Strawberry, mint and balsamic cheesecake

I’m not the biggest fan of cheesecake, so I won’t be waxing lyrical about this recipe. As cheesecakes go though, it’s a real good’un. The addition of mint and balsamic stop it from being one-dimensional creaminess, and turn it into something a bit more sophisticated and interesting.

It’s a Fiona Cairns (of royal wedding cake-maker fame) concoction from her Bake & Decorate cookbook. If you’ve got some end-of-season strawberries, then this would be a great way of using them up—especially if you’re throwing a party for pudding lovers over the weekend, and you’re looking for a centre piece to finish the meal with.

Ingredients
For the base:
50g unsalted butter, melted, plus
more for the tin
300g dark chocolate digestive
biscuits
10 large mint leaves, finely
Chopped

For the strawberry filling:
300g strawberries, thinly sliced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
10 large mint leaves, finely
chopped
1 tbsp icing sugar
For the cream cheese filling:
3 tsp gelatine crystals
250g unsalted cream cheese,
at room temperature
300ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
45g golden caster sugar

To decorate:
150-200g strawberries
few sprigs of mint

Preheat the oven to 170C. Butter very well the base and sides of a 23cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round springform tin, making sure the flat side of the springform base is uppermost (the lipped side makes it hard to remove the cheesecake).

Put the biscuits in a polythene bag, seal, then bash with a rolling pin until very fine. Tip into a bowl and mix in the butter and mint. Lightly press into the tin with a spoon. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool.

For the strawberry filling, simply mix everything together in a bowl and leave for 1-2 hours for the strawberries to absorb the flavours. Drain the strawberries, reserving all the delicious juices.

For the cream cheese filling, place 3 tbsp cold water into a small, wide-bottomed heatproof bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Every single crystal must be wet, or it will turn to lumps later on. Set the bowl over a pan of hot (not boiling) water until every crystal has melted. Don’t let it get too hot or it won’t set properly.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. In another bowl, lightly whip the cream and vanilla. Using an electric mixer (or handheld whisk), whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick, pale and doubled in volume. Carefully fold in the cream cheese, then the cream.

Take the strawberry juices and mix them into the gelatine liquid, sieve out any lumps, then fold in a spoonful of the cream mixture. Once well blended, gently fold in the remaining cream. Spread the marinated strawberries over the centre of the biscuit base, ensuring they do not reach the edges. Spoon on the cream, level the surface and place in the refrigerator overnight to set.

When you are ready to serve, dip a knife into hot water, release the spring and run the knife around the edge of the tin. Ease off the base with a warm palette knife and transfer to a serving dish. Finally, decorate with the sliced strawberries and mint sprigs.

Green Sauce

Usually I make a bit of effort with the photographs of the food I eat…but on this occasion I failed.
I blame it on the fact that this sauce is so intensely delicious, it disappeared before I could get the lens cap off my camera, so you’ll just have to make do with this unappetizing photograph I took before it was put it on the table which doesn’t do it justice at all!… 

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Broad bean salad

If, like me, you like to try and eat your greens, but often find salad leaves going bad in the fridge, then this is actually quite a good idea – you can keep the beans in the freezer and dip in and out of the bag when you fancy – greens on tap.

For this salad, all you have to do is blanche the beans, tip them on a plate and tear some fresh mint over them. Finally, crumble feta on top, and drizzle 1/3 lemon juice, 2/3 olive oil to finish.
Delicious and satisfyingly healthy.

My HERB HEROES entry – PLEASE VOTE FOR ME

PLEASE VOTE FOR ME BY CLICKING HERE

Over bank holiday weekend I went to visit my parents, armed with a culinary project. I was determined to become a Herb Hero. On first reading, this mightn’t sound quite as cool as Wonder Woman or Superman. But, the lucky Herb Hero, wins £2,500 and get to meet the true hero that is John Torode…so game’s on.

Anyway, to become a Herb Hero, I need to cook up a 4 minute film of me making a dish with at least two fresh herbs in it. This has proved tricky—not because of the herby, cooking part, but because I’m a moron with camcorders.

I have a horrible feeling that I might fall at the first hurdle by being too incompetent to mash together the footage and upload my film by 6 May. (If anyone reading this has ANY advice, please get in touch).

I took some photos of what I made though (I’m considerably better with cameras than camcorders) so, I thought I’d share with you, dear readers, my Herb Heroes dish.

I decided to make the herbs the hero of the dish (!) rather than shrouding their flavours with lots of meat or sauce. So, I went for a herb tabbouleh which has clean and fresh flavours that really showcase everything that my mint and marjoram and chives had to offer. I served it with homemade falafel (though shop bought falafel is excellent too) and a mint and yoghurt dip.

STEP1 – THE TABBOULEH
Ingredients (a good-sized, side salad for 4 people)

125g couscous
150 ml boiling water
1 Handful of sultanas
2 big handfuls of fresh marjoram
1 big handful of fresh mint
About 20 chive strands
2 spring onions
Zest and juice of one lemon
One large handful of toasted, skinned and then ground hazelnuts
One yellow pepper (roasted, skinned and copped)
5 large chestnut mushrooms

Before I launch into the recipe, I want to quickly stress that you can add or take away pretty much any ingredient from this tabbouleh (though do keep in the couscous!) As you can see, many of the ingredients are measured out in handfuls, because it’s such a loose guideline of a recipe. Roasted courgette, grated carrots and pecan nuts are just a few examples of other things that would go superbly.

Finally, some eating advice: although I served this with falafel and dip, this is a lovely salad on its own. It’s also a great accompaniment to barbeque buffets because it’s jam-packed full of interesting flavours.Recently I’ve recently eaten it with lamb sausages & rocket, and with coronation chicken & roasted vegetables.

Method
Put the couscous in the bottom of the big bowl that you’ll end up serving it in (I think that a glass bowl is quite nice, because there end up being so many interesting colours and textures in the salad).

Pour 150ml of boiling water over the couscous, and stir it with a fork to make sure that its all been exposed to the water. Put a plate on top the bowl, and leave it so all the hot water gets absorbed, and the trapped steam keeps everything nice and moist.

Next, put the sultanas in a small bowl, and tip some boiling water over them so that they’re all nice and plump and juicy by the time you add them to the tabbouleh. At this point, it’s also a good idea to pop your pepper in the oven to start it roasting.

Gather your herbs together, then pick off the leaves and put them in a mug. Use a pair of scissors to snip them all up – it’s not nice coming across whole leaves in the salad.

If you’re grinding the hazelnuts yourself (as I was) then pop them in the oven for 4 minutes (switch on a timer, because nuts and seeds are one of those things I always seem to forget in the oven!) Peel off their skins, and then grind them into a dust. This is a really good dish for a vegetarian, so it’s good to pop in lots of nuts as a source of protein.

Cut and fry the mushrooms, slice the spring onions and snip the chives. Then zest and juice the lemon, and drain the excess water from the sultanas if they’re looking suitably plump at this point.

By this time, your pepper might be roasted – you’ll know if it’s ready because the skin will blister and peel off easily. Skin the pepper, then slice it into very small chunks.

Now you’ve done all the hard work – it’s just the easy bit of putting everything together. Add everything to the couscous, stir thoroughly and season.

STEP2 – FALAFEL

Ingredients
250 g chick peas
2 heaped teaspoons of Harissa paste
2 heaped teaspoons of ground cumin
2 heaped teaspoons of coriander (finely snipped up)
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
2 tablespoons of plain flour

Whizz your chickpeas in a magimix. While you’re doing that, measure out all the other ingredients, then add to the chickpea mixture and whiz thoroughly.


Mould into nice round balls – they should be bigger than a blackberry but smaller than a golf ball…think along the size of a large strawberry.

Heat up a reasonable amount of oil in a frying pan, and fry them for about 7 minutes until they’re warm throughout, and nicely browned on the outside.

STEP3 – MINT YOGHURT

Ingredients
1 lemon
1 large handful of mint
100g Greek or plain yoghurt

Snip up the mint, squeeze the lemon, and combine with the yogurt to make a fresh, light dip.

Now all that’s left to do is plate up – a generous scoop of the tabbouleh with five falafel balls and a dollop of dip.
Fresh, herby deliciousness!

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