Friday, 23 October 2009

Halloween cupcakes

H7, no longer the teeniest Brownie in the pack, has decided it is time for her to do her cooking badge. This requires her to complete a number of cooking-related tasks and to understand that hands must be washed and that knives are sharp.

She has had to cook a healthy meal (leek and potato soup - her current signature dish) and some cakes or biscuits that she can take and share with her fellow Brownies.

Hence the Halloween cupcakes (yes, they're fairy cakes, but 'Halloween fairy cakes' sounded odd).

This is your usual run of the mill fairy cake recipe: two large eggs, a slosh of vanilla extract and 125g each of butter, caster sugar and self raising flour. H7 mixed it all in the new Kenwood; the first time she has used it and extra-exciting because of it. Then the mix is spooned into cake cases and baked for 15 minutes, which is about the time it takes to lick fingers, spoons and bowls clean.

She then topped them with glace icing and spirals of black icing dragged out into spider web shapes with a toothpick. (I helped with the spirals - the icing tube was a bit tough to squeeze for little hands, but she did manage three.)

All it needed then was a bag of jelly spiders (actually some of them are bats - we ran out of spiders) and there you have it - Halloween cupcakes and a step in the direction of a Brownies cooking badge.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Really fast courgettes and pasta

Finally the courgette plants have started producing and, as usual, after a complete drought we now have a glut of the things.

I plant two varieties of courgettes: Genovese, a pale green skinned variety, and Cocozelle, a stripy traditional Italian style one. I don't grow the dark, green skinned ones any more because they just used to get overlooked because we adore the taste of the other two varieties more.

Generally when we eat them with a meal I just roughly cube the courgettes and put them into a pan with about a tablespoon of butter and let them cook until they're soft.

Sometimes, though, I serve them with pasta and this is how:

Fusilli with courgettes and crème fraiche.

(This method is loosely based on a River Cafe recipe from the new River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book which was previewed in the November issue of Red magazine, although it's something I've made before, but without a recipe. The River Cafe recipe uses 150g of butter which might be authentically Italian, but it's too much for me!)

Boil the fusilli according to the packet instructions in boiling salted water. I use 9oz for the four of us - two adults and two children. The River Cafe uses 320g, is that about 9oz? Probably.

Add a slug of olive oil to a pan and cook a sliced clove of garlic for a few minutes.

Add to that 250g (or so) of courgettes chopped into rounds, halved or quartered if the courgette is a little rotund.

Add a slice of butter. How much does this weigh? About 50g or so, but it's not important.

Leave to cook, turning the courgette and garlic over in the buttery oil, scraping the bits off the bottom. Use a medium to lowish heat - not too high, if it browns it'll taste bitter.

When the courgette is soft, take the pan off the heat and let it cool for a few moments. If you've timed this correctly the pasta will be about done by now too. Often it isn't, but the courgettes don't mind hanging around.

Add a couple of tablespoons of crème fraiche (I use the lower fat version) to the courgettes and stir. It will seem a bit thick, so add a couple of ladlefuls of the pasta cooking water and stir again. This will give you a lovely silky sauce.

Toss the fusilli into the lovely creamy courgette-y sauce and serve in bowls with plenty of freshly grated parmesan and black pepper.