Saturday, 31 December 2011

A New Year's Eve Treat

When I was finally allowed to stay up till midnight as a child (to be fair, my parents were fairly indulgent, I was only about 8 or 9!) this was one of the treats I looked forward to. Mom would always serve it alongside the sparkling wine or champagne we drank to toast the New Year. 

It's a classic shrimp cocktail, a a great recipe to add to your repertoire, whenever you want to serve it. It’s shrimp cocktail as it was served in the 1950’s and is often still served today - cold shrimp a sharp contrast to the bright spicy sauce they were topped with, laying on a super crisp bed of shredded iceberg lettuce. 
In England, shrimp are usually called ‘prawns’ and they are usually served with a Marie Rose dressing - a blend of ketchup or tomato sauce and mayonnaise, or sometimes even with thousand island dressing. Prawn cocktail was the fashionable starter of the 1980‘s here. By the end of that decade most folks were fed up with it and it experienced a huge fall from grace, along with that staple 1980’s dessert Black Forest Gateau. It’s certainly more fashionable now, but I think if folks could taste this sauce instead of the traditional mild Marie Rose version, even more people would be embracing this charming retro dish.
This makes a wonderful starter, or a real treat for lunch - if you are making lunch for one you can keep any extra sauce in the fridge for a couple of days. Thawing a handful of frozen shrimp or treating yourself to some fresh cooked shrimp from the grocery store can take an ordinary lunch and elevate it to the extraordinary. 
The sauce also makes a great dip, and I often serve a plate of large shrimp round a dish of it at parties. The dish is always empty in minutes.
Shrimp Cocktail
1 handful of shredded iceberg lettuce per person
1 handful of small frozen shrimp per person, thawed
For each serving, place the shredded lettuce in a pretty dish or on a nice plate. Top with the shrimp.
To make the sauce:
½ cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons mild creamy horseradish (You may need a bit less than this depending on how hot your horseradish is.)
½ teaspoon lemon juice (fresh if possible)
Place the ketchup in a bowl and add about 1 tablespoon of the horseradish along with the lemon juice. Stir to mix. Taste, adding a bit more horseradish if you feel the mixture needs it. 
Top the shrimp with the sauce and serve very cold.

At midnight tonight my family and I will be enjoying this classic family treat alongside a glass of champagne (followed by a piece of cake!)

However you plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve, I wish you and yours a Happy, Prosperous and Healthy New Year full of blessings and joy. 

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Gallery of Favorites - New Year's Edition

Gallery of Favorites

Alea of Premeditated Leftovers and I want to welcome you to a very special edition of our weekend blog hop, The Gallery of Favorites. 
The Gallery of Favorites is a place for you to feature favorite posts from your own blog. Although Alea and I both spend a lot of our time writing about food, we do have many other interests and know that our readers do as well. The Gallery of Favorites is a place for all bloggers - not just food bloggers - to share their ideas, interests and passions. Of course, recipe and food posts are very welcome too!

Thank you so much to everyone who has taken part in the Gallery of Favorites this year. The posts you have shared have been both interesting and inspiring. We look forward to reading more of them in the New Year!
This is our New Year’s edition, and we would love for you to share your favorite posts of the whole year from your own blogs. 

To read more, and to share your posts, please click here...

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Let's Do Brunch

Thank you for joining us for Let’s Do Brunch, the recipe exchange for breakfast, lunch and brunch recipes. I’m sorry, I am late posting this week due to my family holiday - the time keeps slipping away on me! 
Thank you to everyone who contributed last week. Chaya and I always enjoy visiting your posts and trying out the wonderful new ideas you share. My co-host, Chaya of My Sweet and Savory will be choosing some of her highlights from last week’s hop, and this week I want to highlight some of the wonderful cookie recipes that were shared last week. This is usually the time I am beginning to run out of cookies, and need some more ideas for holiday entertaining. 

To read more, and share your recipes, please click here...

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Hearth and Soul Hop

Hearth & Soul Hop

Welcome to the Hearth and Soul Hop, the blog carnival for and about food that nourishes both body and soul. We've got some exciting news and an announcement this week, as well as the hop, so please click here to read more...

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Dinner at The Rock Center Cafe

Turkey followed by Christmas pudding is very much the traditional Christmas meal of choice in England, so we were a little nervous about our first Christmas dinner in New York City. It was highly unlikely we would find turkey on the menu, and we knew for sure that Christmas pudding was definitely not going to figure into the equation. Added to this is the fact that there are a dizzying choice of places to eat in NYC on Christmas Day. In the end, we chose the Rock Center Cafe both for its location, and because we had a wonderful meal there about eighteen months ago, eating at their tables outside on a summer visit to New York. In the winter months, the Rockefeller Center rink fills the space where the tables sit, and provides a gorgeous backdrop to the modern layout of the restaurant inside. 

The view of the rink from The Rock Center Cafe 
The restaurant was beyond busy, and even though we had a reservation, we still had to line up outside and wait for a half an hour beyond our reservation time to get in. However it was definitely worth the wait. Although it was a set menu, there were five choices each for starter and nine for main course, as well as four possible desserts. Although none of these choices involved turkey in any form, they all sounded so good we soon forgot to be worried about tradition. 

Our son started with Pork Belly, and my husband and I chose the Jumbo Shrimp with Cognac and Cocktail Sauces. Everything was mouthwateringly delicious and beautifully presented. I decided to go for a pescatarian Christmas following the Jumbo Shrimp with the Red Snapper. Served with roast tomatoes, fennel, olives and capers and accented with garlic and basil oil, the fish was beautifully moist and so well filleted that I did not come across even one single bone. 
Red Snapper with Tomato, Fennel, Olives and Capers
My husband chose the Berkshire Pork Chop with Sweet Potato Flan and Swiss Chard, and my son chose the Fillet Mignon served with 'the best mashed potatoes' he had ever had. Both of these choices were scrumptious, and we were all really taken with the Sweet Potato Flan, which was seasoned with Pumpkin Pie Spice, making it a beautiful foil to the delicious bone in chop. 
Berkshire Pork Chop with Sweet Potato Flan
We accompanied our meal with a delicious Sancerre, which went beautifully with the pork and the fish. 

Christmas Pudding was definitely not on the menu, but we really didn't miss it. The Key Lime Pie with Blackcurrant Coulis was a lovely sweet/tart finish to my meal. 

Key Lime Pie with Blackberry Coulis
My husband chose an Apple Cake, and although he did say he wished he had chosen the Key Lime Pie (I shared mine so he didn't miss out), the Apple Cake was very delicious too.

We were all very impressed by the impeccable service and wonderful food, particularly considering how busy the restaurant was. Furthermore, although they were desperate for tables, and when we left the queue was longer than ever, we never felt rushed. It was a great atmosphere, and we all enjoyed watching the skaters outside as well, particularly when one man did a bit of impromptu ice dancing, and later when a couple got engaged before our eyes.

I highly recommend the Rock Center Cafe anytime of year, but if you find yourself planning a visit to New York at Christmas, this is definitely a place you ought to consider reserving a table. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Let's Do Brunch

Thank you for joining us for Let’s Do Brunch, the recipe exchange for breakfast, lunch and brunch recipes. We always enjoy visiting your posts and trying out the wonderful new ideas you share. Thank you to everyone who contributed last week. My co-host, Chaya of My Sweet and Savory has chosen some of her highlights from last week’s hop, and this week I have chosen to highlight two lovely quick breads. 

To read more, and share your recipes, please click here...

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Mincemeat and Oatmeal Squares

My late Mom’s recipe box is a treasured resource of old family recipes, of which this is one. Perfect for Christmas, these squares are quick and easy to put together and they really are delicious. 

Mincemeat does not contain any meat, although it does contain a shredded solid form of fat called suet. While I can buy jars of mincemeat easily in any grocery store here in England, I know it can be harder to source if you live in North America. If you can’t find it, you can click here for a very straight-forward recipe. I also found a suet and sugar free recipe here on the wonderful Gluten Free SCD and Veggie Blog.

Be sure to use proper oatmeal, not the instant kind.

¾ cup rolled oats (not instant)
¾ cup all purpose (plain) flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup butter, (cold, cut in small cubes)
1¼ cups mincemeat (store bought is fine, but choose a good brand)
2 tablespoon rum, brandy, Cointreau or Grand Mariner 
(use orange juice instead if you need an alcohol free option)

Grease a 7 inch square pan and line the bottom with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 350ºF or about 160ºC (150ºC for fan ovens). Put the mincemeat in a small bowl and stir in the liquor. Set aside.

Combine the flour with the butter in a medium bowl until mixture resembles fine crumbs. You can use a food processor for this, or do it by hand with an old-fashioned pastry blender. I like to use a pastry blender.

Add the oats, baking soda, salt and sugar to the butter and flour mixture, and mix thoroughly. Press half this mixture into the prepared pan. Put the pan in the freezer, and the remaining oat mixture in the fridge.

After 15 minutes, remove the square pan from the freezer and the remaining oat mixture from the fridge. Carefully spread the boozy mincemeat over the top of the oat mixture in the square pan. Gently sprinkle the remaining oat mixture evenly over top of the mincemeat. 

Bake in the oven for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the squares are lightly golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  (Seriously, do not cut into these when they are warm as they will just crumble everywhere.) After the squares are completely cool, put them in the fridge for an hour or so before cutting.

When they are cold, carefully cut them in squares with a sharp knife. (They are not easy to cut, so do take care. I promise it is worth the effort.) These squares are best served cold or at room temperature.  

Leftovers will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for several days. 

The Hearth and Soul Hop with The 21st Century Housewife

Hearth & Soul Hop

Welcome to the Hearth and Soul Hop, the blog carnival for and about food that nourishes both body and soul. 

To read more and to share your recipes, please click here...

Monday, 19 December 2011

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

Before I start, allow me to confess that I have a) never been to Morocco and b) do not own a tagine. However, while this recipe may not be authentic in its preparation or the length of its ingredient list, it is definitely reminiscent of the dishes I have eaten in Moroccan restaurants. The subtle, warming spiciness of harissa lifts the roasted veggies to new flavour heights and has made this dish an overnight family favorite.

Harissa is a North African spice blend that is readily available in the spice aisle in most UK grocery stores. I have seen it in some stores in North America as well, and of course it is available on line. It’s not an overpowering spice mixture, and in small quantities provides a gorgeous, warming heat with no burn. Of course, it you like things extra spicy there is no reason why you can’t use more harissa paste than I did in this recipe, but I urge you to go carefully. Remember you can always add more spice but you can’t take it away!

Traditional tagine dishes are cooked for a very long time to melting gorgeousness, but by keeping this recipe vegetarian I was able to get the slow cooked flavour without the long cooking time. It’s also incredibly easy to prepare and the addition of the chickpeas adds a nutritional boost to make this a complete meal. Consider using wholewheat couscous as well for even more goodness. This recipe will serve 4 to 5 people generously.

Here’s how easy it is.

Peel (where necessary) and chop about two to three cups of vegetables. I like to use red onion, carrots, parsnips, mushrooms, zucchini (courgettes), red pepper and eggplant (aubergine). Cut vegetables that are more dense (such as parsnips and carrots) in smaller pieces to help them cook more quickly.

Toss the vegetables in ¼ cup olive oil and ½ to 1 tsp harissa. (I use a half teaspoon.) Roast in a hot oven (about 400ºF or 200ºC) for 30 to 40 minutes, or until lightly golden, turning once half way through.

Meanwhile, gently heat ½ cup to ¾ cup tomato sauce in a medium saucepan over medium to low heat. Drain and rinse one 14 ounce can of chickpeas. Add the chickpeas to the tomato sauce and gently heat through. Now add the roasted vegetables and stir to mix through. If necessary, add a little more tomato sauce to keep them moist, but not saucy.

Heat about 4 cups vegetable stock almost to boiling in a saucepan. Stir in ½ to 1 tsp harissa (again I used half a teaspoon) . Put 2 cups couscous in a large bowl and pour 3½ cups of the spiced stock over top. Cover and let sit for five minutes. Fluff with a fork, adding a bit more stock if necessary to give an al dente texture.

Serve the vegetables on a bed of couscous in warmed bowls or on warmed plates.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Gallery of Favorites

Gallery of Favorites

Alea of Premeditated Leftovers and I want to welcome you to the eighteenth edition of our weekend blog hop, The Gallery of Favorites. 
Before I share our featured post from last week, I want to let you know that the Gallery of Favorites will be taking a short break for Christmas, so there will be no Gallery post on Friday December 23rd. We will return on December 30th for a special New Year’s Eve edition of the Gallery, when we will be encouraging you to share your favorite post of the year from your blog, in addition to a more recent post you are proud of. 
Thank you to everyone who shared posts last week. 

To read more, and to share your posts, please click here...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Madeira Gravy

This recipe is inspired by my mother-in-law’s Madeira gravy but I’ve adjusted the seasoning and pared down the ingredients a bit so it is quicker and easier to make. It goes beautifully with roast turkey, beef or pork (I use the appropriate stock for the kind of meat I am serving so beef stock for beef, turkey for turkey etc), and it is wonderful for Christmas entertaining. When I served it to guests recently with Beef Wellington they said it was so tasty they could have eaten it on its own with a spoon, and I confess I could have too.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1¼ cups stock (made from a cube is fine)
2 tablespoons tomato paste or puree
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped or ½ teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf
1 generous tablespoon redcurrant or cranberry jelly
1 tablespoons corn flour blended with 2 tablespoons cold water
½ cup Madeira wine 
2 generous pinches of ground pepper or to taste
Heat the oil in a small saucepan and sauté the onion over medium heat until it is beginning to become translucent. Add the stock, the tomato puree or paste, the thyme and the bay leaf, stirring to blend well. Stir in the redcurrant or cranberry jelly, stirring until it is dissolved. Bring just to the boil, then turn back the heat to low and simmer for about fifteen minutes.
Strain the mixture through a sieve into a clean saucepan, discarding the onion and bay leaf.  Whisk in the corn flour and water mixture.  This will cause the stock to thicken fairly quickly. Cook, stirring constantly for a minute or so. Add the Madeira, a bit at a time, whisking constantly. Add a pinch of pepper and whisk it in, taste and add a bit more if necessary.
Pour into a gravy boat and serve.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Let's Do Brunch

What have you been cooking for breakfast, lunch or brunch this week? Share it with us! Any dish that would work for any of these three meals or as part of a brunch buffet is welcome at Let’s Do Brunch, the recipe exchange for breakfast, lunch and brunch recipes. 

To see last week's featured recipes, and to share yours, please click here...

Mystery Lemon Squares

This recipe is a bit of a mystery because I have no idea where it came from. I  found it in my late Mom’s old recipe file, but I don’t remember my Mom ever making it, and the recipe itself offers no clue as it is typewritten. The font, and the way the paper has aged makes me think that it must be quite old, but I can only guess at how old that might be.

I made these squares for the first time last Christmas and they have become one of our favourites. The sharpness of the lemon icing is the perfect foil to the sweet coconut and walnut filling. I like them because they keep extremely well in the fridge and are very easy to make too. In fact, although they make a wonderful addition to any Christmas cookie tray, this is a recipe I make year round.

¾ cup butter
1½ cups flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
½ cup coconut
½ cup chopped walnuts
1¼ cups brown sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 (170 or 160 for a fan oven).

Cream together the butter, flour and white sugar. Pat the mixture into an 8 x 8 inch square pan.

Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, mix together the coconut, walnuts, brown sugar, baking powder and eggs. Spread over the base and bake for about 20 minutes or until brown.

It does look almost alarmingly brown when it comes out of the oven, but don’t worry, that is exactly how it should be. Set aside to cool.

Mix together ¼ cup softened butter and 2 cups powdered sugar. Add one teaspoon of vanilla and beat together well. Gradually add the juice of a lemon (you may not need it all, or you may need a little more), beating well after each addition until you get a smooth, spreadable icing.

When the squares are completely cool, spread with the butter icing. Chill before cutting in small squares. Store covered in the refrigerator. 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy
Aunt Dorothy's Butterscotch Squares
Coconut Date and Cherry Christmas Squares

Monday, 12 December 2011

Cardamom Chocolate Mousee with Hazelnuts on an Amaretti Biscuit Base

Recently, I attended a coffee matching event hosted by Cafédirect with some of my fellow London bloggers, where we learned how the type coffee served with a dessert is just as important as the wine chosen to serve with the starter and main course. It was all part of an initiative by Cafédirect to encourage the British public to explore coffee in much the way a sommelier does wine. Just as different wines have distinctive regional characteristics dependent on factors such as soil, climate and altitude, the same is true for coffee. 
Cafédirect then opened a competition to the public, challenging them to create the perfect dessert recipe to pair with one of their single origin coffees, for the chance to win the dream foodie prize of £500 to spend at celebrated gourmet cookery school L’atelier des Chefs and feature in a limited edition recipe book. 
I was asked to go along to Cafédirect’s London headquarters to help judge the competition, along with the Head Chef at L’atelier des Chefs, Andre Dupin and Cafédirect coffee expert Thierry Akroman. We were presented with a wonderful array of desserts to sample, alongside the coffees the entrants had matched them with. 

From Star Anise and Cinnamon Crème Brûlée to Honey, Fig and Madeira Baked Alaska, there was something to tempt every palate. We tasted our way through some amazing desserts, and I was really impressed by the creativity that the entries demonstrated. After much deliberation, we chose a Cardamom Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnuts on an Amaretti Biscuit Base developed by Saskia Rogerson from Wiltshire as the winner. The dessert was incredibly innovative, using cardamom, carrots and chili to create layers of flavour, and the texture of the mousse was a great foil for the crunchy base. The recipe perfectly complimented Cafédirect’s wonderful Machu Picchu coffee, bringing out its dark chocolate and nutty flavours. 
Saskia’s recipe will now be the star in a limited edition Cafédirect Coffee & Dessert Matching Guide, which also features 15 shortlisted recipes each matching the profile of one of Cafédirect’s single origin coffees. The guide will be available for download from in January 2012. In the meantime, here is Saskia’s wonderful recipe, which I am looking forward to making for my next dinner party!

Cardamom Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnuts on an Amaretti Biscuit Base

Biscuit Base
250 grams amaretti biscuits, crushed
120 grams unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped hazlenuts
3 cardamon pods, grated
Caramelised carrot and chilli layer
2 tablespoons shredded carrot
2 tablespoons shredded chilli
25 grams unsalted butter
4 tablespoons muscavado sugar
Cardamom, Hazelnut and Chocolate mousse
300 grams bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tablespoons hazelnuts
4 cardamom pods, grated
45 grams unsalted butter
5 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons caster sugar
230 millilitres double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
shot of espresso made with Cafédirect Machu Picchu Roast and Ground coffee
For the biscuit base: melt the butter in a pan, pour in the amaretti biscuit,
hazelnuts and grated cardamom. Transfer to 28" springform cake tin and
leave to cool.
Combine all the ingredients for the caramelised carrot and chilli layer in a
saucepan and bring the mixture slowly to simmer until it caramelises, then pour onto the biscuit layer so it forms an even layer.
For the mousse, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl heated over a pan
of simmering water, add in espresso, cardamom, and hazelnuts. Leave to
cool slightly.
Heat the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar in another bowl over the simmering pan of water. Whisk until warm then transfer to electric mixer and mix until the yolk is pale and fluffy. Then fold into chocolate mixture.
Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they are stiff, then fold this into
the chocolate mixture. In a bowl set over ice, whip the cream until stiff
and fold into chocolate mixture.
Spoon onto the biscuit and carrot/chilli caramel layer in the cake tin, and
spread evenly with a spatula. Decorate with hazelnuts and grated
cardamom. Cover and chill for 2 hours, then serve.