Wednesday

Clementine Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache

This recipe makes such beautiful cupcakes, soft, light, fluffy sponges flavoured with the real essence of clementines.  They are stunning topped with a dark, glossy chocolate ganache, the classic combination of chocolate and orange is hard to beat.

Note - the boiling of the clementines can be done the day before you want to make the cakes, just blitz them and store in a container in the fridge.


Makes 12 Cupcakes
Ingredients
2 Whole Clementines
2 Large Eggs
1 tablespoon of Lemon Juice
100g Soft Butter
150g Caster Sugar
200g Self-Raising Flour
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda

For the Dark Chocolate Ganache
150g Dark Chocolate
(I use 70% cocoa solids but use a lighter dark chocolate if you prefer)
100ml Double Cream

  • Place both whole clementines into a small pan, cover with cold water then bring to the boil, turn the heat down, cover and simmer for an hour and a half.  After this time, turn the heat off and allow the clementines to cool in the water until they are cool enough to handle.
  • Carefully pick the clementines out of the now cool water and put onto a plate, they will be very soft.  Cut or pick out the hard bit from the top and the bottom then gently pull the clementine apart.  Check each segment for pips then put the whole lot into a food processor or mini chopper (a blender will also work), blitz until smooth.  If you don't have any of this equipment, just finely chop it all being careful not to lose any of the juice that comes out, you can then push it through a sieve to make sure it's as smooth as possible.
  • Preheat the oven to 170C (fan) and prepare a muffin tin with paper cases.
  • Break the eggs and mix them into the pureed clementines.
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk the butter and caster sugar together until fluffy.
  • Slowly whisking, pour in the clementine mixture then slowly add the flour with the bicarb and salt and mix just until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  • Spoon into 12 cupcake cases and bake for around 20 minutes until they are all risen and golden.  Allow to cool.
  • To make the ganache, chop the chocolate up into small pieces and put into a bowl.  Heat the cream in a pan until almost bowling then pour into the chopped chocolate, stirring as you pour. Continue to stir briskly until all the chocolate is melted and incorporated glossily into the cream,
  • The easiest way to ice the cakes is to dip them directly into the chocolate ganache, swirling them around to cover the tops.



Sunday

Homemade Fajitas

Love fajitas?  Always buy the trusty sachet of spice mix in the yellow and red Mexicana themed packet?  Try my recipe below next time you have fajitas and you'll never go back to that little packet again.  We're talking juicy, tender meat with zingy garlic and lime juice, smoky, earthy depth from the paprika and cumin all finishing in a tingling heat...flavours that really wake up your taste buds.

This marinade works brilliantly for chicken or beef, allow about 500g of meat.  Chicken breast or rump steak cut into strips would be my choice.  I used it once on fillets of salmon then grilled them until sizzling and cooked through, pretty amazing served with avocado and plenty of lime juice in a tortilla wrap.

Just a quick note on ingredients, if you haven't used smoked paprika before it's well worth adding to your spice cupboard, I use Pimenton de la Vera Dulce, it's used in lots of Spanish and Mexican recipes and it's great in barbecue marinades too.  If you can't get the chipotle chilli flakes you could use chipotle paste instead or just use ordinary chilli flakes, it depends how hot you like your fajitas, I do like the depth of flavour that you get from combining the smoked paprika and the smoked chipotle.


Ingredients
Juice of 2 limes (or 1 if your lime is particularly large and juicy)
2 tablespoons olive oil
generous pinch of salt (about half a teaspoon)
good grinding of black pepper
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
half a teaspoon of chipotle dried chilli flakes
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
half a fresh chilli (more or less according to your liking)
large pinch of dried oregano

  • Mix all the marinade together and throw in your strips of either chicken or beef.
  • If you have the time let this marinate for around two hours or more, otherwise an hour will be fine.
  • Heat some oil in a large frying pan until hot then tip your marinated meat into the hot pan.
  • Spread it out into a single layer and let it cook on high for a few minutes then toss the pieces over and let them cook for another few minutes.
  • After this time the steak will be ready however if you are using chicken it will need a few minutes more.
  • When the meat is cooked through transfer it to a pre-heated oven dish and serve.

Everyone has their favourite accompaniments, for me it's strips of red pepper and onion that have been quickly fried until the edges are browning, then I keep it old school with sour cream, tomato salsa and avocado that has been mashed with lots of salt and lime juice.




Tuesday

Italian Warm Bean Salad

These incredibly tasty, spoon-greedily-into-your-mouth, comforting beans are perfect on their own but can also used as a base for so many meals.  

I'm calling this a salad but it doesn't have to be...serve the beans hot with wilted spinach and cooked chicken tossed through; or with melting mozzarella and sizzling pancetta; served warm with peppery rocket leaves and a fillet of seared salmon or tuna; cold with cooked prawns stirred through; or mixed with chunks of feta cheese, fresh cucumber, tomato and green olives.
I often make a large quantity and keep it in the fridge to be used over a couple of days.  It's also great to take to a party when someone asks you to take a salad...you'll be thanked for this.

Borlotti are generally my bean of choice here as I love their earthy richness, however the beautiful cannellini bean also works very well.  It's entirely your call, I'm seeing the borlotti as Javier Bardem compared to the cannellini as Brad Pitt (or Chris Hemsworth, younger version)....completely a personal choice*.  Actually, why not throw caution to the wind and do a combination of the two?  Imagine that...bean heaven.
* In a bid not to appear to be sexist, if you prefer to compare Salma Hayek to Gwyneth Paltrow it does the same thing.


Serves 2 very generously or 4-6 as a side
Ingredients
2 tins (400g) Borlotti beans 
or around 150g of dried (soaked overnight then cooked for about an hour)
Olive Oil
1 Red Onion, diced
1 Red Chilli, diced (optional, if you like a little spice)
4 Cloves of Garlic, minced or diced
Salt and Black Pepper
White Wine
1 Red Pepper, skinned under the grill (if you can be bothered) and diced
2-3 Ripe Tomatoes, deseeded and diced
a handful of Fresh Basil (one of those small packs in the supermarket)
a squeeze of Fresh Lemon

  • Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large frying pan or skillet and tip in the diced red onion and chilli (if using) along with plenty of salt and pepper.  Turn the heat down and sizzle for approximately 5 minutes until the onion is soft.
  • Add the garlic, cook for a couple of minutes then pour in enough white wine to cover the base of the pan.  Let this bubble away until the liquid is reduced by about half.
  • When the liquid is quite syrupy tip in the beans and stir well to coat them.  Add the diced pepper and tomato and again give it a good stir.
  • Turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly before stirring through torn basil leaves.
  • Just before serving squeeze in half a lemon and check for seasoning, it usually benefits from a last sprinkling of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper.


Friday

Jerk Chicken

Jerk is arguably the very best marinade for chicken; spicy, sweet, earthy, tangy, hot...it covers all bases.  
The most authentic jerk chicken uses the whole bird, jointed, however I often make it to serve in wraps so in this case use boneless and skinless thighs.  If you want to be authentic but don't want to go down the whole chicken route you can use one or two packs of legs and thighs that most supermarkets sell.

This recipe has been slightly adapted from the one given to me by my lovely cousin-in-law, Nadia Mahabir who regularly cooks Trinidadian food for the good people of West Sussex.  I feel the need to confess, she would not approve of using boneless thighs as in Trinidad they always use meat on the bone...and while I'm in the confessional mood I may as well admit that I don't always use scotch bonnet chillies (those days that I fancy a gentle hum of heat rather than a searing fire!).

For 1 whole jointed chicken or around 2kg of legs and thighs.  It's also fantastic with pork and works amazingly well with salmon.




Ingredients
100ml Malt Vinegar
2 Scotch Bonnet Chillies, finely sliced with seeds
1 Red Onion, roughly diced
100ml Dark Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
6 Garlic cloves, minced
50g Dark Muscovado Sugar
100ml Orange Juice
1 tablespoon Fresh Thyme
Generous grinding of Black Pepper
2 teaspoons All Spice
2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg (best grated directly from the whole nutmeg but use ready ground if you don't have a suitable grater)
1 thumb size piece of Fresh Ginger, peeled and finely sliced (use 1 teaspoon of ground ginger if you can't get fresh, still great, a bit more earthy)
Juice of 2 Lemons
Juice of 2 Limes


  • Measure and tip all of the ingredients into a large bowl including the squeezed pieces of lemons and limes.
  • Give it all a big thorough stir.
  • Place the chicken (or pork, salmon, anything else you fancy jerking) into the marinade and squish it all around to cover all surfaces of the meat.
  • Ideally let the meat marinate for 24 hours or, if not, at least 8 hours, giving it a stir occasionally to make sure the marinade is permeating as much of the meat as possible.
  • This really is best barbecued, however if the weather doesn't allow it, cooking on a high heat in a ridged griddle pan also works well.  If you are using large pieces of jointed chicken oven-cook them at 200C for 20 minutes then finish them off on the barbecue.  Make sure that it is thoroughly cooked by cutting right into the middle of the chicken piece to check there is no pink.


Sunday

Sicilian Sausage Meatballs

Packed full of Sicilian flavours...the fennel, lemon, garlic and thyme work perfectly together in these incredibly tasty, succulent meatballs.
Rather than losing the meatballs in a vat of tomato sauce, I love to serve them on top of pasta simply tossed in creamy leeks (cooked slowly in butter and white wine with a touch of cream).  Top the finished dish with a grating of pecorino cheese and you have a very happy bowl of Sicilian heaven.



Serves 6
Ingredients
Olive Oil and Butter
1 Large Onion, diced
3-4 Garlic Cloves, minced
Salt and Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Fennel Seeds
75g Breadcrumbs
Fine zest of a Lemon
1 tablespoon Fresh Thyme, roughly chopped
500g Pork Mince
450g Sausage meat
1 egg

  • Heat a glug of olive oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan until bubbling, then add the diced onion and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper.
  • Turn the heat down and cook slowly for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft, add the garlic and cook for another few minutes, then turn the heat off and allow to cool.
  • Heat a small dry frying pan then tip in the fennel seeds.  Toast the seeds for a few minutes, shaking the pan around until they are starting to smell aromatic and nutty.  Transfer them to a pestle and pound them into a powder (if you don't have a pestle and mortar you can crush the seeds on a chopping board with a rolling pin).
  • Put the pork mince and the sausage meat into a large mixing bowl.  Add the cooked and cooled onion, the pounded fennel seeds, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, thyme and egg.  With a fork mix everything together lightly but thoroughly until all the ingredients are incorporated evenly through the mixture.
  • Shape them into balls about the same size as golf balls, you should get approximately 18.  They can now be chilled until you need them or cook them straight away.
  • Preheat the oven to 220C (fan).
  • Lightly oil a large baking tray and place the meatballs on it, evenly spaced.  Roast for 15 minutes then turn the meatballs and return to the oven for another 10 minutes until the meatballs are golden brown, sizzling and cooked all the way through.





  

Thursday

Mushroom and Pepper Stroganoff

This is perfect comfort food; plump mushrooms, sweet peppers and onions all bound together with a paprika and mustard spiced creamy sauce.  Great with rice, dolloped over a baked potato or spooned onto thick, toasted slices of rustic baguette or sourdough.
I always take the skin of the peppers by cutting them into sections then putting them skin side up under a hot grill until the skins blacken and blister.  I let them cool then peel the skin off with a knife.  This is not essential, it just makes the strips of pepper more silky in the finished dish.  
It's particularly good made with portobello mushrooms and maybe some shiitakes, however I often make it with a mixture of closed cup and chestnut mushrooms and it is still delicious.



Serves 4
Ingredients
25g Butter
Olive Oil
2 Red Onions, finely sliced
1 tablespoon Paprika
1 teaspoon Smoked Sweet Paprika (Pimenton de la Vera)
Salt and Black Pepper
2 Red or Yellow Peppers, skinned (if you are fussy like me) finely sliced
750g Mushrooms, cut into halves and thick slices
3 cloves Garlic, minced
100ml Red Wine
1 tablespoon Wholegrain Mustard
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
250ml Crème Fraiche
Parsley  
  • Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat with a glug of olive oil then tip in the sliced red onions.  Season generously with salt and black pepper then add the paprika and smoked pimenton.
  • Add the sliced peppers to the pan then cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions and peppers are soft.
  • Add the minced garlic followed by the mushrooms and give it a big stir.
  • Pour in the red wine then add the mustards.  Cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
  • When the juices have reduced down to a thick, bubbling syrup and the mushrooms are cooked and tender, spoon in the crème fraiche.  Stir it through until thoroughly blended and heat it until bubbling.  Taste to check for seasoning and stir through a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley just before serving.


Tuesday

Slow-Cooked Chilli Con Carne

We all love a good chilli, but it does have to be good doesn't it?  Nothing watery and insipid here, I am looking for warming, rich and hearty with flavourful, earthy spices and a tingling hum of chilli heat. 

Using good stewing beef rather than mince gives this chilli con carne great flavour and texture, especially when slow-cooked for around 3 hours.  I like to use pinto beans as well as red kidney beans, they are traditionally used in Mexican food and they make a soft contrast to the more robust red kidney beans.

This recipe makes a dish with medium heat.  If you like it hot I suggest 'layering' the heat by adding dried chilli flakes or, even better, you could experiment with a few different varieties of whole dried chillies, sliced or diced into the pan when you are sizzling the onion and red pepper.  Using chopped dried chipotle chillies (smoked jalapenos) adds real smoky depth to the dish, you could also consider using chipotle paste, you then won't need the smoked paprika.
As always the flavours are better the day after so, if you can, make it a day or two before you need it.

 
Serves 4-6
Ingredients
Olive oil
450g Stewing/Braising (Preferably Chuck) Beef, cut into small pieces
1 Large Red Onion (or 2 small), sliced
1 Red Pepper, diced
4-5 Garlic Cloves, minced
Salt and Black Pepper
1-2 Fresh Red Chillies, diced
1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika (or 1 Dried Chipotle Chilli finely chopped)
2 teaspoons Cumin
Half a teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper
1 teaspoon Dark Brown Sugar
1 Tin of Plum Tomatoes (400g)
400ml Beef Stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon Cocoa Powder
1 Tin of Red Kidney Beans (400g) or 100g Dried beans soaked overnight then boiled until tender
1 Tin of Pinto Beans (400g) or same as above with dried
 
  • Pour a generous glug of olive oil into a large saucepan and put it on a medium heat.
  • Add the sliced red onion and diced red pepper to the pan followed by a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper.
  • After a few minutes cooking add the spices and the sugar then tip in the chopped fresh chilli and the garlic.  Stir briskly to avoid anything burning then add the beef to the pan.
  • Turn the heat up to high then stir the beef around for a good 4-5 minutes to seal it and coat it with the spicy onion and pepper mixture.
  • Tip the tinned tomatoes into the pan followed by the beef stock and the Worcestershire sauce.  Give it a thorough stir, bring to the boil then turn the heat to its lowest setting and let the chilli simmer, uncovered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • After this time, add the cooked beans and the cocoa powder to the pan, stir through then let it simmer for about another hour, or until it is thick and rich with meltingly tender meat and beans.
  • Serve it with long grain rice or, if you prefer, soft flour or corn tortillas.  I also like to have bowls of tortilla chips and grated strong cheddar cheese to sprinkle on the top, sour cream to spoon over and homemade guacamole for cool freshness.