Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Feeding time at the zoo – messy messy messy!

It seems as though there's a cloud of mess following me wherever I go at the moment.  Just this weekend, if it wasn’t the magically multiplying beans from our new beanbag: Bertha, it was the baking and if it wasn’t the baking then, well, Fraser's weaning put the rest to shame!  

The bean bag was originally purchased as additional comfy seating.  For some reason we decided it would take up less space than a regular chair… ERROR!  

In fact not only is it much larger than originally anticipated but we actually don’t have enough floor space so it’s taken up residence on one of the original and much in-demand seats leaving us with less seating than we started with…

Unfortunately while filling her, 90% of the "beans" missed, flooding the floor.  The millions of small white Styrofoam balls quickly dispersed, ending up statically attaching themselves to us, the floor, the walls, the TV… you get the picture!  It was like something out of a low budget horror film…

Add to that an incredibly messy baking session...
making my sister-in-law some Mexican wedding cookies for her birthday (who knew flour’s so explosive?) and a nephew who is currently in the process of some serious Fraser-led weaning  (must remember not to encourage raspberry blowing at the dinner table).

We’ve discovered that not only does Fraser’s breakfast of choice form a concrete, gluey-substance stronger than any previously discovered... But also, when flicked from an unguarded spoon, it gathers serious pace, can cross incredible distances and no one (I repeat, NO ONE) wants to be in the firing line… Poor Bro’s blank-canvas magnolia walls don’t stand a chance...

No Fraser you can’t eat the camera!
What I needed was a no mess, faster than a speeding bullet, recipe for Pecan and Maple muffins... Enter stage left a recipe from the Hummingbird bakery book

DELISH!  They're not too sweet (which is always the danger when using maple syrup) with lots of crunch from the pecans. 

Fingers crossed that with a batch of these in the fridge, at least the kitchen will have a breif respite from the constant layer of flour and icing sugar coating every surface... but I pity whoever ends up climbing near me and my chalk bag this evening!

Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Preheat the oven to 170°C.

Place the flour, sugar, salt and raising agents in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

Add the buttermilk, egg and vanilla and mix until thoroughly incororated.

Pour in the melted butter and mix in.

Stir in half the maple syrup and the pecans. 

Spoon into the cases until approximately 2/3 full.  Drizzle with the remaining syrup and place a pecan half on top.

Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes until golden brown and springy to the touch.

Cool for a few moments in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

350g plain flour
160g caster sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
375ml buttermilk
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
70g unsalted butter, melted
240g pecan nuts, chopped (reserving 12 to decorate)
200ml maple syrup

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Pork-tastic Jubilee weekend

Congratulations Queeny... the double bank holiday was an inspired idea!  Who couldn't love you when you decree a four day weekend? 

Somehow I managed to infiltrate Rachel's family mini-break down in Barnstaple for a long weekend of surfing.  Luckily over the years I've become a dab hand at the "who me?  I'm just an additional daughter you'd forgotten you had" impersonation!

Friday night was a horrific slog down to Devon behind every slow moving camper van, caravan, farm vehicle and unicycle in the Northern hemisphere (ok so maybe we didn't see all that many unicycles) but once we arrived there was four days of sun (on occasion), surf (daily), and copious amounts of food (in a constant supply).

Bank holiday Monday we spent the whole day at the beach.  Rachel had already earmarked a pulled pork recipe she wanted us to try, the ingredients were bought, everything prepared and the car packed to go... now all we needed to figure out was how to programme the oven to turn itself off remotely while we were out.

Easier said than done!   

"Press button A with the clock picture on it."
"We don't have a clock picture..."
"OK well just press that button which looks like it's got an Egyptian hiroglyph of roadkill on it instead, we'll see if that works. Then press..."
"Now the oven won't turn on at all..."
"OK well turn it off at the wall.  Now: hold down Egyptian roadkill then press..."
"But everything's flashing and the time's disappeared..."
"OK then press the button which looks like a steaming turd, no not that one, the other one, while holding down..."

Eventually we cracked it.  We were at least reasonably sure that we weren't going to arrive home to cremated pork or a burnt down flat...

...Two surfs, a picnic on the beach, a couple of cheeky ciders in the Thatch's beer garden later and it was time to roll!

Preheat the oven to 240˚C.  Cut through the skin of the pork, approximately 1 cm deep with incisions approximately 1 cm apart.  Rub the meat all over (including in the scores in the skin) with salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme and nutmeg.  Pour over a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and continue to rub the flavours over the meat. 

Place the meat in a large roasting dish.  Pour 500ml of the cider around the pork.  Sprinkle the top of the meat with another pinch of salt.  Place in the hot oven for half an hour.

Once it has spent 30 minutes in the oven, turn the heat down to 130˚C and cook for a further half hour. 

Add the rest of the cider to the bottom of the roasting tray and cook for a further 6-7 hours.  Cover the whole roasting tray with a double layer of foil half way through the time.

Once the pork has finished cooking remove from oven.  Pull the crackling from the meat.  If it hasn't crisped up enough then finish it off (skin side down, layer of fat up) under a hot grill. 

Remove the pork from the roasting tray and put to one side. Skim off any fat from the juices left in the roasting tin. 

Blend the chillies, spring onions, spices, lime juice, ginger, garlic, honey and some olive oil.  Mix with the leftover cooking juices in the roasting tray.

Using two forks pull apart the meat and mix with the sauce in the roasting tray.  Tear over the coriander leaves.
Serve with the crackling, some spicy sweet potato chips and Levi Roots' Caribbean coleslaw...  PERFECT COMBO! 
Jamie Oliver's Jerk-Dressed Bristol Pork (serves 12):
Pork -
5kg pork shoulder, bone in and skin left on
1 large pinch dried thyme
1 large pinch dried rosemary
1/4 nutmeg, grated
1L cider
Jerk Salsa -
2 hot chillies
2 bunches of spring onions
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp allspice
3 limes, juice only
2" piece of ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp honey
1 large bunch fresh coriander

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Buttery Biscuit Base

This recipe started off life as an approximation of a Willie Harcourt-Cooze offering which was published (way back when) in the Sunday Times.  It was first made (with a few alterations) by my sister-in-law and was absolutely devine... 

Neither of us could get our head around using oatcakes to make a cheesecake crust so we both ended up substituting. She used chocolate digestives, I used ginger snaps... in my humble opinion (having tasted another friend’s version when she actually followed the original recipe) I would have to say I think we were 100% right in our choice! 

Oatcakes are not on my top-ten list of things to add to a cheesecake... Cheese board?  Perfect!!  Cheesecake... umm... NO!

Unfortunately we ended up eating this while it was still slightly warm from the oven because I had cheesecake cravings and there just wasn’t time to chill it properly. 

It was good but in a distinctly... ho-hum way.  BUT, the leftovers were polished off the following morning (after the correct recipe-specified amount of cooling down time) when it was... SO... MUCH... BETTER!!  As in: I think I'm in love with a cheesecake!  (How awkward)...

Despite my parent’s kitchen being a ridiculous improvement on mine (so much so it borders on the laughable), there’s still a distinct disadvantage of cooking when I visit them.  Namely: trying to keep recipe, ingredients and cooking implements all in one place from start to finish without them being whisked off and “tidied”.

Firstly I had to rescue the recipe cutting from Dad’s over-enthusiastic recycling binge, leaving me rummaging head first through my parents recycling bins before I could even head out to buy the ingredients. 

On returning and after a second search of the house, my face dropped when Mum owned up that she thought she might have composted it and suggested checking there...

Yes, I was definitely less inclined to rummage head first in there... Looks like the original Willie Harcourt-Cooze recipe is out and Lindsay’s free-styling recipe is in!

And so I started... Grease an 18-cm spring-form cake tin then line with baking parchment.  Turn your back on it for less than a minute to set the oven to preheat at 150˚C.  Turn back... baking parchment has been recycled and cake tin has been stashed back in its drawer... Start again.

Grease an 18-cm spring-form cake tin then line with baking parchment. Turn around and realise while you weren’t looking someone’s sneaked in and turned the oven off... 
Throw a screaming wobble and banish all golden-oldies (read: parents) from the vicinity... Take a deep breath and start a third time safe in the knowledge that when things go wrong now there’s no one else left to blame! 

Baked Chocolate Cheesecake

Preheat the oven to 150˚C.  Grease an 18-cm spring-form cake tin then line with baking parchment.

Combine the ingredients for the base of the cheesecake.  Press into the bottom of the cake tin to form an even layer.  Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes and then bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Set aside to cool on a wire rack while you make the rest of the cheesecake.

Beat together the cream cheese and quark until smooth.  Beat in the egg yolks one at a time.  Next, stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt and flour until smooth.  Add the 230g melted chocolate and stir until the mixture is a uniform colour.

Pour the mixture over the crust and cook for a further 50 minutes until set but still with a bit of a wobble in the middle.

Leave to cool completely until room temperature and then chill in the fridge overnight.

Serve with crème fraiche and blueberries.
Baked Chocolate Cheesecake

70g dark chocolate, melted
60g ginger snap biscuits, crushed
80g ground almonds
50g butter, melted

230g dark chocolate, melted
300g quark
400g full fat cream cheese
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla essence
Pinch salt
1tsp plain flour

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Colder than an Eskimo’s cold bits...

This weekend was mine and Rachel’s first surf trip of the year.  The thought of this got me through my first week back to reality in the office.  I (as I would imagine most people probably would) felt somewhat underwhelmed getting back to over 750 emails, all of which claiming to need URGENT attention!

Thankfully we’d planned for any post winter blues and decided to disappear off surfing at the earliest possible opportunity...

Rachel (bless her) has many and varied amazing talents - she's the consummate music guru to most of South-West London, a better surfer than me (not that that's hard!) and a hotty to boot...  But, apparently recognising red traffic lights or deciding which exit to take from any of the many, MANY roundabouts between London and Barnstaple doesn’t appear to be high on the list of her accomplishments. 

Becoming the neurotically nervous passenger in Rachel’s new “surfmobile” (named Coral or perhaps Jeff depending on who you’re talking to) wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for my weekend fun.  

In hindsight, it's arguable that I had a fair point... As far as I can tell, running a red light because “there’s so much else to look at” just doesn’t cut the mustard when you’re pulled over by the police... I ended up repetitively yelling colour coded instructions in the run up to every... single... traffic light in the vicinity... Which made Rachel don this terrifying face of concentration - It's like something you'd normally expect to find in one of the Terminator films!

Hunching up in the middle of a hail storm as we strapped our boards onto Coral/Jeff – should have been our first clue that we weren’t on course for a particularly warm and cosy experience. 

Clue number two should probably have been when everyone else in the car park was changing into winter wetsuits, gloves, boots and hoods: my peddle-pusher, ill-fitted, summer suit seemed like such a good idea at the time!

SOOOOO... COLLLLLDDDDDD... as in serious, ice-cream headache BRRRRRRRRRRRRR...

It is without doubt the coldest I have ever, EVER been (even if it did only last an hour)!  But SO much fun!!  We had to call it a day when I achieved an all new level of coldness and my arms refused to paddle any more...

Trying to get wetsuits off without being able to feel/move your fingers lent a whole new level of hilarity to the already farcical tradition of "the car park disrobe"...

Levi Roots’ Caribbean fish pie served up with his avocado and mango salad from this book was the taste of the tropical which we needed as a post-(baltically cold)-surf warm up!  Predictably we had to condense his recipe slightly as we were in need of some serious eats, but it still tasted AH-MAISON...

Preheat the oven to 180˚C.

Warm the milk and the thyme leaves over a gentle heat until boiling point.  Add the fish and turn off the heat, after five minutes remove the fish.

Melt 25g butter, add the flour and stir over a low heat.  Gradually stir in the warmed milk (from poaching the fish).  Stir in the creamed coconut until it dissolves into the white sauce.  Season with salt, pepper, coriander and lime juice to taste.   Stir in the spinach until it just begins to wilt. Gently stir in the fish so that it stays in bite-sized chunks.

Simmer the sweet potatoes for 8-10 minutes until soft enough to mash.  Mash with 40g butter, and season with the nutmeg, allspice, and salt and pepper.

Place mixture in an oven proof dish, top with the mashed sweet potato and dot with the remaining butter.  Cook for about 20 minutes until bubbling hot.

We served our fish pie with an avocado and mango salad.

Caribbean Fish Pie (serves 4-5)
600ml milk
1 sprig of thyme, leaves only
600g skinned haddock, cod or coley
100g butter
2tbsp flour
50g creamed coconut
lime juice (to taste)
bunch of coriander, chopped
250g spinach
900g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Ground nutmeg (to taste)
1 pinch ground allspice

2 avocados, sliced
1 ripe mango, diced
2 little gem lettuces, separated into leaves
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and blanched in boiling water
2 sprigs thyme, leaves only
Juice of 1 lime
Olive oil
(garnish with coriander leaves - optional)

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


So... maybe it’s been a while?  Ok, more than a while... Maybe four or five months (gulp!)... I apologise, I really didn’t mean to ignore you. I was just initially too distracted by depressing moody blues to contemplate food and fun and then I disappeared up a mountain to hibernate and snowboard...

But now winter is over and I’ve returned from my (slightly longer than your average) snowboarding holiday with a new lease of life - I promise to do better...
Here’s to a summer full of surfing and to a poorly thought out plan for escaping to the mountains by next winter!

Friday, 6 January 2012

What... 2012 already?

So, hang on a minute - Christmas and New Year’s are over?  Already?!  Huh... who’d have thunk it?  Doesn’t time fly when you’re concentrating on consuming more calories per hour than you’d usually consume in a year...

Christmas is nothing if not a time of excess in the Duncan household... there was more food than we knew what to do with (and trust me it takes A LOT of food before the Duncans start feeling overwhelmed)!  

We’d filled every available surface, cupboard and container in three rooms AND the garage before the voice of reason (read: Mum) finally suggested we stop. Every time anyone left the house they seemed to arrive back with bags full of provisions, and that’s not even counting the stream of deliveries!   It was glorious!!

The whole Christmas period seemed to be over before it began... I keep feeling like I need to run home and knock up endless batches of biscuits, or put the finishing touches to Fraser’s fast growing menagerie (monkeys, puppies, pigs, ducks... you name it, I’m pretty sure I’ve tried to fashion it out of an old pair of socks).  But no: there’s no decorating, no wrapping, no cooking... NOTHING! 

...Well almost nothing.  I’ve impulse booked myself an additional week of snowboarding out in the south of France the week after next – If we’re honest it was the only way I was going to get through January sane.  How incredibly foolish of me to think I’d last until March before I’d succumb to the call of the mountains.  It was never going to happen... especially with this much snow - I can’t wait!!!

Anyway, I’d like to say that ever since the Christmas excesses I’ve been on a healthy New Years diet of raw fish and steamed vegetables... or is it steamed fish and raw vegetables?  Either way I’m afraid not!  Goodbye Christmas dinner... hellooooo LEFTOVERS! 

OK so the photos aren’t so good but you have to give me some leniency – these were baked after new years and I was feeling pretty delicate...

Preheat the oven to 180˚C.  Butter the cake tin, line with baking parchment then add a second layer of butter over the top of the parchment.

Cream together the butter and sugar, add the eggs and vanilla and mix.  Stir in the dry ingredients until just incorporated.  Add the mincemeat and mix so that it’s evenly dispersed. 

Bake for approximately an hour in the centre of the oven, it’s done once a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Once done, cool in the tin for 10 minutes.  Then cool completely on a wire rack.  Once cooled, dust with icing sugar. 
Mincemeat Cake: (8” spring-form round tin)
150g butter, room temperature
1 2/3 cups plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp salt
1 cup Demerara sugar
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
2 cups mincemeat
Icing sugar