Friday, 19 October 2012

Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Salad

A few weeks back, I bolted to France avec famille for a long weekend with the intention of avoiding turning 30. Sadly, I didn't manage to avoid getting older, but by way of compromise I was well and truly spoiled. Despite coming down with a cold, I was taken out for a fantastic lunch at Beffroi Tentations in St Antonin Noble Val ahead of a magnificent dinner where my sister, mother and husband all took turns to produce a course.

This was my sister's course and was an absolute treat: crisp, autumnal pears, creamy Saint Agur and nutty, bitter walnuts. She used Saint Agur, but any blue cheese would work depending on your tastes - a pungent Roquefort or creamy Dolcelatte would both be delicious. As there's no cooking involved, it's very easy to put together. Perfect when you're a little short of time but still want to impress!

Ingredients (serves 4):
For the salad:
100g rocket
100g seedless grapes, cut in half
50g crushed walnuts
50g Saint Agur, crumbled
2 ripe Williams pears

For the dressing:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red white vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp wholegrain mustard

Divide the rocket between four salad plates. Scatter the grapes over the rocket and then sprinkle over the crushed walnuts and crumbled Saint Agur. Make sure you have a reasonably even balance of all three ingredients.

Peel the pears, slice in half and remove the core. Slice it into 5mm slithers and place half a pear on each salad.

Mix up the dressing and drizzle over your salad. Easy as, well, salad!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Chocolate & Ancho Chilli Crème Brûlée

Hello, my name is Grania and I am a chilli-holic. While I've had a love affair with all things capsicum for as long as I can remember, it is only relatively recently that I've branched out into trying the different varieties and discovering each of their distinctive flavours. It started with a grow your own chilli kit from my friend Sarah, as I discovered the respective virtues of Demon Red, Hungarian Hot Wax, Jalapeños and Anaheim chillies (and became somewhat obsessed with keeping all the little plants alive).

A recent obsession with Mexican cooking broadened my horizons further, particularly with regards to Chipotle and Ancho chillies. Both of which are dried varieties (of the Jalapeño and Poblano chilli, respectively) and have a wonderful flavour. Ancho, which I've used in this recipe is pretty mild but has a deliciously sweet, almost chocolate-y flavour. I've found things like Chipotle and Ancho powder a little tricky to find, even in London, but this website and also this one seem to have pretty much everything I could ever need.

This is a lovely and surprisingly easy recipe, chosen because I could make it a day in advance when having friends over for a spot of Monday night Mexican (or Mexercise, if you're that way inclined). When I see friends I want to be able to chat with them rather than slave over a hot stove all night, so this was the perfect solution. Rich, creamy, warming and very more-ish. A little mouthful of sunshine on a grey Monday evening in early October.

Ingredients (serves 6):
300 ml single cream
1 10cm stick cinnamon
60g milk chocolate
60g dark chocolate
5 egg yolks, lightly beaten
70g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp ancho chilli powder
1/8 tsp salt

For the topping:
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder

Preheat oven to 160°C. In a milk pan, heat the single cream with the cinnamon stick until the cream starts to foam. Turn off the heat, remove the cinnamon stick and add the chocolate to the cream. Leave to stand for about 5 minutes, until the chocolate is melted then whisk until smooth.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the egg yolks, caster sugar, vanilla essence, ancho chilli powder and salt. Whisk the ingredients together until combined then slowly whisk the chocolate and cream into the egg mixture.

Divide the custard mixture between 6 ramekins and then place the ramekins in a baking dish. Place the baking dish on an oven rack and then pour boiling water into the dish so that it comes half way up the side of the ramekins.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, and test using a knife inserted into the centre of the custard mixture. If it comes out clean, the custard is cooked. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cook, transfer to the fridge and chill for up to 24 hours.

Before serving, bring the custards to room temperature for at least 20 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the last of the sugar with the cinnamon powder, sprinkle evenly on top of each of the custards, then place the ramekins on a baking tray. Caramelise the sugar with a cook's blowtorch, or place under the grill for a couple of minutes until the sugar is melted and lightly browned. Serve immediately.