domingo, 20 de diciembre de 2009

Dickens, six pence and a London pudding

Christmas pudding has that special Dickensian” touch that takes you back to old England, although there are reports coming as far back as the xv century. Legend has it that on the last Sunday before the beginning of the Advent, families returning from church started to make the Christmas pudding as it follows, they used t take turns to stir, and make a wish while ding it, that’s why it’s called “stir-up Sunday” They used to “bury” a sixpence coin in the pudding for the one who found would be lucky for a year.

One of the things I like the most of the English Christmas is the Christmas crackers, (we don't have these in Spain) like a beautiful candy wrapped beautiful packet that you and the person sitting next to you at the Christmas table have to pull to open it up, you then hear the cracker and an array of presents comes from inside, there is usually a paper hat (and yes, you HAVE to wear it) a quiz or a joke and a small present (how it is it ends on how much money you spent in the Christmas crackers) If you can't find the suet in the recipe, you can use butter.

Christmas in England is very different from the one in Spain, firstly and on the night of the 24th we gather and celebrate (with food, of course). This is called Nochebuena, or Goodnight, and is like a preparation of what it’s coming ahead of us. The 25this the unwrapping of the presents as well, and more food to celebrate Christmas Day, the 26th is a St Stephen and we celebrate this, as well as the night of the 31st, (big time of course) when after the meal, we sit with a bowl containing 12 grapes, and at midnight and with every stroke of the clock we eat one, after another, very focused, and thinking about what will next year bring and making a wish with every grape, 12 grapes, 12 months, and these are called the Lucky grapes. Everybody in Spain does this, and we can’t imagine a New Year’s Eve without them...


300g fresh white breadcrumbs

100g self-raising flour

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ whole nutmeg, very finely grated

350g raisins

100g mixed peel

50g flaked almonds

250g suet

225g demerara sugar

225g sultanas

225g currants

2 carrots, peeled and very finely grated

2 cooking apples, peeled and very finely grated

Wet ingredients

Zest and juice of 1 orange

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 small wine glass of brandy

2 tbsp black treacle

4 eggs, lightly beaten

Fort the brandy butter

150 g softened butter

150 icing sugar

4 0r 5 tablespoons brandy


Put the breadcrumbs in the biggest mixing bowl you can find. sieve the flour into the bowl with the mixed spice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Then add the remaining dry ingredients, up to and including the grated apples. Combine all the wet ingredients in a jug. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and mix together, from east to west, with a big wooden spoon. Take it in turns to give it a stir, close your eyes and make a wish.

    Cover the bowl with a clean, damp cloth and leave overnight. . Butter 2 x 1.2-litre pudding basins and spoon the mix into them. Place a disc of baking paper on top of the puddings, then seal with a big sheet of baking paper with a central pleat, to allow expansion. Cover with a cotton or muslin cloth and tie with string or foil. Steam for 6 hours in steamers, or in pans with simmering water that reaches two-thirds up the sides of the basins – be sure to keep the water topped up. Remove and allow to cool.

      When cool, re-cover the basins and store in a cool, dry place. On Christmas day, or the day you’re going to eat the puddings, steam for another 1-2 hours. Turn the pudding onto a plate, then pour 75ml of brandy into a ladle and carefully warm over a low heat for 1 minute or so. Light the brandy using a long match and tip over the pudding just before serving. Serve with the brandy butter or custard.

        And happy Christmas everyone...

        martes, 15 de diciembre de 2009

        Cranberry and fig loaf, of course, it's Christmas!

        Ina Garten is one of my favourite cookery authors, and not because of what she cooks and her recipes, but because how she cooks it, with such elegance and charm. I even like the way she arranges a table centre piece, this woman knows what she does, and even more after quitting her job at the White House and focus in her food related career. She enjoys spoiling her guests, same here, she absolutely adores French cuisine, me too, she has a huge and impressive house...not me.

        This recipe is called “Cranberry harvest muffins” and comes from one of her books, but I converted it into a cake. Cranberries acidity is gracefully offset by the mix of the castor and brown sugar and it gives the cake that spice and lovely touch.

        You can find cranberries everywhere in the USA and England at this time of the year, but if you can’t wherever you live, just use some raspberries, blueberries, or even blackberries. The glaze is optional but I really love the shiny finish and sweet looks.


        3 cups all-purpose flour
        1 tablespoon baking powder
        1/2 teaspoon baking soda
        1/2 teaspoon salt
        1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
        2 teaspoons ground ginger
        1 1/4 cups whole milk
        2 extra-large eggs
        1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
        1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cranberries
        1/2 cup medium-diced figs
        3/4 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
        3/4 cup brown sugar
        3/4 cup granulated sugar


        Preheat the oven to 180degrees.Grease and flour a 30x12cms rectangular cake tin.
        Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and add the milk, eggs, and melted butter. Stir quickly just to combine. Add the cranberries, figs, hazelnuts, and both sugars and stir just to distribute the fruits, nuts, and sugar evenly throughout the batter.
        Spoon the batter into he cake tin and bake for 40-45 minutes, until browned on the top and a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffins comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before placing in a cooling rack. Best served the next day, so the flavours develop.

        martes, 8 de diciembre de 2009

        Humitas from the bottom of the earth

        It’s not the first time I praise Latin American food and all its qualities, for its flavour, delicious ingredients and colours. If you think about it, we couldn’t live without all the ingredients that Latina America has given us, and still is, like the tomato, the chilli, the potato, vanilla, turkey, avocado, beans, pumpkin, custard apple, quinoa, pineapple, peanuts, achiote, and of course, chocolate! Thanks so much, Mexico!

        I tried Humitas on my first trip to Chile, and was gob smacked by its simplicity, and yet lovely flavour and presence. It’s presented as a firm closed little parcel.
        There is a different version for each country the one I am presenting here is the Chilean one, but you have Humitas in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. The noun “Humitas” derives from quechua, the language if the Incas. Tamales are related to Humitas and they are lovely and delicious as well. You can serve Humitas with a salad or a homemade tomato sauce.

        I don’t like to process the sweetcorn that much, I like to see some of the pieces, but you can ground them as much as like. The husks are perfect for wrapping the filling, if you cant get hold of them, you can use the ones they sell for the tamales ( you will have to previously soak them in water) , or even kitchen foil, it’s not the same, but it helps...
        The filing is made out from ground sweetcorn and a mixture of onion and basil surrounds you with a lovely smell, then there’s no way back, you fall in love with these little ones, and want to eat them, devour them and learn to make them.


        6 pieces of corn in husks
        1 tablespoon turmeric
        2 tablespoon olive oil or lard
        2 small chillies chopped (optional)
        1 cup of milk
        Small bunch fresh basil, chopped
        1 onion finely chopped
        Salt and pepper


        Remove the kernels of the corn with a knife and reserve the husks.
        Fry the onion in the oil or lard until translucent, add the chillies if you are using them, the basil the salt and pepper.

        Place the sweetcorn in a food processor, and put them in a saucepan, add the onion and basil mixture and the cup of milk. Cook this over a low heat until it thickens. If you see it doesn’t add more milk.

        Now we need to make the parcels, to do this place to husks overlapped and place two tablespoons of the mixture in the middle. For the packet by folding the bottom, the sides and the top, tie with a cooking string or a husk strip.

        Half fill a saucepan with salted water and place the humitas when it boils, close with a lid and cook for an hour. Place them in a sieve and let them rest for 5 minutes to drain the excess liquid. Serve with scissors...

        lunes, 30 de noviembre de 2009

        Tower of shortbread with cream and fruit

        Another sweet delicacy for everyone’s palate and eyesight. Easy as baking a tray of biscuits, and filling them with cream and fruit. Whichever fruit you have at home will do, strawberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, blackberries, raspberries, etc. The funny thing about this dessert is that when you have it in front of you, ready to eat, you realise that you have to “destroy” that beauty and you don’t know how....anyway, provide your guests with a fork and see what happens...


        300g softened butter

        150 icing sugar

        Zest of one lemon

        Dash of vanilla extract

        1 egg, lightly beaten

        450g sifted flour

        Preheat the oven to 180degrees. Grease two trays and place them in the fridge while you make the biscuit dough.

        Mix the butter and sugar, add the zest and vanilla, then the egg little by little, beating after every addition. Add the flour and mix until you have consistent dough. Divide the dough into two and roll out to 2,5mm and place it on the trays. Place the trays back in the fridge until they harden.

        When this is done, flour the biscuit cutter of your choice, cut out three discs per portion, and place them in a greased oven tray. When you have them all in the tray, bake them at 180 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until they are a bit brown. Cool in the tray for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack.


        200ml whipping cream

        1 teaspoon vanilla extract

        Icing sugar to taste

        400g fruit of your choice

        Icing sugar to sprinkle

        Whip the cream with the sugar, and then add the vanilla. Now it’s time to assemble the plate. To do this, grab one of the biscuits and place it on the plate, fill a piping bag with the cream and place small rosettes around the biscuits and place fruit in between every rosette. Repeat with another biscuit and place it on top of the first one, now for the top one,place just one drop of cream and one strawberry and decorate with fresh mint leaves. Sprinkle the icing sugar on top of the “tower” and enjoy...

        lunes, 23 de noviembre de 2009

        Lamb shanks with nutty couscous

        Lamb is on of my favourite meats, because of its flavour and textyure.I chose shanks for this dish because I like the way it falls from the bone when it has been cooked in the oven. to serve, a lovely couscous, with nuts and aromatised with rose water, just a few drops, otherwise we can ruin the plate, beause it has a very strong flavour. This is a very simple dish, you don't need many ingrediets and the flavour is amzing.

        I guess it's more than obvious that I love middle eastern food, because of its flavour and colour. Couscous is part of the daily life in middle eastern households and nuts are an ideal touch to a meal. Middle eastern gastronomy is a varied one, with wonderful ingredients ready to surprise your palate. Coscous is a healthy option as well, and I always add the nuts to it, whichever ones you had at home will do, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, etc. And sultanas, lots of sultanas...

        For the Lamb

        Lamb shanks, one per person
        3 bay leaves
        Drizzle of white wine
        Half a lemon, thinly sliced
        1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced
        Drizzle of olive oil
        Salt and pepper


        Season the meat, and place it in an oven tray along with the rest of the ingredients, and bake at 180 degrees for an hour and 15 minutes, aproximately. When a knife comes out easily from the meat, its done. Reserve.

        For the couscous

        150g couscous
        Handful of nuts
        A few drops of rose water
        Handful of sultanas or dried apricots (choped)
        250ml very hot chicken stock or water
        Drizzle of olive oil
        Salt and pepper

        Place the couscous in a bol and cover it with the hot stock or water. Cover the bol with a plate and let it rest for 10-15minutes. Check if the liquid has dissolve , and separate the couscous grains with a fork if so. Let cool.

        When the couscous is completely cold, add the rest of the ingredients, if you add walnuts, chop them a little. Drizzle wth the olive oil and season. Serve in a big dish with the lamb shanks on top of the couscous, and decorate with dates if you want.

        lunes, 16 de noviembre de 2009

        Crêpes Suzette

        I love crepes, not only eating them but making the batter, cooking them, and thinking about the filling. I prefer the crepes to be thinner than usual, almost paper thin. I really admire french people for making them up and the best thing is that you can fill them up with millions of combinations, chocolate, fruits, cream, stewed fruit, even savoury crepes are delicious. Whenever I need my sugar dose and want to indulge myself, I make some crepes and fill them up with jam, or "dulce de leche" and I'm good to go. Today I give you the crepes suzette, a wondeful and delicious recipe, if you have never tried these before, you will now know what have you been missing.When I have the time, I always always make these, and afterwards I don't even feel guilty, because hey there's fruit in it.

        I serve these on a plate or bowl, dressed with the orange butter after flambe them with the liquor we decide to use whichever one we have at home. This is optional. And the only thing you have to make, apart from the crepes is the orange butter, but this is such an easy dessert that it's the one thing I make or bring to a dinner with friends whenever I don't have the time to make an ellaborate pudding. You will need a flat frying pan, special for crepes, or a non stick one. We also need a spatula for turning the crepes over. The first one is ussually the test one, so get rid of it, don't desperate and carry on. Even if you dont flambe the crepes you will need some liquor for the orange butter, I always use Grand Marnier because the taste is delicious, but Cointreau or even brandy will do the trick. This is how I make them...

        For the crepes
        1 cup plain flour
        2 eggs
        1 tablespoon sugar
        zest of one orange
        30g melted butter
        1 cup milk

        melted butter for cooking the crepes


        Mix the flour with the zest, the sugar and the eggs, add the buter and the milk. It should be a light mixtture, like cream, if not, add more milk. Brush a non stick pan with melted butter, when hot, add a laddle full of the batter and move the pan in circles so it covers all the surface, when set, turn it over with a spatula and let set for a few seconds. Place on a plate and carry on cooking the rest of the crepes, brushing the pan with the melted butter when necessary. Pile them up, cover them with cling film, when you finish cooking them all and let rest if you have the time for at least 30 minutes. (you can freeze them at this stage)

        For the orange butter

        200g melted butter
        the zest of 1 orange (yes,another one)
        3 or 4 tablespoons icing sugar
        1/2 cup orange juice
        1/4 cup Grand Marnier


        Mix all the ingredients. At this stage the mixture can look a bit curdled but don't panic, as soon as you heat it it will be OK. To do this, place the orange butter in a big saucepan, over a low heat. Reserve. Now we have to prepare the crepes, to do this I like to make them decent by opening them on my cutting board, and place in a plate on top of it, but upside down, I then cut the excess with a knife, this way all my crepes are the same size and they look more pretty.

        OK, let's go back to the orange butter. When you have heat the butter and starts bubbling, grab a crepe and place it open in the saucepan, and very carefuly fold it over twice, so you have a triangle in hte end, do this with the rest of the crepes, and yous saucepan will be filled with lovely triangles, you have to spoon the butter on top so to make surethat the whole of the crepe gets sucked in all those wonderful juices. At this point you can flambe them, to do this, graba laddle and fill it with the liquor, place it on the heat and set it on fire, pour it on the crepes and spoon the liquid over until the alcohol has evaporated. If you feel brave take do this at the table in fron of your guests. Serve with ice cream or fresh fruit and don't forget some extra sauce on the side.

        domingo, 8 de noviembre de 2009

        Roasts of the World I - British Sunday Roast

        So, I decided to start a series of entries with the subject of "Roasts of the world". I would like to publish here some of the recipes for roasts that I have tried "in situ" (lucky me!) Others will be cooked after researching and trying to be the close to the "real thing". First things first, because I live in England and because this plate is undoubtedly one of the most representative dishes in the british gastronomy, my first roast entry is the british Sunday roast.

        There's a Sunday roast, everywhere you go...on a Sunday of course, with a choice of meat, you can have roastbeef, or lamb or pork, with all the trimmings. My only concern is that I have been served (in some of them) frozen boiled veggetables with the roast, no herbs, no olive oil (quite unbelievable for me, being a spanish and an olive oil addict) Anyway, I hardly reccomend to use fresh vegetables, because they are easy to make, and delicious. This roast is a beef one, and I included the tasty goose fat roast potatoes, the mighty Yorkshire pudding, the fresh vegetables (honey glazed) and stuffing balls (Iknow, I Know, you are not supposed to serve stuffing with the beef, but I like stuffing and I wanted to show it here, so what?) All this is served with gravy, proper gravy, of course, don't think about that brown paste like powder that you need to mix with boiling water, no no no... proper gravy is easy to make and very tasty, really. Sunday roast is delicious if you follow the rules, so...ladies and gentleman I give you the Sunday Roast...(you may need a siesta afterwards)

        For the roast beef (or the meat you want)

        1 piece of meat (whatever you choose)

        1 onion peeled and cut in half

        5 0 6 garlic cloves

        4 sprigs of thyme

        salt and pepper

        olive oil


        Preheat the oven to 200degrees. Season the meat and seal it on a high heat until brown. Place it in the oven tray with the onion, the garlic and the thyme (don't forget the oil it has been fried on and the juices). Bake at 200 for the first 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 170, cover with foil and cook for 20 minutes for every 500g of meat. Reserve the cooking liquids for the gravy.

        For the Yorkshire pudding

        150g plain flour

        150ml milk

        2 eggs

        salt and pepper

        olive oil or beef dripping

        Preheat the oven to 180degrees. Get a muffin tray and place small quantities of the olive oil of beef dripping (whatever you decide to use) in every hole. Place the tray in the hot oven and heat, this is essential for the pudding to rise.

        Sieve the four and place it in a big bowl, add the beaten egg and the milk, mix and season well. Take the muffin tray from the oven and fill two thirds with the mix in every hole, quickly return the tray to the hot oven and bake for 25-30minutes.

        For the potatoes

        1 kg floury potatoes such as King edward

        100g goose fat or oilive oil


        Preheat the oven to 18o and place the fat or the olive oil in an oven tray inside the oven to heat while you boil the potatoes. Boil the potatoes in plenty of boiling water for just 5 minutes, no more, you don't want to cook them through. Drain the liquid and shake the pan to soften the edges, this will make them crusty in the oven. Place the potatoes in the preheated oven tray and bake 40-50 minutes shaking the tray every now and then and turning them halfway through. Season with salt once they are coked.

        For the stuffing

        250g fresh white breadcrumbs

        1 onion finely chopped

        6-8 sage leaves chopped

        1 egg

        salt and pepper

        olive oil


        Sweat the onion in a pan with the olive oil until is a bit translucid, add the chopped sage and the breadcrumbs, season well and mix until everything is combined. Transfer to a bowl and add the beaten egg. Shape this mixture into bite size balls and place them in a greased oven tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

        For the glazed vegetables

        2 or 3 carrots

        2 or 3 parsnisps

        100ml honey

        100ml orange juice

        3 sprigsof thyme

        salt and pepper

        Cut the carrots and parsnisps into batons, and boil them for five minutes. Drain the water and place them in an oven tray. In a bowl mix the honey, oranje juice, salt and pepper and the thyme and drizzle over the vegetables. Bake at 170 for 20 minutes or until they are golden brown.

        For the gravy

        100ml white wine

        100ml beef or chicken stock

        1 tablespoon flour

        It's important to keep the liquid that the meat has been cooked in. Place the roast tray (without the meat) on the stove on high heat and scratch the surface with a woodenspoon. Add the wine and carry on scratching, when the juices have reduced a little, add the flour and stock, and keep on scratching until everything thickens and all the juices are combined. Place in a gravy pot and reserve.

        When you have cooked everything, it's time to serve the roast. To do this, thinly slice the beef and place 3 or 4 slices in each plate, along with 4 or 5 roast potatoes, 4 or 5 stuffing balls, the vegetables and one Yorkshire pudding per head. Serve with the gravy. (and an antacid for dessert!)