Category Archives: The Ordinary Cook

I moved from here a long time ago…

You can find The Ordinary Cook here now, so please hop over and see what I have been cooking.

Crystallised Violets

Violets are a flower I am rather sentimental about and they are one of my favourites. This year seems to be an exceptional year for them.  The field near us has more than I can ever remember  before.  So, this morning the girls and I took a morning walk and picked a few to crystallise.  It is very easy but it is time consuming and it helps if you happen to have a few little hands that are willing to help.

When these are properly dried tomorrow I will remove the stems and we plan  to use them later in the week to decorate a cake.

1 egg white
caster sugar
freshly picked violets

Method

Paint every crevice of the violet with egg white.  You can use a paint brush for this, but as I didn’t have three clean brushes in the house we used cotton buds, which did the job perfectly well. Then sprinkle with caster sugar until completely covered. Place onto a silicone baking sheet or greaseproof paper and  leave to dry.

 

Spicy caramel nuts

I am no Nigella Lawson!  When she gives a dinner party for friends she gives the impression that she wanders in from work and throws together a fabulous feast.  When I have a dinner party it takes me all week to move the billion and one toys out of the downstairs living space to be hidden out of sight upstairs.  Then the dusting, which has been put off for more weeks than is reasonable, has to be undertaken.  Then the sweeping and the mopping.  I don’t want my friends to see how slovenly I really am! So last week was a week of preparation for a gathering of friends at our house on saturday night.

I love having friends over and hearing the house ring with laughter and I love cooking something for everyone to share.  These nuts went down well with everyone.  Watch out though, one or two handfuls and you are hooked…

150g caster sugar
150ml water
1 tsp fennel seed
1½ tsp cumin seed
½ tsp crushed chilli
salt and pepper
400g mixed nuts and seeds

Method

Place the sugar and water into a heavy based pan and heat over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Turn the heat up and bring to a boil and boil for about five minutes until the mixture has turned darker and is syrupy.  Add the spices.

Place the nuts onto a silicone sheet on a baking tray (a silicone sheet prevents the nuts from being stuck forever to your baking try) and pour over the syrup, being very careful as it is extremely hot. Put the baking tray into a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 6 for 5-6 minutes until the nuts have toasted.  Leave to cool and the syrup will harden.  Break up into chunks and serve with pre dinner drinks.

Peanut Butter Cookies

I have a thing for peanut butter, there are times when I eat it a lot.  It’s one of those things that I just have to have.  It has to be crunchy and it has to be just peanuts and oil in a jar, no added sugar or anything else.  It has to be good. I have it on toast, on its own or with Marmite, with jam, even with marmalade.  Then there are times when I fancy dunking it into a cup of tea.  In which case these cookies have to be made.  Most of you know I also have a similar thing for chocolate and so when I made some last week I add 50g chopped dark chocolate at the end of mixing and they were good.  But in a way I think the unadorned version is better.

They are crumbly, light and deliciously peanutty.

50g butter, softened
25g caster sugar
2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
1 egg yolk
100g plain (all purpose) flour

Method
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add the peanut butter and mix again.  Add the egg yolk and beat well.  Stir in the flour.  It should form a soft dough.

Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls, place on a lightly greased baking tray and flatten using the tines of a fork.  Place in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or the Baking Oven of the Aga for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden.  Leave to rest on the tray for a few minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool.

Savoury bread pudding

Last night’s tea was completely inspired by Nancy over at Good Food Matters.  She made the most delicious Tomato and Mozzarella Strata, all bubbling and pillowy.  Well, last night I had the remains of a cooked chicken in the fridge and half a loaf of bread on the side.  So I adapted Nancy’s Strata by adding the chicken chopped small as the first layer, cooking chorizo in with the tomato sauce and used feta instead of mozzarella.  A very fine dish indeed.  Pop over to Nancy’s to find out how to make your own savoury bread pudding.

This was the dish before it was baked in the oven for forty minutes.

Before going into the oven

Croissants and pain au chocolat

I have wanted to make croissants for ages but it seemed like it might be too much mither. Well, last night I decided to take the bull by the horns and just give it a go. It was quite a bit of work, but actually not as much as I was expecting and the results are more than worth the effort.  You just need to do a bit of preparation the night before, leave the dough to rest in the fridge and then finish off in the morning.

In fact I was quite excited this morning about it all and I was really pleased when they turned out to taste just as good as I hoped. I made some croissants and some pain au chocolat – what a treat!

I used Rachel Allen’s recipe from her book Bake (ISBN 13 978 0 00 725970 0) which if I could have found a link online I would have just pointed you in that direction as I am dreading writing all this down, but here goes. (Bake is well worth seeking out, I have used it a lot since I bought it and Rachel Allen’s recipes always work).

I got some early morning help from my two girls this morning so they appear in some of the pictures.

Makes 18 croissants

275ml milk
25g sugar
1 sachet of easy bake fast acting yeast
450g Strong white bread flour
275g salted butter, softened (but not too soft)

For the egg wash:
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp milk

If you want to make pain au chocolat you will need a dessert spoonful of chopped chocolate for each pain au chocolat that you wish to make. I made 12 croissants and 6 pain au chocolat.

If you want them for breakfast then I suggest you start the night before with the following steps.

Heat the milk until warm. Rachel Allen suggests rubbing in 50g of the butter into the flour but I just put it into the warm milk so that it half melted.  Place the flour, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Add the milk and butter and bring the mixture into a soft dough.  I used my KitchenAid freestanding mixer with the dough hook attached and mixed it for 5 minutes.  If you haven’t got a freestanding mixer then this doughy is sticky and you will need lightly floured hands to knead it by hand for ten minutes until it is soft and elastic. Make it into a ball and place back in the bowl.  Cover with a large plastic bag or clean tea towel.  Rachel Allen suggests putting it in the fridge for two hours but I just left it in a cool place in the kitchen.

After two hours, place the remaining butter between two large sheets of clingfilm and, using a rolling pin, beat and roll it until it is about 8mm thick and measures roughly 10cm x 20cm.

Take the dough out of the bowl and place onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a rectangle measuring 20 x 40 cm. Place the butter onto one half of the pastry.

Fold the other side of the pastry over onto the butter.

Roll the dough out until it again measures about 20 x 40cm.  Fold one third over, then fold that over and then fold again. Cover the dough with the large plastic bag and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Take the dough out of the fridge and place it with the open ends facing towards you. Roll out the pastry again to a similar size as before, then fold in three again.  Place the dough back into the bag and put in the fridge overnight.

In the morning it will look something like this, having begun to rise:

So the next morning, take the dough and roll out again into a rectangle and then fold over three times again.

Roll out the pastry until it is about ½ cm thick and measures about 35cm x 55cm.  This takes quite a bit of effort as the dough is cold.

Now I wanted to make some pain au chocolat and some croissants, so I sliced off one third of the dough and then cut this into six pieces.  On each piece I placed a spoonful of chopped good quality chocolate and then rolled up firmly like a swiss roll.

For the croissants I cut the remaining dough in half lengthways and then into thirds widthways and then each rectangle into a triangle. This resulted in 12 triangles.  Starting from the widest edge roll the pastry tightly, then tuck the tip underneath and shape into a crescent shape.

Place on a baking sheet (you will need two) leaving space for them to rise and brush gently with egg wash.

Leave to rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes.  I put mine on top of two tea cloths on the warming plate of my Aga.

When they have risen, brush gently with egg wash again and then place in a preheated oven at 220°c, gas mark 7, or the roasting oven of the Aga for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 180°c, gas mark 4, or move them to the baking oven of the Aga for another 10 minutes until golden brown all over.  Place them on a wire rack to cool just a little.  They are best eaten warm, with lashings of butter and jam (or lemon curd, or marmalade) on the croissants.

Aga Marmalade

I adore marmalade.  I really enjoy the bitterness of the orange peel in contrast with the sweet jam.  In fact, I just had to get up to make some toast so that I could have some marmalade because writing about it made my mouth water.  Well, between you and me, I made two pieces and spread the other one with lemon curd. I think it is a well established fact that I am greedy, and now there are crumbs on the laptop.

This is the time of year for making marmalade as it needs to be made from Seville oranges and these are only available from markets in January and early February. The Seville orange is incredibly bitter and not at all one that you want to eat freshly peeled. But when mixed with a ton of sugar they make one of the best things that can be spread on toast. The lady who runs my local market tells me every year of the tale of the woman who was naughtily mixing her bag of oranges between the normal and the Seville.  The Seville is usually a bit dearer and this lady thought she was going to get herself a good deal. The market owner thought it appropriate that she let her get on with it and have fun at home playing orange roulette.

Seville oranges freeze very well, so buy them when you see them and put them in the freezer for making marmalade throughout the year.  In fact, I used frozen for this recipe as I mentioned to my mum that I was off to get some Sevilles and she still had some in her freezer from last year so I used those up. Use them from frozen.

I used Mary Berry’s recipe from The Aga Book. In this recipe she recommends that you simmer fresh fruit for 2 hours and frozen fruit overnight.  This makes me feel better as I missed that instruction and was planning to simmer them for two hours but fell asleep watching telly and went straight to bed having forgotten all about my oranges. You see, things always work out in the end.

This recipe made loads, about 10 jars, so unless you have friends and family who are marmalade fiends too you may want to halve the recipe.

1½kg (3lb) Seville oranges
Juice of 2 lemons
3 kg (6lb) sugar
2 litres (4 pints) water

Method

Put the whole oranges in the Aga preserving pan and squeeze in the lemon juice. Cover with the water and bring to the boil.  Once boiling, place the pan carefully in the simmering oven and leave to simmer until the oranges are tender (2 hours or so for fresh fruit, overnight for frozen). Remove the oranges and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle cut them in half and scoop out all the pulp and pips and place these back into the water.  Bring to the boil and boil for 6 minutes.  Strain this liquid into a large bowl through a sieve and, using a spoon, force the pulp through the sieve.  It is this pulp which contains the pectin that will set the marmalade. Pour the liquid back into the preserving pan.

Cut the peel of the oranges as thinly or as thickly as you like your shreds to be and add these to the liquid, along with the sugar.  Bring the whole lot up to a rolling boil and boil until setting point is reached.  You can test for this with a sugar thermometer (105°c) or have a cold saucer ready and when a little is allowed to cool on this saucer it should wrinkle when pushed with your finger.

Allow the marmalade to cool a little (this will help with the distribution of peel through the jar rather than it all sitting at the top) and then pour into sterilised jars.

To sterilise your jars, wash in warm soapy water and rinse with hot water, then place on a baking tray in the simmering oven for twenty minutes.