Thursday, 22 September 2011

Share the Love...

It was whilst visiting my boyfriend in Granada, the spiritual home of tapas and thus the birthplace of the sharing platter, that I came to realise when it comes to food, the world is split into two clear camps. No, not those who love Marmite and those who hate it, but those for whom a desert with two spoons is a sight greeted with happiness, and those for whom it is the stuff of nightmares. Side by side around almost every dinner table sit those who relish in sharing, and those who really could think of nothing worse than an attack of invading forks inflicted upon their plate. 

Incurably indecisive, and just a little bit greedy, I am definitely part of the sharing brigade. It is quite impossible for me to sit opposite another's plate of food without craving a bite to see exactly what I am missing. But its more than just the mortal fear of food envy that draws me to the sharing platter on a menu, I absolutely love the interactivity and fun that a flurry of forks directed at a big bowl of pasta or a huge cake at the centre of a table brings to a meal, particularly when twinned with a nice bottle of wine...

But, as became frighteningly clear when confronted with a plate of tapas whilst in Spain, the allegiance of my boyfriend most definitely lies on the other side. A self-proclaimed hater of the communal plate, he, like many boys, guards his precious dinner with his life; a tirade of evil glares directed towards anyone who dares to utter the inevitable question, 'Can I have a taste of that?' One arm curled protectively around his meal, and the other manically shovelling down mouthful upon mouthful, desperate to finish before the unavoidable question arrises, the eating habits in Spain, and particularly tapas, were a nightmare waiting to happen.

However, after 6 months of plate upon plate placed in front of a group of hungry people, with, shock horror, no clear rules on who eats what; to my amazement, and obvious glee, even Robin has come round to the merits of all tucking in to one plate. And although he will probably always have at least a little bit of contempt for anyone who dares to steal a chip from his plate, even he would agree that without people to share our kitchen creations with, there would be little point in making any more effort than boiling a kettle to pour onto a pot noodle at dinnertime. 

And these burgers are sharing food with bells on. With everyone gathered around bowls piled high with all the toppings imaginable and a huge platter of golden chips, I would defy any of your eating companions to bear even the slightest likeness to Ebeneezer Scrooge when faced with a delicious sight like these juicy burgers. Delicious and, essentially, quick to prepare, they are the ideal dish to ensure that the maximum amount of time is spent relaxing with your friends and family, and the minimum chained between the oven and the kitchen sink. 

The Mexican burgers, laced with smoky paprika and a tang of chilli, are delicious with citrus sharp tomato salsa and gorgeous guacamole. Go as mad as you like; mature cheddar cheese, soured cream, rings of red onion, fresh tomato slices, crisp bacon; whatever you can think of! Make it interactive by piling all the different toppings into un-matching bowls, a move that encourages everyone to get stuck in, mixing and matching to build their very own perfect burger. 

And, not forgetting any veggies out there, cumin spiced haloumi burgers, topped with grilled green peppers and a large helping of earthy houmous are simply delicious. I would wager that even the most loyal of meat-eaters will enjoy these...

Ps. Although  these burgers look summery, they are honestly just as tasty dished out in front of  roaring fire as eaten in the garden on a glorious sunny day. But, if the thought of cold guacamole and sour cream leave you quaking in your fur lined slippers, try more weather appropriate toppings; maybe bacon, brie and cranberry, or how about blue cheese and some homemade spiced pear chutney? 

Mexican Beef burgers, Serves 6.

Inspired by my idol, Jamie Oliver, these burgers are as moist as they are tasty. Leave out the paprika and coriander for a more classic burger, maybe to be served with mature cheddar and crispy bacon, or even mozzarella, juicy tomatoes and a smattering of pesto. I love to serve the Mexican burgers with potato wedges, sprinkled with a little smoked paprika and sea salt.

500g minced beef
1 egg
12 cream crackers
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped.
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Fry the onion and garlic until soft and slightly translucent and leave to one side to cool.
Put the crackers into a sealed freezer bag, or wrap in a tea towel, and whack with a rolling pin until smashed to a fine powder.
Put the bashed up crackers into a large mixing bowl with the mince, fried onions, egg and remaining flavourings. Making sure your hands are clean, scrunch all the ingredients together until well combined and the mixture can be moulded into patties.
Divide into 6 and shape into burger shapes about 1 inch thick.
Place on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and place in the fridge until your guests have arrived and you are ready to get frying.
When the moment arrives, fry or grill the burgers for around 5 minutes on each side (for a chargrilled effect that looks as good as it tastes, use a griddle pan if you have one!) If the burgers are still  little underdone for your liking, transfer to the oven with the wedges for a few minutes.

To serve:

2 ripe avocados
1 red onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
½ - 1 red or green chilli, chopped
2 limes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Halve and peel the avocado before mashing to your desired texture with a fork or in a pestle and mortar.
Squeeze in the juice of the limes, add a glug of olive oil and stir in the chopped onion, chilli and garlic. Season well and the guacamole is ready to adorn your delicious burgers.

Tomato salsa
A couple of handfuls of ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Olive oil
1 lemon
Salt and pepper
Handful coriander
½ tsp sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, adding as much of the juice of the lemon as your tastebuds enjoy, a good glug of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Stack in your burger!

Tomatoes, sliced.
Coss lettuce, washed and pulled apart
1 red onion, sliced
Soured cream
Grated cheddar cheese.
6 ciabatta rolls or sesame burger buns

Pile all the toppings and burgers in mismatched bowls or platters and allow your guests to dig in and share the love!

Middle Eastern Halloumi Burgers, with Houmous and Green Peppers, Serves 6.

2 packets halloumi cheese (about 500g)
2 tbsp flour
2 tsp cumin seeds

400g can chickpeas, washed and drained
2 tbsp tahini paste (or peanut butter works just as well!)
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice ½ lemon
2 tbsp olive oil

To serve.
2 green peppers
2 tomatoes, sliced
Chilli jam
Cos lettuce
6 ciabatta rolls or sesame burger buns

Combine the flour and cumin seeds in a wide dish and season well with salt and pepper.
Slice the halloumi to around ½ cm thick and cover each side of the cheese with the seasoned flour.
Now make the houmous. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Season to taste and adjust the levels of lemon and oil according to how you like it, and it’s as easy as that!
In a large griddle pan, heat a splash of olive oil on a medium heat. Lay the slices of halloumi, and quarters of the green peppers, into the pan and fry until they are lightly singed with golden brown lines, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, lightly toast the halved rolls.
To serve, stack all the toppings in bowls, allowing everyone to build their veggie burger just how they like it!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cookies for Sarah...

Not so recently, I received my first ever recipe request. The Perfect Cookie. Easy enough to say, but, as I have come to discover over the past few weeks, much more difficult to achieve. In fact, the quest for the best biscuit has become, contrary to my expectations, one of the most frustrating projects I have been tasked with since writing a 3000 word essay on French feminist policies (if a lot more enjoyable).

On the road towards the ideal cookie, the last few weeks have gone by in a cloud of sifted flour and chocolate chips. One batch too cakey, the next too greasy; at one point, after the realisation that licking the bowl of uncooked dough was a lot more enjoyable than the cookie itself, I rather dramatically declared that I would never make a biscuit again. But, of course, the temptation of finding the perfect recipe, and obviously the thought of yet another sweet, buttery treat to go with my cuppa, was much too much to resist. So, approximately 50 beaten eggs and 100 hours of mixing later (and a bit of a shock when I stepped on the scales after sampling my wares), I think I have finally cracked it.

However, in the crack of the cookie lies another problem. As I rolled out greased tray upon greased tray of every shape, texture and flavour biscuit imaginable, I have come to understand that the notion of the perfect cookie is an entirely subjective one. Some love the crunch whilst others simply adore a good chewy biscuit. Personally, I think that perfection is somewhere between the two. I dream of a cookie with a good crunchy edge that melts to a gorgeously chewy centre, like those you see piled in jars on cafe counters.

However, unfortunately, big, chewy American style cookies are extremely difficult to perfect. I experimented with everything but eventually, following the advice of my sous-chef (aka my sister Briony), the best results were achieved using melted butter or oil and a squeeze of honey or golden syrup. This gives the cookies my long sought-after chewy texture, contrasted with just the right amount of crunch, and, as a bonus, they look just like the big, cracked surface beauties that I was after. Thank goodness.

Mix the flavourings up however you like. Think date, cinnamon and walnut; dried pear and dark chocolate; raspberry and white chocolate. Tickle your fancy? Give them a go and let me know if they are your perfect cookie too!

Ginger and almond honey cookies.

125ml oil
250g white sugar
1 egg
100g honey                                                  
2 tsp baking soda
50g whole blanched almonds, chopped
75g crystalised ginger, chopped
½ tsp salt
260g plain flour
25 g almonds (chopped) extra, for rolling.

Preheat the oven to 180oc
 Mix the oil, sugar, egg, honey, baking soda and the salt in a large bowl, until nicely combined.
Add the almonds (50g) and the ginger and mix thoroughly.
Stir in the flour until just combined, and the dough is just dry enough to quickly roll into balls. Do not be tempted to add too much flour, as a cakey cookie is not what you want!
Roll the dough into balls about 1 inch wide. Drop into chopped almonds and place on greased and lined baking trays, leaving at least 2 inches between each little ball as they will spread!
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden.

My favourite chocolate chip cookies.

125 g butter, melted and cooled.
250 g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsp baking powder
100g golden syrup
½ tsp salt
150g-200g chocolate chips (dark or milk chocolate, or a mixture!)
100g chopped nuts (hazelnuts are delicious, but any you like!)
325g plain flour

Mix the butter, sugar, egg, syrup, baking soda and the salt in a large bowl, until nicely combined.
Add the chocolate and nuts, and mix until combined.
Stir in the flour until just combined, and the dough resembles a sticky cake mix.
Place spoonfuls of mixture on lined baking trays, leaving a space of about 2 inches between each to allow for some serious spreading.
Sprinkle with a few extra nuts and bake for about 15 minutes or until nicely golden. Don't worry if they still look a little soft, this is where the chewiness comes from!
Allow to cool, transfer to cooling racks and, if you are a serious chocoholic, drizzle with some extra chocolate!