A Lemon Trilogy Part 3: Lemon Macarons

After the success of my Raspberry Macarons I decided to complete the ‘Lemon Trilogy’ by making Lemon Macarons for this month’s ‘Easter’ Mactweets theme.  The recipe for the shells are adapted from the Rose Macaron shells I made previously.  I omitted the red food colouring and added 2 tsp of pure lemon oil to the ground almonds, otherwise the recipe is the same. The lemon oil gave a lovely lemon fragrance and flavour to the shells but without the unwanted acidity.

I seemed to master the piping bag much better this time thanks to hints from Bonnie and a really useful macaron template from Deeba’s blog that I placed under the baking parchment. This resulted in much more uniformly sized shells. Some of the shells came out from the oven a bit pale so I think next time I will bake them for a minute or so more as I preferred the crisper golden shells.

The macarons were filled with homemade lemon curd (from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook) the tartness of which contrasted nicely with the richness of the shells.  They made great Easter gifts for our neighbours (who were entertaining family over the holiday weekend so were glad for some ready made petit fours!).


Raspberry Macarons

I have been wanting to bake macarons for a while and inspired by the wonderful creations by Edward Kimber, Aran Goyoaga and Helene Dujardin I decided to have a crack at making my own. Pierre Herme is the undisputed master of this elegant confection and the recipe for the rose shells are from his book “Macaron” (soon to be released in English) and can be found here.

They were not as hard to make as I thought they would be (even though I have never used a piping bag before) but I did pick up a few hints that seemed to help.

  • I “aged” my egg whites before use by leaving them covered with a clean tea towel at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Don’t over boil the syrup before adding to the egg whites (use a cooking thermometer…this is mine).
  • Leave the piped macarons to dry for 30 minutes before baking (the surfaces should be dry to the touch).
  • Once the macarons are baked remove the  parchment from the baking sheets so the macarons do not overcook.
  • Do not remove the macarons from the parchment until they are fully cooled.

I made a raspberry buttercream to fill the rose macaron shells. A handful of fresh raspberries were blitzed using a stick blender and the puree passed through a sieve to remove the seeds.  Butter (160g) and  icing sugar (320g) were beaten in the Kenwood until pale and creamy and the raspberry puree added. However I added too much raspberry and my buttercream split and became sloppy! I managed to rescue the filling by beating in additional icing sugar.

I was pleased with the final result and they tasted as good as they looked. We ate several whilst watching the rugby yesterday and they made a great gift for the birthday dinner Mrs W. and I went to afterwards. Unfortunately I was so busy yesterday that I didn’t manage to post this in time for the mactweets blogroll for macaron bakers.  Oh well… maybe next time.

Mushroom Risotto

A typical dark night in winter and the kitchen window is rattling from the wind and the rain. Mrs W. is out herding brownies so we will be having dinner late. I decide to make what I believe to be her very favourite thing for supper …risotto.

It’s such a handy dish for hoovering up whatever might be lurking in the fridge (leftover chicken, bacon, leeks, ham, Parmesan ends and frozen peas often feature in mine). Today there are mushrooms, better still they are chestnut ones which i think always look tastier then their pale cousins. There is chicken stock in the fridge too, you can tell its a good batch because it has set to a firm jelly. A dash of Mushroom Ketchup and a glug of vermouth adds depth to the stock.

Just as I serve up I remember the christmas present I was given from my brother in law…

… a sprinkling of magic to finish the dish. Cheers Jim!

A Special Weekend In The Snow

Just getting round to posting about last weekend. It was a biggie. The plan was for all Mrs W’s friends and family to secretly gather together for a relaxed, fun, weekend to celebrate her 30th. I started conspiring some 10 months in advance and arranged to hire Roaches Hall, a large country house in the peak district which would accomodate 30 of us. Money was extracted, the venue booked, travel arrangements made and a food mountain and drink lake ordered …all was going to plan until we had the worst winter in the North of England for 30 years (ironically the weather in Northern Ireland was somewhat benign!).

The weather resulted in the bulk of the food not being delivered (Boo! Sainsburys) however the very nice Waitrose party snacks and luxury items did arrived (Ocado drivers are true heroes!).

Wine arrived courtesy of Laithwaites and Virgin Wines (I can recommend the ‘introductory case’ from both). The failure of Sainburys to deliver my groceries (or even inform me that my order had been cancelled) meant I had to do a shop (read a supermarket sweep comprising of 3 full trolleys to feed 25 adults and 6 children for a weekend) at the Co-op in Leek (which was surprisingly well stocked) …we got there in the end. However, getting there did require the impromptu hire of a Volvo 4×4.

Which brings me to an apology…. because of the large quantities of folks I had to feed and the lack of planning I had to make my dishes up as I went along. As a result I cannot really give quantities for these recipes …because I do not remember. Which goes to show that as long as the flavours are balanced exact measurements for these dishes are not important …ideal when you are feeding a large group and your plans go bit pear shaped!

I also forgot to take photos of the food …doh (if I get any from the other guests I’ll update this post).

I made a lentil and mushroom soup for weary travellers arriving on the Friday, served up with jacket spuds and a magnificent cheese board.

Lentil soup with mushrooms

olive oil
good quality green, brown or black (e.g Puy or Castelluccio) lentils
vegatable stock (marigold is fine)
2 or 3 big handfuls of spinach
white wine

bay leaves

  • Peel the onions and chop finely and slice the mushrooms and garlic. Warm a good glug of little olive oil in a large saucepan or casserole over a moderate to low heat and add the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Saute gently until golden and fragrant.
  • Wash the lentils thoroughly, then add to the pan. Pour over a large glass of white wine to deglaze the pan and enough stock to cover and bring to the boil, skimming off any froth that comes to the surface. You can add a bay leaf or two if you like. Turn the heat down so that the lentils simmer merrily, then almost cover the pot with a lid and leave till they are tender, but far from collapse. About 30 minutes, depending on your lentils. While this is happening wash the spinach and tear the leaves up a bit.
  • Just before you are ready to serve fold in the spinach …and stir until the leaves are wilted.
  • Season the soup with salt, black pepper and lemon juice, tasting as you go. Add a glug of olive oil and serve.

On Saturday the snow meant we had no problems entertaining ourselves and the quality of the quiches from Waitrose meant I had very little to prepare for lunch save for a few salads (potato, green and tomato) and putting out the bread, cheese, pickles and cold meats. Dinner was the main challenge of the weekend …a hot meal for 25 was quite a job as I did not want to spend the whole weekend in the kitchen, thankfully I had a lot of helpers to prep veg and mind my timings. I did 4 ‘one pot wonders’ which were served with mixed roast veggies (sweet potatoes, red onions and parsnips), jacket spuds and freshly made wheaten bread.

Not a scrap left afterwards …a good result.

Lentil, Squash and Spinach Braise

olive oil
whole spices (cumin, coriander seed, fennel, cinnamon stick, cardamon, smoked chillies, mustard seed, bay leaves)
butternut squash or pumpkin
spinach (frozen is ok)
tinned chopped tomatoes

red lentils
vegetable stock (marigold is fine)

  • Chop the onions roughly. Peel the squash and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Cut the flesh of the squash into bite sized pieces (I had pretty average sized field mushrooms and quartered them). Peel and slice the garlic (not too thinly).
  • Place the whole spices in a dry frying pan over a high heat and toast until aromatic and browned (but do not burn). They will smell amazing! Place the toasted spices into a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder.
  • Warm a good glug of olive oil over a moderate heat, add a couple of tablespoons of the ground spice mix and cook for a minute or two to bring our the flavour of the spice (take care not to burn them). Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and saute gently, with the occasional stir, until they are soft and golden. Add the squash, tomatoes and lentils and enough stock to cover everything. Simmer gently for about an hour, the squash and the lentils should be tender. In the meantime the spinach and trim any long stalks (if you use frozen there is no need for this!).
  • Just before you are ready to serve fold in the spinach …and stir until the leaves are wilted. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Mushroom Stroganoff

olive oil
smoked sweet paprika
creme fraiche

  • Peel the onions then halve and slice them into thick segments. Cut the mushrooms into manageable sizes (I had pretty average sized field mushrooms and quartered them). Peel and slice the garlic (not too thinly).
  • Warm a good glug of olive oil and a big thick slice of butter over a low heat until the butter is melted and just starting to foam add a good tablespoon of the paprika and cook for a couple of minutes to bring our the flavour of the spice. Add the onions, mushrooms and garlic and saute gently, with the occasional stir, until they are soft …let them brown but not burn. This took about an hour for me …just keep cooking on the lowest heat. The browning bit (caramelisation of the natural sugars and Maillard reactions) is essential if your stroganoff is to have plenty of deep savoury flavour (almost meaty…though this is a vegetarian dish). When the vegetables are done add a decent grinding of both sea salt and black pepper.
  • Just before you are ready to serve fold in the creme fraiche… how much is down to how creamy you like your sauce. Make sure you get all the sticky residue on the surface of the pan incorporated into the creamy sauce Let the sauce bubble gently until the mixture is hot all the way through. Check the seasoning and serve.
  • A word about creme fraiche. Make sure you use pure creme fraiche. The reduced fat stuff is not as good for cooking so buy the full fat stuff and use less if you are concerned about the fat content.

Pot Roast Beef in Red Wine Sauce

rolled trimmed, brisket of beef of about 3kg
olive oil
red wine…about a bottle
plain flour
bay leaves

  • Heat a good glug of olive oil in a deep casserole. Season the beef joint with pepper and sear in the oil until well coloured, if there are sticky bits in in pan as a result all the better. Remove the beef and set aside. Set the oven at 180 deg C/Gas 4.
  • Peel the onions and chop them roughly. Crush and chop the garlic. Peel and halve the shallots. Saute the onions, garlic shallot and mushrooms in the flavoured oil until the onions and shallots are lightly coloured.
  • Deglaze the pan with the red wine. Add the beef back into the pot along with a couple of bay leaves.
  • Bring to the boil, cover and bake for at least 2 hours so the beef is tender but not completely falling apart. Remove the beef and allow to rest for at least half an hour before carving. Whilst the beef is resting the gravy can be thickened if required by making a flour and butter roux is a small saucepan. Cook the roux for a couple of minutes to remove the floury taste and add couple of ladles of the casserole sauce to the saucepan to make a thick sauce. Add this sauce to the casserole to thicken the gravy. Carve the beef into thick slices and return the slices to the pot before serving. Season with salt and pepper and served.
  • I had some Tiptree dark onion chutney left over from lunch so that went in to the gravy as well!

Ham, Chorizo & Butter Beans

The chorizo and bacon can be quite salty so wait until the last minute before checking the seasoning and adding salt.

butter beans
olive oil
a piece of boiling bacon – about 1.2kg
stock or water
white wine…about half a bottle
tinned chopped tomatoes
smoked sweet paprika
chorizo sausage (the soft cooking type)

  • If using dried beans soak for at least 8 hours in deep, cold water. Drain then boil them in unsalted water for about an hour, til they start to show signs of tenderness. Turn off the heat. Set the oven at 180 deg C/Gas 4.
  • Warm a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a deep casserole. Chop the chorizo sausages into bite sized chunks and cut the fat from the bacon in one thick piece. Add the bacon fat, chorizo pieces and a tablespoon of the paprika to the casserole and fry in the oil.
  • Peel the onions and chop them roughly. Crush and chop the garlic. Soften the onions and garlic in the flavoured oil until they are golden.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and gently mix them with the onions.
  • Season with black pepper (no salt yet) and lower the bacon piece on top, pushing it down into the sauce as best you can. Pour in the white wine and enough of the bean cooking liquid stock or water to cover the meat. Add the beans now if they are freshly cooked but if using tinned beans I would wait another half an hour. I used tinned beans and didn’t rinse them as the canning water helped to thicken the broth nicely.
  • Bring to the boil, cover and bake (or simmer if like me you had run out of oven space) for about an hour (or longer if you can …I had to serve up!) so it is all meltingly tender. Remove the piece of bacon fat and discard. Remove the bacon piece and carve into slices then return the slices to the pot before checking the seasoning and serving.

With a hearty Sunday breakfast of porridge and fresh wheaten bread followed by more snow fun the weekend was a roaring success …we arrived back home knackered but so happy to have spent such a happy and memorable weekend with all our best friends.

Chocolate Covered Salted Caramels

This made up one component of my Christmas chocolate gift bags.  I used Dan Lepard’s recipe to make a soft caramel sauce.  I tempered 72% dark chocolate (green and blacks cooking grade) using a microwave and my fabulously useful  ikea cooking thermometer a bargain at £7 and good for the Christmas turkey too.

The tempering wasn’t as tricky as I had imagined.  The tempered chocolate was used to line petit four cases.  These cases were very handy as they came in four colours which helped to identify the different fillings.

Once the chocolate lining had set all that was left was to add the caramel filling, top with more tempered chocolate and leave to set again…bada bing…bada boom!

Anyone could do this. I got the methodfrom David Leibovitz’s excellent blog (he is the caramel master!).  Credit should also go to Edward Kimber’s excellent blog post about making moulded caramels which gave some great pointers.  I will try the moulded ones sometime soon.

The results  were worth it.  I was a bit nervous about chocolates breaking when they were removed from the cases…but thankfully no such problems!

We made 25 of these and 25 more filled with peanut butter caramel (just heat up some of the salted caramel filling and add peanut butter) on Christmas eve afternoon (along with Nigel Slater’s dark chocolate truffles, Andrew Schott’scaramel and chocolate popcorn and some honeycomb).  Christmas presents for 8 ladies and petit fours for a few dinners over Christmas and new year all for about £10 of ingredients!