Sunday, 31 October 2010

Monday Musings - Volume 2

It’s that time of the week again! I’m still working on the transitions - practice makes perfect :) 

Here are the links I mentioned in this week’s vlog:-

How to get your kids to clean up their rooms from

Gold Star Wednesday From My Tiny Kitchen

Twelve Weeks of Christmas Cookies from Seaside Simplicity

Pumpkin Swirled Brownies from Family, Stamping and Food

Flapper Pie from Brenda’s Canadian Kitchen

Have a wonderful week!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Gourmet Dining on the Monagasque Beach - La Note Bleue

Just along the Plage du Larvotto on the Avenue Princess Grace in Monte Carlo there is a beach restaurant and jazz lounge that serves the most wonderful dishes. We had coffee there the first day of our visit, and returned for lunch twice afterwards. The service is friendly and efficient and the food is very, very good.

Check out this Salade Nicoise.

Beautifully presented, fresh and utterly delicious, I enjoyed it on both our visits to this refreshingly unpretentious venue. I don't think I have ever tasted nicer tuna and the tomatoes really did taste of sunshine.

My husband also enjoyed the same dish on both our visits - a seafood risotto with three different kinds of white fish. 

The fish and risotto were beautifully cooked, and there was not a bone to be found in this meltingly tender dish.

Our son enjoyed a vegetarian dish, tofu with stir fried vegetables and a side of light, fluffy rice.

There is something so wonderful about sitting in the sunshine looking out to sea and enjoying a lovely lunch. It was a popular place, and great for people watching. As we sat there one day a recognisable musician arrived with his entourage and a very glamorous girlfriend and sat down to lunch just beside us. (I never lunch and tell, but you would have recognised him too!) 

Our second lunch at La Note Bleue was on our last day in Monaco for this visit, and we decided to treat ourselves to dessert. I am so glad we did!

My husband's Tarte Tatin was beautifully presented and absolutely delicious,

and the ice cream our son chose was just divine.

It was a sweet, salty chocolate and caramel concoction, the peanut garnish offsetting the sweetness of the caramel beautifully. And as for my dessert, well, it is among the best I have ever had. I had never heard of Macaronade des Poires before, although I have eaten my fair share of macarons, but I will be on the lookout for it from now on!

Macarons of course translates to macaroon and these were beautiful examples of that wonderful treat - crisp on the outside with a divinely melting middle. Inside the cute little jar there was a warm compote of pears, cooked in a caramel sauce and topped with a tiny dollop of vanilla ice cream. The ice cream melted into the caramel and as the biscuits dissolved slowly in it as well - oh my goodness, it was quite incredible. By the end, I found myself totally losing my self control and soaking the remains of the biscuits in what was left of the caramel sauce in the bottom of the jar - it was that good! 

We were so impressed with the atmosphere, service and food at La Note Bleue we will definitely return on our next visit to Monaco - and should you find yourself there I urge you to go along and enjoy their hospitality too!

The 21st Century Housewife was not paid or compensated in any way for this post, and the opinions in it are genuine, and my own. 

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Homemade Bread The Easy Way

I wish I could be the kind of person who makes bread from scratch every couple of days, but like most modern women, my family’s lifestyle makes that pretty much impossible. So once in a while I bake scratch bread the old fashioned way, and the rest of the time, I use a bread machine. It's better than store bought, that is for sure!

The beauty of a bread machine is that it makes it possible for you to have fresh bread literally every day. It also means you know exactly what is going into your bread - right down to the kind of flour and how much salt. (Although don’t be tempted to leave the salt out entirely as the yeast needs it to work!) It also means you are not popping to the shops ‘just for a loaf of bread’ every two minutes. Although that might not seem like an onerous task, particularly if the shop is nearby, I always find that I buy a lot more than a loaf of bread when I am there and end up spending a lot more than I intended. If I can avoid the trip to the shop, I save more pennies!

I’ve had two bread machines in the last ten years, so they are fairly long lasting - and in fact the one I replaced recently was still working, it’s just the technology has moved along so much I wanted a newer model. Admittedly, when I first used that original machine, it took me a while to get used to it. And to be honest, I’ve never had much luck with the timers on either one of them. I’m much better setting the machine so that I know I will be there when it finishes and can take the bread out straight away. One of the things that helped me to really love my bread machine is a book by Sonia Allison called The Complete Bread Machine Cookbook. It was published nine years ago, so can be hard to get hold of, but it’s well worth buying if you can find a copy. I’ve tried loads of Sonia’s recipes over the years, and I’m planning to blog about them over the next few weeks, but I thought I would start with my family’s favourite - a light and easy Polenta Bread with Olive Oil that is great for everyday. (Polenta is another name for cornmeal.)

It’s Sonia’s technique for putting the ingredients in the bread machine that really works for me, and gives fabulous results. She recommends putting the liquid and any oil in the bread container first, then adding half the flour ingredients, then the salt, sugar and milk powder (if using), adding the rest of the flour and then mounding the yeast on top. This prevents the yeast from getting wet too soon and gives much better results. I highly recommend this method.

Polenta Bread with Olive Oil

2¾ cups strong white bread flour (organic if possible)
¼ cup cornmeal
1¼ cups water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (I’ve also used ordinary olive oil)
2 teaspoons salt (I use 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 tablespoons dried milk powder
1½ teaspoons instant or fast-acting dried yeast (I’ve used up to 2 teaspoons at times)

Mix together the flour and polenta. Pour the water into the breadmaker bucket, then add the oil, and half the flour and polenta mixture. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar and dried milk. Cover with the remaining flour mixture and mound the yeast into the centre.

Fit the bucket into the breadmaker and set to the programme recommended in the manual (usually basic white or No 1).

When the programme has finished, gently shake the loaf out of the bucket on to a wire cooling rack and stand right way up. Leave for at least an hour before cutting and/or removing paddle if necessary. (Sometimes I haven’t waited quite this long, but it is better if you do!)

Saturday, 23 October 2010

My First Vlog - Monday Musings - On Saturday Just This Once!

It’s my first attempt, so there are a few choppy transitions, but it will get better with time!

Here are the links that I mentioned:

A Lovely Meal at Jamie's Italian

It's hard being a food blogger these days. Restaurant lighting makes photography virtually impossible, and when you do use a flash, you risk ruining the mood for diners who are usually very close by indeed. You can usually manage a couple of pictures before they start to glare daggers at you. And I do understand, because if you don't actually write about it as a profession, photographing food seems like a very weird thing to do. 

The ambient lighting, for all it makes your own wrinkles disappear, also makes food which you want to wax lyrical about look absolutely rubbish. The colours look garish, and you wonder how you can possibly convey how delicious something that looks so bad really was. But I will persevere!

We've eaten at Jamie's Italian in Reading a couple times now, and it has always been very nice, although not necessarily remarkable. This time was different. The food was just incredible, and the service was so good I honestly could have been in North America. (I'm not being rude, just honest. If you travel as much as I do you will know, in many cases there is a difference in service country to country. It's just the way it is.)

It helped that the timing was perfect. After a very pleasant afternoon Christmas shopping (don't hate me because I'm organised - it's the first time!), my husband put our name in for a table just as he headed to the car park to put our bags in the car. I was waiting for some parcels to be wrapped, and by the time we had got them in the car and wondered if we'd be able to have a drink while we were waiting, the pager he had been given was going off. 

We were given a nice table upstairs, although you are always very close to fellow diners, in part to replicate the European experience, and in part because real estate this close to London is expensive. We started off with a drink and the meat antipasti - which this photograph does not do justice to.

It arrived on a long plank of wood, and featured gorgeous meats, including Parma ham and pistachio salami, root vegetable salad made with raw vegetables including celeriac and beetroot in vinaigrette, mozzarella balls with basil and chillis, olives and pecorino cheese topped with a gorgeous chilli jam. 

We lingered over this for some time, and our main courses arrived just as we were finishing. After such a meaty starter, I went vegetarian for my main course and enjoyed a wonderful Eggplant Parmigiana. 

I had to use a flash for this photograph, which made the colours look very garish indeed, but believe me it looked beautiful. I had to make every shot count, as the couple next to us were not terribly impressed with the flashes of the camera - understandably as they were spending quite a lot of time gazing into each other's eyes. It was so cute.

My husband enjoyed a beautifully seasoned grilled pork chop on a bed of roasted potatoes. It was fresh, simple and delicious. 

Oh, and I just had to order some of these.

Chips that were crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, drizzled with truffle oil and shredded Parmesan cheese. I know some people feel truffle oil is over-rated, but I'm not one of them. I did share some of these with my husband, but not very many!

It will come as no surprise to you that we were way too full for dessert, as tempting as the selection was. All the desserts that came out of the kitchen looked wonderful, and I think the one I saw coming out the most was affogato - good vanilla ice cream served with a shot of espresso alongside. You pour the espresso over the ice cream before you eat it. It's simple, but gorgeous. Perhaps next time. 

I've only ever been to this branch of Jamie's Italian in Reading, but based on my experience I would not hesitate to visit the others. And if you do find yourself in Reading, it is well worth a visit. It's competitively priced for this area and the food is consistently delicious, and often even outstanding. 

Friday, 22 October 2010

The 21st Century Housewife's Chocolate Chip Cookies

First of all, huge congratulations to Jo Bryan of Peterborough, who is the winner of the selection of Pyrex non-stick bakeware and prepware worth £50 courtesy of Pyrex and National Baking Week.

This is my last post in celebration of National Baking Week, and for me, no celebration of baking would be complete without my chocolate chip cookie recipe. They are one of the first things I baked as a child, and over the years they have become one of my signature recipes. Everyone always asks for the recipe, and I’m happy to share it.

One thing that really makes a difference is using Nestle Toll House Morsels instead of ordinary chocolate chips. They can be hard to find in England, but are available from The Stateside Candy Company. It’s really worth sourcing these as I think they are among the best chocolate chips in the world – although other brands still give a delicious result.

These cookies are best eaten the day they are made, although I have never found it to be a problem as frankly, most of them get eaten before they even get a chance to cool! Try them with an ice cold glass of milk - it may sound cliché, but it really does make an ambrosial snack. A cup of tea doesn’t go amiss either!

2/3 cup soft unsalted butter
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups all purpose (plain) flour
½ teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
½ teaspoon salt
1 package (6 ounces) chocolate chips (preferably Nestle Toll House Semi Sweet morsels - see above)

You’ll need two baking sheets, either lightly greased with butter or lined with some greaseproof paper.  Heat the oven to 350ºF or 170ºC (160ºC fan oven). 

Cream together the butter and the sugars. Add the egg and vanilla and stir in.  Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the butter mixture. Gently fold in the chocolate chips. 

Drop the mixture by teaspoons onto the prepared baking sheets. (You may need to bake the cookies in more than one batch.)  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly brown. 

It is worth keeping an eye on them as all ovens vary.  The cookies should still be soft, but will get firmer as they cool.  Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on them for about five minutes. (This is an important step - they won’t come off the baking sheets properly if you don’t allow them to rest first.) Carefully remove the cookies from the baking sheets and place on wire racks to cool - if you can resist them!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Luscious Lemon Tart

Before I get to the recipe, this is the last day for entries to the National Baking Week Giveaway here on The 21st Century Housewife! You could win a selection of Pyrex non-stick bakeware and prepware worth £50! All you need to do to enter is email me by clicking here with the words ‘Pyrex Giveaway’ in the subject line of the email. The giveaway closes today so get your entries in quick! (I'm sorry, but this giveaway is for UK readers only.)

Lemon tart is such a wonderful way to end a meal. Its tart flavour (forgive the pun!) is light, delicious and palate cleansing and my version really could not be easier to make.  I’ve used a no-roll pastry which means you can simply press it into the pie plate or tart dish. However, if you really, really want to roll the pastry out, by all means feel free. You will achieve a slightly tidier edge to your pastry and the tart will look a little less rustic, but that is not necessarily a bad thing!

250 grams plain (all purpose) flour
125 grams white sugar (caster for preference but granulated is okay)
125 grams unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
a pinch of salt

Blend all these ingredients together in an electric mixer.  Roll into a ball and then press into the pie plate or tart dish, bringing the mixture up the edges nicely.  Pop in the fridge for a few minutes while you mix up the filling.

100 grams unsalted butter, melted (and cooled a bit so it doesn’t scramble the eggs!)
200 grams white sugar
(again caster for preference but granulated is okay)
4 large eggs
finely grated rind of two unwaxed lemons
150 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (that’s the juice of about 4 lemons)

Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork.  Set aside.  Wash the electric mixer bowl that you used to make the pastry and dry thoroughly.   Put the slightly cooled melted butter, sugar, beaten eggs and lemon rind in it.  Beat until smooth.  Add the lemon juice and beat until smooth.  Remove the pie plate or tart dish from the fridge and carefully pour in the filling. 

Place the tart in the oven and bake at 160 (325) for about 30 to 35 minutes or until the filling is set and just beginning to take on a golden tinge.  Cool on a wire rack. 

This tart is delicious but not really very beautiful, so before serving decorate with a few sliced strawberries or some raspberries and sieve some icing (powdered) sugar over the top.  This is lovely served with cream or some very good vanilla ice cream. 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Pear and Walnut Bread

In honour of National Baking Week, I’m posting a recipe each day this week to inspire you to get baking and sharing. Check out the National Baking Week website for lots more recipes and ideas and even a downloadable recipe book. And don’t forget to enter the 21st Century Housewife’s National Baking Week competition to win a selection of Pyrex non-stick bakeware and prepware worth £50! Click here for more details.

Now, on to my recipe. This is a lovely Autumnal bread, which tastes fantastic served with a bit of butter spread on top. It is quite savoury, but the maple syrup and pears give it an echo of earthy sweetness. It makes a delicious breakfast bread but also tastes lovely with a cup of tea in the afternoon or even with a piece of cheese (especially Brie!). The addition of whole wheat flour and wheat germ mean it is healthier than many other sweet breads and the walnuts it contains are rich in B vitamins, magnesium, Vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids. 

To make one loaf, you need:-

50 grams butter, melted and allowed to cool slightly
5 tablespoons maple syrup
1 egg, lightly beaten
One 284ml container buttermilk
(Buttermilk comes in 284 ml containers in my local grocery store, but if your sells containers of a different size, simply measure out 280 ml.) 
175 grams plain flour
175 grams whole wheat flour
25 grams wheat germ
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
75 grams of walnuts, roughly chopped
2 large pears ( or three small ones), peeled, cored and grated
(wait until the last minute to do this so that the pears do not brown)

For the topping:-
1 tablespoon Demerera sugar
1/4 teaspoon ginger

Preheat the oven to 375 or 160. Grease and flour or line a large loaf pan with greaseproof paper or a liner.

In a large jug, mix together the butter, maple syrup, egg and buttermilk. 

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, wheat germ, salt, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and nutmeg.  Stir in the walnuts. Grate the pears into this mixture and stir them in thoroughly. 

Pour the wet ingredients from the jug over the dry ingredients in the bowl and fold in until thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. 

Mix together the topping ingredients and sprinkle over top of the loaf.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the loaf is beginning to turn golden brown and is cooked through. (You can check by inserting a piece of dried spaghetti into the middle of the loaf.  If it comes out without any batter clinging to it, it is done.)

Remove the loaf from the pan as soon as you can do so without burning yourself, and cool on a wire rack. Wait until it is almost completely cool before attempting to slice it.  In fact, this loaf benefits from some time to rest and tastes even better if you wrap it in foil after it has cooled and keep it until the next day.

The loaf will keep in a cool place for a couple of days or longer in the fridge.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

My Raspberry Almond Tart

It’s National Baking Week in the UK, the aim being to get Britain baking and sharing. There’s lots of ideas and inspiration on the National Baking Week website, and you can keep up with what is happening on a day to day basis on their blog. The 21st Century Housewife got a mention there today, thanks to a great competition we’ve got going here on the site. Click here to find out more!

I’m planning to post one of my recipes here every day over the next few days to inspire you to get into the kitchen and do some lovely home baking. This is one of my old favourites, originally posted here on the site back in May 2009. It’s well worth repeating, and perfect for sharing!

For the crust:-

125 grams cold butter, diced in small cubes
200 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
50 grams ground almonds
2 tablespoons caster or granulated (white) sugar
(vanilla sugar is lovely if you have it)
2 - 3 tablespoons milk

For the filling:-

2 - 3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

40 grams butter, melted
100 grams white sugar
90 grams ground almonds
10 grams plain flour
1 egg, plus one egg yolk, lightly beaten together
3 tablespoons half fat crème fraîche
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
1 teaspoon almond flavouring
1 cup fresh raspberries, washed and drained

For the topping:-
1/4 cup flaked almonds
1 - 2 tablespoons white sugar

To make the pastry, blend together the butter, flour, ground almonds and sugar until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  You can do this in a mixer or food processor or with a pastry cutter.  Now gradually add the milk, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the mixture just begins to cling together and you can form it into a ball. (You may not need the whole 3 tablespoons of milk.)

Dust your hands with a little flour and press the mixture into a fairly deep 10 inch (25 centimetre) round pie plate, working the pastry up the sides until you have formed a proper crust. (There is nothing to stop you rolling this pastry out if you want to, but I’m not a big fan of rolling pastry out, so I simply press it into the pan.) 

Place the raspberry jam in a microwaveable bowl and very carefully on a low heat setting microwave the jam for about thirty seconds or until it is of an almost pourable consistency. Using a pastry brush, brush the jam over the bottom of the crust, covering it completely. Set the pastry case aside.  

Blend together all the remaining filling ingredients except the raspberries until smooth. At this point you have a choice. You can very carefully fold the raspberries into the filling mixture and then very carefully pour the filling into the pie plate OR you can pour half the filling mixture into the pastry case, arrange the raspberries over top, and then pour the remaining filling mixture over the raspberries.  The latter is the fiddly, time consuming option but it gives much better results as the first option can cause the raspberries to fall to pieces leaving the resulting tart delicious, but not very pretty to look at. 

Mix together the flaked almonds and sugar and sprinkle them over top of the tart. Bake at 160 (fan oven) for about twenty minutes and then turn the oven back to about 150 and cook for another five to fifteen minutes, depending on your oven. The filling should be well set when the tart is cooked and it should be a lovely golden colour.  You have to really watch this tart to make sure it does not over brown. I also always turn the pie plate half way through cooking to ensure it browns evenly. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit before serving. This is delicious served with good vanilla ice cream. 

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for about twenty-four hours.