July 18, 2009

stir-fried green beans with garlic & chillies

These are the green beans I made to serve alongside the Thai beef with chilli and mint I posted earlier in the week. They take 5 minutes to make and are absurdly delicious: salty with soy, spicy, and almost sweet with garlic. The beans aren't overwhelmed by all these flavours, but stay crisp and distinctly themselves.

Stir-fried Beans with Garlic & Chillies

150g / 5 oz green beans, topped and tailed
peanut (groundnut) oil
2 garlic cloves
2 Thai bird's eye chillies, or other hot red chilli peppers*
1 tbsp soy sauce

Prepare everything before you cook: top and tail the beans; crush the garlic cloves; remove the seeds from the chillies and dice (always wear gloves when working with bird's eye chillies). Have the soy sauce and a measuring spoon ready.

Lightly oil a wok, then place over medium-high heat. When the wok is very hot, add the beans and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the chilli, stir-frying very briefly, and then the garlic. You must be very careful not to burn the garlic, so keep stirring the beans as you add it, and wait only a few seconds before adding the soy sauce. Cook for about 10 more seconds, stirring all the while, before removing from the heat and serving immediately.

* If you replace the Thai bird's eye chillies with another kind of hot chilli pepper, you'll need to experiment - you may need more or less than two of them.

July 15, 2009

apple & blueberry shortcake

One of my dearest friends turns 30 today, and so, because I can't be there to celebrate with him, I set out this afternoon to make him an e-cake. Really, if I were making a cake for this friend, knowing he would eat it, it would be something slim and elegant, dark with the darkest of chocolate, a touch of alcohol, maybe the faintest taste of orange. But since he's not here, I ended up with this instead: an apple and blueberry shortcake that's really, let's face it, a pie.

It's Bill Granger's fault that I started out making a cake and ended up with a pie, but it would be ungracious of me to complain, because this cake/pie is so very good. In fact, now that I think further on the issue of the cake/pie, the final effect is something more like an enormous, soft and delicious cookie stuffed with stewed apple and blueberries. I'm certain my friend would approve, and so I offer it to him with love: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

I was halfway through making this when I remembered that the springform cake pan I assumed I had ready to use was actually in storage a few thousand miles away. So I made mine a little more free-form, just laying baking paper down on a flat baking sheet and forming the shortcake on top of that. I'm sure using the tin, as Granger's recipe instructs, would result in a slightly more cake-like cake - I'm certain mine spread more than it might have otherwise, resulting in the (I think, rather charming) globular effect on top. (The person I did share this cake with, who is not celebrating a birthday today, referred to these with affection as the cake's "boobs". I was reminded of this statue.)

Apple & Blueberry Shortcake
from Bill's Food, by Bill Granger*

4 large Granny Smith apples
finely grated zest from 1 lemon
2 tbsp sugar
125g (4 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
125g (1/2 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
1 egg
185g (1 1/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp baking powder
155g (1 cup) blueberries
demerara or granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Peel and core the apples, then cut into about 16 slices. Put the apples, lemon zest, the 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water into a medium saucepan, then cover and stew over a low heat for about 10 minutes, until the apples are soft but not mushy. Allow to cool.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a bowl until fluffy and smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Sift the flour and baking baking powder into the mixture and stir until combined. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide into two and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / gas 4. Roll each half of cake dough into a circle approximately 22cm (8 1/2 inch) across. Press one circle into a 24cm (9 inch) non-stick springform cake tin. Spread the apples over the dough, leaving a small border around the edge. Sprinkle with blueberries. Place the other round of dough on top and press the edges together. Brush with water and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, then allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before removing. Serve with cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 8 to 10.

* I actually just remembered that this book was a gift from my birthday friend! That was a lovely accident.

July 12, 2009

Thai beef with chilli & mint

This dish, really, is Thai-inspired. I've borrowed many of the flavours from the traditional Thai beef salad, but used lots of mint rather than coriander, and stripped it back to only the beef. You cook the beef briefly in a frypan (and grilling it on a barbecue would be great too) and then toss it in a salty soy dressing with hot chillies and bundles of mint. I served it with steamed rice and spicy stir-fried green beans (recipe coming soon), and we also improvised by wrapping strips of the beef up in cold, crisp iceburg lettuce leaves.

Thai Beef with Chilli & Mint

350g rump steak
5 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1 lime
pinch of sugar
2 Thai bird's eye chillies*, chopped
handful of fresh mint leaves

Trim the steak of excess fat and place it in a shallow dish with 4 tbsp of the soy sauce. Marinate for at least one hour.

While the steak is marinating, make the sauce. Combine 1 tbsp of the soy sauce with the fish sauce, fresh lime juice, sugar, chopped chillies and mint leaves. Mix well.

Lightly oil a skillet or frying pan and place over a medium-high heat. Once the frying pan is hot, lift the steak out of its marinade and place in the pan. Cook for 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare, or longer to taste. Remove the steak from the pan and place on a plate, leaving it to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

After the steak has rested, use a sharp knife to thinly slice it. Mix the slices with the sauce, and serve immediately.

* I've never had much luck finding these chillies in America, so if they aren't available, use another hot red chilli pepper. You might need more or less than 2, though.

July 7, 2009

strawberries in moscatel with almond shortbread

Moscatel is the name of the Spanish sweet wine made from the muscat grape. Cleopatra drank wine of the muscat grape, and so did the mourners at the funeral of King Midas. And I drank it last night while eating moscatel-soaked strawberries with thick cream and thin almond cookies.

The strawberries recipe is from Sam and Sam Clark's wonderful Moro cookbook. I've recently been reunited with most of my cookbooks, which lived in storage for over 3 years, and this is probably the one I'm most excited to see again. I inherited my bottle of moscatel from the previous residents of the house I'm staying in and was wondering what to do with it when I found this recipe in Moro; between the moscatel and the current glut of British strawberries, it seemed just right.

Moscatel is a sweet wine, aromatic but not cloying. It forms an amber pool around the strawberries, which soften and swell. The Clarks serve their boozy berries with Moorish sandcakes, but I experimented with a simpler almond shortbread. The best thing was to spoon the strawberries onto the shortbread cookies, splodge on some cream, and eat, but I'm sure there are more delicate ways of managing. This makes too many cookies, but they're so tasty you won't mind.

The light situation in this house isn't fantastic; it's old and stone with deep-set windows, so there's no happy medium between bright bright windowsills and too-dark rooms. This is cosy and lovely for living and bad for photographing food, so I'm thinking of these photos as moody and atmospheric and reassuring myself that everyone knows what a bowl of strawberries looks like...

Strawberries in Moscatel
adapted from Sam & Sam Clark, Moro

300g strawberries, washed, drained and stalks removed
140ml Moscatel Málaga wine or Moscatel sherry
1 level tbsp icing/confectioner's sugar

Mix the strawberries with the Moscatel and icing/confectioner's sugar to taste, and marinate in the fridge for a few hours, covered. You can slice your strawberries before or after marinating, or leave them whole. Serve chilled. Serves 2-4, depending on large you want portions to be; if you want to increase the number of strawberries, you won't need much more wine than this.

Almond Cookies*

170g unsalted butter
115g caster sugar (ordinary granulated sugar will also be fine)
140g plain flour
50g ground almonds / almond meal
a pinch of salt
sugar for sprinkling - demerara or ordinary granulated

Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until well combined. Sift the flour, ground almonds / almond meal and salt into a separate bowl and mix well, then add to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix together on a low speed until the dough comes together - this won't take long. Don't over-mix. Turn out onto a surface dusted with flour and form a flat disc. Wrap this disc in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Placed the chilled disc on a floured surface and roll out until about half a centimetre thick (you don't need to be too precise, but if the cookies are too thin, they'll spread). Use a cookie cutter to stamp out circles and transfer them onto the baking sheet. You'll probably need to use a metal spatula to transfer them - the dough softens very quickly. Allow the cookies a little room to expand.

Sprinkle the cookies with a little sugar, then bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. Cool to room temperature. Makes approx. 24 cookies.

* The metric measurements of this recipe reflect my newest toy, a set of electric scales. I'm sorry not to have included cup measurements for US readers, and promise to try and do so in the future, but I got so carried away by the perfection of measuring to within a gram that I didn't work out the equivalents.

July 1, 2009

Grasmere gingerbread

As you can see, this is no ordinary gingerbread; it's really more like an intensely ginger-flavoured shortbread topped with sandy, sugary, gingery crumbs. It's been made since the 1850s in the tiny Lakeland village of Grasmere, famous as the home of William Wordsworth (and also sometimes Coleridge, and also that dandy junkie, Thomas de Quincey). The shop that sells it - which used to be the village school - is tucked into a corner of the churchyard where Wordsworth sleeps, and surrounded by the delicious fug of baking gingerbread.

It seems drastic to say that this is the best gingerbread I've ever eaten, but it is. The recipe's a secret, of course, but Jamie Oliver has a version here. Alternatively, you can mail order it here. The best thing, of course, would be to visit and eat it fresh.

Wildflowers in Wordsworth's House, Dove Cottage.

The Grasmere Gingerbread Shop
Church Cottage, Grasmere, Ambleside
Cumbria LA22 9SW UK

Tel: 015394 35428