My Dad’s favourite Eton mess

As it’s Father’s Day, I wanted to cook my dad a meal of his favourite things. As I mentioned previously in my ravioli post, I’m making him that as a starter, then cooking an Italian chicken dish, then serving his favourite dessert, Eton mess. I made this Eton mess a few weeks ago at our second barbecue of the year and he absolutely LOVED it, so I figured it was the best choice to make today.

It’s really easy and I just do a few little things to make it a bit more special and delicious. I think I picked up the tip of mashing and steeping the strawberries from a Nigella recipe and it makes ALL the difference; you get a lovely sweet sauce which makes the whole thing much more flavoursome than the strawberries would be if they were just ‘au natural’. I steep the strawberries in Chambord, and although it’s a raspberry liquer it really brings out the taste of the strawberries and doesn’t taste overly alcoholic (my pet hate in all cooking!). If you don’t have Chambord then any other strawberry liquer would do, or even fruit juice like cranberry, pomegranate or other red fruit.

To make things a bit easier on myself I made the meringue last night; it’s much easier that way and it keeps so well it seems silly not to. It cooks at such a low temperature there’s not much you can do with the oven whilst it’s in there so it’s good to get it out the way before you’re going to be doing other cooking.

Best ever Eton mess

Serves 4

2 large eggs, seperated

120g caster sugar or golden caster sugar (depending on how toffee-ish you want it)

400g strawberries

2 tablespoons Chambord or other juice/liquer

1 tablespoon caster sugar

250ml double cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

Preheat the oven to 140C. Seperate the eggs and keep the yolks (they’re great to use in pastry). Whisk them with an electric whisk (or by hand, if you’ve got arms like the hulk) until they’re stiff. Add in half the sugar and keep whisking until really stiff and glossy. Fold in the remaining sugar and then spread the meringue onto a lined baking tray, into a circle around 9 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches thick, or into small blobs around 3 inches in diameter.

Bake in the oven for around 40 minutes until golden and set (the smaller ones will probably take a bit less time than that so just keep watch!). If you flip the meringue(s) upside down it/they should be dry underneath but will probably break apart (this is ok since you’ll be breaking it/them up anyway). It will give you an opportunity to see inside; it/they should be marshmallowy and gooey inside with a nice crunchy crust.

Leave the meringue(s) to cool either overnight or whilst you get on with the other things.

Cut half of the strawberries into quarters and put into a bowl. Mash gently with a fork and then sprinkle with the tablespoon of caster sugar and the Chambord. Mix everything together well. Quarter the remaining strawberries and sit them on top of the mashed ones, but don’t mix together. This way you get the contrast in texture between the mushed strawberries and the raw ones. Yum. Leave everything to steep for at least half an hour, but you could leave them for hours if you wanted to.

When you’re ready to serve, pour the cream into a bowl with the vanilla and whisk until thick but still soft. Don’t overwhip it because it becomes dry and less voluptous. Crumble in the meringue and toss in all the strawberries, sauce and all. Fold everything together and serve in bowls or glasses.

As my dad says, it’s the best treat of the summer, and should be enjoyed as much as possible!

A stress-free Sunday dinner for six: toad in the hole with sticky onion gravy and roasted root vegetables and pain-au-chocolat bread and butter pudding

As we’re now in June it sort of seems wrong to be cooking roast dinners on a Sunday now. That said, I do still feel like I want to eat something ‘traditional’ on a Sunday, and as I had family coming round a couple of weekends ago I thought I’d cook the toad in the hole I posted about here. I feel I need to reiterate the sheer magnificence of this batter recipe; it earned me several ‘wows’ as I bought it to the table as it rises spectacularly. Despite saying I loved this with baked beans in my original post, I didn’t really feel like I wanted to serve up baked beans for Sunday dinner. So I caved in and made this sticky onion gravy (I admit it doesn’t look very appealing on the picture, mine looked nothing like that!), and I have to say I’m completely converted. The gravy was thick, sticky and richly flavoured with the caramelised onions, and better still took very little effort to achieve and made the house smell lovely whilst the onions were sweating down. In fact for this whole dinner I remained calm and serene, and for the last hour before I was due to put the sausages in the oven I was twiddling my thumbs because I’d already prepared everything! Most unusual.

I decided to serve this with a pretty weird array of vegetables. I was partly using up what I had left in the fridge and partly cooking all my favourite things! I ended up with peas, broccoli, honey-roasted carrots, steamed asparagus, new potatoes, roasted baby leeks and honey roasted beetroot with balsamic vinegar. The beetroot recipe is from here, and it was the piece de resistance – It was so fresh and earthy, but the sweetness of the honey and reduced balsamic totally took it to another level. My family were pleasantly surprised when they saw the beetroot on the platter, leading me to believe it’s a rather underrated and underused vegetable in this context. I’ve got more plans for beetroot, I’m just waiting for my little seedlings to show their heads!

As for the dessert, it’s an old favourite of mine cobbled together from two different Nigella recipes: the pain-au-chocolat pudding from How to be a Domestic Goddess and Nigella’s Grandmother’s ginger-jam bread and butter pudding from Nigella Bites. I’m not really a huge fan of bread and butter pudding in its traditional form – I find it can be stodgy and cloying at the best of times, but the buttery pastry of the pain au chocolat is so light and delicate it really makes this special. The reason I’ve partly used the recipe from Nigella Bites is because in this recipe the custard requires no cooking; in fact it requires nothing more than a bit of measuring out and whisking, and the result you get is a really wobbly, tender custard which is amazing with all of the crispy bits of charred pastry that are sat proud and have got caramelised with a little help from some demerara sugar and butter blobbed on top.

To feed six I used the recipe that I posted in my Toad in the Hole post a couple of weeks ago, but increased the quantities to 150%. My husband sceptical about the size of the tin that I used; he wasn’t convinced that it was big enough for six of us compared to the tin I ususally use to feed us two. I stuck to my guns though and used it (but cooked a few new potatoes for extra carbs just in case) and it turns out we had leftovers! I used my favourite ever sausages, Lashford’s special sausages (that’s what they’re called!) in the thick variety. I usually buy the thin ones for everyday use but thought they’d be a bit weedy in this scenario and would get lost in the batter; there was no fear of that happening with these monsters though, each sausage was the size of two normal large sausages that you’d buy in the supermarket so I suppose allowing two each wasn’t exactly necessary. Oh well, the leftovers didn’t go to waste, they went in my lunchbox a couple of days later! So enough with the chat, on with the recipes:

Toad in the hole

This recipe, with half again (i.e. with 6 eggs)

Sticky onion gravy

From the recipe posted above, although I used:

3 large onions

1 tablespoon sugar

Large knob of butter

1 tablespoon plain flour

1 tablespoon thyme

Splash Worcester Sauce

1 pint beef stock (I just used a couple of oxo cubes dissolved in water)

Roasted beetroot with balsamic vinegar and honey

4 small fresh beetroot

1 tablespoon thyme

4 cloves garlic, skins removed

Olive oil

1 tablespoon runny honey

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Honey-roasted carrots

12 small, young carrots (you don’t have to use young carrots, but the skins will be so thin and tender that you don’t have to peel them)

1 tablespoon thyme

1 tablespoon honey

Knob of butter

Olive oil

Pain-au-chocolat bread and butter pudding

6 large pain-au-chocolat (I know they don’t come in “sizes” but generally the ones you get from a bakery are larger than those pre-packed ones, so if you buy those you might need more)

4 large egg yolks (freeze the whites!)

1 large egg

3 tablespoons caster sugar

500ml double cream

200ml full-fat milk

A knob of butter

2 tablespoons demerara sugar

Method

First, slice the pain-au-chocolat into slices around an inch thick. Arrange them in a dish (I tend to arrange them alternately thick side up and then thin side up as in the picture so different bits get crispy). Really pack them in tightly; the last few pieces should be a squeeze to get in! Leave them to dry out a bit, this will help them to absorb all the liquid better later.

Next, prepare the vegetables. Wash and quarter the beetroot (I didn’t bother peeling) and put into a baking tray with the oil, garlic cloves and thyme. Wash the carrots and out them in a tray with the butter and drizzle them with the oil and honey and sprinkle with the thyme.

If you’re making other vegetables prepare them now (for me this meant washing and trimming the asparagus, trimming the baby leeks, halving the potatoes and cutting the broccoli up).

For the onion gravy, heat the butter in a pan and slice the onions. Add the onions to the pan and stir. Cover with a lid (or a plate in my case!) and cook gently for around 10 minutes. By this point they should be really soft. Add the sugar and cook for a further 15 minutes or so until the liquid is gone and they’re golden and caramelised. Set aside.

For the pudding, whisk together the egg yolks and egg with the caster sugar, then whisk in the cream and milk. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 220C. Mix up the eggs and milk for the toad in the hole and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes. Whilst it’s resting, put the sausages in a pan and put them into the oven to get browned. At this point, put the beetroot into the oven. Turn the sausages after about 10 minutes to get evenly browned.

After about 20 minutes the sausages should be nicely golden brown and the beetroot should be on its way to being roasted. Take the beetroot out of the oven and add the butter to the sausages and put back into the oven to get hot. Add the balsamic and honey to the beetroot and toss everything together. Whisk the flour into the batter for the toad in the hole, then take the sausages out of the oven and add the batter. Once the batter is in the tin, put it back into the oven, along with the beetroot and the carrots. Cook for 20 minutes or until the batter is risen and golden, and the vegetables should be nice and roasted and burnished.

Whilst the everything is in the oven, add the thyme and Worcester sauce to the onions and reheat gently. Once they’re hot again, add the flour and stir, and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the beef stock and stir gently. Simmer the gravy for 10-15 minutes until it’s thickened. Cook any other vegetables you’re serving.

Just before you serve up the dinner, pour the custard mix over the pain-au-chocolat and really press down so that they soak up the custard. Leave for a minute, then pour more (it should just about hold this much mixture). When you’ve got all the custard in, dot the bits of pastry that stick out with butter, and sprinkle the top with demerara sugar.

Once the vegetables are cooked, the toad in the hole is browned and puffed-up and the gravy is thickened, you’re ready to serve! Serve the toad in the hole as quickly as possible so it doesn’t sink and you’ll get more compliments! I took mine to the table before I plated up the vegetables.

The last thing to do is reduce the oven temperature to 180C and put the pudding onto a baking sheet. Cook for 45 minutes (it can cook whilst you eat) and then take out the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. The pudding should be really wobbly in the centre and really wonderfully golden and crunchy on top. Serve with cream or custard.

See, easy!

Strawberry and almond crumble

YES, another Nigella recipe. This one is from Kitchen, and in the blurb at the beginning she says it’s great for out-of-season, virtually tasteless strawberries. She’s right, it is. However, I had a punnet of strawberries that I’d taken into work to munch on during the day, but then for two or three days straight I was barely in the office and so these strawberries were just sat, uneaten, getting progressively riper and mushier by the day. I realised I’d need to eat them up REALLY quick, but they’d got to that stage where they were just a bit too mushy to want to eat as is. So I decided to use them in this crumble as I already knew it was amazing from making it with some punnets of reduced out-of-season strawberries that I bought a good few months back, and their squidginess would be desirable in this context.

Once I’d sorted through them and got rid of the REALLY bad ones I still had plenty for making into the crumble, and I added a few of my own strawberries from the garden that I’d picked juuuust underripe before the slugs/birds got hold of them. The mix for this crumble is really quick and easy (especially if you keep a supply in the freezer, ready to use at a moment’s notice), and there is no faffing with stewing any fruit as there would be for apple or rhubarb. As these strawberries were nice British (and home-grown!), seasonal ones they didn’t need any sugar at all. When I poured the vanilla extract over the strawberries the scent that hit me was amazing, total heaven!

Strawberry and almond crumble

Serves 6

Filling

500g strawberries, hulled

50g caster sugar

25g ground almonds

4 tsp vanilla extract

Topping

110g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

75g cold butter, diced

100g flaked almonds

75g demerara sugar

 

Double cream, to serve

 

Preheat the oven to 200C. Hull the strawberries and put them into a pie dish. Sprinkle over the sugar (if you need it), vanilla and almonds and mix everything together.

Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl and rub the butter in with your fingers until it becomes a kind of oatmeal texture. You can also do this in a processor/freestanding mixer but it really takes no time at all! (and much less washing up).  Stir in the flaked almonds and demerara sugar with a fork.

Cover the strawberries with the crumble mixture and spread it out fairly evenly. Stand the dish on a baking tray and bake for around 30 minutes, or until it’s turned golden and the strawberries are juicy and bubbling. Leave it to stand for 10 minutes, by which time it will be the perfect temperature to avoid burning your tongue. This HAS to be eaten with cream – it’s like summer in a bowl. Enjoy!

 

 

Gooey Chocolate Puddings

These puddings from Nigella’s How to Eat are another permanent feature on my repertoire and I think I’ve cooked them for pretty much everyone now. They’re just so incredibly quick and easy and I generally have all the ingredients in the house. They’re the perfect thing when you just want an intense chocolatey dessert – the gooey chocolate sauce is amazing! Be warned though, once they come out of the oven they’re like lava, so it’s worth waiting a few minutes for them to cool slightly (unless your greed takes over and you’d rather risk a burnt tongue than wait a few minutes more).

The way to eat these is to scoop a little out of the centre and pour some cream into it, then keep dribbling small amounts of cream into the pudding as you eat. Yummm.

Gooey Chocolate Puddings

Serves 4

125g dark chocolate

125g butter

150g sugar

35g plain flour (00 if you have it)

3 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 200C. Melt the butter and chocolate together however you like (I just melt them in a saucepan over a very low heat, but you could use the double boiler method or microwave).

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, sugar and flour until combined (I do this in a large jug as it makes it very easy to decant the mixture into the ramekins!).

Once the chocolate mixture is melted and cooled a little, add it to the eggs, sugar and flour and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into 4 ramekins (you can grease and flour them if you like, I used to but now I don’t bother)

Sit the ramekins on a baking tray (this helps to cook them from underneath) and cook them for around 10-15 minutes depending how much goo you want and how fierce your oven is.

Serve with lots of double cream!

Quick pasta and hot cross bun ice cream sandwiches

I had all these good intentions of cooking a really nice dinner last night but then I sort of got sidetracked on the way home (buying plants for the garden, rock and roll) and ended up getting home late. Instead of the more elaborate dinner I had planned to cook, I ended up cooking my failsafe dinner (well, apart from fish fingers, waffles and beans): tomato linguine.

I’m not even going to write a recipe because it’s so basic. It was just linguine with tomato sauce, and a handful of rocket on top drizzled with olive oil and balsamic glaze, and topped with parmesan shavings. It’s still tasty though, so I thought it warranted an appearance here. The mix of the balsamic with the tomato sauce in the pasta is really good, and the rocket is a nice texture against the pasta.

To make up for my low effort dinner, I felt like I wanted something for pudding. As I’d bought a pack of hot cross buns from the supermarket, and since they’re my first of the year (I can’t quite believe it), it had to be something involving those. Given my  recent obsession with making everything into a sandwich, I figured I’d do the same again, so I toasted the hot cross buns and put a scoop of cinnamon ice cream inside. This was INSPIRED, because it tasted amazing. Also we ate them like sandwiches which is one of those things that sort of feels wrong but at the same time SO RIGHT. If only the ice cream hadn’t run out because we’ve still got two hot cross buns left…