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!

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Ricotta hotcakes

I made these a few weeks ago to use up the ricotta from the ravioli I made. I’d never made them before but remembered seeing them in Nigella’s Forever Summer, which is probably my least used of her books. But since it’s summer and everything, I figured I’d give them a try. The weather was distinctly un-summery when I made them, but somehow they bring a bit of sunshine to an otherwise wet and miserable morning.

They were really wonderful; denser and sort of stickier than a regular pancake. Because of the ricotta they were almost cheesecakey inside, if that’s possible, and definitely had a tangier taste than a pancake. This worked really well with the strawberries, which I mashed up a bit so that they went really nice and juicy and made their own sauce. I did have a little bit of maple syrup on them as well though!

I halved the recipe, because I had just the right amount of ricotta left over from the ravioli to make half the batch, and it made six 4 1/2 inch pancakes. Whisking the egg whites makes the mixture really light and bubbly, so it had a really nice texture when putting the batter in the pan.

Ricotta Hotcakes

Makes 12 4 1/2 inch pancakes

250g ricotta cheese

125ml semi-skimmed milk

2 large eggs, separated

100g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

2 teaspoons groundnut oil

Strawberries, to serve

Method

Put the ricotta, milk and egg yolks into a bowl and beat together. Whisk in the flour, baking powder and salt until you get a smooth batter. Beat the egg whites until they’re foamy (this should only take a couple of minutes and really there is no need to break out any heavy machinery), then fold them into the batter.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and dollop the mixture in.

The pancakes will only take a minute or so a side, so once they’re golden flip them over to cook the other side. To keep them warm whilst you make more, I find the best thing to do is just stack them on top of each other, and they keep each other warm with their heat.

Serve with gently mashed strawberries, and dig in!

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!

 

 

Cinnamon strawberry sandwiches

Breakfast is my favourite meal, and I love when the weekends come and I can make something a bit more involved and special than the usual weekday fare. I wanted to use up the bread rolls I bought for the Little Bubbas (despite taking some for lunch the next day, they came in a pack of 12!), so I thought I’d use them for breakfast. They would have been good with just butter and marmalade and a coffee, but they’ve started to go a bit stale so really I had to use them for something else.

I decided the best thing to do was turn them into french toast-rolls, and to play on the sandwich element I thought I’d stuff them with sliced strawberries. They turned out delicious!

Cinnamon Strawberry Sandwiches

Serves 1

2 small bread rolls
1 egg
Splash of milk
2-3 tablespoons caster sugar (vanilla caster sugar, if you have it)
Splash of vanilla extract (if you don’t have vanilla sugar)
1 tsp cinnamon
Knob of butter

To serve:
Sliced strawberries
Icing sugar

My measures for the above ingredients are approximate, depending on how sweet/cinnamony you like it!

In a dish, break the egg and add the milk, some of the vanilla/caster sugar (I use about a tablespoon), the cinnamon (I LOVE cinnamon so I use quite a lot!), and the vanilla. Beat everything together.

Cut the rolls in half and place them cut side down into the dish and push them down so that they really soak up the eggy mixture.

While they’re soaking, heat a pan with a knob of butter and a tiny dribble of oil (to stop the butter burning).

Stab the tops and bottoms of the rolls with a skewer or cocktail stick and turn them over (this will just help the egg mixture soak in, the tops and bottoms have a thicker crust on that will stop it soaking up as well).

Once they’ve soaked up most, if not all, of the mixture, the butter in the pan should be frothy and hot. Put the rolls in and fry them on both sides until golden and crisp on the outside and the egg is cooked through inside.

While the rolls are in the pan, wash and slice the strawberries.

Once the rolls are cooked, sprinkle the cut sides with the remaining caster sugar (you don’t have to, but it gives a nice crunch) and fill with the strawberries. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve! I had mine with a vanilla latte made from my awesome new coffee machine, YUM.