Posts Tagged ‘limoncello’

After spending the past two weeks catering for a large family, parties and feasting on rich food – suddenly the thought of having to return to a food-routine and creating simple suppers for one is quite daunting.

Since mid December, my diet has generally been three courses (both at lunch and dinner) decadent and full of festive indulgence, or should I say indigestion!  And even now as I sit here contemplating how much I’ve eaten I am still trying to organise another festive offering of food and wine – literally squeezing the Christmas out of the final days of the holidays.

My festive kitchen has had me busy creating the now traditional foodie gifts my friends and family so look forward to, such as chilli jam, cookies in a jar, biscotti and limoncello.  This year saw a few new ideas in the form of gingerbread men mix in a jar, fig and olive chutney, chocolate puddini bon bons and sweet potato and pine nut delights (piezecitas) which I made with friends at what has now become our traditional Christmas cookathon.

An absolute joy to prepare and eat was the smoked salmon terrine that we ate as our Christmas Eve starter and finished off on Christmas Day!  My only comment about this is that it is imperative that your knife is razor sharp as otherwise you won’t be able to make clean slices through the terrine.  A beautiful beef carpaccio, my crème brûlée, plum crumble and deconstructed seafood cocktail were also stars at our Christmas table.

So once the tree comes down and the Wise Men return East I wonder what January will hold for me in my kitchen?

Happy New Year!

Over the past few days it has been impossible to go to sleep comfortably due to the searing heat and high temperatures. Sitting, sweltering in humid, airless evenings has been unbearable. The thought of having to turn an oven on and subsequently heat up the house is quite frankly the last thing I’d want to do.  Alas, even the ubiquitous summer staple; the BBQ, is making me want to jettison off to cooler parts. But one must eat and one must eat well.

So inspired by the shimmering evening heat and the colour of summer, I offer you a simple yet stunning 2 course supper that bring all the colours and smells of the souk to your doorstep: cinnamon and lemon chicken pilaf followed by a refreshing lemon syllabub.

IMG_3513Cinnamon and lemon chicken pilaf

Pilaf, from Persian origins, is basically a rice dish with any vegetables, meat or shellfish added. When cooking anything Middle-Eastern, I cannot avoid adding toasted nuts to the dish, nor do I want to, as this adds to the resiny earthiness of the dish as well as a touch of exoticism.  Feel free to add dry fruits or even rose petals as this can only enhance its intended decadence.

The beautiful aromas and earthy colours make everything golden; as if a Sultan were to be joining you for dinner.

1st: Marinade chicken pieces (I used breast but have used boneless thighs before) in Greek yogurt, the juice of a lemon and a teaspoon of cinnamon (or alternative aromatics e.g. cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, mixed spice) for one hour or longer.

2nd: Prepare your chicken stock (add a glug of rosewater) with saffron strands to relinquish their warm ochre dye.

3rd: After an hour, drain the excess marinade off the chicken pieces and fry in batches to colour them.  Once all the chicken is fried set aside and tend to the rice.

4th: I cook rice using the 2:1 method. 2 parts warm stock: 1 part basmati rice. Toss a couple of cardamon pods into the stock to release their spicy aromas as well as a good squeeze of lemon juice.

5th: In a dry pan, fry pistachios, flaked almonds and pine nuts until golden.

6th: Once the rice is cooked, mix everything together with freshly chopped parsley.  I usually do this in the large frying pan I used to fry the chicken in so that all the charred-black marinade bits around the pan make their way into the final dish.

Lemon syllabub

20130824-011437.jpgA Tudor creation, the syllabub is a cloud-light yet aromatic dessert that is more a visual delight than a full blown pudding.

Very easy to make (no cooking; merely pouring and whisking)

And can be made with several flavour combinations. Basically think of it as scented cream that occupies a notional territory between solid and liquid:

1st: Whisk a 254ml tub of cream with 4 tablespoons of icing sugar until it forms soft peaks.

2nd: Add a splosh (more if you want!) of limoncello liqueur and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Fold this in gently, try not to make the cream any thicker.

3rd: Add a couple of tablespoons of lemon curd and ripple this in with the handle of a spoon.

4th: In a dry pan, fry flaked almonds with icing sugar until golden.

5th: Serve in chilled glasses, sprinkled with the flaked almonds.  Provide biscotti or alternative biccies to scoop the cool cream into your mouth!

Not even, Sheharezade, would be able to pull Aladdin away from the table with this feast!

Enjoy.

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.

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

“Good company, good food and good wine!”

That was the welcome and introduction that we received at El Capote’s 5th wine and food matching held Thursday 7th June.

The theme for this evening’s dining experience was Italian.  As pretty much everyone had already been to at least one of the previous four evenings, they knew the ritual that we were about to partake in.  And a most enjoyable ritual it was!  From the familiar board advertising the wines and food we were to enjoy to the charismatic interaction from Ian Gareze (and ourselves) about the sumptuous offerings we were about to be treated to.

To get our Mediterranean pallets going we were welcomed to an aperitif of sweet mosto (Manilva).  We all know this was not Italian but it most certainly got everyone in the mood for a great night of delicious food and wine, and we were proved right, once again.

1) Prosecco Teresa Rizzi with Gambones Frito and a Pesto Dip

The Prosecco, light, floral and fruity was very well suited to the gambones.  Admittedly I could drink sparkling wine as if it were water!  However, they were very well matched.  The Prosecco’s citrus notes cutting through the fried gambones almost cleansing the pallet with each sip (glug!).

The homemade pesto was delicate but heady with basil; bringing out the Prosecco’s floral notes.  I would have perhaps added more olive oil to slacken this and it would have gone a lot further, leaving it on the table to accompany several of the other dishes.

The gambones (King Prawns) were beautifully cooked.  Crispy on the outside but ever so delicate in the centre.  Every mouthful a feast!  The only downside of this was that there were only two gambones per person.  My voracious appetite desperately wanted more but the next course was nothing to be sneered at.

“Every mouthful a feast!”

2) Santi Pinot Grigio de Venezie with Calamares a la Plancha served with a tomato and olive salad

Simple; the natural culinary beauty and taste of this dish’s only ingredient was sublime.  Fresh, succulent and beautiful; to top it off caught be a local fisherman!

What an exultation of a dish – calamares a la plancha (grilled squid).  From cooking to tasting this dish was delicious.  The smell of grilled squid permeating every corner of El Capote; arousing the senses as we chatted and even attracting passers-by to venture inside to marvel at the delicious spectacle.

When it finally arrived to the table, with everyone in the room salivating like Pavlovian dogs, it was heralded by a metaphorical sounding of trumpets.

The calamares were so good the wine had no choice but to know that it was not the star of the show – hence keeping a very low profile throughout this pairing.  After discussing this dish with the other diners at my table – the tomato and olive salad, although fresh and light, also went severely unnoticed.  When considering the time spent on food preparation as part of the whole evening’s menu, the calamares a la plancha needed nothing else to make this a triumphant dish, therefore tumbling some lemon wedges around the dish would have been the way to say,

“Calamares a la plancha – enjoy!”

3) Melini Sangiovese, Toscana 2006 served with Sarde a Beccafacio & Caponata

A good unobtrusive red wine to be complimented with fish.  There is much wine snobbery that fish should only be matched with white wine.  Whilst the command is ridiculous, the sentiment is not.  Reds tend to be slightly more full bodied and overpowering than white hence its partnership with fish needs to be carefully monitored.

The food served to complement this red was rolled sardine fillets with a pine nut stuffing.  Never having heard of this before I discussed its origin with Ian (who having done his homework) explained that it was a Sicilian dish and were meant to represent birds.  Were they served with mouths pointing upwards and gaping at the diner?  No.  My research explained that warblers (beccafacio) were hunted in ancient time from Sicilian nobles and cooked with their own entrails. Common people began to copy this luxury dish adapting it with sardines and swapped the entrails with the filling that is currently used.

I thoroughly enjoyed this but would have preferred this served with the pesto as it would have matched the sardines’ pine nut filling, with its lemon backnotes cutting through the richness of the sardines.

Many of the other diners were raving about the Caponata.  I have to say, whenever I make Caponata, I take the easy way out and plonk all the veg into a saucepan and let it reduce gently until I’m happy that it’s the consistency that I like.  Ian, I could tell, followed the stages properly.  The aubergine was fried before being added to the onion and tomato mixture.  There were also acidic tones to this so I imagine that vinegar must have been used to help this dish develop the depth of flavour that is required of its simplicity.  However, what we were all in agreement with was that the Caponata was a dish in itself.  It just needed some bread sticks or Italian crostinis.

“This was a double-dish.”

4) Prunotto Dolcetto D’Alba, Piemonte (2005) served with Polpete al Forno

What wasn’t to like in this pairing?!  Meatballs in tomato sauce with penne pasta and finished in the oven with a soft, fruity red to go with.

Sadly we were all so full by this stage many of us could not eat another bite.  Everyone would have been happy to have finished on the previous course and go straight to the last pairing.  The noise levels in the room dropped a bit whilst everyone considered how full they were and realistically how much more they were going to be able to eat.

Nonetheless people did manage to eat and drink their way through this course.  Myself included!

I dare say that as a result of us taking a bit too long on the previous courses this overcooked in the oven.  I say this as I found the meatballs on the dry side of cooked.  Oh and some grated parmesan at the table would have earned some brownie points, but considering the veritable banquet we had just gorged ourselves with this was an error we were all more that willing to forgive.

5) Antinori Peppoli, Chianti Classico (2007) served with Roasted Rack of Cerdo Iberico and Patatas a lo Pobre

As I watched Ian bring this joint of meat out and carve it infront of us I was once again taken over by greed.  I immediately forgot how full-up I was.  I also pushed to the back of my mind how Spanish this part of the menu sounded!

The pork was succulent and flavoursome.  Rubbed and sealed with herbs and seasoned well.

I could imagine this dish served as a main course at a wedding.

The Chianti; rich, fruity with vanilla on the nose was a beautiful wine to drink in support of this dish.

6) Limoncello and Biscotti

My first comment to Ian as this came to the table was that these were not biscotti!  In fact they were clearly amaretti biscuits as the smell of amaretto filled the air and was present in every bite of these delicious biscuits.

Traditionally, biscotti are oblong shaped almond studded biscuits and dry from being baked twice in the oven.  Limoncello is served with the biscotti as they absorb the alcohol without it changing the flavour of the biscotti.

Indeed it was a shame that they were amaretti biscuits as I do have a fondness for biscotti, and ending the evening dunking my biscotti into a glass of chilled limoncello would truly have been Italian bliss.

Not that I didn’t drop several of these into my glass and sip the limoncello whilst having them bobbing around my upper lip!  Delicious!!

“Less really is more.”

As always, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening at El Capote.  Ian once again outdid himself with the food he cooked for us and the whole evening was great fun but I have to be honest; there was too much food.  I can’t believe I’ve just said that.  The polpete al forno was one dish too many.  In reality the Sarde a Beccafacio should have been served independently from the Caponata as these were two dishes which were tasty, delicious and could have stood proudly by themselves.

Not very often but sometimes, less really is more.

Well done to Ian Gareze and everyone at the Capote who made the evening possible.  I honestly can’t wait for the next one.