Pesto

Chocolate peppermint bars

chocolatepeppermintbars

I don’t often buy magazines but this one shouted ‘buy me’ from the rack in WHSmiths. Take a look at the headings at the bottom and you’ll see why.

Simplethingsmagazine

It’s quite a sweet magazine which I enjoyed reading. I do appreciate the simple things in life so this idea appealed to me greatly – although there was still a heavily consumerist angle which seemed to contradict their ethos somewhat (although I accept that this is how magazines survive). Printed media is having a huge resurgence (rather like vinyl) and there are some really beautiful publications around at the moment.

Anyway, I spied and saved this ‘hand-me-down recipe’ to try (which I believe was from Rachel Allen – in cutting it out I lost the reference).

If you like the peppermint/chocolate combination (think After Eights, mint choc chip ice cream etc) then you’ll love these. I would describe them as a cross between millionaire’s shortbread and Kendal mint cake. However, unlike millionaire’s shortbread these are pretty easy to make.

I’m the only one in my family who is not a mint choc chip fan so I thought I’d be immune to temptation with these. Memories of making vile peppermint creams at primary school has put me off the smell of peppermint essence forever.

However, having tried a small bite of one (for the sake of research) I have to say they are surprisingly delicious – which is both good and bad at the same time.

Chocolate peppermint bars

Makes 12-18 bars depending on how big you cut them

For the shortbread

  • 225g of plain flour
  • 75g of sugar
  • 150g of butter

For the peppermint cream

  • 75g butter
  • 300g of icing sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of peppermint essence

For the chocolate topping

  • 150g of dark chocolate

Line a 20 x 20 cm square tin with baking parchment.

Preheat your oven to 180oC fan.

To make the shortbread, measure the flour, softened butter and sugar into a bowl and rub through your fingers until well incorporated and breadcrumb like. Press the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden. Leave to cool completely (you can speed this up by putting it in the fridge if necessary).

To make the peppermint cream, add the 75g of softened butter, icing sugar, milk and peppermint into a bowl and beat with a hand held electric mixer until fluffy. Spread the mixture onto the cooled shortbread using a palette knife dipped in warm water to get the surface as level and even as possible. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave. Tip this over the top of the peppermint cream and level off with a palette knife and place in the fridge until hardened.

Cut into squares with a very sharp knife as neatly as possible. You’ll notice that mine are a bit messy but this didn’t seem to ruin the taste.

chocolatepeppermintbarsandcoffee

A random photo of my first crop of homegrown basil which has just been whizzed up into pesto. Try to ignore the slug holes.

basil

Wild garlic pesto

pesto 1

Wild garlic is in season right now and I’m like a woman possessed scouring verges and wooded areas for this completely free food. I’ve even trained my children to be on the lookout. It’s not hard to identify as the garlicky smell is unmistakable (but do check because it does look similar to Lilly of the Valley – which is poisonous). Not a great photo but this is what it looks like.

wildgarlicgrowing

My son Edgar likes to eat it raw in huge handfuls as soon as he’s picked it. I’m sure this is fine for his health  (wild garlic is said to have antibacterial, antibiotic and antiseptic properties) but it doesn’t do much for his breath.

If you live in Nottingham there’s a healthy blanket of wild garlic at Clifton Wood, and on a recent trip to Scarborough I discovered a great bit patch among the walking paths in South Cliff Gardens.

This wild garlic pesto recipe (from a recipe for gluttony) is brilliant. It uses roasted hazelnuts which provide texture. I just added a little lemon juice to cut through the intense garlic flavour. Toss it with some pasta for a quick and easy dinner.

Wild garlic pesto

1/2 of this amount makes enough to generously cover 500g of dried pasta to feed a family of four

  • 100g of wild garlic leaves
  • 75g of hazelnuts (roasted in the oven at 160oC for about 10 minutes and then crushed with a pestle and mortar)
  • 50g of Parmesan cheese (plus more on top if you’re mixing the pesto with pasta)
  • 1/2-1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 150ml of good olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Put all the ingredients above in a blender and whizz up. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if necessary.

To store, decant into a sterilised jar and drizzle a thin layer of olive oil evenly over the surface (this will help preserve the colour). Keep in the fridge until needed.

pesto 2

Tapenade

tapenade

I’m not sure how you make tapenade look appetising.

My husband is very good in the kitchen but a routine has developed whereby he will cook just once a week (usually on a Friday) and completely steal the show with something new, AND complicated, AND completely delicious. I meanwhile do the everyday scrap cooking that barely gets noticed.

Just a little bit annoying.

Last Friday he went all out making two types of fish cake as a starter (show-off), followed by Tom Kerridge’s ‘Tomato and olive tart with Cornish gurnard’ for the main course. The tart was really good but it was the tapenade spread over the base that completely blew me away.

I can’t believe that I’ve only just discovered tapenade. I’ve seen it many times on programmes like Masterchef and dismissed it as too ‘cheffy’, but it’s surprisingly easy to make and very versatile. I was a bit scared of the anchovies but you can’t really taste them. And just look at all the things you can do with it:

Ways to use tapenade (not exhaustive)

  • Spread over a puff pastry base as part of a tart (as in the aforementioned recipe ‘Tomato and olive tart with Cornish gurnard’)
  • Mix with any sort of pasta
  • Serve as an accompaniment to a nice piece of grilled chicken or fish
  • As a dip for raw vegetables or tortilla chips
  • As a bruschetta topping

So make loads and then keep it in the fridge in a very clean jam jar covered with a layer of olive oil. I’m not sure how long it lasts but I reckon two or three weeks would be fine because it uses ingredients that have already been preserved in some way.

In my usual ‘make do’ style it was me that used up the remaining tapenade in Monday night’s dinner – mixed up with orzo, leftover cooked sausage, a bit of mozzarella, a few black olives and some dog-eared basil leaves (AKA ‘chuck everything in the fridge in with some pasta’).

Tapenade (From Tom Kerridge’s ‘Proper Pub Food’)

Makes a jam jar’s worth

  • 115g stoned black olives
  • 25g of salted anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoons of capers, drained
  • 3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 130ml of extra virgin olive oil

Put all the ingredients, except the oil, into a food processor and blitz until finely chopped.

Add the olive oil and blitz again until you have a thick puree.

Store in a clean jam jar in the fridge until ready to use.

Things in jars – pickling and pesto

It’s that season down at the allotment when all the hard work pays off and everything seems to be ready to eat all at once. It’s both a joy and a bit of a stress. Because I just hate waste I fret about trying to use up everything but sometimes there just don’t seem to be enough meal times in the day and I’m already bombarding my friends and relatives with hand-outs. This is where pickling and preserving comes in.

Pickled Beetroot and Eggs

Beetroot pickled eggs

Beetroot pickled eggs

My friend ‘Little Ben’ first introduced me to pickled eggs at the end of a drunken night out in Nottingham and I have to admit I was not a fan. These pickled beetroot eggs however are truly delicious. The beetroot makes them lovely and sweet and the pinky colour of the eggs is just wonderful. I like to eat them on their own, sliced in half with a blob of mayonnaise and salt and pepper. They are also really good cut up in a Russian style salad with their pickled beetroot neighbours.

  • Cooked beetroot skinned and chopped into chunks (I cut medium sized beetroot into quarters). To cook I scrub the beetroot gently and roast them in their skins in a foil envelope  for an hour at 160oC fan.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • About 250ml of red wine vinegar (it’s difficult to be exact here as you will need enough to cover the contents of the jar and this will depend on how tightly packed in things are
  • A teaspoon of sugar
  • A couple of bay leaves
  • About 6 peppercorns mixed white and black

Sterilise a big jar (750ml mayonnaise ones are good) then cram in the cooked beetroot and the eggs layering the two throughout the jar.

I put the vinegar, sugar, bay leaves and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. When the mixture is piping hot and the sugar has dissolved I tip the vinegar into the jars until the eggs and beetroot are completely immersed. I then pop on the lids of the jars and leave to cool. Leave the jars for at least a couple of weeks in the fridge before using.

Basil Pesto

Brilliant basil...

Brilliant basil.

  • Fresh basil leaves (stems removed)
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • A little lemon juice
  • Salt

Pesto is so easy to make but it’s difficult to give exact quantities for this recipe as it will depend on how much basil you have available at the time and it’s quality. Once you’ve whizzed up the basil leaves in a food processor with a good glug of olive oil to help things along (I have one of those mini choppers like this one http://www.cuisinart.co.uk/mini-processor.html which works well) you just need to add the other ingredients a little at a time until you have the right balance. If you’re basil leaves are a bit long in the tooth then you will need to use quite a lot of olive oil. You will also need a lot more basil than you may think. One shop bought basil plant will only make the tiniest jar of pesto so it really is best to grow your own. I drive my family mad by growing plants on every window sill in the house as well as in huge tubs in the allotment greenhouse.

Keep your pesto in a sterilised jar in the fridge with a fine layer of olive oil on the top to stop it from turning brown. I’ve never actually managed to keep any long enough for it to go off in the fridge but it should keep for at least a month or two.

I always add parmesan cheese to the pesto before tossing with pasta but I find that if you jar it with the parmesan added then it impairs the flavour.

A Lovage version

A couple of years ago we bought a small lovage plant from our local garden centre in a 4 for 3 offer on herbs. We didn’t have a clue what it was at the time or how it could be used. Lovage is said to be similar to celery in flavour but personally I think the taste is unique and I absolutely love it. The plant has grown to over a metre high and takes centre stage in our herb bed. Because it is so plentiful in the early part of the year when the basil on the window sills and in the green house is only just germinating we thought we’d try a pesto made with lovage instead of basil with the same additional ingredients as above.  You will probably need a bit more olive oil than for a basil version and it’s a very strong flavour but used sparingly and mixed into pasta with plenty of parmesan it is delicious.

Lovely lovage

Lovely lovage