Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The only thing missing is Paris...

The lilacs are in bloom and the sun is shining. Glorious. And time for another WI meeting...

I am a huge fan of Laduree and their perfectly petite, pastel-coloured macarons, and have been dying to try my hand at a home-made version. Malago WI are the perfect recipients for such a labour of love so this month's meeting treats were Marmalade Macarons. They were a triumph.


Marmalade Macarons (makes 10-12)

50g flaked almonds, toasted
50g icing sugar
1 medium egg white – with not so much as a speck of yolk
½ tsp egg white powder (Dr Oetker makes it)
50g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
50g Clotted cream
2 tbsp marmalade (I used my home-made marmalade - make sure you use a good quality one)

1. On the underside of a piece of nonstick paper, and using a soft pencil, heavily draw 20-24 3cm circles spaced 2cm apart.
2. Finely grind the almonds, then mix with the icing sugar in a bowl. If the almonds are too small an amount to grind finely on their own, or are particularly oily, add the icing sugar and grind again.
3. With an electric whisk, beat the fresh and powdered egg white stiffly, then gradually add the caster sugar, beating for one to two minutes after each spoonful, until thick and glossy. Use a little of this meringue mix to fix the paper drawn-side down on a baking tray.
4. Fold the almond mixture and zest into the meringue, and spoon or pipe on to the tray evenly to fill the circles. Tap the tray on a worktop to pop any air bubbles, and leave for 30-60 minutes, so they dry slightly.
5. Bake at 160C (140C fan-assisted)/320F/gas 2 1/2; for 10-12 minutes, until puffed at the base and crisp on top.
6. Leave to cool - you can mix the marmalade and cream together while you're waiting. Indent the bottom of each with a knife, and sandwich with cream and marmalade.



Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Monday, 18 April 2011

Recipe: Herby vegetable soup

I love this time of year. After what felt like a particularly long and dark winter I have a spring in my step. The garden is starting to flower, too - tulips, muscari, bluebells and geraniums are out already, and the peonies and roses won't be far behind. The mint patch is looking pretty vigorous (mint recipes a-plenty to come) and both my rosemary bushes are in full flower. These two plants are, in fact, the most self-sufficient herbs I have ever grown - no trouble or intervention whatsoever, which means they must be easy peasy for anyone to get right.

Rosemary is one of my favourites to cook with, too. I love how it brings a heartiness to a stew or casserole, adds a fragrant touch to breads, and takes roast potatoes and other veg to new heights of flavour. Last summer, a friend brought round a food parcel - much welcomed by us, the parents of a 2-day-old baby - and inside was a batch of homemade soup. It was one of those soups that restores and revives - not chicken, but a hearty vegetable soup with a heady hit of rosemary. It is this that I've tried to recreate here, with the last of the winter veg and the first of the summer herbs.

Herby Vegetable Soup (serves 4)

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 leek, washed and chopped
1 tsp thyme
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1" pieces
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 litre stock (I used Marigold Vegan Vegetable Bouillon)
A generous stem of freshly picked rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the butter and oil in a large pan over a medium heat.
2. Add the onions, celery and leek, and the thyme, and stir to coat in the butter/oil. Cover and cook for ten minutes or until the vegetables have softened.
3. Add the carrots, potatoes and squash, and stir.
4. Pour in the stock, and increase the heat until you get a gentle boil going. Add the rosemary - I leave it whole as I'm happy to eat around the needles in my bowl of soup, but you might like to chop it finely if this isn't your bag. In which case, I don't think I'd use more than a tablespoon of chopped rosemary as it might all get a bit intense.
5. Allow the soup to simmer away quietly for half an hour or so, or until the veg are tender. It is up to you how firm or mushy you like your veg and, indeed, whether you choose to whiz it up in a blender, mash it, or leave it rustic. Just make sure you take the rosemary out before blending.
6. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if it needs it (but I do find the Marigold powder to be salty enough) and a few grinds of black pepper.

I made a Doris Grant loaf to go with this, which is a no-knead bread.

Incidentally, if you are a fan of rosemary in all its forms, I can recommend an essential oil blend designed to clear the head:
3 drops Rosemary
2 drops Lemon
1 drop Peppermint
Burn in an oil burner, or add to a bath for the herbal equivalent of bathing in red bull.

Combine this with '81' by the amazing Joanna Newsom (which is chock full of nature imagery and utterly beautiful to boot) and you have the smell and sounds that will forever transport me back to Winter 2010-11.

More vegan recipes.

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