Monday, 28 January 2013

Raspberry and lemon thyme macarons

I think that after the last few recipes that I have written for this blog, it’s about time that I did a bit of baking again. Although I have really focussed on savoury food recently, baking is how I got into cooking in the first place and still is a real passion of mine. I just love the happiness that a cake or other baked good creates in people. Even those like me without a real sweet tooth often can’t resist a slice!

I bit off a little more than I could chew with this recipe though. I had been wanting to have a go at making macarons for quite a while, but being relatively out of practice and slightly blase about how tricky they might be, I found them a real challenge. In hindsight this is really no surprise; the immaculate macarons that appear in patisseries are perfected and laboured over for years before getting right - what sort of chance was I going to have on my first go!? My first effort was far from perfect, with the finished macarons a little cracked on top instead of that lovely flat glossy look. But practice makes perfect, and I will definitely try again.

For the base of this recipe I turned to Felicity Cloake’s ever useful Guardian column. It was reassuring to find that she also had problems with her efforts, and I was intimidated by the amount of flack that she received from the macaron police in the comment section. But as a guide or introduction to a dish I find columns like hers very helpful, and from there you can change ingredients to suit what you are making. 

Her original recipe is posted on the Guardian website here: 

Instead of the chocolate flavouring used by Felicity, I went for something a little different. I love using raspberries in desserts, especially where anything meringue based is concerned. A meringue topped with whipped cream and stewed raspberries is often the perfect end to a summery meal. To incorporate them in this recipe I thought that dehydrating them in a low oven and them powdering them would work. This would intensify the flavour of the berry, and at the same time remove the chances of liquid getting into the macaron mixture and destabilising the finished result. Lemon thyme works really well with berries in sweet dishes, and I left the leaves whole so that the odd leaf could be seen on the surface (back off you macaron purists!)... 

Despite the imperfections they went down a storm and were quickly devoured. Surely that’s what baking is really all about.

Makes about 20


125g raspberries 
2 tbsp lemon thyme, leaves picked and left whole
130g ground almonds
170g icing sugar
150g egg whites
120g caster sugar
Pinch of salt

For the filling:

150ml double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 vanilla pod

125g raspberries
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 lemon, juice only

The night before baking, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and scatter 125g of the raspberries on top. Put into a low oven heated to 60-70ºC and leave overnight. In the morning the raspberries should be completely dried out. Tip the raspberries into a small food processor or coffee grinder and blitz until you have a fine powder. Add the thyme leaves and set aside.

Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof parchment. Using a pencil, draw 3cm circles a couple of centimeters apart (I used the top of a squash bottle for this). This will really help with the piping later. Set aside until needed later.

Sieve the almonds, icing sugar and raspberry powder together into a bowl and set aside.

Weigh out the egg whites and pour into a large bowl. Using an electric whisk, mix the egg whites until they reach soft peaks then slowly add the caster sugar, a little at a time. Whisk on a high power until the meringue goes shiny and thick and forms stiff peaks. To test this, you should be able to tip the bowl upside-down without the contents tipping out. 

Fold in the icing sugar, almonds, lemon thyme and raspberry to the meringue, then mix well to knock out a little of the air. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag and carefully pipe inside the circle templates on the baking sheet. Try to keep the piped macarons as flat as possible, you don’t want little peaks rising from them. Once all the circles have been filled, drop the baking tray onto the surface from about 6” a couple of times, which will help knock the bubbles out. Leave to rest for between 45mins - 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 170ºC (Fan).

After the macarons have rested and formed a skin, carefully place in the oven for 17 minutes. Open the oven door a couple of times during this cooking time to help the steam escape. Once cooked, slide the macarons on the greaseproof paper onto a cooling rack and leave to cool completely. 

While the macarons are cooling make the filling. Put the remaining raspberries, the lemon juice and caster sugar into a small saucepan and cook on a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and a lot of the juices have escaped from the raspberries. Sieve the mixture into a bowl, pushing down on the raspberries with a spoon to get all of the liquid. 

Pour the liquid back into the saucepan and bubble away on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until it thickens and forms a syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod and place in a medium bowl with the double cream and icing sugar. Whisk until soft peaks form, then fold in the cooled raspberry syrup.  Spoon into a piping bag.

Gently peel the cooled macaron halves from the baking sheet with a palette knife. Pipe a little of the filling mixture onto one half and sandwich carefully with the other. They will be quite crunchy if eaten straight away, but will become very soft, light and chewy if put in the fridge for a couple of hours. Devour at will.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Mackerel with pureed and pickled beetroot, smoked mackerel pate, apple and horseradish

For this monday lunch I have gone back to an old favourite, mackerel. I have cooked some fairly long winded recipes for the last few blog posts, so this time I wanted to do something a little less time consuming for a light and tasty lunch. 

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has recently championed the use of three key ingredients as the formula of a great dish, and this recipe goes along those lines. The combination of mackerel, beetroot and horseradish has been tried and tested and works so well, with the oily mackerel, sweet beetroot and the hot horseradish. The only thing that I have introduced are a couple of different ways of preparing the fish and beets to make the finished dish a little more interesting. 

Recently I have been really into focussing on a few ingredients and using them in different processes in the same dish. I have done this previously on this blog with lamb and salmon recipes, and I like how you can achieve a variety of tastes and textures within a meal. In this dish the beetroot adds both sweet and smooth elements in the puree and sharp and crunchy when pickled. With the mackerel, the fried fillet gives the cooked heat whilst the pate gives a smokey, creamy backnote. The horseradish is not a dominant flavour, like everything else it just balances with the other ingredients. The apple with the pickles gives much needed refreshment, and can be combined with mackerel to make a dish in their own right. 

Serves 2 


1 large mackerel, filleted and pin boned
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

For the beetroot puree:

2 beetroots
2 garlic cloves
5 sprigs thyme
1 tsp thyme leaves
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp butter
Salt and pepper

For the smoked mackerel pate:

1 smoked mackerel fillet, skin and bones removed
2 spring onions
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp horseradish, finely grated
2 tbsp cottage cheese
2 lemons, juice only
Salt and pepper

For the pickled beetroot:

1 white or golden beetroot, peeled and finely diced
250ml white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves
5 sprigs thyme
10 peppercorns
1/4 braeburn apple, finely diced
1 tsp horseradish, finely grated
1/2 lemon, juice only
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

For the peashoots:

1 handful peashoots
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper

To serve:

Hot bread and butter

The first thing to make is the beetroot puree. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Put the unpeeled beetroot, garlic cloves and thyme sprigs into a small oven dish and rub with a little olive oil and seasoning. Seal with kitchen foil and put into the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.

To make the pickled beetroot, put the white wine vinegar, sugar, garlic, thyme and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. When hot add the finely diced white or golden beetroot and cook for 2 minutes. Spoon the beetroot into a bowl with a little of the pickling liquid and allow to cool. When cool, drain the liquid away and mix in the apple, horseradish, lemon, olive oil and salt. Taste and set aside. 

Now make smoked mackerel pate. Put the spring onions and butter into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Add the smoked mackerel, horseradish, lemons, cottage cheese and seasoning and mix again until everything is combined. Remove from the mixer, taste and add horseradish, salt or lemon as required. Set aside. 

Make the dressing for the peashoots by mixing the lemon juice with the extra virgin olive oil and seasoning. Set aside to dress at the last minute.

The roasted beetroot is cooked when they can be easily pierced by a knife. Peel the beets whilst they are still hot then put into a food processor with the butter, thyme leaves, sugar and seasoning. Blitz well then taste and adjust the seasoning. Pass the puree through a sieve and keep warm. 

Put a large non-stick frying pan onto a medium-high heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. Cut the mackerel fillets into 3 pieces and pat dry with kitchen paper. Season well on both sides and then place skin side down into the frying pan, pressing down for a couple of seconds to stop them from curling. Fry for 3 minutes on the skin side then carefully flip over. Add the butter and take the pan off the heat. The fish will finish cooking in the residual heat while you plate up. 

Spoon a little of the puree onto the middle of each plate and top with the mackerel pieces. Quenelle the pate and the pickled beetroot and add around the fish. Dress the peashoots in a little of the dressing and arrange on top of the mackerel. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Rump of lamb with confit carrots, purple carrot and anchovy puree, carrot crisps, flageolet beans and red wine sauce

I can’t believe that this is the first time that I have cooked lamb for this blog! I absolutely love it, and there is nothing better than a roasted leg of lamb filling the house full of amazing smells on a cold Sunday afternoon. To be honest though I don’t really eat that much red meat on a week to week basis; as I’ve said before on this blog, good meat is pricey and always a treat, and I’d rather eat better quality meat less often and vegetable-based dishes the rest of the time. It has to be said though, I work opposite an amazing fishmongers, so when payday comes around I have often earmarked a fish or two to buy before even thinking about anything else. 

At this time of year though, lamb in particular comes into it’s own and I couldn’t resist ordering some from my local butchers. Purists will say that spring lamb is best, but for me lamb that is a little older holds much more flavour yet can still be soft and tender. Living in Stoke Newington, I am really lucky to have a great butcher just around the corner in the shape of Meat N16. Although still relatively new, they have already won awards and are always really friendly when I have shopped there. More importantly, the meat is great quality. There are a number of different lamb cuts that suit a variety of cooking methods, and for this recipe I decided to use the rump. This cut is off the bone and is cooked in a similar way to a steak; crusty on the outside and pink and tender in the middle. 

The carrots stand side by side with the lamb as stars of this dish. I have recently seen purple and yellow carrots in my local greengrocers and have been eager to do something with them. Often carrots are just boiled to death and plonked on the side of a meal to add a bit of colour, but I wanted to try and make them more interesting and stand up in their own right. Making them different textures and flavours might seem like unnecessary work, but each part adds to the finished dish. 

The rest of the flavours and ingredients in this recipe; the beans, anchovies, mint and red wine are all classic accompaniments to lamb. There is quite a lot of acidity in this dish from the use of lemons, but these help cut through the fattiness of the lamb and the sweetness of the carrots. As with anything it’s all about everything working together and the flavours balancing. 

Although lamb stock isn’t that widely available, it’s dead easy to make and really worth it. Even using the leftover bones and scraps from a sunday roast with some root vegetables and water will produce something delicious. Failing that, good chicken stock can be used as a substitute. 

Don’t be put off with the amount of butter needed for the confit carrots. This is all used to make the clarified butter, and hardly any of this finds it’s way into the finished carrots. It’s mostly just to make sure the carrots are fully covered whilst cooking. Do not discard the clarified butter once finished, it can be used to make lovely roast potatoes!

Serves 2


1 lamb rump, approx 400g, sliced into 2 pieces

For the purple carrot and anchovy puree:

2 purple carrots, peeled and chopped into 1” pieces
3 anchovy fillets
1 lemon, juice only
1 tsp butter
Salt and pepper

For the flageolet bean puree:

400g (or 1 tin) cooked flageolet beans
1 large handful mint, leaves picked
1 handful watercress, washed
1 - 1 1/2 lemons, juice only
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

For the confit carrots:

6 carrots, 2 of each colour if using, trimmed and peeled to an equal size
750g butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 sprigs thyme
Salt and pepper

For the carrot crisps:

3 carrots, 1 of each colour if using
Vegetable oil for deep frying, about 1ltr

For the red wine sauce:

2 glasses red wine
500ml lamb stock
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

The first thing to make are the confit carrots. Heat the oven to 80ºC. Put the butter into a saucepan and cook on a medium heat, without colouring, until the butter has separated. Strain the butter through kitchen paper (you may have to be patient with this) and discard the solids caught in the paper. Put the peeled and trimmed carrots into a small, deep oven dish with the thyme, garlic and seasoning and cover with the clarified butter. Put into the oven and bake for around 2 hours, or until just tender. This can be done in advance and reheated when serving.

To make the flageolet bean puree, bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. When hot, drop in the mint and watercress and blanch for ten seconds before removing to a bowl of very cold water. Squeeze out the excess liquid when cool and transfer to a food processor with the flageolet beans, garlic, oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Blitz until very smooth, then taste and add more seasoning or lemon as needed. Pass through a fine sieve and set aside.

For the purple carrot and anchovy puree, bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the chopped purple carrots and cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a food processor with the anchovies, lemon juice, butter and seasoning, and mix until very smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Pass through a fine sieve and set aside. 

Now make the carrot crisps. Using a speed peeler make long shavings across the middle cross section of the carrots. Heat up the frying oil in a medium - large saucepan until it reaches 140ºC, then fry the carrot shavings in small batches for a minute or two until crisp. Transfer to kitchen paper and drain well, then sprinkle with a little salt. 

To make the red wine sauce, put a dry medium saucepan on a moderate - high heat. When hot, add the red wine and allow to boil and reduce by half. Pour in the lamb stock and add the sugar and a little seasoning and allow to reduce right down until the sauce starts thicken and becomes shiny. Be careful not to reduce it too much at this point or the sauce will become bitter. Taste and season. 

Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC (fan).

For the lamb, heat up a heavy non-stick saucepan to a high heat. Season the lamb well on all sides and rub with a little oil. Fry the lamb for a minute or two fat side down until golden brown, then seal the rest of the meat for 20-30 seconds on each side. Transfer to an oven tray and cook in the oven for 9-10 minutes for medium-rare lamb. Use your fingers as you would with steak to test how the meat is cooked inside. Move the cooked lamb to a chopping board, cover with foil and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. 

While the lamb is resting, heat up the confit carrots, the sauce and the the purees (very gently). Add the butter to the sauce and stir well until incorporated. Check the taste and seasoning again.

To plate up, spoon some of the flageolet bean puree onto the middle of the plate and arrange 2 thick slices of the lamb on top. Add a bit of the purple carrot puree on the side, arrange the confit carrots around and spoon over some of the sauce.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Spinach farfalle with mushrooms, celeriac puree, parma ham and a crispy hen’s egg

It feels like ages since I wrote my last blog entry. With December and Christmas being really busy, my Mondays off were spent rushing around sorting presents and preparing for the holidays and time in the kitchen was minimal. Now that we’re back into January I’ve been really looking forward to doing some proper cooking again, and this week was the first time that my Monday lunches got back on the road again. 

I am always thinking up different dishes to make on my days off, and I have been wanted to make this particular one for a while. As always, the dish started off as a simplified version, just some fresh tagliatelle with mushrooms and parma ham, but the more I thought about it, the more bits were added to it until it became the finished meal. No doubt I will think of other ways to further change it as time goes on... 

I have been making fresh pasta for many years now, but have always made ‘cut’ pasta or cannelloni. I have always wanted to have a go at making pasta shapes, but have never got around to it until now. The same goes for making a flavoured and coloured pasta dough. The idea of making farfalle with different coloured halves it not my own. I first saw it whilst watching Masterchef last year, when one of the finalists learned how to make it whilst placed in a London Restaurant (I seem to remember it being with Alain Ducasse but I’m not positive). It seemed like a great idea and fairly straightforward to make, but after making the batch for this recipe it definitely takes a knack to get the pasta just right. I found that the most important thing is making sure that the seam between the two dough pieces is properly sealed before running it through the machine, otherwise the seam can split which makes the finished dough look really messy. It’s well worth trying though as the little bow ties look great once finished. 

The inspiration for this dish came from eating plain pasta (not even any butter or oil!) with breaded chicken as a small child. I used to love the crispy bits of breadcrumb that would find their way into the pasta, and this is replicated with the deep fried egg. It’s funny how childhood eating memories influence the way we eat now, although I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back to syrup sandwiches any time soon!

The key with getting this dish right is balancing the flavours properly. The richness of the egg yolk and saltiness of the parma ham is cut by the acidity in the puree and the earthiness of the mushrooms. No one taste really dominates, they just come together and compliment one another when eaten at the same time. 

This dish can be changed slightly to make it vegetarian. In this case, swap the parma ham for a salty, tangy cheese such as a mild goat’s cheese. 

Serves 2


For the pasta: 

200g ’00’ strong pasta flour, separated into two 100g amounts, plus more for kneading
2 eggs
50g spinach leaves, tough stalks discarded
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp dried cous cous

For the crispy eggs:

3 large eggs
100g plain flour
75g panko flakes
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Vegetable oil for frying, about 1.5-2 litres

For the celeriac puree:

1/3 of a large celeriac (about 300g), peeled and chopped into 1in pieces
3 tbsp whole milk
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
40g butter
Salt and pepper

200g fresh girolles, trimmed and cleaned with a brush
100g brown beech mushrooms, trimmed
15g dried porcini mushrooms
20g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 a lemon, juice only
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

To finish:

2 slices parma ham
A few shards of parmesan
A few rocket leaves

First make the pasta. Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil, and when hot, blanch the spinach leaves for a minute. Immediately put the cooked spinach leaves into iced water and leave to cool. Thoroughly squeeze out the water from the leaves so that they are fairly dry. Place into a food processor and blitz until very finely chopped (they should be too dry to really form a puree). Add 1 of the eggs and a pinch of salt and blitz again until will combined. Tip in 100g of the ’00’ flour and mix again until the dough resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Pour onto a work surface and knead really well, until a smooth and elastic dough is formed that is not wet or sticky. Wrap with clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes. 

Now make the plain pasta dough. Put the second 100g portion of flour into a cleaned food processor bowl and add the second of the eggs, the olive oil and a good pinch of salt and repeat the blitzing / kneading / resting process as the spinch dough. 

Using a pasta machine and a little extra flour, roll each dough through each of the thickness settings until you get to the second finest (I only really use the finest setting for filled pasta). Cut each sheet of pasta in half so that you have two narrow pieces of each dough, then cut each piece so that it is about 30cm long; this will make it much more manageable. Carefully brush one long edge of each spinach sheet to about 1cm in, then very gently position the long edge of one of the plain pasta sheets on top. Seal with your fingers. Roll the sealed combined sheet through the second thinnest setting on the machine and you should be left with a sealed sheet with one side spinach dough and the other plain. Cut into 4cm strips, then use a large circular cutter to form the outer edges. Try to make this as even as possible so that the join between the two doughs is in the centre. Squeeze the centre of the strips to form the bow tie shape. Gently flour the completed farfalle, then pour the cous cous onto a plate and position the pasta on top. The cous cous absorbs the moisture but will drop off in the pan whilst boiling. Set aside to dry whilst you prepare the rest of the recipe. 

While the pasta dough is resting, make the crispy eggs. Bring a pan of water to the boil and lower in 2 of the eggs. Cook for 1 minute, then turn the heat off, cover and leave for another 5 minutes. Remove the eggs and place in iced water mixed with the white wine vinegar. Allow to cool thoroughly, then peel the eggs very carefully. Set up 2 small plates and 1 small bowl. Put the flour on one plate, the panko on the other and beat the egg into the bowl. Season each element. Roll the eggs one at a time very gently in the flour to cover then dip into the egg. Finally transfer the eggs to the panko and roll around until fully covered with the breadcrumbs. Set aside until needed.

To make the puree, bring a large saucepan of salty water to the boil and when hot, add the chopped celeriac. Boil for about 10 minutes, or until tender before draining and putting into a food processor with the milk, butter, seasoning and mustard. Blitz very well before tasting and adjusting with milk/butter/seasoning as necessary. Pass through a fine sieve and into a bowl. Keep warm if near to serving, or cool and refrigerate if making in advance to reheat later. 

Put the porcini into a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for 20 minutes to soak before draining, keeping the strained liquid for later. 

While the celeriac is cooking, make the crispy parma ham. Preheat the oven to 190ºC (Fan). Line a baking tray with baking parchment and lay the parma ham on top. Cook in the hot oven for 6-8 minutes or until very crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and break into small shards. 

Fill a large saucepan with water, add salt and bring to the boil. In a separate medium saucepan heat the deep frying oil to 170ºC. Finally, put a large frying pan onto a medium heat. 

When everything is hot, melt the butter with the olive oil in the frying pan. Add the soaked porcini and the garlic and fry for 1 minute, before adding the girolles and season well. At this point, put the farfalle into the boiling water and carefully lower the crumbed eggs into the hot oil. Add the beech mushrooms and lemon juice to the frying pan and cook for a minute, by which point the pasta should be ready. Lift the pasta using a slotted spoon and transfer to the pan with the mushrooms and gently stir everything together. Add a couple of tablespoons of the porcini liquid and cook for another minute, at which point the egg should have turned a golden brown in the oil. Remove from the oil and drain. 

To serve, spoon a little of the puree onto the middle of the plates and top with the crispy eggs. Arrange the farfalle around the egg and top with the mushrooms. Spoon a little of the buttery pan juices over the pasta. Scatter the parma ham, parmesan and rocket around the pasta and serve.