28 February 2011

Ina Garten's Easy Cheese Danishes

I absolutely adore Ina Garten and watch her program Barefoot Contessa whenever it's on. She's so calm and soothing and homey - you'd never know that her brain bulges and she used to work for the White House. I only have one of her books - I find you spend a lot of time converting temperatures etc as these are definitely for a US audience but she has great suggestions for events, brunches, snack lunches, romantic dinners etc so I used one of her recipes for the brunch I cooked recently.

Her quick cheese danishes are easy if a little fiddly and, although I was originally drawn to these because they involve cheese, they are in fact sweet. They went down incredibly well and there were enough left over for tea. What was actually ideal about these was that I had made them the night before which meant they just needed heating up for five minutes in a hot oven and I could do this for people as they arrived so our stomachs weren't rumbling too much by the time everyone had appeared. These also inspired me to make my own savoury cheese pastry recipe which is going to be the first think I attempt once I'm off this bloody diet!

Ina Garten's recipe is below (taken from her book At Home and amended slightly by me). I've converted them to grams but put the (original) ounces and cups in brackets after.

Easy Cheese Danish

Makes 8 Danish (I actually found this made about 12)

225g (8oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
40g (1/3 cup) sugar
2 extra-large egg yolks at room temperature (I used 3 medium egg yolks)
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
2 sheets pre-rolled puff pastry
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Line a big baking sheet with baking paper. I had to use two which was a bit of a pain but I'm not sure a big one would have fitted in my fridge - these do need chilling so make sure yours will fit. Now I actually used 300g cream cheese and would use 1 lemon zest max but as I've said I hate lemon. I also think that in the US the puff pastry sheets are square so I would get three packs maybe and trim our rectangles to be more square.

1. Place the cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and cream together on low speed until smooth. Ina uses a KitchenAid mixer which I don't have so I used my lowly hand mixer on it's lowest setting which seemed to work fine.
Cream cheese and sugar

2. With the mixer still on low, add the eggs yolks, ricotta, vanilla, salt and lemon zest and mix until just combined. Don't whip!
Egg yolks, lemon zest and ricotta

3. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry onto a lightly floured board and roll it with a floured pin until it's a 10x10 inch square. Cut the sheet into quarters with a sharp knife. I then found it easiest to put the squares onto the baking sheet before putting the filling in.

4. Place a heaping tablespoon of cheese filling into the middle of each of the four squares. Brush the boarder of each pastry with egg wash and fold the two opposite corners to the center, brushing and overlapping the corners of each pastry so they firmly stick together. Brush the top of the pastries with egg wash. Refrigerate the filled Danish for 15 minutes.
Ready for the fridge

5. Bake the pastries for about 20 minutes (my oven blows hot so I found 15 was fine), rotating the pan once during backing, until puffed and brown. Serve warm.
Ina Garten Easy Cheese Danishes
Finished Danish - in no way as beautiful as Ina's

You can make these the night before and keep in an airtight tin, then reheat them in a 180c oven for five mins before serving.

26 February 2011


In my continuing quest for food perfection I invited my sister and her husband over for brunch before the football last Sunday. Not content with the usual fry up I think the boys would secretly crave and well away of the size of the stomachs that would need filling before 2 hours spent sitting in the cold shouting I got into a bit of a panic. My sister had requested scrambled eggs and smoked salmon (which I had offered before you think she's a bit of a princess!) but what goes with that?? After an hour with my cookery books I came up with what I think was a pretty great brunch menu that fed five (including three big boys) happily.

Serves 5

Fruit juice, tea and coffee
Scrambled eggs and Smoked Trout
Big Tom Bloody Marys

I'm going to post all the recipes for this brunch separately so this isn't the longest post in the whole world. I was initially drawn to the cheese danish recipe because it involves cheese but these are in fact sweet which sounds weird but they went down really well and were not only fantastic to warm up as and when people arrived (I didn't want to start scrambling until every one here) but there were some left over for post-defeat tea. 

I made the danishes the night before, they would just need heating up for five minutes in a hot oven, and put the bacon in just before people were due to start arriving. I cook bacon in the oven as it smells less and once it's cooked you can keep it warm and its a bit of a pain to have to keep darting backwards and forwards to the kitchen when you want to be eating your eggs. Bacon probably seems like a weird choice but Joe is obsessed with Oscar Meyer bacon (which he has now got me hooked on too) and I just couldn't imagine a brunch with out it. It was fantastically crispy so we all ate it with our fingers. 

The fruit salad I'd made that morning - well I directed as Joe made, I'm really not that keen on cutting up fruit. In fact, I'm not that keen on fruit at all so the thought of just having a fruit bowl on the table while we were eating was just not ok so I thought a fruit salad would be the way forward. In the end even I had a bit.

I know many people turn their noses up at Big Tom but I honestly find normal tomato juice too thin and it seems impossible to find Clamato juice anywhere which is my absolute favourite. If you can find it, try it and tell me where you got it!

25 February 2011

Smoked Mackerel Salad with Crunchy Crutons

Now really there are very few recipes in diet books that you'd actually cook when not on the diet, lets face it they never taste as good as the thing they are impersonating,  but I was really surprised by the Smoked Mackerel salad in Anna Richardson's Body Blitz: Five Rules for a Brand New You. And the work wife was so impressed she's even made it for herself and she laughs in the face of diets (mostly, I think, because she is built like a racing snake). You have to trust me though because this salad sounds like it will be incredibly boring but it's not and even the weird 'crunchy cruton's' (i.e. ryvita) work. An added bonus is that I loved it so much I wanted to blog about it and that meant I know know how to spell the word 'mackerel'... see!

Serves 1

1/2 yellow pepper, deseeded
1 medium carrot, peeled
2 ripe tomatoes, quartered
a few slices of cucumber
1 celery stick, trimmed and thinly sliced
3-4 romaine lettuce leaves, roughly torn
1 smoked split mackerel fillet (roughly 50g), skinned
1 thin rye crisp bread
1tsp hot horseradish sauce
1tsp salad cream

1. Cut the pepper and carrot into thin strips and put into a bowl with the tomatoes, cucumber, celery and lettuce leaves. Toss lightly together.
Salad pre-mackerel

2. Flake the mackerel into chunky pieces and drop on top. Break the crispbread into small pieces and scatter over.

Smoked Mackerel Salad with crunchy crutons
Salad post-mackerel
3. Mix the horseradish with the salad cream and 2tsp cold water in a small bowl. Spoon over the salad and eat!

23 February 2011

Evil Lemon

I watch a lot of cookery programmes, Jamie Oliver, Barefoot Contessa the new Marco Pierre White one that's hilarious, anything with Nigella in it but recently I've found them a bit uninspiring because everything they cook involves lemon and I hate lemon. Really can't stand it. I mean I don't like lime either but it's nowhere near as bad as lemon. Now that's used in every single recipe on tele I feel like I can't cook anything properly because I'm not going to use it.

Don't get me wrong I use a bit of lemon juice in things and completely understand how it can be useful but if I can actually taste the lemon I just don't want to eat it and well... it seems a bit pointless to cook things I don't want to eat (unless it's cake of course). Ughh I especially can't stand it when you order a soft drink and it's lurking there having deposited it's gross little pips in the bottom of my glass and worst of all when it's just squeezed all over smoked salmon.

Discuss. Or not...

18 February 2011


Ok so this is going to look like I only make lemon drizzle cake but a) this one was MUCH harder than the usual ones and b) it seems to be the one that gets requested the most. I'll have you know I am incredibly versatile with my cake making. Anyway it was a guy at works 40th birthday so not only was I told to make a cake but I was told to make it shaped in numbers. Panic, crisis etc but it actually worked out fine. Note to self if you are going to dust lemon drizzle with icing sugar do it at the last minute so it doesn't just get absorbed.

So I usually make it in a loaf cake, apply the drizzle while its cooling and leave it sitting in its tin until the last minute but because I needed to make a 40 I had to use 2 springform cake tins which meant there would be leaks. In hindsight putting each cake in its tin on a plate before drizzling so they could sit in the liquid a bit would have been a good idea. As it was my entire house is now covered in lemon drizzle - I had to double drizzle to make up for the bits the seeped off - and it went everywhere. Thank god we've got a dog. So as late as possible we drew a 4 on some baking paper, stick it on the drizzle and cut around it with a really sharp knife. You need to be firm with this - half hearted cutting isn't going to look good. If you were doing a chocolate cake or something then you could cover the whole cake with icing and then people would think you'd bought it which would be pretty smug-making.

Anyway I've shown my lemon drizzle recipe before (here - I doubled the amount this time) so I just wanted to show off the finished product.

I'd like to mention it looked much better before the icing sugar had been absorbed... and when the candles were lit but they made my face feel like it was melting so I didn't want to risk my camera.

17 February 2011

Baked Mediterranean Pasta

I don't know why but I was inclined not to like Rachel Allen but I LOVE her book Bake. I didn't realise how rare it was to find a book where you want to cook absolutely everything in it but I honestly dribble when reading these recipes. Anyway, I'd wanted to cook the Mediterranean pasta for ages and finally we cooked it at my mother's house last weekend and it was just as yummy as it sounded and made me realise what a versatile dish this is to have in your arsenal as you can basically use whatever you want within reason.

The only thing with this recipe is cut everything up before hand. I got everything in front of me and then got so excited about the outcome I had to do frantic chopping as things came up which wasn't ideal. It didn't seem to affect it... it was still yummy. The recipe is below - with a few tiny amendments in brackets.

Serves 6

100g chorizo, finely sliced or cubed
1-2tbsp olive oil
500g penne pasta
2 x 400g tinned tomatoes, chopped
175ml boiling water (we added an extra cup)
175ml double cream (we added an extra 15ml)
50g chopped spring onion
2tbsp chopped basil
50g capers
100g olives, pitted and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tsp caster sugar
75g soft goats cheese, crumbled
150g Gruyere cheese, grated
75g Cheddar cheese, grated

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. The recipe says you need a 30 x 23 cm ovenproof dish but I don't know how big any of my dishes are so I'd say use a big lasagna dish. And I know I said it before but I'll say it again chop everything before you start! Just do it... or don't and wish you had.

Too busy taking photos to actually chop anything
 1. In a frying pan over a high heat cook the chorizo with the olive oil for 2 minutes and drain on some kitchen paper.

Chorizo in a frying pan
2. In a large bowl mix together the dried pasta with the tomatoes, the boiling water and cream. Add the chorizo, spring onion, basil, capers, olives and garlic.
Taste now!!!

4. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Taste it. I know it sounds weird but taste it as now is the time to check the seasoning.

5. Place all the mixture in the ovenproof dish and scatter the cheeses on the top making sure the pasta is completely covered. Bake in the oven for 40-50 minutes or until the pasta is cooked and the sauce golden and bubbling.
Cheese is my favourite bit

6. Cover with foil after 30 mins if this begins to dry out. Serve with salad.

I'm pretty sure this would be AMAZING cold the day after... like mac and cheese. But there wasn't any left.

3 February 2011

Mary Berry's Piquant Chicken with Basil

I am just in love with this recipe... and in fact I'm in love with the whole of Mary Berry's book Cook Now, Eat Later. It is just perfect for WOW dinner parties that mean you don't spend the whole evening slaving in the kitchen. It is just yummy and wonderful and doable and just great in every way. My mum will cook something from it and then I will slavishly copy out the recipe (I don't own the book... I'm waiting until I deserve a treat/am not teetering on the brink of bankruptcy). This is the first one I used and it's my favourite and I think Joe must be getting pretty sick of it because if there is an excuse to cook it I will. Cook it NOW - it's much more amazing than it sounds in the recipe.

I serve it with lots of buttery, garlicky fettucinie but would be nearly as good with rice (rice can never beat pasta... can it?)

Serves 6

2 tbsp sunflower oil
a good knob of butter
6 chicken thigh fillets, skin removed (Mary uses breast but thighs are MUCH better), cut into mouth-sized bits
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic
2 tbsp cider or wine vinegar
1tbsp dry mustard powder
3tbsp light muscavado sugar
3-4 tbsp ketchup
3tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tbsp tomato puree
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
6 sprigs fresh basil

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5. You will need an oven-proof dish for this. My mum uses one of those lovely round le creuset ones with a lid on which I am determined to buy in all sizes next time there is a whopper sale. At the moment I use an oval dish and I cover it with tin foil. The recipe doesn't mention covering but I have tried it both ways and it makes a big difference.
Double quantity chicken thigh fillets

1. Measure the oil and butter into a large non-stick frying pan and brown the chicken in two batches for 4-5 minutes on each side. Put in a shallow oven-proof dish and season.
Double quantity browned chicken

2. Lower the heat (and let the oil./butter cool down for five mins) and add the onion and garlic to the pan. Cover and cook over a gentle heat until the onion is tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 mins.

3. Add the remaining ingredients, except the basil, to the pan, season and pour over the chicken.

4. Cook (covered ideally!) in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes until the chicken is tender.

5. Scatter with fresh basil and serve.

If you are cooking ahead you can either cool quickly and freeze after stage 4 or cool and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Defrost for 6 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge and then re-heat at 190C for 30-40 mins or until piping hot.

Mary Berry's Piquant Chicken with Basil
I cooked it the afternoon of the dinner party when I got back from work and left it covered on the kitchen work top and then re-heated for 30 mins. By the time everyone arrived the smell of the chicken browning had disappeared and was replaced with lovely cooking smells.

1 February 2011


There were many reasons why I decided that marrying Joe would be bearable. One of them is his cottage on the north Norfolk coast which is just far enough away from London to feel like a holiday and close enough that you can dash up after work on a Friday and be able to have a good weekend there. In all the years I've been going there I've never seen the sea look as shining and clear as it did last weekend... the photos don't really do it justice... although my sister is fairly decorative.
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