Friday, May 29, 2009

summer dinner party

the sun is shining and we have friends coming over for dinner tonight so we are preparing, at a leisurely pace, a simple meal that we can enjoy out in the sunshine.

chris is presently rolling out fresh pasta for handmade ravioli; we have opted for two fillings to create a contrast; half are destined to be rich wild mushroom and half a lighter goats cheese and spinach and topped off with nigella's walnut pasta sauce which we are hoping will tie to the two flavours together. all a bit of an experiment it has to be said.

if the main course turns out to be an absolute disaster then at least i am fairly confident that the dessert will be delicious - a stack of handmade shortbread with vanilla creme fraiche and fresh local raspberries. the secret to this is a very thin layer of white chocolate on the bottom layers of shortbread to make sure the biscuits don't go soggy from the creme fraiche.

ice cold white wine i think is in order...

i'll give you our guests verdict tomorrow but for now these are our recipes to serve 4 for a light dinner, you can bulk it out with garlic bread and salad (we are having a tiny salad from the garden; the slugs spared very little...)-

basic pasta recipe
300g '00' flour, sifted
pinch of salt
1 tbsp olive oil
3 free range eggs
extra flour for dusting
extra beaten egg for sealing ravioli

combine the flour and salt and pile on a clean work surface, make a well in the centre
break the eggs into the well
gradually bring the flour in from the edges and combine with the eggs- patience is really key to this process (which is why chris is making ours instead of me)
add the olive oil and continue to mix til it forms a soft dough

on a lightly floured surface knead the dough until it is smooth and silky

wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 15 mins

if you have a pasta maker then roll throught the palin roller until the dough passes through the tinnest setting. alternatively roll using a rolling pin til the dough is almost transparent. the thinner the dough the more delicate the ravioli. make sure you keep your surface well floured so the dough doesn't stick and tear but don't allow the dough to become too dry either!

as soon as the desired thickness is achieved lay a strip of dough on a clear surface and blob your fillings on at various intervals- we tend to make a few quite big ones per person rather than lots of little ones so we do about a tbsp of filling in the middle of a 3" square - paint the egg mixture around the filling (to ensure a good seal) then lay a piece of pasta of a corresponding size over the top.

using a sharp knife slice between the ravioli and trim to neaten. gently squeeze any air out of the little parcel. repeat!

just before serving bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. cook the ravioli in batches for 2 minutes and serve immediately.

wild mushroom filling
1oog portabello mushrooms
50g shiitake mushrooms
20g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked
1 clove garlic, sliced
20g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
glug of white wine
125g ricotta
30g finely grated parmasen
lots of freshly ground pepper
a pinch of salt
50g portabello mushrooms and 25g shiitake mushrooms, finely diced

finely chop the first 170g of mushrooms
fry in the butter and oil
add the garlic
add the white wine and allow liquid to reduce
remove from the heat
when cool blitz til smooth in a food processor
blend with the cheeses, reserved mushrooms and seasoning

goats cheese and spinach filling
100g baby spinach, wilted and chopped
75g soft goats cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
a spinkling of freshly grated nutmeg

mix it all together!

nigella's walnut sauce
90g walnuts, shelled
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 slice granary bread, crusts removed
75ml whole fat milk
15g parmasen, grated
2 tbsp good olive oil
salt and pepper
handful of parsely, chopped

toast the walnuts til they give off a nutty aroma
soak the bread in the milk til soft
put 75g of the walnuts, the garlic, soaked bread and parmasen in a blender and blend til smooth and creamy
add oil and seasoning and blend again
place in a large bowl

cook the ravioli

reserve a cup of the cooking water and then drain

add the pasta to the sauce (add a little of the cooking water if it seems too thick)

serve sprinkled with remaining walnuts and parsely.

shortbread stack
115g plain flour
115g butter
60g caster sugar
30g white chocolate, melted
300ml creme fraiche
seeds from one vanilla pod
as many raspberries as you can lay your hands on, or strawberries, or blueberries, or....
icing sugar to dust

preheat the oven to 220c
combine the flour, butter and caster sugar and rub together until they have the texture of breadcrumbs
knead into a dough
on a floured surface roll to approx 1/2cm and cut into squares or shapes using biscuit cutters
arrange, spaced out generously on an ungreased baking tray and bake for 5-6 mins until golden at the edge
leave to cool on the tray

when cool paint the biscuits with a thin layer of the melted chocolate
allow to set

combine the creme fraiche and vanilla seeds

just before serving, stack up the dessert starting with a biscuit, then creme fraiche and rasberries, biscuit, creme fraiche, raspberries, biscuit and dust with icing sugar

Saturday, May 23, 2009

speedy chocolate truffles

it is very late and i'm going to see the family tomorrow who have given us their daughter's cot for iris. i have been intending to make chocolates for them for the last week as a thank you but have not got around to it. so, here's how to make cocoa bean truffles quickly!

prepare little pots of ingredients - i save these from indian takeaways. I used nuts, dried fruit, fresh herbs, rosewater, citrus zest, balsamic vinegar, sea salt, spices ... be creative!

make a ganache of 500g chocolate and a 500ml single or soya cream. you will also need about 250g dark chocolate to enrobe.

for more details on how to make the ganache, temper and enrobe the chocolates see my blog on Dec 3rd 2008.

spoon the plain chocolate ganache into each bowl and mix well. pop in the freezer, have a cup of tea and prepare your toppings and before you know it, they are ready to spoon out onto a plate of cocoa, roll and place on greaseproof paper. remember to label your flavours - a small pencil reminder on your greaseproof works well.

temper your chocoate, dip and top. If you have failed to buy a nice gift box, wrap a small box in nice paper, line with greaseproof paper, fill with truffles and tie with ribbon or string and a handwritten label.

these truffles will be best eaten in a week, especially if using lots of soft fruits and no alcohol - most people see this as an advantage!

biscuits from corfu

we have just got back from an idyllic week in corfu. feeling a bit sad and missing the sun, the sea, the feta cheese, sardines, olives, sausages, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes and chicken kebabs, elsie and i decided to cheer ourselves up by trying a recipe for biscuits that the woman from our favourite bakery had given us on our last day. so thanks to rosie near the town of gastouri. efharisto!

35g butter
30g caster sugar - i used sugar that has a vanilla pod stored in it or you could add a drop of vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten

85g sifted self raising flour

a few handfuls of dark chocolate chips or broken pieces

25g chopped brazil nuts

pinch of salt

preheat the oven at 180 c/ 350 f gas mark 4

grease a large baking tray

cream the butter and sugar in a bowl and then beat in the egg. fold the sifted flour into the mixture and beat well. use a teaspoon to spoon small heaps onto the tray, spaced well apart. bake for 10-15 minutes and enjoy hot while the chocolate is still melted or leave to cool and eat at the end of a long greek breakfast with a really strong coffee.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

lola's chocolate bunny

this is a great project for kids to do, with the mid term break coming up at the end of the month i fully recommend getting in the few things you need to do this as it is a rewarding little project with endless possibilities for variation. they make lovely handmade gifts too, especially if you gift wrap them (try keylink for off the shelf chocolate packaging, or improvise with greaseproof paper and ribbons for a truly artisanal look).
so meet lola, 3 (very nearly 4 as she is at pains to point out). she decided to make a bunny. at this age a little supervision is useful but older children would be fine on their own.
you will need melted chocolate to form the base of your shape, this will make up the majority of the finished shape so choose your favourite. i find it is rarely worth melting less than about 100g of chocolate at a go, too smaller quantity is at risk of burning during melting or is likely to set too quickly once you stop heating it.
these are the types of things you can have handy for decoration-
contrasting chocolate, either melted for sqiggling, or buttons or shavings...sprinkles...dried fruit...edible glitter...jelly tots...marshmallows...basically anything that sticks to melted chocolate and the intended receipient would appreciate...

1. draw out your basic shape on some greaseproof paper. i find that sticking the paper down to a plate or baking tray is useful to stop it curling while you're working. a couple of blobs of butter on each corner works well.

2. test the chocolate
3. spoon on the melted chocolate to fill the shape. smooth it out with the back of the spoon so it is nice and even and thick enough to press your decorations in to.

3. decorate

4. test the decorations

5. pop the whole lot in the fridge til it sets then peel off the paper and gift wrap if you'd like.

6. or eat.