Oxtail rendang

‘Tis the weekend to deck the halls. In Lichfield they are taking this to extremes, with this extraordinary installation of paper angels in the Cathedral. They hang from the vaulted ceiling as if tumbling from the heavens. Simple but very effective.

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Angel installation in Lichfield Cathedral

In the more simple surroundings of Bearwood, someone’s been getting all hygge… At the advanced age of 2-and-a-half, Gertie is finally appreciating the joy of a naked flame. (Yes I know it’s gas and therefore not a real fire, but it’ll do.)

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Gertie enjoys the fire

These short, dark days demand warming food. I love to have stews, soups and pies squirreled away in the freezer, ready for a quick nourishing supper or lunch. I say ‘quick’, but that’s a misnomer. They’re quick to defrost, but certainly not to cook in the first place. And so I present oxtail rendang, a country-girl take on the traditional Malay classic. This takes hours to cook – even longer if you decide to use fresh coconut, as I did – but it’s simple enough and packs a punch of flavour on a cold Monday evening.

Rendang is usually made with braising steak (the Rick Stein recipe that I adapted recommends blade or chuck) but I had some oxtail in the freezer and an idea that its rich, gelatinous quality would suit this slow-cooked creamy coconut curry well. I was correct! This rendang is aromatic with lemongrass, lime leaves, chillies and cinnamon, but the most important ingredient is the coconut. It’s best to make this a day ahead so that it’s completely cold when you flake the meat from the bones – plus it tastes better this way. Make double, freeze the leftovers, and there’s a good meal waiting patiently for when it’s needed.

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Crack yourself a coconut

So dear reader, first, crack a coconut*. You can do this the hard way as I did, with a pruning saw (yes really), or the easy way, as shown on this video. Once you’re in, remove the flesh and pulse it to a pebbly-powder in the food processor.  *Or you could just buy some ready-prepared fresh coconut from the supermarket, your choice. I have tried this recipe with desiccated coconut and it’s not as good, so go fresh if you can.

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Pulse the coconut to a pebbly-powder in the food processor

The coconut is the basis for our curry paste. Measure out 50g blitzed coconut (freeze any leftovers) and toast in a dry frying pan until golden all over. Tip the now-aromatic coconut back into the food processor along with 4 dried Kashmiri chillies, a knob of fresh peeled ginger, 3 cloves of garlic, 1 small onion and 3 fresh red chillies. Blitz for a minute or two until finely chopped. In a pestle and mortar, bash 1 tbsp coriander seeds with 1/2 tsp cumin seeds until powdery, then add to the food processor with 1/2 tsp turmeric. Blitz the lot with 100ml or so of water until it reaches a smooth paste – you may need to keep the machine running for several minutes.

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Blitz the coconut with chillies, spice, garlic, chilli and onion to make the spice paste

That’s the hard bit done and we can get on with assembly! Brown your beef pieces in frying pan with a little oil. I used four pieces of oxtail that together weighed about 1.5kg, but you could use regular braising steak if preferred. When brown, remove the beef to a pot along with two cinnamon sticks, three bashed stalks of lemongrass and 12 kaffir lime leaves. You can buy frozen lime leaves from specialist Asian grocers and they’re waaaay better than the dried ones.

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Brown the oxtail, then pop in a pot along with lime leaves, cinnamon sticks and lemongrass

To make the sauce, heat a little oil in a frying pan, then add the curry paste and cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until most of the water has evaporated. You’ll know this because the ‘hissing’ noise of the cooking paste will begin to sound different. Once you’re there, add two cans of coconut milk (800ml), 1 dsp of tamarind water (I use the ready-made kind) and 1 tbsp palm sugar or dark brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer then add the sauce to the meat.

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Cook the spice paste over a medium heat…

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…add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer

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Add the sauce to the meat, along with a dollop of tamarind and sugar, then cook for three or more hours

The curry now needs cooking for a very long time. You can do this on the hob, but I always prefer to use the oven – 3 hours at 120c should do it, but longer wouldn’t hurt. Remove the lid for the last thirty minutes of cooking to reduce the sauce slightly. Once the meat is flaking from the bones, remove from the heat and leave the whole lot to cool.

At this point we have a photo fail, as it’s dark at 4pm and therefore impossible to take useful images without expensive kit that I don’t possess. So you’ll have to take my word for it: the next step is to remove the meat from the bones, and the only way to do this is with your fingers! So remove every scrap of meat that you can and add it back to the sauce. Check for seasoning, reheat and serve.

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BAD PICTURE APOLOGY. Shred the meat from the bones, add back to the sauce, and serve up with rice and sides.

As well as rice, I think this rendang needs some good sides to go with it. I usually make a little plate of  toasted peanuts, sliced red onions that I’ve tossed with rice vinegar, and a few slices of tomato and cucumber. You have a dinner that’s warm, vaguely familiar (it is a beef stew after all) but deliciously exotic for winter nights.

Oxtail rendang
Adapted from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. Serves 4-6.

For the curry paste:
5og fresh coconut
4 dried red Kashmiri chillies
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 small onion
3 large cloves garlic
knob ginger
3 red chillies
100ml or so water

For the curry:
Vegetable oil
1.5kg oxtail (or braising steak, diced)
4 lemongrass stalks, bashed with a knife
12 keffir lime leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
800ml coconut milk
1 dessertspoon tamarind water
1 tablespoon palm sugar or dark brown sugar
Salt, to taste

For the paste, blitz the coconut in a food processor until fine. Toast the coconut in a dry frying pan until golden, then tip into the food processor and blitz with the dried and fresh chillies, onions, garlic and ginger. Bash the coriander and cumin in a pestle and mortar until fine, then add to the food processor. Add the turmeric. Blitz again with the water until it becomes a smooth paste.

Brown the meat in a little oil until browned on all sides, then place in a pot with the lemongrass, lime leaves and cinnamon.

Heat a little more oil in the frying pan and cook the curry paste for about 10 minutes, until the water evaporates. Add the coconut milk, tamarind, sugar and salt, bring to a simmer then pour over the meat.

Cook at 120c for at least three hours, until meat is tender. Leave the lid off the meat for the last half hour to thicken the sauce. When cooked, remove the oxtail from the curry and flake the meat from the bones. Add the meat back to the sauce, reheat and serve.

Pheasant in spiced orange juice

The quiet couldn’t last long. After being abruptly pulled back into the world of work, I’ve spent the past hour happily compiling a playlist of club classics to use as warm-ups in my first ‘proper’ yoga classes. Groove is in the heart? Where love lives? Suddenly old favourites take on a new life.

Speaking of old favourites, today’s recipe is a Vietnamese take on the French classic duck a l’orange. I’m not sure if the French pinched the idea from the Vietnamese, or if the Vietnamese pinched it from the French, but either way, this is a great dish to have up your sleeve, particularly in January when citrus is in season and inexpensive. I got the idea from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, where he braised duck with orange, bird’s eye chilli and ginger, and have adapted it to the English winter by using pheasant. I’ve also added in kaffir lime leaves, which is probably not authentic, but I love them. Any dish that begins life with this much colour is always going to end well.

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Sunshine on a cloudy day: you need oranges, chillies, ginger and lemongrass

The recipe calls for about 1 litre of orange juice. I squeezed my own, but you could equally get some ready juiced – try and use fresh juice though, not concentrate.

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Squeeze those fruits

Next thing to do is to prep the aromatics. They will all be strained out afterwards so there’s no need to be too precise. Thinly slice the ginger and bash the garlic and lemon grass; the chillies can stay whole. Star anise adds a background hum, and if you can find them, kaffir lime leaves give an elusive fresh citrus zing.

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Prep all the aromatics…

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…chucking in a kaffir lime leaf if you have any

Once all that is done, prepare the pheasant (or duck, if you’re going down that road). Pheasant skin doesn’t add anything to the party so I remove it, and then I joint the bird into three pieces (two legs and one breast bone. Discard the back bone). Give it a good rinse, pat dry, and we’re good to go.

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Joint, skin and dry the pheasant

This is a classic braise so the usual rules apply: brown the meat and set to one side whilst you soften the aromatics, put the meat back in the pan with liquid and flavourings, and leave to splutter for an hour or two. So first, brown the pheasant on each side in a little sunflower oil.

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Brown the pheasant then set to one side

Next we briefly soften the ginger and garlic, before putting the pheasant back into the pan with the lemongrass, chillies, star anise, kaffir lime leaf and the orange juice. I sieved the OJ to remove the pips, but that’s optional.

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Saute the garlic and ginger…

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…before adding everything back to the pan. Season, pop the lid on and simmer for 90 minutes.

Now we need to season, which means a splash of fish sauce, a little sugar and a grind of black pepper. No salt needed, due to the fish sauce. Pop the lid on and leave it to simmer on the lowest possible heat for about 90 minutes, by which time the pheasant will be tender. Cooking it in this way helps to prevent it drying out – this bird came from the freezer and could easily have been tough as old boots, but braised to beautifully tender shreds.

Once it’s cooked, remove the pheasant and shred the meat from the bones. I like to strain the sauce (no-one wants to chew on a star anise – ugh) before reducing and thickening with a little cornflour, then the meat is returned to the sauce.

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Reduce and thicken for a gently spiced sauce.

And that’s it! Serve garnished with spring onion, accompanied by rice and a plate of stir-fried greens. This is a surprisingly mild but incredibly flavourful dish, and is a classic example of making a little go a really long way: one pheasant is enough for four people with a few side dishes. Despite the exotic ingredients, it feels familiar – it’s just a stew, when all said and done – and is perfect to warm the cockles on a cold January day.

Pheasant braised in spiced orange juice

Adapted from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey. Use duck or chicken if you prefer. Serves 4 with rice and veggie sides.

1 large pheasant, oven-ready

splash sunflower oil

4 cloves of garlic, peeled

large thumb of ginger, peeled

1 litre freshly squeezed orange juice

5 star anise

4 red bird’s eye chillies (leave them whole)

2 lemongrass stalks

4 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp granulated sugar

freshly ground black pepper

4 spring onions, thinly sliced

1 heaped tsp cornflour

First, prep the aromatics. Bash the lemongrass and garlic but leave them whole, and thinly slice the ginger.

Prep the pheasant. Rip the skin off then joint into four pieces (you can keep the breast in one whole piece.Discard the back bone and skin.) Give the pheasant a good wash and pat dry with kitchen towel.

In a casserole dish, heat the oil then brown the pheasant on all sides and remove to a plate. Soften the garlic and ginger for a minute or two, then replace the pheasant with the chillies, star anise and lemongrass. Add the orange juice (you can sieve it if it’s full of pips). Season with fish sauce, sugar and black pepper. You probably won’t need salt. Pop the lid on and cook on the lowest heat for about 90 minutes – give it a stir every now and then.

When the pheasant is tender, remove the meat from the liquid. When it’s cool enough to handle pull the meat from the bones, shredding them into large chunks. Discard the bones.

Strain the liquid through a sieve into a new pan and reduce on a high heat until the sauce is richly flavoured. Mix the cornflour with a little water and add to the sauce to thicken. Return the pheasant and bubble gently for a few minutes to heat the meat through. Give it a taste and add more fish sauce, pepper or salt as you need to. Garnish with sliced spring onions and serve.

Tiramisu

The way to tell the changing of the seasons in not through temperature or weather but by watching the light. It changed this week. The sun has crept down from its high perch and now sits lower in the sky, creating long shadows in early evening. I was as an exhibition opening at Grand Union on Friday and the shards of 6pm sunlight lit up the artwork like spotlights.

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Autumn sun at Grand Union on Friday evening

I spent Monday evening re-planting those slug-eaten seedlings, the sun warming my back. Birds were singing as if it were spring and I swear I heard a toad. That brief idyll has now been replaced by more usual autumn weather: mist, cloud and a chill. I don’t mind the cold, for hopefully it will keep the leek rust at bay – and sort out the slugs.

Speaking of slugs: I’ve forked out for a tub of organic wool pellets from the garden centre, in what is probably a futile attempt to keep my plants protected without having to resort to the particularly grim murder afforded by slug pellets. Turns out that wool pellets smell of my childhood – in other words, they smell of FARM. The idea is that they swell up and make it difficult for Mr Slug to get around. Progress report soon.

I’m still picking sunflowers, cosmos, calendula and dahlias, plus the tomatoes keep coming. Also some red chillies now, so hot that they burn the fingers when I touch them. But the new star of the allotment are the autumn raspberries, a few punnets a week, soft and luscious.

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Monday’s pickings

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Ripe luscious raspberries

I’m bored of eating soft fruit on its own so doubtless most of this fruit will end up in the freezer. But I do think that raspberries are a great foil to creamy rich desserts. I had mascarpone in the fridge, and I’ve been wanting to try Rick Stein’s recipe for tiramisu. I’ve seen recipes that put raspberries IN a tiramisu, which I can’t quite bring myself to do, but on the side is fine.

First, make a sponge. I know you can use sponge fingers, but I don’t keep them in the house, and anyway how hard is it to make a whisked sponge? Whisk up egg yolks and sugar, fold in a smidgeon of flour and stiff egg whites, then bake for 15 minutes. Sorted.

Light whisked sponge

Next comes the mascarpone cream. I was interested in this recipe because of the whisked egg-whites which I surmised would make it really light, like a mousse. Turns out that this is the proper way to make tiramisu and I’ve just been doing it wrong for years. You whisk up egg yolks and icing sugar until really thick and creamy, then mix in the mascarpone. Fold in stiffly whisked egg whites and vanilla and voila, one creamy mass of deliciousness.

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Eggy sugary mascarpone-y filling

Last thing to get right is the coffee. I didn’t get this right. I’m starting to think that all recipes for tiramisu need to double their coffee allowance; I had enough to soak the sponge but there wasn’t that hit of coffee flavour (I’ve upped the coffee ratio in the recipe below). Either way, use the best espresso you can. I made my own but if you don’t have a machine, you could always go down to your local coffee shop and get a take-away double espresso. Slug a good measure of booze in – marsala is traditional but I used armagnac. No sugar here, just coffee and booze.

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The espresso maker is your friend

Then we layer it all together. You can put it in individual glasses, which is very pretty, but our household is too greedy for that so I made a big one. Slice the sponge to fit your dish, briefly soak it in coffee, place in the dish, dollop the cream on top, and repeat. Leave to chill for several hours so that the cream firms up and the flavours mingle, then finish with a shaving of 70% chocolate or cocoa.

Tiramisu. Serve it up on its own or with a tumble of autumn raspberries.

Tiramisu, translated as ‘pick me up’, is a cliche but what a good cliche. Serve up with raspberries for a hit of sharpness against the cream. Don’t keep it for dessert either, it’s a great breakfast!

Tiramisu

Serves 4. Adapted from here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/rick_steins_tiramisu_18785

For the sponge

3 eggs, separated

75g caster sugar

75g plain flour sifted with 1/2 tsp baking powder

For the cream

3 eggs, separated

3 tbsp icing sugar

250g mascarpone

1 tsp vanilla extract

To finish

400ml strong espresso

6 tbsp armagnac or marsala or whatever booze takes your fancy

grated dark chocolate (the 70% stuff) or cocoa, to finish

Pre-heat the oven to 180c and line a swiss-roll tin. Make the sponge: whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff. In another bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy – the ribbon stage, about 5 minutes with an electric whisk. Loosen the mixture with a little egg white, then alternatively fold in the flour and remaining egg white until you have a smooth and light batter. Keep as much air in as possible. Spoon into the tin and bake for about 20 minutes until risen and just cooked. Cool.

Make the cream: whisk the egg whites until stiff. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until smooth, pale and creamy. Add the mascarpone and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add a spoonful of whites to loosen, then fold in the remaining whites. I think it’s best to use a really big metal spoon to do this. Keep the mixture very light. Pop into the fridge until you’re ready to finish the tiramisu.

Make up your espresso then add the booze and leave to cool to room temperature.

Find your serving dish or glasses and cut the sponge into circles or fingers so they will fit snugly. Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee and line the base of your dish. Dollop some mascarpone cream on top, then repeat. Keep going until the mixture’s all gone, finishing with a layer of cream. Chill until firm – at least 6 hours. You can cover with clingfilm and leave for longer if desired. Sprinkle with chocolate or sifted cocoa before serving.

 

Spanakopita

I’ve been wondering lately if we, the British, have an ignorant relationship with weeds. We swear at them, douse them with chemicals, pull them up, generally fret, and yet again and again they return, paying no attention to our foot-stamping.

Other countries do not behave this way. In Greece, people actively gather weeds to supplement the diet: dandelion, wild chicory, goosefoot, wild beets are cooked up with their roots in water, dressed with olive oil and vinegar and eaten for lunch. A useful (and tasty) restorative when times are hard.

My desert island book would be the extraordinary Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray, a woman who spent the 1950s living in isolated villages around the southern Med, in Italy, France, Spain and Greece, with her sculptor husband (they moved around to live near the marble quarries). Her record of the food lore and cooking cultures of these villages are a precious record of a now lost history. She gives alot of attention to the gathering of weeds, and her entry for fat hen (Chenipodio in Italian) caught my eye:

“Fat hen, the well known annual, has bluish green leaves with a silvery sheen… It can be used in salads or simply cooked in butter; they taste a little of broccoli.”

Note: Fat hen is endemic on our allotment. I swear at it and pull it up. More fool me.

The Greeks, of course, do a lot with greens in general, and so I turn to the classic spinach pastry spanakopita. These are usually made with spinach, but I prefer to use greens with a little more substance to them: this week I chose chard, Russian red kale, beetroot tops, sorrel and spinach beet, all harvested in armfuls from the allotment. I’ve used mustard greens before too. Maybe next time some of that fat hen will make it to the mix.

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Greens, glorious greens

I never weigh the greens: suffice to say that a BIG colander-full should be enough. Give them a good wash and then slice into ribbons, keeping the stalks separate – they need a little more cooking.

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Wash and slice the greens, keeping the stalks separate

Cook the greens in a little boiling water, starting with the stalks, then the kale, then the chard, then lastly the delicate sorrel. Wilt them down for a few minutes then drain.

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Cook ’em down in a BIG pot

The next stage is really important. The greens need to be squeezed dry to within an inch of their lives. Some recipes say to press the leaves between two plates, but I just use my hands. LOADS of liquid will come out, which is good, because you really don’t want it in your pastry. When they’re all dry, give them a good chop.

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Squeeze thoroughly until dry then chop

Next, make the filling. Soften a small onion in some olive oil along with a few spring onions, then add them to a bowl along with the greens, an egg, a good scraping of nutmeg and a little salt and pepper. You won’t need much salt because of the next addition: cheese!

I use feta, crumbled into large chunks, and also a little grated hard cheese. Usually it’s parmesan but the other day I came across Greek kefalotiri cheese. It’s one of those squeeky-polestyrene cheeses, like halloumi, but a bit more pungent. Last in the mix is a good handful of chopped mint.

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Kefalotiri cheese

Now the fun bit! Get your filo sheets – buy them, obviously – and lay out on a tea towel. Slice the sheet in half vertically and lay one half on top of the other; this makes them easier to work and also stops the sheets drying out. Then get yourself some butter, melt it, and brush the top sheet with the golden goodness. Do not use margarine. The butter gives the spanakopita really good flavour!

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Slice the filo in half, put the two halves together (so they don’t dry out) and brush the top sheet with butter

Then you get your filling, put a generous dollop on the top strip, and fold it up into a triangle.

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Put a generous dessertspoon of mixture at the top of your strip

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Fold up in triangles all the way to the bottom

I suppose you could make these into cigar shapes, or even into a whole pie. Either way, do not stint on the butter! More of it needs to go on top of your pastries before they bake: 180c for about 20-25 minutes until golden.

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Brush with more lovely butter

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Baked, buttery, delicious.

I know, a spinach pastry sounds a bit sandals-and-lentils. Do not be fooled, for these are amazingly delicious. I do think it’s worth finding (or growing) proper fresh greens for this recipe as supermarket spinach seems to disintegrate in seconds; a little texture and robustness is a good thing. Serve warm or at room temperature, plus they freeze well. An excellent way of eating your greens.

Spanakopita

Recipe adapted from Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes. Makes 12.

500g greens (spinach, chard, young kale, sorrel, mustard greens etc)

Olive oil

1/2 small onion or one shallot, diced

2 spring onions, finely sliced

100g feta cheese

1 egg

salt and pepper

1 tblsp grated kefalotiri or parmesan

grating of fresh nutmeg

handful chopped mint

packet of filo pastry (6 sheets)

100g butter (maybe more), melted

Prep your greens: wash them, shake dry. Slice the green part into ribbons and the stalks into small slices. Cook in boiling water in a large pan, starting with the stalks then adding the greens. Cook until just wilted then drain. Leave to cool then squeeze dry. Chop.

Heat the oil in a small pan, soften the onion then add the spring onion and cook for a minute or two, until just soft. Put into a bowl with the greens, egg, nutmeg, cheese and mint. Season to taste.

Preheat the oven to 180c. Melt your butter and grease a few baking sheets. Unroll the filo onto a tea towel. Slice the sheets in half vertically, then lay the two halves on top of each other. Brush the top sheet with butter. Lay a spoonful of the filling on the top of your strip then fold down to make a triangle. Move to the baking sheet and brush with butter. Repeat until you’ve used up all the pastry and filling.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden and brown – keep an eye on them as they can burn easily. Eat warm or at room temperature.

Anniversary hazelnut and chocolate dacquoise

There is a culture of thriftiness on the allotment site. From used water pipes, old yoghurt pots and Ikea shelving, the place is littered with useful items reclaimed from a former life to help with the growing of vegetables.

Our contribution to mend-and-make-do are these squares of perspex, saved by Matt from a long-forgotten art project, which I’ve put down to warm up a small patch of soil ahead of some direct sowing next week. I have no idea if it will work, but it’s worth a try (and lots cheaper than expensive plastic matting).

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Warming up the soil

The gooseberry has survived its move the other week and is now the first of all the fruit bushes to break leaf.

Gooseberry survived the move

This week marks the tenth anniversary of going it alone as a freelancer! Not that I set out to run a business – I actually just left a job that wasn’t going so well, took on a few freelance projects and now it’s ten years on and I’m still here. The first three years were HARD but perseverance paid off and I consider myself blessed: I’ve worked with some great people on some great projects and made some great friends in the process. I’ve got a new website to mark the occasion (www.helenstallard.co.uk).

But an anniversary doesn’t need a website, of course, it needs a feast. So I asked three work chums to dinner and planned an elaborate menu including a lamb tagine with which to show off. I even went to Whole Foods to get the particular spice mix I wanted, a pretty ras-el-hanout, which they grind fresh and has actual rose petals in it.

Big mistake.

Tip: When making tagine, go easy on the ral-el-hanout. It’s all pretty and demure, with its pink petals, but a little goes a very, very long way. I got carried away, chucked in a load, then spent Tuesday evening trying to rescue said tagine with tins of tomatoes and passata. In end it tasted fine but by that point I was SO OVER tagine and it’s gone in the freezer to be eaten another day.

We had roast chicken instead.

The culprit

Another tip: Don’t bother planning elaborate dishes for your guests. All they want is gin and a good pud. So the hero of the hour was a hazelnut and chocolate dacquoise, which was met by Helen, Simi and Claire with appreciative grunts.

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Hazelnut and chocolate dacquoise – the hero. I meant to take more photos but clean forgot after a glass of celebratory fizz.

It’s very simple to make: whip up a vat of meringue, stir in some finely chopped hazelnuts, dollop into three disks and then bake for a couple of hours. Meanwhile make a chocolate cream from good quality dark chocolate, creme fraiche and whipped cream, then stick the lot together and leave for an hour or two for the meringue to soften.

Last tip: If making this, use fresh cream if you can. Mine was a few days old and didn’t really appreciate the double-whammy of being whipped and then folded into the chocolate, so the chocolate cream ended up not quite as smooth as it should be. It still tasted fine.

This is a really, really good dessert to have up your sleeve. It’s indulgent and feels special, but is light enough to not kill everyone after a full meal. Serve it up with pouring cream and raspberries.

Anniversary hazelnut and chocolate dacquoise

From Rick Stein’s French Odyssey

50g shelled hazelnuts

4 large, fresh egg whites

225g caster sugar

100g plain chocolate (I used 65% cocoa, 50% would be fine, 70% overkill)

150ml creme fraiche

150ml double cream

1. Toast hazelnuts in a dry frying pan until golden – be careful not to burn them. Chop very finely and set aside.

2. Draw a 20cm circle on three pieces of non-stick baking parchment, flip them over (so you don’t get pencil on your meringue), then place on three baking trays. Preheat oven to 110c and make sure you have three shelves in with enough room between them to accommodate the meringues.

3. Make meringue: In a large, clean bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold their shape but aren’t dry. Add the sugar a little at a time, making sure each addition is properly mixed in before adding the next. Finally, fold in all but 1 tablespoon of the hazelnuts.

4. Divide the meringue between the three baking trays, spreading them out to fit your circle. Try and make them as flat as you can, to make stacking easier later. Sprinkle the reserved nuts on one disc. Bake for two hours or maybe longer – they are done when they can be removed from the paper easily. Leave to cool in the switched-off oven.

5. Two hours before eating (no more, else your meringue may go too soggy), finish the dacquoise. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, then stir in the creme fraiche. Remove from the heat. Whip the cream until it just holds its shape, then fold into the chocolate cream. You should get a loose, glossy mixture that just about holds its shape.

6. Put one meringue disc onto a flat serving plate, spread over half of the chocolate mixture, repeat with the second disc, then finish with the disc covered in hazelnuts. Chill for two hours before serving.