Slow Roasted Citrus, Harissa and Honey Lamb

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Dreaming of Summer in what is supposed to be Spring. This cold snap we’ve been experiencing in the U.K has really got to me. When it’s Christmas i love it to be cold, freezing in fact, so that you’re forced … Continue reading

Macarons can save your life: FACT.

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I’m not particularly sure when Britain got obsessed with Macarons but I’ve certainly noticed a lot of them about recently. A few years ago the only types of Macaroons I was accustomed to were the coconut English kind that my mum used to get from the bakery, sometimes they were dipped in chocolate and almost always were pressed onto edible rice paper on one side. Soon into gluten free life, these traditional coconut macaroons were presented as the sweet snack alternative that you could pick up at a café.

This blog post however will focus on the up rise of the other French variety: the ‘Macaron’.

Originally born in Italy, Macaron’s developed from a small sweet cookies which mostly consisted of almond powder, sugar and egg whites. They were ‘introduced by the Chef of Catherine de Medicis in 1533 at the time of her marriage to the Duc d’Orleans who became king of France as Henry II’ –(History of Macarons) hence their residence in France now.

The legend has it that apparently the granddaughter of Catherine was saved from starvation by eating these sugary treats. So yeah. Pretty remarkable discs of joy really!

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Like the English ‘macaroon’ , French macarons are also mostly gluten free. That’s if the chef hasn’t done some crazy wheat based filling. (Hate when that happens), or like the Macarons in M&S they’ve added wheat and barley. Hmm.

Keep it simple. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as they say. And although I’d love to have come up with my own magical recipe for macarons I just didn’t think it necessary. These delights are best made the same traditional way. There are different methods and ingredients added by other chefs such as sugar syrup, but as an amateur chef who has a mad kitten running about the place, I simply don’t have the right environment to play around with hot molten sugar and fast-paced washing up.

But really. You don’t have to believe me. They are easy to make. You just have to get everything ready to go before you start.

As I’m experimenting making these for the wedding I’ll add different fillings/recipes to this post when I can. If you don’t like the ‘curd’ texture, just try adding lemon zest and juice to a traditional buttercream.

Voila.

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The Macaron I love, French Macarons

Makes around 15 macarons.

 Adapted from a recipe in the The Skinny French Kitchen by Harry Eastwood

Macaroon shell ingredients

200g Icing sugar
100g Ground almonds
3 Medium egg whites
Pinch of salt
40g Fine Caster Sugar
Food colouring (paste is best)

Lemon Curd filling ingredients

Juice of 2 lemons
2 tbsp cornflour
40g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
5g butter

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. and line a baking tray/s with very good quality non stick sheets. Mix together thoroughly the icing sugar and almonds in a bowl and give them a good sifting through- this will make sure you don’t get a bumpy lumpy macaron.

2. With an electric whisk or stand mixer, whisk the egg whites with the salt, until you get stiff peaks- you should be able to hold the bowl over your head without it falling on you!

3. Add in the caster sugar and whisk again until stiff and glossy white.

4. Add in the food colouring and whisk again. Make sure you add more than necessary – I found 4 -5 drops best – it may look nearly orange but the oven will pale the mixture quickly.

3. With a spatula, fold in the ground almond and icing sugar mixture gently into the egg whites, until the texture is uniform. Just be gentle and patient you don’t want to beat out any of the air you just whisked into it.

4. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium nozzle. If you don’t have a piping bag I don’t see any harm in using a spoon to plop on circular dollops!

5. Carefully pipe circles of mixture on to the baking sheet. Aim for little circles of around 3cm wide, leaving the same amount of space in between each. Tap the pan on the counter top (lift the pan up and let it fall from a little height) once you’ve piped all the discs on to ensure the air bubbles stay in.

6. Set aside for 30 minutes to dry out. When they are ready you should be able to touch the circles without leaving a fingerprint.

7. Cook for 12 minutes in the middle of the oven and leave to cool.

8. Meanwhile, make the filling. Pour the lemon juice in a steady stream over the cornflour, using a teaspoon to incorporate it as you go. When there are no cornflour lumps left, pour this mixture into a small saucepan along with the caster sugar and lemon zest. Bring the mixture to a slow boil, stirring constantly until thickened.

8. Remove from the heat instantly and whisk in the butter. Pour the filling on to a plate and leave to cool.

9. When all is cool, sandwich together two macaroon shells with one teaspoon (or more :P) of the filling. To remove discs off the pan easily you can add a tiny drop of hot water to the corner of the baking sheet to create some steam – which should ease them off.

Eat two, or four, or 15 with tea.

Cooking with a little thing i call ‘Magic’.

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I wish I was a magician. Or a witch. Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Harry Potter and because I have a kitten now, feel it impossible to not pretend I’m going to Hogwarts with my own Crookshanks in this icy weather.

The country has gone mad it seems, for fairy tales and magic. BBC has their Magicians programme, ITV with their Penn and Teller- Fool Us, and the two new films that show very different versions of Snow White coming out soon (Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror). Maybe I have been watching too much HP but I’m thinking the world’s gone mad crazy wanting to be magic. Like me. Insert smiley childish face.

These television programmes and films show that it’s not just a particular audience that magic inspires, it truly is because ‘magic’ appeals to everyone. Everyone loves a good secret or in terms of cooking, ‘concoction’. When I was young I remember being amazed that my mum could produce all these types of foods and ingredients, and you can’t help thinking we’ve kind of developed a ‘witch nature’ with all our casserole dishes and the means to keep all our different aromatics in our pantries. Like most magicians and practicing witch’s, I like to experiment in the kitchen, and although things don’t usually seem like they would work from the outset sometimes, you have to always stick to the game plan and hope for a miracle, or indeed ‘wait for the magic to happen’.

So there I was, armed with nothing in my bank and hardly anything in the fridge either; apart from the staples and an abundance of oriental sauces, (We got them a few weeks ago in our ‘we WILL make Chinese from stratch phase’) So I got out my cauldron- sorry SAUCEPAN. Yes- saucepan, and started making a oriental soup with some Italian pancetta.

Half way through I was beyond doubting this would come out well, but alas here I am with a recipe entitled with arguably the best magician in all the land- Houdini.

It works, firstly because I made it work but secondly because actually the aromatics that infuse pancetta such as fennel, peppercorns and nutmeg really do already exist in oriental cooking. So, go figure.

Magic in reality (and in food) really is a good bit of lovely faith and sometimes-good coincidence eh?

So if you’re feeling frugal and in good faith, why not be Houdini for a day?

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Houdini’s Kind o’ Oriental Soup

Groundnut or flavourless Oil

1 or 2 spring onions

100g of cubed pancetta or any form of Lardons

2 Cloves of chopped garlic

A diced small cube of ginger

100g of Green Beans chopped (or darling, whatever greens you have in your cupboard!)

1 vegetable stock cube (To make 1 ½ litres of stock)

2 tablespoons of Japanese gluten free soy sauce (I actually use Clearspring’s Tamari soya sauce)

2 Tablespoons of Fish sauce

1 dollop of Gluten free Oyster sauce.

1 packet of fine Rice Vermicelli noodles (or which ever you fancy!)

Black pepper

Squeeze of lemon or Lime

Directions:

Before you start cooking on the heat, make sure you get all your ingredients out ready and prepared- it’s so much easier when making oriental food. So chop up your ginger, pancetta, garlic, and greens. Get your sauces and stock cube at the ready.

Put a glug of olive oil in a deep pan on a low – medium heat. Add in your pancetta, ginger and garlic until it all sizzles wonderfully.

Prepare your stock with boiling water in a jug, add in the fish sauce, oyster sauce and soy sauce. Give it a good stir.

Pop your stock in the deep pan with the pancetta, ginger and garlic, followed by the greens.

Season with a bit of black pepper and lemon/lime

Let all the ingredients come together for a good 20 minutes on the hob, stirring and tasting occasionally.

Add in your packet of Vermicelli noodles and leave to cook for 5 minutes.

Season, once more to your taste.

Serve your noodle soup in a big bowl and eat in cold weather for true magical comfort.

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