Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A greedy Christmas ahead: the tale of two cakes

It has been an eventful few days in the littlebitgreedy household involving a trip to A&E by ambulance and a night in the paediatric ward. Fortunately, all is now well and despite much coughing, sneezing and wheezing we are packing up the car to head off for Christmas with family.

With all the dashing about, festivities are a little bit behind yesterday and my cake icing timetable went out of the window. A frantic bit of rolling, moulding and cutting out and tah-dah: two very rushed Christmas cakes!

Why two, you may well ask? Well here at littlebitgreedy HQ, we take Christmas greediness to a whole new level. Tasked with providing 'the cake' for our family gathering in London, we were concerned that once we returned home on the 27th, there would be no cake to last us through the season of gluttony Goodwill. As such, it was decided that I would simply have to create a second cake to fulfil our needs upon return home.

I am very much a novice when it comes to decorating cakes (I leave it to my sister who does so professionally) but I have picked up a few tips along the way which stand me in good stead. I enjoy deciding how to ice my cake each year but must admit that doing two did challenge me somewhat. For the round cake (for home), I decided on a snowman theme as I thought it might appeal to my little boy. Not that he really knows what a snowman is really. But hey-ho. The men were easy to create out of fondant balls, secured with a trusty cocktail stick. The arms were a little fiddly - again the cocktail stick came in handy as I moulded the icing around one and secured in position. I dusted the top with 'edible snow' that I stumbled upon in a certain upmarket supermarket. You can't really tell in the very hastily snapped photos, but it does look rather nice.

The square cake proved more of a challenge. I am not a great one for precision, unlike Mr Greedy who was horrified that I placed the 'ribbon' on my parcel cake without the aid of a ruler. As such it is not central. Overall though, I am pleased with the overall effect and think it will go down well at the family gathering.

Time to dash now - the presents are loaded in the car (as are the million and three other items required when travelling with a small child) and it is time to load myself in too with the cake precariously balanced on my knee.

I wish everyone the happiest of Christmases. May your days be merry, your wine be sparkly and your cakes be tasty!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A hint of festive spice: Rhubarb and ginger crumble

The decorations are up, the cards are posted and the dining table is awash with wrapping paper, ribbon and tags. Christmas is well and truly here in the littlebitgreedy household. Although Mr Little Bit Greedy spends much of November (and a good part of December) Bah Humbug-ing, he does actually love Christmas and once we hit the home straight he gets suitably merry and jolly. I love Christmas too for so many reasons and it has to be said that the level of greediness goes up quite significantly around here at this time of year. The feasting angle is an important one to me - we feast together with immediate family, with extended family, with friends and with neighbours. Any excuse really!

I try not to indulge in festive foods too early - a month of non-stop mince pies tends to take the edge of this annual treat. But it does seem that as we creep ever-closer to 'the big day', my cooking does take on a little seasonal flavour. I got a little over-excited when I spied some of the first forced pink rhubarb in the supermarket last week. Not British yet, but from Holland which, for now, will have to do. Forced rhubarb is such a treat during the dark days of winter - it is lovely to feast on something so bright and vibrant in the months where we are otherwise weighed down with root vegetables and cabbages.

Forced rhubarb: a vision in pink

I love most rhubarb-based desserts but my favourite simply has to be a classic rhubarb crumble with thick vanilla-scented custard. On this occasion, I decided to spruce my crumble up with the addition of ginger (both stem and ground), cinnamon, a little orange zest and ground almonds. Ginger goes so well with rhubarb and the flavours here really lift this crumble without taking it too far from the traditional original (I can't bear a crumble with ideas above its station - no granola-topped fruit compote for me!).

The recipe is, essentially, one from Annie Bell's fantastic book 'Gorgeous Desserts'. This seems to be out of print in this country currently although second-hand copies are available. I have tweaked the recipe to include the orange zest and also the spices in the crumble itself. I have also halved the original recipe which makes enough for six.

Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble
Serves 2-3


350g forced rhubarb
1 knob stem ginger
finely grated zest from 1/2 orange
100g self-raising flour, plus 1 tbsp
1tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
100g demerara sugar
50g ground almonds
90g butter, chilled and diced

1. Pre-heat oven to 180C.

2. Wash rhubarb and chop into 3cm pieces and chop the stem ginger into small pieces. Toss both together in a bowl with orange zest, 1 tbsp of flour and half the sugar. Place in the bottom of a shallow ovenproof dish.

3. Mix together the remaining sugar and flour with the ground almonds, ground ginger and cinnamon and rub in the butter until you have large crumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the fruit and bake for approx 35 minutes until the crumble is golden and crisp.

4. Serve with lashings of custard or good vanilla ice-cream.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

A taste of Summer on a cold evening: tapenade crusted salmon

I love living in a village. 

I loved living in the city too but I can't imagine going back. There are things that happen in rural England that simply can't be matched by the bright lights and sophistication of urban life. Much as a small dose of glitz and glamour is good for the soul, I adore the simpler pleasures of village fetes and fairs. Today was a case in point. I was summoned invited to attend the Christmas meeting of the village 'Coffee and Chat' at the church. Being somewhat younger than those likely to attend, I can't say that I was filled with delight although the promise of a mid-morning sherry did gladden the heart somewhat.

Black olives, capers, anchovies and garlic: tapenade
Upon arrival (small son in tow), I was greeted with all that is best about English village life. The church was festooned in festive displays of greenery from villagers' gardens arranged artfully by a group of amateur flower-arrangers. There was a sales table groaning with homemade chutneys and jams plus various gifts no doubt found at the back of donators' present drawers. The raffle table was piled high with prizes including a tin of tomato soup and a bottle of Blue Nun (!). Ladies wearing flashing antler hairbands made tea and coffee and handed round mince pies. After half an hour or so of chattering, carol sheets were handed out and we romped our way through verses of Hark the Herald, Good King Wenceslas, The Holly and the Ivy, The First Noel and others. Unaccompanied but all in good voice thanks to the 11.30 am glass of sherry! My son was cooed over by everyone, much to his delight, and his Christmas jumper was admired by all. The raffle tickets were drawn and a buzz of excitement and anticipation filled the air; Doris* had lost her tickets, Frank* didn't want the beautifully-iced Christmas cake and asked for another ticket to be drawn and Edith* was thrilled to win twice-over. Simple pleasures, as I said. But ones that can't help but raise a smile and warm the heart.

(*Names have been changed to protect the lucky winners!!)

All this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with today's recipe. In fact, this recipe is about as far from seasonal as you can get. At this time of year, I tend towards the comfort of hearty casseroles and meaty pies but occasionally, I crave something suffused with the sunshine of warmer months. Last night was one such occasion. Salmon fillets feature regularly on our weeknight menus and I am always looking for new ways to serve them. This time, I created a delicious tangy tapenade to spread on top and then roasted the salmon to form a tasty crust. 

Tapenade is easy to prepare and relies mainly on storecupboard ingredients so it is a handy one for whipping up to serve alongside drinks when unexpected guests call at Christmas. Keep a couple of part-baked baguettes up your sleeve so that you can make some quick crostini and bingo; instant canap├ęs to impress your visitors. There are lots of variations of this tasty snack but all include black olives, capers, garlic and anchovies. I like to add a few fresh herbs too - flat leaf parsley and a few fresh thyme leaves by preference. Obviously, the better the olives the better the tapenade but I just used a tin of regular supermarket pitted black olives here and it still tasted pretty good! Traditionally, this would be made with a pestle and mortar but I use a mini-processor on the pulse setting. You are not looking for something totally smooth here - a bit of texture is a good thing.

I served this with roasted courgettes and broccoli as that is what I had but in the past, I have made a sort of roasted vegetable ratatouille of courgette, red pepper and cherry tomatoes. The tapenade is also great with cod too!

The recipe here makes enough tapenade for 4 servings. If serving two, I would advise making the same quantity of tapenade (a smaller amount is tricky in a processor) and save the rest as a snack the next day.

Tapenade crusted salmon
Serves 4


150g black olives
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
1 large anchovy (or 2 small - mine were huge!)
1 small clove garlic
2tbsp lemon juice
2.5 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

4 tbsp breadcrumbs
4 salmon fillets 

1. Place all the ingredients for the tapenade into the bowl of a small processor and pulse until blended but not smooth. Alternatively, pound with a pestle and mortar. If time, set aside for 30 mins or so for the flavours to mingle.

2. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Mix the breadcrumbs into the tapenade and spread the mixture onto each of the salmon fillets.

3. Roast for 20 minutes until salmon is cooked.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Weeknight only-fork-required supper: subtly spiced kedgeree

Kedgeree spiced with cardamom, cinnamon and curry powder

Kedgeree is one of my favourite weeknight suppers. It is comforting, full of flavour and can easily be eaten with just a fork in front of Masterchef. This is currently an important element of my cooking Monday-Thursday as the BBC have inconsiderately scheduled my favourite programme at a time which clashes with our evening meal. Next time, I hope they will consult me first!

I have been making kedgeree for years and have pretty much stuck with the same recipe, using long-grain rice, curry powder, undyed smoked haddock and hard boiled eggs. Recently, however, I have discovered a much more interesting recipe which uses a more complex combination of whole and ground spices and basmati rice for a more authentically exotic flavour. I have absolutely no idea why I have never thought to do this before! 

Colourful spices

The subtle flavours of cardamom and cinnamon and joined by curry powder, turmeric and a little kick of chilli. Chopped fresh coriander completes this delicious dish. Key to a good kedgeree is to use the poaching liquor to cook the rice. The milk is infused with the flavour of the fish and really adds to the depth of the kedgeree. 

I found this recipe in the Feel Good Food magazine produced quarterly by Woman and Home. I follow it pretty much to the letter so I won't republish it here. You can simply hop over here if you wish to try it out. I made a couple of very minor tweaks - I stirred in a tablespoon or so of half fat creme fraiche to add a little richness and sprinkled with a touch of cayenne pepper. I had also run out of peas and added some sweetcorn instead. A mistake. Stick with peas!