Homemade Granola and Mothering Sunday

Jenny Chandler Mothering Sunday

Last year I wrote a blog piece for Borough Market about Mothering Sunday and my hopes for a lengthy lie-in and simple day of feeling appreciated and loved. As I said, I have no need for a luxury pampering kit or a “Mum in a million” mug and really no desire to be woken up with the dawn chorus to eat breakfast in bed.

Surprise, surprise. I was woken at seven (can’t complain too much, but not exactly a lie in) by Imi and Peter with a “Mum Rules” mug and two trays of breakfast delights for us to spill on the sheets. And yes, the sheets were filled with scratchy crumbs when I got to bed that night and there was jam on the duvet cover. They’d also been up to some baking………. Just in case you haven’t read my blog before and assume that I have two children, Peter is in his fifties, Imi was seven at the time. They managed to confuse tablespoons for the teaspoons of baking powder in the recipe so that the chocolate cake literally erupted leaving a small chewy biscuit in the bottom of the cake tin and a rather large cowpat of molten chocolate lava burnt onto the bottom of the oven.

SO….if you’re reading Peter (or any father for that matter, who might just manage to steer proceedings in their own household) This is my dream Mother’s day morning.

Having a lengthy doze in bed whilst Imi spends a ridiculous amount of time laying a beautiful table, adorning it with a few flowers (provide a suitably small vase or the garden/window box could be decimated) and serving up some fabulous homemade treats. Imi and I have been cooking and baking together quite a lot recently so she’d be up to scratch with some muffins….. But, my dessert island option would be this homemade honey granola with tangy rhubarb compote and a bowl of Greek yoghurt.

Jenny Chandler granolaHomemade Granola

50 g unsalted butter or 4 tablespoons of coconut oil
150 g honey, maple syrup (or even,at a push, golden syrup)
300 g rolled oats
150 g raw nuts such as cashews, almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios
100 g seeds such as pumpkin or sunflower
100 g dried fruit such as apricots or figs, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 150 ºC.

Add the butter and honey/syrup to a large saucepan (it’s a good idea to weigh the syrup directly into the pan set over the scales or you will have lots to wash up).

Now heat until the butter has melted and then stir in your other ingredients until everything is well coated.

Pour the mixture onto 2 lined roasting trays and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. Stir a couple of times along the way so that the granola gets evenly and wonderfully tasty. Once golden, leave to cool and then store in an airtight container.

Try
-Adding a splash of rosewater or vanilla extract to the honey and butter mixture
-Stirring a good pinch of cinnamon or ginger into the oats for the last 5 minutes of baking.
-Throwing raisins, toasted sesame seeds, dried cherries, cranberries or barberries or  roasted coconut slices into the granola once it is ready.

The granola is delicious eaten with milk or yoghurt but a spoonful of fruit compote is the icing on the cake.

Rhubarb Compote

– to make a large jar
About 500 g of rhubarb chopped into large chunks
Juice of 1 orange
75 g light brown sugar (such as muscovado)

Put all the ingredients together in a pan and simmer gently for about 5 minutes until just soft.

Remove about a third of the rhubarb pieces and then blend the remaining rhubarb and juices to make a thick compote. Replace the rhubarb pieces, leave to cool and serve.

Try
-Replacing the orange and sugar with a couple of knobs or crystallized ginger and a few tablespoons of the syrup.
-Eating the compote with icecream, folding into a rhubarb fool or layering in a trifle.
-Making other fruit compotes with raspberries, plums, apples or whatever is in season.
-Freezing in old yoghurt pots for quick fix fruit smoothies when whizzed up with yoghurt.

Ideally, weather permitting, breakfast would be in the garden. There’s so much going on out there right now – hellebores, daffodils and some pretty rampant frogs.

I’d better add, just in case anyone thinks that I’m an ungrateful old bag, that I fully appreciated all last year’s efforts – crumbs, encrusted ovens and all. The best bit of the entire day was getting Imi’s  carefully drawn voucher for a 1000 hugs, to be used through the year.

And just a bit of history about Mothering Sunday

You’ll be pleased to hear that some indulgent eating has always been tied up with the traditional Christian Mothering Sunday celebrations that gave us today’s, often more secular, Mother’s Day. In the Downton Abbey era Mothering Sunday was the one and only day of the year that every servant had a holiday; the time to go home to their “mothering” church where they were baptised. It was the family get-together of the year and the story goes that everyone gathered wild flowers from the hedgerows for their mothers as they made their way home. Other classic names for the day are Mid-Lent Sunday or Refreshment Sunday as the church allowed us to break the Lenten fast with Simnel cakes and puddings. So, all in all a day of joy and very good excuse for a feast.

 

 

 

 

 

Big bottoms, kale smoothies and candy floss.

I’m going off piste today: no recipe, no, not one – just a quick flurry of thoughts…. don’t worry it won’t take me long, I just wondered if anyone else felt the same way?

So first, big bottoms……not just big, but truly humongous bottoms. It seems like yesterday (it turns out to be 20 years ago) that Arabella Weir got us all going with her Fast Show catch phrase “Does my bum look big in this?” . But I can’t help wondering whether this is still a concern for the under 30’s ? How does a young dude reply nowadays? Beyoncé’s bottom launched a million dollar business in magic pants with silicone buttock enhancers a few years ago – I’ve yet to invest. And then there’s Kim Kardashian? I switched on the TV the other night and there she was on the Brit Awards all trussed up in a Julien MacDonald one piece. There’s no denying it, she’s a highly groomed and stunning looking lady BUT the size of that derrière? I’m still in a state of shock, her 27 million Instagram followers are obviously not, it’s (quite literally) her biggest asset.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the beautifully wholesome and sylphlike Ella Woodward whose cook book Deliciously Ella (named after her highly successful blog) has topped every bestseller list. Ella shares the gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free recipes that have turned her own life around, she has an incredible story. BUT, though I feel awful saying it,  I can’t help hoping that Imi doesn’t turn into a health nut….well not until she’s left home in any case (she is only 8 so we’ve a while to wait). I just couldn’t  embrace a world of Matcha, kale and banana smoothies, or spiralised courgettini instead of my al dente pasta. And all those judgemental looks you’d get as you tucked into your plate of crispy pork belly or a slice of cheesecake. What about when you want to go to your favourite restaurant? Have a gelato on holiday? Hang out for a coffee with your friends? Oh please don’t let’s create an entire generation of food police.

Well, to be honest, there’s no chance of that happening! During half term I was persuaded , under huge duress, to enjoy the waves and tube slides of the Swindon Leisure Centre swimming pool. Lesson 1 – never ask a child what they’d really like to do for a special treat. After our one hour time slot in the pool (that was a relief at least) surrounded by posters hailing the health benefits of exercising and swimming we headed for the café. Lesson 2 – never go anywhere near the café; the waft of tired, hot fat hit you before you even got to the counter, there was the token “healthy’ jacket potato on the menu but that was about it. The most depressing sight though, was the wall of vending machines: fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate bars, popcorn machines and the first un-manned candy floss machine that I’ve ever seen. Whaaaaaat? So you supposedly burn off all that fat in the water ready to pile triple the amount back on before you’ve even reached the car park.. ..depressing.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this ….just wondering what my 8 year old Imi makes of it all; we seem to live with such extremes nowadays. I’m just all the more determined to get her cooking for herself, enjoying food that just happens to be mostly healthy, most of the time. I’m praying that she will be happy in her own skin, without a need for padded pants or a constant stream of selfies.

If you are looking for a fabulous book that takes the “accidentally healthy” approach to cooking then Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite is absolutely inspirational.diana_2842935b

& don’t forget that legumes are fantastically good for you too…… there is, of course, also a particularly good book about pulses on the market!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of Batty Bristol and Beetroot Chocolate Muffins

Bristol’s a fabulous place to live, I never feel trapped like I do in so many other cities; virtually every where you look there is a glimpse of countryside beyond the buildings. You’re a stone’s throw from wild Wales, Devon and Cornwall and yet you can be in London in under two hours. Better still is the fact that Bristol itself has such a dynamic heart – there’s the great food scene that seems to lack the ponce and showmanship of most big cities, there’s the earthy vibe that has earned Bristol the title of  European Green Capital 2015 and then there are the offbeat, quirky community events that just seem to flourish here.

On Saturday evening we set off on a “magical walking trail to light up winter” in Bishopston  (that’s just North of the city centre to any non-Bristolians). I’d chatted to a “balloon artist” in the sauna at The Lido earlier in the day (it’s where all the best conversations seem to take place) who was on her way to dress a shop window for the event. Shops and, better still,  households were lighting up their window displays between 5 and 8pm. There were over 150 random exhibits at Winter Wanderland- we saw about 40 of them, including meticulously crafted mini cinemas, a shadow puppet show, The Queen and Obama enjoying angel food cake and gin in the back of a camper van, a “live show” – dog lying on a sofa, lego displays, a pompom solar system – the sheer diversity was incredible. We snapped a couple of shots but you’d do so much better taking a peek here here.

Today I took the long way round to my local greengrocer Reg the Veg, walking along the glorious Georgian sweep of Royal York Crescent soaking up the sunshine. What a city! (Clifton pic’s coming soon) I was going to buy some fruit for the muffins that I’d promised to make with Imi after school but settled on some beetroot instead.

I’ve been meaning to play around with that great chocolate/ beetroot partnership in a muffin recipe for ages. I’m well chuffed with the results – still a hint of beetroot flavour, but hopefully not enough to scare off the kids, and some chunks of luxurious chocolate.

Beetroot Chocolate Muffins  – 12

200 g light muscovado, or soft brown sugar
100 g melted butter (use oil if you prefer)
2 medium eggs
100 g  (4 tbs) natural yoghurt
200 g  self-raising flour
4 tbsp cocoa powder
170 g beetroot
100 g dark chocolate

Pre heat the oven to 170 C,  Gas 3 and grease a 12 medium -sized muffin tray or line with papers.

Take a big bowl and mix together the sugar, butter, eggs and yoghurt.

Weigh out the flour and cocoa powder into another bowl.

Grate the beetroot on a coarse grater otherwise the mixture can become a bit too wet and sloppy (you could do this in the food processor but that’s a lot of pink washing up).

Chop the chocolate up roughly or use drops (I find it virtually impossible to get small domestic quantities of decent quality chocolate in the cooking drops)

Throw the flour mix, beetroot and chocolate in with the wet ingredients and stir it all together. Don’t be too zealous, it really doesn’t matter if there are a few lumps and too much stirring leads to solid, chewy muffins.

Spoon the mixture into the greased/lined muffin tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen and baked through when tested with skewer (no gloop on the skewer – you’re done)

Leave to cool on a wire rack and eat as soon as possible.

 

Paddington and Marmalade Days

DSC_0504 - Version 2

“Every home should have a marmalade day”  Paddington, the movie 2014

It’s taken me a while to fall back in love with Paddington Bear. I adored the books as a child but then, as a teenager, I was a given a toy Paddington as a present by a local farmer/admirer. He’d spotted me in the church choir (social highlight of the weekend in 1970’s rural Worcestershire) and decided to make a move. Although I was rather too old to be excited about a huge, stuffed bear with a duffle coat and red welly boots, I was also appalled to be the subject of someone who seemed twice my age’s attention. My tweeded suitor also presented me with a multiple choice questionnaire with reasons why I would, or would not, like to go out on a dinner date – I couldn’t bring myself to fill it in. The entire episode was a hideous embarrassment, the Family Service was never quite the same, and in my eyes Paddington’s reputation was sullied for decades.

A couple of weeks ago we went to see the film of Paddington – it was an absolute delight, so much so that I’ve dug out my 1960’s paperbacks and managed to put all the teenage angst behind me. I saw some Seville oranges in Reg The Veg up the road and thought that Imi, fired up with Paddington’s enthusiasm for the sticky stuff, would be up for making some marmalade.

I wrote a piece for Borough Market last year, as a “marmalade virgin”. I’d always been put off making any myself by all the mystique that seemed to surround the stuff so I decided to try out the simplest method around, which came from Fiona Beckett. I’ve tinkered with the recipe a little and, although I’m quite sure my marmalade wouldn’t sweep the board at the W.I. show, it tastes wonderful to me and is a great thing to make with kids.

Opinions are divided when it comes to marmalade methods, infact it’s almost better not to ask for advice since everyone will have the “very best” recipe. Purists seem to swear by slicing the fruit and leaving it to soak overnight which apparently gives a more delicate, crystal-clear result than the quicker, boil-the-fruit-whole approach. I went for the latter, it may not be perfect but certainly knocks the socks off anything I’ve bourght in the supermarket.

Experienced jam makers can jump the list of handy hints below, but as a novice I needed to go back to basics, and you may too.

  • Unless you already own a preserving pan, or are planning on opening a B&B I’d just stick to making the marmalade in a heavy stock pot or better still, if you happen to have one, the base of a pressure cooker.
  • You need a piece of muslin in which to tie up the pips and pulp (they are rich in pectin which sets the jam) No muslin, well (and I know that this sounds rather unappetising but it’s very convenient!) a NEW pop sock will do nicely, just give it a rinse before using.
  • A couple of plates in your freezer or fridge will help you when testing “the set” of your marmalade.
  • To sterilise jars you can place them in an oven at 130 °C for 1/2 an hour or wash with cold water and zap, whilst damp, for 40 seconds in the microwave. The jars must be hot when you pour the hot marmalade into them, otherwise they could shatter.
  • If your lids do not fit tightly then use a cellophane cover. A seal is important otherwise your precious marmalade could go mouldy. It’s advisable to cover the surface of the marmalade with a disc of waxed paper too, if you are keeping the marmalade for any length of time.
  • A jam funnel is a blessing, enabling you to ladle in the marmalade quickly and saving on time wiping sticky jars later. Otherwise just use a jug, but go carefully.

 Simple Seville Orange Marmalade

This makes about 6 average-size jars of marmalade, but it’s wise to have a couple of spares at the ready just in case you need them. Smaller, attractively shaped jars make great little gifts too.

I kg Seville oranges
1 unwaxed lemon
1.75 kg granulated sugar (no need for preserving sugar)

Wash the oranges and lemon well and then put them in your pan and cover with water. I weighed down the fruit with a casserole lid to stop it bobbing above the surface. Cover with a lid and then boil for 1-2 hours until the peel feels soft and can be easily pierced with a fork. Meanwhile enjoy the ambrosial citrus scent wafting around your kitchen.

Remove the fruit from the water and allow to cool. Measure the liquid left in your pan, you will need about 1.25 litres. If you have too much you can reduce it by boiling, too little – just add a splash of water.

Now for the fun, it’s time to prepare the fruit. This is the moment to get the kids involved, as many hands do make light work. You will probably end up with a rather coarse -cut result but hey this is the home-spun approach.

Quarter the oranges and lemon. Take a spoon and scrape the pith, flesh and seeds into a large sieve set over a bowl.

Slice the peel into coarse or fine shreds, the choice is yours (it wasn’t mine as a a couple of  impatient 8 year olds will always mean thick slices). Put the peel into the pan with the measured cooking water.

Take a rubber spatula and squash as much juice as you can from the pulp in the sieve and tip this into the marmalade pan. Put the remaining pips and pulp into a muslin square and tie up (or take the pop sock approach) and then dangle this down into your pan too. The pith and pips contain masses of pectin which will set the marmalade later.

Bring the pan up to the boil and then remove your bag, or sock, and give it a squeeze to release as much of the valuable pectin as possible.

Tip in the sugar and place the pot back on a low flame. Once the sugar has dissolved you can up the heat and bring the marmalade to a rolling boil. Watch it carefully you don’t want it bubble over. Give it a stir and skim the froth from the surface from time to time (or you will have cloudy marmalade)

Now you’re on the home straight. Your marmalade will take about 25 – 45 minutes at a fast boil to reach setting consistancy (there are so many variables- the heat, the width of your pan, the amount of pectin, so I can’t be precise). Test the setting consistancy after 25 minutes by spooning some hot marmalade straight onto one of your plates from the freezer, allow it to cool for a couple of minutes. Now push the marmalade with your fingertip, if it’s ready it will form a wrinkly skin as you do so. If not, continue to boil and check at 5 minute intervals.

Once the marmalade’s ready leave to cool for 15 minutes, skim off any last foam and ladle into the hot jars. Cover with waxed disks if using, and seal with lids or cellophane at once.

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

It’s win, win all the way. Imi and her friend Eleanor not only loved the marmalade making they also earned a few more points for their all-important Brownie hobby badge and we’ve got a cupboard filled with marmalade which I intend to make ice-cream with aswell as eat on toast.

It’s also always wise to buy a few extra Seville oranges as they make a pretty damn good addition to a Gin and Tonic……talking of which, it is almost 6 o’clock.

Calçots, Romesco and a great start to the New Year

Every year we try to get out to Barcelona to celebrate New Year and the arrival of the Kings on January 6th… it elongates the festive season beautifully and gives us a chance to catch up with my “Barcelona Babies” (I au-paired there a shocking 30 years ago) and their wonderful family. We always  head for the hills too, to spend a few days with our friends Mercè and Jaume at their fabulous old country home El Folló in the Montseny.

Jenny Chandler calcots

I met Mercè years ago when I was researching my first book, The Food of Northern Spain, and was recommended to stay at El Folló and sample some of her fabulous cooking. We had so much in common: a love of travel, of good, honest food without the fiddley-faff and we both really enjoyed teaching. Fifteen years later and we’re very much in touch; Mercè has contributed a recipe to each of my books, brought a group of her students to Bristol and comes over on an English food quest whenever she can, whilst I’ve taken part in the El Folló bread festival, taught in Mercè’s cookery school and still try to visit every year. Above all we’re great friends and both Peter and Imi love to visit just as much as I do.

We sometimes hunt for mushrooms in the mountainous woodland  behind the house but this year a cold snap meant that there were very few to be found, so we popped down to the Saturday market in a local town, La Garriga, instead. All the usual Spanish market suspects were there (sorry for the rather random photographs, I wasn’t really in tourist mode) – the knife grinder, the stalls of slippers, pyjamas and fancy housecoats, the compulsory selection of extraordinary reinforced corsets, the rotisserie chickens and then all the other fabulous food stuff of course.

There were piles of curly endive, the salad leaf of choice at this time of year AND, more importantly, there were calçots. These look like a cross between a spring onion and a leek, but are in fact twice- planted green onions. Calçots have soil pushed up around them as they grow, cutting out the light and encouraging the long, pale and sweet stems. There was no way that we could resist the first of the season.

We rushed back home, cleaned off the worst of the dirt, trimmed the ragged tops and then lined the calçots up in the grill racks ready to go on the fire. Over the winter there’s always a fire alight in the hearth where bread, peppers and aubergines are toasted and roasted. We even collected pine cones to lay by the embers to open up in the heat and release their waxy kernels. The calçots charred and cooked over the flames and then we wrapped them in newspaper to sweat and soften.

Meanwhile we made the romesco. You couldn’t possibly consider eating calçots without romesco sauce and since you’re unlikely to be finding many of these highly prized alliums outside Catalonia you’ll be pleased to hear that this sauce is equally fab’ with asparagus, tender stem broccoli, grilled spring onions, braised leeks, prawns, squid, lamb and so the list goes on.

So here goes for the deliciously nutty sauce. There are so many versions for this sauce but Mercè’s cuts out any frying and seemed wonderfully simple, quick and very, very moreish.

Romesco Sauce (about 10 servings)
5 dried Nyora peppers
1 small dried red chilli pepper
50g blanched almonds
50g hazelnuts, skins removed
3 ripe tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, left in skins
a handful of parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt

Set the oven to 200ºC

Rip open the dried peppers and soak in warm water for 15 minutes (if you are using nyora pepper flakes as Mercè does, or just dried sweet pimetón then you can jump this stage)

Meanwhile roast the nuts until golden and just beginning to smell wonderful, and also bake the whole tomatoes and garlic cloves for about 5 -10 minutes (you’ll probably want to take the garlic out before the tomatoes – don’t let it burn or it will taste bitter).

Drain off the peppers and remove any stalks and seeds.

Now take a food processor and make a paste of the garlic and the peppers ( or add about 1 tbsp of nyora flakes or 2 heaped tsps of pimetón). Next add the nuts, the tomatoes (skin and all) and  work to a thick paste. Whizz in the parsley at the last minute.

Work in the vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste.

The sauce is eaten at room temperature and it’s absolutely sublime. It will keep happily for a couple of days in a jar, covered with a layer of olive oil.

AND….

Should you find some calçots? Then, once they’ve softened in the newspaper it’s time for you to get your hands dirty. You simply slide the charred outer skin off the onion whist hanging on to the green top. Dip the sweet flesh into the sauce and then dangle the calçot into your mouth and munch. It’s definitely not a top menu choice for a first date…
If you really want to investigate this very Catalan, sweet onion tradition then the last weekend in January is a great time to visit Valls (near Tarragona) for the annual calçotada.

Stilton, Eccles Cakes and New Year’s Resolutions

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions and once again I’ve resolved to give nothing up at all. The short, dark, cold January days can be a bit depressing anyway without depriving myself of chocolate, alcohol or anything else I truly enjoy. No….. I’m resolving to swim more often, which is hardly a chore as the beautiful Clifton Lido is just a ten minute walk away. I’m going to attack my accounts once a week (now that’s a serious challenge). And, most importantly as far as Imi and this blog are concerned, I am going to continue with the Monday Night Cooking Club.

A few weeks ago I decided that I really needed to commit to cooking with Imi on a regular basis. It’s too easy to be in a hurry, to be feeling in need of a little “head time” (I have a daughter who’d sweep the board on “Just a Minute”)  or just not to be in the mood to clean up a bomb site .. so much so that we hardly ever seemed to cook together. Bring on the “Cooking Club” as Imi has christened our Monday evening antics in the kitchen. Each week Imi invites a friend back from school and we make something. There’s really no getting out of it now, even if I wanted to, she already has a register with the next dozen participants lined up.

Last term we made:
-spinach and ricotta ravioli with her friend Avalon (great fun rolling the pasta, stuffing and cutting, and a fabulous way to get the girls eating spinach),
-pumpkin and coconut cake with Bea (plenty of spoon licking),
-meatballs and apple tarts with Lettie (a very good supper)
-and then Eleanor joined us baking Christmas cakes and then icing them a couple of weeks later. I’m loving it as much as they are, yes I have those moments on a Monday at 3pm when I question my sanity but it’s so satisfying.

Today Imi and her little friend Lettie made Eccles cakes for us to take out to Barcelona for New Year’s Eve tomorrow. The combination of Eccles cakes and Stilton was new to me until recently…….Was it a moment of Fergus Henderson magic to marry the two ( as he does at his restaurant St John)? Or, is this a long-held tradition? Perhaps you can tell me? Anyway it’s delicious. So, I’m going to reek of blue cheese at the rather glam’ party we’re going to with all our Catalan friends tomorrow night because I have half a Colston Bassett Stilton secreted in my suitcase (along with a 1/2 a kilo of clotted cream). I’ve used about 10 metres of cling film trying to hermetically seal the thing but it does seem that the waft will out. My hand luggage will be largely made up of tins of Eccles cakes, chocolate ginger thins and shortbread. There is some method in my madness as all this food will disappear very quickly leaving copious room for any small purchases that I might just make in Barcelona (ooh the shoe shops!)

Eccles Cakes with Stilton- Makes 12

40g butter
225 g currants
25g chopped candied peel
75g muscovado / dark drown sugar
1/2 tsp orange/lemon zest or mix
1 tsp mixed spice (or mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger)
pinch of salt

500 g  All-Butter Puff Pastry
1 egg white, beaten
Golden granulated or Demerara sugar

For the Filling
Just melt the butter and then mix in all the other ingredients and leave to cool for a few minutes.

Assembly
Roll out the pastry to under 1/2 cm thick and cut out into squares – you should get about 12. Most recipes ask for circles but it’s more of a faff and you waste pastry. However, if you’re worried about ending up with just slightly square cakes ( and I’m not) then go for the circles.

Pile up a spoonful of filling in the middle of each square and then brush around the edge with some egg white.

Now pull in the edges to cover the filling and press everything together to seal. Turn over and roll gently to flatten and help into a circle-ish shape.

Make about 3 slashes in the top of each cake, brush with the egg whites and sprinkle with sugar. Chill on a baking tray for at least 20 minutes (or bake straight away if you’re an impatient child – slightly flatter pastry!).

Preheat the oven to 220 C and bake the cakes until really gold and and crispy.

Cool and store in a tin.

I’ll warm these a little tomorrow before serving with my amazingly creamy Stilton Cheese or with the clotted cream (that’s assuming that it hasn’t escaped all over the suitcase) .

A sprout is not just for Christmas

Jenny Chandler Sprouts

We bought our Christmas sprouts on the stalk yesterday, ensuring optimum freshness for our big feast tomorrow. The guinea pigs are already munching on some of the sweet leaves from the sprout top and we’ll have the rest for lunch.

I’ve adored sprouts for as long as I can remember, even as a toddler- along with Stilton cheese. I’d always felt quite proud about my developed palate; early signs of a true food lover, I thought. I recently discovered that a love of bitter, strong flavours as a child could betray the fact that I’m short on taste buds; “super-tasters” (those people with the highest concentrations of taste buds) apparently find most brassicas overpoweringly bitter. So, do I miss out on all sorts of delicate nuances as I eat every day? That may be, but at least it allows me to revel in the delicious possibilities of the Brussel sprout.

It seems tragic that most people only eat their sprouts once a year when there are so many tasty possibilities- so here are my …..

5 favourite ways with sprouts

Simply steamed until JUST cooked through and then tossed in a bit of butter before serving. If you’re using small sprouts there’s no need to cut those little crosses in the bottom; if using large sprouts I cut them in half. Any bacon you might have put over a roasting bird can be chopped or broken up and thrown in too

Roasted sprouts are a revelation. Turn your oven up really high  (200°c +). Toss whole sprouts in olive oil, salt and pepper and then roast for about 10 minutes (more if they’re large ones) or until the outer leaves are a bit charred and the centres are tender.

Stir fried sprouts with orange and chestnuts are heaven with a roast. Slice the sprouts as finely as possible. Take a wok or large frying pan and begin by frying a diced onion in olive oil until soft. Throw in a finely sliced clove of garlic and your sprouts and toss around over a high heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Now add about 1/2 tsp of orange zest and a handful of cooked chestnuts. Give everything a good stir before adding the juice of the orange and seasoning with plenty of salt and pepper.
A few lardons fried up with the onion at the beginning of the dish are fantastic here too.

Brussel sprout Bubble and Squeak is the  absolute best- using any left overs from the sprout dishes above or eve shredding some sprouts for the purpose. Make sure that having mixed them in with your potatoes you fry the mixture with plenty of oil and allow it to catch and caramelise on the bottom of your frying ban. The charred, crunchy bits are the key to a sublime dish, along with plenty of Worcestershire Sauce and a poached egg.

– My new favourite, sprout salad, discovered at a fabulous pop-up in Bristol only last week. If you happen to be a local then make sure that you head down to  Bar Buvette (great write up by Fiona Beckett) on Baldwin Street as this bar may only be around for a few weeks and you REALLY DON”T WANT TO MISS IT!
But back to my sprouts – Peter Taylor (formerly of The Riverstation and Bell’s Diner) was serving very simple cheeses, charcuterie, fab’ cheese toasties  and then this very simple (but incredibly delicious salad) when we went down to sample his wines last week. I don’t think I’d ever eaten raw sprouts before….strange when I love all sorts of variations on coleslaw.
(Peter pointed out that you could always ponce things up and go a bit Italian by calling it a Cavolini or Cavoletti salad).

 

Sprout, Pecorino and Hazelnut Salad 
(as starter or side dish for 4)

400 g sprouts, peeled and shredded
100 g pecorino or parmesan, grated
Juice of 1 lemon
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A good handful of hazelnuts
salt and black pepper

Toss everything together and season to taste. Great eaten on its own or very delicious with a crispy jacket potato and a bit of cold ham too.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS & I do hope you enjoy your sprouts.