Thursday, 28 July 2011

Third time’s a charm

Marmalade you are a fickle, FICKLE mistress... On my third (THIRRRRDDDD!!!) attempt of the evening I was out of: patience; sugar; and down to my last orange and lemon.  ARRRRggghhhh... This time I was't going to get distracted!

Last October when I got the preserving-itch, I spent a frenzied evening making pickled pears, candied peel and orange and lemon jellies... It’s like I suddenly started preparing for hibernation... or maybe a nuclear winter?! 

With all the rain and cloud cover we’ve been getting over the past few months, it’s dark and feels like autumn already.  This has tricked my body clock into preserving mode even though it's only July... I’m getting that itch again to make jams, chutneys, pickles – anything that will keep. 

Oh, here's a bizarre little digression for you...  Thanks to all the rain, I've discovered my washing machine is obviously not rinsing out all of the detergent.  When I’ve been cycling I’ve started developing foaming knees... at least I’m assuming it’s the washing machine rather than a little known strand of “knee-rabies”...

Anyway, frothing knees aside, previously, I’d only made marmalade on mum and dad’s induction hob which seems to be a lot more forgiving than gas where it turned from far too runny to black and burnt in less time than it took to brush my teeth!  Literally! 

My current obsession is Rooibos tea so in an experimental frame of mind, I decided to try and add some Rooibos flavours.  Personally I prefer a sweeter marmalade rather than the traditional bitter flavour so that’s how this recipe turned out, I'll definately tinker around with it in the future (maybe with proper sugar next time!):

Make up the Rooibos tea (1 litre of boiling water and 4 teabags).  Cut the orange and lemon in half across their equators.  Squeeze the juices into the tea.  Place any pips and pith into a spice ball or muslin bag. 

Chop the rinds into strips. I cut each squeezed half-fruit into quarters and sliced these as thinly as desired. 
Pop everything into a large pan and leave to infuse overnight.  This ensures you get as much pectin from the seeds and pith as possible which makes the marmalade set.

The next day, boil the mixture for 2-3 hours until it has reduced, concentrated, and the fruit skin has softened.  At this stage leave to cool and then squeeze as much juice out of the seed/pith bag as possible and then discard.

Add the sugar, then slowly heat the marmalade until all of the sugar is dissolved.  Sadly, in the previous disastrous attempts I’d used pretty much all of the sugar in the house.  Therefore this time I ended up having to use icing sugar which (surprisingly) worked!

Bring it up to a rolling boil for a further 30-60 minutes until it reaches the correct consistency.  You can check this with either a sugar thermometer or by placing a plate in the freezer for a couple of minutes.  Once the plate is chilled, test by dropping some marmalade onto it.  If after a few seconds the marmalade wrinkles when you push your finger over it then it’s set.
Cool the mixture in the pan for ten minutes or so and then seal in sterilized jars.

There are several ways you can sterilize jars but I’ve found the easiest is to run them through a hot wash in the dishwasher, and use immediately.

Rooibos Marmalade: (makes 2 jars)
1 L Rooibos tea (made with four teabags)
1 lemon
1 orange
400g icing sugar

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Did she just say GOAT’S cheese frosting?

Me, birthday cakes and icing have a mottled history – there was the time I made a cake for a colleague... Schlepping through the December snow: I’d fallen over on ice patches twice before even getting to the end of my road.  Needless to say some serious structural realignment was needed when my dishevelled contribution finally arrived at work...

Then there was the notoriously poor offering for a friend’s 30th...  My first ever foray into cream cheese frosting.   The icing was lumpy and dripping before it even got to the hour-long, un-airconditioned, summer, train ride.  Unfortunately, this particular offering appears to have grown into something of an urban legend... “ohhhhh... so you’re the one who made the mashed potato cake!”. 
(Personally I fear it resembled scrambled egg more) 

The result was well... hilarious!  That is, until it was put next to a second perfect cake, when it just became down-right embarrassing (no... mine isn’t the lovely, red velvet, three-layered beauty in the picture and yes... I am the one hiding from the camera – can you honestly blame me?). 

In my (meagre) defence, it was a darned sight tastier than it looked and I have since discovered the key to cream cheese icing is COLD ingredients... not room temperature!

But, I’m nothing if not stubborn and so, as promised, here’s the goat cheese frosted apple and carrot cake...  Before I carry on, (for anyone who hasn’t already stopped reading in disgust) bear with me... It's like cream cheese frosting with any strong goaty flavours are relegated to intriguing undertones, I promise!  And it pairs up really nicely with a moist carrot and apple cake...

I found this idea after much aimless browsing of goat cheese recipes. It’s definitely not something I would have considered without guidance, but in for a penny in for a pound...  While I'm experimenting with frosting I might as well really experiment!

I’m afraid as ever I didn’t follow the recipe.  Even worse than usual this time because I forgot to take it home with me.  So  I tried to replicate this from memory of the title and picture mixed with a fair sized portion of imagination.  The results were (suprisingly) highly enjoyable.

I also ended up making two cakes so if you only want one, halve the quantities:

Preheat the oven to 180˚C.

Mix the oil, sugar and eggs until smooth and glossy. 

Add the grated apple and carrot and mix again.

Add the sieved dry ingredients, then the walnuts and mix until fully incorporated.

Divide the mixture between 2x30cm, lined cake tins and bake for 1 hour.  (If your oven is like mine you will probably need to rotate the tins in the oven half way through baking.)

Keep an eye on how brown the cakes are turning and if necessary cover loosely with foil towards the end of cooking.

Check with a skewer after an hour, it may need longer depending upon the oven.

Cook on a wire rack.

Once cool make the frosting: beat the chilled goat cheese in a bowl until smooth.  Add the chilled cream cheese and beat again until smooth.  Stir in the sieved icing sugar until fully incorporated.

This makes enough for cutting the cakes in half and icing the middle, the tops and sides of both cakes. 

Then cover the tops with two cups of chopped walnuts.

Apple and Carrot Cake (makes 2):
2 cups vegetable oil
3 cups demerera sugar
5 eggs
2 cups apple, grated – firmly packed
3 cups carrot, grated – firmly packed
5 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp mixed spice
2 cups of walnuts, chopped

Goats Cheese Frosting (ices 2):
600g cream cheese, chilled 
250g goat cheese, chilled
icing sugar to taste (I used approximately 300g)
2 cups chopped walnuts, decoration

Thursday, 21 July 2011

It’s the thought that counts

[Roche you’re not allowed to read this one until after your birthday...]

Disclaimer over:  Let me sally forth with a quick ARGHHHH... I’m stuck slap bang in the middle of Birthday/Wedding season and find myself perilously low in funding... why must you get older and live happily ever after people?  WHY!?

Today was payday and scarily, after rent and bills were deducted it’s only just inched me back to the right side of zero.  Having been stuck on this fine line between debt and credit for months now, you may have noticed I’ve taken the slightly depressing decision that everyone will have homemade presents - EVERYONE!!! OK, fine... not everyone – homemade gifts don’t tend to feature all that highly on wedding gift-lists. 

I may also have to still buy gifts for the soon-to-be nephew. There’s no way I’m risking being relegated to “the un-cool aunt who made me a keychain out of paperclips and rubber bands”... BUT apart from small unborn children and wedding presents: it’s DIY all the way.   Here’s hoping that people are going to see that effort = love... (Naive? Moi?!) 
[I solemnly swear to steer clear of any and all gifts constructed out of office supplies.]

Anyway, with my surfing partner-in-crime’s birthday coming up fast (next Tuesday - after the wedding I’m going to Saturday... DOUBLE ARGHHH) I decided to try and combine two things she loves: tomatoes and goats cheese.  I have found an interesting recipe for a cake with goat’s cheese frosting (more on that in a later post) so decided to try and do something new (for me – obviously I’m 20 years behind the rest of you worldly know-it-alls!) and make her a jar of sun-dried tomatoes.

Sadly my home grown tomatoes are FAR from ready (looks like another autumn of trying to cram green tomatoes into every recipe going – chutney, jam, passata...).  So I ended up using shop bought.  Also with a distinct lack of sun they’re more oven-dried than sun-dried but remember guys (all together now) – IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS!!

Preheat the oven to 220˚C.  Cut cherry tomatoes in half and place them cut side up in an ovenproof dish.

Sprinkle with the salt, sugar, and thyme.  Then drizzle with the olive oil.

Place them in the oven and immediately turn it off.  Leave the door closed overnight and (theoretically) in the morning you will have dried tomatoes...

Realistically, (probably my evil oven’s fault) they barely dried at all overnight.  So, if at first you don’t succeed... I tried again before work the next day.  And again that evening and then again over night!  FINALLY, we have liftoff!  I’m guessing that if your oven is well behaved (like all ovens should be) it would be a far quicker process!

For gifting purposes, I've popped them in a sterilized jar and covered them in olive oil.  I may even stretch as far as a big shiny bow...

20 cherry tomatoes
2tsp Maldon salt
¼tsp sugar
1tsp dried thyme
2tbsp olive oil 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Cookie Monster...

After a colleague’s throw away comment about soft-baked cookies last week I’ve been craving some oatmeal raisin goodness... a little bit spicy, a lot soft and chewy, and all wrapped up in the delusion that they're healthy! 

I'm forever thankful for the invention of American baking - I rarely use cookie or brownies recipes from anywhere else.  They always seem to end with delicious treats, minimal washing up and the oh so easy cup measurements mean no need to break out the scales (ideal!). 
I’m a firm believer in the Martha Stewart team when it comes to knowing their stuff about baking.  I’ve never tried a cookie or brownie recipe from their website which didn’t work.  These cookies I spotted when browsing for some soft-baked goodies didn’t disappoint... 

I was visiting the boyf. in Plymouth this weekend and decided I would bake a batch while I was down there.  Knowing full well that the boys' house would be very unlikely to own even the most basic of baking ingredients I ended up taking them all with me in a series of zip locks.  Just what you need on a five hour bus ride!  The cookies came out perfectly soft and spicy.  The two of us ate the whole batch within a day – definitely a good way to cheer up a rainy weekend in July...
Caught in the act - "testing" the cookie dough...
Preheat the oven to 180˚C.  Line two baking sheets with parchment (or as I did, grease and flour two sheets).

Cream together the butter, sugar and salt.  Add the egg, vanilla and water and mix until combined.

Mix the flour, oatmeal, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and mace/nutmeg.  I used small porridge oats because I love the flapjackesque (not sure the spell checker will like that one!) texture.
Fold the dry ingredients into the creamed butter and add the raisins, stirring until well mixed.

Using a 1½-inch ice cream scoop (I know I thought this was a strange idea when I first saw it too – it really does work though!), scoop the dough onto the sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake until the edges of the cookies just begin to brown (approximately 20 minutes).  If in doubt under cook rather than over cook - if they're in for too long then they lose the soft chewy texture.  Let them cool on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Back in London, cycling to work yesterday was cold and wet.  Having run out of cookies, I ended up making a second batch last night (obviously the first round of 12 cookies weren’t enough to quench the cravings!).  If this weather continues I may emerge from another month of summer the size of a bus...

I used a combination of oatmeal and porridge oats this time, they're slightly crumblier but equally delicious and now I can ride to work with the knowledge that although I'm getting soaked, I have desk cookies to look forward to!

125g butter, room temperature
1 cup Demerara sugar
¼tsp salt
1 egg, large
1tsp vanilla essence
¼cup water
¾cup plain flour
2 cups oatmeal/porridge oats
1tsp cinnamon
¼tsp baking powder
¼tsp baking soda
¼tsp mace
¾cup raisins   


Thursday, 14 July 2011

The fat lady sang...

Last night some friends and I went to watch the Royal Opera House's Cinderella on a big screen in Trafalgar Square.  After work, we arrived with glowering skies overhead (ahhh... the beautiful British summertime!) and a hotchpotch homemade picnic dinner in hand...  Everyone had made an offering: there were Cornish pasties, sausage rolls, cheese scones, scotch eggs and smoked salmon on seedy bread.  For dessert we had jam tarts and raisin scones with the mandatory clotted cream and raspberry jam...

One day I’m sure I will eventually develop some self-control, but until that time greed reigns supreme...  I ate more than my share of absolutely everything and am still stuffed just thinking about it.  In a very out of character revelation I’m considering skipping lunch!?  (...I must be unwell...)

We arrived at the free screening with a minimum of fuss... that is except for the slightly confused friend who arrived at the actual opera house instead of the free screening - informing the security guard he should let her in as (didn’t he know?) she didn’t need a ticket, this evening’s performance was most definately free!

Once we managed to get everyone in the right place (and after the ridiculing wore itself out) the evening turned extremely civilised – we’ve learnt a fair bit about being prepared over the years... and what an incredibly well stocked impromptu picnic we turned out!  There were gin and tonics, wine, picnic blankets, cutlery, jugs, crockery, inflatable cushions, warm blankets, waterproof ponchos...  Before the start of the performance, there was some group guilt as the area got busier and busier: we were surrounding a mountain of food taking up the space of at least three extra people.  But priorities are priorities!

Light supper for five...
I’m not sure the girls were particularly bothered about the music (more attention was plied to the lead lady’s back-fat than her singing capabilities) but thanks to an enjoyable picnic and some great “background music”  I might even be able to convince them to go again!

First preheat the oven to 200˚C.  Then, roll the pastry out until about as thick as a pound coin.  Cut circles however big you want your pasties to be, bearing in mind they will be half the size of the original template.  I made (very approximately shaped) circles about the size of a side plate; AWT suggests a dinner plate.

Cut the swede, potato, onion, carrots and meat into small dice approximately 5mm to ensure they all cook at the same speed.  

Mix all of the filling ingredients and season to taste.

Brush the edges of the circles with some of the beaten egg.  Arrange the filling on one half of each circle.  Fold the other half of the pastry over the filling and pinch then crimp the edges so that a seal is formed.  Try not to overfill; I wasn’t able to resist the temptation which meant pasties groaning at the seams... Not a pretty sight but possibly prophetic of how I feel today...

Put the pasties on a baking sheet lined with parchment and brush the tops with more egg wash.

Cook the pasties for 20 minutes at 200˚C and then reduce the temperature to 160˚C and cook them for another 40 minutes.  They can be eaten hot from the oven or eaten cold when left to cool on a wire rack to stop the pastry from going soggy.

450g shortcrust pastry
450g beef, trimmed and diced
1 large onion, diced
3 small carrots, diced
100g swede, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
175g new potatoes, diced
1tbsp thyme leaves
½tsp white pepper
A pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten (egg wash)

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Chocolaty Goodness...

‘Tis the season of constant celebration!  I feel as though this summer, most of my weekends have been booked up with either birthdays or weddings...  I spent last weekend near Chichester at a family gathering for my grandmother’s 90th. 

Being a bad granddaughter, I’m afraid I never quite know what to get her as a present – but one thing I do know is she has an impressively sweet tooth.  (She drinks the sweetest, of sickly, syrupy German wines and even then only if it’s been cut with a couple of teaspoons of sugar.) 

For most of our adolescence my brother and I relied heavily on gifting innumerable boxes of Quality Street (every single year - birthdays and Christmas)...  This year I regressed somewhat and decided to tread the chocolaty path once more, and made her a box of truffles.

After searching through several different recipes, I set upon one from the ever reliable Delia.   All I needed now was a gift box for them... easier said than done!  After much deliberation and searching through countless shops, I decided that the best port of call was to buy a huge box of Ferraro Rocher and eat the contents within the following three days to make room for the new occupants.  I can tell you, it was a trial...

I deviated slightly from the official recipe because I only read as far as the ingredients list and the first step before becoming distracted (as usual)... so this is more in the spirit of Delia’s recipe rather than following it to the letter:

Blend the chocolate in a food processor until it looks like coarse granular sugar. I know it sounds patronising but make sure the blender lid is properly secured - I wasn't holding mine down and somehow it worked it's way loose, flew off, and sprayed the whole kitchen with tiny melting pieces of chocolate... it got in the toaster, the kettle, the cutlery draw... EVERYWHERE!

Divide the butter and cream into three pans (one for each flavour).  Next time I would add slightly less butter as the truffle mixture ended up being very soft. 

Heat a third of the cream to simmering point, add an earl grey teabag and leave to infuse for a minimum of ten minutes.  Gently press the teabag against the side of the pan to squeeze as much flavour out as possible, and add the vanilla essence.

Add the brandy to one of the unflavoured pans of butter and cream and the orange zest and juice to the other.

Heat all three pans of cream, butter and additional flavourings until melted and at simmering point.  Remove from the heat.

Stir the chocolate into the cream/butter until it becomes smooth. 

Add the yogurt (I used crème fraiche)
and stir.  Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then pop in the fridge for a couple of hours to chill. 

I have made truffles before which set like concrete, because they chilled too much prior to shaping (read: chiseling) so I now check on the mixture every half-hour/hour to see how firm they have become.

Once firm (they should be the consistency of Nutella which is kept in the fridge) scoop out teaspoonfuls and place them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and return to the fridge to solidify further.

Place the truffle coatings on plates ready to roll the truffles in and line up the cases so you don't have to fiddle with them with chocolaty hands.

Next roll the truffle mixture in your hands (which have been coated in cocoa to try and control the stickiness).  This process (like pastry) needs to be done as quickly as possible with hands as cool as possible to prevent the truffles melting.

Roll the brandy truffles in cocoa, and the vanilla and earl grey truffles in vanilla sugar.  Once they have been rolled, leave them for 10 minutes or so and then roll them a second time to ensure a thorough coating (these truffles seem to be quite absorbent).

For the orange flavoured, chocolate coated truffles heat the milk chocolate and oil in a Bain Marie (use a small, deep bowl if possible) and allow to melt. 

If you have a sugar thermometer and would like a glossy finish to your coating you can "temper" the chocolate, this is done by heating the chocolate until it reaches 45°C then placing the bowl in cold water (stirring constantly) until it drops to 27°C.  Finally heat again until it reaches 32°C.

Dip the truffles in the melted chocolate coating, tap against the edge of the bowl so any excess drips off and then place on a baking tray lined with parchment, in the fridge to harden.  I ended up with golf ball sized truffles doing it this way and have since read a possible technique for a more delicate coating:  Roll the dipped truffles in the palms of your hands to make sure the coating is even, then chill to set.

You can reuse any leftover chocolate from truffle making/coating by chilling it until hard and then grating it to use as decoration.  You could either roll truffles in the grated chocolate or use it to sprinkle it over cakes etc.

Once the truffles have set, melt the white chocolate and drizzle over the top.

Store the truffles in the fridge in an airtight container and eat as soon as possible (Delia recommends within three days, most other recipes I found suggest 1 week).

Alternatively, truffles can be frozen. 

Take the truffles out of the fridge approximately an hour before serving (so that they have returned to room temperature).

On Sunday we doled out my grandmother's presents.  Having entered the world as the last of many siblings, she’s never grown out of being "the youngest".  Despite the fact she's about to become a great-grandmother, she seemed as happy as any small child when surrounded by all her swag... HAPPY BIRTHDAY NANA!!

Basic Truffles:
150g dark chocolate (minimum 75% cocoa solids)
150ml thick double cream
25g unsalted butter
1tbsp Greek yoghurt 

Vanilla and Earl Grey Truffles:
Add 1tsp vanilla essence
Infuse cream with earl grey teabag

Brandy Truffles:
Add 2tblsp of brandy

Orange Truffles:
Add 2tblsp of orange juice
Add the zest of 1 orange

Vanilla sugar
100g milk chocolate
50g white chocolate
A splash of groundnut oil

Other Flavor Ideas:
Rum – 2tbsp rum
Almond – 2tbsp amaretto and roll in chopped almonds
Peppermint — Add peppermint extract to taste, roll in finely chopped mint sweets (e.g. candy canes)
Lemon/Ginger – Add lemon zest and roll in finely chopped crystallized ginger
Coffee – Add instant espresso powder to the heating cream or substitute cream for equivalent measure of espresso shot
Raspberry – 2tbsp Framboise liqueur (use white chocolate)
Cherry – 2tbsp Kirsch liqueur (use dark chocolate)

Coating Ideas:
Vanilla sugar
Chopped nuts
Cinnamon sugar
Finely chopped crystallized ginger
Finely chopped dried fruit (e.g. cranberry)
Shredded coconut
Grated chocolate
Icing sugar