Thursday, 29 May 2014

Strawberries and cream the skinny way with 0% Greek yoghurt

Around this time every year I start to look forward to the summer holidays and get excited that I'll soon be feeling the sun on my skin and will be completely chilled out in a devil-may-care sort of way that I always do while on holiday. It doesn't matter that the only thing we've got planned this year so far is a week in Dorset - I'm still hoping for fine weather! The thing that bothers me though, is that the excited anticipation can be clouded by a familiar nagging worry in the back of my mind. Will I fit into my summer clothes? And if I do what'll I look like? 

It's mad really! I'm too much of a realist to know that it's far too late now to join a gym and half kill myself trying to get that sculpted figure I covet. About 20 years too late! So I'll simply make a few minor adjustments to my diet to shed a couple of pounds just to make sure that I'll still be able to squeeze into that little blue cotton dress that cost me a fortune last year so MUST come out for a second season.

This recipe is one of those adjustments. Strawberries and cream are one of my favourite summer treats but when I'm trying to be good and eat healthily it isn't the best idea. This delicious recipe uses 0% Greek yoghurt sweetened with honey instead of double cream and will save me a few calories that will help me to look my best while on holiday!

Strawberry and Greek Yoghurt Dessert Recipe

Notes: This recipe uses a small amount of gelatine to firm up the yoghurt a little but feel free to omit it if preferred - the dessert will be softer and the strawberries may sink further into the yoghurt but it will taste just the same. Also, the amount of honey in the recipe can be adjusted to taste depending upon how sweet you like it - but more honey will add more calories!

Serves 2

150g 0% Greek yoghurt
1 tsp honey
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp gelatine powder dissolved in 2 tbsp hot water (optional)
200g strawberries
1 tbsp caster sugar
Mint leaves for decoration (optional)

1. Mix together the yoghurt, honey and vanilla extract in a bowl. Add the gelatine, if using, and stir in quickly to ensure it is well mixed and no lumps have formed. 

2. Divide the mixture between two serving glasses and refrigerate for approx 2 hours until the yoghurt has set slightly (if you're not using gelatine then you don't need to do this).

3. Prepare the strawberries by removing the stalk and halving them. Put them in a saucepan with the sugar and simmer gently for 5-10 minutes. The sugar will dissolve and the strawberries will emit their juice. When the strawberries are soft (but not mushy) turn off the heat and allow to cool.

4. Just before serving divide the strawberries between the 2 serving glasses and place them carefully on top of the yoghurt. Add a couple of mint leaves for decoration if you have them available. Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Chef's Salad with Tuna and Cocktail Sauce

This week has been really hectic so far with one thing or another. I've been in London for a job interview which involved an overnight stay and, just as I get back, my hubby has to go away for the rest of the week with his work. The expression 'ships that pass in the night' comes to mind but at least I've got the cat to keep me company! So the key theme for our one meal together this week was speed and simplicity.

While scouring the fridge for inspiration I found some salad leaves, some cherry tomatoes, a cucumber and a few eggs and decided that a salad would tick the box for me being something I could make really quickly and easily that wouldn't require a trip to the shops. I added a couple of tins of tuna I'd found lurking in my cupboard and decided to top off the ensemble with an easy homemade dressing of cocktail sauce. 

I have to say that I did take a bit of a risk with the dressing as I hadn't paired tuna and cocktail sauce together before so wasn't entirely sure whether it would work but found the sauce added lots of flavour without overpowering the delicate taste of the tuna - perfect! I've detailed my very, very simple recipe for the sauce below.

I've called this salad 'chef's salad' as, according to Delia Online, a chef's salad is simply a way of using up whatever ingredients are on hand at the time to create a main course salad. So, assuming there are no hard and fast rules and it's a case of throwing together whatever is available then this salad certainly fits the bill for a chef's salad.

The results were stunning so I wanted to share this simple salad idea with you.

Simple Cocktail Sauce Recipe

Note: This recipe is for the British style of cocktail sauce also known as Marie Rose sauce. It produces a thick sauce with creamy, tangy taste. Ketchup can be used in place of the tomato puree and, if using ketchup, the wine vinegar can be left out.

4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp white wine vinegar

Mix the mayonnaise and tomato puree in a bowl until combined. Stir in the white wine vinegar.


Friday, 23 May 2014

Tartiflette - a gratin of potatoes, onions, bacon and cheese

I got the idea to make this from a recent visit to Normandy in France. We'd stopped for lunch at a small bistro and I chose the Gratin Maison from the menu. I was well aware of what a gratin was but wasn't sure what the 'maison' bit would entail so was a bit apprehensive, especially as the menu contained some unusual specialties such as 'salade de gesiers' (gizzard salad) which, I'm sure is delicious, but wasn't really something I fancied just at that point!

When my meal arrived I was delighted that it didn't contain anything I didn't recognise and it tasted divine - a deliciously rich, creamy mixture of potatoes, onions, bacon and cheese, which I discovered later is called tartiflette. I think the bistro had added their own local cheese rather than traditional Reblochon, hence the 'maison' bit in the name.

Tartiflette comes from the Alpine region of France where hungry skiers eat it by the bucket load in winter - it's so rich and calorie-laden that I'm sure it's perfect for restoring the energy expended during a hard session on the slopes. It's very much considered a cold-weather food and I agree it isn't something to be eaten on a really hot day but it didn't feel out of place eating it on a mild afternoon in May.

This is a really easy dish to make - it's simply a case of boiling some potatoes, frying an onion with some bacon then layering it with cheese and cream in an oven-proof dish and baking it in the oven for half an hour or so. It's gorgeous served with a simple green salad and/or some French bread to mop up the creamy sauce.

I'd love to hear about other places you've eaten tartiflette so please feel free to share and leave a comment!

Tartiflette Recipe

Notes: The recipe below details how I made my tartiflette but this is very much a dish where you can add as much or as little of anything you like. More cream and cheese will give a softer dish with lots of sauce, use less and the dish will be drier and firmer.

I think the addition of Reblochon cheese gives tartiflette its distinctive French flavour and I was delighted to find it in my local supermarket but, if you'd like to make tartiflette and can't get hold of Reblochon, I'm sure Camembert would work just as well or, at a push, Brie. 

The white wine adds extra flavour but is optional.

Serves 3 as a main course with salad.

1.5kg potatoes
1tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
180g smoked bacon lardons
50ml white wine (optional)
100ml double cream
200g Reblochon cheese
1 garlic clove
salt and pepper

1. Peel and slice the potatoes thickly and boil in salted water for 8-10 minutes, until tender but not too soft.

2. Meanwhile, fry the onion in the oil for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften then add the lardons. Fry until the onions are soft and golden and the lardons are cooked but take care not to burn them.

3. Add the white wine to the onions and bacon if using and allow it to sizzle for a minute or two until most of the white wine has evaporated then add the cream and stir together. Add salt and pepper if required.

4. Slice the cheese.

5. Rub the garlic clove around the inside of an oven proof dish for extra flavour then start to layer the tartiflette by placing a layer of potatoes on the bottom of the dish, followed by a layer of the onion, bacon and cream mixture and then half the cheese. Repeat finishing with the final half of the cheese on top of the dish.

6. Place in a preheated oven at 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Pimm's Picnic Jelly Jars - for adults only!

Pimm's jelly jars - summer picnic dessert

Pimm's Cup is the classic summer drink as far as I'm concerned - it's so refreshing, fruity and just a little bit alcoholic! I wouldn't dream of drinking it in the winter but as the weather is warming up nicely and the Wimbledon tennis tournament is looming on the horizon I think now is just about the right time to kick off the Pimm's season. 

I love Pimm's (mixed with fizzy lemonade and pieces of strawberry, apple, cucumber and mint) so when I came across the idea of making jelly deserts with Pimm's I couldn't resist trying it out!

These alcoholic jellies are so easy to make and I think they really capture the fruity, summery essence of Pimm's. Poured into a glass and eaten with a spoon, they look just as beautiful and taste as refreshing as the real thing. They make a light and delicious end to a summer outdoor meal and can be made portable by pouring the jelly into a glass terrine jar, or other lidded jar, so become a fantastic way to round off a lazy picnic. 

Pimm's Picnic Jelly Jars Recipe

Pimm's jelly jars

This recipe makes 600ml of jelly. Add the quantity of fruit stated in the recipe to the jelly and it fills 5 x 200g terrine jars (approx 1.25 litres) in total and produces a jelly packed with fruit. Feel free to adjust the fruit / jelly quantities to suit your taste. 
I used 4 Dr Oetker gelatine leaves which works out at approximately 7g in weight.
Please note that as Pimm's is alcoholic these gorgeous jellies should be kept strictly for adults only. 

200ml fizzy lemonade or 7up
200ml Pimm's No 1
200ml orange juice
juice of half a lemon
60g caster sugar
4 leaves of leaf gelatine (see notes) 
4-5cm piece of cucumber, diced finely
350g strawberries, hulled and sliced
1tsp fresh mint, finely chopped

1. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water in a bowl for 10 minutes or according to the packet instructions.  

2. Mix together the lemonade, Pimm's, orange juice, lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan. Heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat.

Pimm's jelly mixture

3. Squeeze the excess water out of the gelatine and add the leaves to the hot liquid. Stir well until the gelatine has dissolved completely.

4. Pour the liquid into a jug and allow to cool until cold but not set.

Pimm's jelly mixture

5. Divide the strawberries, cucumber and mint between 5 serving glasses (see notes) and pour in the cold jelly mixture.

6. Transfer the jelly to the fridge and leave to set overnight.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Homemade salad cream - for salads, sandwiches or dips

Salad cream, in case anyone is not familiar with it, is a mayonnaise-style salad dressing that was developed for the UK market in the early 20th century by Heinz. It's not as thick as mayonnaise, is sweeter and has a stronger, sharper, flavour due to the amount of vinegar it contains. I remember it being the quintessential salad dressing of the 1970s before our craving for all things continental took over and we ditched the salad cream in favour of mayonnaise and vinaigrette. In 2000 Heinz famously announced that it was withdrawing salad cream from it's range due to falling sales but people power took over and there was a public outcry which persuaded Heinz to put the product back on the supermarket shelves. I guess salad cream just holds a special place in our hearts!

This recipe for salad cream is not aiming to compete with the Heinz variety. It has a much creamier, understated flavour that compliments the gentle flavours of salad rather than overpowers it as I think commercial salad cream does. Nor is it a mayonnaise - the finished sauce is much thinner and there is no oil or raw egg in it (the main ingredients of mayonnaise).

The recipe is inspired by one I found in Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course. She in turn says she found it in a recipe book by Eliza Acton dating back to 1845. I have slightly altered the recipe by adding Dijon mustard and using slightly less cream. The sauce is fantastic with sandwiches (as pictured above), on salads or used as a dip. 

A quick word of warning though. If you're thinking of using it in a sandwich and are either:
a) having the vicar round for tea
b) having the parents of a son or daughter's girlfriend or boyfriend visiting for the first time, or
c) are entertaining an important business client
and thought that afternoon tea would be a great way to impress them then please DO NOT make the egg salad sandwiches that are pictured here!! I think that, in these circumstances, dainty cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off would be a far better option!

If, however, the thought of munching on a door-stop of a sandwich appeals and you can live with a bit of salad cream dripping down your chin then put some letttuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, egg and cucumber on a thick slice of buttered bread. Drizzle generously with homemade salad cream and top with a second slice of bread - delicious!

Homemade Salad Cream

3 eggs
2 pinches cayenne pepper
1 tsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp salt
100ml double cream
4 tsp white wine vinegar

1. Boil the eggs for approximately 9 minutes until hard. Cool them with cold water then peel them. Remove the yolks and place in a mixing bowl, discard the whites.

2. Add the cayenne pepper, Dijon mustard, salt and a teaspoon of cold water to the eggs and mash them together to a smooth paste - try to ensure there are no lumps of egg remaining.

3. Gradually mix in the cream, ensuring it is well blended and then add the wine vinegar to finish.

4. The sauce should have the consistency of thick cream.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Salad season is here! Warm smoked mackerel, new potato and asparagus salad

Salad season is now well underway in the Brass household! Stodgy cold-weather food has been left behind and we're starting to enjoy some gorgeous salads made with the lovely fresh produce available at the minute. Most of my salads are really easy and quick to prepare so, if the sun is shining outside, it means I don't need to spend all my time cooking over a hot stove indoors. And lets face it - when the sun shines in the UK we really do have to make the most of it!

I love how salad has been reinvented in recent years and is no longer only an option for dieters. Some of the most delicious salads I've had would fill up the hungriest of people and have been packed with a variety of different meats or cheeses and drenched in all kinds of rich dressings - definitely not for anyone who is calorie-counting.

This recipe is for one of my favourite salads to eat at this time of year and includes asparagus and new potatoes which are both in season - if you can get hold of them, Jersey Royals are great in this. This salad is tasty and substantial and certainly holds its own as a main course!

Warm new potato, asparagus and smoked mackerel salad

Notes: I've used half-fat creme fraiche to make the dressing but full fat would be fine. In the past I've made it with natural yoghurt instead of creme fraiche, which cuts down on the calories further and still results in a delicious dressing.
1tsp of Dijon mustard could be substituted for the horseradish sauce if preferred. 

Serves 2

350g new potatoes
Bunch of asparagus (approx 250g)
100g half-fat creme fraiche
1tsp horseradish sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
3 smoked mackerel fillets, skinned and flaked - bones removed
60g rocket (arugula)

1. Wash the potatoes and prepare the asparagus by bending each spear until the thick, woody end of the stem snaps off - throw this away.

2. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for approximately 15-20 minutes until tender. While they are cooking bring a separate pan of salted water to the boil and cook the asparagus for 5 minutes until tender.

3. While the potatoes and asparagus are cooking, mix together the creme fraiche, horseradish sauce and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. When the potatoes and asparagus are cooked, drain them, halve the potatoes and add them all to a large salad bowl along with the flaked mackerel and the rocket. Pour the dressing over and stir until the salad ingredients are well coated in the dressing.

Inspired by BBC Good Food

Monday, 12 May 2014

Malt loaf - dark, sticky, and chewy!

Malt loaf

For anyone who hasn't heard of it before, malt loaf is a British tea-time fruit cake cum bread that is characteristically dense, sweet, squidgy and chewy and is usually eaten cut into slices and spread with lashings of butter but is equally delicious toasted, fried in butter or served with cheese. 

As a child I used to love malt loaf and would eat quite a lot of it because my dad worked in a bakery and would regularly bring dark, brick-like lumps of the stuff home with him. As I remember, when he did it would disappear very quickly! 

Like many of our classic fruit cakes, malt loaf doesn't seem to be as popular as it once was -  I think Soreen are the only UK brand that still produce it on a commercial basis - but it's delicious to have with a cup of tea and so easy to make at home that it's worth giving it a go. 

Malt loaf

Malt loaf gets its chewy texture and malty flavour from malt extract, of which it contains quite a bit. Malt extract is made from grains and is a product of the brewing process. I don't really know too much about brewing but the grains are seemingly treated by 'malting' and 'mashing' them until the syrupy, sweet substance that is malt extract is created. 

Malt extract is packed full of natural sugars and vitamins and can be found in larger supermarkets or health food shops. In early 20th century Britain it was given to children as a medicine as it was thought that a spoonful of malt extract every day would fortify children and ward off illness. These days it's most likely to be used in the home for home brewing or baking but I do still like to think that a slice of sticky malt loaf is doing me good in some way. 

Malt Loaf

two malt loaves - eat one and keep one

Some malt loaf recipes contain yeast - this one doesn't as I think it gives a better, more dense texture. 
Malt loaf improves with time so, if you can resist it, once it's baked and cooled, wrap the loaf tightly in foil and leave it for 2-5 days to mature - it will become more sticky and squidgy over time. Or even better make two - one to eat straightaway and the other to eat after it's matured.

Makes two 450g (1lb) loaves.

150ml hot tea
150g malt extract
50g caster sugar
30g black treacle
250g dried mixed fruit
2 large eggs, beaten
250g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
½tsp bicarbonate of soda

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/130°F/Gas Mark 2 and grease two 450g (1lb) loaf tins with butter.

2. Put the tea, malt extract, sugar, treacle and mixed fruit into a mixing bowl and mix together.

3. Stir the beaten eggs into the mixture.

4. Add the flour and mix well until well blended then stir in the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.

Malt loaf mixture

5. Pour or spoon the mixture into the loaf tins and bake for 45-50 minutes until the loaves are risen and golden. 

6. Remove from the tins and allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing and serving, or wrapping and storing as outlined above.

Inspired by BBC Good Food.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

A short sojourn in France

Hotel Chateau Clery
The beautiful Hotel Chateau Cléry where we were lucky enough to stay for a night
The UK bank holiday last weekend also happened to coincide with the end of my daughter's Easter break from university which meant a long drive south for my hubby and I to take her (and her unreasonably large number of bags) back. Although we've done the trip a few times now, this time we decided to take advantage of the fact that we'd already driven over 300 miles to get her there and drive a few more - to France! 

We took the short hop across the Channel - or should I say under it as we chose to cross with Eurotunnel - to stay with a friend in one of our favourite places in lower Normandy, an area known as Le Perche. This is a gorgeous unspoilt corner of France that tourists usually only pass through on their way from the channel ports down to the more popular Loire or Dordogne regions. It's rarely busy, even in the height of summer and we think it's the best place to enjoy some 'real' French hospitality. 

The area is not known for its wine but local cider is served at all the bars and restaurants so we made sure we sampled a glass or two while we were there - it would have been rude not to! 

Local french cider
It's served in beer glasses but it's actually local cider!

Rouen Cathedral
The interior of the spectacular cathedral at Rouen
We also paid a visit to the lovely medieval city of Rouen whose spectacular cathedral dominates the city centre but unfortunately our trip came to an end far too soon. We did though, have one last treat to look forward to before returning to England - a night at the beautiful Chateau Cléry, an 18th century chateau turned hotel which is situated just outside of Boulogne in a village called Hesdin-l'Abbé. It is set in extensive grounds, has all the charm and romance of a French chateau and is the perfect place for a relaxing stopover or break.

Our room was large, comfortable and modern and was situated in the chateau itself - some are located in buildings next to the chateau. It was tastefully furnished in a typical French style but as it was on the second floor with no lift it wouldn't be suitable for anyone who has difficulty using the stairs.

In the evening we had an aperitif in the lovely salon followed by fabulous meal in the gorgeous restaurant, it was fairly quiet with only three or four other tables occupied and the service was excellent. The menu offered a good range of a la carte options but both my hubby and I chose from the three course menu at 30 which offered a choice of starter, main course and dessert or cheese. The food was beautifully presented with some fantastic flavour combinations - delicious! This is one hotel I will definitely be returning to and I'll let the photographs below do the rest of the talking for me.

Everything's back to normal this week but we've got some great memories of our short sojourn in France 

À bientôt!

Hotel Chateau Clery
The salon at Hotel Chateau Cléry - lovely for an aperitif

Hotel Chateau Clery
Our lovely table for two overlooking the courtyard

Smoked Salmon
Smoked Salmon

filo, goats cheese and caramelised onions
A filo parcel stuffed with goats cheese and caramelized onions

duck breast with ginger sauce
Duck breast with a ginger sauce

sea bass fillet with a bisque sauce
Sea bass fillet with a bisque sauce
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