Posts Tagged ‘summer’

My fridge hasn’t been to inspirational recently.

But after a traumatic 5km charity run I thought I’d treat myself with a nice supper lastnight. So when I got back from work today the standard of fridge leftovers was a lot better than usual.

Some asparagus, sugar snaps and soft goat’s cheese. Delicious.

I ferreted out some frozen broad beans, mint leaves, virgin olive oil and some crushed pink pepper.

And then the best bulking out ingredient ever: orecchiette. I’m not one for splashing the cash in the supermarket unless it’s for a good reason. But if you’re using nice ingredients, it really is worth the extra £1 for this ‘little ear’ Southern Italian pasta made from durum wheat semolina and water. They have a slightly rough outer surface, and a tasty soft, chewy centre.

It’s a light meal with great summery flavours. And it’s a classic one pan dish – the pasta takes ten minutes, so chuck in the broad beans six minutes into cooking, and then chuck in the asparagus and sugar snaps a couple of minutes later. Drain and dress with mint leaves and goat’s cheese.

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I’m not the biggest fan of cheesecake, so I won’t be waxing lyrical about this recipe. As cheesecakes go though, it’s a real good’un. The addition of mint and balsamic stop it from being one-dimensional creaminess, and turn it into something a bit more sophisticated and interesting.

It’s a Fiona Cairns (of royal wedding cake-maker fame) concoction from her Bake & Decorate cookbook. If you’ve got some end-of-season strawberries, then this would be a great way of using them up—especially if you’re throwing a party for pudding lovers over the weekend, and you’re looking for a centre piece to finish the meal with.

For the base:
50g unsalted butter, melted, plus
more for the tin
300g dark chocolate digestive
10 large mint leaves, finely

For the strawberry filling:
300g strawberries, thinly sliced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
10 large mint leaves, finely
1 tbsp icing sugar
For the cream cheese filling:
3 tsp gelatine crystals
250g unsalted cream cheese,
at room temperature
300ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
45g golden caster sugar

To decorate:
150-200g strawberries
few sprigs of mint

Preheat the oven to 170C. Butter very well the base and sides of a 23cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round springform tin, making sure the flat side of the springform base is uppermost (the lipped side makes it hard to remove the cheesecake).

Put the biscuits in a polythene bag, seal, then bash with a rolling pin until very fine. Tip into a bowl and mix in the butter and mint. Lightly press into the tin with a spoon. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool.

For the strawberry filling, simply mix everything together in a bowl and leave for 1-2 hours for the strawberries to absorb the flavours. Drain the strawberries, reserving all the delicious juices.

For the cream cheese filling, place 3 tbsp cold water into a small, wide-bottomed heatproof bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Every single crystal must be wet, or it will turn to lumps later on. Set the bowl over a pan of hot (not boiling) water until every crystal has melted. Don’t let it get too hot or it won’t set properly.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. In another bowl, lightly whip the cream and vanilla. Using an electric mixer (or handheld whisk), whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick, pale and doubled in volume. Carefully fold in the cream cheese, then the cream.

Take the strawberry juices and mix them into the gelatine liquid, sieve out any lumps, then fold in a spoonful of the cream mixture. Once well blended, gently fold in the remaining cream. Spread the marinated strawberries over the centre of the biscuit base, ensuring they do not reach the edges. Spoon on the cream, level the surface and place in the refrigerator overnight to set.

When you are ready to serve, dip a knife into hot water, release the spring and run the knife around the edge of the tin. Ease off the base with a warm palette knife and transfer to a serving dish. Finally, decorate with the sliced strawberries and mint sprigs.

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I’ve done a small poll, and can conclude that boys don’t like gazpacho. Obviously, this is a whopping generalization, but the boys I’ve quizzed don’t seem to understand the concept: “can’t you warm it up?”

Contrary to popular belief, a gazpacho is not a tin of tomato soup that someone failed to put in a microwave. In fact, if a gazpacho resembles the smooth texture of Heinz tomato soup, then its creator has got the wrong idea.

Don’t think of it as a cold soup, but more of a liquid salad, which should be light, flavorsome and have texture.

Sure. My recipe is a bit on the lumpy side (I made it for a family I was cooking for once, and they compared it to roadkill). But I’m a fan of the lumps. After all, gazpacho translates as ‘soaked bread’ (Arabic) — and as far as I’m concerned, anything that’s got soaked bread in it is surely going to be a bit on the lumpy side.

Make sure that the soup is thoroughly chilled before serving – if you’re feeling very keen, then chill the bowls too.

Don’t hold back on the garlic and Tabasco either—there should be a nice kick to this cooling, southern Spanish dish which is perfect for the long, Mediterranean evenings that have finally reached London.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a main course)
1 kg tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 red onion
1 cucumber
150 ml orange juice
150g breadcrumbs
4 garlic cloves
6 tablespoons of good olive oil
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar

Start by skinning the tomatoes and pepper. Pop the tomatoes in a pan of boiling water for one minute or so—they’re done when the skin splits. Pour them into a bowl of cold water so they stop cooking, and you can peel the skin off without burning your fingers.

In the meantime, halve and de-seed the pepper. Rub the skin with oil, and pop it in a hot oven—the skin will blister, and become easy to peel off.

Put all the tomatoes in a blender with ½ the red pepper, ½ the red onion and ½ the cucumber.

Next, crush the garlic and add it to the breadcrumbs with the white wine vinegar and olive oil. Leave it on one side for the breadcrumbs to absorb all the flavours.

Now dice the remaining ½ red pepper, ½ red onion and ½ cucumber. Add them to the gazpacho. Pour in the orange juice, add the breadcrumb mixture, and finally season with the Tabasco.

This works brilliantly as a starter served out of tea cups and saucers. It also makes a super maincourse (with garlic croutons) —but this week I’m having it as a healthy packed lunch. Yum!

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Did you know that evidence of rain dances can be found in the history of people from the Ancient Egyptians to Native Americans? The ritual developed independently in tribes around the world who thought that if they had a good old jig then it might coax rain to come and water their harvests.

Oh how they would have be enjoying summer this year. A summer of relentless rainfall. A summer only enjoyed by gardeners who live in perpetual fear of hose-pipe bans.

So, I was wondering whether there might be some sort of sun dance instead…but then I thought of something better – a summer pudding.
It’s one of those glorious summer desserts that’s so closely linked with hot, balmy days, I have this sneaky feeling that if you start with a summer pudding, then the weather might just have to change so that it can be eaten in the right conditions.

There is no cooking involved in this recipe – just assembly, so it’s a great pudding for an under-confident chef, and is a sure fire way to wow people with your culinary brilliance.

About 1.2kg summer berries (there are usually supermarket deals on frozen summer berries which make the recipe far cheaper if you’re a frugal chef).
1 loaf of unsliced, white bread (it’s best if it’s a little on the stale side).
175g caster sugar

Put the fruit in a pan with all the sugar, and heat it gently for three minutes or so. The aim of this is not to stew the fruit, but to heat it enough just so the juices are released.

Pour the fruit into a sieve, so the juices are held in a seperate bowl.

Cut the crusts off the bread, slice it. Next, cut up the slices into a few big squares, rectangles and triangles – basically an assortment of shapes that will patch together to line a pudding basin.

Line a pudding basin with cling film, and then start building the pudding. Dip the bread into the juice, and then arrange them round the sides of the dish.

Once the basin has been lined with the fruit-juice-soaked bread, then fill it with the berries. Use up the last bit of the juice and bread to cover the top of the bowl with a lid (which will eventually form the base of the pudding when it’s tipped out).

Put a plate on top of the pudding, and a weight on top so that everything’s squished down and compact, then put the pudding in the fridge for at least six hours – overnight is best.

When it comes to serving, turn out the pudding, and serve with cream or ice cream, or both.

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It’s been a true British summer so far - the sun’s been teasing us by skulking behind clouds, re-emerging in its full glory just as we’re packing up to go home.

But don’t let the weather dictate your picnic. The trick is the mindset: British stoicism and determination to have a damned good lunch, come rain or shine.

Anyway, I thought I’d do a post on a classic picnic recipe so that you’ve at least got the food part sorted…even if it does get washed away as soon as you lay it out.

By doing savoury tarts, you’re cutting down on all the faff, coordination and packaging that can mar a cocktail sausage and scotch egg-based picnic. All you need is one container for the tarts, a bag of salad, and a jam jar of dressing (or- even better, an old mustard pot so you get the dregs of the mustard flavouring the olive oil, vinegar and lemon).

No chasing packaging caught by gusts of wind, or lugging home bags full of empty plastic containers – but a simple, sophisticated and delicious picnic.

Ingredients (makes 12 tarts - 6 of each)

500g plain flour
250g butter
18 teaspoons of cold water

600ml creme fraiche
4 eggs
slosh of milk
2 red onions
slosh of balsamic vinegar
1 pack of goat’s cheese
fresh thyme
5 lumps of frozen spinach

Start off by making the pastry. Mix together the flour and butter, then stir in the water. If you’re the lucky owner of a Kenwood Chef with a K-whisk, then use this. If you don’t, then get your hands involved. Once it’s bound together, and moulded into a ball shape, then wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

People get hysterical about pastry, but it really is quite easy-go on, give it a go-you’ll taste the difference!

Roll out the pastry. Make sure there’s lots of flour on the board and on your rolling pin to stop it from getting too sticky. You can roll it all out in one go, and then use pastry cutters to lift out all the circles for your cases.

I tore off little blocks from the ball of pastry, and then rolled them out one by one, then pressed it into the (buttered) cases.

Now the controversial bit. Conventionally, you’d start messing about with baking beans and greaseproof paper to blind bake the cases. BUT, I think that it changes tart-making from being a relaxing and quick(ish) activity to being quite a fiddley and arduous task. (and I always find it so demoralising when I blind bake a fairly shallow tart case, only to take it out and see that the pastry’s shrunk and the filling won’t fit.) The contents of the tart should mainly prevent the pastry from developing bubbles-and if the odd one does happen…well, it’ll just make it look rustic.

Next, fry the red onions in butter, then add a couple of cap-fulls of balsamic vinegar for a bit of bite. Cook until they’re soft.

For the base of the flans, mix the creme fraiche and eggs with a slosh of milk and lashings of pepper. The beauty of this is that you can now flavour it with pretty much anything.

I divided the filling-base in two. For my first six tartlettes, I lined the bottom of the flan cases with the red onions, then poured the mixture on top. Finally, I topped with goats cheese, thyme and a generous grind of pepper.

Next, I popped the frozen spinach in the microwave, and then added it to the other half of the filling-base. Once spooned inside the tart cases, grate a generous amount of nutmeg over the top - it adds a fresh and interesting taste to the spinach tarts.

Pop the tarts in the oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes. Check half way thorough, because if you’re cooking all the tarts at once, you might have to switch round some of them in the oven so they’re all done evenly.


These make a brilliant picnic treat. No messing about with cocktail sausages, scotch eggs and fussy packaging. Pack the tarts, a bagful of salad, and dressing in a jam jar.

…or if you fancy treating yourself to a posh packed lunch, then that works just fine too!

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If I could only eat one thing forever, pavlova would definitely rank in my top three (along with cheese and ice cream – I couldn’t possibly choose my favourite among them – it wouldn’t be fair.)

It’s easy to make, it always looks spectacular, and I am yet to meet anybody who doesn’t like a good pavlova.

So, here’s a fail safe recipe for you to try. Two quick asides before I begin though:

Firstly, the cornflour and white wine vinegar are really important – it’s what makes the middle light and fluffy – without these two magic ingredients you’ve made a meringue, not a pavlova!

The other quick point is about the filling. You can add what you want (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kiwi, passion fruit) - though it’s conventional to use cream as a binder to hold the fruit together. But I think just cream can be a bit heavy, so my recipe uses half cream and half Greek yogurt - it’s lighter, healthier, and has a bit of a bite.

4 egg whites
225g caster sugar
1 teaspoon of cornflour
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
150ml of double cream
150 ml of Greek yogurt
Any sort of soft, summer fruit you can get your hands on (especially raspberries and strawberries)

Whisk the egg whites until they’re hard. Really hard. So you can turn the bowl upside down and they’ll still hold. This is the only scope for error in the recipe – so make sure that the egg whites keep their shape…it’s no use getting bored while they’re still a bit sloppy, and saying ‘it’ll do’. Because it won’t.

Add the caster sugar slowly – still whisking it in. As you do this, the mixture will (obviously) grow, and will become shinier and thicker. Finally, whisk in the cornflour and white wine vinegar.

Using a spatula, scrape the meringue out of the mixing bowl, and arrange it in a sort of bird’s nest shape on some grease proof paper. It doesn’t have to be all smooth and neat – lots of texture and waves will look very smart.

Put the pavlova in the oven at 140C for an hour and a half. If you’ve got the time, then switch the oven off at the end, but leave the pavlova in there, so it can finish drying out in the oven as it slowly cools.

By this point, the outside of the pavlova should be hard, and with a bit of luck, it should slide off the tray onto a platter. If you’re serving this at a party, make the filling in advance, but don’t put it in the pavlova base until the last second, so it stays lovely and crisp.

For the filling, whisk the double cream, then stir in the yoghurt.

Add the fruit to the mixture, and a tiny bit of caster sugar to taste. Put it in the meringue base, and arrange some fresh fruit on top. Enjoy!

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