“That’s a nice walnut and date cake with buttercream filling and icing on the top – I’ll have that!”
I can’t believe I’m saying this but in less than one month, it’s going to be Christmas day! Gee whizz that’s an exciting thought. For me, Christmas is my most treasured time of the year. It’s a wonderful occasion to spend time with family and friends, eat and drink a plenty and watch a good Poirot on television. Call me bias but personally, I believe that full tummies reap cheer and merriment in abundance and so, in the next few blogs I will offer a range of Christmassy delights, some more calorific than others!
This week saw the 23rd birthday of a very close girlfriend of mine and in order to celebrate I decided to make Olivia, her favourite dessert, a gloriously, glutinous banoffee pie! Having scoured the internet high and low, I came across a fairly simple recipe on BBC Food and set about gathering the ingredients. This dessert is a real treat and should be eaten in moderation if you wish to fit into your slim fit jeans the next day! How could someone reject double cream, caramel, biscuits, grated chocolate and banana all at once!? Now, I am conscious that a fair few friends of mine have a serious aversion towards bananas in any capacity however, this phobia could be remedied by simply changing the fruit. No one should go without some form of banoffee so, why not exchange bananas for softened apple, juicy slices of pear or even some sweet strawberries….yum yum yum.
For my sweet Libador (Olivia’s nickname, don’t ask!), I decided to make my little banoffee pies into fun shapes. This is very easily done using biscuit cutters and makes them look very sweet. I’m feeling very girly right now, can you tell!? I thoroughly recommend this recipe to anyone who fancies treating themselves or fellow friends. Yes, the sugar content of the caramel could be seen as a little sickly on its own and yet, the double cream cuts through it perfectly. Ideally, this dessert should be consumed while you’re wrapped up in a blanket watching a good thriller.
Recently, Yotam Ottolenghi has had a series called ‘Mediterranean Island Feast’ on channel four where he visits exciting islands such as Corsica, Crete and Sardinia, producing some wonderful food. Not only is he an exquisite chef with a fantastic eye for food combinations (and ex-cordon bleu!) but he is extremely amusing to watch. While sporting a pink linen shirt on the island of Corsica, claiming that it fitted into the ‘chi chi’ nature of the place, he drops a three month old cheese from a great height during the salting process, and royally messes up making doughnuts on a stand at the farmers market. Yotam’s culinary curiosity is one of note not to mention hilarious when he gets something wrong. It just goes to show, no matter how experienced you are in the kitchen, there is always something more to learn! In light of this, I think it’s important to mention to not give yourself such as hard time when you’re cooking and something doesn’t work, it happens to everyone. I burnt my second batch of croissants last week. Gosh, I feel like I’m in culinary confession….
Having watched Yotam lark about on the screen, I had a look in his cookbook Plenty in order to dig out a lovely recipe for stuffed onions. A vegetarian friend of mine made these little gems for me at university, and they were delicious. Yotam’s vegetarian dishes are quite simply exquisite and his books would make an ideal Christmas gift for cooking enthusiasts. I know the photo quality isn’t great, but Grace has been very busy this week resting her twisted ankle. She claims she wasn’t drunk when the incident occurred but we shall judge her harshly all the same! Try serving the stuffed onions with a green salad and a honey and mustard dressing.
500ml vegetable stock
350ml white wine
4 large onions
3 small tomatoes
120g fresh white breadcrumbs
90g feta, crumbled
80g parsley, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
½ tsp salt and ground black pepper
Butter for greasing
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Have ready a small, buttered oven-proof dish. Put the stock and white wine into a medium-sized saucepan, bring up to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.
Meanwhile, trim half a centimetre off the top and bottom of the onions, then cut them in half lengthways. Remove the skin and carefully take out most of the insides, keeping only two or three layers of the outer skin of each onion intact (set aside the insides for other uses). Carefully separate the outer layers from each other and place, a few at a time, in the simmering stock. Cook for three to four minutes, until just tender, then drain well and leave to cool slightly. Repeat until all the onion has been blanched.
To make the stuffing, use a coarse cheese grater to grate the tomatoes into a large bowl (you will be left with most of the skin in your hand; discard it). Add breadcrumbs, feta, parsley, oil, garlic, spring onion, salt and pepper. Fill each onion skin with stuffing. Pull the sides together so that you end up with a fat cigar shape. Place seam-side down in the buttered dish. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until soft and lightly coloured, with the stuffing bubbling. Serve warm with a drizzle of oil.
Lastly, we come to our final dish of the day. This recipe is a winter warmer and created by yours truly. I won’t deny it, I have yet been able to make this stew look ‘pretty’ on a plate but my goodness, it tastes good and hits that wintry spot. I call this my French peasant stew because it’s the kind of one pot meal that incorporates all the leftover meat and vegetables in your fridge. Below is the recipe I put together, but treat it as a guideline and feel free to add your own ideas!
500-600g Leftover pork from a roast
2 Cloves of garlic
12 Cherry tomatoes
¼ Pack of green beans
5 Rashers of bacon
500g Boiled, new potatoes
1 Chicken stock cube
200ml-300ml Hot water
½ Glass of white wine
Salt and pepper
A good sprinkling of thyme
Slice the onions and shallots lengthways and throw into a big pot with a glug of oil. Once they are translucent, add the garlic, carrots (chopped very small) and the potatoes (also cut up) and stir for a few minutes. Using a pair of scissors, cut the bacon into small pieces and throw into the pan with the green beans, cooked meat and the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and thyme. After five minutes, crumble the stock cube over the pot and pour in the hot water. Add the wine here. Stir, check for seasoning and let it simmer with the lid on for half an hour. Serve with a hunk of bread and a glass of white wine.
That’s all for this week lovelies. Do come back next week for Christmas treats galore! It’s going to be…..GOOD.