Saturday, 30 June 2012

James Martin's Caramel Apple Brioche

This is something I've been wanting to make for a long time, but have shied away from because of the whopping calorie content.  But in a fit of pre-diet carb-loading, I decided it was now or never.  It was either this or Churros y Chocolat from Thomasina Miers Mexican Food Made Easy.  This only won because I'm still a bit of a wuss when it comes to deep-fat-frying without a deep-fat-fryer.

As with all James' recipes, this involves an awful lot of butter, and lots of sugar too.  But it has fruit in it, so I figured it counts as one of my five a day.  And I eschewed the dollop of softly whipped double cream in favour of a dollop of Greek yogurt, thus saving a few calories and also helping to cut through the tooth-rotting sweetness that is basically toffee apples on sweet French Toast.

Miss A had one triangle of toast with a smear of the toffee and a freshly sliced apple but managed to swipe a second bit of the bread and ram it in her mouth before I knew where it had gone.  I've tried her with French toast before but she's always turned her nose up at it.  I think the brioche version - sans toffee sauce - might make a good compromise in future.

The brioche I used was a pre-bought, ready sliced one which is pretty lazy of me, but it's a great way to use up the end of a left over loaf whether you make your own or not.  It's something I've done before on this blog (read the post here) and it was a bit of an epically long recipe so not something I do regularly - but worth it for the treat.  I do also want to try Dan Lepard's brioche recipe on day - and that takes two days of baking!

One cheat was to use Bonne Maman Dulche de Leche rather than making my own caramel sauce.  Purely because I had a half open jar in the fridge and didn't have any double cream to hand.

My finally change to the recipe was to not peel my apples and to use Pink Ladies, leaving the skin on to give a pretty contrast to all the brown of the toast and the toffee.  The picture doesn't really do it justice, but they did look quite decorative.  I really need to work on my food photography!

Serves 2

  • 4 slices plain brioche, halved
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 Pink Lady Apples, cored and quartered
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean extract
  • 4 tsp soft brown sugar
  • 50 ml milk
  • 2 tbsp dulche de leche
  • 40g butter

  1. Mix the egg, milk, 2 tsp of sugar and vanilla together in a shallow bowl.
  2. Heat half the butter in a frying pan.  Once foaming, dip the brioche pieces in the egg mixture and fry until lightly browned on both sides.  Put on a plate in the oven to keep warm.
  3. Coat the apple in the rest of the sugar.  Put the remaining butter in the frying pan and turn the heat up.  Toss the apples in the butter until the sugar starts to caramelise.  Add in the toffee sauce and warm slightly then serve over the brioche, topped with some Greek yogurt, creme fraiche or whipped cream.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Welsh Rarebit (or Rabbit)

I'm feeling mighty guilty for picking a Welsh recipe whilst holidaying in Scotland.  I did do a Scottish recipe on Burns night - and missed St David's Day.  And I'm hoping that during this holiday (this post may auto-publish if I've got no interweb) that I'll have swapped out one of my planned recipes for some lovely, locally sourced Scottish produce.  But with two weeks of quick, speedy recipes to come up with, I'm now getting desperate.

Cheese on toast.  Whod've thought it could be so complicated?  But even in our house, I cook it two different ways.  The husband only likes his bread toasted on one side.  The soft side must then be buttered before being covered in sliced cheese.  The cheese must melt and not have a single speck of brown on it.  He then eats it with a knife and fork.

I, on the other hand, really prefer my cheese unmelted.  Give me two nice pieces of toast that have been left in the toaster until they've cooled a little and gone crispy.  Butter with butter that's out of the fridge, but not too hard or too soft (Lurpak spreadable makes this so much easier - but the toast has to be totally cold or it makes the bread soggy with its higher water content).  I then like my cheese grated on the fine grater setting (never the thick one) and piled on top.

Or, if I'm making proper cheese on toast, then I like a smattering of brown specks, but not so much that it tastes of toasted cheese.  We're a fussy pair, aren't we?

I wondered how I could challenge our foibles.  Sometimes the simple things are the best and can't be improved on.  But I'm all about change this year.  So Welsh Rarebit (Rabbit) it was.

A quick Google turned up so many recipes that I started out with Felicity Cloake's article on how to make the best Welsh Rarebit (Rabbit).  It seems like anything goes with different cheeses, liquids, breads and seasonings.  I just wanted something simple.  The husband was pleased to let me try it as it meant I bought him some beer for the evening - I only needed two tablespoons.

I plumped for egg yolks, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and some Dijon mustard - it was all I had.  And it wasn't half bad.  The husband had a bit and said it was 'too cheesy'.  I think he meant it was too tangy for him.  We always have Double Gloucester as the husband doesn't like really mature cheddar.  The combination of flavours ended up making it tangy like a stronger cheddar but with a beautifully soft, melty texture thanks to the liquid and the eggs.

This is something to experiment with when I get home.  After I've had a bit of a holiday food detox.

You can read Felicity's article here.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

BBC Good Food Chicken Chow Mein

Chicken-based recipes are a recurring theme in our household.  It's about the only meat the husband will reliably eat.  And pretty much, if a new recipe contains chicken, he's open to trying it.  Hence my decision to do chicken two days in a row.

For some strange reason, he always used to order Chicken Chow Mein and Special Fried Rice from the Chinese.  Every time he did it, he'd complain that he had too much food (we never have 'sharing' Chinese) and eventually he braved a Chinese Chicken Curry and has never looked back.

One of my early thoughts for things to do on this blog was to have a go at 'Fake-away' (homemade versions of takeaway meals).  I had one hit with Singapore Noodles and on less successful attempt at Salt and Pepper Chicken.  Since then I've not tried anything else.  So this seemed an ideal crowd pleaser.

Low fat, low carb and simple
I found it under the Kids Cooking section of the BBC Good Food website and even though Miss A is too small to help prep and cook it, I'm hoping she might try it as it comes with noodles which she does like.

Due to holidays, this is another pre-authored blog so do check back for an update with a picture and a verdict.

Recipe can be found here

Updated: 5 July 2012 @ 20:26

It got eaten.  The hubby's complaint was that it was a lot of the same - which is true.  Because it's all mixed together and there's not much complexity to the flavour.  Which is odd.  Because that's how all the meals he enjoys normally are.  I think he had an issue with it being healthy and not having a huge pile of bread on the side - which is how he normally eats his food.

This was the first signal that the eight-week healthy eating plan is going to be more stressful than I'd first anticipated.  I'm not sure that he is really taking the health kick this space.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Cooking for Kids: Fruit Skewers

When we get back from holiday, the husband is starting a new healthy eating regime, coupled with a stupidly intense exercise regime.  I've been handed the manual and informed that I am responsible for making sure that he has a six pack like Ben Shepherd's (if you've not seen him recently, check out these pics of him in Men's Health - shame he's a bit little)

Some of your five a day
I'm sure, if he puts his mind to it, he could get most of the way there.  When I first knew him, he used to lift weights every day and had really big arm muscles for someone who was pretty slim.  Since we moved to the countryside, he's become more sedentary and the dumbells are coated in a serious layer of dust in the garage.  But the biggest challenge will be the food.

It involves very little carbs, lots of protein and lots of fresh fruit and veg.  The only veg the husband eats is bell peppers when we have fajitas (chopped toms, onions and garlic made into sauce doesn't count in my book).  He keeps saying 'it's only eight weeks'.  I'm afraid we won't get past day two.  Every so often, he'll inform me I don't feed him enough vegetables.  I stock up on broccoli, asparagus, peas etc and by the end of the week, I'm making soup for me with it and he's back to no veg at all.

Miss A is just like him in that respect; but when it comes to fruit, she's like a little fruit bat.  I've never seen a child willingly eat so much fruit as she does - all varieties (except Dragon Fruit).  The husband, on the other hand, only eats bananas.  And apple turnovers.  Only if they're accompanied by ice cream.

So I figured that this would be a good, simple, sharing family recipe for holiday.  Chop up loads of fresh fruit.  Stick it on skewers.  Drizzle with maple syrup and melted chocolate.  Eat.  Job done.  Why did I not think of this before?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Mary Berry's Victoria Sandwich

This was an unplanned recipe for this holiday and I picked it for two reasons. Number one that we are going on a serious health kick after the holidays and cake is banned (unless I'm baking it for someone else) and I've never made a traditional Vicky sponge before; and number two because I wanted to try out Stork Baking Liquid.

This post is not sponsored in any way by the makers of Stork.

I wanted to try it as it saves having to remember to get the butter out of the fridge when you have a baking emergency. Since having Miss A I only use butter or pure oil in cake because of the manufactured chemical history of margerine so this is a bit of a side step for me. As we're on holiday without a mixer it seemed like a simple way to make a cake without too much beating.

As I'm typing from my phone whilst hubby is driving through the sodden Highlands, I will keep this short and update when we're home.

The bake was very yellow compared to a butter- or margerine-based cake. The sponge was much damper on the bottom than I would've expected - more what I'd expect from an oil-based recipe (like a carrot cake).

However it was lovely and light and tasted good (thanks to some expensive vanilla bean paste) with a moist crumb.

It is a good store-cupboard stand by, however, I much prefer Dan Lepard's method of just using semi-melted butter.  Over the course of this blog, I've tried loads of ways to quickly soften butter.

One involves pouring boiling water into a pyrex bowl then removing the water, and placing the butter under the inverted bowl to let it soften.  Didn't work.  I've left it on the radiator in mid-winter only to forget it until I found the spaniel lapping at a suspicious yellow puddle on the kitchen floor.  Grating it works to some degree - the heat from your hand whilst grating helps even more, but if you're using a lot of grated butter in cold weather, it just reverts back to a uniform ball of butter.  But since hearing of Dan's method of having roughly 60% solid to 40% liquid butter - which you can do by microwaving it on medium (and watching it like a hawk), I've managed to get around the problem of remembering to take my butter out in advance of making a sponge cake.  In fact, I guess it's just like using this oil-based product but with a better colour and flavour.

As for my opinion of Ms Berry's recipe? Well its a standard sponge recipe with even quantities of ingredients making it simple to scale. And its one the WI would approve of as its only filled with jam and doesn't have cream. I've heard they disapprove of anyone other than the gorgeous James Martin doing that.

I used her recipe from 100 Bakes and Cakes, but there are loads of variations she's penned all over the web.  This is the version from the Telegraph which uses the same quantities as the book.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Dan Lepard's Sour Cream Sandwich Bread

Bread is also off the menu once we get home.  I'm supposed to be following this diet so Miss A will have to forgo homemade bread as it's the one thing I can't resist.  Cake, yep I can let that go.  Fresh bread, no way.

Of course, after 'Sconegate' I may well get vilified for being such an awful mother as to give up making home made bread for my child just because I selfishly want to lose weight.  So I'll make sure I feed her a deep fried Mars Bar or two while we're on holiday.  Just for good measure.

Again, quick, pre-authored post for the day.  Will update when we're back in civilisation.  The recipe can be found here.

Updated 1st July 2012 @ 20:15

Despite my detailed packing list and the fact that I ticked that I had my electronic scales, when we arrived at our first destination, I discovered they were still sat on the worktop in my kitchen about four hundred miles away.  Both houses kindly provided scales, however, I probably would've been just as accurate (or not) guessing at the need for a third of a bag of flour or three-fifths of a block of butter or whatever quantity was needed because both pairs of scales looked to have come from Poundland.  There's nothing wrong with Poundland (other discount stores are available).  Once I'd swallowed my middle-class-aspiring-pride, I discovered some great bargains in there.  But when it comes to precision baking, you need a decent set of scales.  Of course, who in their right mind - other than me - would want to do precision weighing when they're supposedly on holiday?

It made a good fish finger sandwich
I'm so sad that I now even weigh my liquids, having worked out how much various oils and milks weigh (it differs based on the fat content).  Weighing liquids is much easier when you have a measuring jug that has lots most of the numbers off of the side and are as blind as a bat and can't read the measurements anyway.  So I blame my lack of appreciation of this loaf on the fact that I forgot my scales.

It was a good, bog standard white bread.  I'm not sure that the sour cream did much to alter the crust on the loaf when compared to Dan's standard Easy White Loaf.  I was expecting a softer crust but it was actually quite firm.  This could also be because I'm used to cooking in my fan oven and had a conventional oven on holiday.  I guess the way to tell would be to make both loaves simultaneously (and not over six months apart!) and do a side-by-side taste test.

I also did the first rise for this loaf in the fridge.  I did all the faffy kneading early in the morning, then popped it in the fridge whilst we went out for the day.  When I came back, I did the second rise which took about two hours and popped it into the oven and hey presto.  A word to the wise if you want to try this method - reduce the yeast by half.  This was a useful tip I found in Short and Sweet - I've made fridge-risen bread before and it's always tried to escape from its bowl overnight but half the yeast with this one and it was nicely contained.

It kept quite well - we had it a couple of days later for fish finger sandwiches.  I usually have mayo and salsa in mine but with a lack of mayo, I made up some more of Paul's Pico di Gallo and it was awesome!! The last couple of slices were fed to the local sheep.  Who eat anything.  I thought it was only goats that did that but they eat spaghetti, Cheerios, bananas, bird seed, polos, apples and toddler fingers.

I'm in no hurry to bake this one again - it's more expensive than the easy white loaf but if I had some sour cream about to expire in the fridge, I have at least one extra way of using it up rather than forcing myself to eat nachos and sour cream.

And a final post-script.  Sconegate blew up in my face whilst I was away.  Some people are quite happy to dish criticism out but the minute they think you've slighted them (which I didn't) they're happy to get the virtual hatchet out and head straight for your jugular.   And so I've now blocked said person on Twitter.  That was a sad day as Twitter is generally such a nice place to inhabit.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

BBC Good Food Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries

After at least a week of unhealthy eating, I'm going to slowly start preparing the husband for his new diet regimen when we get home.  He's doing this new hardcore exercise plan (he'll last about a week) and it comes with one of those diet plans that revolves around oats and fish with brown rice and veggies.  None of which he'll eat.  So this morning, as we're in Scotland, I thought I'd try convincing him to at least give porridge a go.  I doubt that he'll even look at it.  Normally he can't bear to be on the same floor as it, let alone in the same room. And we're in a single storey log cabin, so he may have ended up sitting outside in the rain whilst I made this.

Will update with the tale of how it went later as I'm assuming we have no mobile signal and pre-authoring this post.
Loving the retro Blue Willow Ware china

Recipe can be found here

Updated: 05 July 2012 @ 19:58 

I must have been seriously deluded when I wrote the bit above, thinking that he husband would even be present at the breakfast table at the same time as everyone else, let alone that he might consider eating porridge.

Maybe he knew what I was thinking and purposely avoided getting up until Miss A and I had finished breakfast so that I couldn't try and force feed him porridge.  Or because he was on holiday, he got to have a lie in every single day where I was up at 6am, which I guess is a lie in for me as I'm normally up at 5 and off to work at six.

Enough of our marital discord.  There's not too much to say about this recipe.  I enjoyed it enough to make it two days on the trot.  The second day, however, I managed to burn the porridge to the bottom of the pan whilst dealing with a Cheerio-related crisis (I hate stainless steel pans on electric hobs) so I've not made it since.

Cooking the bananas in the porridge meant that it needed minimal sugar for sweetening - I normally use maple syrup - so it's a fairly good and filling diet option.  Definitely one for a weekend breakfast when I've got the time (and the non-stick pans) to make this.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Paul's Pico de Gallo

This recipe was given to me by my Twitter friend Tarb2010. I chose this for today because after a long drive across Scotland fajitas seemed like a nice easy tea.
Tarb gave me the recipe ages ago and its one of those recipes I keep meaning to try but always forget or don't have all the ingredients for.
Sorry for the short post but am posting from my phone as we still have no interweb for proper posting. Will update when we are home.  the recipe can be found here.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Mary Berry's Fruited Tea Bread

This post was going to be about Mary Berry's Barabrith.  But then I figured I might get a few raised eyebrows from my Scottish followers because I'm holidaying North of the Border.  Thankfully, Mary saved the day because her 100 Cakes and Bakes book has a recipe for Fruited Tea Bread.  Which is exactly the same recipe as Barabrith, except for one using regular tea and sultanas, the other uses mixed fruit and Earl Grey tea.  The quantities for everything is absolutely the same.

Sadly not my lovely spotty tin
I picked this recipe as I needed something to sustain us on our journey tomorrow.  We're off even further up North and have a four hour car trip ahead of us (excluding traffic jams and pit stops).  So fruited tea bread seemed like something that would travel well.

Updated 5 July 2012 @ 20:11

I bought a bag of Tesco's luxury dried fruit to make this - in addition to the usual staples of sultanas and raisins it also included pineapple, apricots and cherries - and it makes for a more interesting bake than a regular teabread like the Barrabrith.  I know Morrisons do a similar bag of dried fruit as I use it for my Christmas cakes.  So do Waitrose although it's a fair bit more expensive.

The bake was a little paler than it should have been because I only had golden caster to hand instead of the required muscavado, but it didn't detract from the look or the flavour.  It took 50% longer to cook than stated, but it may be because I was using an unfamiliar oven and I was a bit paranoid about it not being a fan oven and burning the cake.

It was nice and moist with or without butter.  A good, solid crowd pleaser.  But then aside from the odd one or two, my family generally never complain about being given cake.

Our lovely land lady also popped by the day before this to drop off some homemade millionaire's shortbreads, presented in the lovely Cath Kidston tin in the picture.  I so wanted to take it home with me as it would be great for styling pictures for the blog.  Sadly I don't have any loveliness like that in my day-to-day life.  I must buy me some!

A couple of other asides.  When posting from an Android phone, it autocorrects 'fruited' to 'fried'  I had a few tweets asking about the novelty that is Mary Berry's Fried Tea Bread.  And sheep are very partial to slightly stale fruited tea bread.  As are chickens, peacocks and Shetland Ponies.  And toddlers who are given the stale fruit bread to share with the animal neighbours.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Real Spaghetti Bolognaise

Spag Bol is my absolute favourite meal in the world.  I honestly would eat it every day and, provided it was a good recipe, would never tire of it.

I've written before about having to twist my grandad's arm to get him to let my mum make it.  Eventually, we got to a point where he actually made it for the family.  He used to laugh at the recipe I wrote out for him because it included 'two squirts of garlic' in the ingredient list.  We used to use Gia Garlic Puree in a tube (in fact, I still use it sometimes) but because he wasn't a 'throw it all in the pot and see how it turns out' cook, he could never quite figure out how much two squirts was.  I think it's because he was an accountant and everything had to be perfectly counted in his world.

The husband is very much like him.  He used to make spag bol when I first met him.  Whereas I'm very much of the tweak-as-you-go school, he mechanicially made his recipe time after time with no variation.

Spag bol.  On a plate.  Sorted!
Of course, this caused me trouble because no two spag bols I produced ever tasted the same.  Even if I use all the same ingredients and am consistent with my quantities of mince, onions and tomatoes; the twiddly bits (Bovril cubes, Lea and Perrins, bacon, carrots, celery, mushrooms, wine, herbs) may or may not make an appearance - and in varying quantities each time.  For me, it always tasted somewhere between okay and amazing because I adore spag bol.  But the hubby couldn't deal with the variance.

When I started this blog, I wanted to find the ultimate spag bol recipe that I would promise to myself I'd never tweak.  But I've not been brave enough to make it for him again until now.  Miss A and I eat it sometimes but since I found a recipe for meatballs he loves (Waitrose meatballs with Rachel Allen's pasta sauce - homemade of course!), he refuses to eat spag bol.

Given that we're on holiday and I have decided that I will only be cooking one meal each night for the duration, he is going to have to eat up and shut up for once.  I may ask his opinion but sometimes his honesty is a little brutal (I've learned never to ask if my bum looks big in anything - you can read some of his critical feedback here).

I found this recipe by Googling for 'The Ultimate Spaghetti Bolognese'.  This comes straight from a real, genuine Italian chef who is unimpressed by various English variations on a classic dish.  I find that amusing because my understanding was that Italians don't really eat Spag Bol.  Instead, eating a similar meat ragu which comes with something other than spaghetti (can't remember exactly what).  But whatever, I have to give it a whirl if you'll pardon the pun.

Sorry for yet another pre-written blog post - don't worry, I will update them all soon!

In the meantime, if you want to try it yourself, you can find the recipe here.

Updated: 20th July 2012 @ 15:21

Well the verdict was 'It's just spag bol'.  It wasn't a bad spag bol.  For someone who loves spag bol as much as I do, it was very edible.  It just didn't set my world on fire, thus leaving me still bereft of the ultimate go-to spag bol recipe.

There will definitely be further research in this area in the future when I start my new blog and I'm not having to post every single day.  I know that a combination of beef and pork or veal mince is supposed to work very well so I have some options to try.

But I did achieve my ultimate goal of ensuring that all three family members ate the same thing at the same time with this recipe.  Job done.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Apricot Pancakes with Basil and Strawberry Butter

Despite all my good planning, the blogging schedule has been interrupted already.  For all the best reasons but this post is technically about a recipe I tried yesterday and I'm making yesterday's pre-blogged recipe tonight.

The interruption was very welcome - the lovely Allison Patrick hosted a special meeting of the Edinburgh Cake Ladies because I was holidaying very close to her house.  Because I'd intended on making the husband try something different for tea, I switched to a new breakfast recipe for myself and Miss A yesterday and let the hubby have a (rather dodgy) lunch in a chippy.  And then I went out and ate lots of cake and had a really good time.

Rocky would give it a thumbs up if he had any
The recipe for today (yesterday) was inspired by a BBC Good Food recipe.  Pancakes used to be staple weekend fayre for Miss A to help me assuage the guilt of not being with her for breakfast Monday to Fridays because I'm already at work when she gets up.  She then got fussy and stopped eating them.  Since then, I've tried a number of recipes to try and tempt her but she's having none of it.  And today's recipe met with a similar reception.

Personally, I liked this batter.  It was the perfect consistency, simple to make and produced light and fluffy pancakes.  Abigail took hers from her plate, turned them into drums, pounded on them for a while, picked out the apricots and then fed the remains to her stuffed toy rhino Rocky.

Because I had no honey (probably a crime in Scotland!) I made use of the leftover basil from Monday's dinner and some strawberries to make strawberry and basil butter.   This gave them a lovely fresh taste, despite being packed with dried fruit rather than fresh.

Recipe - serves 4 (or three plus a hungry stuffed toy rhino) - adapted from a BBC Good Food recipe

  • 140g plain flour, sifted
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 150ml milk
  • 50g dried apricots, chopped
  • a little butter for frying

  • 100g lightly salted butter, softened
  • small handful of basil leaves, torn
  • 50g strawberries, finely diced

  • extra strawberries to serve

  1. Mix the basil into the butter then carefully press the strawberries into the mixture.  Mould into a log shape, wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge.
  2. Mix the flour, bicarb, baking powder, sugar, egg and milk together to make a thick, smooth batter.  Fold in the apricots.
  3. Heat the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat.  Once melted, drop tablespoonfuls of batter into the pan, leaving space to spread.  Cook until firm and browned on the bottom then flip over and cook for a further two minutes.
  4. Once all the pancakes are cooked, remove the butter from the fridge and carefully slice into circles then use to top the pancakes.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

BBC Good Food Fully Loaded Cajun Burgers

This recipe is a variation on something I used to regularly make the husband for dinner.  One of those calorie-laden meals that have thankfully been banished to the 'once in a blue moon' list of emergency meals that I can make with little effort.

It kind of seems appropriate to do this one while we're away on holiday because hopefully we'll have been out somewhere nice today and I will need a quick meal to feed the troops.

This post has been pre-written so I can't comment on the taste yet, but hopefully if we have a decent 3G signal where we're staying, I can update the post before the auto-schedule kicks in and give you my considered opinion with a picture as evidence of what I did.

That said, what's not to like about a ciabatta roll filled with chicken, bacon, avocado and cheese?  Anyone?  Well except for the veggies of course...

I expect the only way it could be improved would be with a homemade ciabatta roll and a pile of curly fries on the side.

*Note to self* - time to buy some elasticated waist jeans!

If you, too, want to become a weeble, you can find the recipe here.

Updated 20th July 2012 @ 15:28:

Of course, this one went down really well with the husband.  He had his without avocado, I had mine with the works.  Miss A ate peanut butter on toast.  Mission to get everyone to eat the same thing?  Failed.  Mission to turn us all into weebles?  Accomplished.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Updated: Jo Pratt's Chunky Sausage and Tomato Pasta

The seven year itch begins today.  In an attempt to ward it off and remind us that we are a family, I'm enforcing a mutual dinner on everyone this evening.  If you've read other posts on this blog, you'll know I often cook three different dinners each night.  About the only time hubs and I eat the same thing is on a Sunday when we have Chicken Tikka and Naan (a winning combination of recipes discovered whilst writing this blog) or when he persuades me to let him have takeaway.

I said before we came on holiday that we'd eat as a family every night.  So far we've had two dinners, both of which have just been me and hubs due to Miss A having her daily pattern disrupted and being too fractious at dinnertime to sit and eat with the grown ups.  So tonight, we will all be trying this recipe.  I'd pre-written this post as a placeholder in case we had no internet.  We have a sketchy signal so I've taken the opportunity to update the pre-written blog and will hopefully post the verdict on Monday evening.  Unless of course hubs has secretly arranged to whisk me off somewhere fancy for dinner.  Like the North Berwick Fish Bar if I'm really lucky...

The recipe I'm planning on making can be found here

Updated 20th June 2012 @ 07:55

Quick update.  Everyone ate it and everyone loved it.  It actually didn't taste that much different to my normal recipe but it had a lot less sauce and I preferred it that way.  Normally my sauce is made from a mix of pre made tomato and basil pasta sauce, some pesto and tin of chopped tomatoes and some caramelised onions.

The only downside was that there wasn't much sausage.  I used half the pasta as I was only cooking for three and the four stated sausages which was about right for two adults.  If the lack of sausages in the stated meal for four is due to cost then I'd question the use of wine and fresh basil in the recipe at the expense of a filling meal.  But then I'm probably just greedy!  Definitely a make again for the family once the post holiday diet is over.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Dan Lepard's Easy Chocolate Birthday Cake

So right now, we're in hopefully (sunny) Scotland and by the time you're reading this, we will have produced a stunning Father's Day cake for the husband.  With it being our seventh wedding anniversary tomorrow as well, I figured what better way to tick off a new recipe than to bake a celebratory chocolate cake.  This also helped justify why I needed to pack my sandwich tins for holiday.

Artfully decorated by Miss A with giant jazzes
We always take basics with us to cope with the first night just in case we don't make it to the supermarket - normally Weetabix, bread, frozen milk (it can defrost on the way) and a few other odds and ends.  Our favourite Scottish hideaway used to have a well-stocked pantry of basics left by previous visitors but this new location is an unknown quantity so I included all of the dry ingredients weighed out already and then threw in my scales too - just in case neither location had a set.

Then it just needed a quick trip to the local shops for eggs and cream and some magic from Miss A and hopefully at some point during this week, I'll be able to furnish this pre-written post with a picture of the finished cake.

In the meantime, here's a link to the recipe online.

Updated 17th June 2012 @ 21:10

There's just something about me and chocolate cakes (excluding brownies) that just don't seem to be working well together on this blog.  When we finally arrived at our destination, I realised that despite ticking them off from my holiday packing list, I actually forgot to bring my scales with me.

My holiday packing list
Unfortunately, the scales at the cottage are a bit hit and miss (although if I'm honest, my own scales are temperamental) and so this cake was destined from the start to not be perfect.  Add to that my decision to halve the recipe and baking in an unfamiliar oven; plus, not checking that the batter was evenly spread in the pan, I was lucky it even resembled a cake.  And because I was so worried about it sinking, I didn't dare look at it until 25 minutes had passed.  By which time it was cooked, but a little dry.

Lepard's cake is stuffed with whipped cream and jam before being slathered in chocolate icing.  Because we already had an amazing cake in our holiday fridge on arrival (more on that another night - it deserves its own special post), I decided to cut down on the cream and just make a simple ganache for Miss A to spread over the top of the cake.

The flavour of the cake was really good.  It just probably need a little less time in the oven and a little more filling/topping to disguise it's dryness.  Miss A was really proud of her efforts and it was a good recipe to allow her to help with every single stage, apart from melting the butter and heating the cream for the ganache.

I owe it to this recipe to bake it in its true form another time.  In the meantime, I'm off to polish off some more of the other cake before falling into a sugar-induced coma.  Laters!

PS: It's been mostly raining with a tiny glimmer of sunshine!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Dan Lepard's Apple Turnovers

After yesterday's pastry-fest ready for the sausage rolls, I ended up with a fair bit left over.  Some I froze, but I decided to keep a small portion back to make something else for the picnic.  We're on a long journey today - eight hours of solid driving, provided there are no traffic jams and excluding stops - and so I needed to be prepared.

Having a bagful of apples that also needed either eating or adding to the picnic, I saw an opportunity to make Dan's Apple Turnovers - a recipe that he recommends alongside his All Butter Puff recipe.

No cardboard in sight!
Earlier this week, the husband went out to buy wine and I asked him to bring me back something nice.  He came back with Tesco's Apple Turnovers.  They were stale and had no taste.  What a waste of calories!  So this seemed like a good time to show the husband how an apple turnover should taste.

The apple filling tastes amazing.  I used three apples-worth to make two turnovers (I like them packed with fruit, not air) and had a bit to spare.  The butter, sugar, lemon, vanilla and cinnamon combination is fantastic with Pink Lady apples.  And they keep their shape well without turning into mush like if you use cooking apple.

I have to blog really quickly as the husband is downstairs, huffing and puffing about how to fit everything into the car and if he knew I was writing this, I wouldn't be very popular!

And if he ever asks me to buy shop-bought apple turnovers again, I will hand in my notice as his wife.  Seriously, if you have the time to try the puff recipe, you need to make these.  They really are a treat (I've always hated the apple-pie-filling-stuffed-sugar-topped-cardboard that you get from the supermarket) and it's worth the effort.  Also a great way to use up leftover pastry - make mini ones from pastry scraps.

Right, got to fly before the husband purposely leaves behind my baking tins!

Recipe is here.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Dan Lepard's All Butter Puff Pastry

If we're off on a long journey, it's mandatory that I pack sausage rolls.  Not any old shop-bought things.  Even Morrisons ones won't do in this instance.  I doubt the ones from Downs Bakery would even past muster on this occasion.  They absolutely must be homemade ones.  Made using JusRol regular puff pastry and sausage meat from Les Smith's butcher in my childhood village.

They're  disappearing like hotcakes
I've tried subsitutions before - such as making them with The Black Farmer Sausages when I've not had time to go home before the trip.  Despite those being the sausages of choice for every other sausage-related meal, they make an inferior sausage roll filling according to the husband.  Likewise, I once tried JusRol All Butter Puff Pastry.  There was too much butter and they were too greasy.  Neither of these errors prevented the husband eating them all, but I learned not to do it again.

Generally, the husband will have his usual breakfast before we leave.  Normally this would sustain him until midday.  But for some reason, if we have a long journey ahead, he automatically starts whining he's hungry before we've even hit the M4 (about six miles from our house) and the sausage rolls have been broken into before we've made it to the next junction.

This year, I've decided to rock the boat again, all in the spirit of trying something new.  So I've spent today making Dan Lepard's All Butter Puff Pastry.  Having mastered both his Spelt Rough Puff Pastry and his laminated dough for Danish pastries earlier this year, I figured that proper puff was the last hurdle to pass before this year of blogging was out.

I also took the opportunity to absorb all the good advice that he imparts in Short and Sweet to help make the pastry experience a happy one.  The key point being that this is something that needs you to take a whole day to do.  Which is why I began at 5.30am, allowing me time to do two turns before work at 7am.  I eventually lost count of how many turns I did which reminded me about a lesson I should've learned from a blog post by my lovely Twitter pal Sadia about when she made this very pastry.  Do have a look at the post.  Her photography is stunning and she's got some good advice on the recipe.

I was very wary that I've gotten a little cocky following Dan's recipes and didn't assume that this would work well (see my tale of pre-bake smugness before the disaster that was my attempt at Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake) but thankfully, for the sake of the sausage roll demands it did what it said in the book.

The temperature of the pastry/butter is very important. I left my butter out overnight to soften.  Normally when i do this, it's still pretty solid, and I end up having to soften it further in the microwave.  But just to spite me, the butter was at the perfect consistency for cake making - not what I needed for pastry.  I used some from the fridge to do the first step of rubbing fat into flour and then refrigerated the rest before the layering began.  Thankfully my fridge has a super-chill setting for when you've been shopping so I stuck it on this for half an hour and it firmed up a little.  Normally I'd use the freezer, but sometimes I've ended up getting distracted and thirty minutes in the freezer becomes two hours and suddenly I have frozen rather than firm.

Work in progress
I think too cold butter was the problem that I had when I had my first attempt at making laminated Danish dough, using another recipe, just before Christmas.  Call it a lesson learned.

Once the layers start getting thinner, the butter has a tendency to escape so I found that strategic checking and re-flouring during rolling worked quite well.  But you have to be careful not to over-flour or the layers won't stick together.

Having snaffled one for taste-testing in advance of tomorrow's journey (with Miss A also being partial to sausage rolls, I probably won't even get one tomorrow), I am so pleased with them.  The pastry is light, flaky and beautifully buttery.  Obviously chock-full of calories, but hey we're on holiday.  Diet definitely resumes in earnest in July.  My only disappointment is that the pastry is a little lacking in salt.  It probably could've done with another quarter teaspoon.  Quarter of a teaspoon in a kilo of pastry isn't much.  I think it's because the sausage meat is so savoury, the pastry tastes a little bland against it.  Baked on its own though (I baked a scrap sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon) it tastes great.

I won't be buying pre-made puff again.  If you want to have a go yourself, you can find the recipe here, but I definitely recommend reading the good advice in Short and Sweet.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

BBC Good Food Pineapple and Pink Grapefruit with Mint Sugar

The final recipe in this week's mint quadrilogy.  I was feeling really virtuous when I came home from work and tucked into a plate of soft, sweet pineapple and cheek tingling red grapefruit (I didn't pay attention to which colour grapefruit I picked up at the shops so don't shoot me) and summery mint sugar.  And then the husband persuaded me to have a chippy tea so now I'm feeling fat and bloated and a bit greasy.  For every yin, there is a yang and all that.

Not much to say tonight, mostly because I have to do a whole load of washing, ironing, packing, recipe printing and more cooking related packing.  And work.  Hence the really quick and easy recipe and lack of soul searching post.

Never would've thought about doing anything with these fruit other than eating them by themselves.  I added a squeeze of lime to the mix for a really tropical taste.  Will definitely be eating this a lot post holiday!

Recipe is here.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Rachel Khoo's Asparagus with Lemon and Mint Vinagrette

During a recent meeting at work, I was accused by my colleagues as being a control freak because I'd taken possession of both the remote control for the overhead projector and the air conditioning.  Despite the fact that I was leading the meeting, they (all males) seemed to think it was because I wear the trousers at home and naturally assume control of the telly zapper and, consequently control the viewing of my household.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Between 7am and 7pm, if the telly is on, it will either be tuned to CBeebies, football or cricket.  With Miss A and the husband doing battle for supremacy if there is a conflict of interests.  After 7pm, the husband is in sole control of what is shown on the lounge telly.  It's one of about three things.  Football.  Reality TV.  Or CSI/NCIS/Law and Order/insert other annoying American drama series in this space.

I am sometimes permitted to join the viewing of programmes, provided I limit my commentary about poor continuity, improbable circumstances and '(s)he is the killer' (usually said within the first five minutes and proving to be correct fifty minutes later) to a minimum.  Likewise, I get red-carded from the football if I utter 'Didn't he used to play for....?', 'Isn't that....?' or 'xyz used to play for Southampton. All the good footballers played for Southampton once upon a time'.

The only time I've ever been able to convince the hubby to watch something out of the ordinary was when I introduced him to Michael McIntyre.  The husband doesn't do funny.  Invariably, I have to explain jokes to him which then means they lose their humour.  But one rare night when I did manage to get a hold of the remote, I tuned in to Comedy Roadshow and because MM was doing his routine about his kids and the husband now gets the harassed parent references, he actually laughed.  And so once in a blue moon, I'm allowed to now watch that too.

Of course, if I had my way, the viewing would predominantly include food programmes.  And comedy.  But certainly at the moment, mostly food.  I used to love Saturday Kitchen (I have a thing for James Martin) but of course, now if I put the telly on on a Saturday, James is rapidly replaced by Justin (aka Timmy the sheep, Mr Tumble, Jake the Tweeny, the man from Gigglebiz etc etc....).  When I was on maternity leave and snowed in (pre baby) I whiled away the hours watching so many back-to-back episodes of Come Dine With Me that I started dreaming about it.  Now, I just fill the Sky box with episodes that never get watched.

And so it will be no surprise to you that I've never seen Little Paris Kitchen.  I know of Rachel Khoo because many of my Twitter friends have raved about her cooking and her amazing sense of style.  I've read articles in Good Food about her.  I meant to Sky + the series, but knew I'd only get to watch it if I got up at 2am to get my mitts on the remote.  And then the dogs would probably pounce on me and insist on watching re-runs of Crufts or something.

Today's recipe is by Khoo, but only because I was desperately Googling at 3am (couldn't sleep - should've caught up with CDWM back catalogue) to find something to do with the bunch of asparagus that was slowly wilting in my fridge, coupled with the now meagre other contents of the fridge which is being cleaned out in preparation for the holiday.

Luckily, I managed to tick all of the boxes, save for lemons (purchased on the way to work).  And even got further use out of my little pack of mint that I bought for Monday's recipe and used again yesterday.  Am pleased with self for being thrifty and actually using up nearly a whole pack of fresh herbs rather than letting them wilt into submission.  In fact, I should declare this as National Mint Week.  Or 366 Recipe Challenge's Mint Week.  Or ....Mint Four Days as I now only have enough left to cover tomorrow's recipe.

Anyway, I'm aware that I've done a whole lot of waffle and so without further ado, this makes a really lovely starter (or main if you're greedy like me) and brings out the best in seasonal asparagus with a few simple ingredients.  Will definitely make again and again.  I just love asparagus and goats cheese.  It pressed all my buttons.  Only had regular green asparagus, and I used a crumbly Chevre with it.  Served with the last bit of the foccacia I made the other day.  Winning tea.

You can find the recipe here (and no, I didn't see it on the One Show!)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Lil Ms Squirrel's Pimms No 1 Cupcakes

I'm on a course this week and was a little disappointed that it meant that I wouldn't make it to the second meeting of the Bath Clandestine Cake Club for logistical reasons.  The theme this month was 'Alcoholic Cakes' and I'd been planning on making a Pimm's bundt cake.  After pondering the best way to deliver all of the fruit flavours associated with Pimm's, I found a fabulous idea on the Skin and Blister blog, where the bundt was drizzled with Pimm's and sugar and then had little sticks of fruit, artfully arranged on the outside.

Made the most of a tiny bit of evening sunlight
When I finally realised I wouldn't be able to make it to CCC (last night, when my usual journey of forty minutes, took an hour and forty!), I decided I'd save the bundt for my cousin's rather fabulous Wedding Festival Bake Off and not bake at all this week.

Depending on how you look at things fortunately (or unfortunately), my course colleagues kind of talked me into baking tonight anyway.  You know when you go on a course and they do that really annoying thing at the start where you tell everyone who you are and then one random fact about yourself?  Well for once, I had something interesting to say.  I told them about my blog.

It sparked a discussion over lunch as to whether I was actually cooking 'real food' or was doing 'beans on toast', 'beans under toast', beans with toast on the side', 'cheesy beans on toast'....  Thankfully, because I've blogged every night and for all apart from about two posts, I've managed to get at least one picture of the results (didn't think about doing it for the very first post, and one disaster went straight in the bin as I was so p'd off with it), I was able to direct them to the blog so they could explore for themselves.

This lunchtime, I got asked what was for tea last night.  I was secretly pleased that the ones staying at the local 4* hotel said that my dinner sounded better than what they'd had.  And then talk turned to what today's recipe was.  Because I'd already spoken about my love for baking and how my normal colleagues have been the recipient of many a cake, I kind of felt duty bound to do my usual Tuesday night activity of baking for work.

And so the Pimm's cupcake was born.  I had done a little research on this last night and was disappointed with the lack of inspiring recipes.  There's even one on the Good Food Channel website that has cucumber buttercream.  That's a step to far for me!

Ready for the oven
With this in mind, I set about creating my own recipe which I'll share with you tonight.  I'm not saying it's perfect.  I think they're okay.  There's probably room for improvement.  I think they're lacking something, but I'm not quite sure what.  So if you want to try the recipe and tweak it, let me know what you did and how it turned out!

I used the Hummingbird Vanilla Cupcake as a base as I was looking for a light airy bake.  A while back, I made their Mojito cupcakes for work, but because I was making bigger cakes this time and needed 14 of them, the vanilla recipe worked better with a slight adaptation.

For the filling, I reduced some Pimm's, orange juice and sugar and then added in halved strawberries and left them to cool.  The buttercream was laced with Pimm's, orange, lemon and lime zest.  I did a bit of research on this yesterday and found that the lovely Jacqueline over at Cake Boule had made Pimm's and strawberry buttercream for her gorgeous truffles.  I was pleased with her tip that she tweeted me that it makes a soft buttercream as I wasn't so worried when it came time to pipe it.  No big Wilton 1M swirls on these little beauties!  Again, if that's what you like, tinker with the buttercream recipe until your happy with the consistency.

I've tried one, purely for the purposes of telling you how it came out.  The rest are piped and now chilling in the fridge in my cake carrier, ready for a trip to the office tomorrow.  There was a small bowl of buttercream left to, so I'll be interested to prod it in the morning and see if it's set or not.

I'll update tomorrow with feedback from my colleagues.  Of course the trouble is that we have a 'Learning Contract' that we wrote on Day #1.  Amongst many things, it states that we are not allowed to criticise others.  Any rule flouting incurs a £1 fine.  So far, we've collected £7 (of which I contributed one for answering the phone to my boss).  So I'm sure they'll say the cakes taste amazing even if they don't really think so.

Recipe - Makes 16 (I use muffin sized cake cases)

For the Sponge (adapted from a recipe by the Hummingbird Bakery)

Got a bit carried away with Instagram effects...

  • 240g plain flour
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp table salt
  • 80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 240ml whole milk
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
For the strawberry filling

  • 16 small strawberries, halved (or eight large ones, quartered)
  • 3 tbsp Pimm's No 1
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp orange juice

For the frosting and decoration
  • 500g icing sugar, sifted
  • 160g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • pinch of table salt
  • 60ml Pimm's No1
  • zest of one orange
  • zest of one lime
  • zest of one lemon
  1. Preheat the oven to 190c/170c fan/325F.  Line two muffin tins with paper muffin cases.  If you only have one muffin tin, you can always bake in two batches.
  2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter into a bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat on a slow speed until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. Mix the eggs, milk and mint in a jug.  Pour half of the milk mixture into the flour mixture and beat slowly until combined.  Scrape down the sides, add the rest of the milk mixture and then beat until you have a smooth batter.  Beat in the lemon juice.
  4. Divide the mixture between the cake cases, filling them half full.
  5. Bake for 18-20 minutes, then remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
  6. Meanwhile make the strawberry filling by placing the Pimm's, sugar and orange juice into a small pan.  Bring to the boil and then simmer until the liquid has reduced by about a half.  Remove from the heat and add in the strawberries.  Toss to coat and then leave to cool.
  7. When the cakes are cooled, carefully cut a small cone shape from the top of each cake - keep the cut outs, don't eat them!  Fill the hole in each cake with a couple of pieces of the strawberry and then replace the piece of cake you removed.
  8. Make the frosting by beating the icing sugar, butter and salt together using an electric mixer until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add the fruit zest, and continue beating.  Slowly pour in the Pimm's.  Beat until light and fluffy then spoon or pipe some onto the top of each cake, ensuring that the cuts in the top of the cake are covered.  
  9. Finally top with a whole fresh strawberry.  Or if you're feeling extravagant/arty, use fresh mint leaves and twists of orange, lemon, lime and cucumber skin cut with a cannoli cutter.

Monday, 11 June 2012

BBC Good Food Satay Pork with Crunchy Apple Salad

I'd like to apologise in advance for the proliferation of BBC Good Food recipes that are about to be tried and tested on this blog.  It's not because I have any affiliation with them in any way shape and form - other than subscribing to the mag - but I have a busy few weeks ahead and I've found it so much easier to do my recipe search by just typing a few key words into a box than sitting and leafing through my recipe books.

I know it's bad and kind of goes against my original reason for starting this blog - to use my cookery books more - but the idea of trying new things is becoming so ingrained in me that I think that even once this year is over, I will continue to explore the depths of my existing (and future!) recipe book collection.

In fact, much as I'm looking forward to my holiday, I'm also looking forward to coming home again.  Because hopefully Amazon will have delivered me my wedding anniversary present to myself - a copy of Thomasina Miers' new book 'Wahaca'.  Expect a flurry of Mexican themed recipes between the end of my holidays and the start of The Olympic Food Challenge.

This week, I'm on a course with early starts and late finishes, plus evenings spent catching up on the day job. So I picked some quick and easy recipes from Good Food and a couple of other websites.

It's not sausages!
As I'm now on the downward slope of this year, there are still a load of things on my 'to-do-list'.  Some are just to try different types of meat, some are specific recipes.  I now know that I'm unlikely to tick all of the boxes in the last three-and-a-bit months.  Partly because of time and partly because of budget.  Pork, however, is something that is quick and relatively cheap - hence the choice tonight.

If you've nothing better to do than search through this website, you'll notice I've not cooked with pork before.  That's mostly down to the 'Bernard Matthews Effect' of my childhood.  I was traumatised by his 'roasts' and by real pork roasts which, whilst I'm sure were very tasty, came topped with crisp crackling.  I don't mind the concept of crackling, but the hairs on the stuff I saw just turned my stomach.  And it always seemed to be really fatty too.  I'm not sure if that was just my perception or the truth.

I do remember being persuaded to eat a small pork steak cooked in tomato sauce once and it was okay.  I'd've much rather had chicken.  But since then, the closest I've come to eating pork is the cured variety - ham, bacon, sausages.  All of those lovely things that will raise my risk of cancer by 1% (before any health zealots care to give me a lecture).  But pork loin, chops, roasts etc?  Nope. And Nada.

When I found this particular recipe, I was actually looking for a recipe for peanut butter cookies.  I really don't know why this recipe appealed when I was after biscuits (I'd only typed in peanut butter, I'd not qualified it with cookies), but the idea stuck in my head and it ticked the 'Try Pork' box.

Having read the advice from other readers, I knew I'd have to adapt the method if I wanted my topping to stay on so I chose to grill the pork on one side first before topping with the 'satay' sauce.  It ended up looking nothing like the picture on the website, but it kept the meat moist.  I also never realised pork cooked so quickly - just eight minutes in total and it was done.

I'm not sure if I enjoyed the dish per se.  It was okay.  I might make it again if I have a random pork steak knocking about (no chance there then!) and I can't help thinking that maybe the two ingredients I used for the satay were the downfall.  The ingredient list just says Sweet Chilli Sauce and Peanut Butter.  But there are so many brands out there, the recipe could vary greatly.  I always buy Blue Dragon Sweet Chilli Sauce with Kaffir Lime and Whole Earth Peanut Butter.  My 'PB' was smooth as well (something I switched to when weaning Miss A and have never switched back from - but I must as I prefer crunchy!).  But maybe other brands would've worked better?  Who knows.

That said, I loved the apple salad.  The flavours were amazing.  Sweet, sour, salty.  I used a Pink Lady apple for my version.  In fact, I liked that so much, I'd consider doing the recipe again just for the salad. Or, more sensibly, substituting the pork for chicken.

So I'm still not a pork fan (unless it's been cured and processed to within an inch of its life).  But at least I tried something new today.  And my mother will be proud of me.  I hope.

You can find the recipe here.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

BBC Good Food Black Pudding Potato Cakes

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a tweet by @TheFoodNut saying that the odds were on Stephen getting fired from The Apprentice.  I was desperate for Stephen to go as he was truly irritating so I tweeted back that if he didn't, I'd eat black pudding - the culinary equivalent of eating my hat.  We Sky+'d The Apprentice that night and I left the telly on BBC2 instead.

A waste of a perfectly poached egg
Rather stupidly, I came down just after 10pm and saw that someone else had been fired.  Annoyed both that Stephen appeared to still be in and that I'd seen the result before the programme, I wandered back upstairs and added some black pudding to my Ocado order.  Never let it be said that I don't keep my word*.  Even to someone I've not met.

You can imagine how gutted I was several days later when we finally watched that particular episode and I discovered that Stephen had indeed left in a double firing.  And of course, I already had my black pudding.

This has bothered me for nearly two weeks now.   Every time I've opened the fridge, it's been staring at me.

I decided to discuss it with my mentor.  Normally I like him and respect his opinion which I why I asked him to be my chief cheerleader and motivator (at work!).  One of his roles is to ask me why I'm making particular decisions in my (work) life and challenge me if he thinks I should be doing something else.   I'd desperately been hoping he'd say something like 'Are you completely mad?  I wouldn't feed that to my dog!'**  He told me that black pudding is one of his favourite foods ever and I should definitely try it. I'm now considering looking for a new mentor.

So this weekend it came time to bite the bullet.  I'm emptying the fridge of perishables in advance of our impending holiday and conveniently, it went out of date today.  I'd researched this recipe a while back.  It seemed like a good idea because it wasn't a whole piece of black pudding; nor did it require expensive ingredients to go with it (scallops and black pudding is such a waste of good scallops).  I made my mash yesterday but couldn't bring myself to eat it at lunch time so it became today's breakfast.
That fateful tweet

Having forgotten to mix in the spring onions, I panfried them and served them on the side.  As I don't like cherry tomatoes - and didn't want to buy some just for this one recipe - I used up some of the Chilli Jam that I made a while back (batch number three!).  And I served it with a poached egg because I prefer them to fried ones.

The verdict?  Well it was okay, but it's not something I'll be cooking again.  Ever.  Unless the husband ever decides to like black pudding (in which case I'll probably just divorce him).  It had a very earthy flavour.  Almost like I'd made the potato cakes by mashing in the (unwashed) skins.  And it gave them a bit of spice too.  But it didn't rock my world.

Maybe I should just try it on it's own as part of a full English.  Or in some fancy restaurant, cooked perfectly with scallops or made into pakora or something.  But the chances of going to a swanky restaurant in the current millenium is probably hovering around the zero mark.  So I don't think I'm ever going to have a torrid love affair with the stuff.

Here's the recipe for your delectation.  If I adapted it in any way, I'd drop the black pudding and serve it with some lovely pink rashers of smoked bacon.

*Well most of the time....
**He doesn't have one

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Good Food Channel Real Banana Custard

With only seven more sleeps until holiday time, I've started the annual ritual of house cleaning.  I'm rubbish at cleaning and will do just about anything I can to avoid it.  But I hate coming back to a messy house so today heralded the start of a flurry of dust bunny clearance.

The husband is a little frustrated because the nice Ocado man didn't visit this week.  Seeing as how we're on a wind down - and the freezer is crammed to bursting - I've not done a big shop this week and will just buy essentials as we need them.  Most of this weeks recipes will be using up stuff lurking in the back of the fridge to save it being binned.

I was supposed to be making black pudding potato cakes today but after boiling and mashing the potatoes, I got peckish when Miss A had her lunch and ended up with a peanut butter sandwich instead.  Then in a fit of domestic goddess-ness, I decided that her pudding should be home-made banana custard.

I only ever eat custard at my mother's house.  It's always Birds and unless we're having banana custard, I have to have my custard and pudding served in two separate bowls.  I call it a foible.  Everyone else says I'm fussy.  But my grandmother used to indulge this habit and now my mum continues pandering to me because she wants to prove she's just a good a mother as my grandmother was a surrogate.  Although I know she secretly gets frustrated that I make her wash up an extra bowl each time.

Miss A loves custard.  I had a tub in my cupboard which I had in reserve for topping my rhubarb and custard cupcakes and would've used to make Miss A custard, but she decided one day that it made a good floor covering and I've never replaced the tin.

A quick Google came up with the recipe for real custard - or creme anglaise as I prefer to call it.  What surprised me is how simple it is.  I know that Birds custard is a faff of heating the milk, whisking it into the powder and then reheating the mixture until it's thick.  The only difference with real custard is that you have to put a spoon of sugar, a couple of egg yolks and a spoon of cornflour in a bowl, whisk them and then proceed as above.

Birds custard has been around since 1837 and was created because Mrs Bird was allergic to eggs (it says so on Wikipedia so it must be true).  That's one advantage.  The other being that you don't end up with two left over egg whites or a toddler throwing a tantrum because you won't let her crack the eggs.  She's fantastic at getting them open, but I'm not quite sure she's ready for separating them just yet.

In all it took longer to get the ingredients out of the cupboard than to make.  I loved that the recipe also had a twist with chocolate and nuts on the top.  Miss A stirred her chocolate in and ended up with tasty brown sludge.  I then realised that we could also make Tubby Tustard (you'll know what this is if you've ever watched the Teletubbies) with the same recipe and a bit of strawberry puree.

Next time I make meringues, I'll definitely use my egg yolks up to make real custard.  It's a really special treat and with vanilla bean paste mixed in and chocolate on top, I can see this becoming a favoured dessert in our household.

You can find the recipe here.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Stuffed Peppers

At the moment, I'm reading Nigel Slater's 'Toast'.  Although he was born in 1958 and is a contemporary of my mother and my uncle; many of his food references could have been picked straight from my own childhood.  Brands like Cadburys Smash and Mini Rolls; Birds Custard; Dairylea on Cornish Wafers; and tins of Teatime Selection Biscuits.

Like Slater, as a child, I used to pore over my mother's recipe books and dream of eating many of the things on those glossy colour plates.  Never the things that were drawn or photographed in black-and-white; just the things in glorious technicolour.  Sadly, secondary school cookery (and my mother's assertion that catering was a bad career choice) put paid to any foodie aspirations.

Need to practise with the Instagram aperture setting!
One of my favourite books as a youngster though was a copy of Cookery for Children.  Despite most of the pictures being coloured drawings, there was something exciting about the idiot-proof step-by-step guide to making chocolate orange cheesecake or egg-in-the-window.  I also had copies of Gardening for Children and Modelling (as in craft!) for Children.  All three of which were much thumbed.  But I never once made anything from any of them.

I'm sure the books are probably still stashed away somewhere at my grandparents house, waiting faithfully for me to discover them on that sad day when we'll have to clear the house out.  They are most definitely on the list of things that will be being saved.

My mother recently bought Abigail a cookery book and I was amazed to see that despite technology having progressed so much and it being far easier to do step-by-step photographs, the pictures are still reassuringly hand drawn.  You could almost believe the artist is the same as the style is so similar.  It's only the modern recipes that give away the fact that it's not the same book.

Leafing through it at the weekend, I came across a recipe for stuffed peppers.  As a child, my mother used to have a habit of stuffing anything that found its way into the kitchen and didn't move after five minutes.  Of course, chicken and turkeys expect to be stuffed, but she also stuffed rolled pork joints, capsicums, aubergines, marrows and all manner of offal things.  The thought of stuffed hearts still turns my stomach to this day.

Her stuffed peppers were filled with mince and rice.  I have no idea why I refused to eat them (I guess I was a child and it was my prerogative).  Instead, I got mince, beans and rice - basically chilli without the chilli and using baked beans instead of kidney beans.  She also used to stuff her peppers by slicing the top off, filling the middle and then serving them with the lids back on top, mince peeking provocatively from the top.  Even that didn't sell it to me.

Much as I'd love Abigail to eat stuffed peppers, I think that day is a long way off in the future.  In the meantime, the sentimental side of me couldn't let another children's cookery book go unloved so I decided to make the peppers for my own lunch today.

It's not exactly the weather for such fresh, healthsome food.  These demand to be eaten outside in the sunshine with a crisp green salad, a glass of wine (not for the children of course!) and some crusty bread.  It's a good storecupboard recipe for using up random things from the fridge - I have five more capsicums to do something with before we go on holiday next week.

I also added a handful of pine nuts to the recipe for a bit of crunch, but this is one of those very forgiving recipes that you can tweak to your hearts content.  I also used arborio rice and think next time, I'd cook the rice in stock (as per adapted recipe below).

Can see this working well with chilli con carne (my review of Lorraine Pascale's is the second most popular post on this blog) and loaded with sour cream.  Served of course, like my mother made hers with the top serving as a lid, goodies just about ready to spill over the side.

Forgot to write down the details of the book, but will update the post with the correct references later.

Serves 4

Memories of my childhood

  • 4 bell peppers, halved and de-seeded
  • 125g arborio rice
  • 125g cheddar, grated
  • 25g parmesan, grated
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • small handful each of parsley and basil, chopped
  • 25g pine nuts, toasted
  • half a chicken or vegetable stock cube
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/350F.
  2. Add the stock cube to a pan of water, bring to the boil then cook the risotto rice for 12 minutes. Drain under cold running water to stop it cooking further.
  3. While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat and saute the onion for 3-4 minutes until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for a further 1-2 minutes, taking care to not let the garlic burn.  Remove from the heat.
  4. Place the peppers onto a baking tray.  Mix the onions, garlic, rice, tomatoes, cheeses, pine nuts and herbs together.  Season to taste.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the pepper shells are soft.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

BBC Good Food (Beef) Stroganoff with Herby Pasta

There was a small flaw in my plan for tonight's recipe.  I forgot to defrost the beef and so it became Mushroom Stroganoff with herby pasta.  Not much to say about this one other than the sauce was really tasty; it worked really well with just mushrooms and I think it's even better with pasta than with rice (which is what my mum always used to serve stroganoff with).  If I'm honest, I welcomed the lack of meat too.

A good store cupboard meal.  You can find the recipe here.

And you can breathe a sigh of relief that for once, I'm not going to waffle.  Goodnight.

It tastes far better than I presented it!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Diana Henry's Diamond Jubilee Chicken

I finally got round to making this, albeit a day or two late.  Mostly because the only person who I know who would've enjoyed this dish would've been the Queen of my life - my beloved Grandma.  Our Jubilee celebrations were somewhat muted by her absence.  It's been nearly seven years since she passed away and her presence is still keenly missed at significant events.  Especially when they involve the Queen, because when I was little, I genuinely thought she was the Queen.

She used to have the same kind of perm that was hairsprayed to within an inch of its life.  She was short like the Queen, never showed her emotions when she was sad and was the perfect matriarch to keep us all in line; yet would always put herself before everyone else when there was a crisis.
It tastes better than it looks in the picture!

So much so that I honestly believe that she wanted to be so much more; but she was born in a time where women knew their place and did as they were told by their fathers and then their husbands.  That's not to say that my grandad bossed her around - far from it. But just simple things - like what we had for dinner - were dictated by the male of the household.

Whenever I moan about cooking two or three different dinners, I always try and remember that we were bought up eating what made my grandad happy and she'd only get her way over dinner if we went out to a restaurant.  He's a little more adventurous these days, but it took years to twist his arm.

I remember Coronation Chicken being introduced to the household at some big family event or another.  Curry wasn't even permitted so the idea of cold chicken curry was completely radical.  I'll readily admit that I ate a bit and turned my own nose up at it.  I'm not sure if my memory fails me but I swear it had something like grapes or raisins in it.  And that's what put me off.

But as I matured and my tastes changed, I started to enjoy the amazing Coronation Chicken sandwiches I used to get from a tiny artisan deli near Exmouth Market when I was living and working in London.  And I'm sure I enjoyed it at least once when my grandma made it before she passed away.  But of course it's one of those things that I've parked on a 'not without Grandma' shelf since then.  Along with the chocolates that I bought her back from holiday the day before she left us.  They lived in the back of my fridge - moving house twice - until recently when I finally threw them out.

Anyhow, it felt appropriate to try a modernisation of Coronation Chicken to celebrate the Jubilee.  I was torn between this recipe and BBC Good Food's reworking of it.  The Torygraph recipe won out simply because it was more faithful to the original recipe - using fresh mango whereas the Beeb used pomegranates.

Queen of my heart (second left)
Overall, it worked really well together.  The old-fashioned dressing complimented the fresh, modern flavour of mango and avocado and I loved the touch of the crunchy nuts.  My only gripe was that the dressing was a bit tasteless but I'm assuming that it depends completely on the ingredients that you use.  It includes mayonnaise, curry powder and mango chutney.  All of which will vary greatly depending on the brands that you choose to use.  I would normally use Geeta's Premium Mango Chutney, but had run out so bought some of Tesco's Finest Mango and Apricot Chutney.  It was particularly sour and vinegary - not something I'll be using as an accompaniment to a curry.  And the mayo wasn't my usual brand either.  So it took a little tinkering until I was happy with it.  But of course, my quantities will only work for someone else with similar brands and a similar palate.

If you're not all Jubilee'd out and looking for something different to serve for a special occasion, this would be a good sharing dish.  But beware of the industrial quantity of dressing it makes!  You might be eating it for days on end so make sure you like the flavour.

You can find the recipe here.
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