Christmas Florentine

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P1070020At this time of year the shops are flooded with all sorts of Christmas goodies enticing us to spend even more money…as if Christmas isn’t expensive enough! So this year I have decided to make a few gifts instead. Although they may not end up much cheaper, the amount of love and effort put into these gifts makes them far more appealing. Earlier in the year I made some orange gin using Seville oranges. This has now matured and makes a refreshing alternative to some of the ususal Christmas ‘stickies’ on offer. The rosemary and lemon salt is another great gift (best made in the summer after pruning back the herbs and leaving them to dry out in the late summer sun). Homemade biscuits are always sought after especially at Christmas when there are plenty of extra mouths to feed. These Christmas florentines are deliciously chewy and nutty encapsulating the essence of Christmas, with a hint of orange and drizzle of chocolate they are the perfect Christmas treat.

 

To make 36-40 Florentines.

300g flaked almonds

15Og icing sugar

zest of and orange

3 egg whites

Optional addition of 80g chopped dried cranberries

150g of melted white,dark or milk chocolate (melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water)

Preheat the oven to 160oc

Place all the ingredients except the chocolate in a bowl and carefully mix together. Cover two large baking trays with baking parchment then drop a heaped teaspoon of the mixture at regular spaced intervals on the parchment (leaving a 5cm gap between each biscuit). Dip the back of the spoon in cold water and spread the mixture as thinly as possibly making sure that the biscuits do not touch. You may need to cook these in batches depending on the size of your oven.

P1060996Cook the florentines in the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and using a turner or fish slice, gently press down on each biscuit and leave to cool.

P1060999When the biscuits are cool take a teaspoon full of melted chocolate a using a gently flicking motion drizzle the chocolate over the biscuits.

P1070066Leave to cool before carefully removing them from the parchment. Store in an airtight container/biscuit jar for up to a week. (Though mine have usually lasted only a couple of days before they are are all gobbled up!)

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The ultimate gluten free banana cake recipe

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 Often when people are faced with dietary  requirements they tend to baulk, but for me it’s a challenge. If someone is wheat or dairy free I like to take it on as a personal quest to try and find something that not only fits their dietary needs but is truly delicious as well… weird eh?? So when I was asked to make tea today for our match, as my tennis partner cannot eat gluten I took on the mantle of trying to make the perfect cake that not only was packed with energy boosting stuff but was gluten free! Not being a great lover of cakes(love baking them but not eating them) I came up with this gluten free banana cake and if I say so myself turned out to be one of the lightest, moistest,cake I have ever made; so unbelievably delicious that I managed to put away 3 slices today which for those that know me is UNHEARD of,so it’s got to be pretty good…

IMG_0661 2 3-4 small very ripe bananas

200g ground almonds

125g melted butter

100g castor sugar

2tsp baking powder

2eggs beaten

Preheat the oven to 170oc. (160oc for fan ovens). I loaf tin lined in greaseproof paper.

Blitz the bananas till smooth and add the sugar and melted butter, blitz again then add the eggs, almonds and baking powder. Blitz again and pour into the loaf tin. Cook in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the cake in for another 10-15 minutes. Check that the cake is cooked by inserting a cocktail stick, if it comes out clean remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

 

 

Prawn laksa with sugar snap peas and tomato

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With these cold winter nights drawing there is nothing better than a hot bowl of laksa to warm you up. Its not only extremely quick (10 minutes start to finish-really!) but incredibly versatile too so you can be pimp and tweak it to whatever you fancy.P1060449

A laksa is a kind of spicy curry soup usually made with vermicelli noodles with a coconut base. I often omit the noodles for a lighter dish for a quick lunch, but if you wish to add some noodles you can add some softened vermicelli (or pre cooked bought in packets) with the cherry tomatoes. Alternately you can serve this with some steamed jasmine rice if you prefer.

2-3tsp laska paste (available from most supermarkets can be hot or mild)

12-16 prawns peeled and deveined

1 Can coconut milk

12       cherry tomatoes

100g      sugar snap peas

Fish sauce and juice of a lime to taste

A pinch of sugar

A handful of chopped  coriander

Place the laska paste with the coconut milk and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. Boil for one minute then add the chicken and the tomatoes and simmer for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the sugar snap peas and simmer for one more minute.

Season with the lime juice and fish sauce.

Garnish with chopped herbs and serve with steamed Thai rice.

This dish works very well with beef, duck or chicken instead of the prawns. Also why not try adding some baby corn, bean sprouts, mushrooms, water chestnuts, courgette noodles…

Serves 4

Pomegranate mint and lemon vebena salad

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I rarely have roast beef, Yorkshire pudding with all the trimmings but recently I have been served it twice in a week. Delicious though it is, it totally wipes me out for any other activity than curling up on the sofa and watching some trashy film.  Once in a while thats a great, but my waistline and more importantly by hyper active cocker spaniel Ella requires a bit more action!

As I had some mates coming over for Sunday lunch I thought we would have something a little lighter but still packed with flavour. I spatchcocked a chicken and rubbed it in  a little olive oil and plenty of cajun spice. Then gave it to the old man to barbie. (which also is a great way for cutting down on the washing up!)

Since I had a vegetarian coming along the ‘sides ‘ needed to be substantial so I made some sticky aubergines with caramelised onions and this giant couscous ,pomegranate,and herb salad. The addition of lemon verbena gave the salad a great aromatic and citrus twist. Lemon verbena is rather a forgotten herb. You can infused it in cream to make delicate lemon verbena pots, add it to steamed or baked fish or chicken and  it makes great tea too, just place a handful of leaves in a pot and pour over some boiling water.

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To make the pomegranate salad. Take a small bunch of mint, flat leaf parsley and lemon verbena and finely chop and set aside.

Cook 100g of giant couscous in boiling water for 6-7 minutes then drain and refresh in cold water, drain again and place in a bowl with 1-2 tbsp of hazelnut oil.

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Next finely chop a small onion and add to the bowl with 1/2 cucumber finely diced, a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes halved and the seeds of a large pomegranate.

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Add the herbs and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well and add a little more hazelnut oil and white balsamic vinegar to taste.

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Serve with toasted flat bread and Kevin’s Cajun barbecued chicken or whole roast sea bass.

 

Crab and cucumber salad

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Every year I meet up with a girlfriend of mine and we sneak out for a long lunch and a good gossip,  maybe a bit of a moan and a great laugh about life, our dreams, kids and our other halves. We always meet up at the same restaurant and each time peruse the menu and after much debate always end up ordering the same crab salad!

I love fresh white crab meat. Its delicate flavour is delectable much more subtle than lobster and better value too even if you don’t have the time to pick the crab meat from freshly boiled crab  you can buy very good white crab meat from fishmongers. Mix it with a little lemon, olive oil and chilli and it is fabulous stirred into freshly cooked spaghetti. However if you want to really appreciate the exquisite flavour of the crab,I like to keep it really simple and serve it with the zest of a lemon a little olive oil, parsley and seasoning served on a bed of mixed leaves or cucumber shavings. for added zing I sometimes add a little dash of sweet chilli sauce. What could better….

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Mango and Roquefort salad with avocado, walnuts and kale

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My summer veggies are sadly coming to an end. As I picked the last of my tomatoes, there was just enough to put in a salad for two! However I can’t complain as my little plot has been quite productive this year and I haven’t had to buy any tomatoes, salad or ‘greens’  since June but the  major result in converting big Kev to Kale (as long as I put loads of other goodies in the salad to distract him from the ‘greenness’) he really quite likes it!

If you are cooking kale, the tip is to slightly under, rather than over cook it otherwise it can resemble eating shoe leather which is most unpleasant! I find if I massage a little olive oil into it first and quickly stir fry it  adding a knob of butter and seasoning at the end of cooking it really is quite delicious and goes particularly well when served with game of fish.

So with the last of my pickings, I made this salad with a few other remnants from the fridge to bulk it out. I found that the saltiness of the roquefort works really well with the sweetness of the mango and the nuts add bit of texture and crunch.

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For two people

2-3large handfuls of kale, thoroughly washed and stalks removed

1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2tsp balsamic vinegar/glaze

1 mango peeled stone removed and diced

1 avocado peeled stone removed and sliced

1 handful cherry tomatoes halved

1handful walnuts

70g roquefort or any soft blue cheese

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tear up the kale and place in a large bowl then add extra virgin olive oil and massage into the kale with the balsamic vinegar (use the glaze if you have got it). Season with plenty of black pepper and a pinch of salt (go easy on the salt as the roquefort is very salty). Sprinkle over the remaining ingredients and serve.

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Coconut and cauliflower soup with tandoori chicken and mango relish

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I was doing a party the other day and had a few leftovers from the evening so thought that I would put them to good use and came up with this great substantial soup using the slightly spiced coconut and cauliflower soup which is then topped with diced tandoori chicken and fresh mango relish. It not only packs quite a punch flavour wise but also adds a few different dimensions to the soup as well.

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Cauliflower is a much underrated vegetable usually doused in cheese sauce or boiled till it’s limp and lifeless! We Brits should look to Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine.  They take the humble cauliflower and turn it into something quite sensational. It maybe fried with a few coriander seeds or cooked with difference spices in curries , made into tempura, or served raw in a relish. The diversity is enormous.

I digress, back to my leftover soup!

To make the coconut and cauliflower soup.                                  Serves 4-6

1 large onion chopped

1 cauliflower cut into florets

2tsp turmeric

1tsp ground cumin

1/2 red chilli chopped

2cm grated ginger

700ml  (approx.)vegetable stock or water

1x400g can coconut milk

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-2tbsp light olive oil

Fry the onion in the oil for about 5 minutes over a medium heat until it starts to soften (don’t let it colour). Add the spices  and cook for another minute then add the chilli and ginger and cook for another minute then add the cauliflower and stir well. Pour over the stock or water and bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes until the cauliflower is soft. Add the coconut milk and then blend in a liquidiser till smooth. Season with salt and pepper. If the soup is too thick add a little more stock or water. Serve in bowls with a little chopped coriander and naan bread.

Since I had a little left over tandoori chicken and fresh mango relish over, I pimped up the soup by finely dicing the chicken and placing a tablespoon on top of the soup and then topping that with a teaspoonful of fresh mango relish. The hot and cold element with the different flavours and textures worked extremely well.

IMG_2795Mango Salsa

1         mango peeled and cut into a small dice

¼       red chilli finely chopped

1tsp   palm or castor sugar

2tsp   black onion seeds

2cm   ginger peeled and grated

1tbsp   chopped coriander leaves

juice of a lime and a splash of fish sauce

Mix all the ingredients together season to taste and chill before serving.

 

Spaghetti with tomato, sausage and Pecorino

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With many of my friends kids (including my own) back at uni, I’ve been asked to put some ‘survival recipes up for students.’ As pasta is always one of their staple foods being quick and cheap I thought this would be a good place to start. When my kids first went off to uni I taught them the classic Bolognese sauce and once mastered it can be pimped up into a multitude of dishes- hot and spicy, curried ‘veggiefied’ its quite amazing how creative students can be particularly when hungry, and broke!

Spaghetti with tomato, sausage and Pecorino is a bit like Bolognese  in that it can be tweaked into a variety of versions depending on what is lurking in the fridge. You can use any type of sausages you like, (I prefer Italian sausages)) and a little chilli to spice it up or use Parmesan, ricotta or even Philadelphia, what ever is to hand. IMG_2760For 2 people

1 tin chopped tomatoes

2 -4 sausages (depending how meaty you like it)

1 onion finely chopped

1 clove garlic chopped

1tsp dried oregano or marjoram

1-2tbsp grated Pecorino (or 1tbsp ricotta or Philadelphia)

120g dried spaghetti

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1tbsp light olive oil

 

Using a sharp knife slit the skin off the sausages and peel off the skin then pull off little pieces of the meat (about the size of a 10p piece) .

Fry the onion gently for 5 minutes until it starts to soften then add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the sausage pieces. Increase the heat and fry the sausages for about 3 minutes until they start to change colour. Add the tomatoes and the oregano and bring to the boil and then turn down to simmer for about 8-10 minutes until the sauce has reduced. Whilst the sauce is reducing put a large pan of salted water on to boil and cook the pasta and drain keeping 1/4 cup of the pasta water aside. Stir the cheese into the hot (but not boiling) sauce and season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta and mix well adding a little of the pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Serve with a little (or quite a lot-if you’re a bit greedy like me)! grated parmesan.

 

For another very quick and easy pasta dish, cook some tortellini then fry up a few sliced mushrooms then add a handful of frozen peas and some cherry tomatoes. Stir in a good knob of butter and mix in with the cooked tortellini. Delicious and very cheap!

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Albacore tuna with rocket flowers and pine nuts

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One of the great things about getting older is that you  often have more time on your hands and you can afford to indulge yourself a little bit more.  For my parents, travelling and visiting new restaurants up and down the country is definitely high up on their priority list. Whether they are sampling a great new breakfast venue, (my father’s favourite) or splashing out on a gourmet extravaganza, (my mother’s preference) they take a lot of pleasure searching out the next hidden gem. For the latest one, on my mother’s birthday, I was lucky enough to accompany them, we visited L’Enclume at Cartmel in the Lake district. My father  is not usually very tolerant of Michelin starred restaurant’s finding them to be rather ‘poncey “. However  this time, I think he was rather blown away by Simon Rogan’s cooking. The intense and unusual flavours which Simon amalgamates together all beautifully presented simply took the words right out of dad’s mouth! So much so that he wants to go back for the 20 course dinner menu. I can thoroughly recommend it and it was well worth the 2 hour drive to get there!

On returning home,  I found  that my the rocket had bolted. Undeterred and inspired by my visit to L’Enclume I decided to use the pretty rocket leaves in a salad.

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I marinated some ribbons of courgette in a little lemon juice and olive oil then flaked in a tin of Albacore tuna. Next I added some of rocket leaves  and their flowers with a few fronds of wild fennel, then seasoned it well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper then sprinkled over a few toasted pine nuts. It probably wasn’t quite up to Michelin standard but was very well received by the girls for lunch!

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Spontaneous Summer Dinner Alfresco

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With this burst of late summer sunshine I decided to make the most of the eating in my tiny garden in London. Sadly my glut of figs has finished but the fig tree, which is in serious need of pruning, sprawls over most of it. I was just able to squeeze four of us around the table.

This morning I had picked up a huge bunch of rocket, and I still had an abundance of tomatoes from the country, so throwing a salad together from these and a few slices parma ham from our wonderful local Italian deli Emilia’s couldn’t be simpler.P1060839

I added a few shavings of aged Pecorino, (Parmesan would work just as well) and drizzled over some good virgin olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

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I also made a fennel and Albacore tuna salad and big K pulled the cork on a bottle or two of delicious chilled Verdicchio from Le Marche!P1060225

and then we finished this off with some panna cotta with fresh raspberry coulis.

P1060760It turned out to be quite a good evening!….