Hazelnut Cake

Jeremy Lee’s king of puddings column in the Guardian’s cook supplement had become a highlight of my Saturday, much mourned since its disappearance when the supplement metamorphosed into Feast recently. I haven’t actually cooked his recipes that often (lest I lose all semblance of a waistline), just salivated over how delicious and comforting they sounded. However this cake sounded just too tempting to be savoured only in the mind.

I made a smaller cake than the original (which used 5 eggs rather than 3 – just scale up if you have more cake-lovers to feed). I used a big bag of excellent toasted and ground hazelnuts, found in the kosher section of my supermarket (alas they only have them around passover, but I stock up), rather than roasting and grinding them myself. This only takes a little longer, though, and the taste will be even better, so don’t worry if you can’t find ground hazelnuts.  As suggested, I served it with cream; raspberries or some lightly stewed plums would be great alongside it too if you want to serve it for pudding.

This cake is simpler to make than our much loved hazelnut and raspberry birthday cake, or this hazelnut cake, making it suitable for less momentous celebrations: small triumphs or a weekend treat.

210g hazelnuts, whole or ground
3 eggs, separated
120g caster sugar, plus 1 dstsp
60g butter
zest of 1/2 lemon

Heat the oven to 170° C. If you are using whole hazelnuts, put them on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 5-10 minutes (keep a close eye on them) until they are brown and the skins are coming off. Tip into a clean tea towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible, then grind to a coarse meal in a food processor.

Line an 18cm cake tin (or similar) with baking parchment. Melt the butter in a small pan.

Separate the eggs and beat the 120g sugar into the yolk using a wire whisk, until they are pale and foamy, stopping when you can write your initial with the trail from the whisk. Using a clean whisk, beat the egg whites until they are stiff, then add the extra dessertspoon of sugar and beat again.

Fold one third of the egg whites into the yolk mixture, then add half the hazelnuts, amalgamating them lightly and swiftly. I use a large silicone spatula for this, which makes easy work of incorporating all the mixture. Follow this with another third of egg whites, and the rest of the hazelnuts. Finally fold in the last of the egg whites, the melted butter and lemon zest until all is amalgamated.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for around 30 minutes. Use a wooden skewer to check that it is done before turning out onto a wire rack to cool. Allegedly, it will keep for a couple of days in a tin…

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Roast red peppers stuffed with lentils

Straightforward to make, satisfying, a foretaste of summer and good for you – what more do you want? Oh, and it can easily be vegan, so this is altogether a useful recipe to have in your repertoire. I added some goat’s cheese, but I’m sure the dish would have been just as tasty without it. The recipe was inspired by one of those Waitrose recipes on cards that I glance at but rarely get round to cooking.

However, as my recipe books have been in boxes while I am having some work done in my flat, I was looking for new ideas for supper that wouldn’t tax my already rather frazzled brain. I love both red peppers and lentils, so this jumped out at me. You could make it with ordinary red (or yellow) peppers, which might hold a bit more filling than these long thin romano peppers, though these do look nice and have a good flavour.

I’m not that fond of the sharp taste of sun-dried tomatoes, so just used cherry tomatoes instead, as the cheese would be adding some piquancy. However, I would recommend keeping the sun-dried tomatoes for depth of flavour if you’re not going to add cheese. The recipe specified a pack of ready-cooked lentils, which may  be useful if you’re short of time, but lentils are so quick and easy to cook that it never seems worth buying them pre-cooked, and I often have leftover cooked lentils in the fridge.

2 large red peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 leek
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp capers
4 cherry or sun-dried tomatoes
100g lentils (or 200g cooked lentils)
1 tbsp lemon juice
grating of lemon rind
handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
50g goat’s cheese (optional)
30g pistachios

Preheat the oven to 200° C, gas mark 6. Start by putting the lentils on to cook (unless you’re using ready-cooked ones). Rinse and cover with around double the amount of cold water, adding a bay leaf and a clove of garlic if you have them and are feeling fancy. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for around 15-25 minutes, checking regularly after 15 minutes as you need them to be just done, not mushy. Just tip up some extra water if they seem to be getting dry before they are tender. The cooking time given on packets of lentils is often too long in my experience, though this will obviously vary according to the variety and age of the lentils (the longer they’ve been in the packet, the longer they may take to cook).

Then halve the peppers through the stalks; don’t remove the stalks, as I did on auto-pilot, since they help the peppers to hold their shape in the oven. Carefully remove all the seeds and pith. Brush lightly with a third of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put the peppers on a baking tray lined with greaseproof or baking parchment and roast for 20 minutes.

Slice the leek, finely chop the garlic and pick the leaves off the sprigs of thyme. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and gently fry the leeks, garlic and thyme for 10 minutes. Stir regularly and be ready to turn the heat down if the leeks or garlic show any sign of catching – you want them to be soft and golden with no bitter brown edges. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the pan with the capers and cooked lentils. When the lentils are ready, drain them and tip into the frying pan too. Stir everything together and cook for a further 5 minutes before adding the lemon juice, zest, parsley and pistachios.

By now the peppers should be done. Spoon the lentil filling into the peppers and top with the goat’s cheese if you are using it. Put back into the oven for 5 minutes. Serve with a green salad.

Tomato and Fish Curry

This delicious fish curry is based on a recipe by Bill Granger, aptly found in delicious magazine, and is perfect for an easy weekend dinner. I have adapted the quantities for the spice paste – what the Indonesians call the bumbu – as we like lots of ginger but a bit less tamarind, which is a strong flavour and can overwhelm the delicate taste of fish. There is a bit more spice paste here than you need, but it is tricky to make in very small quantities. It will keep for a couple of days in a sealed contained in the fridge and the leftover paste is useful to have on hand for a curry-in-a-hurry in the week ahead. A microplane grater makes easy work of grating the ginger, but you could just chop it finely if you don’t have one.

We also added some cherry tomatoes to add freshness and texture, and some sliced red chilli as a garnish, but these are far from essential if you don’t have any to hand. These quantities make enough for two (plus one additional portion of spice paste).

2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 dried chilli (or 1 tsp chilli flakes)
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tbsp mild olive oil (plus a little for the bumbu)
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp black mustard seeds
4 dried curry leaves
200g potatoes (new or Maris Piper)
200g chopped tinned tomatoes
6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half (optional)
150-200ml stock (fish or vegetable)
100ml coconut cream
300g firm white fish fillets (I used hake)
Big handful of coriander, chopped
1 red chilli, sliced (optional)
Lime wedges to serve

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small dry frying pan for a few minutes until you can smell them. Tip into a pestle and grind them, crumbling in the dried chilli or chilli flakes as you go. Mix with the turmeric, tamarind paste, garlic and ginger, adding a little oil to make a paste.

Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan with a lid. Gently fry the onions, adding the mustard seeds and curry leaves as they soften. After about 8 minutes, when the onions are soft and golden, add two-thirds of the bumbu (putting the rest in the fridge for another day) and fry for another two minutes. Cut the potatoes into chunks. Add the potatoes, the chopped and cherry tomatoes, stock and coconut cream to the pan and stir everything together. Bring to a simmer, cover with the lid and cook until the potatoes are tender (about 15-20 minutes – don’t be impatient about this, underdone potatoes are horrid)., by which time the sauce will have thickened a bit. Cut the fish into 3cm chunks and place on top of the sauce. Cover with the lid and cook for 3 minutes, by which time the fish should be opaque and just cooked through.

Serve with basmati or jasmine rice, with the coriander and sliced chilli sprinkled over the top and a lime wedge to squeeze over it. Steamed green beans, pak choi or broccoli make a good accompaniment.

Bergen fish soup

797162E0-E991-415E-B6DA-EE43FFF548A5My friend Philippa made this for us when we had a girls’ reunion in Celra. She had been shown how to make it when she was visiting friends in Bergen. It is simplicity itself to cook, but looks and tastes rather sophisticated. As you can make it with frozen fish fillets and a long-life carton of stock it is a useful store cupboard standby. Any firm fish fillets will work and you can adapt the green vegetables to what you have to hand. Some asparagus spears, a head of fennel, or some cavolo nero all sound appealing. I can see it becoming a regular at our table.

These quantities are for four, served with good fresh bread. The dried herbs are a good addition but not essential. Philippa used a French mixture of dried herbs for fish; fennel seed or dill would work well

We ate a big dish of griddled asparagus beforehand; a green salad – maybe with watercress and fennel or chicory – before or afterwards would be an alternative if you want to serve another course, though the soup is very satisfying.

1litre good quality fresh fish stock
1tsp dried herbs
400-500g salmon fillets (frozen or fresh)
4 medium potatoes
1 leek or a bunch of chives
200gms French beans or peas
200ml single cream
Chopped chives, dill or parsley to garnish

Wash the potatoes and dice into bite-sized chunks. Prepare whichever green vegetables you are using: wash and slice the leek, chop the chives, top and tail the beans and cut into 2-3cm pieces. Put the stock, herbs, vegetables and frozen fish fillets into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer. If using fresh fish fillets or vegetables that need less cooking (such as peas) add them to the soup after about 10 minutes.

Simmer until the potatoes are tender, which should be about 15 minutes. Check the seasoning and add a grind of black pepper if needed. Gently break the fish fillets into large bite-sized pieces and stir in the single cream. Spoon into bowls and scatter with the chopped herbs.

Now repeat on a regular basis…

(Thanks to Sue for the photo)

Cannellini bean mash

img_3905.jpgI find the gentle mealiness of cannellini or butter beans very comforting. This mash is incredibly quick and easy to make – no peeling required – and is great with anything that you would serve with mashed potato: casserole, sausages, a chop, vegetable stew. Most recently I served this with slow-cooked lamb shanks and it was a great complement to the dark, sticky, tender meat.

I always have a couple of cans of white beans in the store cupboard for adding to soups and casseroles, making bean dips (like this recipe by Travel Gourmet) – or making mash.

You can of course cook the beans from scratch (you’d need about 350g of dried beans), in which case keep a bit of the cooking water to get your mash to the right consistency.  This quantity serves 4-6, depending on how much you have with it.

4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil, plus a bit to drizzle
1 clove garlic
Sprig fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
grated zest 1 lemon
3 x 400-gram cans of cannelloni or butter beans
salt & pepper

Put 4 tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan, crush the garlic and add it with the sprig of rosemary (if using) and lemon zest and warm through for a few minutes. Remove the rosemary or thyme, but do not throw away.

Empty the cans of beans into a sieve and rinse them under cold running water. Tip them into the flavoured oil in the pan and warm over medium heat, stirring them with a wooden spoon and crushing them to a rough mash. If you want a smoother texture, use a stick blender to puree further – you may need to loosen the mash with a little warm water (or the retained cooking water from the beans).

Strip the leaves from the sprig of herbs and chop them finely. Season the mash to taste, scatter over the chopped herbs and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

Beetroot Risotto

I have been meaning to try making beetroot risotto for some time, but what give me the final push was seeing a photo of a delicious-looking one made by my friend Steve, and then having it in the excellent restaurant Oliva in Rotterdam recently. There seem to be several different approaches: boiling or roasting the beetroot whole first, grating and chopping it, pureeing some or all of the beetroot or cooking it with the rice.

My recipe uses grated raw beetroot, which gives a good texture and has the bonus of cooking in about the same time as the rice and using only one pan (some recipes really should carry a washing-up warning). When I ate it in the restaurant, it was served with flakes of smoked trout, which was a great combination, so I served mine for supper with a fillet of smoked trout and a green salad. If you’re serving it on its own, you could top it with a handful of toasted walnuts or some diced blue cheese. I do recommend serving a salad alongside it, as the risotto is quite rich. Quantities serve 2 – I used 120g of rice, but if you are serving it on its own or are quite hungry I would use 150g rice and the larger quantity of stock.

25g butter
olive oil
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
175g beetroot (1 large or 2 small)
120-150g risotto
2 tbsp vermouth or white wine
450-600ml vegetable stock
30g parmesan
2 sprigs thyme

Heat the butter with a splash of olive oil in a wide saucepan. Peel and finely chop the shallot and garlic, and cook them gently in the butter and oil for a few minutes. Peel and coarsely grate the beetroot – using the grater attachment of the food processor is quickest and reduces the Lady-Macbeth-hands problem, but a box grater works fine (and is easier to wash up…). Heat the stock until just simmering or make up Marigold bouillon with boiling water (you could, of course, use chicken stock if you’re not vegetarian).

Tip the beetroot into the pan and stir for a couple of minute, so it starts to glisten. Now add the rice and cook for a minute until it starts to sound dry. Pour in the vermouth and stir vigorously. Then start adding the hot stock a ladleful at a time, stirring well with a wooden spoon, and waiting until it has been absorbed by the rice before you add the next ladleful.

In between stirring the risotto grate the parmesan and strip the thyme leaves off the stem. Add half the thyme leaves to the risotto. Now is also the time to wash the salad leaves and make a dressing for your green salad. After about 15-18 minutes most or all of the stock should have been incorporated, the beetroot be tender and the rice just al dente. When it is ready stir in three-quarters of the parmesan (and another knob of butter if you wish). Check the seasoning and serve with the remaining parmesan and thyme and your preferred toppings or accompaniments.

Lentil and sweet potato pie

This vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie, from A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones, proved to be perfect for dinner on an autumnal day when neither of us felt like cooking anything too demanding. This was partly because I was having a bake-in, making brownies and a fig and blackberry tart, inspired by one I’d eaten at Allegra McEvedy’s wonderful wine bar Albertine (only thing wrong with it is that it’s not round the corner from my flat!).

So I cooked this comforting pie, fragrant with thyme and spices but requiring only some chopping, stirring and mashing, alongside the baking. It was a substantial dinner: I made a half quantity, and have almost two portions left, so the full recipe below would feed six generously and eight more politely, especially if you were serving a starter and dessert. I have slightly reduced the quantity of sweet potato, but feel free to add an extra sweet potato if you like lots of mash. Next time, I might try adding a bay leaf and some mushrooms to the lentils, as I think they would go well and ring the changes.

4 medium sweet potatoes
2 tbsps olive oil
4 spring onions
grated zest of 1/2 lemon

2 carrots
2 sticks celery
2 red onions
2 clove garlic
slug of olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
half a small pack of thyme
1 400g tin tomatoes
400g puy lentils

Cook the sweet potatoes until tender either by baking in the oven at 200ºC/fan 180ºC/gas 6 for 30-45 minutes (depending on size; remember to pierce the skins so they don’t explode), or boiling them in a pan of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes. I baked mine because I wanted some for making brownies too, and I had the oven on for pre-baking a pastry case. Heat the oven to 220ºC/fan 200º/gas 7 for the pie.

Peel and chop the carrots and onions, trim and chop the celery and finely chop the garlic. Put a large frying pan over a medium heat, add a slug of olive oil and, when hot, add the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until they are softening. Roughly crush the cumin, and add all the spices and the leaves of the thyme to the pan. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the tin of tomatoes, the lentils and two tins full of water. Crush the tomatoes a bit with your spoon and turn up the heat to bring everything to a brisk simmer. Give it a stir from time to time, and add a little extra water if necessary. After 15-20 minutes the lentils should be just cooked and the sauce thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Warm a little olive oil in a medium pan, chop the spring onion and cook it gently in the oil for a few minutes. Add the sweet potato and mash. Check the seasoning and add the lemon zest. Tip the lentil mixture into an oven dish and top with the mashed sweet potato, roughing up the surface with a fork. I added a  few knobs of butter on the top, because that’s what I do with shepherd’s pie to get a nice crispy top, but obviously don’t do this if you’re cooking for vegans.

Bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden and the pie is sizzling hot. I followed the recipe in adding some thyme to the top of the mash, but I don’t recommend this – the thyme just crisps up without adding much flavour and makes it look disconcertingly as if the pie is covered in dead flies!

Serve with steamed green, such as cavolo nero, kale, spring greens or cabbage. And don’t blame me if you feel very full afterwards.