Sweet Treats: Strawberry&Cream Cake

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When I think of an early summer I am always reminded of strawberries. They are the first tempting taste of those lovely warm evenings. The gorgeous bright red colour is perfect for the summer and it just gives us a light hint that spring is slowly coming to an end.

Ideally strawberries should be collected in late May or June to ensure they had enough time to develop its full fruity flavour. I still remember impatiently grabbing first crop in my parent’s garden. We had mostly forest strawberries that are much smaller and taste very different from the perfect shop bought ones. But the advantage was that they took less time to ripe and their taste was much stronger. However cooking with these little treasures was not an option. Well I guess it would be if we ever left them alone. But we had a perfect excuse of ‘protecting’ them from evil snails.

My mum always made some strawberry jam and the making of it made our house smell like fairytale. She loved leaving big pieces of strawberries so that we had juicy chunks mixed with delicious sweet and sticky juice. Later she admitted to us that she just didn’t fancy chopping all the fruits. Apparently she found it far to tedious.

This cake is very simple and takes only and hour or so to make. The sponge itself is a basic Victoria Sponge recipe. I love the combination of rich cream with fruitiness of the strawberries and delicious vanilla sponge. You can also add some jam if you wish to sandwich the two sponges.

Sweet Treats: Strawberry&Cream with Vanilla Sponge Cake (serves 8-10)

4 medium eggs
225 g softened unsalted butter
220 g self raising flour
220 g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence

200 ml double cream
2 tbsp strawberry jam
1 packet of strawberries (about 200 g)

Preheat the oven to 180° C/150° C fan. Grease the 2 sandwich tins with butter and dust with flour, or with greaseproof paper.

Whip the softened butter with sugar until pale, and then add eggs, and the rest of the ingredients. Mix until combined. The mixture should be light and easy to spread. Do not over-mix as that would stop sponges from rising. Fill both tins with roughly the same amount of the mixture and place in the oven next to each other.

Leave to bake for about 20-25 minutes. You might need to rotate your tins in the oven to allow an even bake. Check the cake after about 20 minutes and test with a toothpick. if the toothpick comes out clean then sponge are done. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes. Then release both sponges from the tins and leave to cool on the side, preferably on a cooling rack if you have one.

Whip the double cream until it is just about to start to thicken. Then spread over both sponges. If you wish you can also spread strawberry jam over the bottom sponge. Place some of the sliced strawberries on the top of the sponge and sandwich both layers together. Scatter the rest of the strawberries on the top of the cake and dust with icing sugar.

by Maria

Sweet Treats: Rhubarb Tart

I was thinking recently that I have never tried to bake or prepare rhubarb. This is such an lovely ingredient and still I was never even tempted to try. However this time, I realized that rhubarb is actually in season, as I stood in the veg and fruit section in one of my local shops. So I grabbed a packet and decided to make a tart for my friends as they were coming for lunch in a couple of days.

When I make tarts I always prepare my own pastry. I used the shop-bought one a couple of times and I must admit it is an easy option. But I just love making it myself. It is not so difficult and you can most definitely spot the difference in the texture and also in the overall taste. My hands are usually very cold and this is very useful when working with butter. Some recipes suggest to use food processor when starting the breadcrumb process but I prefer to do it myself. In this way I get a better feeling on how much more liquid is needed and how the pastry is binding together.

Rhubarb itself is super easy to prepare. I bought the forced rhubarb which was unfortunately more green than lovely pink colour. But once cooked the colour became paler and lighter. I was unsure whether the round tin will work when arranging the stalk. But then I figured out the way of placing each segment without breaking it too much.

Sweet Treats: Rhubarb Tart (serves 8)


450 g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 13 cm long batons
1 tsp vanilla essence
50 g caster sugar
juice form 1/2 lemon

For pastry
225 g plain flour
20 g ground almonds
2 tbsp icing sugar
140 g cold unsalted butter
1 egg yolk

For creme patisserie
250 ml milk
2 egg yolks
2 rbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp plain flour
50 ml double cream

Put sugar, vanilla essence and lemon sugar with about 300 ml water in a wide pan or casserole and bring to boil over the low heat. Once the sugar is dissolved add the rhubarb batons and ensure that rhubarb is covered with the liquid. Leave to simmer for about 5 minutes. Then take from the heat and allow to cool. Keep the rhubarb in the sirup for another 1 hour or up to 1 day.

For the pastry, mix butter and flour with almonds and sugar in a bowl. Use your fingers to break the chunks of butter and to create breadcrumb texture. Stir the ingredients every now and then to allow large chunks come to the surface. Then add egg yolk and dribble of 1-2 tbsp cold water. Knead the pastry briefly to allow all ingredients come together and to form a dough. Wrap in cling film and allow to chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

For creme patisserie, place milk and vanilla essence on the hob and bring to boil on a medium heat. Whilst milk is coming to a boil, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together with flour in a bowl, until pale and light. Pour the hot milk whilst whisking the eggs mixture. Place the mixture back on the medium heat (in a clean pan) and stir continuously until it becomes thick and covers the back of the spoon. Be careful with the heat at this stage, as creme is very likely to stick and burn at the base of the pan. Scrape the creme into a bowl and cover it to prevent the skin formation. Chill for 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Roll out the pastry to about 1-2mm thickness  and line the tart tin. Press the pastry into the flute edges of the tin and ensure it is also overhanging the edges of the tin. Chill for another 30 minutes. Heat the oven for 200 C/180 C fan/ gas 6. Line the pastry with a baking parchment and place baking beans on top. Blind bake for 20 min and temvoe the baking parchment. Then bake for another 6-8 minutes until pastry is golden and dry. Whilst pastry is still hot trim the edges of the tin with a sharp knife. Cool in the tin.

Remove the rhubarb from the syrup and set aside. Then bring the syrup to boil until it becomes thick and sticky. Leave on the side to cool down.

Whisk the cream until stiff and carefully fold in the creme patisserie. Fill the pastry case with the creme patiserrie and smooth the surface. Then line the rhubarb on the creme and ensure the whole surface is covered with the rhubarb. Glaze the tart with the rhubarb syrup and chill for 30 minutes.

by Maria

Caponata penne

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This caponata pasta is the lighter adaptation of a traditional dish from Sicily which is a true lush vegetarian delight. It would be difficult to define it, because it is simply too good, so essential, yet leaving you with the most fulfilling feeling only a vernacular masterpiece can deliver. Caponata is symphony of warm colours, intense smells and flavours, all mingling with its own ancient history.

The aubergine is the protagonist of this dish, combined with celery, tomatoes, onions, capers, olives, pine kernels, basil, and olive oil, lots of it–as you are supposed to fry the vegetables in it. The whole lot is magically concocted with some sugar and a splash of vinegar. It sounds funny today to think that when aubergines arrived in Sicily with the first Arab invasion they were deemed to be apples that had gone off and carriers of diseases.

The earliest appearance of caponata in Sicily seems to date to the eighteenth century and its origin is of the poorest ones. A renowned local dish used the fish ‘capone’, quite expensive, which was deep fried and served with a sweet-and-sour sauce made with vinegar. The sauce was so delicious that it started to be prepared with aubergines and tomatoes, some of the cheapest and most available vegetables for anyone, especially those that could not afford the capone fish.

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Caponata penne (serves 2)

200-250 g penne
1 aubergine
100 g sun-dried tomatoes (drained)
30 g pine kernels
1 tbsp of sliced black olives
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clover
1 mozzarella (about 150 g drained)

Gently cook the garlic in a frying pan with 1 tbsp of hot olive oil, till golden. Chop the washed aubergine and cook at mid-high heat for 10 minutes, tossing them now and then. After 5 minutes, add the sliced sun-dried tomatoes and olives. There is no need to add salt or pepper.

After the first ten minutes of cooking, lower the heat to minimum, add the pine kernels, while you put the pasta in salted boiling water–penne usually cook al dente in 11 minutes.

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Before the last minute of pasta cooking, take the caponata off the fire and add diced mozzarella. One minute later, drain the pasta, add it to the caponata pan, and mix to let the mozzarella melt.

Serve hot (!), with 1 tbsp of fresh olive oil and a couple of sun-dried tomatoes to decorate. You can also add two leaves of fresh basil if you like to strengthen the bitter flavour.

by Max

Sweet Treats: Scotch Pancakes with Pomegranate

Recently I was not able to bake or cook as I had my laser eye surgery. So looking into the hot oven was definitely not an option. And even though reading seems to be a bit of a challenge, my vision is slowly coming back and improving.

However having all this time off work also allowed me to have a more relaxing breakfast once everybody has left. I am a huge fan of fry up and that is probably my ideal weekend treat. This time I didn’t feel like heavy fried bacon and sausages. I was craving something warm but this time I was thinking of a sweet breakfast. Quick look on the internet and there they were pancakes! There is hundreds ways of how to have your pancakes but I decided to make Scotch ones with lots of delicious pomegranate and a bit of dark chocolate.

I must admit that I always loved making crepes and having them with cream and fruits was my absolute signature dessert, when I was a teenager. But having thick and fluffy scotch pancakes for a breakfast is another perfect of spoiling myself and a few other lucky ones.

Scotch Pancakes with Pomegranate

100 g plain flour
50 g caster sugar
splash of milk
1 egg

Sift the flour with sugar. Add beaten egg and mix well together with a whisk. At this stage, your mixture will be lumpy and floury. Slowly add milk allowing the batter to become thick and more liquid (similar to thickness of usual double cream).

Grease the frying pan with oil, only a drop or so is enough. Heat the pan with until it is hot. Then pour the first ladle of batter. Pancakes are usually ready to be turned when bubbles develop on the surface. Cook each side for about 2 minutes until golden.

Once all pancakes are done, spread yoghurt over the pancakes and stack as many as you like on top of each other. Pour more yoghurt and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Top with shavings of dark chocolate or honey.

by Maria

 

Sirloin steak and roast potatoes

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Easy, essential, tasty. Of course, you need to like meat in principle; otherwise, stick to the roast potatoes which are great anyway, even on their own. For the meat, I chose a sirloin steak medallion, very close to fillet and roughly £5 less per kilo. The potatoes are Charlotte ones, because I love their sweet nuttiness and their golden colour. (Also their name, to be honest). This recipe for potatoes is fantastic: it is easily prepared and it gives you a chance to serve lovely roast potatoes with an alluring look. Try it!

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Sirloin steak medallion with roast potatoes (serves 4)

4 sirloin steak medallions (about 180 g each)
2 kg potatoes
1 shallot
1 or 2 garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
40 g butter
a few fresh thyme sprigs

Start with peeling, washing, and drying the potatoes with a cloth. Melt about 20 g of butter and add it to two tbsp of olive oil. Use part of this to line your baking tin–you can line it with foil, but still use the melted butter on top of the foil. Slice the potatoes with a mandoline, about 1.5 mm thick.

Place the potato slices in rows, do not worry if they look a bit tight, it is perfectly fine. If you place them too loose, they will dry out and burn. Brush the potatoes with the remaining melted butter and olive oil mix. Finely chop the shallot and place between the potatoes rows. Place in hot oven for 1 hour at 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.

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While your potatoes cook, take the meat out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter without covering it–half an hour is usually fine, depending on how thick is your meat cut and if you are using a piece with bone, e.g. a côte de boeuf. I used here sirloin steak medallions, which are a rather lean part of the sirloin, at the top of the fillet.

Once the potatoes have cooked for an hour, take them out of the oven, add salt and the thyme sprigs, and put back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes till perfectly golden cooked and slightly brown on some of the top rims.

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Once the potatoes are back in the oven, season the meat, put 1 tbsp of olive oil in a hot pan, add the garlic, and brown the meat. Add the remaining butter (about 20 g) and spoon it over the meat as it melts and foams, and cook both sides. My preference is medium-rare, usually ready in 15-16 minutes. Leave for about 20 minutes for medium, and 25 minutes for medium-well. These cooking times may vary according to the steak thickness and cut.

Take off the fire and let the meat rest for a few minutes, while you take the potatoes out of the baking tin. Serve one row of potatoes–about two or three–per beef steak. Accompany with a bottle of Barbaresco, you won’t be disappointed.

by Max

Vegetarian impromptu: Courgetti with mushrooms and smoked scamorza cheese

FotorCreated.jpgA funny fridge-emptier, quickly prepared and very tasty. Vegetarian spaghetti, in this case spiralised courgettes, are just a good excuse to have a weird vegetable pencil-sharpener in the kitchen. It is useful if you feel lazy to prep. I had a few vegetables left in the fridge and Portabellini mushrooms are a good combination with the scamorza cheese which I had bought last week–and forgot about (how?!?). I added half a boiled egg for the sake of colour, mainly, and I apologise to those vegetarians who do not eat eggs. This dish would taste as good also without the egg.

The sweet, nutty flavour of the Portabellini mushrooms sings a tasty duet with the smoked scamorza. This is a simple yet fine cheese. It originates in southern Italy, even though my favourite one comes from the central regions like Marche, Abruzzo, and Molise. These regions still remain lands of real famers and you can always go around the countryside and find some fresh scamorza. I love its texture, thick and yet soft, almost spongey and chewy. In the large cheese family, scamorza sits between mozzarella and caciocavallo, and it is prepared with cow milk and warm water. The smoked version is slightly almondy, alabaster coloured, and with a thicker skin than the normal white scamorza, but equally filante–our word for stringy. A truly generous ingredient.

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Courgette spaghetti with mushrooms and scamorza (serves 2)

2 courgettes
250 g mushrooms
100 g scamorza cheese
25 g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
a few sage leaves
1 clove of garlic
(1/2 boiled egg)

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Melt the butter in a frying pan on middle heat while you chop the washed mushrooms. I sliced them longitudinally rather than dicing them because they cook better and look nicer. Add the garlic either cleaned and chopped or still unpeeled. When the butter is starting to foam, add the sliced mushrooms and the sage. Cook at medium heat for about 6-7 minutes.

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While the mushrooms get cooked, prepare the courgetti–or simply finely slice the courgettes with a mandoline slicer. Add the courgette extra bits remaining from the cutting to the mushrooms and cook together for another 2-3 minutes at high heat. Meanwhile, quickly cook the courgetti in a frying pan with the tbsp of oil at mid-high heat.

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Start serving with a larger nest of your courgetti, on top of which you line a layer of thinly cut scamorza slices. Place the mushrooms still hot on top of the cheese slices, in the middle of your courgetti nest. Add a few scamorza flakes and, eventually, half a boiled egg.

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by Max

Sweet Treats: Banoffee Pie in a Glass

A few days ago I had a real craving for a banoffee pie. Unfortunately I had no time to make a proper one in a tin and I certainly did not have enough ingredients. So I decided to make just an experimental one in a glass. Well actually, in two glasses. I was not so sure if it will be any good but my flatmate certainly enjoyed it. Even though I ruined her diet as usual.

Word banoffee is a combination of a word banana and toffee. They are my favourite things I am therefore very much in love with this new ‘recipe/invention’. I must admit that it is very simple and does not take longer than 10 minutes to make. However if you fancy something creamy and delicious, I think you might enjoy it too. In comparison to my macaron procedure, it seems rather straight forward. No oven needed or fancy equipment, hardly any waiting time and certainly no piping involved.

I have used dark chocolate on the top as I find milk chocolate far too sweet with caramel. However you can also skip it if you don’t have a fancy grater which I save from my Christmas cracker a couple of years ago. It is impossibly small but incredibly handy when I use chocolate shavings. There is hardly ever any risk of cutting my fingers.

I have struggled to take decent pictures of this dessert though. Due to the shape of the glass and also light was not in my favour on the day. But I guess in the end couple of pictures seemed fairly good.

Sweet treats: Banoffee Pie in a Glass (serves 2)


2 small bananas (cut into chunks or circles)
150 ml double cream
6-8 digestive biscuits (with or without chocolate)
1 tin of carnation caramel
20 g dark chocolate

Break digestive biscuits in a plastic bag and then roll over the bag with a rolling pin to create fine breadcrumb texture. It is fully up to you if you prefer larger chunks of biscuits or fine sandy like texture. Then transfer to a glass to create a base. Scatter chunks of banana over the base and pour caramel. Top the glass with whipped cream and if you wish shavings of dark chocolate.

by Maria

Sweet Treats: Chocolate & Banana Bread

I was never keen on banana bread. There was something about the colour that I somehow didn’t find attractive. Then, one day, I found a chocolate banana bread recipe with delicious streusel topping. The texture of moist and rich banana bread with crunchy and nutty topping works really well. It is such a perfect combination! I have made this recipe so many times and for so many of my friends. I hope also you will enjoy it and remember to cut the loaf into thick slices, otherwise you’ll blink and it’ll be gone…

Ever since I was a child I loved my chocolate custard dessert with bananas. To my nan’s surprise–or disappointment–I kept ordering it as my birthday treat. She was fairly unimpressed by the simplicity of it, but I still preferred it to fancy, glittery and colourful fruit iced sundae.

Bananas are a delicious fruit once they are ripe enough. On top of their unique taste, you also get a huge vitamin B6 and magnesium boost. But only a relatively small portion of potassium in comparison to apricots. They are ever so popular as an addition to smoothies as their lovely sweetness works well even with kale. Fun fact of the day: they are botanically classed as berries!

Sweet Treats: Chocolate & Banana Bread (makes 2 loaves)

For the banana bread
100 g dark chocolate
150 g unsalted butter, softened
175 g caster sugar
3 eggs
175 g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
25 g cocoa powder
2 large bananas, mashed

For the streusel topping
25 g unsalted butter
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp demerara sugar
2 tbsp ground almonds, or any other nuts

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan/gas mark 4). Line two loaf tins with baking parchment or grease with butter and dust with flour.

For streusel topping, rub the butter into the flour and then mix with the demerara sugar and nuts.

Melt the chocolate over simmering water and set aside to cool down. Whisk the softened butter with sugar until pale and fluffy in texture. Gradually add whisked eggs and continue whisking until well mixed. Carefully fold in the flour with a large spoon and then the chocolate. Lastly, add mashed banana to the mix and chocolate. Mix well and divide the mixture into the two tins. Sprinkle the struesel topping on each loaf and put into the oven. Bake for 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean once inserted into the loaf. Place both loaves on the cooling rack. Enjoy with a lovely cup of tea.

by Maria

Jerusalem artichoke soup with leek and shallot

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Due to the snowy spring we are getting here in Europe, I am posting this soup I made in January, before Maria and I started our blog. It might be uneasy to find Jerusalem artichokes after March/April, but if you can get them, have a go! This is simply gorgeous stuff. It takes a bit of time, but it will reward you. Fully.

These tubers were already used by natives in north America and arrived in Europe from Brasil in the 1600s, via Portuguese importers. They then spread across western Europe quite quickly. Their name possibly comes from the misunderstanding of ‘girasole‘, sunflower in Italian, which resembles the word Jerusalem, as said by Italian immigrants in north America.

On the outside, Jerusalem artichokes look like ginger roots, but when you open them, they glow with a unique nacreous shine. Also their taste holds charming secrets, starting from a starch-less, soft potatoey crunch moving to a bitter-sweet nutty finish. I have tried them sautéed or roasted as a side dish, but this time I wanted something comforting, warm, and focused on their peculiar flavour. And in these days, I could really use them again to chase this cold away…

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‘[…retire therefore,] November, depart from this April!’

Jerusalem artichoke soup (serves 4)

500 g Jerusalem artichokes
1 shallot
1 leek
1/2 l vegetable broth
2 tbsp olive oil
a few rose petals

Start washing the tubers and scrub the bulgy edges with a potato peeler. Put them with one tbsp of oil in hot oven at 180°C/160ºC fan/gas 4 for about 30 minutes. When baked, take out and leave to cool at room temperature.

Meanwhile, finely chop the shallot and the leek, and pan fry them in a pot with one tbsp of oil at low heat. Let them slowly turn golden. When the Jerusalem artichokes have cooled down, peel them one by one–the skin will easily come off at this point. Dice them and add to the vegetable base in the frying pan, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, according to how big you have chopped them.

Remove from fire and blend together with warm vegetable stock. Don’t overdo the blending or you will lose the texture of the Jerusalem artichokes. Before serving, warm the soup again in the pot for a few minutes, drizzle with fresh olive oil, and decorate with the rose petals. This will warm you up.

by Max

Sweet Treats: Raspberry&Chocolate Macarons

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These macarons came as an inspiration from watching far too many videos on Instagram. Working with chocolate can be rewarding but also pretty damming. Chocolate is very temperamental and needs to be very liquid when doing the straight lines. I had a real problem to transfer it from a bowl into my piping bag. But I found the easiest way was to put the piping bag into a high glass and wrap the end of the bag around the edges. This way I could use both hands, one to hold the bowl and another to scrape chocolate with spatula.

I like to sandwich my macarons with light filling if possible. The shell itself is fairly sweet so I usually try to find a way to avoid adding more sugar into the filling. Double cream is very easy to get in any of the shops and I think it works very well. But feel free to use whipping cream if you prefer.

Although I had to work this weekend, somehow I managed to find enough time and to pop to my favourite bookshop on Saturday. Waterstones at Piccadilly has an excellent selection of books and I was salivating over a number of patisserie books they had. No matter how many books I buy, I could still spend most of my monthly wages just on cookery books and random utensils for the kitchen. Unfortunately for my credit card, I even took pictures of books that will need to be purchased soon, very soon. I believe this matter is urgent….

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Sweet Treats: Raspberry&Chocolate Macarons (makes 18)

For the macaron shells
95 g egg white
75 g caster sugar
152 g icing sugar
123 g ground almonds
pink food colouring (preferably gel)

For the filling
200 ml double cream
2 tbsp raspberry jam

For the decoration
35 g dark chocolate

Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the caster sugar gradually while you are whisking the egg whites. Add a small bit of food colouring to the meringue. Mix thoroughly and add more colouring if needed. Sift flour and icing sugar in a separate bowl and add ground almonds. Slowly fold the flour mixture to the egg whites and be very careful not to over-mix.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe onto a baking sheet. Drop the baking tray on a flat surface to allow air bubbles to come out. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the surface of each macaron is no longer sticky when you touch with your finger. This allows the macaron to rise evenly when baking. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/mark 4.

Put into the oven for 10-13 minutes. Keep checking during the baking as you might need to rotate the tray to allow an even bake. Once baked, allow to cool down, then transfer from the baking sheet. If macaron shells are too sticky, it means they need a bit longer in the oven.

For the filling, whisk double cream until it is about to thicken. Then add raspberry jam and transfer to the piping bag. Pipe a small amount of the filling on one of the shells and sandwich together.

Melt chocolate in the microwave for 20-30 seconds until all melted. Transfer to the piping bag with a very fine round nozzle. You can practice your first lines with chocolate on the board. Place macarons all together on the board and pipe chocolate by making quick movements from tip to bottom of the tray. Chocolate needs to be fairly liquid so that the lines will be as straight as possible. Allow to set for about 20 minutes and then place the macarons into the fridge.

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Macarons need to ‘mature’ for at least 24 hours. Or in other words they taste better on the third day.

by Maria