Posts Tagged ‘biscotti’

So…food gifts…where do you stand on these?

Are you of the, “What a great idea! Such a personal gift made with love”, “Can’t wait to use those preserved lemons in my next tagine” or “Stingy f*****r!”

TV Chefs and food experts try to convince us that a food gift would be a great present to receive – but most individuals would conceive it to be a cheap gift.  Others sense it to be almost like a charity thing, “food gift at Xmas.”  I must agree with the sentiment heralded by chefs, however, must clarify what I mean and would accept by a food gift:

a personalised, bespoke, homemade, carefully packaged gift.

Perhaps not some BHS random jar of something!

Some people may see the idea of a food gift as thrifty and a cheap option – but it is not about the money spent – as buying the ingredients and glass jars/bottles can sometimes be quite costly – and expensive gifts can often be inappropriate or unwanted! For me it’s about sharing with the recipient my time, thoughtfulness and newfound expertise (and clearly none of my humility!)

…BUT…

I do feel that you must know those who you are giving these gifts to well.  As they are going to appreciate your gift and not see it as a cheats way out of Xmas shopping.

Some of my staple gifts are Chilli Jam (which gets pre-orders throughout the year!) and biscotti (often made with a limoncello combo).  This year florentines, peanut brittle and cookie mix in a jar were also part of the food gifts available.

And having given them out to my Christmas Party guests I can’t but hope that they’ve enjoyed every bite and those with children have appreciated the cookies in a jar – which are ridiculously easy to make following the on jar instructions:

Merry Christmas!!

Having established a benchmark of food and drink at my parties a few years ago, what could I pull out of the bag to feed my 20+ guests this party round?  After all I can no longer get away with several bags of doritos and assorted dips!

Do I provide my standard party medly of spiced nuts, cranberry glazed cocktail sausages and pesto palmiers?  Surely that’s a more wintry repertoire.  With the weather nearing the cusp of summer a lighter menu would be more appropriate.

So when thinking of summer food what do we recall to mind?  For me it’s things like chilled gazpacho, salads, fruit and veg and bbq meat!  How could I go about trying to incorporate these ideas into my repertoire of party food?

Summer Party Menu:

strawberry cocktail

taken from youtube.com

Strawberry Champagne Cocktail

In a blender blitz strawberries, lemon juice and icing sugar until you form a strawberry puree.  Pour this into the bottom of champagne glasses and top up with the fizzy wine of your choice.

After much deliberation the following is the menu I decided on:

Ajo Blanco (aka white gazpacho), Roast vegetable cous cous salad, Cauliflower cake and Beef carpaccio with parmesan shavings.  For dessert homemade limoncello and biscotti.

Ajo BlancoAjo blanco

I followed a Sam and Sam Clark Moro recipe (having even asked them which bread to use via Twitter!) but looking online there are several sites that have similar if identical recipes.

Literally combine almonds, garlic, stale bread, olive oil, sherry vinegar and iced water in a blender and blitz until it forms a smooth-like liquid with the consistency of cream.  Chill and serve with white grape cheeks.  This needs to be served ice cold – so either put into the freezer for a while before serving or pour over ice.

Top Tip: beware the volume of liquid you put into your processor as you don’t want it pouring out of the central post as mine did!!

Roast Vegetable Cous Cous SaladRoasted-Veg-Couscous

This couldn’t be easier; roast the veggies you wish – peppers, red onions and courgettes give the best flavour for this but I also used some leftover asparagus.  Aubergine is a great veg to use in this as it is a meaty vegetable providing texture as well as colour.

When you’re ready to assemble, pour boiling water or stock over the cous cous making sure to just cover in liquid.  Cover in cling film and leave until the cous cous has absorbed all the water.  Mix the veg through and add chopped herbs – parsely, corriander and mint work best.

Cauliflower CakeCauliflower Cake

A recipe from Foodat52 from my Foodie Weekend but a quick online search has given me the exact same recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi  (Follow the Yotam hyperlink to take you to the recipe) at the Guardian online.

I’ve followed this cauliflower cake recipe several times now.  The 10 eggs in the batter make the cake soufflé in the tin.  It is decadent, delicious, moreish and full of flavour.  Ideal as a light lunch.  You could almost replace the ubiquitous lunchtime quiche with this golden cauliflower delight.

decadent, delicious, moreish

The great thing about the cauliflower cake is that it is even better the following day!

Beef CarpaccioBeef Carpaccio

As all my other dishes were unintentionally vegetarian I decided to pull out all the stops with a prime fillet of beef for the carnivores amongst us.

Make sure that the fillet is at room temperature before attempting to cook it.

Roll the prime fillet in sea salt, crushed black pepper, finely chopped rosemary and thyme (no oil).  Once the griddle is smoking hot, sear the fillet for a minute all the way round.

Then take off the heat and leave to rest.  Once the meat has rested for anything from 5 – 10mins, slice it as thinly as you can AND with the back of the knife flatten each slice as much as possible without grinding the fillet into a mush on your board.

Top Tip: Know your audience!  As there are many people attending the party who would not like to eat their meat carpaccio-style, put the end of meat into the oven.  Leave to rest and then carve this in thin slices/strips.

Lay the slices of carpaccio onto a dish and shave parmesan over.  Sprinkle with some fresh thyme and drizzle with a simple dressing of olive oil, mustard and sherry vinegar.  If serving this as a main meal accompany the carpaccio with peppery rocket leaves.

Limoncello and Biscotti

click on the hyperlink to direct you to the recipes.

If there is one recipe from the ones mentioned above that you MUST try and recreate it has to be Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower Cake.  I’m off to scrounge in the fridge for leftovers!

Enjoy the summer everyone.

December arrived before I managed to hear it creeping up on me but once 1st Dec dawned upon us I couldn’t wait to literally Deck the Halls!

Christmas is my favourite time of the year – I love everything about it.  From preparation to execution I am a complete convert.  The minute I see a twinkling fairy light (a traditional warm light none of those modern blue LED monstrosities!) and holly wreathed front door I both exude and want to be filled with Christmas Spirit (or two).

But after all what is Christmas if not a festival of excess; of everything:       food, drink and cheer.

Before I get slated by those that believe that Christmas is all about faith, I’m not trying to ridicule that Christmas; the Christmas I’m talking about is clearly the Pagan Saturnalia version which is all about merry-making, excess and misrule.  My sort of festival!

Where to begin?  In the same way that December arrives it will rapidly move into January.  The best way to make the most of the food and drink that will be consumed this season is: 1) Plan and prepare ahead and 2) Not to worry about the effects of this indulgence on the waistline.

So I started my Christmas cooking off gently by getting some pots of Chilli Jam organised, Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti and Sesame Toffee Snaps.

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Chilli Jam

1st) Put 150g of red peppers and 150g of red chillies into a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped.

2nd) Pour 600ml of cider vinegar into a saucepan with 1Kg of jam sugar (high in pectin).  Heat gently until the sugar dissolves.

3rd: Pour the red flecks of chilli and pepper into the vinegar and bring to the boil.  Boil ferociously for 10mins and then allow the mixture to cool for approx 45mins before you decant into sterilised jars.

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Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti

I have already included this recipe from Joyofbaking.com before.  It is included in a previous blog titled

“I know what you did last summer…biscotti!”    

Please click on the link to be taken to the recipe.

 Sesame Seed Toffee Snaps

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The third of the Christmas goodies were the sesame seed toffee snaps.  Very easy to make but take caution as you will be working with boiling sugar.

1st) Put 455g of Caster Sugar into a saucepan with 8 tablespoons of water.  Bring to the boil.

2nd) Once the sugar boils and turns a nutty brown colour (take care not to burn it) add 200g of sesame seeds.  Mix well and pour onto a greased baking sheet.  Smooth it down to create  a thin continuous layer.

3rd) When cold and hard break the snap into pieces.  Enjoy on its own or use to mop up desserts.

Ok – so it’s not the onslaught of the Xmas Turkey with all the trimmings but these are three easy but impressive Christmas goodies to either devour yourself or give as gifts.  Why not give one a try and let me know how you got along.

If I don’t get a chance to wish it before – Merry Christmas.

Biscotti, more correctly known as biscotti di Prato, also known as cantuccini (little corners), are twice-baked biscuits originating in the Italian city of Prato. The biscuits are oblong-shaped almond biscuits that are baked twice to give them their dry texture and quintessential snap.

Due to their dry nature, they have an increased shelf life and were thus very useful for wars and long journeys.

Biscotti can be eaten as you would an ordinary biscuit but due to their dry quality the biscotti

come into their own as you resuscitate them back to life when dunked! Now where you dunk them is up to you – personally a sweet wine (vin santo) or an ice cold limoncello is best but if eating these for breakfast: coffee, not tea, is advisable.

Traditionally the mixture is composed exclusively of eggs, sugar, flour and almonds, however, modern variations of biscotti are easily found. Any variety of nuts are used as well as dried fruits and spices such as anise and cardamom. This mixture is then baked twice – first as a loaf and then each loaf is cut into oblong shapes along the diagonal which are then placed back into the oven to dry further. As a final flourish, some biscotti are also glazed with chocolate!

Having more time on my hands for baking than I would normally have and having a penchant for biscotti, I decided to spend my summer exploring various recipes.

So where to start? Using social media, I tweeted foodies asking if anyone had any sure fire recipes for biscotti.  Nonni’s Biscotti replied back with a link to several of Martha Stewart’s biscotti recipes. Online, I also found a Jamie Oliver recipe for an almond and orange biscotti, and a pistachio and cranberry biscotti at http://www.joyofbaking.com. In “Desserts” by James Martin was a recipe for biscotti and limoncello (also found online).

Click on the links below to be directed to the recipe pages.

Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti

Biscotti and Limoncello

Almond and Orange Biscotti 

Making biscotti is surprisingly easy and not much can go wrong (famous last words)!  With the three recipes above I changed ingredients and cooking times/temps.  The balance of sugar, flour and eggs were maintained but the actual flavours I adapted to suit the ingredients I had at home and or wanted.

With the joyofbaking’s pistachio and cranberry biscotti I didn’t have enough dried cranberries left so I added currants to make up the required weight.

With James Martin’s biscotti and limoncello, I don’t particularly like dates and I couldn’t get hold of dried strawberries so I added extra dried apricots and pistachios.

In Jamie Oliver’s recipe I didn’t have star anise so left this flavour out.

All three recipes have been tested with everyone picking different ones as their favourite.  Some prefer them drier and crunchier than others.  But what is for certain is that the test group want me to bake all of them again!

Considering the plethora of biscotti recipes out there I shall continue on my exploration.  My only rule is not to use butter or oil, as traditional biscotti recipes were not made with this.

Let me know if you’ve got any flavour combinations you’d like tested.

L’explorazione continua

Buon Appetito