Archive for November, 2008

A RECIPE: Pumpkin oat crunch sticks

pumpkin oat crunch sticks

I have been cooking turkeys nonstop for the past two weeks. At least two and even up to six a day. Beautifully bronzed turkeys with crispy skin you just want to rip off and dunk in pan of simmering gravy. And yet come Thanksgiving day when I was faced with cooking my own turkey for six hopeful family members and friends I managed to do what so many others do when trying not to overcook the breasts and ended up undercooking the legs. Sure, leave it to the professionals- see what good that will do you. The thermometer reading was right on cue, the skin was bronzed and even though my gut said it hadn’t been in long enough I still pulled it out of the oven two hours before we were due to sit down for lunch and even turned the oven off for an hour and went for a jog before putting everything else in the oven.

If it had been TV the fact that the bird was not fully cooked to the bones might not have mattered- but with hungry guests and no more than a few scraps of smoked salmon on the table to tie them over it was not the desired outcome. Thank heavens for the here’s one I made earlier turkey that was soaking in its pan juices. Though, I’m sure not everyone has a spare bird hanging around on Thanksgiving- I was certainly saved this time by my hankering for plenty of leftovers.

And if raw turkey wasn’t going to ruin the meal on its own then there was the issue (that seems to be a running theme now when I entertain) of my inability to serve piping hot food. As somebody who hates lukewarm in all its possible scenarios, sitting down to a lukewarm meal (which I only have myself to blame for) is completely unacceptable. Food to my taste should be hot or cold- warm is rarely welcome. I blame it on the TV day job- the audience after all does not need to know that the creamy mashed potatoes with the perfectly carved spiral marking on their screen are actually on the verge of being classified cold and beginning to form a skin. But at home, with six pots balanced on four hobs, empty bottles scattered across your work surface and your helpers dashing to the loo or talking too loud to hear you asking them to be seated, it’s quite hard to get everything hot at the table. Not that there were complaints around my Thanksgiving table- I mean who really has the nerve to complain when they’re invited for lunch? The uncooked turkey went back in the oven and I had plenty of leftovers- cold, just the way I like them.

But then there are those disasters in the kitchen which end up turning into something rather exciting and not at all disappointing. Fast forward a day and lo and behold along came the pumpkin oat crunch sticks- a cross between granola and biscotti although I had originally hoped for something more like a flapjack. I was about to sweep the whole tray into the bin when it came out of the oven. It looked like a cake that had had the air kicked out of it but a little taste made me think it might be destined for better things.  I turned the oven down and sliced it into sticks, placed it on a baking tray and let it dry in the oven until it was crunchy and crisp. The following morning I dipped the sticks into a bowl of thick Greek yogurt and a steaming mup of white coffee (although not in that order). In the end I had to package them up and place them in the unreachable depths of my cupboards- I always find crunchy things highly addictive. They were neither undercooked nor lukewarm and the perfect way to use up that leftover pumpkin pie filling.

pumpkin oat crunch sticks

Pumpkin oat crunch sticks

Dip these into a bowl of Greek yogurt, coffee, melted chocolate or just eat plain. If you like things sweet, you will need to add more sugar. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes: 20 sticks

Diet Facts: health in stick form

400g tin pumpkin puree

1 stick butter, melted

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

100g/1/2 cup soft brown sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cloves

2 Tbsp flour

275g/ 3 cups porridge oats

75g/ 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/ Heat the oven 180C/350F/Gas 4. Line a 20 x 30 cm (8 x 12 inch) pan with a strip of parchment that covers the bottom and comes up above the tin on two opposite sides.

2/ In a medium-sized bowl mix together the pumpkin, butter, vanilla and sugar. In another large bowl mix together the remaining ingredients Pour over the wet ingredients and stir until fully combined. Pour into your prepared pan and spread to evenly cover.

3/ Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes or until the top looks firm and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

4/ Once cool, heat the oven to 110C/200F/Gas 1. Remove the pumpkin oat mix from the pan and slice width-ways into roughly 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) thick slices.  Lay out on a wire rack set over a baking tray (or straight on to a baking tray with holes in it) and place into the oven for 3 hours or over night to dry out and become crispy. Store in an airtight container.

A RECIPE: Fennel & lemon risotto


If I’d happened upon fennel on a restaurant menu a year ago, I would have instintively scanned on past it and selected something else. I shamelessly judged fennel. It wasn’t it’s bulbous shape or it’s wild hairy fronds that made it so unpalatable to me but for the lone reason was that it is so frequently descibed as the twin sister of star anise. I find star anise repellant, and unforgiveably fennel was tossed into the same wretched boat and sent off to sea far far away from any fork of mine.

Needless-to-say my taste buds have become more disposed to fennel, of late. Star anise? No, no, no! Despite it’s plucky hair-do, fennel has a delicate nature- far from it’s siblings, star anise and liquorice. It’s calm, gentle, unpretentious and such a team player! How wrong I was! I had eaten fennel cooked in all the wrong ways (usually sliced too thickly, or undercooked).  Fennel, like any other vegetable, prepared badly just won’t taste good. Don’s overcooked broccoli is revolting, for instance. Well, in fairness it would be revolting if I over cooked it too but I try not to let that happen. Don blames his mother for his inability to serve al dente vegetables but I blame it on the fact that he puts it on to cook and then slumps himself on to the sofa. Fennel is much more forgiving than many vegetables and braised or roasted until wilted only adds to its character.

A key note- fennel needs to be eaten fresh and letting it go limp in the refrigerator is simply inexcusable. Slice it paper thin on a mandolin and add it to a salad and its delicate crispness only enhances what could otherwise be a boring heap of greens. Add a fine dice of it to a tomato sauce and it adds a whole new dimension of flavour. Caramelise slices of it in the oven, (which is what I’ve done here) until it goes soft and sweet and it’s sublime. I’ve paired it with a tangy and creamy risotto, which along with a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc, is just what the doctor ordered. Sighs of pleasure and second helpings to ensue.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Fennel & lemon risotto’

CHEF’S TIP: Feeling hot hot hot!

jimmy bannos

Jimmy Bannos cooks cajun style out of his Chicago restaurant Heaven on Seven. There are two ingredients in particular that stand out in Jimmy’s cooking- butter and hot peppers, and more is more by his books. Except when it comes to too much heat, because there certainly can never be enough butter. Jimmy’s trick for keeping more of the hot pepper flavour with less of the consequential heat- cut away the white mebrane as well as the seeds. What most people don’t know is that more of the heat comes from the membrane than the seeds, says Mr Bannos. Oh and don’t forget to wash your hands with lots of soap before touching skin or going to the bathroom. Ouch!

A RECIPE: Parsnip Soup

parsnip soup

The prospect of parsnip soup may not have you volunteering to do the washing-up after supper tonight or have you hovering around the kitchen like there’s bacon frying but if you could just spare me five minutes of your time (I mean you have only just arrived) then I will try to sway you otherwise. To me this soup is Christmas in a bowl- creamy, warm and wholly satisfying (still with me?). What makes it unlike Christmas? Oh, perhaps the simple fact that it takes only one single solitary pot (just one!) barely any chopping and a measly thirty minutes to literally throw together (twenty of which can be spent sat on the sofa writing your list for Father Christmas). So, perhaps what I should of said was parsnip soup = Christmas in a bowl – all the work + almost immediate satisfaction = why you should make parsnip soup. Now. It’s a simple mathematical equation folks.

If that hasn’t convinced you, bare with on this little diversion. My mum cooked a mini-Christmas roast every Sunday supper that I can remember and although the roast chickens, roast potatoes and gravy were always memorable- it was the bread sauce that was so frequently forgotten by my mum to make that we have always squabbled over. Well, we were probably also fighting about so and so sitting in so and so’s seat and how long so and so had hogged the computer but mostly, it was about the bread sauce and how much was on so and so’s plate. And though, the days of weekly roasts have passed, come Christmas, the wintry smell of this gruel like substance, which costs pennies to make wafting through the house still has me hovering in the kitchen offering a few too many seasoning-checks.

For those unfamiliar, (poor deprived souls) bread sauce is made using milk (or cream if your feeling indulgent) infused with onion, bay leaves and cloves- a delicately spiced concoction to which breadcrumbs are added to thicken the milk and to finish a knob of butter is thrown into the mix for good measure. It’s served hot as a royal accompaniment to roast chicken or turkey and for members of the Helm family it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. This parsnip soup takes the same concept of infusing the milk, only the parsnips replace the breadcrumbs as the thickening measure. It’s also pureed smooth, so if it’s the porridge-like texture that scares you about bread sauce then here’s one less off-putting factor (I’m fighting for you hard on this one!). The milk makes it creamy but not too rich and a touch of sweetness from the parnsips adds a whole new dimension to the mix. And if you’re still not sold go back to paragraph one- this is a one-pot Christmas, with all the timmings and you can still turn it into curry the day after.

Continue reading ‘A RECIPE: Parsnip Soup’

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