Scones of all flavours

There was a bit of a mini news story this morning on Radio 4 about Prime Minister Teresa May being asked about her cooking preferences. Apparently Hillary Clinton got herself into trouble during this Presidential campaign by daring to admit that she didn’t have an interest in cooking. We were told she then had to schlep around the USA doing cookery events to counteract the backlash she received. Sheeeeeeeshhh. When will women be able to say what they actually think and not get some hideous Victorian standard attached to them? Anyway… Teresa May learned a valuable lesson from Hills, evidently, because she carefully and strategically fitted into her answer her mother’s recipe for scones, and also the fact that she like Yotam Ottolenghi thereby attempting (who can say whether she achieved it?) to dangle herself between the Family-Values-Right-Wingers and the Left-Leaning-Tahini-and-Preserved-Lemon-Brigade.

But the brouhaha was fuelled by the scone recipe, about which the BBC was more interested. She specified butter OR margarine. Well. All hell broke loose in the UK this morning. Purists saying it was sacrilege to use margarine, Jack Monroe interviewed saying margarine is all some people can afford, meaning ‘back off with your middle class butter’. I think what you can afford is often (not always, but often) wrapped up in a choice, and having margarine is not the preserve of the working class anyway, so to bring them into it is merely point-scoring. Anyway, our mother Mavis says that our working class grandmother never used margarine, even though she was struggling to feed a family of five through the 1930’s depression in Oldham with our grandfather, a mill-worker, out of work for most of the decade. 

So personally, as a tribute to my grandmother Eva Mellor who knew a poverty that not even Jack Monroe could rival, I would never use margarine BUT I’m willing to bet that if it was a good quality one specifically made for baking then the difference in taste would be negligible. If you use Utterly Butterly or some olive oil replicant then I expect it would be nasty – there is just too much water in it. But you can even prove me wrong on that point, as on any other – I’m liberal like that.

The power of suggestion being very strong, especially in matters food, after listening to the item about scones, today I had to make them. 

Preheat the oven to 200º / 190º fan. 

Amounts for 10 large scones:

  • 12 oz /340g plain flour
  • 3 oz /85g butter OR some controversial margarine
  • 2 tsp baking powder or:
    • 1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • 3 tsp cream of tartar
  • pinch salt
  • 7½ fluid oz /200 ml yoghurt and milk mixed
  • 4 tbsp /1½ oz /40g of caster sugar
  • 2 oz /60g raisins

Tips: Don’t overwork the mixture, don’t roll them too thin or make them too small. 

Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder or tartar/bicarb. Cut the fat into chunks. This is one of my favourite things to look at as it means there is a cake or pastry on the way. How sad am I…?one-of-my-favourite-sightsRub the fat into the flour with the tips of your fingers using a ‘sprinkling salt’ action. Or you can mix it in the food processor with a blade. It should look like this:after-butter-has-been-rubbed-inStir the raisins and sugar into the flour mixture. Mix the yoghurt and milk together and using a fork incorporate it until just blended. You could continue in the food processor, but this will chop up your raisins which you might not want… If you try and add the raisins after mixing the liquid in I find it hard to distribute them adequately around the dough. So I prefer using a fork and it takes about 1 minute so is not that difficult. It will seem as if there won’t be enough liquid but I promise it’ll all mix in and pick up all the dry flour. When it looks like the following, use your hand to finish mixing it, and knead it a BIT, just to make sure it’s a solid mass.scone-mixtureRoll it out on a floured surface to an inch thick and cut it out with biscuit cutters. I use the depth of the cutter and make sure it’s a nice generous height inside. Who wants a thin scone, eh? No-one.cutting-out-sconesSquash remnants back together and re-roll until all the mixture is cut out. Put on a lightly greased tray and bake for 15 minutes. cut-out-sconesI dusted mine with icing sugar after they’d come out to make them look photogenic. This is, of course, optional…

I promised scones of any flavour:

  • Plain scones – of course leave out the raisins. You can also leave out the sugar if you want them non-sugary or you intend putting a lot of jam on them.
  • Cheese and/or chilli scones – leave out the sugar and the raisins. Add instead 2 oz/40g of grated hard cheese to the flour before the liquid and/or ½ tsp of chilli flakes.
  • Date scones – chop up 2oz/40g of dates  instead of raisins.
  • Apricot scones – chop up 20z/40g dried apricots instead of raisins. Maybe even grate in the zest of an orange as well – orange and apricot go very well together,
  • You could try dried figs – same amount as above. Figs are also lovely with orange.
  • If you’re planning on having scones with lemon curd, you could grate the zest of a lemon in. I’d keep the sugar in but leave out the raisins.

You get the idea. Enjoy. 

WINGS

 

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Chard, Garlic and Sorrel Tart

Lawks, I love a tart! (Insert Carry On joke here).

Did they ever make Carry On Cooking? I think not. Shame – the double entendre capacity of cooking is immense. Cream puffs and toasted nuts. I saw on the internet the other day a list of saucy Bake Off sayings. I don’t know if Mary Berry really did actually say the words ‘moist crack’ on the TV, but it’s hilarious (if you’re British and have a childish mind) to imagine that she did. 

This is not a comedy tart, it doesn’t raise an eyebrow and say ‘oo madame’ like more showy-off tarts, but it has an immensely satisfying small list of ingredients that meld themselves into a remarkably fine tasting tart. I make mine quite thin, but you can increase the filling or decrease the size of the tin to make it deeper if you want.

A word on sorrel: I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in the shops. Which is a shame as it’s every bit as useful as rocket. The very lemony sharp flavour of the leaves is really useful. If you’ve got a garden and you like growing herbs for cooking, get a sorrel plant or throw some seeds on the ground and it grows like a weed and comes back every year. There are different kinds, a heart-shaped small one (buccleuch, pronounced ‘buckler’) that creeps rather like ivy in cracks in walls or between plants in the ground, and a large-leafed kind that looks very like spinach and is called broad-leaved sorrel. Either will do and will return each spring without you having to do anything.

OR, if the more likely scenario is in play, which is that you don’t have any sorrel, I suggest you zest half a small lemon and put that in instead. Or of course you can always add a tablespoon of herbs you particularly like, such as tarragon, or chervil, or even just chives. 

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Chicken Shawarma, Anna-style

Since I learned to make my own pitta breads. (I KNOW – get me, yawn…) I make loads of dinners for myself and James with pitta breads on the side. Falafel you can find here, I also make lamb Kofta, (not yet posted this), and sometimes I just do a mezze of salads and humous and various spicy things if we don’t want meat.

I’ve called this shawarma. It kinda isn’t that. It’s not roasted on a spit, for a start, it’s marinated and then roasted in the oven. But the flavours are those you’d expect to get if you were in a middle eastern take-away or restaurant. It has had The Male Seal Of Approval. Which means it is, apparently, pretty good…herbs-and-spices-for-chicken-schwarmaServes 3-4 depending on appetites and whether you serve it with or without some carb on the side.

You have chicken options here:

  1. Buy a 1-1.5kg / 2-3 lb. whole chicken and joint and bone it yourself, if you fancy practising that. I quite enjoy doing it, it’s a bit of Sweeney Todd feeling. Or should that be Mrs Lovett, seeing as she made the pies..? Anyway, the DIY route is, natch, much cheaper than buying it ready cut-up, and is not hard. I’ll post a tutorial one day.
  2. Buy a few of packets of boned breast meat, and if you like brown, some boned thighs as well. You need about 800g to 1.2kg
  3. Don’t bother with removing the bones and just buy the joints you like, bone-in. It will marinade just as well, only take longer to cook. 

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Blackberry Friands or Cupcakes

I love it when I find a recipe that uses up egg whites!! I always have loads in the freezer from making quiches and mayonnaise, both of which I love. If you don’t have any in the freezer…. try making some mayonnaise… or a quiche. floured-blackberries

Last weekend, in the dog-days of the English summer, James and I went blackberrying in the lower hills of the South Downs. I didn’t want very many, it’s mid September and little fingers have picked too many off the bushes already as they walk their dogs along the footpaths, so I knew we’d be too late to get enough for jam; but I had a hankering (maybe it’s being pregnant) to make a blackberry-type cake. We got a small tupperware box, and got blown about on the hill, and I huffed and puffed my bump around the gorse and was happy to get back to the car. Once home I was even happier to get onto the real business of baking.

A couple of weeks ago I’d never heard of a friand. Now they are my new favourite thing. I don’t have a very wide range of sweet things that I make, being not particularly sweet-toothed and believing that sugar is pointless/verging on the harmful as an actual food stuff, but of course like most people I do love cake. The ones I do make I make over and over, and have a tendency to binge eat them in front of The Good Wife or House of Cards or some other brilliant US drama. These friands are going to become part of my regular go-to cakes, I just know, it.  I’ll be making them all year round with different flavours.

They didn’t invent them, but I do have my heros Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi to thank for introducing me to them. But stop – is that the Food Police at the door? Maybe, because yet again I’ve messed very slightly with the recipe.  It’s a French delicacy with a history of its own, and is very popular in Australia, appaz, so I don’t feel too guilty. Ottolenghi makes them with blackcurrants and puts cinnamon in, which I didn’t really like the first time I made them. I use almond essence and vanilla, and I make them with less sugar, and smaller. For some reason, I like having two (or three) on my plate, instead of one. Can’t think why.

The picture above is actually some painfully expensive supermarket blackberries I used for my first attempt, but the ones we picked in the wild were much smaller, which is actually better for the cake as they don’t take over the entire friand but stud it with flavour like they should.delicate-friands

  • 125g butter, melted and cooled a bit.
  • 60g plain flour (or gluten-free flour)
  • 60g blanched almonds
  • 50g unsalted pistachios ( you can leave these out as they’re fiendishly expensive and just use 110g almonds if you prefer)
  • 140g caster sugar
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • ¾ tsp almond essence
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 egg whites
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tbs mashed banana (an Ottolenghi master stroke)
  • 120g blackberries or small fruit of your choosing, tossed in a heaped tablespoon of plain flour, like my arty pic above.

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Falafel

I first had falafel in Paris in the 1980’s when Cathy, wonderfully glamorously, lived there. We used to visit a take-away place in the cool area of la Mairie and get the now familiar pitta bread stuffed with crunchy cold salads and hot falafel, freshly fried and crispy on the outside, soft and mysteriously spicy on the inside, topped with some creamy and equally mysterious sauce – which I later worked out was tahini. This was long before anyone had opened a falafel bar in the UK. They were exotic and alluring and I felt very well travelled just eating them.

Gung-ho as my family has always been about food, we thought – ‘we can make those!’- and embarked on a few attempts in our kitchen when I was a teenager, using our ancient chip-frier on our even more ancient gas cooker. My memory of this is of infrequent success, mixed with quite a lot of disintegrated chickpea mess floating in the hot oil.  We probably had to make do with a lot of salad for our tea on those nights… I’m afraid we gave up after a while.

For years afterwards my experience of falafel was limited to the occasional take away, either drunk at the end of the night in lieu of a kebab, or from a very decent take away place on Old Compton Street when I lived in London.  More recently I’ve tried a few packet versions where you just add liquid… they were…well…ok I suppose…

BUT, then along came Yotam Ottolenghi. My experience of both eating and cooking falafel was transformed when I started using Ottolenghi’s recipe in his masterpiece of a book Jerusalem. Not only did they not fall apart, they were more delicious than anything I’d had in from a packet, a cafe, or a take-away – drunk or otherwise. 

So here is the recipe that I’m sharing with you. Far be it for me to mess with the legend that is Yotam, but I have to say that I almost double the spices and flavourings, mainly because I don’t make as much mixture as his recipe calls for (there are usually only two of us eating), but I still usually chuck roughly the same quantities of spices that he specifies.

I know, I know, fiddle with an Ottolenghi recipe at your peril, his testing is rigorous and his flavour balancing is unsurpassed. But there it is. I add more flavouring. I can hear the knock on the door from the food police as I write…

falafel-ingredients

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Potato Pancakes

I just love me anything fried. Along with massive salads it’s one of my favourite types of food to eat. I think mum must have made fried things when we were kids, although we weren’t a chip pan sort of a family. Actually, I’m wrong, we did have a chip pan in the 1980’s. Anyway, I digress, here are some lovely potato pancakes to have for lunch. Mum has always served them with some plain yoghurt, and some homemade apple sauce.  If you grind a bit of salt and pepper on your yoghurt and then top with apple sauce it’s just a great combo.

Ingredients

  • 200g potatoes, peeled. (approx 215g unpeeled
  • 50g onion, peeled and grated (messy but better than chopped)
  • 1 egg white, beaten to a froth but not stiff
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour

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Watermelon Salad with Feta Cheese

So, not to be like a record stuck in a groove or ‘owt, but this is very very veeeehy quick and very easy and it’s another of our ‘not-a-recipe-more-of-a-serving-suggestion’ salads.

We don’t believe in iceberg lettuce and tomatoes with no dressing. That’s not salad, that’s just assorted fibre on a plate. Yet somehow, despite all the fancy places to eat in the UK and the transition from spam and sprouts to quinoa and coulis that’s occurred in the last twenty years, lots of people still think that salad is boring and worthy. Sometimes those people come round to our house and eat a salad and go: ‘wow, how did you make this?’ and the answer is – …’er we chopped it up and put literally TWO things on it’.

And then you’ve got taste, interest, AND HEALTH.

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15-minute Lemony Pasta with Smoked Salmon and Kale

My writer-friend Chad made this for a working lunch for us one day, using homegrown kale from the garden at the lovely home she shares with her partner Kath, and I was immediately hooked by the strong and satisfying flavours. I demanded to know how she made it and then had it three times over the following two weeks – I couldn’t get enough of it. Since then it’s become one of my favourite ‘when your brain is still on the train’ meals. Getting off a commuter train from London is about as compatible with cooking a large meal as…er… duh…can’t think of anything smart cos my brain is still on the train.  (Geddit?)

Anyway. When your inspiration is as lame as that joke, this meal will fill the gaping void.

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Kale Crisps

This recipe is for Keith’s mum Marion who’s been waiting for ages for me to post it!

My boyfriend and I had these in Los Angeles last year at The Standard Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, sat by a pool with a beer before dinner.  Is that image sickening enough for you and do you now hate me? My work here is done.

The point is, it was the first time I’d come across them and I was amazed – I thought them super cool and we scoffed the lot pretty darn quickly. That I knew they were healthy was a massive bonus. Salty pre-dinner snacks are a weakness of mine (see post on tomato salsa, which I eat tons of with tortilla chips). I now serve these delicate crisps as often as I can get my hands on some good strong kale, and people always love them, even people who you might expect to turn their noses up at something so…well – righteous.

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Beetroot Salad with Clementine and Feta

Hi. I made this combination up so if you see it anywhere else on the Web Of All Things then it’s nicked, officer. It’s another Definitely Not Boring Salad for you. As usual with salads, it’s not a recipe, more of a serving suggestion. Nothing is expensive, everything is available in basic supermarkets. I’m rather pleased with it.

  • Slice a large pre-cooked beetroot thinly. Peel a clementine and slice it very thinly. Break up some chunks of feta cheese. Value own-brand is fine. (75p, yay!)
  • Arrange it all on a plate. 
  • Drizzle with olive oil and couple of teaspoons of a nice vinegar like red or white wine vinegar
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • If you’ve got tarragon or chives, put some on. 

Optional:

  • If you like toasted seeds, dry fry some sunflower/pumpkin/sesame seeds till slightly brown and put them on. 

Badda Bing. As they say (somewhere).

WINGS

 

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