English sunshine

We’ve been having a great summer and this photo epitomises the brilliant fruits we can buy in July and August. Apricots and cherries are two stone fruits that are perfect for ending a meal. Just pile them on a dish and keep them cool and fresh with some ice cubes dotted over the top.

The day after I took this photograph I spent a little time tending the purple and white plants which are now flourishing in the garden: masses of petunias, trailing lobelia and white geraniums. I should have used the past tense. The next day we had a short and sharp hail storm. Not just rain, but icy little pellets bouncing off the garden table, covering the terrace and knocking the petals off my precious flowers. This is the English summer - always unpredictable.

Cheesecake ice cream

Making up recipes is part of the joy of writing a food blog. But every now and then the testing and note-taking is not as rigorous as it should be. So it happened that I made a cheesecake ice cream and lost the piece of paper with the instructions. But I remember the details: it just needs a pot of Philadephia cream cheese, some cool custard (which you can buy in pots in supermarkets) vanilla sugar and fresh cream.

When I talk of ‘making up’ recipes, the idea may have come from the back of my mind from something I’d experienced some time ago. It’s tricky to claim that any recipe is truly original. But the idea of combining custard with cream cheese and freezing it seemed a good way to recreate the smooth flavour of a baked cheesecake.

You can find a recipe from Nigella Lawson if you click on the photograph. Or if you’d like the really simple version I thought up, please click on Ask me Anything, and I will happily re-create it for you.

Baby artichokes

There’s a reason the Italians spend time and effort preparing these tiny artichokes. You need to get rid of the tough outer part, leaving only the heart in the centre. Then they are fried (as in Carciofi alla giudea) or preserved al olio.

I bought a couple last week - just because they looked pretty - and treated them in the same way as I would have done with the large ones, i.e. boiling in salted water. I served them with vinaigrette or lemony mayonnaise, but it was lucky it was just me and the Man in the Armchair Kitchen. They were difficult to eat, as you still had to pull off each small leaf and there wasn’t enough flesh to make it worthwhile.

Still, I do love the picture! My little men in the sunshine.

What are the big brown buttons?

Here’s a clue - I wouldn’t leave the shirt out in the sun.

The answer

The buttons are made of chocolate, of course. They are so simple.

All you need is this bendable chocolate mold. Just fill with melted chocolate, chill and press out. Click on the picture to find out where to buy one.

Getting away from it all

August is here and that means many of us escape to the sea or the country. For some this means a couple of weeks of relaxation and a way to restore the mind.

Others never want to live in a city, so for them being away from crowds is their chosen way of life. Here’s what best-selling author John le Carre has to say on the subject:

I hate the telephone. I can’t type. I ply my trade by hand. I live on a Cornish cliff and hate cities. Three days and nights in a city are about my maximum. I don’t see many people. I write and walk and swim and drink.”

and then, here’s another comment of his that we’d all do well to heed:

A good writer is an expert on nothing except himself. And on that subject, if he is wise, he holds his tongue.”

Something from nothing

These are roasted chicken wings.The colour and glaze come from a mixture of paprika, soy sauce, muscovado sugar and oil. Most people love small pieces of meat on the bone - especially if you can finish them off by eating them with your fingers. Then there’s the added joy of crisp skin (which the Fat Police will tell you to avoid).

I’d serve them up for a family meal with the rice and roasted potato slices on the side. (You can see how to make these in the post earlier this week).

Nectarine and rocket salad

Starter or dessert? This could be either. With a dressing of walnut oil and wine vinegar, the peppery rocket (arugula in USA) makes a good contrast to the sweetness of grated carrot and sliced peaches or nectarines.

I think it goes best as a side dish with grilled meat or fish. However you want to serve it, it’s quick and easy to put together, but the fruit should be cut at the last minute to prevent oxidization. You could add lemon juice instead to stop the slices going brown but that adds a bit of extra tartness.

Salted caramel double-stuffed chocolate chip cookies

I found this indulgent recipe on a blog called top with cinnamon. It ticks the boxes of being quick, easy and salty/sweet appealing. Because I’m impatient and didn’t want to go and buy a couple of ingredients I didn’t have, I played with the recipe a bit and did without the caramel sweets which go inside. I also have to admit to cutting down a bit on the brown sugar (using 200g instead of the recommended 320g). The result is still mega-sweet, with the Nutella filling oozing out of the centre.

Click on the picture to see a video and recipe of how they are made. One thing to add: the baking time seems an amazingly short 8-10 minutes. Have faith - the cookies come out meltingly soft, but they firm up a bit as they cool.

Roasted potato slices

This is what I’ve called them - to avoid the question of whether they are ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’. It depends where you live, in the UK it’s the first - in USA it’s the second.

They are not like the slightly oily crisps you get in packets - especially the delicious Kettle Chips with a crunch you can hear if someone is eating them in the next room. These home made ones are something to play with if you are in the kitchen for half an hour. The method is exactly the same as described in the previous post about Sweet Potato Crisps. If your oven has top heat take care not to burn them and don’t forget to turn them over at half time.

The amount you see here is one medium potato. As I use no oil (you could if you want to) they aren’t messy to handle and they are just the thing if you are sitting around…. waiting for something or someone.

What are these? not what you think

The ripe apricots at the top of the photo are there to confuse you! It looks as if these are candied apricot slices. They’re not.

See below for what they are…..

Sweet potato crisps

You know those packs of vegetable crisps you buy in expensive delis? They are made from slices of different root vegetables, including beetroot and sweet potatoes. For some reason people think they are more healthy than normal potatoes. The ‘healthy’ angle really centres on how much oil you use. These (and the ordinary potato crisps coming up in the next post) use NO oil at all. Just a bit of salt for seasoning.

My version is to cut one washed (and unpeeled) sweet potato into thin slices. Arrange these on a sheet of baking paper on a tin and cook them in a hot oven 190C/380F for about half an hour, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. They may still seem a little soft, but they curl nicely at the edges and they harden as they cool. Serve them sprinkled with salt crystals - with a cool glass of Pinot Grigio.

Sweets and books

"The best candy shop a child can be left alone in, is the library."

Maya Angelou (reblogged via bookporn)

The ‘books’ in the lower photo are made of stone and were found in a children’s playground near Tel-Aviv.

Supper for one

The man in the Armchair Kitchen was away - ensconsed in a remote German village talking software engineering for twelve days with other academics. So the food I made for myself was quick and easily assembled from what I had around.

From the top, there was some cooked rice, very small chiquino peppers (not hot), cucumber, mini kabanos, red cabbage, lettuce and carrot. I made the first two into stuffed grilled peppers and put the other things into a big salad to go with the smoky sausages.

Best of all I ate it watching television - a riveting series called The Honourable Woman. Critics are amazed that the BBC put this on in the summer when they usually give us lower quality drama, and secondly because it is a fictional story of characters involved in a conflict between Israel and Gaza.

Anything green 2

Following up on the green theme, here is a soup that can more or less be made with anything green. I’ve chosen broccoli, peas and mint, but you could substitute courgette (zucchini), leeks, cauliflower, spinach or other combinations.

It has to be quick - this isn’t one of those soups that takes hours of peeling, chopping and simmering. I made it on a hot summer’s day, wanting a cool soup to eat at the garden table. This one was made from a small head of broccoli, cut up and cooked with very little water in the microwave. I then simmered some frozen peas and some sprigs of fresh mint in vegetable stock for about 5 minutes. Then comes the satisfying part: put everything into a liquidizer with some whole milk (you can used semi-skimmed if you prefer) and whizz it up for at least five minutes. The result is a creamy soup that is perfect hot or cold. (A note on the stock: you can use chicken stock if you prefer; my choice is a ‘chicken flavour powder’ made by Osem which gives a chickeny flavour but is suitable for vegetarians.)