Simple, beautiful and fresh. I have come to the conclusion that complicated recipes are not for me. Pick your elderflowers from a tree that isn’t too close to a road or a dusty path. I think that some trees have a different complex of aromas in their pollens from others – so it’s interesting over time to make batches of cordial from different trees and see if you can taste any variation. I also think that cordial made with flowers early in the season when they start to open tastes more floral than cordial made with later flowers, which tastes richer. That might be my imagination, but a world of elderflower cordial tasting is a pleasant place to be for a while. There are loads of cordial recipes out there but this is a combination of the Pam Corbin version in River Cottage Handbook No 2 Preserves (a must have) and the Fern Verrow version (another must have book for both the recipes and the photography).
I have no idea if there is any medical sense behind this, but I have heard that children with hay fever were given elderflower cordial in olden days, in order to provide them with small doses of pollen to accustom their immune systems to the allergen in harmless amounts. A similar role has been claimed for honey. I’m not saying there’s any medical benefit to elderflower cordial, only that it tastes superb and you are using a bountiful natural resource.
Depending on the space in your fridge or freezer and how long you want your supply to last, you can make this without the citric acid if you like. Then it will keep only a few weeks on the shelf and will need to be refrigerated once open. You can make it and freeze it in plastic bottles, but I never have the room in my freezer for that and am trying to minimise my use of plastic in food preparation anyway. I use old glass olive-oil bottles, the ones with the swing-cap lids and I find that the cordial keeps several months in a cool place, which is as long as the supply lasts in our house and by that time we’re into the more winter-ish fruity cordials as the season rolls round.
You can make up the cordial with water, fizzy water or lemonade. If you want a Hugo Cocktail, add lime juice, mint leaves and prosecco and waft around the garden looking and feeling lovely.
Makes about 2 litres Timings: 1 hour to pick and start the steeping, overnight steeping, then about 30 minutes to boil up and bottle
Pick your elderflowers and bring them home as soon as possible, breathing in the scent from the bag every now and then.
Shake off any insects or dust but don’t wash them. Put them in a large bowl (not plastic) or pan. Using a potato peeler, peel the lemons and the orange and add the peel to the flowers while you boil the kettle. Keep the peeled fruit in the fridge. Pour the boiling water over the flowers/peel, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to infuse and steep overnight.
Next day, strain the liquid out through your jelly bag. I hang mine from the cupboard where we keep our glasses so I have to be sure to start the straining only after we’ve laid the table for breakfast. Let the liquid strain for about 30 minutes and don’t squeeze the bag or you will get a cloudy cordial.
While it’s dripping through, squeeze the lemons and the orange, and strain out any pips.
Measure all the liquid that you have – the juice and the strained elderflower liquid – into a large pan – you should have about 2 litres. Per litre of liquid add 700g sugar and 2 teaspoons of citric acid, if using.
Bring to a rolling boil and skim off the pollen-laden scum that comes to the surface.
While it’s coming to the boil, boil up your kettle and sterilise your bottles.
Bottle the cordial while it’s still hot and clip the lids on, so the cooling down closes the lids more tightly.
When cool, wipe the bottles, label and keep them in a darkish place.
In a departure from my usual format, I have not cooked these myself. This plate of lovely deliciousness was made by my friend Louise and brought to a recent party in my garden. They are so very good, it is difficult to resist eating the lot in one gulp, but they are quite rich. They are the perfect home made treat to take along to thank your host: they look elegant, taste spectacular, and are moist and almondy inside.
Louise is herself of Italian heritage and she’s a great cook. She uses the recipe from Vincenzo’s Plate – he has a website and YouTube channel, and he cooks from his home in Sydney. He’s got some wonderful recipes on the site and classifies this as “easy”.
I’ve slightly modified to fit my format, but thanks, Vincenzo, for this great recipe.
Makes about 30 little biscuits Timings: 30 minutes preparation, at least an hour to rest (or overnight) then about 30 minutes to shape and bake.
Whisk the egg whites until firm and add the almond essence. Continue to whisk to mix them together.
Mix the ground almonds and caster sugar together thoroughly in a large bowl and add the egg whites. Using a metal spoon, mix up together, then use your hands to get you to a dough-like consistency – you are not trying to make it into a firm ball, just a dough.
If you need to, add some extra ground almonds at this point – the dough should not be very wet and sticky. Depending on the size and freshness of the eggs you used, you might need a little more ground almonds.
Rest the dough for at least an hour in the fridge and up to overnight.
Pre heat your oven to 180°C and line a large flat baking sheet with baking parchment. Put your icing sugar into a flattish bowl.
Scoop about a teaspoonful of mixture into your hand, roll it into a ball and plunk it into the bowl of icing sugar. Keep doing this and rolling the balls of mixture in the icing sugar. Put them one by one onto the baking sheet, leaving a space between them. When the sheet is full, push your hand down onto each ball to flatten it slightly – the dough will crack very slightly which gives the amaretti their typical appearance and texture.
Sprinkle with a little more icing sugar and bake for about 15 minutes – checking after 12 minutes.
When cool you can wrap them individually in a twist of tissue paper and put them in a little gift bag to take to your friend.
American Shrimp Cocktail
Travelling in the US, I love to discover foods that sounds the same as English versions but are in fact, quite different. It’s one of those “you’re like me but not like me” moments; a bit of a thrill, taking you out of the familiar. What we know as prawns, the Americans call shrimp. What we call shrimp, (the Morecambe bay tiny brown shrimp that we eat in tubs of brown butter) they probably don’t see as food at all. And if you ask for a shrimp cocktail, expecting a creamy mayonnaise-y Marie Rose sauce, you can get a bit of a shock to find a spicy tomato salsa, hot with horseradish instead. It’s a nice shock; you can repeat it at home easily and watch the surprise on your guests’ faces when you serve it.
A lot of American recipes for the spicy shrimp sauce are based on ketchup. I prefer this one, based on a jar of lovely tomatoes in the best juice you can buy – it gives such a sweet depth of flavour. But you could use a really good tin of tomatoes too – the Italian ones are very tasty.
If you can lay hands on fresh horseradish, it will blow your mind. The sauce gets hotter and more tingly over a day or so as the horseradish develops its spice, so make it ahead and keep in the fridge. Anyone with an allotment will probably be able to give you a section of horseradish root on a regular basis if you ask them – it grows like a weed and takes over; allotmenteers are always glad to dig up a bit and get rid of it to willing recipients. Some grocers also have “fresh” roots – generally wrapped in plastic like a dirty cucumber. A good jar of cream of horseradish would do fine, but not the ones combined with mayonnaise or cream.
Serves 6 Timings: 30 minutes
Drop the prawns into cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 1 minute and leave for 5 minutes to poach fully before draining and running under cold water to stop cooking. Drain and keep in the fridge until ready to serve. You can add a little extra flavour by adding a glass of white wine, some peppercorns and some herbs to the cooking water, but that’s optional.
Make the sauce: blend the tomatoes in their juice with the grated horseradish and the chopped chilli. Push through a sieve to remove the seeds and any stringy bits of root. Stir the sauce and add a generous splash of Worcester sauce, a good squeeze of lemon, the sugar and a couple of pinches of salt and black pepper. Stir, taste and adjust the seasoning – how much salt you need depends on the brand of tomatoes you used. Keep in a jar in the fridge for at least an hour before serving to chill and to develop the flavour. It will keep a couple of weeks in the fridge if you have made a lot and can be added to tomato soup or pasta sauces to give a little extra zing.
Arrange the prawns over a little lettuce and spoon the sauce over. Your guests can squeeze a bit more lemon over if liked. A slice of good bread would help mop up the juice.
South German Potato Salad (vegan optional)
Actually, “Swabian” Potato Salad, but not everyone outside of Germany (and not everyone inside Germany either) knows where the unofficial district of Swabia belongs. You won’t find it on a postcode or town name but it’s an area taking in parts of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemburg with about 7 million inhabitants. It has it’s own culinary traditions and specialities which I was fascinated to learn about when I lived in Ulm - a beautiful town on the Danube. Eating new food when you’ve moved to a new country is a bit different from eating new things on holiday. You aren’t going back, so you have to get used to them and work out what you like to eat on a daily basis, and what your friends are likely to serve you.
I’ve always loved the English version of potato salad: perky little new potatoes, rich with mayonnaise, piquant with spring onions and chives, spritzed with lemon juice and sparkled with ground black pepper. I was initially suspicious of Swabian Potato Salad – the potatoes melt almost to a slurry in the stock, there’s no creamy mayonnaise in sight, and it is served at room temperature – how odd is that? But if you come at it from another angle, don’t see it as competition to a much-loved favourite, you will also find this delicious and quite different. It is a perfect accompaniment to a barbeque, it matches with grilled meat or sausages as effortlessly as you might expect from a German dish. It’s also great with cold meat from a next-day roast leftovers or with a big salad.
Try it and be brave. I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
Serves 6 Timings: 1 hour preparation, then time to cool.
Scrub then boil the potatoes in their skins until tender – about 30 minutes depending on their size.
Meanwhile make up the stock in a jug if you are using cubes or powder, or warm it up in a small pan if you are using home made stock. Slice 2 of the shallots and the leek up very finely and put them into the warm stock to tenderise. Reserve the remaining shallot and also slice it up very finely.
When the potatoes have boiled and are tender inside, drain them and let them cool a little and then peel them while they are still warm. As you peel them, chop them in slices and drop them into your serving bowl, adding ladles of warm stock as you go. Don’t use all the stock to start with. When you’ve sliced up about half the potatoes, add the vinegar to the bowl. Go on peeling and slicing potatoes and add them to the bowl along with the reserved shallot. Add more stock until you have quite a loose mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning – you might need more salt depending on the stock you used and you might need a good grind of black pepper.
Add the parsley and mix, then allow to cool and serve at room temperature.
The salad can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for at least a day but I wouldn’t freeze it.
Summer Fruit Sponge
Is it a flan? Is it a cake? It’s sort of both. This is another German recipe and it uses a jelly-like glaze on top of fresh fruit layered onto a sponge base. The glaze sticks the fruit together as well as giving it a nice shine and helping keep it fresh for a day. Unfortunately, it is not a cooking ingredient found in the baking supplies aisle of your local British supermarket, so you need to make it yourself or order it on-line – look for “tortenguss” which means “cake glaze”. I like the Dr. Oetker one, which is reliable and uses caragheen as a gelling agent, so it’s vegetarian. I wouldn’t ordinarily recommend an ingredient you can only get on-line but in this case I think it’s worth it. It comes in a set of 3 little sachets. You can buy a red-coloured version or a clear version – I like to use the red one for a flan like this with red berries and you would use the clear one for peaches or kiwi fruit.
The base is a simple Genoese sponge (the One True Cake recipe). I used a special 28cm flan mould tin, which means the sides are slightly higher than the middle, so you can fill the middle with a mound of fruit. You can buy these sponge cases ready made but as you might expect, home made tastes best. You could make a simple round cake without the special mould tin, and it would be just as good. You top the cake with whatever soft fresh fruit is in season and can keep a day – so I wouldn’t use bananas or anything that might go brown or leak too much juice like a mango but an assortment of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries tastes and looks wonderful.
Yes, you can see some whipped cream from a can on the side of the cake in my photo. It’s a cheat but it’s the best way to provide whipped cream to my Lunch Group as I don’t like transporting containers of fresh whipped cream around in hot weather.
My Seniors Lunch Group this week had a presentation from one of our members who is an enthusiast of military history. He told us all about D Day: the planning, the false trails laid for more likely invasion sites to distract the enemy, the use of floating harbours and the movement of troops on the day. It was fascinating and elicited memories from those who lived through World War II – we have a veteran in our group and many of the members were children or teenagers and remember those times very well. Then we discussed rationing and the difficulty many of the mothers had in providing tasty meals for their families on one egg and a scraping of butter per week. Lots of memories and lots of admiration both for those who went out and fought and those who stayed at home and made do.
Serves 12 Timings: 90 minutes and then about 2 hours at least to set
Make the sponge. Preheat the oven to 180°C; and grease your cake tin thoroughly. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until fluffy while you melt the butter. Turn the motor lower and add in the flour and vanilla essence. Turn off the motor and pour the butter onto the mixture and stir through with a metal spoon. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin or flan tin and bake for about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and turn the sponge carefully out of the tin. Leave to cool.
When you’re ready to put the fruit onto the sponge, make sure you have the sponge on a cake base and on the dish you are going to use – once the jelly and fruit is on, you really can’t move it onto another plate as the sponge will be soaked with juice and very delicate.
Prepare the fruit – hull the strawberries and cut into halves or slices. Clean the rest of the berries but don’t get them all wet, just wipe with a moist cloth.
Make up the first packet of tortenguss - you can use water as the liquid or add a dash of fruit cordial to give an extra flavour. Allow it to cool a little then brush the whole jelly over the base of the sponge flan. This gives the first layer of jelly and seals the sponge a bit to protect it from the juice.
Make up the next packet of tortenguss - now decorate your sponge base with all the fruit – make concentric rings of sliced strawberries first. Brush each layer of fruit with glaze as you go along, giving a nice shine to the berries. Top with whole raspberries, dot with blueberries or blackberries, whatever you have, and brush the top with glaze also.
Put the cake into the fridge to set the glaze. It takes an hour or so in the fridge or a couple of hours in a cool place to set properly. It will keep overnight in a cool place but should be eaten no more than a day after making.
Eat it with whipped cream and enjoy your summer Sunday afternoon.
Rhubarb Bellini Cocktail – a reason to celebrate!
Another way to use the delicious spring rhubarb and a wonderfully simple and slightly unusual cocktail to offer to your friends at your Summer Garden Party. Hop over to my Summer of Six pages for some Street Food recipes to provide at the same time.
The original Bellini was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry’s Bar in Venice in the late 1930s, so it’s not from the deep mists of time like the G&T. It was first made with a puree of white peaches which had been marinated in sweet wine, topped up with prosecco. Nowadays, any sweet fruit puree mixed with prosecco can be called a Bellini, and it’s very pleasant to make seasonal and local variations, sweet white peaches being in short supply in Manchester in May.
Use the Rhubarb Cordial for which I gave the recipe for earlier this month (search for May recipes or Treat recipes on the index for the blog recipes) and some rhubarb puree. Cook cleaned rhubarb chunks with sugar and only a tablespoon of water for 10 minutes and puree in a blender until smooth. If you have more puree than you need for your cocktails then it is also delicious with plain yoghurt or mixed up with whipped cream for a rhubarb fool. There is no end to the uses of rhubarb.
You can make the mix up in advance and keep it cool in the fridge, awaiting your guests. The mixture does tend to separate so you’ll need to stir it up again before serving. If you’ve made too much Bellini, you can always freeze the cordial/puree mixture for another time. You could dress the glass with a frozen raspberry or something but it looks so pretty as it is, why bother? Use your time to make another instead.
Serves 6 Timings: 1 hour, if using cordial you made ahead and are keeping in the cupboard against just this eventuality.
Either make up a jug of bellini mixture – 2/3 puree to 1/3 cordial or use 2 teaspoons puree and 1 teaspoon cordial in a glass or flute and top up with prosecco.
Crispy Lemon Chicken
Chicken Drumsticks – everyone’s favourite finger food. Chicken has a mild flavour, so it’s perfect for adding spices, tangy tastes and other extras. Marinate overnight for the best effect, and spike holes into the chicken pieces with a knife to let the lemon and spices permeate through the meat.
The drumsticks are simmered in the marinade for tenderness and flavour, and then cooled, coated and quickly fried. So, you can make these well in advance and fry at the last minute for that crispy coating, knowing they are already cooked through. Easy to get on the table with some oven cooked home-made chips. If you serve a big basket of these, provide plenty of napkins for your guests to wipe the lovely juices from their faces!
Serves 6 Timings: 20 minutes, then marinade overnight. 1 hour cooking on the stove, then about 20 minutes final cooking.
6-8 chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs - leave the bone in. You could do this with just drumsticks if you want, and they would be easier to eat with your fingers if you’re planning an outdoor event. Either way, allow 2-3 pieces per person.
Mix the marinade ingredients together and grind some black pepper over the bowl. Spike the chicken pieces with a sharp knife, add to the bowl, mix well and leave covered overnight to marinate in the fridge.
Melt the butter in a large heavy pan (I use my large Le Creuset dish as it keeps the heat and it’s nice and steady) and gently fry the chicken pieces for a couple of minutes. Tip the rest of the marinade into the pan and simmer for 40 minutes until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Leave to cool. At this stage you can leave the chicken in the fridge for 1 day.
Remove the chicken from the remaining marinade (which is an amazing spicy lemon flavour you can use as the base for a simple lentil soup, for instance).
Have two bowls ready, one with the beaten eggs and the other with breadcrumbs. Roll the chicken pieces first in the eggs and then in the breadcrumbs.
Place on a wire rack to set the coating for a few minutes.
Put 1cm of oil in a deep frying pan - doesn’t have to be a deep fryer but you can use one if you have one - and heat up to medium hot. Carefully fry the chicken pieces a few at a time, turning frequently to brown them evenly. They don’t need much time in the oil as they are already cooked and you are just crisping the coating.
Remove from the oil when they are browned on all sides and keep warm while you finish the batch.
Serve with simple oven chips or a potato salad.
Coffee Mocha Sponge Cake
Well, who doesn’t like a light coffee sponge with a mocha buttercream filling? Simple, straightforward and great for sharing. It’s the One True Cake recipe I use a lot – a Genoese sponge. You could top it with walnuts for another classic flavour combination, but I didn’t have any in the house so I used chocolate sprinkles.
I made this for my Seniors Lunch Club this week and it went down a treat. We had some new members so we did initial introductions and a gossip while we all ate lunch (and cake) and then we played Beetle. We got quite competitive and noisy. Everyone seemed to remember the concept, although several members said they hadn’t played Beetle since their teenage years and Church social occasions. Luckily I have some large dice, so we didn’t have to squint through our glasses, and I brought along plastic boxes to throw the dice into, to save us scrabbling on the floor too much. For those who are not familiar with the game (is there anyone?) you throw a die and according to the score you draw part of a beetle. You have to start with a 6 for its body, and throw a 1 for the head, 2 for eyes, 3 for antennae, 5 for wings and 4 for legs. Of course, it has 6 legs so you have to throw some numbers much more than others, which is fun and takes longer than you think. The first person to draw a full beetle is the winner and you can go on to have several rounds if you have time. Our drawings ended up causing much hilarity – some looked more like birds than beetles and some looked rather grim while others had smiley faces. Our winner took home a small pot of home-made raspberry jam, so the effort was worthwhile.
We probably needed another piece of cake when we got home to recover from the shouting!
Serves 12 Timings: 30 minutes preparation, 30 minutes cooking, then cooling time, 30 minutes to ice and fill the cake.
For the buttercream filling: 200g salted butter; 1 tablespoon cocoa powder; 1 tablespoon camp coffee essence; 150g icing sugar
For the water icing: 150g icing sugar, 2 tablespoons camp coffee essence, 2-3 tablespoons water
Pre heat your oven to 180°C. Grease and line two 15cm diameter loose bottomed cake tins. You can make it in one deeper tin and cut through the equator if you prefer.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy. Melt the butter and leave it to cool a bit.
Sieve the flour and coffee granules together – you might need to scrape the coffee through the sieve a little to crush it down to a finer powder.
With the motor running slowly, add half the flour and coffee into the cake, then the rest. Stop whisking and add the melted butter, stirring in gently with a metal spoon – this helps keep the air in the sponge.
Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and bake for 25 minutes, until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven, cool on a wire rack, remove from the tins and cool completely before icing.
Make the buttercream: whisk the butter until fluffy and add in the icing sugar one spoon at a time with the motor running. You will need to cover your mixer with a teatowel to stop the icing sugar rising up and making the kitchen look as if it has snowed. Add the cocoa powder and the camp coffee essence and keep whisking to a mousse-like consistency.
Spread this over the surface of one of the cakes, reserving about 1/3 of the mixture for the outside. Top with the other sponge and smooth the remaining icing round the outside.
Make the water icing by mixing the icing sugar, coffee essence and gradually adding water to reach the right consistency – a thick spreadable gooey icing. Spread this on top of the cake and decorate with sprinkles or chocolate curls as you like, or halved walnuts.
Leave the cake in a cool place for the icing to firm up before slicing. It will keep up to 3 days in a tin in a cool place.
Pepper Crusted Tuna Steak & Lemon Butter Sauce
A favourite weeknight treat, quick to get on the table. I usually serve it with oven-cooked thick chips and a simple vegetable such as lightly cooked green beans or sprouting broccoli. The lemon and butter combine with the juices from the meaty tuna to make a lovely tangy sauce, and the peppercorns give a mild warmth, not too hot. Tuna is an expensive food, I know, but there is no waste. If there's any left over, you can use it the next day to top a salad or flake into a sandwich with some mayo.
Serves 4 Timings: 30 minutes
Get the tuna out of the fridge about half an hour before cooking.
In a pestle and mortar, grind the peppercorns coarsely. You could use a spice grinder but be careful, you are looking for a gritty texture rather than finely ground.
Coat the tuna steaks evenly in the ground gritty pepper and leave to set for 10 minutes.
Heat your deep frying pan and use a little oil. Fry the tuna steaks for about 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness and how you like your fish done. You can poke the steaks with a sharp knife to see how done they are – they will cook a little more as you make the sauce so have them a little under rather than a little overdone to keep them juicy.
When you are nearly done, add the butter and let it foam up, then add the lemon juice. Swirl the pan to coat the steaks and serve straight away.
Green Beans Curry (vegan)
Another recipe from my neighbour, Asha, who makes such glorious food. It’s called a
“dry curry” – it’s not completely dry but there is no sauce to be mopped up. The fresh green beans still have their snap, and they end up coated in a savoury paste with spicy tomato flavour and the faintest background nuttiness from the coconut. You don’t taste or feel the desiccated coconut, so this can be served even to people who generally avoid the texture of coconut, and it just adds the extra nutrition and slight creaminess. I like to serve it with a dhal or other quite liquid dish for contrast.
I’ve never seen this recipe in a restaurant, so I don’t know exactly where it came from. I’ve seen a Sri Lankan green bean curry that uses coconut milk but that’s a lot more sauced than this version. If anyone knows any more about it, please let me know – I’d be interested to hear.
You can of course add other things to the basic vegan dish – cubed paneer or leftover cooked chicken are lovely mixed into the beans.
Serves 4 as a main dish alongside Makhani Dhal or other Dhal dish Timings: 45 minutes
Ground spices: 2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon chilli powder, 2 teaspoons garam masala
Whole spices: 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
Top and tail the French beans and if they are thicker than a pencil, slice them down the middle to make thinner slices – you are cooking them quite quickly so they need to be thin.
Put the beans, the ground spices, coconut, ginger and tomato puree into a microwave bowl with 2-3 tablespoons of water and cook on full power for 6 minutes. You can of course cook them in a pan with only a small amount of water – you are looking to steam the beans quite lightly. When finished cooking, leave them in their pan until the next stage.
In a large frying pan, fry the onion in a little oil until transparent. You don’t want it to brown, so keep stirring and don’t heat too much. Add the potato cubes and continue stirring to warm them through. Add the whole spices and cook to release the flavours.
Tip the beans and any liquid they have into the pan and turn up the heat a bit. Stir through and cook finally for another 2-3 minutes.
Adjust the seasoning – it will need salt and pepper and add the lemon juice.
Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.