Saturday, 31 March 2012

Banana Toffee Pudding

Today's recipe is another from CBeebies 'I Can Cook'.  I know certain people will be horrified by my choice of this recipe as it is rather heavy on the sugar content.  But, because I am a sensible mummy and feed my child a healthy, balanced diet (when I can!) and as a reward for her choosing to eat the remainder of yesterday's Flash Loaf (another Dan Lepard recipe), I let Miss A loose in the kitchen to make Banana Toffee Pudding.

Not the most photogenic pudding ever
It's basically a take on a traditional sponge topped pudding - the kind of thing I used to get as a child for pudding on a Sunday.  It makes me a little sad that life has changed and we don't have a traditional family dinner around the table at Sunday lunchtime.  That said, I don't really like roast dinners enough to eat them every week and it's a lot of effort to do for just two - especially with all the washing up.  We probably have about two roasts a year in this house - one of them being Christmas dinner.

So as a little family bonding exercise, I decided to allow this treat.  Because it's a kids recipe it makes four small portions and with the high sugar content I don't think even an adult could eat that much (well there are times when I probably could eat the whole thing myself!).  To balance all the naughtiness out, I served it with low fat Greek yogurt (good source of calcium for my milk-hating child) and fresh strawberries - one of the five a day and the slight acidity worked well against the sickly sweet pudding.

Had my sous chef not eaten one of the bananas during prep, I'd've also served some fresh chopped banana with it.  But I could hardly complain, could I?

Pass me a spoon, someone!
The base of the pudding is toffee sauce.  My latest and greatest food find is Bonne Maman Confiture de Caramel.  Basically Dulche de Leche or Toffee Sauce but in a screw top jar rather than all those annoying tins of caramel that the shops seem so keen to peddle.  They're fine if you need the whole lot for a recipe, but if you only need a spoon or two, as in this case, you have that old half-opened-tin-of-something-stuffed-in-the-back-of-the-fridge-and-then-it-eventually-gets-knocked-over dilemma.  Or is that just me because I'm a bit of a slummy mummy?  Anyway, caramel in a glass jar is a winner.  I just have to resist taking the jar and spoon to a secret corner when I'm having a bad day.

My sous-chef's new skill of the day is banana chopping.  I love watching her develop her fine motor skills.  To start with, the poor bananas were just bludgeoned to a pulp but a bit of input from mummy and we ended up with arty chunks.  In they went on top of the toffee.  The sponge is a simple, even mix of flour to butter to sugar to egg (70g of each).  I adapted the recipe slightly to fill my pie dish so used 100g of each, an egg and 30ml of milk to slacken the batter off.  Then it's just into the oven at 180c for 35 minutes (in my case as I used a deep dish).  And out came a light, fluffy sponge with a banana flavoured toffee base.  Perfect.

This is a lovely little recipe to make with little ones as a special treat.  There are loads of different skills involved and the result is a definite crowd pleaser.  Well for most of the crowd.  Someone actually only managed three toddler spoonfuls of pudding because she actually preferred the strawberries.  Big respect to my child and her good food choices :o)

One small point of note.  If cooking several things at the same time, make sure the pudding is on the lower shelf with a tray underneath as the toffee in mine tried to make an escape.  Miss A had toffee flavoured Pussy Pieces (home made fish fingers) for her tea...

Recipe - adapted from CBeebies I Can Cook

Serves 4
  • 100g butter, softened
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 30ml milk
  • 2 bananas
  • 3 tbsp toffee sauce

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/Gas 4.
  2. Oil the sides and base of an oven proof dish.  Place on a baking tray and add the toffee.  Lay the banana slices on top.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the beaten egg and mix well.  Mix in the flour, mixed spice and the milk until well combined.  Scoop the sponge mixture into the dish on top of the bananas and smooth out with a spatula.
  4. Place the dish in the oven for 25-35 minutes (depending on the depth of your dish) until the sponge is well risen and springs back when touched.  I turned the heat up for the last five minutes of cooking to get a nice crispy top on mine.
  5. Serve with fresh fruit and yogurt.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Dan Lepard's Flash Bread

I've been writing this post in my head all afternoon, but now it's come time to put fingers to keys (so sad that it's not pen to paper), I still haven't quite formulated it into a coherent ramble.  Originally I was going to waffle on about looking through the archive of the past six months in my phone's gallery with Miss A this afternoon, but then I decided on a whim to make bread and that post has a definite subject.

Late afternoon snacking, the civilized way
You see, a few days ago, Miss A and I stopped for a drink and a snack in a Sainzlebob's cafe.  She won't drink milk but thinks babyccino is coffee like mummy's and it's a game I'm happy to play even if it is a slightly expensive way of getting calcium in to her.  As she was hungry and had already consumed my stash of grapes and the emergency organic gingerbread man, I helped her to choose a cheese scone (rather than a cupcake or chocolate croissant) believing that I was making an okay choice as a frazzled mother. But then I decided to tweet a picture of the event and got taken by surprise.

I received a tweet back about then potential content of Sainsbury's cheese scones and the useful information that they contain an ingredient that can be used to make wallpaper paste.  Very true.  We have yet to make pasta pictures with flour and water glue, but it's something I did many a time in my childhood.  My mother was never concerned that my innards would be glued together.  And I've made it to my thirties so she was right.  But rather sadly, that one tweet of mine taken out of context sparked a defensive streak in me.

Potatoes, vinegar and yeast.  Yummy!
If I'd been feeding her turkey twizzlers and blue smarties (on the same plate because I'm classy like that) I could have understood a bit more.  Or if I'd tweeted a picture of her in McDonalds or sucking on Fruit Shoot like so many other toddlers, I wouldn't have minded so much.  But what's so wrong with a cheese scone?

Really, deep down it sparked the simmering guilt that this mission of mine to broaden my family's food horizons isn't working as well as I had hoped.  Miss A is going through a fussy phase - at one time for weeks she'd only eat pasta with cheese and yogurt and fruit.  Slowly but surely, we've moved back to eating bread and meatballs and peas and this week baked beans have been added to the list.  But it's been hard work.  The number of times I've slaved over making some uber healthy, toddler friendly recipe only to have it tipped onto the floor with a cry of 'pasta Mama' exceeds the number of fingers and toes that I have.  Honestly, I try.  In fact, Miss A is offered far better food than either the husband or I get.  She just refuses to eat it.

Back when I first started weaning her, we did baby-led weaning.  None of your faffy puree stuff and I made darned sure that she had fresh home-baked bread daily, no chocolate, sweets or cake in her diet.  Because I was totally in control of her environment.  But now, with the influences of the time she goes to nursery, her awareness when we're out and about and interaction with peers plus a strong will means that food battles occur frequently and my standards have slipped somewhat.  These days I'm happy that she chooses something savoury rather than me having to deal with the tantrum that ensues when I tell her that no, she can't have chocolate or no, she's had far too much fruit or cheese for one day.  And it rankled that someone who doesn't know me and how hard I work both in and out of the home should dare to question my parenting skills.
Fresh from the oven, so tempted to rip it apart

Of course, the comment was well intentioned if misdirected (she admitted that her own nephew's grandmother could do with some lessons in healthy toddler food) and badly timed.  But after a lot of sulking, it did guilt me into remembering that now Miss A is back eating bread, I should make more of an effort to try and bake more than once a week.

Which is why I chose Dan Lepard's Flash Loaf.  He claims that with some ingenuity, you can have a freshly baked loaf, cooled and ready for slicing in just two hours.  I would say that's a little wide of the mark because there's the weighing and measuring (10 mins if you include gathering ingredients and equipment); two lots of kneading plus three ten minute rests; shaping and then a 20-30 minute rise and 40-50 minutes in the oven.  At the extreme end of those times, you'd take the full two hours to get it onto the cooling rack.  But, from a man whose sourdough takes two weeks to make, this is a fast loaf.

The recipe calls for potatoes and vinegar plus five teaspoons of yeast (slightly shy of two 7g sachets) to kick start it in addition to the usual flour, salt and water.  There is no specification for the type of potatoes or vinegar to use.  If I'm honest, these two ingredients leant the bread a faint aroma of chips once it was cooked - only if you put your knows right up to the loaf mind you, but chips all the same.  You can see from the picture that it had a lovely crunchy crust and the insides were beautifully soft and doughy.  I found the bottom to be a little damp and so popped it back into the oven for five minutes once I'd turned it off and it was starting to cool down.

Fairy princesses eat delicately...
I don't know if the type of vinegar or choice of potato (I used regular malt and bog standard baking potato respectively) would make any difference to the flavour.  They did make a wonderfully textured loaf that you just can't get with my two-hour loaf recipe, but I can't quite get my head around eating this loaf toasted and slathered with jam in the morning.  Four fruit marmalade and chips anyone?

And for a toddler who hates chips (yes, they do exist, I own one!) Miss A wolfed the bread down like her life depended on it.  And as my white flag of truce, I shared a picture of her snorfing the bread down with the lady who rankled my inadequate mummy feelings.  Will I make it again?  Perhaps.  I need to spend some time reading up on the theory section of Short and Sweet to see if there is any advice on best vinegar or potato types.  I did really enjoy it but feel that it is best suited to certain dishes or meals such as part of a posh ploughmans or with lots of lovely picnic savouries, whereas my bog standard white loaf is a bit of an all round crowd pleaser in this house.  Or I might stick to Dan's own easy white bread recipe which I tried before as part of this challenge.

Give it a go and see what you think!  The recipe I used is from Short and Sweet, but it's also on the Guardian website.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Lil Ms Squirrel's New Petits Pots au Chocolat

Over the years, the husband how to read the signs that I will give in and let him have a takeaway for tea.  Frazzled is usually the best sign and as this occurs on nearly a daily basis, he probably gets away with it far more often than he should.

Today was one such day.  After a full on day at work and a childcare crisis that the husband had to deal with as I was forty miles away presenting a project close-out to the board, the idea of not having to cook two separate meals - or even one - really appealed.  Of course, once I gave in, this left me without a recipe to try.  And with only thirty minutes to research one that I had the ingredients for whilst we waited for the takeaway to arrive, my options were limited.

So, I decided to try re-inventing one of my own staple recipes.  Many years ago, I adapted a recipe for petits pots au chocolat because I found the chocolate flavour too intense (this was back in the day when chocolate choice was limited to Dairy Milk or Bournville - yes, I'm that old!).  The recipe called for melted dark chocolate to be mixed with egg yolks and then whipped egg whites to give a light and fluffy mousse.  In my wisdom, rather than using milk chocolate, I decided to lighten the flavour by adding copious amounts of whipped double cream.  And very nice it is too.  Although you can feel your arteries hardening as you eat it.

From 100g of chocolate, three egg yolks, four egg whites and 300ml of double cream you can make two lard-arse portions or with other ingredients, turn it into a really nice dessert to feed four.  My usual dessert recipe contains the mousse layered with brownies and cherry compote.

But for a while, I've been thinking about getting the recipe back more to its original state but retaining some of the richness of the added cream.  So tonight, with a fridge full of half used pots of Greek yogurt, I figured I'd see if I could make something slightly healthier.  I also wanted an excuse to use the little espresso cups the hubby bought me for Christmas back in 2005 and that I'd forgotten about.  They're perfect for presenting mini desserts in.  Expect to see them appear on the blog again before the year is over.

I began with 40g of 70% dark chocolate, which I melted in the microwave on a low temperature until it was just melted but not too hot.  On our 700 watt microwave, this was 40% power for 4m 30s.  And in doing this, it meant I didn't have to wait for it to cool before I beat in the yolk of one egg.

Whilst the chocolate had been melting, I whipped two egg whites until they formed soft peaks.  I then added a tablespoon of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture to slacken it off, before pouring the chocolate mixture into the bowl of egg whites and folding with a metal spoon until just fully combined.  Finally, I added two rounded tablespoons of low fat Greek yogurt and mixed.  I probably could have added more to make the dessert go further, but I wanted to get the richness of the dairy, without that tang you get from yogurt.  At this level, the tang didn't come through.  I'm sure a bit of experimentation on the ratios will find the tipping point in the taste - it's a tough job, but I'll force myself to taste test it one day in the future.

An hour of setting time in the fridge, and voila, a perfectly light, creamy chocolate dessert - enough to satisfy a craving without the heart-attack inducing effect of my original recipe.  Mostly because the mixture fills two espresso cups, which you can't fit many calories into anyway.  Of course, it's highly adaptable and lends itself to being flavoured either with spirits or by using a flavoured chocolate in the first place.  A mint fondant bar would work well, as would a spiced orange flavoured one.  I'd also like to try using chilli chocolate or the one you can get that's laced with sea salt.  The possibilites are endless and the prep time is minimal - probably only seven or eight minutes, plus chilling if you're well organised.

So after six months of blogging, this is the first recipe from me to you rather than me trying someone else's recipe, which is technically not what I started out to do - but then the Greek yogurt in my mousse makes it a new recipe to me.  Happy eating!

Makes 2 espresso cups-ful

  • 40g 70% chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1 large egg separated plus 1 large egg white
  • 2 rounded tbsp low fat Greek yogurt

  1. Whisk the egg whites to soft peak - this is the point when the bowl can be turned upside down without them sliding out.
  2. Mix the egg yolk into the cooled chocolate until glossy.
  3. Add a tablespoon of the whisked eggs to the chocolate and mix to slacken the mixture.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the remaining egg whites and fold gently together using a metal spoon until just combined and there are no traces of egg white.  Fold in the yogurt.
  4. Pour into a piping bag (it makes filling tiny cups easier) and pipe into the espresso cups.
  5. Chill for an hour before serving.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Updated: Mary Berry's Lemon Yogurt Cake

A couple of weeks ago, this cake was cake of the week for the Weekly Bake Off.  Sadly, I missed out because being that it was Miss A's epic five-day birthday celebration, there just wasn't enough time to make any more cake.  Well not when you have a full time job and a toddler to look after too.

My work colleagues barely spoke to me that week.  For a few hours, every question seemed to be answered with just a grunt or a shrug.  It took me a while to work it out, but finally I realised that they'd gone from enjoying cake as a treat to expecting it.  So based on the reviews this cake got from the bake off, I decided that this will be my redeeming bake to regain some of the friendliness.*

Work in progress
On any given day, my favourite flavour cake varies.  Lemon or a decent coffee cake are definitely way up there.  Lemon cake is the very first cake I actually remember eating.  We were on holiday in Wales when I was about four and stopped in a little tea room run by a lady called Dulcie in a place called Solva.  The cake was beautifully moist and had snow white, lemon-sharp icing which crackled as you put your fork through it before softly yielding to the cake.  And being it was the very early eighties, it was adorned with lemon jelly slices.  I don't think I've ever eaten such a memorable piece of cake since.  Maybe I never will.

If I'm making lemon cake myself, I normally use a four egg sponge, laced with lemon zest and the juice of a lemon.  Once baked and cooled, I then slice and fill it with lemon curd (it will always be home made curd since I tried Nigel Slater's recipe) and top with a thick royal icing made with lemon juice rather than water.  And of course, lemon jelly slices on the top.  It's retro-chic.

My other top lemon cake recipe is the Hummingbird Bakery's Lemon Loaf from the original Hummingbird Bakery book.  I've made this countless times and it always turns out really well.  I think once it didn't rise quite as much as normal but the bake was still fine.  Although I've given my mum this recipe and after three attempts, she's never managed to get it to work for her.  They all went in the bin (and she's a trained chef!)

And then, of course, there's now Maria's Lemon Celebration cake to add to this list.  It formed the base of Miss A's birthday cake and I really enjoyed this.  To the point that I may make it my regular large lemon bake instead of my four-egg mix.

Hummingbird Lemon Loaf
For once, I made this cake entirely by hand rather than with my Kenwood.  Mostly because I had to bake after tea and this is the husband's telly-watching time when all other noise is banned.  So no chance of getting away with the noise of the Kenwood.  It was actually really satisfying to bake in this way.  I've always had a hand mixer even before the Kenwood but it was really nice to cream the sugar and eggs and whip the egg whites with only the most basic of utensils.  The old fashioned way.  In fact, that's one thing I like about Berry's recipes.  Unlike the current fashion for insisting that one must mix their cakes in a stand mixer or not use the recipe, Berry simply tells you to beat or mix or whisk without insisting you have expensive gadgets (okay so this is my own interpretation of certain books, but there does seem to be a bit of snobbyness in some books if you don't have the exact right equipment).

So this cake has a lot to live up to.  I could smell it baking away even though I'm two floors up from the kitchen.  And it's smelling pretty good.  Just as I was about to click publish, the hour of baking was up and I have a perfectly risen, nicely browned cake although the crust feels a little firm and I'm so tempted to put a drizzle over it.  But I'm having faith in the Berry that it doesn't need it.

Fresh from the oven
Of course, because I had to bake so late I won't be able to ice it before bed time as I doubt it will cool down before I go to sleep.  So final pics will have to come in the morning.  But if you want to get an idea of how it does look, hop over to the Weekly Bake Off and look at all the stunning entries there.  Mine will never look as stunning as those because I'll have to decorate it at 5am and it's for a bunch of guys who won't care that it doesn't look fancy so long as it fills their bellies.

If you want great advice on baking this yourself, you should also take a look at Jaim's Kitchen where she has written about her experience with this bake.  She tested it for breakfast which I think is an amazing idea and I may just do myself.  Just for research purposes of course.

Will update tomorrow with a finished pic and the verdict from the hungry hoardes.

Update: 29th March 2012

Well that's the last time I'm taking cake into work.  I couldn't give it away!  Okay so I got stuck in a meeting and by the time I was liberated, the office was pretty much desserted so half of the cake came home with me again.  I've still not had a bit but those that did said it was really good.  It looks to have quite a dense texture but was much moister than I was expecting as it felt quite crusty when I took it out of the oven.

As for the icing, well I'm back on my rant that Miss Berry is tight on the icing front.  I went for 25% more icing and this still wasn't enough in my opinion to get a thick even coating to the cake.  If you look at the picture, you'll see that the poor artificial lighting in my kitchen exposes the lack of icing coverage in place.  I would definitely use a bit more in the future to get a perfect white coating.  Definitely a bake again one.

* Okay, I fibbed.  I revealed the lack of cake during the lunchtime bakery run so the sulk lasted the five seconds it took to choose something else from the vast array in the bakery :)

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Lorraine Pascale's Quiche Lorraine

This wonderful hot weather just screams out for summer food.  I'm struggling to get my head round the fact that it's too warm to still be wearing opaque tights and that my feet are in desperate need of a pedicure so I can wear flip-flops.  I planned my recipes last week without much consideration for the weather forecast and so have been faffing around trying to switch to recipes more suited to the heat.

Egg Cracker in Chief, whisking the filling.
At about 10am this morning, I suddenly started craving quiche.  Most specifically, my grandma's quiche Lorraine.  She'd always make it for dinner in this weather with a nice crunchy salad.  Except I never learned her recipe from her and it's another thing that makes me more than a little bit sad that I didn't pay more attention when I was younger.

I remember the look - deep filled with chunks of rose-pink ham or bacon and mottled with golden brown toasted cheese on the top; the taste - salty with the sweet taste of soft onions; the texture - firm with the right amount of wobble and melt in the mouth pastry.  But I wouldn't know how to recreate it if my life depended on it.

The only time I've tried to make a quiche before, I proudly stepped back from the oven, baking tray in hand; tripped over one of the dogs and before I knew it, my beautiful leek and feta quiche had been inhaled by my spaniel.  I swear he put the dachshund up to it!

As Lorraine Pascale was sat on my desk (not literally - I was working from home and I'd been leafing through Baking Made Easy at my computer last night), I decided to give her quiche Lorraine a go.  She uses creme fraiche rather than milk and cream for the filling so this gave me the opportunity to eliminate a few calories by going for the half fat version.  She also doesn't use cheese, which is interesting.  A little research revealed that despite all of the BBC Good Food recipes using cheese, the original quiche Lorraine didn't have cheese in it.

Badly patched pastry. I need more practice.
I made my own pastry using Lorraine's recipe.  I've still not cracked pastry making as it was too crumbly. My mum tells me that I make really good shortcrust pastry and it's always nice and short; but I never manage to get that beautiful perfect edge to it as it always breaks off round the edges when I try to put it in the tin.  Maybe I just needed a smidgen of water?

Pascale also uses two egg yolks in the pastry.  And if I'm honest, I didn't like the eggy taste to the pastry when it was cooked on its own in isolation (I rescued a couple of broken edge pieces from the oven).  But it tasted good once assembled.  Likewise, the egg mixture tasted really bland on its own but it worked with the salt-sweet bacon and onion filling.  Because I didn't have quite enough creme fraiche (the recipe uses 430g, I had 300g) I used some Greek yogurt which seemed to make no difference. This had the added benefit of further reducing the calories. Something I cancelled out when I wimped out and added 50g of cheese - half parmesan, half double Gloucester - to the mix.  My flan tin is probably only 2cm deep so I didn't end up using all the egg mixture to fill the case.

I was a little worried that I'd end up with an eggy mess because not only did my pastry start cracking once it was baked blind, I'd also pricked the bottom of the case.  My mum has always instilled the need to do this in me to stop the pastry from puffing up.  I didn't think until after I'd merrily pricked a pretty pattern into the base of the case that the egg might run out everywhere.  Thankfully, with the creme fraiche and yogurt, it was a pretty thick mixture so it stayed put.  And my bottom wasn't soggy.

Rustic looking quiche - is quiche peasant food?
The final result was a really pale looking pie and if I'm honest it looked really unappealing.  After then going out for a run, it looked even less appetising when I came home.  Which is a shame as the flavours are beautiful.  It would look great on a plate with a vibrant coloured salad, but just as a quiche on its own, it's really pale and sad looking.  Of course, that's the traditional look, but if I was really going for my grandmother's style, I'd sprinkle cheese over the top next time.

Definitely one that will evolve to become my own recipe over time.  I just need to remember to be a bit more vigilant checking for bits of shell when my helper is doing egg cracking :)

You can find the original recipe here.  This is my adaptation of it.

Serves 8–10

For the pastry

  • 250g plain flour
  • 125g cold butter, cubed
  • 2 egg yolks
  • pinch of salt
  1. Rub the butter into the flour in a large bowl until it resembles bread crumbs.  Add the salt.
  2. Add the two egg yolks and bring the mixture together to form a firm dough.  Add a tiny splash of chilled water if it seems too dry.
  3. Pat to a flat circle about 2cm thick and place in the fridge for thirty minutes.
  4. Remove from the fridge for five minutes and use for the recipe below.
For the Quiche
  • 1 quantity of pastry using the above recipe or 500g of shop bought short crust pastry
  • 1–2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion peeled and finely diced
  • 4 rashers of thick cut smoked back bacon diced
  • 300ml half fat crème fraîche
  • 150ml Greek yogurt (I used full fat in mine as it was all I had but I'd try with low fat next time)
  • 25g Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 25g Double Gloucester cheese, grated
  • 4 eggs lightly beaten
  • Freshly ground black pepper
23cm fluted flan dish or tin about 3.5cm deep

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170C fan gas 5.
  2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to just under the thickness of a £1 coin. Lower the pastry into the tin or dish and ease down into the sides and corners.
  3. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes, or until firm. (oops, I forgot this bit!)
  4. Once the pastry is firm, remove it from the fridge and trim the edges: using a sharp knife, cut off the excess pastry around the top of the tin then run a small sharp knife around the edge between the pastry and the tin to loosen slightly.
  5. Take a piece of baking paper slightly larger than the tart and scrunch it up, then unscrunch it and line the tart with it, taking it right up the sides. Fill it with baking beans or dried beans and ‘blind bake’ in the oven for 20 minutes, until the edges are light brown and the base is dry to the touch. Remove the baking beans and paper from the pastry case, then return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Turn the oven down to 150°C /130C fan/gas mark 2.
  6. The filling can be prepared while the pastry is baking. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a low heat, add the onion and fry until soft and translucent with no colour. This can take a good 15 minutes. If the onion looks as if it is drying out, just add a splash of water water.
  7. Add the bacon to the pan, turn up the heat slightly and cook for 5–6 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to the base of the flan dish.  Sprinkle the cheese over.
  8. Place the flan dish on a flat baking tray. Whisk the crème fraîche and the eggs together gently in a large bowl, then season with pepper. You will not need any salt as the bacon and chese is already very salty.  Pour the mixture into a jug.
  9. Slide the baking tray into the oven, pull the oven shelf the tray is on out slightly and pour the egg mixture into the case.  This stops you spilling it trying to get a full flan case into the oven.
  10. Bake in the oven for 30–40 minutes, or until the filling no longer wobbles.
  11. Good to eat hot but best eaten cold, giving the mixture a chance to settle. Kept in the fridge it tastes even better the next day (apparently - I'll find out at tomorrow teatime).

Monday, 26 March 2012

Day 183: Halfway! Aubergine, tomato & Parmesan bake

So here I am at the half way point.  Or rather at the start of the second part of this challenge.  This is my 186th post - I've double blogged on three days.  Back when I first came up with this idea, one sunny day back in September, I'm not sure I really believed myself that I would get this far.  I know the husband didn't think I'd make it past the first week.

I'm not sure what's been more challenging - the recipe selection, cooking something from scratch every single day (okay some days have been a bit lame) or the writing about it.  Nor am I sure whether I have enjoyed the eating or the writing bit more.

Sunrise snap on my phone whilst out running
The scope has certainly changed over the six months as I've gone from an idea of getting my family to eat a more varied diet (still on my radar, but very challenging) to trying new things myself (haggis, cooking squid, making laminated dough for danish pastries) and fattening up my colleagues with an array of baked goodies.  Some days, I'm really excited about trying new recipes whether it's something completely new or a twist on an old favourite.  Others I just crave the idea of having a bit of toast with cheese for my tea (never cheese on toast as I don't like it) but duly cook something new and write about it.

I've also (as regular readers will know) have taken to whittering on about the trivialities of my life.  This isn't a traditional food blog as I'm not selling you my own recipes, instead, I'm kind of reviewing someone elses and in a roundabout way documenting how that fits into my rather busy life.

Having hit 8,000 views in six months a few minutes before writing this post, I am truly amazed and humbled by the interest people have shown (lots of this has come off the back of me Twittering).  I only hope that you've enjoyed reading and will continue to visit - especially because the husband reckons I won't make 16,000 views by the end of the next six months.

One thing I do love is lists of random things so here are ten things about me and my blog

  1. The first and second most popular posts on this blog are about recipes by Lorraine Pascale.  Number one is her chilli (which I didn't even post the recipe for) and number two is her salmon and sweet potato fishcakes
  2. The third most popular post (so far) is about Eric Lanlard's banana fritters.  I blogged about this, Eric retweeted me and it had 124 page views in just over 12 hours.  The power of social media.
  3. My oldest cookbook is 365 Cakes and Desserts by Ebury Press which I choose as for my reward at a school prizegiving aged eleven. I've never cooked anything from this book although it's been pored over many a time.
  4. My favourite book by far is Short and Sweet. Every recipe just works and turns out beautifully.  Everyone thinks I have 'mentionitis' when it comes to Dan Lepard. But it's an amazing book, and Dan is really friendly and helpful too. Follow him on Twitter!
  5. I am a little bit addicted to any recipe that has chorizo in the title
  6. BBC Good Food website is my saviour when I have random ingredients and need an emergency recipe
  7. Haggis isn't actually that bad.  Just so long as you don't think about what goes into it.
  8. I need to be more adventurous over the next six months - and I will cook something with liver and kidneys and not just buy them and then cook them for the dogs when they've reached their expiry date.
  9. The reason why people select to read certain posts seems entirely random.  The presence of pictures or the lack of a recipe (and no link to the recipe) doesn't deter people from reading.  Sometimes even posts with chocolate in the title have had less of a glance than ones about squid. I find this interesting and would love to do a more detailed statistical analysis if I had the time. I'm sad like that.
  10. I sometimes don't know when to stop typing :)
Really rubbish picture of a tasty meal
Anyhow, I really wanted to do something special (like Lorraine Pascale's Mini Beef Wellingtons or Dan Lepard's Sour Dough) to celebrate the half way mark, but in the excitement of a sunny weekend and all that, I forgot it was the 26th until I was driving to work this morning.  By which time I'd already had to resort to Good Food for a recipe to use up the aubergine I randomly bought with my shopping this week.  So all you get tonight is Aubergine, tomato & Parmesan bake or a version of Melanzane Parmiagiana.  I must confess that I've tried another, similar recipe before and wanted to compare like for like

I enjoyed this one, but prefer the other one more as it uses stringy mozzarella.  It was simple, tasty, easy to make although I'm not sure the egg topping did the parmesan any favours as it went crunch rather than melting but it tasted good so that didn't matter so much.  And if the husband hadn't been off scouting edgy photography locations, it would've been a great meal to have in the garden as the sun set with a glass of white wine to celebrate.

The only downside is that it really didn't photograph that well.  When I tried to cut it with the serving spoon, it just all came out in one big, gloopy, tomato and cheesey mess.  But it's not all about the presentation.  So to make up for it I've included a picture of the sunrise from my early morning run the other day.

Right, I need to stop now so here's the recipe - knock yourselves out.  

It's all downhill from here-on-in!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Weekly Bake Off: Apricot Swiss Cakes

I've wanted to give these a go ever since I first got my floury mitts on a copy of Mary Berry's 100 Cakes and Bakes ready for the Weekly Bake Off.  The cakes are actually more biscuit-like and reminiscent of a Viennese whirl; the slight difference being that you pipe them into a cake case rather than onto baking sheets before sandwiching with jam and cream.

Trying to capitalise on the good weather and the clock change keeping Miss A asleep 'longer' than normal, I started my cakes at 7.30am.  I finally got them baked at about 3pm.  Why?  Well the recipe calls for soft butter.  The lovely @EversNanaJules tweeted me last night and said to make sure my butter was very soft.  I thought that in this weather, how could it be anything else?  I obviously didn't fully comprehend just how soft the butter needed to be.

With a lot of arm flexing, I finally got the ingredients into some semblance of a paste.  I then discovered I was down to my last disposable piping bag.  At this point, I should have sensed impending disaster.  Maybe I crossed a lone magpie on my run this morning and didn't salute him or something.  The mixture went into the bag but wouldn't come out again.  Well not until the side of the bag slowly bulged and split.

Now I've been using Lakeland Disposable Piping Bags for a couple of years.  And up until recently they've been great.  But when icing Miss A's birthday cakes, I went through six or seven of them just to do two colours.  Maybe a dodgy batch or something - the rest of the roll had seemed okay.  But because of this, I didn't have a back up bag.  Well I did - the Lakeland Silicone Piping Bag which I bought off the back of it being the easiest ever piping bag to clean.  They lie.  Try scraping anything that is more than 5% butter off of it and seriously, you'll understand me.  It's been in the cupboard since the first time I used it which was shortly before I switched to 'sposies.
Afternoon tea, al fresco

In desperation, I thought I'd try it again, but all that happened was that it went all bulgy, then the nozzle blew out whilst the cake mixture stayed put.  Great.  I lost nearly half my mixture in the two piping bags, because it was just to sticky to scrape off.  The silicone bag is now off to a landfill somewhere.

Finally, I braved Sainsburys - only because Miss A's new 2-3yr swimsuit was too short in the body for her and I had to swap it.  I managed to pick up some 'sposies from there and the texture of the bag is great.  Nice and thick and I couldn't imagine it splitting, but they're so tiny.  Which in some ways is good because I used to get frustrated about wasting the big bags for a small amount of mixture, but it meant I had to attempt to refill the bag half way through piping.

To get things moving, I added about 25ml of milk to slacken the mix off a little.  It was still hard to pipe into perfect circles as the mixture is quite thick and if you touch the case, you then end up with the case spinning round in the tin whilst you try to pipe around.  I guess that practice would make perfect, however, nice as the cakes are, I think I'll stick to Viennese whirls as I love the jam and buttercream combo.  Plus after all of the stress of trying to pipe the darn things, in all but four of them, most of the piping just melted back in on itself and although you could see the swirl, it wasn't as defined as I would've expected.

The other issue I had was that it said to use fairy cake cases and a bun tin.  I have a bun tin, but do you think I could get fairy cake cases for love or money?  Nope.  Cupcake cases, muffin cases, mini muffin cases, petit fours cases, mini cupcake cases but no traditional fairy cake cases.  Or maybe everyone in my locality is participating in the Weekly Bake Off and so consequently there's been a run on fairy cake cases?  Who knows. Anyway, it meant that I needed double circles in my smallest muffin cases to get them to rise to the top and the ones I did in cupcake cases just looked a bit lost.

Starting to wonder if I'm just jinxed at Mary Berry cake recipes or something...??

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Thomasina Miers Chorizo, Potato and Thyme Quesadillas

I saved a life today.  Okay so not a human life, but the life of a sheep that had become stuck in a lake.  I just hope the sheep has gotten over the trauma.  Do sheep become traumatised?  I'm not sure.  She didn't look too stressed, and just spent most of the time bleating pitifully but I hope she's now back grazing happily with her fellow sheep.  I will think of her while I try to fall asleep tonight.

So how did I find myself in this situation?  Well every time it's sunny, this is how the day will go in our house.  I get up early.  I always do.  Despite moaning that I never get a lie in any more, I used to really have to battle with myself to stay in bed past 7am pre-child.  So this scenario has played out many a time over the past seven years, just with slightly different variants.  Anyhow, I got up.  The child got up.  We went to Sainsburys to buy almond essence (Ocado no longer sell this which is REALLY annoying).  We get home.  The husband is still in bed.

At 11.23am, he finally surfaces, forages and slopes back upstairs to surf the interweb.  Miss A has her lunch served on the dot of midday.  The husband appears at 12:02 and demands to know what we're doing for the rest of the day.  A discussion ensues about how it's now too late to go on a long distance trip to the coast; we couldn't do it anyway as we can neither leave the dogs or take them with us (two high octane dogs and a toddler outside of the house is just plain stressful); and a reminder from me to him that no matter what I suggest, he won't want to do it anyway.

He slopes back upstairs.  I email a list of suggestions.  He appears thirty minutes later and announces that we'll be doing none of the above and that we'll go to our usual pub for lunch and then to the local lake for a walk.  An hour later, we finally get out of the door, lunch and then go for a walk.

Sheep don't they?
Getting to the edge of the lake, we notice a sheep wading about three feet from the bank.  She's bleating pitifully and you can quite clearly see where she's tried to get out but failed as the bank is just to steep for a sheep in a sodden fleece.  Passersby stop and tell us she's been here for a while.  I ask what anyone's done about it.  Nothing comes the reply.  They all stand around staring whilst I try to keep Miss A from jumping in because she has a new obsession about wanting to kiss sheep.  This is bad enough with the sheep in the field, but she is particularly hung up on this wet sheep.

Still nobody volunteers to dive in and help her out (the sheep, not Miss A!).  She won't come close enough to the bank for anyone to try pulling her out now she has an audience.  People start to drift away muttering that she'll get out in her own time.  I wasn't convinced.  So being a good citizen, I whipped out my phone, found the number of the stately home the lake belongs too and put in a call to the Lord of the Manor who promptly dispatched the shepherds to rescue her.

What bothered me about this was that most people have internet enabled phones these days and nobody else cared enough to hasten the sheep's rescue.  Years ago, on an early morning drive through the New Forest with a friend, we happened across a foal racing around in the road as it had become separated from its mother (she was stuck behind a fence) and it didn't know how to get back to her.  My phone was a primitive Nokia.  Yet a couple of calls and we managed to get in touch with some Forest Rangers who came and helped us to capture the foal.

Hasty picture of tasty quesadilla
It may only be just a sheep and people may think 'Oh well someone else will do it' but seriously, in a world of instant communication, it takes just a few minutes to help these hapless animals.  At least I can go to bed with a clear conscience and not worry that if we go back tomorrow, there will be a carcass in the lake having its eyes pecked out by crows (this was the husband's suggestion - he has a thing about crows).

Anyway, all this drama meant that my plan for Melanzana all Parmiagana went south so I needed a quick storecupboard recipe to knock up for tea.  I made the aforementioned quesadillas which I've been meaning to make for ages but have never gotten round to doing so.  They were pleasant enough and would make a great snack.  You definitely need to use old potatoes for this.  I had new ones to hand, but they were more greasy rather than crisp.  I served the quesadilla with some tomato sauce that was left over from last night's pizza with some chilli thrown in to give it the necessary kick to go with the Mexican theme.

Really quick, really easy and a great way to get through a pack of flour tortillas.  I always end up throwing some away (I know, I should always make my own!).  Before my toaster blew up the other day, I'd often stick folded wraps in my toaster and stuff them with salad and cheese or hummous but I'd never thought of dry frying them with the filling inside.  Opened up lots of potential.

The recipe is on the Guardian website and comes from Mexican Food Made Easy.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Dan Lepard's Pizza Dough

Fool that I am, I decided that tonight would be beer and pizza night in the Squirrel household.  The seed for this idea was planted when Ocado suggested that I might like to try a bottle of Spicy Apple and Rhubarb Magners.  I should've stopped this plan dead at the point of reading Magners.  Instead I was seduced by the rhubarb bit.

I love rhubarb and adore Cawston Press Apple and Rhubarb juice.  I figured that the Magners might just be an alcoholic version of that.  How wrong was I?  I'd've done better leaving a carton of the Cawstons to ferment (no chance of that in reality, it's too nice to waste).  The Magners tasted like gnats pee with some unidentifiable synthetic flavouring in it.  Disappointed and a waste of £2.29.

However, the seed grew into a plan.  If you've read my 'Food Bloggers Unplugged' post, you'll know that I don't like pizza.  I'm not really sure why this is.  I like bread.  I like cheese.  I just about like fresh tomato sauce.  I like the toppings.  But together?  It's never really done it for me.  I know back in the eighties my mother used to try to bribe me to eat those horrible frozen pizzas.  But even with the explosion of pizza restaurants and their varying qualities of pizza, I will still without fail go for the pasta option or make do with the salad bar.  Or go hungry.

But having ordered the husband some Peroni and been repeatedly bombarded with tales of homemade pizza joy on Twitter, from @Tarb2010, @HollyBellMummy and @JBoylie to name but a few, I decided that I'd treat the husband to home made pizza to go with his beer.

Use the artichokes (top right) for perespective. It was huge!
When I'm away from home, he just about manages to feed himself thanks to the fact that Dominos now have an online ordering service so he doesn't have to speak to anyone in the entire process, nor have to figure out how to use the oven.  Prior to this, he used to phone me to ask me to phone the takeaway to place his order.  In fact, if he wants Chinese, he still does this.  And if I don't answer my phone, he'll phone my mother (assuming this is where I am) to ask her to tell me to order his Chinese takeaway.  I sense much eye-rolling from many readers.  I'm wondering how many (male) readers are thinking 'I wish my wife would do that!'

Of course, my next failure was to wimp out when he asked what was for tea.  Having spent the afternoon lovingly nuturing Dan Lepard's finest pizza dough recipe, when the husband asked what was for tea I said 'Well you can have homemade meat feast pizza or chicken and pesto pasta'.  He went with the latter.  I knew he would.  But I couldn't bear the long face if the pizza hadn't worked out.

I shouldn't have wavered in my faith in the master of baking however.  The dough turned out brilliantly.  Although it didn't brown quite as I expected, it had a lovely, crispy golden bottom, the edges were puffy and light and had just the right amount of chew to them.  I topped it with my home made tomato sauce and to show the husband what he was missing, I forewent my planned topping of chicken and marinated artichokes with Parmesan shavings in favour of tiny meatballs, Brunswick ham and Unearthed Hungarian Pepperoni.  From now on, I like this pizza.  And I have enough dough left to make the chicken and artichoke one for tomorrow.  The husband really missed out but that's his loss.

The recipe is from Short and Sweet.  I know I keep banging on about this book, but every recipe I've tried has just worked and tasted fabulous.  I don't think I can say that about many other cookbooks that I own.  I've adapted the text of the recipe here, but you really should buy the book because not only does it give you the recipe, it tells you how you can vary the method such as making a slow-rise dough or a sour-dough version.  I love that you get this extra info because it teaches you how to safely tweak without necessarily inciting disaster.

Anyhow, this is how I made my pizza

Pizza Dough

600g 00 grade flour (the type used for pasta dough)
400g warm water (I always weigh my water as the lines on my measuring jug have worn off)
1tsp dried yeast
1.5 tsp table salt

Place the flour in a large bowl.  Add the salt and yeast, taking care to keep separate in the bowl (apparently the salt can kill the yeast) and then mix until combined.  Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and then pour in the water.  Stir to make a sticky dough.  Cover and leave for 30 minutes.

Tip on to a well floured board, knead lightly for 10 seconds (this really works) and then pop back in the bowl and cover.  Leave for thirty minutes.  Repeat the kneading and rising twice more.  After the final knead, cover and leave to rise for an hour or so until doubled in size.  If you need to leave it for more than two hours before use, cover and place in the fridge.

Tomato Sauce

1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 tsp dark soft brown sugar
1 tsp Maldon sea salt (or regular table salt)
1 tbsp Garden Gourmet Basil or other herbs of your choice.
1tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp olive oil

Heat the oil in a small saucepan and fry the garlic gently for about a minute.  Pour in the tomatoes, add the sugar, tomato puree, salt and herbs and leave over a low heat for about 30 minutes (stirring occasionally) until reduced by about a third.  Season to taste.

To make up the pizzas

Heat the oven to 220c/200c fan/425F.

Divide the dough into five or six pieces and shape into circles (or wonky circles if you're like me). Make sure you leave a rim around the edge that is higher than the middle.  Place about two tablespoons of the tomato mixture onto the dough and spread around the middle indentation.

Add toppings of your choice, sprinkle with mozzarella (I went a bit mad with that) and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Enjoy! (Just not with a bottle of Magners Spiced Apple and Rhubarb!)

Thursday, 22 March 2012

BBC Good Food Spicy Chickpeas

Every so often I go through the head space that I need to eat healthily because I'm fat.  It's usually after some event or another - Christmas, Easter, general bad times.  I stop running and I start eating too much of the wrong thing.  The two things always go hand in hand.  If I'm running, I'm perfectly okay with an end of day treat of four squares of Green and Blacks.  If I'm not running, I'll just eat the whole bar there and then.  This happened yesterday with a bar of almond chocolate.  I hate myself for it.

Over the years, I've used Graze boxes (this is not a sponsored post!) to deal with my snacking needs when I'm on a health jag.  They're great and I love the idea of getting random 'treats' sent through the post.  Except they're expensive and in this new world of semi-thrift that I inhabit, they don't really fit into the budget very well.  So, I decided on a bit of a whim this evening to look into making home made snacks of my own.

After just one experiment, I've concluded it would be simpler to run more and eat less cake/chocolate/crisps (which is a general no brainer).  I happened across a recipe on the Good Food website for spicy chickpeas.  In a chickpea shell (see what I did there?), you bake a tin of chickpeas with a few spices for half an hour et voila - you'll never want another bag of crisps again.

Sadly, they're not peanuts.
Au contraire mes petit pois.  Actually, I really would rather run and then go without this snack.  Maybe I'm just fussy or I didn't cook them right but I had a weird combination where some chickpeas were still soggy - despite roasting at 200C for 30 minutes; some had a hard outside and a squashy middle; and none of them tasted like anything other than lumpy hummous (or rather chickpeas with seasoning).  Really not my idea of a tasty snack.  I'm going to road test them on Miss A tomorrow to see if I can convince her to like them so they don't go to waste.  If not, I know what the dogs are having for tea.

Of course, not all home made 'diet' food is so rubbish.  I've found two good, healthy(ish) snack recipes since doing this challenge - the first being Kale Chips and the second being Guilt Free Brownies.  But at the end of the day, for me it's definitely everything in moderation and lots of running.  And getting over the denial that I'm no longer in post-race recovery mode and I need to lose some serious weight ready for my next half marathon attempt.

Therefore, I declare the month from the Tuesday after Easter 'Healthy Eating Month' on the blog.  More veggies, less butter, less cakeage.  What a fun month that will be.  *Pout*

Anyway if you want to try the recipe, you'll find it here.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Hummingbird Bakery Black and White Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

Cake envy.  It's not a good emotion.  And it's something I'm guilty of breeding in my office.  I'm sure those of you who bake have experienced this.  Once upon a time, I only used to bake for my work colleagues on high days and holidays.  But since starting this blog, baking for the office has become an 'easy win' way of ticking off one recipe a week (and meaning at least one day a week, I can eat a normal tea, rather than having to eat something new).

Since January, I've been seconded onto a project at one of our other sites.  I've made lots of new 'friends' at the new office because I am the bringer of cakes.  I have known informal meetings to be interrupted because someone has spotted an email on their Crackberry proclaiming there to be homemade cake on my desk.  And at times, I've used cake as an incentive to coerce my colleagues from my home site to attend meetings at the new site (if senior management are reading this, they'd've come anyway - and the sugar they consume makes them more productive!)

But now the cake envy has started.  My regular colleagues get emailed pictures of whatever goodies are on offer just to make them jealous.  My project manager has been bragging to an old colleague of mine who now works at another site about how much cake he's been plied with over the last few months (and there's not an ounce of fat on him - I dislike him very much for this!)  Said colleague is now not speaking to me.

Unusually today, a plan was in place to visit my home site and take the weekly bake with me.  I forwarded pictures of the cake, but when the meeting was cancelled, I got a short shrift from my colleagues saying the cake didn't look like it was anything special anyway.  I know that's just pure cake envy because they always taste good, even if they're not aesthetically pleasing.

For every friend I've kept through baking, I have a feeling I alienate those who aren't lucky recipients.  I post pictures of my baking on Facebook and every time, my stepdad hopefully comments that he'd like to get some next time I visit.  Invariably he's out of luck because it's been shared with someone else instead.

I get cake envy too now I idle away so much time on Twitter, but it's certainly broadening my cake eating horizons (and my bottom!)  I love looking at the fabulous baking other people tweet about.  There is such amazing baking talent in this country, I seriously don't know how supermarket cake survives.  I don't think I'd ever be envious of that.

Anyway, enough waffling and on to the bake.  Interestingly I baked this after watching the Baking Mad episode on tray bakes.  The recipe calls for the base to be mixed using a mixer, but the lovely Mr Lanlard says "...shouldn't be using mixers, shouldn't use too many pieces of equipment, if it's too sophisticated or elaborate, it's not a traybake any more..." so it was all mixed by hand.  This had the added bonus of not annoying the husband who hates my mixer nearly as much as he hates Manchester United.

I also had a bit of an issue with my local Waitrose.  For a tiny Waitrose Local (or whatever they call it) it has an excellent selection of food.  But they don't sell cocoa.  Do the people of my town not bake or something?  I can buy it in my local Tesco Express, but not in posh old Waitrose! (I'm not posh, it was just supposedly convenient)  I have complained about this so hopefully it will be rectified shortly.

Whilst re-reading the recipe, I realised I messed up and used baking powder rather than bicarb which meant my base was a little more puffy than it should've been but no less tasty.  In fact, I don't normally like bicarb in things because whilst I know it has a purpose, I can always seem to taste it and I find it sometimes spoils my enjoyment of the cake.

This may also be why the bits of crumbled dough on the top seemed to leak a little bit of butter grease across the top of the cheesecake but it tasted fine. I also think the direction to keep 1/4 of the dough to use in the topping is excessive.  I probably used only half of this

You need to make sure you bring it to room temperature before serving although it doesn't say this in the book.  I found it really hard to cut and was worried that the base would be all horrible and dry, but a couple of hours in a tin on my desk and it was all lovely and fudgy again.

Very popular with the natives who are big fans of brownies.  I'd probably bake again, but my favourite Hummingbird Brownie recipe is their Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie - you can find that recipe here.

Recipe: Makes 12-15 generous bars (adapted from Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days)

For the base

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 420g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 380g plain flour
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the topping

  • 80g good quality white chocolate
  • 300g full fat cream cheese (ie Philadelphia)
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 egg

  1. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix until well incorporated.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa, bicarb and salt.  Tip into the batter in two batches and fold in until well combined.  You may need your hands to bring this together as it's more like a firm dough than a batter.
  3. Reserve about 1/5 of the dough for topping and put in a plastic bag and refrigerate.  Line a 23x30cm baking tray with parchment and press the remaining dough into the tray and allow it to set in the fridge for 20-30 minutes
  4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 170c/150c fan/325F/Gas 3.
  5. Remove the base from the fridge and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cool completely in the tin before adding the topping but keep the oven on for cooking the finished cheesecake.
  6. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.  Beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth (don't over mix as it can split).  Add the egg and mix thoroughly, then stir in the melted chocolate.
  7. Spread the mixture onto the cooled base, crumble over the reserved dough in large pieces.
  8. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the cheesecake has set.  Cool completely then refrigerate for a few hours.  Cut into bars and bring to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Eric Lanlard's Banana Fritters

My fridge is currently full of half opened jars and packets and little bowls of leftovers.  I really need to get better at using stuff up.  And saying that this challenge precludes me from doing so is a really lame excuse.  But sometimes, blue tinged buttercream isn't particularly useful.

With being thrifty and not wasting things in mind, I decided to tackle the issue of a ramekin full of chocolate ganache from last week's Hummingbird Bakery Cupcakes.  I probably should've turned it into truffles or just frozen it.  But it has been sat in the fridge and the cream it was made from goes out of date today so I have had to force myself to find a recipe to use it up.

Two of my five a day?
Said recipe is from an episode of Baking Mad with last week (although personally, I don't class this as baking).  Eric had me rapt the second he mentioned banana fritters.  This is something that my mum used to make for me as a child at Easter when she was making home-made fish and chips on Good Friday.  She always used a fresh yeast batter for this but thankfully Lanlard's recipe uses store cupboard ingredients.

Because I was only making this for myself, I had to reduce the recipe down (it serves six and I'm sure I could've managed the lot) and used just a sprinkle of the spices.  The flavours worked really well with the rum in the sauce.  I'm wondering what it would be like with malice instead of plain rum.  I feel more testing coming on!  

I did find I needed more milk in the batter, but this may just be because my flour was 'thirsty'  The test fritter was really stodgy.  Tasty, but stodgy.  So I added probably added another 2 tbsp of milk (I made half the quantity of batter).  

The dipping sauce used the same ratio of ingredients as I already used for my ganache so I just warmed what I had in the microwave until it was runny and then stirred in a teaspoon of rum.

Seriously, this is a really simple and decadent dessert and great for anyone who loves bananas.  And it's great for sharing.  The warm sauce was lovely with a couple of strawberries dipped in too - just for that healthy factor.

The recipe can be found over on the Channel 4 website, but I'll post it here because I know sometimes their recipes disappear after a show has ended.

Serves Six
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 30g golden caster sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 litre vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 6 bananas
  • Golden icing sugar, to dust
For the chocolate dip
  • 125g dark chocolate
  • 125ml double cream
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp dark rum
  1. In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, spices, sugar and lemon zest. Make a well and add the egg and the milk a little at a time, mixing well until you get a smooth batter. Leave the batter to rest while you make the chocolate dip.
  2. To make the chocolate dip, place the dark chocolate in a bowl and heat the double cream in a saucepan. Pour the hot cream over the dark chocolate and stir gently until the chocolate has melted. Add the butter and keep stirring until glossy, then add the rum and mix well.
  3. Heat some vegetable oil for deep frying in a deep fat fryer or wok to 180°C. Cut the bananas in half lengthways and half again horizontally. Dip the banana pieces into the batter and coat well.
  4. Gently place the battered banana pieces into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Lift out and drain on kitchen paper, then dust with icing sugar and serve with the chocolate dip.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Prawn and Chorizo Skewers

What makes you choose to cook someone else's recipe? Is it the glossy, photography in the beautifully bound book?  Or if you're a blog fiend, would you choose a recipe where the person has had the time and patience to photograph every step and then spend endless amounts of time photographing the final product (unlike me who will take a quick picture before diving in face first).  Or do you pore over the index wondering what recipe will fit the ingredients that you have to hand or fancy?  And if you find what you're looking for, turn to the page and find it pictureless, would you still make it?

I ask because tonight's recipe test came from a book called 4 Ingredients (sic) - Special Garden Gourmet Edition.  It came free from Ocado when I purchased two tubes of Garden Gourmet herbs.  The book states it's value to be £9.99, yet if I'm honest, I wouldn't give it a second look unless it was free (as it was) or if it was on sale in my local discount book store for a couple of pounds.  Why?  Because it's all text and no pictures.  Call me fussy, but I generally like to see what I'm going to make before I make it.  And I honestly only picked this recipe in sheer desperation because I had all the ingredients, having earlier consumed the greek yogurt that I had forgotten I needed for tea tonight.

Take my plan to bake cake to ply my project manager with this week.  I've been flicking through Cake Days from the Hummingbird Bakery this evening.  Every recipe I've looked at has been accompanied by an arty picture of the product.  There are plenty of pictureless recipes in the book, but they've not garnered a second glance.  If, however, I ever find myself with five spare green eating apples and in need of cake, I might give their Apple Crumble Cupcakes a go - but only because I'd've looked through the index for an apple recipe.  I only looked at this recipe because I needed an example to support my current train of thought.

I realise that my blog is more a 'I tried this recipe, and this is what I thought' than me selling you my own creative talent so I'm not really sure if my photos matter or not.  I have tried to take a picture of the product of every recipe.  Some posts have several pictures (not always of the cooking process!) but none of them will make the average person go 'Wow, I really really want to make that'.  I would imagine (maybe I'm wrong here) that when reading my blog, people look for the thumbs up or down with the picture as secondary information.  Plus my pictures are more how the average cook who doesn't have several hours to artfully photograph their creations can achieve.  Don't get me wrong - I love food photography porn as much as the next person (especially that posted by @HarbourHussy on Twitter - seriously her posts should come with a warning message first) but I have neither the time nor the artistic bent to take great food photos.  Maybe that should be next year's challenge?

Anyway, back to today's recipe.  Such a simple recipe probably doesn't deserve such a lot of pontification, but I love to waffle so waffle is what you now have.  As I said, I lacked the greek yogurt to try the tandoori prawn skewers from the March edition of Good Food (and my cucumber had gone mouldy too) so instead I went with this prawn and chorizo option.

Just a quick camera phone picture - better than nothing!
It sounds pretty straight forward.  Slice the chorizo into rounds, fry for a minute on either side then thread onto skewers, wrapping a prawn around each chorizo slice.  But a lack of picture left me wondering do I thread the stick straight through the centre of the chorizo round so it's flat or do I thread the stick from one edge to the other so the chorizo is upright?  I went for the flat option, but when I then came to cooking the skewers, the prawns were lifted up off of the heat from the pan so didn't cook properly.  It would've worked well on a barbecue as the chorizo would've been partially below the bars, but in a flat pan, it just didn't work.

The trouble is, threading hot chorizo onto skewers was hard enough when poking the sick straight through the flat face, but as my slices were quite thin, to do edge to edge would've been even more fiddly and this was supposed to be a simple recipe.   A picture definitely would have helped solve this dilemma, but alas, free books are usually made on the cheap.  It was a good recipe for something that only had four ingredients - you make a dressing out of olive oil and some Garden Gourmet Italian Herbs - and it tasted appropriately summery to match the lovely sunset that happened this evening.

Will I make it again?  Yes.  Will I make anything else from the book?  Only in sheer desperation for this blog.  I doubt I will ever pick the book up again once this year is over.  Which might be a shame and it might be sacrilege but when time's tight, I want minimal effort to be put into seducing me into choosing a recipe.  Maybe I'm missing out...?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Dan Lepard's danish pastries

If you love baking and don't own a copy of Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard, then why not?  It's the one cookbook that I bought on recommendation, have never regretted buying and don't know anyone who has a bad word to say about it (other than that the cover could be a bit more robust).

Or maybe it's because you are a Guardian reader and follow Dan's column each weekend?  No?  Then next time you're celebrating a birthday/anniversary/Hallmark holiday you really must stick the book on your wish list.  Or at the very least buy the Guardian (or read Dan's online column - it's the cheapest option!)
Pre-baked - looking pretty good

I first happened across Dan when I was looking for a recipe for proper soft baps.  The husband doesn't like anything crunchy and so a lot of Googling (this was in my pre-blog and pre-Twitter days) turned up a rather involved recipe to deliver a home made version of that preservative-filled supermarket staple of which the husband is so enamoured.

Several hours later, I served up the baps, only to be told they were too sweet.  For once, I'll give him that.  They were too much on the sweet side to be suitable for the savoury pap the husband would eat in them.  But then again,with the right filling, the slight sweetness might have worked really well.  All in all though, the recipe was easy to follow, and the bake delivered exactly what it said it would.

Which is why I love Short and Sweet and why I'm so happy today with the lovely danish recipe published in last week's Guardian.  I've been so excited about trying this recipe since Dan tweeted some pics a couple of weeks ago.  And after my disasterous attempt at laminated danish dough just before Christmas, the thought of a Dan Lepard recipe that delivered fresh chocolate danish straight from the oven was almost too much for me.

Rather than using a cold sheet of butter, Lepard's recipe is more like making rough puff.  The butter goes into the dough mixture in 1cm cubes and then you proceed with three lots of rolling and folding times three plus chilling.  Simple maths.  Except when I read they were quick and easy, I neglected to realise that this still meant it was quite a long process.  There's an hour for the sponge to bubble, three lots of rolling and folding plus 3 x 30 minutes of resting, shaping, rising and baking.  So still nearly four hours effort if you're really quick at it.  And more if you've a stroppy toddler to feed and dress in the middle.
When Dan says 'Roll them tightly' he means roll them tightly!

That said, the effort truly is minimal.  The recipe worked like a dream and my only problem was with the shaping.  I didn't roll them tightly enough and ended up with a bit of a chocolate escape.  They also could've done with a bit longer baking because they browned really quickly so I took them out before they burned.  I should've just trusted the Master's timing and left them for five minutes more.

I only used half the dough to make my four chocolate danish.  The rest is in the fridge so I can have a go at something else (apricot danish) on Tuesday morning for breakfast (and so I can see if the dough keeps well enough for 48 hours).  I would also recommend using a 50 or 60% chocolate.  I went for 70% and it was a little too dark for me.   Plus I'm not sure if Dan eats a lot of the chocolate while he's shaping the danish, but I probably only used about 50g of chocolate for four danish (and these leaked everywhere).  Dan recommends 200g for eight.

The instructions are excellent as always and I was so chuffed that after tweeting Dan to check that I could use 00 pasta flour (Ocado only sell some fancy schmanzy organic stuff and I didn't have time to hit Sainsburys this week), not only did he reply but he also posted my comment on the Guardian website.  What a star.  If only all chefs/bakers/authors/journos were like him - the world would be a happier place.

I think everyone should try this recipe.  It may be lengthy but it's pretty foolproof.  And it's fully worth it - you'll never put up with supermarket danish again.  You can find the recipe here.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Thomasina Miers' Mexican Tomato Rice

A few nights ago, I tweeted that I might have to curtail the blog due to the husband's displeasure at my cooking antics.  If you're a regular reader, you'll know we don't live in a world of champagne and roses (who does?) and much as we love her, like many older first time parents, things have been strained since Miss A appeared in our world.

The 'rents came to take Miss A out today for a birthday trip to Longleat, with the added bonus of giving me and the husband some time to ourselves.  It's been about six months since we were last in this situation.  Of course, things didn't go to plan and after a few toys were thrown out of prams, we got on to having a discussion about why the husband gets so fed up with me and my blog.  Apparently it's because we don't spend much time together and he doesn't like that some nights, I'm still cooking my tea when he's finished his.

Miers' Tomato Rice
I countered the argument with the evidence that he starts whining at about 6.30pm that he's hungry.  At this point, I still have around an hour of Miss A's bedtime routine to complete so sometimes, it's just easier to cook his dinner first to keep him quiet and then do mine and the lunchboxes for the following day at my leisure.  I didn't realise he valued my company at the dinner table so much - especially because (as he will readily admit) he's normally glued to the Premiership/Championship/Champions League/Europa League/FA Cup/Carling Cup/La Liga/Serie A/Bundes League.... at tea time.

It's now been agreed that if I tell him that I won't be eating with him, and that I don't get in the way of him loading the dishwasher or making coffee when he's finished dinner then it's okay for me to continue.  I can live with that - if he doesn't mind me interrupting the football to impart this information.

Unity restored, we went out for a late lunch and ended up pottering around the local vintage shop.  The husband is a photographer and one of his offerings is Vintage Pinup-style photography so we are always on the look out for fun props and items of clothing.  Because I have an hourglass figure, I love fifties style fitted shift dresses but I'm never brave enough to wear anything too extravagant.  However today, I found a big, floppy seventies hat in my favourite colour which perfectly matches my favourite Mary Janes and compliments my seventies-style winter coat.  I just had to have it.

'To be sure...!'
Even though it's a winter hat and it was a little to warm for it, I decided in my wisdom to wear my new purchase for the rest of our outing.   I got a few odd looks.  Being as self-conscious as I am, I wasn't sure if these were looks of amusement or admiration but I kept on wearing the hat because the husband said it suited me.

I got home and decided to tweet a picture of my fab new find.  And then I realised what all those looks were in aid of.  I looked like a bloody leprechaun.  On St Patrick's Day.  I mentioned this to the husband and he nearly died laughing.  Trust me, at the moment, it takes a lot to provoke his lips to even curl in an upwards direction and the level of belly-laughing that emanated from him made it quite clear that he'd realised this while we were out and was amusing himself by letting me wear it.

And so there ended my plan to further celebrate St Paddy's day with an Irish recipe.  Instead, I decided we'd have fajitas for tea and I'd have a go at making Ms Miers' tomato rice.  The husband normally  has a pack of Uncle Ben's tomato rice with his and I've been looking for a good recipe to replace his reliance on packaged food for ages.  This seemed to fit the bill.  I don't have anything against the ingredients in Uncle Ben's per se as there are supposedly no nasty additives.  It's just blooming expensive for a bit of rice.  The cost can be anywhere from £1.39 up to about £1.99 (ignoring the supermarket offers).  One packet is supposed to serve two.  The husband eats one to himself.  I'm sure Miers' recipe cost about £1 for four generous portions.
Nothing artificial - except the package

Best of all, you can make it in advance and keep it warm in the oven for a couple of hours.  This meant I could cook it whilst Miss A was still up and we could both eat together once she was in bed.

Overall it was a really simple recipe and had good flavours.  At first, I couldn't really sense the chilli but by the end, you knew it was there and I was gulping water like a camel at an oasis.

I do think it might have been better with long grain rice as it was a little stodgy for my liking - or maybe I just cooked it a bit too long.  I was also disappointed with the instruction that it would keep warm in a low oven for up to two hours.  An hour in, I took it out to serve and it was barely lukewarm.  Obviously not wanting to disappear back to the kitchen whilst the husband ate alone, I ate it as was.  Next time, I'd possibly only leave it for the minimum ten minutes or  blast it in the microwave for a minute before serving.

As I can't find the recipe online, you'll just have to go buy a copy of Mexican Food Made Simple published by Hodder  Trust me, you won't regret it!
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