¾ inch hot oil.

 

American Buttermilk Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and Maple Syrup

Serves 4-6 depending on the size or helping

Makes 14 – 3” pancakes

We love to cook American pancakes on my ancient Aga for Sunday brunch – it’s so difficult to know when to stop!

250ml (8 flozs) buttermilk

1 free-range egg, preferably organic

15g (1/2 oz) butter, melted

150g (5oz) plain white flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon bread soda

To Serve

butter

12-18 pieces crispy bacon

Maple syrup or Irish honey

Mix the buttermilk, egg and melted butter in a large bowl, until smooth and blended.  Sieve the flour, salt and baking soda together, stir into the buttermilk until the ingredients are barely combined, don’t worry about the lumps. Do not over mix or the pancakes will be heavy.

Heat a heavy iron or non-stick pan until medium hot.  Grease with a little clarified butter.  Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of batter onto the pan, spread slightly with the back of the spoon to a round about 7.5cm (3inch) across.  Cook until the bubbles rise and break on the top of the pancake (about a minute).  Flip over gently.  Cook until pale golden on the other side.  Spread each with butter.

Serve a stack of three with crispy streaky bacon and maple syrup.

OR:

Loganberry jam, sour cream and sausages

Serve pancakes with loganberry jam, sour cream and sausages

Cornmeal Pancakes

Substitute 25g (1 oz) of cornmeal for 25g (1 oz) of flour in the above recipe.

 

Crêpes with Chocolate Spread, Toasted Hazelnuts and Cream

Spread a little chocolate spread in the middle of the crêpe, top with a blob of cream and sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts. Kumquat is also a delicious addition.

Silver Dollars

Makes 50 – 60 – enough to have real feast!

4 Eggs

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

30grams (1oz) plain white flour

475mls (16 flozs) sour cream

2 – 3 tablespoons castor sugar

Icing sugar for dusting

Whizz all the ingredients in a blender. Alternatively, put the eggs in a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the salt, baking soda, flour, sour cream and sugar. Mix well. Heat a frying pan until it is good and hot, add clarified butter to the pan and drop small spoonfuls of batter onto the pan – just enough to spread to an approximately 2 ½ inch round. When a few bubbles appear on the top of the pancakes flip them over and cook briefly.

Enjoy with a dusting of icing sugar.

Japanese Soufflè Pancakes with Peanut Butter Cream

Makes 5 – 6

Soft, pillowy and delicious….the batter for these soufflé pancakes need to be cooked in moulds so they are contained as they rise.

8 – 9 cm rings are fine.

2 large free range eggs

A generous pinch of salt

60g plain white flour, sieved

1tbsp of cream

1 tbsp of milk

60g castor sugar, sieved

Melted butter to grease the pan

Raw runny honey, maple syrup or peanut butter cream

Peanut Butter Cream

100ml cream

35g smooth peanut butter

10 – 15g dark soft brown sugar

5 – 6  8cm-9cm rings (Darina is it cm or inches? See above). We use a 10” sautè pan but use whatever you have and cook in batches if necessary.

First, make the peanut butter cream. Put 70ml of cream into a saucepan with the peanut butter and sugar. Stir over a low heat until combined. Cool, then add the remaining cream and whisk until light and fluffy. Transfer to a bowl.

Put a heavy cast iron frying pan, sautè pan or griddle on the lowest heat.

Separate the eggs, put the yolks into one bowl, add a pinch of salt. Whisk in the cream, milk, then the sieved flour the make a smooth paste.

Whisk the egg whites with the sieved castor sugar in another spotlessly clean, dry bowl, until light and fluffy. Carefully stir a third of the whisked egg whites into the egg yolk mixture then fold in the remainder a third at a time until fully combined.

Arrange the rings on the preheated pan. Brush the inside and the base underneath each ring evenly and generously with melted butter.

Divide the mixture between the rings, it should come about two thirds of the way up the sides. Cook for about 6 minutes, still over a low heat.

Meanwhile, preheat a grill to a medium heat and continue to cook the soufflé pancakes, not too close to the elements for a further 5 minutes approximately or until fully risen and golden brown on top.

To serve: carefully, run a knife around the edge of the rings.  Turn a soufflé pancake onto a warm plate. They will sink a little but don’t worry, they will still be delicious. Serve drizzled with honey, maple syrup or this delicious peanut cream –Enjoy immediately.

Chinese New Year

This week, let’s take a break from Covid 19 and the dawning realisations of the unexpected implications of Brexit on our lives. Life seems to be full of ‘Aaaaaah’ and ‘Ah Ha’ moments at present….

So, I thought I’d concentrate on the Chinese New Year coming up on Friday February the 12th 2021.  Festivities have already begun to celebrate the beginning of a New Year on the traditional lunar calendar. In China and East Asian countries the festival is commonly referred to as Spring Festival . Chinese New Year marks the transition between zodiac signs but this year, 2021 is the Year of the Ox. 2020 was the year of the Rat and 2022 will be the year of the Tiger.

It’s a fantasticly colourful and flamboyant festival with lion and dragon dances, fireworks, family gatherings and special foods.

Red is the auspicious colour. The Nian Dragon doesn’t like red so look out for lots of red lanterns to scare him away. Red envelopes are another endearing part of the celebrations, these have a monetary gift inside and are also gifted for special occasions such as weddings and graduations. Have you heard of Chunlian couplets? Me neither, I have no idea but Google came to my rescue. They are Chinese decorations ‘fai chun’, that people frequently hang in doorways during Chinese new year “to create a jubilant festive atmosphere”.

Celebrations last up to 16 days, the first seven are considered a public holiday where Chinese travel home to their families – not much chance of that this year! If they truly can’t travel home, a spot will be laid and left empty for them at the New Year’s Eve dinner.

Chinese New Year officially begins on February the 12th 2021 and ends on February the 22nd 2021. Then guess what…..preparations start for Lantern Festival on February 26th – enough festivities to distract minds from Covid 19.

There are a myriad of customs and taboos to be taken into consideration. Words with negative connotations are forbidden, they could jinx your good fortune, including death, pain, empty, poor, sick and presumably Covid 19 is added to the list this year. Avoid breaking glass or ceramic, it shatters your chance of prosperity and good fortune. However, a handy tip, immediately wrap the shards in red paper and throw them into a lake or river after Chinese New Year.

Sweeping during the actual day of celebration apparently also causes problems, so only on the designated cleaning day otherwise you may sweep away or throw out your good luck. No showering on Chinese New Year’s day either…

Sharp objects can cut your streams of wealth and success. In olden times this was to give women a well deserved break from chopping, cooking and sewing …..Hair cutting is also taboo and forbidden till festivities are over – double Covid 19!!!!!

Don’t borrow money or demand debt repayment or you could end up having to borrow all year long. No fighting or crying otherwise there could be a turbulent year ahead!

Try not to take medicine during the Spring festival. Not sure about that, could be wiser to follow your doctors instructions….and there is also a taboo about giving people a blessing in bed – allow them to get out of bed first otherwise they could be bedridden. There are a myriad of taboos about gift giving – it’s a mindfield but this is a cooking column so back to the kitchen.

Chinese take enormous pride in their food – it is after all one of the great cuisines of the world. Each family will have their own traditions but there are some dishes that may be found on virtually every table.

Spring rolls – to celebrate the coming of Spring.

Dumplings – many different types, apparently they are shaped like ancient Chinese silver and gold ingots. After eating these you will live a wealthy and prosperous life. I adore Chinese dumplings and the tradition that all members of the family must participate in making them.

Noodles – for Chinese New Year people like to eat long noodles, the longer the noodle the longer the life – this calls for a lot of slurping!

Steamed fish, chicken, rice cakes, vegetable stir frys, hot pots….all are symbolic, and bring luck and good fortune, are truly delicious and nourishing and comforting. Just what we need to cheer us up during this super challenging time. Keep safe and well and enjoy.

Siu Mai Pork, Bacon and Ginger Dumplings

Makes about 20

500g fresh prawn meat

250g streaky pork, minced

3 cloves garlic, crushed finely

1 x 5cm piece ginger, grated

2 eggs whites

2 teasp. cornflour

Juice of half lemon

1 tablesp. Oyster sauce (optional)

1 tablesp. Soy sauce plus extra for dipping

1 tablesp. Sesame oil

¼ teasp. salt, approx.

¼ teasp. freshly ground pepper

Hong Kong style, round wonton wrappers

Oil for brushing the steamer

Cabbage leaves for lining the steamer

25cm Bamboo steamer

Put all the ingredients into a wide bowl. Season well and evenly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix very thoroughly, better still pulse in a food processor, it shouldn’t be too smooth, a little texture is perfect.

Next assemble the dumplings. Hold the wonton wrapper in your hand between your thumb and cupped fingers. Dip a spoon into cold water, then drop a blob about (2 teasp.) into the centre of each wrapper. Gather the edges of the wrapper up around the filling and squeeze the sides slightly with your fingers, leaving the filling slightly exposed, the sides pleat a little.

Tap the base on the worktop so the bottom will be flat and the dumplings won’t topple over in the steamer. Continue until all the filling is used up. Cook or cover and keep refrigerated.

To Cook:

Brush the slats of the steamer with a little oil. Line the base loosely with cabbage leaves. Arrange the dumplings in a single layer with a little space between each one to allow the steam to circulate – 12 siu mai should fit comfortably into a 25cm bamboo steamer. Cover.

Bring approx. 5cm of water to boil in a pot or wok. Place the steamer over the pot, cover with the lid and steam for 10-12 minutes or until the filling feels firm to the touch and is fully cooked through. Serve the dumpling immediately in the steamer with a bowl of soy sauce for dipping.

Good to know: I like to steam just one or two at first to test the seasoning. Excess dumplings will freeze brilliantly for 2-3 weeks.

Chinese Garlic Chive Omelette

We love this simple omelette, super tasty and easy to make. I’ve been using the chopped leaves of the early wild garlic called Snowbells (see Wild food of the Week last week, allium triquetrium). The pretty white flowers as a garnish.

Serves 2

5 organic eggs

40-50g Chinese or garlic chives or wild garlic

¼ teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon fish sauce

½ – 1 teaspoon oyster sauce

Generous tablespoon olive oil or peanut oil

Accompaniment

Soy sauce, optional

Slice the chives into 5mm pieces. Whisk the eggs together in a bowl with the other ingredients. Add the chopped chives and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Heat a wok or a 25cm frying pan over a high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base. Drop in a teaspoon full of the mixture to test the seasoning. Taste and tweak if necessary.

Pour the egg mixture into the hot wok or pan, swirl to coat the base evenly.

Cook for a couple of minutes to brown the base lightly. Flip over to cook the other side. When almost set, – 2-3 minutes slide out onto a hot serving plate. Divide into quarters sprinkle with garlic chive flowers and serve with soy sauce.

Alternatively make 2 smaller omelettes.

Stir Fried Pork and Ginger Noodles with Peanuts.

Serves 4 – 6

200g Egg noodles

1tbsp olive oil (More usual to use peanut oil but I prefer a light olive oil)

450g pork fillet , cut into strips

2cm of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely grated

2 cloves of garlic peeled and freshly grated

1 tbsp shrimp paste

1 tbsp soy sauce

D1 tbsp fish sauce

2 – 3 tbsp water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

60g toasted peanuts (optional)

1 carrot (approx. 5oz) cut into fine julienne

2 spring onions sliced at an angle into ‘horses ears’

1 – 2 tsps Chinese sesame oil

First prepare the carrots and onions. Then cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet, they should still have a slight bite.

Ready to Eat….

Line up all the ingredients beside the cooker. Heat a wok over a medium/ high heat. Add a dash of oil and the pork strips. Stir and fry for a minute or two, careful it’s really easy to overcook the pork. Turn out onto a plate.

Increase the heat, add another dash of oil if necessary, Toss in the peanuts, ginger and garlic, stir and fry to 20 – 30 seconds. Next add the shrimp paste, stir and fry for another 30 seconds until aromatic, then add the soy and fish sauces and a couple of tablespoons of water to create steam.

Toss in the well-drained noodles and pork. Toss to coat, sprinkle over the sesame oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, taste and correct if necessary.

Turn out onto a hot serving plate or plates. Sprinkle with some grated carrot julienne and spring onions. Serve immediately.

Gok’s Magic Chicken and Leek Pot Stickers

Not sure if you know about Gok. My daughters are huge fans but I’ve only ‘discovered’ him recently. He is super cool and does a TV series on Channel 4 on fashion as well as food. First I borrowed his book, Gok Cooks Chinese from my daughter and then ordered my very own copy. Published by Penguin and Michael Joseph – full of fabulously simple Chinese dishes.

Serves 2 – 4

200g minced chicken

2 tbsps leek, very finely chopped

1 spring onion finely chopped

1-2cm piece of root ginger, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 egg separated

Cornflour, for dusting

12 round white wonton wrappers

Tablespoon of groundnut oil

For the Dipping Sauce

2 tablespoons of runny honey

1 tablespoons of light soy sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

150ml water

Put the chicken, leek, spring onion and ginger into a bowl or on to a board, and mix together well, adding the sesame oil, Shaoxing rice wine and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add a little egg white if the mixture needs binding together.

Dust a work surface with cornflour and lay out the wonton wrappers. Place a small spoonful of the chicken mixture in the middle of a wrapper and brush the outside rim lightly with egg white.

Fold over the wrapper to make a half-moon shape, enclosing the filling inside. Press out any air bubbles and seal the join, pinching the ends to shut at the rim. Repeat with the remaining wonton wrappers and chicken mixture.

Heat a non-stick frying pan with deep sides, or a wok, over a medium to high heat. Add a glut of oil and place the dumplings in the pan. If using a wok, arrange them around the bottom and lower sides. Cook for 30 – 60 seconds over a medium heat until crisp and dark golden on the base. Then pour in enough water to create steam around the dumplings (about 200ml) at the base of the wok or pan. Cover the pan and steam the dumplings for 5 – 8 minutes (topping up the water if the pan is drying out) or until the filling is cooked through.

To make the dipping sauce mix together the honey and soy sauce in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the chives to garnish.

Remove the pot stickers from the pan and serve coloured side up with the dipping sauce on the side. Serve immediately.

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