Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

2010 has been a really interesting year. So much has happened and I have so much to be grateful for. One of those things is you, my wonderful readers. It’s such a pleasure getting to ‘know’ so many of you. The most recent statistics indicate that over 100,000 people from 83 countries worldwide visit the main 21st Century Housewife site each month and that just blows me away. It’s a long way from when I started back in 2002! I love getting your emails and I do try to reply to each and every one of them - it is so lovely to hear from you. Thank you for your interest and your wonderful support!

I am really excited about 2011. I love the New Year and the fresh start that it brings. I’m not one to make resolutions - the very sound of the word seems to set one up for failure. Instead I affirm goals - I’ll write more about that in the next few days. But for tonight, I celebrate the joys I have known in the past year and count my blessings. Although this isn’t the New Year’s Eve my family and I had planned (we were meant to be celebrating with friends but seasonal coughs and viruses have put paid to that) I am happy to be with the two people I love most in the world. I am also profoundly grateful for the wonderful blessings we enjoy.

I hope that wherever you are, you are celebrating with family and friends too and looking forward to the New Year.

Wishing everyone a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year! May you experience many blessings, your dreams fulfilled and most importantly, may you and yours have lots and lots of fun!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

St Clement's Custards

There is a traditional British nursery rhyme that begins “Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clement’s...” which has led to the combination of orange and lemon being referred to as St Clement’s here. For example, if you order a ‘St Clement’s’ in a pub, you will be served orange juice and fizzy lemonade mixed together and a St Clement’s cake would contain both lemon and orange flavours. Hence the name of my custards, which are actually very similar to a flavoured crème brûlée, without the sugar topping.

They came about in a rather interesting way. First of all, I was looking for something delicious to make in the gorgeous heart shaped Le Creuset ramekins my husband had bought for me. Then I was inspired by this recipe for Lemon Creams with Lemon Biscuits which I saw on television. However I wasn’t convinced I wanted to make something exactly like that recipe as I wanted a less tart flavour and a bit of a thicker texture. I also wanted to cut back a bit on the cream as I honestly do feel it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Then when I was talking to my son about my plan, he suggested that I use orange with the lemon to balance the flavours - which I thought was a very, very good idea. And so, my St Clement’s Custards were born. They are not good for you in the sense that they are very much a treat, but they are good for you in the sense that they contain wholesome ingredients. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The reason this dessert is so gorgeous and creamy is the way it is cooked. You need a large pan or pans to sit the ramekins in, something that is deep enough to allow you to put boiling water in it right up to the middle of the ramekins. It goes without saying to be careful when you put the pans in the oven and when you take them out!

Please use fresh oranges and lemons for this. For the amount of juice required, you will need 1 to 2 lemons and 2 oranges, depending on their size and how juicy they are.

My heart shaped ramekins are fairly large, so the recipe only fills five of them, but if you wanted to serve six, just use ordinary ramekins. 

6 eggs, beaten well
1 cups white sugar
the zest of one lemon and one orange
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup orange juice
1 cup heavy cream

I use an electric mixer for this, but a whisk will do if you have strong arms. Beat the sugar into the beaten eggs. Add the lemon and orange zest and the juices and mix in.

Add the cream and beat together for about a minute, until the mixture is smooth but not too bubbly. Set aside for a few minutes while you get everything else ready.

Preheat your oven to 325 (about 160). Fill your kettle and put it on to boil,  and get your deep pan or pans ready.

Sit the ramekins in the pan(s) and carefully pour the custard into the ramekins, about three-quarters full. Being very careful not to splash any water into the ramekins, slowly and carefully pour boiling water into the larger pan(s) so that it comes up half way on the ramekins.

You can just see the water half way up the ramekins in the photograph above. This is how they should look before going into the oven. Be careful not to splash water in the custards as you put the pan(s) in the oven.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the mixture firms up a bit and the tops begin to brown. There should still be a slight wobble going on, but not too much of one! The larger the ramekins the longer the cooking time. Mine take a good 25 minutes - the smaller ones take about 20 minutes. Unfortunately you do need to keep a close eye on them.

When they are done, carefully remove the pans from the oven and sit them on a heat proof surface. Still using oven mitts, carefully lift the ramekins out of the water and place them on a wire rack. (Be careful when emptying the water out of the big pans, as it will very, very hot.)

You need to leave these to cool for at least a half an hour, but they can be eaten anytime after that while they are still warm. They tend to separate if refrigerated, so I recommend serving them within a couple hours of making them. 

Monday, 27 December 2010

My Vegetarian Lasagne for Meatless Monday

It’s amazing how many variations there are out there on lasagne, both the vegetarian and the traditional meat varieties. When I was growing up in Canada I ate lasagne that had cottage or ricotta cheese in it but when I came to England I discovered that lasagne here relies much more on a white sauce (traditionally Béchamel sauce). As someone who loves tomatoes, this was a bit of a disappointment, as in most lasagnes made in the UK, tomato sauce takes a very definite back seat.

My vegetarian lasagne is unlike either of these. It does not rely very heavily on cheese (although it does contain a nice amount of mozzarella) and there is definitely no white sauce in it. It also incorporates a very non-traditional ingredient - beans. I had lasagne made with beans for the first time many years ago and they add a wonderful texture and depth of flavour - as well being wonderful nutritional powerhouses.

I use fresh lasagne sheets, partly because I am lazy when it comes to lasagne, and partly because I am impatient. If you would rather use dried pasta that you cook in advance that is absolutely fine. Just cook and drain the lasagne sheets before you start layering. If, however, you use the dried ‘no need to pre-cook’ sheets, bear in mind that the dish may take slightly longer to cook as you are also cooking and softening the pasta. The beauty of making it with fresh pasta is that it is incredibly easy to put together, particularly if you already have roast vegetables on hand in the fridge as I usually do.

This recipe serves three to four people but you can easily double it. When I do that I generally cook it in two pans so that it cooks more quickly. If you use a larger pan it will take longer to cook.

10 ounces of fresh lasagne sheets
2 teaspoons mild vegetable oil (I use olive)
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2½ cups of plain tomato sauce or passata (sieved tomatoes - organic if possible. If you are using dried ‘no need to pre-cook’ lasagne sheets you may find you need a bit more.)
cup basil pesto
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1-14 ounce can mixed beans (preferably organic), drained and rinsed
2 to 3 cups roast vegetables
(zucchini, peppers and onion - click on the link for the recipe)
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups grated vegetarian mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 (190 or 170 for a fan oven).

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently sauté the onion until it begins to soften. Stir in the tomato sauce and pesto and heat through. Add the oregano, roast vegetables and beans and simmer over low heat for ten minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.

In a large deep rectangular dish, layer the lasagne, starting with about a third of the pasta, followed by a third of the vegetable and bean sauce, followed by a third of the cheese. Repeat until the three quarters full, being sure to finish with a layer of cheese.

Place the dish on a baking sheet (in case it bubbles over a bit) and bake for 30 to 45 minutes until the cheesy top is golden brown and the lasagne feels tender when prodded with a fork. Remove from the oven and let it rest for about five minutes before cutting and serving with garlic bread and / or a salad.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Crispy Crunchy Roast Potatoes

My Aunt Dorothy is an amazing cook, and when I was growing up, her roast potatoes were the stuff of legend. So when I began cooking for my husband just after we got married, I decided I wanted to make roast potatoes like hers. Of course, it would have been more sensible to ask her how she made her roast potatoes so crispy and delicious, but as she was 3,000 miles away I didn’t see her very often. And when I did, I just never seemed to get round to asking her.

So over the years I developed a recipe of my own. It’s easy and it’s also vegetarian. I didn’t set out to make it that way, it is just that I find olive oil is the absolute best way to get the crispy, crunchy outside and soft, yielding inside that my family crave in a roast potato. Plus whenever I’ve cooked my potatoes in fat from the roast, I end up with indigestion, but with the olive oil, I never do.  If olive oil is too pricey though, I’d go with any other mild vegetable oil, like sunflower oil or something similar. The wonderful thing is that as well as being a wonderful accompaniment to a 'main event' like a Christmas dinner, freshly roasted potatoes are a relatively quick and easy way to turn leftovers into something to look forward to. 

One day about fifteen years ago, when my cousin (Aunt Dorothy’s son) was visiting us for a few days, I served a roast dinner complete with my roast potatoes. Two bites in, he proclaimed they were “as good as my mother’s”. I can’t tell you how happy that made me!

So without further ado, here is the way to crispy, crunchy, no fail roast potatoes - and the very best thing is, it couldn’t be easier.

You need to start with good, fresh potatoes. Not surprisingly, the quality of the potato really does affect the quality of the dish. You need to allow one large potato per person, but I always make more than I need as folks always seem to want seconds and I’d be mortified if I didn’t have enough.

Wash (scrub if necessary), peel your potatoes and rinse them well. Cut them into pieces. Each large potato should cut into three or four, and ideally you want the pieces to have as many edges as possible, so if you cut them diagonally it can be very effective. The potatoes I used above were not very big, so I just cut them in half, and it worked out just fine. It’s nothing to worry about - the rest of the steps are far more important.

Put the cut pieces of potato in a saucepan and cover with cold water. (It’s important to start them from cold.) Bring to the boil, and boil gently for five to eight minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. You just want them parboiled and still firm, not soft.

Meanwhile, heat your oven to about 400 or 200. Depending on the number of potatoes, pour about a quarter to a half cup of oil onto a roasting pan or cookie sheet with sides. You want to see the oil sitting on the pan, but you don’t want it more than about an eighth of an inch deep. When the potatoes have three or four minutes to go, carefully put the pan in the oven to heat up.

After the potatoes are cooked, drain them immediately, and do be sure to drain them well. Now put the lid back on the pan and gently shake the pan around a bit on the stove. Don’t shake to hard, or you will end up with mush. Mush is rarely a good thing, and definitely not in this case.

Making sure you have somewhere to sit it down, remove the pan from the oven carefully. Hot fat is dangerous, do be careful not to burn yourself. Gently move the potatoes from the saucepan into the oil, turning them a bit in the oil as you do so. I use tongs for this step.

Carefully put the potatoes back in the oven and set the timer for twenty minutes. At this point, carefully remove the pan from the oven, sit it somewhere safe and heat proof, and turn the potato pieces round a bit, turning them in the oil. Again, I use tongs.

Return the potatoes to the oven for about fifteen more minutes, or until brown and crispy. Enjoy!

Friday, 24 December 2010

From My Home to Yours

The Christmas preparations are nearly finished.

Yesterday the lovely Emma from Green Parlour dropped off the new wreath and floral arrangements I ordered (I always like to refresh my fresh floral Christmas decorations a couple days before Christmas.) I’m so pleased with them.

I’m all set for Christmas entertaining.

This morning my husband, son and I went to Pangbourne in what is becoming a traditional Christmas Eve visit. We stopped into the gift shop, the bakery and the little grocery store for some last minute bits and pieces and also went to Green’s, our wonderful local butchers, to collect our Christmas order. We were queued out into the street to collect it and everyone was chatting. There were some amazing things coming out of the shop. Beautiful pastry wrapped Beef Wellingtons, geese, hams and of course, turkeys. Everyone was in a festive mood, and folks reminisced about Christmases gone by - and one lady told us about a dish she once had featuring seven birds, all cooked inside each other (a turkey somehow stuffed with a duck, goose, pheasant, quail and two other birds I can’t remember).  It was fascinating, if not very appetising!

Anyway, after a very pleasant few minutes chatting with everyone, we collected our turkey, a cooked, sliced ham, a wonderful pork pie (the pastry wrapped cooked kind with hard boiled egg in the centre) and luscious pastry wrapped sausage rolls.

We came home and had some of the fresh sausage rolls for lunch with some wintery apple salad. While my husband, who is working from home today, works in the study, there is a frenzy of cooking, present wrapping and card delivering going on. I am loving every minute of it.

I hope that wherever you may be you are loving every minute of the Christmas season too!

 From my home to yours, wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

The 21st Century Housewife

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Shloer - A Delicious Festive Alternative

There always seems to be such a lot of alcohol on offer over the festive season, but not everyone wants to imbibe, and it’s important to have some delicious festive alternatives on hand to tempt their taste buds too. Shloer is a great tasting non-alcoholic sparkling drink suitable for the whole family.

Shloer comes in six wonderful flavours - White Grape, Red Grape, Rose, Apple and White Grape, White Grape, Raspberry and Cranberry and Grape and Elderflower - and contains no preservatives, artificial colours, sweeteners or flavours. It makes a great grape-based alternative to wine or you can mix it with other ingredients to make some fabulous non-alcoholic cocktails.

The nice folks at Shloer sent me two bottles of their product to try and I was really impressed with how fresh and delicious both the White Grape and the Red Grape varieties were. Some non-alcoholic grape based drinks can be overly sweet, but Shloer had a great balance of flavours. I served Shloer at a cocktail party we had recently and our non-drinkers were really pleased to be served something that both looked and tasted festive. I had lots of very positive comments about the flavour too.

So don’t forget to include Shloer on your shopping list for holiday entertaining. You - and your guests - will be very pleased you did!

The 21st Century Housewife was not paid for this post. I did receive two product samples to facilitate my review.

Christmas Morning Breakfast Treats

Christmas morning is a wonderful time for a special breakfast, but who wants to be spending ages in the kitchen? Well, all of these recipes can be made ahead, none of them are difficult and they would all make a great part of a special Christmas breakfast. Just add some juice, hot coffee, a nice cup of tea, Buck’s Fizz, Mimosa or whatever you fancy for an easy, delicious and special start to the day.

Please click on the links to go to the recipes.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Grandma's Garlic Bread

This is one of those wonderful 1950’s and 60’s recipes that not only tastes good, it’s frugal too. Back before everyone could pronounce baguette, when garlic was still an exotic ingredient, this was the way my Mom made garlic bread. And sitting at her table one day in Canada thirty years later, my son, who loves it, christened it Grandma’s Garlic Bread.

Of course, he was used to the kind of garlic bread you get in Italy and France, beautiful thick loaves smothered in a thick medley of garlic and unsalted butter. But my Mom’s garlic bread has a cachet all its own, and when it comes down to comfort food, this is the garlic bread I prefer.

The bread part is hamburger buns. They can be white or whole wheat, and if they are a little bit stale it really doesn’t matter. I do recall a couple of occasions when Mom used hotdog buns as well. Originally she made this recipe with garlic salt and margarine, so I have made it healthier to reflect the times, but the spirit and taste of the recipe is very much the same as Mom’s. It’s quick and easy and let’s face it, there are not many dishes garlic bread doesn’t go with.

For about 8 to 10 pieces of Grandma’s Garlic Bread, you need:-

4 or 5 hamburger buns, cut in half
4 to 5 tablespoons butter
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
(You can use garlic salt here instead, but don’t salt the bread at the end!)
1 to 2 teaspoons dried parsley (you can use fresh if you prefer)
salt and pepper to taste (I like to use ground rock salt and peppercorns)

Preheat the broiler/grill  to about 375 (180 to 190).

Place the buns, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove. Grate in the garlic and add the parsley.

Brush the cut side of the buns generously with the buttery garlic mixture. Grind some salt and pepper over the top.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

In the words of another great British cook, Delia Smith, ‘I love Nigella Lawson’s writing and I love her recipes.’ Nigella writes books as if she is talking to you, standing in the kitchen with you, and as a result, her recipes are pretty much fail-safe. In all my years of cooking a huge number of her recipes, only one did not turn out, and that was because I took a (very unwise) shortcut. So when Nigella’s newest book ‘Kitchen’ hit the shelves, I got a copy the very first day it was available. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake is one of the recipes from it, also shown as part of the new television series she is doing Thursday nights on the BBC, Nigella Kitchen.

I hesitate to admit this, but this is the first time I have made a baked cheesecake. I was a bit nervous about it to be honest, more a fear of the unknown than anything else, but the temptation of chocolate and peanut butter - in Nigella’s own words a “Reese’s Peanut Butter cup in cheesecake form” - was too much to resist. And in the end, it was actually very easy.

You do virtually everything in a food processor, first blitzing together the digestive biscuits (graham crackers would probably work here too), salted peanuts, dark chocolate and butter. I was very tempted to eat this mixture with a spoon, just as it was.

Once this mixture is pressed into a springform pan and popped in the fridge, you just wipe out the processor and mix up the filling ingredients, which include lots of yummy peanut butter and cream cheese. It’s not as pretty as the crust ingredients, but it sure smelled good.

Then you just pour the filling into the crust and bake for about 50 minutes.

Nigella recommends you check after forty minutes, but mine cooked really fast (ovens vary so radically), I would say to check after thirty minutes as mine was verging on well done in forty. The fact it was a little brown didn’t matter one bit though as you then cover it in a glorious glossy mixture of chocolate, sour cream and brown sugar melted together in a saucepan.

After ten more minutes in the oven, it comes out looking gorgeous. And after cooling and several hours in the fridge (the recipe recommends overnight chilling, but I was too impatient), you can then remove it from the pan.

It is utterly heavenly. I got rave reviews from everyone who tasted it too. Plus, it is so voluptuously rich that I honestly think you could serve at least twelve from it. My first baked cheesecake was a wholly successful experiment, thanks to a great recipe from the original domestic goddess.

For the recipe, please click here to go to the BBC website.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Christmas Sugar Cookies

I originally posted this recipe in my Recipe of the Week pages back in a few years ago. The picture brings back fond memories because my son and I decorated these cookies together. I wanted to share this post again as it’s definitely the right time of year and this recipe has been a classic in my kitchen since I was a kid. 

Here in England where I live, there is more emphasis on heavy desserts like Christmas pudding, fruit cake and mincemeat pies but my favourite things to make at Christmastime are the cookies and squares I remember as a child.  I remember plate after plate of these sweet treats laid on the buffet after Christmas dinner, and I have to confess, they were my favourite part of the meal! One of the most popular of these delicious morsels  is the classic sugar cookie. Cut out in Christmas shapes, and either sprinkled with sugar before baking or iced afterwards, these flaky cookies are a Christmas classic. There must be a million recipes for this cookie out there, but this is mine – from a recipe card in my Mom’s handwriting. They have been a part of Christmas nearly every year since I was a little girl. 

1 cup butter (softened to room temperature)
1 ½ cups sifted icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 ½ cups plain (all purpose) flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and the egg and stir to mix.  Sift together the flour, soda and cream of tartar.  Blend into the butter and egg mixture.  Stir the mixture into a sort of ball shape, and put in the refrigerator for at least two hours, longer if possible.

Preheat the oven to about 350º – 375º F or about 150ºC.   (Ovens can vary wildly so do go carefully, and err on the side of cooler rather than hotter.  You can always bake the cookies longer!)  Line baking sheets with greaseproof paper (wax paper).  Divide the dough in half, putting one half back in the refrigerator. 

Roll out one half of the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of about ¼ inch. Now for the fun part!  Cut out shapes using Christmas cookie cutters.  Carefully remove the shapes and place them on the baking trays.  Half the dough should fill two baking trays. You can re-roll the scraps and cut them out as well, but only do this once or twice or the dough will get very tough. 

Place the two baking trays in the oven for about 10 minutes, switching the trays from one oven rack to the other half way through.  Cooking time will depend on your oven. The cookies should be just beginning to go golden on the edges. Don’t overcook them though, we are aiming for a pale cookie here!  Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit for a minute or two.  Now carefully remove them from the baking trays and place them on wire racks to cool.

Meanwhile, remove the remaining dough from the refrigerator. Roll out, cut out and bake as above. 

When the cookies are absolutely cold, you can ice or decorate them as desired.  You can make an easy icing from 1 cup icing sugar, ½ tsp flavouring (try vanilla, lemon, peppermint or almond) and 1 ½ tablespoons cream or 1 tablespoon water.  Just mix everything together carefully, adding a bit more (or less) water or cream to make a fairly thick but spreadable consistency. You can add a drop of food colouring if desired – try green! I always like to ice the entire cookie in one colour and then sprinkle with decorative sprinkles that you can buy in the baking section of your supermarket – but your creativity is the only limit here. You can decorate these little babies however you like.

If you are in a real hurry and don’t want the fiddle of icing the cookies, sprinkle them with fine white sugar (caster sugar is good) or coloured sugar BEFORE baking.  They cook up a bit more golden but you’ve got pretty and delicious cookies fairly quickly this way. I do prefer them iced though! 

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Aunt Dorothy's Butterscotch Squares

This is another recipe I remember from Christmases past, and also from the wonderful New Year’s Day dinners my Aunt Dorothy used to host every year when I was a little girl. These squares really are delicious anytime of year though, and so easy to make. My Aunt Dorothy is a wonderful cook, and a lovely lady - always very willing to share her recipes and experience!

This is a really simple recipe to put together, keeps well in the fridge and it is easy to transport. It also makes a fantastic homemade Christmas gift!

To make an 8 x 8 inch pan, you need:

½ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
1 beaten egg
4 cups vanilla wafers, chopped in pea size bits
¾ cup chopped nuts
¾ cup butterscotch morsels
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt the butter. Remove from heat. Add sugar and egg; stir to blend well.  Put back on the burner and heat over moderate heat, stirring almost constantly until mixture boils.

Allow to boil for one minute, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla wafers, nuts, butterscotch morsels and vanilla. 

Press the toffee like rubble into a buttered 8 x 8 inch pan.

Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Cut in small pieces to serve. Store in fridge. It's best if you bring it to room temperature before eating though.