Beet & labneh salad with Meyer lemon dressing

Beet and labneh salad with myer lemon dressing
If it were possible to inhale kale, Californians would be in to it. In just the few days we’ve been on holiday in Los Angeles I’ve seen this vegetable superhero served more ways than I thought possible – they put it in every blessed thing, from juices and shakes to salads, burgers, toasted snacks and fried egg sandwiches.

At the wonderful Wednesday farmer’s market in Santa Monica there’s also an abundance of the stuff, and varieties I’ve never seen before: curly, dinosaur, Russian and redbor just to name a few. The market’s been going since 1981, bringing urbanites and Californian producers together over gorgeous stalls of fresh fruit and vegetables. The produce is so good that lots of LA chefs come here to buy goodies for their restaurants. I love it because it’s affordable and unpretentious, and even by US standards, the choice is amazing.

imageMy lot weren’t remotely interested in kale, preferring the heavenly-scented citrus stalls selling everything from pommellos to football-sized satsumas and manned by cheery producers passing out samples that went down well in the warm April sunshine.

It’s impossible not to want to cook with such amazing produce. I wasn’t going to win a popularity contest with kale, so I opted for a vibrant beetroot salad served with the leafy beetroot tops and some labneh, and dressed with a vinaigrette made with Myer lemons. I’ve never been able to find these lemons in the UK – they’re sweeter and much more favourful than standard lemons – and really do taste full of Californian sunshine.

Beet and labneh salad

Beetroot & labneh salad with Myer lemon dressing

About 3 each small red and golden beetroots, tops trimmed and reserved
A few tablespoons labneh (goat’s cheese, feta or buratta would also work well)
6 tablespoons mild olive oil
3 tablespoons Myer lemon juice (sherry vinegar is also good)
A squeeze of floral honey
1/2 garlic clove, crushed
Salt and pepper

First put the beets on to cook. I boiled them (in salted water until tender, about 1 hour) simply because I didn’t have any foil to roast them. For the fullest flavour, drizzle them with oil, wrap them in foil and roast in a hot oven for about 1 hour, or until completely tender. Either way, cook them with the skins on and when they’re done and cool enough to handle, peel away the skins. They should slip off easily under cold running water. Chop into bite-size pieces and set aside.

While the beets are cooking, pick over the leafy green tops, discarding the tough stems. Wash in cold water, drain in a colander, then place in a pan with the lid on. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes or so, shaking the pan now and then, until the leaves are tender. They will cook in just the water clinging to the leaves, so don’t add more.

Whisk together the olive oil, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, the garlic, honey and salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon juice, honey or salt and pepper to taste.

In a shallow serving dish gently combine the beets and beet tops with some of the dressing. Dot with spoonfuls of labneh and then drizzle over a little more dressing. Serve with some fresh sourdough or good quality bead. And a kale smoothie if you have one to hand.






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Rhubarb self-saucing pudding

This recipe for a scrumptious gooey rhubarb pudding appeared in the Cook section of the Guardian today with misprints. GRRR! Somehow the milk was left out of the method and the wrong cooking time was used.  Here is the recipe, as it should be made.

Rhubarb self-saucing pudding

Fresh forced Yorkshire rhubarb
Gorgeous forced Yorkshire rhubarb

The magic batter will turn into a lovely layer of sponge on top of a creamy, curd-like sauce with chunks of tangy rhubarb.

Serves 6

  • 75g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 800g trimmed rhubarb, cut into 2.5cm pieces
  • juice and finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 220g caster sugar
  • 3 medium eggs, separated
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 200ml milk (ideally full fat)

Set the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Lightly grease a 2-litre ovenproof dish.

Place the rhubarb in a heavy pan with the orange juice and 3 tablespoons of the sugar. Stir and simmer gently for 5–10 minutes until the fruit is partly cooked but still holds some shape, and has released lots of juice. Place a sieve or colander over a large jug. Pour in the rhubarb and juices and set aside to cool.

Beat together the butter, the remaining sugar and the orange zest. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each. Gradually mix in the flour, 150ml of the reserved rhubarb juices and the milk, alternating each one and mixing well after each addition. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and fold into the batter.

Spread the rhubarb into the base of the prepared dish and spoon the batter on top. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is firm and golden. Leave to settle for 10 minutes, then serve immediately with cold cream or ice cream.



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Speedy chocolate and sherry cake

choc cake 2I was given a fabulous book recently called the Bluffer’s Guide to Chocolate. It’s a terrific read about the evolution of the cocoa bean, full of humour and delicious information. Being a theobromine addict, there really was no option but to cook with chocolate almost immediately.

This recipe is actually a tweaked version of one I’ve written about before that’s brilliant to have in your recipe arsenal. From mixing bowl to plate it takes no more than 30 minutes to make, so it’s perfect for occasions when you need to rustle up a pudding in a hurry. And because it contains booze, it tastes a bit fancier than it actually is. That’s a win-win situation in my book.

The booze in question is the luscious Pedro Ximénez sherry, an extraordinary wine made from Pedro Ximénez grapes, which are dried in the Spanish sun. The result is a thick and treacly sherry that tastes intensely of raisins and molasses. Although it’s pricey, it’s well-worth adding to your booze cabinet as it’s delicious as a ‘sticky’ to enjoy with pudding, or poured over vanilla ice cream as pudding itself. And to my mind, it works brilliantly with chocolate.

If you don’t have any to hand, I can’t see why any sweet sherry, muscat or fortified wine wouldn’t work here (although I haven’t road-tested it with any other booze). I used 2 tablespoons in the batter and then ate the cake warm; it tasted quite strongly of booze (in a nice way), rich and almost Christmassy. I was going to reduce the quantity of sherry for the final recipe but I realised that once the cake was cold, the alcohol flavour mellowed quite markedly. Be your own judge as to whether you add 1 or 2 tablespoons to your cake. Apart from making that call, the recipe is ludicrously easy.

Speedy chocolate and sherry cake

Speedy chocolate and sherry cake

  •  150g quality dark chocolate (60%–70% cocoa solids), broken into small piece
  • 80g ground almonds
  • 185g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  •  a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 60g self-raising flour
  • 1-2 tablespoons Pedro Ximénez

Lightly oil and line a 20cm cake tin. Set the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Place all the ingredients in a food processor with a couple of tablespoons of water and blitz until everything is completely combined. The batter should drop off the end of a wooden spoon quite easily, so if it’s too thick add a splash more water. That’s it! Scrape into the prepared tin and bake for about 25 minutes, or until firm on top and coming away from the edges of the tin slightly.

Enjoy warm or cold, with cold cream or ice cream. Sprinkle with sifted icing sugar before serving, if you like.


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How to make buttermilk

White chocolate and raspberry tart with buttermilk pastry

Shirley Conran famously said that life was too short to stuff a mushroom. I’ve never agreed with her. Stuff a mushroom, make a Christmas pudding, brew your own beer. If it satisfies a creative itch, go for it I say. That’s why I end up making things like buttermilk.

Recipes containing buttermilk often suggest making a simple substitute by splashing lemon juice or vinegar into milk, then leaving it to sit and curdle. This method works perfectly well, but until recently I didn’t appreciate the extent to which it really is just a stand-in. Real buttermilk – and I’m not talking about the stuff from the supermarket – is so much better and very easy to make.

Why use buttermilk? Because it’s fermented, buttermilk is a wonderful ingredient to use in baking. The lactic acid it contains makes tender cakes and pastry because it softens the gluten in flour (check out this beautiful buttermilk frangipane cake). It makes lighter biscuits and fluffier pancakes because the acid boosts the action of raising agents, and produces deliciously thick dressings due to its curdling properties. It’s also hugely popular to make tender fried chicken. In its most basic form, buttermilk is the liquid left over after churning cream from butter.

Back in the day, milk would sit in the dairy to allow time for the milk and cream to separate. In the process, naturally occurring lactic acid-producing bacteria  had time to ferment the milk. These days, health and safety has something to say about letting milk sit around to turn sour, so most commercially produced buttermilk is inoculated with cultures that mimic the traditional process. It works well, but lacks the rich, intense flavour of traditionally made buttermilk. If you like a food project, this one is very satisfying and brilliant to involve the kids in as some wonderful transformations take place. The best part is that in the process you get buttermilk and wonderful butter.

For the buttermilk

You will need 250ml of the best double cream you can find and 50ml active natural yoghurt.

PicMonkey Collage

Place the cream and yoghurt in a jar, stir well, cover with a clean cloth and set aside on your kitchen bench until it thickens and sours. This can take up to 48 hours but mine took about 30 hours. When done, the cream should be very thick and creamy and taste sour – a bit like thick crème fraiche.

buttermilk Collage 2jpg Transfer to a mixing bowl and beat on medium speed (I tried  the paddle attachment and the whisk and both work well). The cream will turn thick, then lumpy and eventually separate into solids and liquids: butter and buttermilk. Line a sieve with a piece of muslin or nut bag, set it over a bowl and tip in the butter and buttermilk. Gather the muslin together and squeeze out any extra buttermilk, then return the butter to the bowl. Cover it with cold water then massage and knead the butter, dunking it into the water to remove as much buttermilk as possible. Change the water and repeat.  (This technique is adapted from Darina Allen’s method.) buttermilk collage 4 You should end up with 200g of butter (just pat it into shape with your hands or use butter paddles if you happen to have some lying around) and 150ml buttermilk. Ta da! Wrap the butter in greasproof paper and store in the fridge. I don’t add salt, but there’s nothing is to stop you spreading it thickly on lovely bread and sprinkling it the Fleur de Sel or the like. home made butter and buttermilk If you want your domestic angel halo to shine especially brightly, try this recipe for a divine white chocolate and raspberry tart that uses both the buttermilk and the butter in the pastry. Is life too short to make buttermilk? Let me know what you think.

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