Wednesday, 14 December 2011

What’s this? What’s this? There’s colour everywhere...



OK, so I haven’t written for a while, and this post is going to be bashed out in a nanosecond but I haven’t forgotten about blogging - promise!  I’ve just been crazy busy in the build up to Christmas: at Christmas drinks, Christmas lunches, Christmas dinners, Christmas parties, and of course making and baking Christmas gifts for all you lovely peeps!!  (Well... some of you at least)...

I'm incredibly excited - not just because it's in my nature to be an irritatingly excitable type of creature but also because it's my nephew's first Christmas!  And yes - I might have gained extra "evil aunt" points by buying him a snowman costume to wear!  Whhhhaaa haaa haa haaaaahhhhh... (well how would you spell an evil laugh!)
 I’ve been having to hold back on posting because I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for all the fam (who are all avid readers... ahem!)... There’ll be a glut of recipes after the holidays are done and dusted but in the meantime here’s something I made last night for my grandmother.  I’m reasonably sure she won’t suddenly become computer literate in time to spoil present opening time! 

My Mum’s mum is tiny, and feisty as hell.  Quite how she spawned a family full of giants is beyond me but I’m assuming it had little to do with a diet which appears to consist solely of oatcakes and shortbread...

140g medium oatmeal
140g porridge oats
black pepper
1/2tsp salt
1 handful seeds (I used a mixture of sesame and sunflower)
75ml extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 180C. 

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and pour the olive oil into a well in the centre.  Working quickly, add enough boiling water to bind the mixture together.  Work the dough into a ball shape and rest for a couple of minutes.

Lightly dust some baking trays and the work surface with flour. 

Roll the dough out until about 5mm thick then cut with whatever sized cookie cutter is your preference! 
Bake for 20 minutes then turn them over and bake a further 5-10 minutes.
 Cool the oatcakes on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Oh the horror... Turkish Delight you haunt me still!


WOWZER – last night I really upped my game on decimating our kitchen.  I made a batch of Turkish Delight as part of a Christmas present and I’m going to try my very best not to eat my way through them until they’re safely gifted because I can’t quite face making another batch yet! 

This recipe is messy... and when I say messy I mean the entire kitchen looks like it was involved in a Turkish Delight massacre!  

I can only assume when Rachel Allen came up with this recipe she was using a test kitchen with someone else on their hands and knees scraping the dollops of pink gloop out from between the floorboards! 

It uses everything but the kitchen sink in terms of equipment (and this is only because the kitchen sink’s already full of pans soaking previous abortive attempts of Turkish Delight gone bad).  But somehow amidst the swearing and scrubbing, it’s converted me to liking Turkish Delight?!  Who knew?  Apparently it doesn’t always have to taste like cheap soap?
Here are some things I’ve learnt about making Turkish Delight... Aren’t I good to you?  I fell in every one of these pitfalls so you don’t have to!

1.       Line the bottom of the tin with paper as well as greasing it.  Otherwise it won’t budge, not even a bit, let alone come out of the tin in one peice.  No matter how much I begged/bribed/threatened, it was perfectly happy remaining where it was and nothing I was going to do or say was going to change it’s mind!
2.       Don’t use a spring form cake tin.  This results in aforementioned lava hot pink gloop dripping out of the bottom, and between the floorboards... down your leg... all over the kitchen surfaces... etc etc you get the picture!
3.       Try not to pour half a bottle of food colouring into the mixture by mistake – this will overshoot “delicate rose pink” by miles, dumping you firmly into day-glo red.
4.       Remember not to get overly engrossed watching an episode of CSI while simmering sugar syrup for 25 minutes.  An episode of CSI is 1hr long – in hindsight I can see now that this isn’t good maths. 
5.       The same applies to watching your new lovefilm DVD while trying to get a sugar syrup to an exact temperature... it doesn’t work – trust me, watching a sugar thermometer creep up is terminally boring – but take your eye off it for a second and it automatically springs up by at least 20˚C!
6.       Use a heavy based saucepan to reduce hot spots to make burning less likely (see you later attempts 1 and 2)! 
7.       Try not to start eating these until you mean to finish eating them... THEY ARE (suprisingly) VERY MOREISH!!

Grease the cake tin with sunflower oil.  Line the bottom with greaseproof paper and grease the paper.

In a heavy duty pan, bring the sugar and 500ml of water to a rolling boil over a medium heat.  Stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved.

Reduce the heat and keep the sugar syrup at a low simmer without stirring until it reaches hard-ball stage (125˚C).  This should take about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the gelatine with the cornflour and cream of tartar in another heavy duty pan.  Gradually whisk in another 500ml water until it’s smooth.  Simmer over a medium heat for approximately 3-5 minutes whisking CONSTANTLY to prevent lumps.  It is ready once it starts to look suspiciously like wallpaper paste.  Remove it from the heat.

Once the sugar syrup reaches the hard-ball stage, immediately remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice.  Next whisk the sugar syrup into the cornflour mixture.

Place the combined mixture over a low heat and simmer gently until it reaches the thread stage (110˚C).  Stir frequently to prevent sticking or burning.  It should take approximately 1hr.

As soon as the mixture reaches 110˚C (and has turned a deep golden colour), add the rosewater and food colouring and stir until fully incorporated.

Pour into the prepared tin and leave overnight in the fridge to firm up.

Dust a work surface with copious amounts of icing sugar.  Turn the Turkish Delight out onto the icing sugar and chop it into squares with an oiled knife.  Dust more icing sugar over the top and then roll each square to ensure it has a hefty coating.  This will ensure it stores for longer without sticking together and will dust off so there's no such thing as too much!
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month (apparently)

Turkish Delight (makes approximately 48 pieces):
850g caster sugar
21g gelatine powder
125g cornflour
1tsp cream of tartar
2tbsp lemon juice
2tsp rosewater
A few drops of red food colouring
Icing sugar, to dust
Sunflower oil, for greasing the tin
8” square non-stick cake tin

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Ginger-Spiced Upside-Down Cake


It’s half four in the afternoon and 100% black as pitch outside... it’s been raining and grey and that damp cold which really gets into your bones...  The perfect excuse to consume your own body weight in food I hear you say?  Exactly what I was thinking!

Looks like instead of heading to the climbing wall I’ll be cycling home as fast as possible, then attacking a small country's allocation of calories for dinner, followed by diving under a blanket and working through my food coma with some horrifically mind-numbing TV...

I found this recipe for a ginger-spiced upside-down cake a few weeks ago.  It's super moist with the perfect amount of spice for grey-day grumpiness... Now I’m thinking about it I might have to go and make another one this evening to double check that it really is as good as I remember! 

PLEASE NOTE: THIS RECIPE HAS NOW BEEN IDIOT-PROOFED!  My Dad tried making this last night (with very bizarre results - he's INCREDIBLY literal bless him) I've had to make a couple of tweaks to the way I've written the recipe to prevent anyone else from falling into the same (very unlikely) traps!  :o)

Preheat the oven to 160˚C. Grease and line the base (and up to approximately 1" up the sides) of a 9" spring-form cake tin.

Melt 25g of butter with ½ cup of the sugar and the cinnamon.  Pour over the base of the cake tin.  Lay the fruit over the mixture, trying to cover the entire base without leaving gaps.  Should you feel particularly artistic feel free to make pretty concentric circles...

Cream together 225g butter with ¾ cup of the sugar until pale and smooth.  Add the ginger and mix in.  Add the eggs one at a time fully mixing each in before adding the next.  Pour in the molasses/honey/golden syrup and mix. 

Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Alternate between adding small quantities of dry ingredients and buttermilk.  Mix until just incorporated.  Pour mixture over the fruit and bake in the oven for 1 and ¾ hours.

Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes then invert over a serving plate and release the sides of the cake tin.  Cool for at least another half hour before eating.

250g butter, softened
1¼ cups light brown sugar
4-5 medium to large ripe pears or apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly
2 tbsp ginger, grated
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
2/3 cup molasses/honey/golden syrup
3 cups plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

MUST... NOT... THINK... ABOUT... MOUNTAINS...


(Sigh...) in fact this week’s been a bit of a (double sigh...)!  The exodus out to the mountains started early this year,  dumping me into daydreams of the chalet goodlife I’m missing out on once again.  Five months of snowboarding and cooking... (big, fat, stinky, miserable sighhhhhhhhh!!!!)

Two friends left from mine on Sunday afternoon.  They were full of excitement, a newly broken wrist and more luggage than should realistically have a) been owned by two boys and b) fitted in the car. I (on the other hand) was just full of envy.  

I’m not quite sure how I mustered the willpower not to jump on the bonnet of the departing car with a melodramatic “taaaaake meeeee with youuu...” I’m assuming the birthday hangover must have had something to do with it.

The silver lining in my mid-November grot is the unbearably cute Fraser.  If I was in France for the next five months I’d miss out on a whole heap of quality Fraser-time! 

I can always run off to do more seasons once he’s grown out of the cute stage... although I could be waiting a while!  :o)
I made myself these little beauties last week in an attempt to bribe my workmates out of “zombie attacking” me on my birthday.  It's the usual office affair involving silently looming up behind the birthday victim in search of embarrassment...  Cookies were the perfect distraction!

Be warned, they don’t ever seem to become sickly – even after you eat an entire plateful...  

Brown the butter slowly over a medium heat.  It is sufficiently browned as soon as it starts to smell nutty and turns golden brown.  To prevent it from browning further and tasting burnt decant into a mixing bowl as soon as it’s ready.  Allow to cool for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 175˚C.  Beat together the sugars, egg and yolk until light and creamy (most of the sugar should have dissolved).  Add the cooled butter, and beat for a further two minutes.

Sieve the dry ingredients in and mix until just incorporated.  Stir through the chocolate.

Roll large tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls, space well apart on lined baking sheets and sprinkle with a small amount of Maldon salt.
Bake 12-14 minutes until the edges turn golden brown.  Rest the cookies for three minutes on the baking sheets then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
My birthday cookies were not quite as pretty as the photography from the originals (to be expected...) but aesthetics aside they made a darned good bribe! 

150g butter
150g dark chocolate, cut into large chunks
150g dark Muscovado sugar
50g white sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
225g strong white flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp fine salt
Maldon sea salt for sprinkling over the top

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The wonder cake which can cure all ills...


Surprisingly, there are few things in this world which are capable of riling me.  I appear to have used up my lifetime's supply of rage during my teenage years when absolutely EVERYTHING made me angry - going to school, having to cope with the horror of talking to my family,  waking up in the morning... you name it - I rolled my eyes and muttered about it.

At the grand old age of 31 (as of tomorrow, happy birthday me!) I'm a lot calmer.  But I've recently found the one thing (other than hunger) which is capable of balling up my zen and lobbing it out of the window: the wretched bike shed at work. 

It’s the stuff of Dante’s most hellish nightmares - I swear!  How infuriating can an area for storing your bike get I hear you ask?  VERY!!! 

Whichever fool built ours firstly made it impossible to open – they put the sensor on backwards so the only people able to gain entrance are professional safecrackers.  Then once you FINALLY manage to open the door (having generated a long queue of irritable colleagues) you have to try and wedge your bike through a door which isn’t even as wide as your bike!?  How could that not have been the single most important criteria for making said door?! 

Every! single! day! (Twice!!) I have to perform the bike shoe shuffle: left a bit... clang... forward a bit... clang...right a bit...ouch, there’s the peddle in the calf... back out... clang, clang... pick it up... run full pelt at the door, bike in hand hoping for the best... and... CLANNNGGGGGG - whoops there goes the handlebars, didn’t need them anyway... YES me and my newly crippled bike are OUT!! 

No wonder I get home every day craving some form of comfort food (read: cake).  I spent the first week in the new building alternatively swearing/stamping/threatening/reasoning/ranting even giggling hysterically trying to get through the hellish portal but to no avail – with a choice of regressing to teen angst or feeding the rage into submission guess which won out?  Cake is the only answer! 
I made this little beauty last week - I couldn’t help it!  I saw the recipe when it was posted on 101 cookbooks and gluttony took over.  This amount of mixture makes two small or one large cake (I made two - one of which was polished off still hot from the oven as an alternative lunch).  Chocolaty banana cake with lemon glaze?...ahhhhh – ten deep breaths and relax!!

Preheat the oven to 180˚C.  Grease and flour your cake tin of choice.

Sift together the flours, 125g muscovado sugar, bicarbonate of soda, and salt. Add the chocolate and mix.

In a separate bowl, mix together the olive oil, eggs, banana, yogurt, and vanilla. Fold together the wet and dry ingredients until just mixed.  Scrape the mixture into the tin and bake for approximately 50 minutes (or until golden brown).

Cool the cake in the tin on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Finish cooling the cake by removing from the tin and leaving to cool completely on the wire rack.

Make the glaze: Sift 85g of muscovado sugar and then whisk together with the icing sugar and lemon juice until smooth.  Drizzle/Spread over the cake once it has cooled completely.

125g plain flour
140g wholewheat flour
210g dark muscovado sugar (split – 125g for the cake and 85g for the glaze)
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
115g dark chocolate, cut to chunks
80ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
340g ripe bananas, mashed
60ml plain, full-fat yogurt
1tsp lemon zest, grated
1tsp vanilla extract
55g icing sugar
4 tsp lemon juice

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Remember, remember the 5th of November: Jambalaya, fireworks and surf...

Ok, so it might not be the “official” version but it epitamized my 5th of November this year and you have to admit, it sounds a lot more fun than gunpowder, treason and plot! 

I was in the deepest, darkest, depths of Cornwall with a couple of friends for what was going to be a weekend of surfing.  Sadly, due to only owning a puny summer wetsuit and the weather turning Balticly cold I ended up wussing out! 

 Instead I filled my time with walks, watching others more brave than me surfing, a great seaside pub called the Five Pilchards...

fireworks, tea-cosy hats, sparklers and Jambalaya...


I travelled down with three chorizo links  from my River Cottage day and a Gumbo Shop recipe book which my parents brought back from a trip around “the deep south” stashed in my bag.  If I'm honest - I have no idea how authentic this recipe is, all I know is: it was TASTY!  (on a side note, another lesson learned is don't wrap incredibly garlicy chorizo in clothes you want to wear in the upcoming days... stinky!) 
Cover the raw chicken with cold water and set over a medium heat.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the poaching liquid and set aside to cool.  Reserve the poaching liquid.  Once cooled, remove the skin and bones and cut the chicken into bite sized peices.

Saute the chorizo in olive oil until lightly browned. 
Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside with the chicken.  In the chorizo oiled pan add the onion, pepper and celery and sweat til tender. 
Add the tinned tomatoes, garlic, salt and peppers and cook for a further 10 minutes, contantly stirring. 
Stir in the rice, mix well then add the reserved poaching liquid.  Bring back to the boil then reduce to a simmer.  Add chicken and prawns, and cook uncovered until the rice and prawns are cooked - approx 20 minutes.  You may need to add more poaching liquid as the rice absorbs it.

Serve with a side order of fireworks!   

500g chicken thighs and breasts, bones and skin included
cold water to cover
olive oil
3 chorizo links, sliced
3 small onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1x400g tin tomatoes
1/2tsp white pepper
1/2tsp black pepper
1/4tsp cayenne pepper
1tsp salt
1 cup long grain rice
1 1/2 cups (minimum) stock from poaching the chicken
500g raw king prawns, peeled
 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Twins, Hedgehogs and Lemon Curd Blondies...

So I haven’t been at home much recently for cooking or writing purposes.  Most recently - visiting a friend in Oxfordshire...

Yesterday, we were on an autumnal walk, picking up dry leaves for her 19 month old twin boys to scrunch. 
The boys were peering out of their double buggy and I was full of the joys of autumn when in with the leaves (and a mini “I’m almost two” tantrum-ette) we found a hedgehog. 

Very over excited we were immediately overcome with the warm and fuzzies and were mid-way through planning a rescue mission thanks to the local hedgehog hospital within walking distance… 

Then the practicalities waded in - how the hell do you even go about picking one up?  And aren’t they supposed to be flea-ridden and rabid?  And finally, sadly - Ummm… is it actually even alive?!  Yes, after closer scrutiny we discovered we had very almost rescued a (very dead it turns out) hedgehog…  Not the idealistic autumnal day planned but never mind! 

Anyway – on a happier and more appetizing note, my leftover lemon curd...  I decided that swirling it through an oatmeal blondie was the way to go.  The recipe could do with a bit of tweaking but turned out remarkably well considering it was a first attempt.  The creamy oats and tangy lemon is a winner in my book!

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Grease and line your baking tin (the one I used was approximately 8x15”.

Cream together the sugars with the butter then add the eggs and mix.

Grad add the flour, raising agents, salt and 1 ½ cups of the oats and mix.  Swirl through half the lemon curd and spoon into the prepared tin.  Smooth the top of the mixture and dollop over the rest of the lemon curd. 

Sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup of oats and bake approximately 30 minutes until golden brown (check with a skewer after 25 minutes to gauge how fast it’s cooking – you want it to have a fudgey texture like a brownie).

Cool the blondie in the tin for another half hour then cool it the rest of the way on a wire rack.  Cut into small squares and eat!


Oatmeal and Lemon Curd Blondies: (fills 8x15” tin)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup demerera sugar
125g butter, softened
2 eggs
2 cups self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp salt
2 cups porridge oats
5tbsp lemon curd

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Pig in a Day...

A minor disclaimer before I start:  This post might not be best for the squeamish!

Last weekend (between auntie visiting hours) I was down in Devon on a River Cottage “Pig in a Day” course! 
I was slightly anxious when I first arrived because:
a) I didn't really know what a “Pig in a Day” course might entail,
b) I’d only managed to listen to the first half of the world cup final and,
c) I appeared to have entered an alternate reality populated entirely by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall look-a-likes... 

Floppy unruly hair... tick; bold checked shirt... tick; body warmers and "gardening" jeans... tick; plummy accent... tick, tick, tick!

Attack of the Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls aside, what a stormer of a day!!  We started with home cured bacon and tomato relish sandwiches in the backyard yurt...
then went on to learn how to butcher a carcass and utilise every single last piece. 
 ...and when I say every single I mean EVERY SINGLE!!  There were recipes and demonstrations for brawn (using the head and trotters), devilled kidneys, liver pate, even brain “mcnuggets”. 
We were shown how to stuff, smoke, cure, air dry, make sausages and chorizo... all interspersed with endless tastings, snacks and an enormous Sunday roast (pork naturally!).

The guys running the course were incredibly knowledgeable, relaxed and fun... I had an amazing day and would like to pass on a massive thank you to "the girls" for an awesome birthday present and Mr and Mrs T for hosting us all!!

The (very garlicy) chorizo is currently stinking out our fridge in London waiting the obligatory drying time before I can use it... I CAN’T WAIT!!

The chorizo is made using the same method as sausages. 

Rinse and soak the casings overnight in cold water.  Mince the pork and mix all the ingredients thoroughly.  Stuff the casings (for more detailed instructions see this link), twist to form individual sausages and hang in the fridge for at least one week before cooking.

Watch this space for the recipe using them, perhaps the perfect excuse for a jambalaya? Who knows...!

Cooking Chorizo: (makes 50 sausages)
8 metres hog casing
5kg pork (roughly 20% fat)
100g salt
125g smoked paprika
70g sweet paprika
15g cayenne pepper
50g fennel seeds, lightly toasted
10 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 glasses red wine