Monthly Archives: December 2014

Pancetta, thyme and chestnut pappardelle

This is a delicious, easy, stand-by meal. The ingredients all have at least a week’s life-span (the majority a lot longer) so you can get them in, and when you want to eat something delicious but fast, you can.

I use fresh pasta for this. Dried pasta has a lower glycaemic index, but there is no greater lie in all the world, than the cooking times advertised on the front of dried pasta packets.

Although chestnuts make it festive, you could cook this at any time of year and if you were to do some prep before hand (not that you really need to) you’d have this on your plate in minutes. It’s a great thing to throw together for friends who you weren’t expecting to stay to lunch/dinner, or when you fancy something really flavoursome and delicate. It’s so much better than you think it’s going to be.

Adapted from Delicious magazine.

Serves 4 for moderate appetites, two if you’re greedy pigs.

Ingredients

300g fresh pappardelle pasta – fret not you can also use tagliatelle or spaghetti or really, let’s face it, any pasta. But pappardelle is a great shape for this recipe. And using fresh just makes the whole thing faster and easier.

1 tablespoon of olive oil (not virgin)

1 onion, finely chopped

200g ready cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves taken off the woody stems

100g thinly sliced bacon, not too much fat on

a garlic clove, finely chopped

200g frozen petit pois. Make sure they are petit pois and not normal peas and you cook from frozen

a jar of 20cl Isigny Creme Fraiche  any other creme fraiche would do but I really love this one and the glass jars make great little storage pots, not least, they perfectly hold one cupcake.

Method

If you are using dried pasta, put it on to cook now because we know those cooking times are all damned lies. If using fresh pasta, don’t put it on yet but have a pan of water boiling away in the background.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (at the end everything will end up in it) and fry the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the bacon strips and fry for 5 mins, then add the garlic, chestnuts, petits pois and thyme.

(Put the fresh pasta on to boil for the 3-4 minutes it needs.)

Fry for a further 3-4 minutes. Drain the pasta then stir the creme fraiche through the stuff in the frying pan and finally add the pasta. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

 

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Perfect trousers, not just for Christmas

It isn’t madly often I can recommend trousers but here is why these are good:

They come in various colours. I like this choice even though, of course, I stick to black and navy. (I may tip toe into taupe in the new year, who knows, I do live in the country now.)

They are slim fit, skinny I guess, without being unflattering. But you can tuck them into boots which I wear every day because, have I mentioned, I live in the country. I got these after seeing a picture of me wearing normal trousers with a wind behind me and realised I didn’t need that much fabric around my legs.

They have a gentle stretch which means you can eat over Christmas, still look good, but without feeling as if your trousers have given you gastric band surgery.

However, they have a proper waistband. This is terrifically important over any holiday season. Never wear elasticated trousers long term. And here‘s why.

They are not fucking hipsters. God I hate hipsters. I hate watching women pulling up their fucking hipster trousers because they are falling down. And that’s just me, watching my own reflection. Yet they are not so high waisted that they make you feel like you are in an ad for  incontinence pads. You know the ones.

They are the perfect waist-band height, I think

Anyway, I think they are optimum trousers for this winter. For Christmas, for beyond Christmas. They are corduroy, which I like, they are also apparently slightly thermal (‘heat tech’). I can’t say I have noticed, but I haven’t been cold. When I bought them they were on offer at half price, but sadly they’ve gone back up to £29.90 now.

White chocolate and berry cheesecake

I’m mindful, at this time of year, of having lots of people to cater for at once, and also the value of being able to Do Things In Advance.

I made this at the weekend, for a lunch party at a friend’s house where I was asked to bring pudding. The value of this is that it feeds lots – easily 12*. It not only can, but has to be made in advance. It looks good, but can also be brought out after a meal, to sit on the table for many hours without spoiling and be picked at (‘I’ll just tidy it up’) as guests get drunker and drunker.

I didn’t have a tin big enough, so I made this in one large rectangular Mermaid tin and a smaller tart tin. But this cheesecake is so good that I think it’s worth buying the right size tin for it as I will be making it again.

A few notes:

I put in 300g of frozen mixed berries as that’s the packet I had, and didn’t see the point of keeping back a handful of berries.

Yes you do put the berries in frozen.

Do build the crust up to a good height at the sides, although this mixture didn’t (for me) rise up, there is a lot of it and if your sides aren’t high enough, you’ll be at a dam-bust situation.

It may be an idea to put the tin on a baking sheet to catch any drips – I didn’t have any but see my point just above.

It definitely took an hour in my oven, maybe a few minutes more.

That’s it. This is a good one to keep up your sleeve for party season and the other great thing about it is that * you can cut the slices as thin or thick as you want, so it could feasibly feed may, many more than the predicted dozen.

Here is the recipe.

Prune and almond loaf

This is a magnificent bread recipe, adapted from the equally magnificent Donna Hay magazine that was out this summer.

It’s fantastic when you need something bready, fast, and it is SO delicious. No yeast or proving is necessary. And come on it’s got nuts and prunes in! Good for you..

I’m not going to pretend some of the ingredients are ‘store cupboard’ but aside from the buttermilk, nothing will go off quickly so if you get them in you’ll have something to rustle up over the Christmas period if you (gasp) run out of food, or even if you need to bring something to someone’s house as a little present.

This loaf, with some nice cheeses and a cheese humidor, would make an excellent gift for a cheese-loving friend. But it’s also good with pate.

Ingredients

125g plain flour (not bread flour)

125g wholemeal plain flour (not bread flour)

1.5 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda

half a teaspoon of salt

100g whole blanched almonds (not the end of the world if you have them with their skins on) – you could also, if you wanted to, use other nuts such as walnuts or hazelnuts.

85g pitted prunes, chopped up

40g maple syrup – this really adds something to it so try not to substitute it for something else

190g buttermilk (you can use kefir if you make it, instead)

65ml of sweet sherry (one of my readers has said she uses very strong Earl Grey tea for this)

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly grease and flour a 2lb loaf tin. (I use this one.) Place the flours, bicarb, salt, almonds* and prunes into a bowl and mix up. Make a well in the middle and add the maple syrup, buttermilk and sherry. You will have a very sticky dough, slop it into the tin, whack it in the oven for about 35-40mins and that’s it. Leave to cool for five mins, turn it out, let it cool and then eat it with joy.

(*The astute amongst you may notice there are nuts on top of my loaf. This is what the original recipe stipulated – that you reserve half the nuts and scatter them atop the dough before it goes into the oven. I’m not sure I would do this again as some of the nuts got a bit too brown, but see how you feel/what sort of effect you want.)