Monday, 30 April 2012

Raspberry Curd

Well tomorrow is my first foray into the world of Clandestine Cake Club (CCC).  My cake is a bit of an epic one - more about all that tomorrow.  CCC is all very secretive but because my cake has several elements to it, I'm having to give away the flavour of my cake so that I can blog about today's new recipe.

I took the day off work today to spend some quality time with the husband.  Regular readers will know that I work full time whilst the Husband does some childcare and tries to keep his fledgling business going.    I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this and it became topical at the weekend when I read a blog post by fellow foodie Rachel who has suddenly had to face up to the issue of working full time and having a child.

When we were unexpectedly blessed with Miss A, I assumed that I would give up work and become a Stay At Home Mum (SAHM).  I kept my options open at work, joking to them that I'd be back after two weeks of maternity leave when I would have cracked up over not being able to change a nappy, even though at the time I had no intention of going back.

Raspberry curd
Little did I know that I would really end up going back as the Husband took voluntary redundancy when Miss A was three months old.  The alternatives weren't pretty.  So I went back to my job full time on the proviso that the Husband had to do two and a half days of childcare.  We're lucky to only have a 4.5 day week where I work so I do 2.5 days childcare at the weekend whilst the Husband is off doing his thang.

Back last September after successive illnesses I was struggling to cope with the demands of my job and being a mother, without the added heap of guilt I was feeling for not being home full time with my child.  Unless you are a working mum - or indeed a SAHM - you're probably not aware of just how bitchy and judgemental some women can be over the subject of childcare.  I love my mum and tomorrow's blog is an ode to her, but even she sometimes makes me feel awful for the choice I've had to make.  Her words aren't intentional, but depending on how you take what she's said in the past, they can seem really hurtful if you're in a bad place.

Anyhow, it was September.  I was struggling to cope.  The husband suggested I took a week off work to relax.  I refused because I felt that I still wouldn't get the R&R I needed because I'd just be looking after Miss A full time.  How awful does that make me sound?  But I was so poorly that I just had no resources left to be a good mother.  He gently persuaded me to book her in for a full week of nursery so that I could recuperate and we could spend some much needed time together.  Since Miss A arrived, I can count on two fingers the number of days we've had alone together.

I spoke to a close friend about this and she told me I was an awful mother for doing that.  She knew my situation but she couldn't see past the fact that I was willing to pay someone else to care for my child.  She is lucky enough to work part time and have a mother who lives on her doorstep who looks after her child whilst she's at work and when she wants to go swanning off to London to see concerts.  I feel it would've been okay if I'd been able to palm Miss A off on my own mother but not for me to have to pay someone to do it because I don't have the luxury of free childcare on tap.  Needless to say, our friendship is now very strained.  And in the end, after stumping up £200 for a full week's nursery, Miss A was poorly and ended up being home all week and I was £200 poorer for it.  Serves me right.

Ladye Bay near Clevedon
So feel free to judge me, but today I had one of those well deserved days off.  Miss A is at nursery on Mondays and so I had a day of baking and a trip to the seaside with the Husband to scout out a location for a vintage fashion shoot.  Do I feel guilty?  Maybe.  But the day off from work and motherhood was needed.  I feel refreshed.  Even if there was a slight fracas in the kitchen this morning as the husband found me working through our teaspoon collection taste-testing whilst still in my PJs.  He can't deal with early morning mess!

Soapboxing over, on to the recipe.  Now I've made curds before (view the recipes here).  The lemon and lime ones were successful, the clementine not so.  I was nervous with this one as it was cooked directly in the pan like the clementine one rather in a bain marie like the other two.  The recipe suggests frequent stirring for the first ten minutes with constant stirring for the final couple of minutes.  Being of a nervous disposition when it comes to curds, I just stirred constantly for the whole time, giving rise to shoulder ache this evening.

I was also a bit nervous that it didn't seem to be thickening.  It's hard to tell as you leave the seeds in giving it an odd texture.  Then you sieve them out and the sieving made it seem even runnier.  Having to join the husband on a trip to the seaside meant I couldn't sit and stare at it all day, willing it to set.  I was pleased to find on our return that it had indeed congealed even without my beady-eyed staring.

So score one towards the cake of epic-ness.  You can read more about it tomorrow including where the inspiration came from.  Because I need to keep it secret until I arrive at CCC tomorrow, I won't post the link to the recipe on this page but will do a scheduled post for tomorrow night giving full credit to where the recipe came from.

In the meantime, if you want to make your own curd between now and then, here's how you do it.

Ingredients :
-       340g  Frozen Raspberries
-       5 large egg yolks
-       200g sugar
-       56g butter
-       2 tbsp lime juice
-       pinch of salt
Steps :
-       Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
-       Add the raspberries, lemon juice, egg yolks, sugar, and salt and cook, mashing the berries and stirring frequently at first and them constantly at the end, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
-       Pour the mixture through a coarse strainer set over a bowl, pressing hard on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.
-       Cool to room temperature; the curd will continue to thicken as it cools.
-       Refrigerate, covere, until ready to serve, or for up to 1 month.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Olive Magazine Roast Lemon and Thyme Lamb

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been staying with my mum and asked if she might be so kind this weekend as to let me cook roast lamb for the family sunday lunch.  I've mentioned before that I have an aversion to eating lamb products.  It's not really anything to do with any veggie tendencies, more that I was probably scarred for life in the eighties by Bernard Matthews' Lamb Roasts.  I blogged about this trauma a while back so won't repeat it again, but if you're interested, you can read about it here.

Lunch. Mum's roasties are ace :)
The need to do this was akin to the cravings I had when I was expecting Miss A.  I never craved anything really random but I'd be struck by moments when I absolutely had to eat something - the one I remember is my grandmother's homemade scotch eggs - but by the time I got said food, it made my stomach roil.  It was the same with the lamb.  When I made Dan Lepard's Perfect Plain Pita the other day, the idea of stuffing it full of cold roast lamb, tzatziki and salad got me all excited.  Yet this morning, when I was faced with having to remove a couple of kilos of lamb leg from its bloody resting place and stab it full of holes to stuff with lemon and thyme, my stomach persuaded my brain it wasn't such a bright idea.

I'm one of those meat eaters who will eat meat so long as it doesn't look like the thing it came from.  The easiest way to turn me veggie would be to demand that I look at a picture of the cute fluffy thing it once was before tucking in to my dinner.  My mother traumatised me further as a child (as if the Matthews roasts weren't enough) by once chasing me round our lounge with a fish that still had its head on, beady eyes staring balefully at me, before taking it into the kitchen and cleaving its head off in one clean move with the massive butchers knife she kept for such occasions.  After that I'd only eat fish fingers because with the logic that only a six-year-old can have, they quite clearly won't made from fish.

Oven ready
Anyhow, once I got over myself and cooked the lamb, and rejoiced in being allowed to make the matching gravy rather than using good old Bisto I got to sit down to a really lovely roast lamb lunch that I would happily eat again.  Well I would cook it again if I'd not had to drive back over Salisbury Plain watching all the sad, bedraggled lambs trying to gaily skip through quagmires.  I'm not sure if I'd feel more guilty eating a lamb who lived through this miserable spring or one who had the fortune to gambol amongst daffodils during one of our rare, sun-shiny Springs.

When I was small and we used to go out in the car, my grandfather taught me to shout 'mint sauce' when we passed a field of sheep and 'Yorkshire puddings' on passing cows.  When I realised what he meant, I went through a phase of only eating peanut butter sandwiches and eschewing any meat that wasn't mechanically recovered (six-year-old fish finger logic at work here).  Miss A was happily bleating from the rear of the car today every time we passed a field of sheep.  I am in no doubt that the child who happily ripped the head from the dog on her birthday cake (and swallowed it in one bite) will have any problems with whether or not to eat meat when she's older.

Back to the lamb, it got rave reviews from all the family so it wasn't sacrificed in vain.  I only hope it's other legs were treated so kindly in the afterlife.

As far as I know, my mum just normally shoves her lamb in the oven completely 'naked'.  It then gets slathered with mint sauce (something else I can't stand after overeating it as a child).  So the idea of giving my fussy grandfather lamb with lemon in it, no mint sauce and gravy that wasn't Bisto was quite daunting.  But he ate it, had seconds and even commented that he'd liked the lemony bits.  Result!

Resting before dinner
My mum enjoyed it so much that she asked if she could comment on the blog when I'd written it.  So hopefully she won't be too mad at me for revealing my childhood traumas to all and sundry.  And she'd told me I'm even allowed to go back again if I cook a Sunday roast like that again.  She'll have to wait another few months for that yet because I've still got around 150 posts to write for this blog.  She's going to be subjected to Beef Wellington next time.

Oh and we ate the rest of yesterday's Cinnamon and Blackberry cake for pudding.  Kept really well in the fridge overnight - wasn't covered up and still just as soft as yesterday.  Top eating weekend had by all.

Recipe - serves 6 From Olive Magazine

  • 3 onions cut into large rings
  • olive oil
  • 1 lemon , zest peeled off and cut into 15-20 pieces
  • 3 large sprigs thyme , broken into 15-20 small sprigs
  • leg of lamb about 1.75kg

  1. Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Put the onion rings and garlic halves in a roasting tray with 4 tbsp water. Sit the lamb on top and rub the surface of the meat with oil.
  2. Stab the skin side of the lamb 15-20 times with a small, sharp knife, twisting to make small holes. Stuff the lemon zest and thyme sprigs into the holes. Season well.
  3. Roast for 1 hour 15 minutes for medium rare, 1 hour 30 minutes for medium, 1 hour 45 minutes for medium-well done and 2 hours for well done. Baste the lamb 3-4 times with the juices in the base of the tin as it cooks.
  4. Once cooked, rest on a plate or board for 20-30 minutes under foil. 

For the Gravy

Pour excess fat from the tin, then sit it on the hob over a high heat. Stir 1 tbsp flour and 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly into the onions until the jelly melts. Add 175ml red wine. Boil for 30 seconds, add 350ml stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened slightly. Season then strain through a sieve.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Dan Lepard Cinnamon Cake with Blackberries

Finally, after about seven months, my mother has got with the program and realised that I am on a rather daft mission to try a new recipe every day.  

I shocked her earlier this week by asking if she might be so kind as to let me cook a leg of lamb for Sunday lunch.  She knows I don't like roast lamb and haven't done so since I was about Miss A's age when I ended my phase of eating everything with mint sauce.

So whilst she was reeling from this statement, I slipped in a request to allow Miss A and I to bake a cake today which would also serve for pudding tomorrow.  Why I picked this cake, I'm really not sure but I guess there was something intriguing about a cake made with wholemeal rather than white flour.

Country kitchen tea
It's a fatless sponge so if it weren't for the huge mound of softly whipped cream sandwiching the layers together then it would probably be quite healthy.  It's really quick and easy to make and for the depth of cake, bakes in about half the time that a regular sponge would.  In fact I was stunned when it passed the skewer test after just half an hour.

I was a little dubious on slicing it into two because the wholemeal flour makes it look like it will have a dense, loaf-like texture.  But as the blurb says, it is honestly the lightest sponge you could imagine given that it's made with wholemeal rather than soft white flour.

My parents really enjoyed it and my mother commented that it tastes like carrot cake.  That'll be the very strong cinnamon-sweet flavour.  She has also noticed my obsession with Short and Sweet (it's now running at about 36p per recipe) and I told her that if she'd use it, I'd buy her a copy because the recipes are excellent and work every time.

The only advice I can think of for this recipe is to make it when the fruit is in season.  Despite buying the most expensive blackberries the shop had (well it was their top of the range ones but they were on offer and technically cheaper than the bog standard range), they weren't as tart and juicy as I would've liked.  Other than that, another winning recipe from the master.  And it looks rather fab on my new cake stand I bought ready for Clandestine Cake Club on Tuesday.

Luckily for those of you who don't own a copy of Short and Sweet, you can find the recipe on the Guardian web site.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Baked Breakfast Mushrooms

So I'm off home for a few days and with a fridge full of odds and ends that I'd normally use up over the weekend, I figured I should try and make something interesting for breakfast.

Earlier in the week, I'd been pondering what to do with the couple of field mushrooms I had left after Monday's Baked Mushrooms with Parmesan Polenta and some streaky bacon from Sunday's Bacon Brownies (yep, that's right, bacon and chocolate); and had wondered if it would be possible to bake an egg in one.  Thumbing through Leith's Simple Food, my thoughts were confirmed and thus today's breakfast was born.

As I've struggled to perfect the art of the baked egg - getting the perfect moment when the white has set and the yolk is still runny is a bit of an art form - I decided to cheat a little here and poach my eggs and serve them inside the baked mushroom.  That way I knew I'd have perfect eggs.

Definitely something I'd do again if I was making breakfast for guests or as a meal if I had some leftover field mushrooms to use up.  

Sorry for the short blog this morning - packing to do, child to organise yadda yadda.  A Dan Lepard cake and roast Lamb to deliver over the weekend then blogging service will resume as normal on Monday with yet another cake for my first foray into the world of Clandestine Cake Clubs.  Just a little bit excited!

Recipe - serves 2
  • 2 field mushrooms - ensure you pick ones that have a nice lip to the edge
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely diced
  • 2 rashers of streaky bacon, snipped into small pieces
  • olive oil
  • a small handful of parsley, chopped.
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan.
  2. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms and chop finely.   Place the mushrooms skin side down on a baking sheet.
  3. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle the bacon, garlic and chopped mushrooms stalks into the bowl of the mushrooms.  Season well then bake for 20 mins or until the mushrooms have softened.
  4. Five minutes before the end of the cooking time, either crack the eggs into the centre of the mushrooms and return to the oven to continue baking or poach the eggs in a pan of simmering water (check out Kitchen Bitching for the best way to poach an egg).
  5. Remove the mushrooms from the oven, place on a serving plate and if using poached eggs, slide an egg into the cup of the mushroom.  Garnish with the parsley.
  6. Serve with hot buttered toast.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Mary Berry's Coffee Fudge Squares

I'm off to visit my oldest friend tomorrow.  And I've been informed by her husband that if I fail to bring cake then I won't be allowed in.  I like it that D likes my cakes but it meant that I had to find a reasonably quick and simple recipe to bake between getting in from work and toddler bed time.

Cue Mary Berry's recipe from 100 Cakes and Bakes.  It's a simple tray bake where you just chuck all the ingredients into a bowl, beat for a couple of minutes, bake, cool, frost et voila - instant cake.  Great.  And it worked like a treat.  Only complaint is that the frosting cracks a bit messily on cutting. Happy days - D should be happy tomorrow.

I now feel a bit guilty, however, after reading this article on the BBC Food website.  Because I made the cake in about five minutes flat - (with baking, cooling and making the frosting it took about an hour and a half in total).  But apparently, it's wrong to want to use a quick and easy recipe.  Well not wrong, but frowned upon.  Because of course, we should all want to spend hours after a busy day slaving over a hot stove.

Testing out a smidgen bit from the corner
I appreciate what the author is getting at, but honestly, she made me want to reach for my phone and dial the Chinese takeaway in protest.  With a full time job that sees me leave home at 6am and not sit down for a rest until nearly 9pm, and three very different evening meal requirements to deal with - quick and easy is often the way ahead for me.  Because it means I eat a balanced meal.  What are the alternatives if I don't do quick and easy?  Toast.  A takeaway.  Or just not bothering.

Through writing this blog, I've found so many 'quick and easy' recipes that are tasty, well balanced and can be on the table in less time than it takes to digest the instructions on a ready meal or agree which takeaway to buy.  I love to cook, but I think I'd enjoy it less if I cooked time consuming meals every day.  I love more complicated cake recipes - but I'd take a quick and easy home bake over preservative packed shop bought cakes any day of the week.

Anyway, I'll come down off my soap box!

And here's the recipe for the cake.

Recipe - fills a 23x30cm tray bake tin
  • 225g softened butter
  • 225g light muscavado sugar
  • 275g self raising flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp coffee essence (or 2 tsp coffee granules dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water)
  • 2 tbsp milk
For the topping
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 75g light muscavado sugar
  • 275g icing sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 180c/160c fan.
  2. Mix all the cake ingredients for two minutes.  Pour into a lined baking pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Leave to cool in the tin.
  3. Heat the butter, sugar and milk in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves.  Boil for three minutes then beat in the icing sugar until combined (it will come away from the sides of the pan when ready - although I had to add a splash more milk as it was too dry).  Spread over the cake and leave to set.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Chickpeas with Tomato and Spinach

Today's recipe didn't set my world on fire.  It was a pretty okay store cupboard recipe and would be a good side dish to something more substantial.  It's from BBC Good Food and having now read the reviews, I think it may well have been better made the night before to allow the flavours to develop. Of course if I'd not been a greedy cow and eaten it all, I could've tested this theory tomorrow (I did only make a half-recipe-worth).

I'd probably make it again when I was feeling guilty for not having eaten anything vaguely resembling a vegetable for a few days.  There had to be at least three of my five a day in this one meal.  And served with a Dan Lepard Frying Pan Naan, it's a really filling meal.

I also faced up to me reticence when it comes to fresh tomatoes and cooked and ate those.  Although I guess as they're cooked, they're not far different to using chopped, tinned tomatoes.  Nevertheless, I had to eyeball their slimy innards when I chopped them up - something which is normally enough for me to quietly shuffle them off into the dogs' bowls.

It has green stuff on the top - must be healthy
But it did bring back a memory.  Of making curry in the late eighties.  I can't remember where the recipe first came from, but what a performance it was to make.  In those days, you could only buy Indian spices from specialist shops.  My mum used to go to this tiny health food shop in some back street of Winchester and come home with little white plastic bags containing spoonfuls of turmeric, coriander, cumin and saffron.

They were then consigned to an old ice-cream tub in the back of the cupboard for fear of them making everything else smell of curry.  And when you took the lid off of the box, it immediately just smelled like of curry from the intermingled flavours.  That ice cream tub still lives in the back of the larder at my Grandad's house (I grew up living with my grandparents) and there are still random bags of spices in there.  The smell has dulled over time but it still brings back the memory.

These days, I have a spice rack that is jammed full of pretty much every herb or spice that my local supermarket cares to sell.  In fact, I have so many that they're also randomly scattered across work surfaces (much to the husband's eternal consternation) and stuffed in the back of random cupboards (the husband's reaction to me randomly scattering them across work surfaces).

Of course, the modern glass jars ensure that my kitchen only smells of damp dog (the worst thing about this infernal rain!) and not of curry spices waiting to be used.  But you only get that evocative smell on cooking.  There was something quite comforting about sneaking a sniff from that ice cream box.

Although my Grandma was about as Indian as Birds Custard Powder (now I've said that, someone will go and tell me it was invented in India), the smell of that box reminds me of her because it smells of her curry.  And there are times when I make something with spices that they come together and make that smell.  Sadly, today's recipe wasn't one of them.   I hope that one day when I'm old and decrepit, there will be some smell that Miss A will forever associate with the kitchen of her childhood.  I'm hoping it will be something lovely we've cooked together rather.  And not just the current pong of wet spaniel.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Jaim's Chilli Chocolate Cookies

This recipe technically goes against my original purpose for this blog.  The idea was for me to use make better use of my cookbooks and to encourage my family to be more adventurous in their eating.  Along the way, I've used it as an excuse to work on my baking skills by churning out a fair few cakes and bakes and this recipe falls fairly and squarely into the category of what I'd call 'off-piste cooking' if I had my management-speak head turned on.

Since discovering Twitter, I've started following many fellow foodies and reading their blogs.  Consequently I think about food all the time, seem to always be hungry and eat far more naughty stuff than I ever used to.  This is why I am going to struggle to seriously lose weight before this challenge is over.  I have zero willpower.

Last week, I was seduced by these stunning looking biscuits from the lovely Jaim of Jaim's Kitchen.  I love Jaim's recipes - they're always so detailed in how she decided on the recipe and great advice on how to make the recipe succeed first time.  If more cookbook writers followed this format, there'd be an awful lot less dusty, unused cookbooks sitting on people's shelves.

Glittery cookies
Her photography is also stunning.  I'm not normally seduced by girly, sparkly things but I just loved the pretty red glitter sprinkled on these cookies.  And I just happened to have some in my baking cupboard that was left over from Miss A's Christmas biscuits.  It was a sign.  I quite clearly had to make these biscuits because it would be wasteful to not use up the red glitter, wouldn't it?

Not that we ever have visitors to our house, but I do like the idea of having something you can whip out of the freezer at a moment's notice for a gift.  The recipe is generous enough to make some for now and put the rest of the dough in the freezer for a later date.  I am going home for the weekend so it will be nice to bake some early on Friday morning to bestow on my grandfather - although I may just dip those in plain chocolate.

The one bit I struggled with - and this is purely something I have to learn and practise at - was the dipping of the biscuits into the chocolate.  I didn't particularly give much thought to how deep the chocolate may or may not be in the ramekin that I melted it in.  Because I only had half the number of biscuits, I melted half the amount of chocolate.  But when I tried to dunk them in, it was probably only about a centimetre deep.  Cue a lot of faffing around and wiggling of part-dipped biscuits to try to get it to run further down.  I just about got there in the end, but mine aren't as beautifully neat as Jaims - you have to check out her stunning photography.

As for the taste test?  I adore the texture of these biscuits.  I was expecting them to be like shortbread, but they had a slightly chewier texture.  It's hard to describe but they were crumbly at the edges and had a really lovely bite in the middle.  I really love the dough and will use it time and again with other flavours.  I only used the coffee essence in the dough that I baked today so I'm thinking of maybe trying to make lemon sherbert to use with either dark or white chocolate on the next batch.  And the dough would definitely work with shards of ginger in it.

The chilli chocolate is a lovely touch.  At first I was worried that I'd maybe not used enough, but it gave the biscuits a lovely warm aftertaste without setting your mouth on fire.  I think even my mother - who hates anything spicy - would like these.

Definitely a keeper and good luck to Jaim with this entry into Bettie's Cookie Wars.  Thank you so much for sharing.  You can find the recipe here.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Baked Mushrooms with Polenta

In the cupboard under the stairs, we have some plastic shelves procured from a large national DIY chain that have become the equivalent of the larder that I would so love to own.  They're currently groaning under the weight of half used bags of flour (plain, self-raising, wholemeal, strong white, strong brown, 00, canadian bread flour, gram, rye, buckwheat); bags of sugar (granulated, caster, light muscavado, dark muscavado, soft dark brown, soft light brown, icing, fruit); various bags of pasta shapes (spirali, rigatoni, macaroni, linguine, papperdelle, spaghetti, vermicelli).  And a bag of polenta.  Plus assorted tins of beans, pulses and tomatoes; more tins of tuna than it's safe to eat in a year; and packets of microwave rice and saag aloo (for the husband).

The husband gets frustrated every so often that they're a mess.  To the untrained eye, they may look that way, but I can lay my hands on anything I need just like that.  When I go to the mothership's for the weekend, the husband occasionally takes it upon himself to 'have a little tidy' and suddenly, things go missing.  If I so much as dwell by the shelves for more than thirty seconds, I get accused of untidying them so I end up buying more of what I can't find in the next weekly shop - only to find a week or so later that I've now got two open bags of xyz flour or abc sugar.  You get my drift.

Sunshiney polenta to brighten a grey day
Anyhow, the polenta has been busy cluttering up the shelving ever since I made cornbread with Miss A.  As that was a resounding failure in terms of broadening the family's food horizon (Miss A and the husband both thought it was cake and were both sorely disappointed), I have - on occasion - been sorely tempted to quietly dispose of the polenta.  In all honesty, there was a time when I probably would've done.  But times are hard now we only have the one salary, a mortgage and an extra mouth to feed, and I am making an effort to be thrifty.  Especially because in doing this challenge, my food expenditure is sometimes higher than it would be if I wasn't.

Having Googled about a bit for ideas for the field mushrooms that arrived with my weekly shop (I don't know why on earth I bought them - I failed on the planning front this week), I happened across a recipe on for stuffed mushrooms with polenta.  Problem solved.  

I didn't stick to the actual recipe (which you can find here) because I didn't have the fancy-schmanzy shallots and couldn't be bothered to chop a tiny bit of red onion for just one mushroom so I made a simple breadcrumb mix with a little garlic paste, some parsley, olive oil, breadcrumbs and seasoning.  I then made the polenta as per the packet instructions, beat in some parmesan, a teaspoon of half fat creme fraiche (the packet suggested butter and marscapone but I'm trying to compensate for all the chocolate I've been eating of late) and some seasoning.  

Then I licked a bit off of the spoon and nearly binned it.  The package said to cook for just one minute for soft, mash-potato-style polenta and that it would come away from the edges of the pan when it was ready.  Which it duly did.  But the texture was just shy of semi-cooked couscous with a weird "I'm not quite pasta thanks to the parmesan" taste.  But then I got on to having to poach eggs for the husband's ham, egg and chips and whilst I was doing so, the polenta obviously finished expanding and ended up tasting like a really good cheese-mash/pasta/couscous hybrid.  I really enjoyed it.

In fact, I enjoyed the whole dish so much, it's going on my list of new meat-free Monday meals when I'm finished with this blasted blog and it's dictation that I have to try a new recipe every day.  Hugely tasty vegetarian meal and hearty enough that you don't even notice that it's meatless.  I'd always made stuffed mushrooms filled with Philly and topped with breadcrumbs before but always served them on their own with salad.  I couldn't think of an appropriate carb to go with them, but polenta is it.

If you've never tried it, I insist that you do.  I hope you love it as much as me.  

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Nigella's Bacon Brownies

For some reasons, lots of software developers seem to have an infatuation with bacon.  Don't ask me why.  I used to be a developer myself and I am partial to a bacon sandwich.  But some developers seem to worship the stuff.  To the point that the majority of their test user names and passwords are bacon related.  Or if they want to choose something different, then they'll use something sausage-related.  I have a password sheet in my desk drawer at work for all the test systems our developer has worked on and every single password on it is related to a pork product.
There really is bacon in there

Developers of a feather flock together.  We're (and I use we because I still consider myself part of this elite club) are generally thought of as long-haired nerds or weirdoes.  If you've seen Graham Linehan's IT Crowd, characterisation absolutely captures the stereotypical view of IT workers.  In fact, I am often referred to as being Moss' long-lost sister.  A little hurtful, but probably true.  I even used to sport that hairdo and I did once have glasses like that too.  I think that's why I get along so well with M and wanted to make this recipe just for him (well okay I had one too)

A few months ago, I came across a recipe for Bacon Jam from Not Quite Nigella.  M, our developer, was having a bit of a bad time and so I promised to make him some.  Of course, life got in the way and with me working at a different site for the last four months, I've not managed to keep my promise.  More recently, I happened across this recipe for Bacon Brownies on Twitter and just knew I'd found a recipe that might just go down a storm with everyone.  Or not.

Yep, I really did put bacon in there
I lined up the ingredients for the first shot and wavered a little when I realised that I had the makings of bacon and eggs and I was going to potentially be wasting that as a meal option plus a whole bunch of chocolate to boot.  Then I remembered my love for Canadian pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup and kept going.

The bacon was hard to dice finely so I snipped it into tiny squares, fried it off and then chopped it up with my big cook's knife once it was a bit crispier.  I substituted maple syrup for the golden syrup and, having forgotten I'd run out of bicarb, used 3 tsp of baking powder instead.  There was so much chocolate in the recipe that I was worried that the bacon flavour would be lost.

The finished brownies were beautifully soft and gooey and the salty nuggets of crisp bacon gave a wonderful contrast.  I'm not sure if you'd know it was bacon in there if you weren't told up front.  It could equally have just been flakes of sea salt.

Being a Nigella recipe, it's the antithesis of the Guilt Free Brownies I made back in January.  And of course, it's not veggie friendly.  But there are plenty of other brownie recipes on this blog for my lovely veggie friends to try.    

If you're looking for a talking point, it's definitely one to try.  You can find the recipe online at Emerald Street.  Hopefully M will appreciate them.  And another brownie-fearing colleague has also expressed an interest in trying one for the experience.  I'll update the blog with feedback later.  Oh and it'll be interesting to hear the husband's opinions too!  I won't be telling him what the secret ingredient is until he's finished eating it.

Update 23/04/2012 - Well the husband had a bacon brownie and was warned it contained bacon and he ate it without fuss, without gagging, without complaining.  His only comment was that it was more cakey and less fudgy than my usual brownies.  I am impressed!  I think it was just the sheer amount of chocolate that one him over.  As for M?  Well he took all six home to share with his cats.  I still await his verdict.

Bacon, eggs and chocolate
Bacon Brownies Recipe

  • 125g thin rashers of streaky bacon, scissored into small pieces and then chopped fine
  • 2 tsp of golden or maple syrup
  • 150g of soft unsalted butter
  • 250g of soft light brown sugar
  • 75g of best cocoa powder
  • 150g of plain flour
  • 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g of dark chocolate, chopped, or dark chocolate chips/morsels
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C and get out a 25cm square tin and line it, or (as I prefer) a throwaway foil baking tray measuring 30cm x 20cm x 15cm.

2. Heat a heavy based (preferably non stick) frying pan and when warm, add the bacon bits and cook, stirring occasionally until beginning to crisp. Add the syrup, stir again to mix and transfer the sticky bacon bits to a cold surface, either on some foil or a plate. The syrupy bacon juices left behind are just delicious when mopped up with some bread: a cook’s treat!

3. Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a medium sized saucepan and when it’s melted, add the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon.

4. Now take the pan off the heat and add the cocoa, flour, bicarbonate of soda and stir, then add the beaten eggs and stir again to mix.

5. Add the chopped dark choc or chips and the bacon bits, breaking them up with your hands if necessary. Fold together then pour and scrape into the tin.

6. Place in the oven to cook for 20-25 minutes; you want a little gooeyness inside still.

7. Transfer the tin to a wire rack and sit until cooled a little (but not to the point of coldness) and cut into 16 squares.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

James Martin's Chocolate, Satsuma and Mint Bread

Finished loaves
Before there was Dan, there was James.  I've had a thing for him since his bandana days, having first come across him when my Grandma used to watch Ready, Steady, Cook.  She had a soft spot for him too because he's an honorary Hampshire boy, even if his roots are in Yorkshire.  She always liked local people to do well.  I like him because I have bit of a thing for big Northerners who like food and fast cars.*

One of the best things that happened after having Miss A was being able to spend long, uninterrupted Saturday mornings watching Saturday Kitchen because I was "busy breastfeeding the baby, and it's takes far longer than bottlefeeding, don't you know".  And yet, until recently, I'd never once tried one of his recipes.

A few months ago, I bought a copy of James Martin's Masterclass for a fiver and then promptly lost it when the husband decided to go on a tidying jag.  Rediscovering it the other morning when I was pottering around the spare room on the daily work conference call (I was working from home and have to go in the spare room because I have a noisy lovebird next to my desk), a quick idle flick through turned up the recipe for Chocolate, Satsuma and Mint bread which seemed a great idea as I had leftover mint from making Lorraine Pascale's Minted Lamb Burgers earlier this week.

Pretty colours
The book itself professes on the front cover to "Make Your Home Cooking Easier".  This recipe may have been easy, but it had me on tenterhooks for a while.  It starts out with a basic bread dough, although only uses 200ml of water to 500g of flour which made a very dense and unyielding dough.  Having fully subscribed to Lorraine Pascale's mantra of 'the wetter, the better' (although you do have to have a limit!), this seemed entirely the wrong thing to do.  He even comments in his basic white bread recipe that 'where most people go wrong is in not making the mixture wet enough and so the finished bread ends up too doughy and dry'.  Curious.

Looking at his recipe for basic white bread, I noticed that he only uses 250ml water to 500g flour for that too.  And uses double the yeast that most other bakers use (2x7g sachets of easy yeast rather than one or 25g of fresh).  But he doesn't explain why.  And this is why I love Short and Sweet so much because Dan takes the time to explain why more yeast would make a difference (I should run downstairs and look this up right now! although I do know that you should only use half the yeast if you plan to leave the dough to rise overnight in the fridge)

Anyhow, scepticism over my very doughy dough aside, it doubled in size as predicted within the hour.  And then came the near disaster.  The recipe states "carefully mix the chocolate chips, mint leaves and satsumas in by hand".  All well and good.  Except it does nothing to prepare you for the slimy mess that ensues when you try to work tinned satsumas into such heavy dough.  Although it does explain why he used less liquid in the dough because suddenly, my work surface was swimming in juice.

Slimy work surface
I'd left my oranges to drain in a sieve for about ten minutes, but in my mind, they weren't quite dry enough.  If I was making this again, I'd definitely pop them onto some kitchen paper to remove some of the additional moisture.  I'd also try and have the sense to work the dry ingredients thoroughly into the dough first and then prod the satsuma bits in later.

As it was, my dough ripped with each attempt to ensnare the chocolate and orange and juice was leaking everywhere.  At one point, I was fully prepared to just sling it all in the bin and write it off as a waste of ingredients, but it seemed a shame to waste all the chocolate chips.

I finally managed to get them onto the tray, vaguely shaped and floured.  They rose beautifully for the second rise, were baked and came out actually looking like the ones in the book.  I was disappointed that the lighting in my kitchen was so poor again today as the photos don't do them justice.

Of course, Miss A who is addicted to home made bread (see sconegate) absolutely loved it.  So did I.  The husband took a bite and screwed up his face.  "I don't like that" he said.  "Why?" "Well I don't like it.  You don't like red wine but you don't give a reason why."  "Erm, because it gives me a stinking hangover and I don't like the tannins in most reds.  Plus you NEVER share so I don't get the chance to ever form a proper opinion"  He couldn't come up with a suitable reason for not liking the bread until I revealed it had mint in it.  "Ah, that's it" says he.
Just about salvaged for the final rise

It didn't stop him from eating the whole slice, nor did it later stop him from polishing off a quarter of the loaf before tea because he'd missed  lunch.  So it's obviously not that bad.  Just nicely different.

In fact, I really enjoyed the orange and mint combination.  If you get a mouthful with both flavours at the same time, it's really refreshing and zingy and works well with the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  I will definitely be making this again next time I have some spare mint.  And I like that it makes two loaves so one can (hopefully) go in the freezer.

And, for the first time in months, I've managed to use a baking recipe from somewhere other than Short and Sweet and actually enjoy it.  I need to do more of this!

Recipe - makes two smallish loaves

  • 500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 8g salt
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 50g butter, diced and softened
  • 25g fresh yeast or 2x7g fast action yeast
  • 200g dark chocolate chips or dark chocolate chopped into small pieces
  • 10 mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1x250g satsumas or mandarin oranges, drained and lightly dried with kitchen paper

Fresh from the oven

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl, then add the sugar, butter and yeast.  Pour in the water, a little at a time and begin to mix by hand until you have a dough that is sticky but pliable.  Try not to make the dough too stiff as this will result in a hard loaf of bread once cooked.  Add a little more warm water, if needed, to ensure that the dough remains pliable.
  2. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead for ten minutes, then mould into a ball and place in the bowl.  Cover with a clean, damp tea towel and set aside to rest somewhere warm for 1 hour or until it has risen and doubled in size.
  3. Knock the dough back lightly and tip it out on to a floured work surface.  Knead in the chocolate and mint leaves until evenly distributed.  Carefully work in the satsuma pieces.
  4. Divide the dough into two equal portions.  Shape into a rugby ball shape and flatten slightly.  Place the loaves on a floured baking sheet with the folds in the dough underneath.  Sprinkle with flour, then score the top with a sharp knife and place somewhere warm for another hour to double in size again.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220c/200c fan/ Gas 7.
  6. Bake the loaves in the oven for 25 minutes.  They are cooked when the base of each loaf sounds hollow when you tap it.  Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

*I would just like to add, that they have to be reasonably good looking too.  I can't stand Jonny Vegas.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Bacon, bean and pasta soup

I swear that last week, I wrote a list of all the things I was going to make.  And having reviewed what I've actually made, I've managed to miss out falafel and a turkey and mushroom dish.  Goodness knows what I had slated for today - the list was on a post it note on my desk somewhere.  Quite frankly, I am really rubbish at planning for this blog unless it's cake related.

Realising my error, fool that I am, I settled on making myself a nice warming bowl of 'red' soup for lunch. After a chilly six mile run before 7am, and still not having warmed back up at 1pm tonight, I knew soup would do the trick, only to go to the store cupboard and find that I don't actually have anything 'red' to make it with. 

Namely chopped tomatoes.  I found six cans of tuna, five cans of assorted pulses, a tin of condensed milk, some Heinz tomato soup (shudder - it's the husband's), two tins of Branston beans (mine), a tin of Heinz beans and mini reclaimed meat batons (okay they're supposed to be mini sausages, also the husband's) and assorted tins of fruit.

An emergency search on the BBC Good Food website and reccy of my meagre fridge contents turned up the idea of bacon, bean and pasta soup.  Hearty, low fat, and red - through the use of tomato puree.  Thankfully I had just enough of that left.

Really liked this soup.  It's a great alternative to bog standard minestrone and a really good way to use up random things from the fridge.  Not much else to say about it really other than I'm sure it will get me out of a hungry hole some other day in the future.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Miss A's Triple Ginger Gingerbread

Baking gingerbread has now become a weekly ritual in our house.  It's the only kind of biscuit Miss A will eat.  We've tried shop-bought organic and ones full of E-numbers (I'm kidding - but see sconegate anyway) and I've tried a variety of home made offerings - triple chocolate cookies, peanut butter cookies, Banana Fudge Cookies, Easter Biscuits, Christmas Biscuits and Cheese and Black Pepper Buttons - all of which she's had a hand in making, none of which she's liked.  So we always come back to Gingerbread.

I've been using a recipe from my Marks and Spencers Food 4 Kids book.  Every time I make them, I always forget that the recipe seems to need far more flour than it states as the mixture is extremely sticky.  This frustrates me.  You'd think I'd remember. But every time, I slavishly adhere to the recipe, go to roll it and then get flustered because I forgot the extra flour.

So today, I figured 'how hard can it be to make up a biscuit recipe that works?'  And decided to have a go at making the recipe myself.  Of course, having made the other recipe so many times, I had an ingredient list in my head, but I wanted to see if I could improve on it.

First off, I started with the butter and syrup.  I wanted to make a large-ish quantity of dough because I believe that someone other than Abigail eats all the 'big bu-fwys'.  I often get complaints that nobody likes 'li'l bu-fwys'.  Hmmm....

I heart my bunny biscuit jar
We started off by melting butter with some golden syrup and then for good measure, I decided to use some stem ginger in the biscuits so I added two tablespoons of the ginger syrup too.  My brown sugar had gone rock hard so I lobbed that into the pan to melt as well.  There were a few tiny bits that wouldn't dissolve (see the picture) but all in all this worked well.

While the butter and syrup mixture was cooling, we sifted some of flour into a bowl.  Added some bicarb to keep it soft and plenty of ginger and cinnamon for flavour.  I also chopped up three balls of stem ginger for some contrast in the texture.

Not every gingerbread recipe uses an egg, but with my egg-cracking assistant at the helm, I had no choice but to add one in.  After adding the cooled butter mixture and mixing to combine, the dough cracked a lot on rolling so with a bit of faffing around trying to work out if it needed more syrup or flour we got ourselves a dough that was good enough to roll and cut.

We managed to get fourteen butterflies from this and I think it would make about eight decent sized gingerbread men.  Some of the dough was lost through 'rolleee cuttee' but the dogs enjoyed it.

The result was a thick, soft gingerbread, nicely spiked with bits of ginger.  And surprisingly, Miss A loves bits of chopped stem ginger straight from the jar, despite its subtle spicy heat.  That girl is going to have a good palate one day.


  • 300g plain flour
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 140g butter
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 3 balls of stem ginger, chopped plus 2 tbsp of syrup from the jar
  • 100g soft, dark brown sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 190c/170c fan.  Lightly grease two baking sheets.
  2. Sift the flour, bicarb and spices into a bowl.
  3. Melt the butter, sugar and syrups in a small saucepan, taking care not to let it boil. Leave to cool for a few minutes.
  4. Crack the egg into the flour mixture, add the chopped ginger and loosely combine.
  5. Add the cooled butter mixture to the flour and mix quickly to a firm dough.
  6. On a floured work surface roll out the dough to about 4mm thick.  Cut shapes as desired, gathering and re-rolling the cuttings until all the dough is used up.
  7. Place the shapes on the baking tray and backe for 8-10 minutes until slightly risen and golden at the edges.  
  8. Leave to set on the tray for five minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.
PS: The triple ginger comes from the ginger powder, the chopped ginger and the ginger syrup :)

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Moroccan Meatballs with Herbed Couscous

Yesterday, I made Lorraine Pascale's Minted Lamb Burgers which were absolutely beautiful.  Having only used up half of the raw mixture, I faced a dilemma because I'd defrosted the mince so couldn't freeze and store any more burgers.  For a while, my analyst brain ran wild - Option a) eat burgers again for tea. Option b) feed them to the dogs Option c) do nothing (I have to put this into every business case I write so it was just habit).  Option d) was to turn them into meatballs.

Still haven't improved my meatball photography skills!
I checked my BBC Good Food Binder and found just such a recipe that I'd bookmarked ages ago.  All I needed was the sauce and the herbed couscous.  In all actuality, I probably could've made the sauce up myself ever since I discovered that the difference between a good tomato sauce and a great tomato sauce is actually a pinch of sugar.  I wish I'd known that years ago.  In fact, the BBC Good Food recipe didn't include this, but I found my sauce to have a bit of a weird tang from the cinnamon.  One small pinch of brown sugar later et voila.  The perfect sauce.

Seeing as how it's Wednesday, the husband was having his usual meal of baked chicken, Uncle Ben's tomato rice and gravy.  When I turned up with meatballs for my dinner, he got all sulky.  But whenever I've mentioned Moroccan food before, I have to listen endlessly about how he spent a month living in Morocco, eating food cooked by a real Moroccan and he didn't like that so anything I might care to cook would be far worse.  I remain astounded that he managed to survive for a whole month.  Do they have Pizza Hut in Morocco??

Anyway, I honestly think he'll like this meal.  Everything was really tasty.  I've written several times before about how I've struggled with finding the perfect homecooked meatballs recipe but I think I've now finally found one he will like (he wouldn't like the Chipotle Meatballs I made back in December as they were spicy).

Recipe - serves four (with generous helpings)

For the meatballs

  • 450g lamb mince
  • 1 egg
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 1 large onion, peeled, grated and squeezed to remove as much liquid as possible
  • small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • small bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until well combined.  
  2. Divide the mixture into 24 pieces and shape into firm balls (they will feel a little soft but don't disintegrate on cooking).  Refrigerate for thirty minutes to allow them to set a little.
  3. Heat a frying pan with a little olive oil and gently fry the meatballs until browned.  Remove with a slotted spoon and set to one side.

For the tomato sauce

  • 2x400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2cm root ginger or a generous teaspoon of minced ginger from a jar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 200 ml chicken stock
  • pinch of soft brown sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large saucepan, gently heat the oil then add the garlic, ginger and dried spices and cook for two minutes.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes, stock sugar and season to taste.  Simmer for ten minutes.  Add the meatballs and simmer for a further 20 minutes.
  3. Serve over herbed couscous.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Lorraine Pascale's Minted Lamb Burgers

Every winter, my life becomes a little like Groundhog day.  Or Groundhog week.  In that every Monday the husband asks why he can't have minted lamb kebabs for tea and I patiently explain that xyz supermarket only sells minted lamb kebabs during barbecue season.  He looks perplexed, his brow furrows, I offer something else to appease him (wine; a takeaway; ham, egg and chips...) and he's happy for another seven days.  The following Monday, the exact same conversation is had again.  And again.  In fact, I must say I have never been so relieved to see processed meat products in a shop as when xyz supermarket resumes selling minted lamb kebabs.

Not the most photogenic meal ever, but mighty tasty
Last year, I did try finding a suitable recipe online to make my own.  After a few disasterous attempts, we settled on one that used copious amounts of mint sauce.  They tasted pretty much like the shop-bought ones but instead of having a texture of  foam rubber, they actually felt just a little bit meaty.  But, like a fool, I forgot to save the link to my mac, I switched phones and the recipe was lost forever, no matter what combination of words I typed into Google.

So when I got given Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy for Christmas, I was really pleased to see her recipe for minted lamb burgers.  After all, a minted lamb kebab is just a burger on a stick.  I've been meaning to try them for ages so when I decided to make Dan Lepard's Perfect Plain Pita yesterday, these seemed like the ideal filling.  Having looked for the recipe online, I was a little dubious when I found the only reference to them on this blog, but each to their own - I felt duty-bound to try them.

I've never had much luck with burgers and meatballs.  I often find that the taste is lacking and all you get is that 'slab of meat' flavour.  Having watched James Martin making burgers some time ago, I recently realised that it's not just about the herbs and spices you throw in that makes the difference - it's the level of seasoning (ie salt and pepper) that brings out the flavour.  That's always the awkward thing with recipes.  They say 'season to taste' but how can you taste a raw meat product?

Hardly McDonald's fare
Some chefs suggest frying off small bits of the mixture and adjusting the seasoning if it's not right.  I just threw caution to the wind today and lobbed in a healthy pinch of Maldon sea salt, alongside the very generous teaspoonsful of coriander, cumin and cinnamon.  The recipe also calls for a smalll bunch each of fresh coriander and mint too.  I forgot the garlic in my haste.

And for once, my burgers had flavour.  So that's obviously it.  More salt.  Exactly what we're not supposed to do.  Or maybe they would've been just as tasty with a tiny pinch of salt.  Now, I don't know. But I'll definitely make these again and use less salt and do the 'fry a little bit, taste, adjust seasoning' method to see just how little salt I need to get a decent flavour.

The mixture seemed a little too soft to mould onto kebab sticks.  I tried to convince the husband that a minted lamb kebab is just a burger on a stick, but he's having none of it.  So my next attempt will also include trying to chill them before cooking to see if they'll solidify.  Also, maybe browning in a pan and then baking rather than grilling - in the same manner as the burgers are cooked - will stop the kebabs falling off the sticks.

These will be fantastic come barbecue season!  I'm also using the remainder of the mixture for tomorrow's recipe of Morrocan lamb meatballs with herbed couscous.  Watch this space!

Recipe - makes four generous burgers (adapted from Home Cooking Made Easy)
  • 450g lamb mince
  • 1 egg
  • 50g breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 1 large onion, peeled, grated and squeezed to remove as much liquid as possible
  • small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
  • small bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Divide the mixture into four and shape into patties about 2.5 cm thick (I shaped mine to fit the pita and they were really quite big)
  3. Fry the patties over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes each side until browned.
  4. Place the browned patties onto a baking tray and bake at 220c/200c fan for 8-10 minutes until thoroughly cooked.
  5. Serve in buns or fresh pita breads with raita

Monday, 16 April 2012

Dan Lepard's Perfect Plain Pita

I'm trying to justify today's recipe because tomorrow I intend to give Lorraine Pascale's minted lamb burgers a try.  I needed something to put them in and having read less than complimentary reviews about Ms Pascale's own buns (I will try them out one day because I'm fully aware that different bakers get different results with the same recipe), I felt that if I was going to have guaranteed success, the recipe would have to come from Short and Sweet.

Perfect plain pita
Now don't get me wrong.  Much as I rave on about Dan's recipes, there are a couple that haven't turned out as fabulously as I would've hoped.  I'm still not convinced by the fish and chip smell of the flash bread (although Miss A thinks it's the best bread ever) and I found his soft baps (trialled in my pre-blog days) a little sweet for my taste.  But in fairness, both of those are just down to personal taste.  The results of the actual recipe were spot on.  In fact, I'm trying really hard but failing to imply that Short and Sweet is anything short of perfect on the baking front.  I'm just a little bit obsessed.  And I am so grateful to Twitter for a) bringing this book into my life and b) introducing me to a whole bunch of Short and Sweet addicts so I know I'm not alone in my obsession.

If you're on Twitter, you should follow all of these like-minded Dan Worshippers immediately.  In alphabetical order @21_UrbHousewife, @BakingElements, @EversNanaJules, @HungrySquirrels, @Tarb2010 and @UnderTheBlueGum and read their blogs too.  And of course, the man himself - Mr @Dan_Lepard.

Anyhoo, over the weekend the lovely Victoria (aka @21_UrbHousewife) tweeted and blogged about Dan's Perfect Plain Pita* and I knew I just had to have a go.  Seventy five minutes from start to finish and you have perfect, plain pita.  In fact we had a brief discussion on the subject of Dan's Corn Oil Tortillas along with Sadia (@BakingElements) and Jules (@EversNanaJules - also an enthusiastic fan of Dan's pitas) and it was agreed that it is nearly as quick to bake the tortillas from scratch as it is to open a packet from the shop.  Mostly because I can never get the packets open without a) swearing; b) cutting myself and c) ripping the original packaging so that the resealable bit becomes completely redundant.

But if you think that home made tortillas are in another class then you'll think you've died and gone to pita heaven trying this recipe.  I vow from this day forward to never ever ever buy shop-bought pita again.  Seriously.  To me, shop bought pita are something you buy when you're trying to be a bit healthier than normal.  You buy them, slice them, fill them with salad and then they fall apart before you've even managed to pick them up and guide them mouth-wards.  Maybe that's why I see them as diet food. Because I always end up dropping most of the filling and getting trampled on as my dogs fight for the spoils.

They're also really dry and a bit like old shoe leather.  The only way they're remotely useful is cut into strips, toasted and dipped into hummus.

But how about warm, pillow-soft, snow white pita, fresh from the oven.  Yes, you could probably make a lovely pillow from this dough, it's so soft and bouncy.  It starts out like pretty much any other bread dough - flour, water, oil, sugar and just a small bit of yeast because as Dan says, the rise is generated by the heat from the oven.  Just before baking, the dough seemed to have a life of its own; blowing out tiny bubbles which I worried about bursting whilst shaping and rolling in case my pita didn't rise.

I needn't have worried.  They cook in just 3-5 minutes at maximum heat on my oven.  Dan suggests a minimum of 250c/230c fan/hotter than gas mark 9.  The numbers have rubbed off on the dial of my cooker past 200 so I just whacked it up to maximum (it's a fan oven) and prayed.  I often wish I had the patience to sit and watch things bake through the oven door so I can be proud that my baking is doing it's thing - I'm sad like that.  And for once, with these pita, I was able to.  They puff up before your very eyes and it is quite amazing.  The first two or three batches-worth.  I really do need to get out more!

The inside view. Faintly reminiscent of a scary fish.
And when you bite into them, it's a really weird experience.  I was fully expecting it to be a tiny thin crust with a huge pocket of air in the middle, but in fact there's a good centimetre of dough in there - hence the pillowy softness.  I cut one open so you can see what the middle looks like.  The picture doesn't really do the pita justice - in fact, I think it's reminiscent of one of those weird ugly fish you sometimes see scaring small children in a fishmongers window.  But from a bakers perspective, you can see the beautiful framework that the dough and air have created.  This is how a proper sandwich pita should be formed and I'm reliably informed by Victoria that they are perfect for ramming full of falafel. And stuffing yourself with.  Even the husband enjoyed the one he had straight from the oven.

Yet another must-bake again!  And the running total for the cost of Short and Sweet vs the number of recipes used now stands at 40p.  And it's due to fall again in the next week :)

You can find the recipe online here or in Short and Sweet.

And whilst you're surfing, please visit these great blogs

* Incidentally, in Short and Sweet, pita is spelled with one "t" but in the online version of the recipe, it has two "t's" which is the way I've always spelt it.  Because I used the book recipe here, I mirrored that spelling

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Pappardelle with Prawns and Samphire

Years ago, if I'd had to pick a cookery show to watch, anything with Rick Stein would've been way down the list.  I always used to think of him as 'the guy who only ever cooks fish' and whilst that's probably still quite true, having watched clips of his stuff on Saturday Kitchen, he's quite grown on me to the point that I have one of his books in my Amazon shopping basket.  Of course, it's still unpurchased as there's always something else I'd rather buy, but at least I can pretend I'm being adventurous.

The first time he hooked me into something was actually with a fish dish.  But this one had samphire in it. For some reason I became a bit fixated on the idea of samphire - I'm really not sure why and I certainly don't remember what he cooked it with - but it was one of those things that I just had to have.  Of course, living nowhere near the sea any more and what with it being seasonal local produce, the chance of getting some has never arisen in the intervening years.  Until Friday.  When I found myself with a generous handful of samphire and no clue what to do with it.

I have no idea how long it keeps for so I felt bound to try and cook with it within a day or two.  Ewan Mitchell, blogger at Tonight's Menu and creator of the Olympic Food Challenge, suggested a recipe that he recently made with Lemon Sole.  That's another ingredient on my hit list before the end of the year, but living in land-locked Wiltshire fresh fish at short notice is a bit of a challenge at times.  Not having a local fishmongers, I ended up settling on making something up with prawns based on a little bit of Googling about samphire.  And actually, it wasn't all that bad.
Lots of green, healthy looking stuff (swimming in butter!)

For the second day in a row, I feel quite proud that I've eaten something seasonal - even if the produce isn't exactly local with it.  But at least it's not been imported thousands of miles on a freight plane.

Samphire is touted as 'the asparagus of the sea' and it's supposed to have a really salty taste.  I have to admit that I was expecting it to taste like a mouthful of seawater, but actually, it's not that salty.  Or maybe my palate has just become accustomed to too much salt???  From the reading I did, people recommended to not salt the dish.  In this case, I would highly recommend seasoning the pasta a little before finishing as the large, flat ribbons of pasta can be quite bland if picked up sans samphire.  I normally only buy unsalted butter, but for this I'd probably go for slightly salted and then add lashings of pepper to the pasta before serving.

To give flavour, I added some lazy chillies for some heat, garlic for flavour and then sprinkled the top with chopped parsley and served with lemon to squeeze over.  I don't know if this is a sensible seasoning combination, but I liked it.  The samphire has a slightly bitter tang to it so there seemed to be a good range in the dish - bitter, salty, sour, spicy and sweet from the prawns.  If nobody else likes this dish, I know one person who would - my wonderful Grandma who would've been 83 today.  There's nobody else I would've rather had dinner with tonight.

Serves 2
  • 250g pappardelle pasta
  • 200g king prawns
  • 25g slightly salted butter
  • handful samphire
  • 1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped or 1tsp lazy chillies
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • small handful parsley, finely chopped
  • lemon wedges to serve
  1. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions.  Drain and return to the pan, tossing in half of the butter and season with some black pepper.  Keep warm by placing a lid over the saucepan.
  2. Wash the samphire and cook in boiling water for three minutes.
  3. Whilst the samphire is cooking, melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the garlic and prawns until they just start to turn pink and the garlic softens.  Drain the samphire.
  4. Add the chilli, samphire and pasta and to the prawns and warm for a couple of minutes, ensuring everything is well combined.  
  5. Serve sprinkled with the chopped parsley and lemon wedges.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Thomasina Miers' Spring Tacos with Mushrooms

Just after hitting 10,000 views
Firstly, I would like to take the opportunity to say thank you to all my readers for helping me make it to 10,000 page views in just over six months.  I am amazed and humbled that people have spent time reading my words.  I never thought in my wildest dreams that anyone other than my mother* and my lovely cousin Laura would read it.  But to reach 10,000 page views in such a short space of time has made me all warm and fuzzy inside.  So a huge thank you to everyone who has read, commented and tweeted me about it.  It's been fun and you've all kept me going.  And given me a reason to see it through to the bitter end in late September.

I would love to name everyone who I know has taken the time to read, but I'm bound to miss someone out.  Don't take offence if I do, but in no particular order thanks to Laura B, Tamara, Chantelle, Pauls L and W, both Kate S's, Dicky, Robs A, B and C, Hubby (for letting me pick on him), Paul L, Phil, Nelly, Sadia, Jaime, @UnderTheBlueGum, Amy (@WeeklyBakeOff), Laura (@Philosophobia), both Jules', Lisa, Allison, Alison (yes one has one 'l' and the other has two), Ewan who is letting me join his Olympic challenge (more about that on another day) and to all the people who have had cake foisted on them when I've had a baking frenzy.

Anyway, on to today's recipe.  Despite living in a 'Market Town' we don't actually have a proper market.  There are a few token stalls strewn down the high street on a Saturday - most selling tat, the with a couple of local producers selling cake and a few veg - but nothing to allow you to stock up.

Driving home midweek and in need of just one chilli I was sulking to myself that I'd be forced to buy an entire packet that I'd either have to use or would end up rotting slowly in the fridge.  That's the trouble with generally cooking for one.  Or cooking for three - but cooking three separate meals.

I stopped in Morrisons for some odds and ends and was amazed to see that the latest revamp has turned the fruit and veg section into a proper market place where you can actually buy small quantities of things.  And most stuff is loose.  Meaning if you want one chilli, you can spend 8p (as I did) rather than 65p on pre-packaged ones that will go to waste.  I got overly excited by the fact that you can buy all manner of exotic things which will be great for some recipes on this blog over the remaining months.  

So having fallen out big style with Ocado, I gave up my blessed Friday afternoon off this week in favour of doing my shopping myself and buying exactly what I need with minimal waste on both food and packaging.  See David Cameron, I'm doing my bit.

The most exciting bit is that they sell loose exotic mushrooms so expect many mushroom based recipes in the coming weeks.  I have always loved mushrooms and can't believe so many of my friends don't share my passion.  At one point, I was surrounded by so many mushroom-fearing that like a parched man in the desert, I literally jumped on the husband (he was not even boyfriend back then) like he would be my foodie saviour.  Desperation leads to hasty assumptions.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I'd had a few rubbish relationships around this time so with a good friend, came up with a list of ten criteria that any new beau had to meet.  Liking mushrooms was on the list.  The list became my dating yardstick and the husband was the only one who ticked all ten boxes.  

Cooked mushrooms taste better than they look!
Anyhow, although he's not being subjected to experimental mushroom-ness tonight, tea tomorrow will also contain exotic mushrooms (see no waste here now).  Like my mother, tea for him must contain meat, so I chose a recipe that would allow me to share part of the meal and for him to have chicken.

Thomasina Miers has a section in her book (Mexican Food Made Easy) about tacos and different fillings for each season.  I made the summer ones early on in this challenge.  The spring one is mushroom based so I gave this a whirl to great success.  Instead of using her taco recipe, I made Dan Lepard's corn oil tortillas.  The dough is pretty similar and I really should've just made a few smaller ones to replicate a taco - but I'm greedy so went for two bigger wraps.

As for the taste.  It sounds weird, but it was just like eating a spring woodland, in the nicest possible way!  The mushrooms - being proper mushrooms than bog standard white button mushrooms - had an amazing earthy taste.  I had a mix of Pied Bleu, Shitake and regular chestnut.  And despite having probably sat on a shelf in Morrisons for a day or two, they tasted like they were freshly picked.  I've picked mushrooms in the past with an expert, but wouldn't be brave enough to do so myself.

With a liberal sprinkling of parsley and coriander in place of the tarragon, the flavour was lifted with a kind of fresh, grassy flavour.  And the saltiness of the feta (Miers recommends this if you can't get Pecorino) gave it a depth that seasoning alone couldn't achieve.  

If I could afford to buy piles of these mushrooms (the Pied Bleu were something ridiculous like £30/kg), I'd eat this dish time and again.  As always,  top marks to Thomasina and also to Dan for the tortillas.  These I now make regularly as it's far less stressful than trying to open a packet of shop-bought ones and a darn sight tastier too.

Sadly, the recipe for the tortillas still isn't online but it's just another reason to buy the book.  But they do get rave reviews from lots of the lovely people I Tweet with.

Cooking time: 15–20 minutes
No matter how you look at them, they're not that attractive...

  • 25g butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 750g St George's, Morell or mixed mushrooms, sliced
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil (optional)
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped a small handful tarragon, chopped
To serve
  • A small handful of parsley, roughly chopped
  • Grated Pecorino cheese
  • Addictive sweet chipotle paste

1. Heat half the butter and olive oil in a frying pan and add the mushrooms, seasoning with salt and pepper.

2. Cook over a high heat until the mushrooms have released their juices and the juice has started to evaporate, about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the butter and the oil (including the truffle oil if you are using it), the shallots and garlic and cook until soft. Sprinkle with the tarragon and check the seasoning.

3. Spoon the mushrooms into a heated earthenware dish that will look fun on the table and sprinkle over the parsley and cheese. This is incredibly delicious with my sweet chipotle paste, but also yummy with the Fresh tomato salsa on page 26 and a dollop of crème fraîche. 

*My mother doesn't have time to read my blog apparently.  She'd much rather spend her time playing Cityville on Facebook.
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