Saturday, 25 June 2011

cantucchini - delicious nutty biscotti that may compromise your dental health

So I’m getting the cantucchini recipe straight now. The first batch were definitely the dentist’s friend, requiring serious dunking, in tea coffee or alcohol to avoid that worrying bite and crunch after which you wondered if that was a nut in your mouth or a fragment of something, that until very recently, had formed part of your dental infrastructure.

The dough should be sticky but not wet. Eggs vary in size, as does opinion about what large means (thank you, Marks and Spencer). If your dough is not sticking together add a little water, drop by drop. Or you could add some alcohol, it will give it a twist, something without too strong a flavour. Not milk, since this is a fat free recipe, let’s not spoil it.

The flavour is light, and the flavour of the nuts is not swamped by the vanilla or the cinnamon. Don’t forget the salt, it makes a big difference, and I am going to buy some fresh baking powder, because I don’t think my first bake rises quite enough. Baking powder does go off.

It’s worth waiting a while before cutting the first bake of the loaf into slices. I have found a very sharp serrated knife works best. I’m also thinking of drying out the almonds a little before starting on this recipe. I skin the almonds by soaking them in boiling water, and that makes them a teeny bit soggy.

All in all, despite this being a two step recipe, it is worth making the effort. The biscotti, apart from being the only thing in my cupboard with that name that is actually cooked twice, keep for ages, if you can hide them from the greedy. They are not too sweet either.

I have mixed nuts and favour some brazil nuts and some hazelnuts as an alternative. I don’t want any fruit in there myself, but some people include raisins or apricots (chopped up).



325g (12oz) plain flour

300g (11oz) caster sugar

1½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. salt

325g (12oz) whole blanched almonds

3 large eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract


Set your oven to Gas Mark 4 (180°C/350°F).

Prepare two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Roughly crush about a third of the almonds (I sometimes use 1/3 almond flour)

Mix the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and almonds.

Whisk the eggs and vanilla together and stir them into the dry ingredients, working it into a stiff dough (I use a fork). If it’s not all sticking together add a few drops of water.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and divide into two.

Roll each half into a sausage and divide again into two, so you have four pieces. I do this because it fits on my baking tray, and makes slightly smaller biscotti.

Put the sausage shaped dough on the lined trays and flatten a little – they will spread a bit, so keep them well spaced.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the logs are well risen and have almost doubled in size.

Leave the oven on.

Cut into slices about 1cm thick. Some people say they should be smaller, but I can’t cut them that small. Don’t worry about leaving space between the slices.

Put the sliced dough back and cook for around 20 minutes more, until they are lightly toasted. Let them cool before storing (or eating).

Makes lots.



Thursday, 23 June 2011

chocolate banana bread

Overripe bananas in the bowl mean just one thing: banana bread. I like this recipe, because it is nice and simple, you mix the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients, then you mix both together and cook.
still warm... got it out anyway, now to wait two days
this is smaller than usual, because a made another little one
in case anyone couldn't wait

The cake you end up with has the sticky and slightly weighty quality of banana bread, the cocoa powder gives a good deep chocolate flavour and dries the bread a little. I like to mix wholemeal and white flour sometimes, which makes it a little firmer.

I think the flavour matures if you let the cake sit for at least a day. This may not be possible


1 3/4 cups (230 grams) self raising flour

1/4 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup (200 grams) sugar

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 large eggs

1/2 cup (113 grams) fat (margarine or butter) melted and cooled

3 ripe bananas(around 500g/1 ½ cups), mashed well

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to Gas mark 4/ 350F / 180C

Grease and/or line a long loaf tin, around 9 x 5 x 3”/23 x 13 x 8cm

o     Stir through the dry ingredients, until they are well combined.

o     Beat the mashed bananas, cooled fat and eggs together

o     Mix the wet and dry ingredients together loosely, until just combined

o     Pour the thick batter into the lined tin and sprinkle with  brown sugar.

o     Bake for 50 minutes then test with skewer to see if it’s cooked. Once the skewer comes out clean leave the banana bread to cool before taking it out of the tin.


I ate houmous on Samos, but only once, as part of a mixed plate. I was so greedy I didn’t really concentrate on the flavour and texture. I love chick peas, and often make houmous at home. It ends up much smoother than the stuff you buy ready-made, and cheaper. You can also adjust the flavours as you like. It’s worth having a jar of tahini in the cupboard anyway – that’s the sesame paste used with the chick peas.

I’ve given up on food processors too, it makes washing up more complicated. I just use a stick blender.


1 can chick peas (400g)
1 peeled clove garlic
2 tbsp virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (heaped) tahini paste
Lemon juice (to taste, fresh is best but you can use bottled, approx 2 tbsp)
Hearty pinch of salt

  • Blend everything together until you have a smooth paste.
  • Allow mixture to sit if possible, as the garlic flavour deepens.
I like to serve it draped with a drizzle of the best olive oil and a tiny sprinkle of sweet paprika.

Great with toasted pitta bread, toast or crackers. I like it on a plain digestive sometimes.

Use leftovers to stir into soup or hot rice.

Add cumin and fresh coriander or roast peppers and sundried tomatoes to the blend.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

soup on a wet day

My father was a fan of a very thin soup called Aigo Bollido. It's made with about a litre of water and herbs: sage,  thyme and bay leaf, along with a slug of olive oil. It's a hot pick me up to have with a hangover. It's not the kind of soup I like.

I like a soup with character and substance. I also don't like weighing things, if I can avoid it. I've used mug measurements for this soup.

If you follow this recipe, you'll end up with a hearty soup with good flavour. If you want to boost the flavour, throw a heaped tablespoon of houmous into your bowl of soup, it adds that tahini note and thickens the soup.


1/2 deseeded red chilli
bunch of parsley
1 mug of yellow split peas
2 mugs water
2 potatoes
3 carrots
4 cloves garlic
salt and pepper


peel the carrots, potatoes and the garlic
chop the carrots and three cloves garlic, setting one clove aside
wash the parsley and chop the stems, leave a couple of handfuls of leaves to chop later
put the water, the carrots, potatoes, all the cloves of garlic but one into a pan, bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes
chop the remaining parsley and garlic clove
check soup and add salt and peppre
cook for 10 minutes more
add the chopped parsley and garlic and stir

serve and eat

Monday, 20 June 2011

alternative roasties

It's hard to resist a roast potato, and most of us don't really try. These potatoes have a golden tinge, and are flavoured with garlic with ginger kick. They are very easy too, and, cut up a bit smaller than usual, once in the oven they're done in 30 minutes.

I prepare two potatoes per person, each about as big as my fist, say twice the size of an egg (not an ostrich egg). 

This is for four people of average appetite, to go with other food, such as roast chicken or a stew.



8 potatoes
½ tsp turmeric
3 cloves of garlic
1 slice ginger (1cm wide)
a few slugs of vegetable oil x2
large pinch of salt


set oven to very hot, Gas Mark 9/240C/475F

o       peel the potatoes and cut each one into four pieces, approx 3cm sqaure
o       put into boiling water with the turmeric and simmer for 5 minutes
o       put roasting tin in oven
o       while the potatoes are cooking, peel the garlic and ginger and pound in a mortar with a pinch of salt, or use a blender to make a paste
o       drain the potatoes, put them back in the hot pan, and stir the garlic/ginger paste into them until they are well coated
o       take out the roasting tin and throw in a slug of oil, swill it around and then toss the paste-coated potatoes around the pan in the oil
o       put the pan with the potatoes into the hot oven for 10 minutes
o       take the potatoes out of the oven and turn it down to gas mark 6/200C/400F
o       shake the potatoes around with a little mor oil if needed and put back in the oven for 20m

serve and eat

Friday, 17 June 2011

Greek Salad

I've just come back from Samos, staying in a sweet house in a hill village called Vourliotes. To get there you drive up a vertiginous and winding road, with spectacular views, overlooking steep and rolling hillside, peppered with vineyards, olive groves and scrubby forest punctuated by pencil thin cypresses and occasional houses. Greek salad is served in all the village tavernas, and in every taverna on the island. Of course some are better than others, but it seems impossible to ruin a dish this simple, so long as the ingredients are good. In London I've always been served this dish with the feta cut into small pieces, but on Samos the cheese is laid on top of the veg in a big slab, sprinkled with oregano and then olive oil is poured over it. The onions are very sweet, and the amount used varies considerably, they are not simply red onions, but red onions will do. I'm going out to find the ingredients... well I will when the weather gets a bit warmer, because I don't think it'll taste the same in the cold and wet.



two large ripe beef tomatoes
1/2 large cucumber
1/2 bell pepper
1 sweet onion
1 large slice feta cheese
1 doz greek black olives, stones in

1 large slice feta, about 1.5cm x 10cm x 7cm
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 pinch salt, a few good grindings of black pepper

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar


  • Wash all the veg.
  • Remove the tough stalky bit at the top of the tomatoes and cut into eight segments.
  • Finely slice bell pepper across (all seeds and stalk having been removed)
  • Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and cut into slices
  • Peel onion, cut in half and slice
  • Mix all together in a bowl with the olives
  • Mix together 3 tbsp olive oil and vinegar with salt and pepper and pour over sliced vegetables
  • Put slice of Feta on top of the dressed veg, sprinkle with dried oregano and pour over last tbsp of olive oil

Serve with crusty (if possible Greek) bread

Eat straight away

If you find the Feta a bit salty, let it soak in water or milk before using it. Drain and discard liquid before using.

Friday, 3 June 2011

recent purchases

It's a long time since I used a food processor. I can't be bothered by all those massive pieces of machinery. I'm mostly pretty low tech, but only in terms of what gets plugged in. I have gadgets and gizmos galore (I think that's a quote from the Little Mermaid), and I have failed to resist buying more recently. What I have done is to buy flat things, as they're so much easier to store. To come clean I recently bought:

a micrograter
much loved in the house, especially for parmesan, which it grates into a kind of froth, and we use much less

a grater/slicer
I might not have got the micrograter if I had bought this first, it has large and small grating, and you can slice as well. It's done up in red and white, and someone has said it's livery is a bit like an ipod.

Horchata - from Chow

spotted this on the Chow website, I haven't tried it yet but I will, especially for my dairy free friends. It's still got sugar... but looks tasty. With rum it might be fatal.


By Amy Wisniewski
A common drink found alongside aquas frescas in Mexican taquerias, horchata is a milky-looking, yet dairy-free, libation. Made with ground-up rice, toasted almonds, a bit of cinnamon, and some lime, it’s a perfect summertime refreshment and is even tastier when spiked.

Game plan: Start this recipe a day ahead, as the ground ingredients need to soak overnight.
Total Time: 10 mins, plus soaking time
Makes: 4 to 6 drinks (1 quart)

1 1/4 cups long-grain white rice
2 (1/2-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 cup blanched, sliced almonds, toasted and cooled
4 cups water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 (2-inch-long) lime zest strip, removed with a vegetable peeler
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Pulverize the rice and cinnamon in a spice grinder in batches until the mixture resembles a fine powder. Place in a 2-quart container with a tightfitting lid. Next, pulverize the almonds in the spice grinder until finely ground but not a paste. Add the almond powder to the rice-cinnamon mixture, pour in the water, and stir to combine. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours.

Add the sugar and zest to the mixture and, using a blender, blend in batches on high until smooth. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer placed over a bowl. Using a rubber spatula, press on the solids to extract all of the liquid, then discard the solids.

Stir the lime juice into the horchata, then transfer the beverage to a pitcher and chill in the refrigerator. Serve over ice.

Worth a go?