Wednesday, 26 September 2012

One Year On - Chicken and Chorizo Pasta

Well it all began a year ago today and because I a) can't let go just yet and b) still feel guilty that I didn't manage a picture of the very first recipe I tried, I decided to make it again to bring my year full circle.  In fact, I've just realised that if I was to re-cook every recipe that I did over the last year on the same date for the next 12 months, I could avoid the cleaning until 2013.  Now there's a plan....

Actually, it's been quite refreshing today to not have to worry about finding the time to cook something new and photograph and write about it.  When the food plan for today got de-railed by the weather, it didn't matter that what I'd planned for tea was in jeopardy.  Nobody would've cared if I'd not made and blogged about the recipe other than me.

I kept pondering if anyone would care if I skipped a day throughout the last year.  I managed not to with some careful planning and creative thinking at times.  And I've been touched by the number of tweets and emails I've had from people asking if it's really all over.  Although 48,000 page views in just 366 days shows that people are reading the blog, the messages really mean something because it makes me know there are some people out there who actually take the time to read what I write and don't just click a link from Google and then wander off elsewhere when faced by the waffle.

I also spend a lot of time if people are more interested in what I've cooked or what I'm waffling/whining on about on any given day.  Today, the husband gave me perfect blog fodder - which I'll save for the next instalment of my blogging voyage.  I often get asked about if he minds me writing about him.  In truth he does, but he also knows that it's my way of working out my issues with him and laughing at stuff that would otherwise have me down at the doctors looking for narcotics.
366 days on, still need to work on presentation!

What surprised me most was yesterday when I said I'd completed the last of the 366 recipes and posts and there was no more blog and he looked me incredulously and said 'what never ever?  Aren't you going to at least do one a week or something?'  After his comment when I watched Julie and Julia the other day, I was floored that he was happy for me to continue in some way.

Whatever, thank you to everyone who has been with me on this journey.  From the tweets of support, to the bloggers who have let me try and blog about their recipes (in no particular order Sadia, Mike, the two Jules', Dan, Rachel, Fi, Cathryn, Paul and Jaim); Dan Lepard for being the nicest cookbook writer ever and for making my day and following me on Twitter; my Twitter 'Family' (Paul, Kate, Dicky and Maria), Sarah-Jane for letting me coerce her into starting Cake Club; Ewan for letting me join the Olympic Food Challenge; my gorgeous cousin Laura who inspired the blog in the first place; Miss A for keeping me in cracked eggs when it's been a baking day; my second-chief cake tester* who was the best mentor ever; and all other those poor souls who've taken one for the blog and had cake foisted on them (it's a tough job, but someone had to do it).  There's no way I could've made it without you all.

And the biggest thanks of all to my long-suffering husband.  Thank you for betting me that I wouldn't make it - I don't think there's anyone else on this planet that would have made me stick to this challenge so stubbornly as you did.  Thank you for attempting to eat some of the 366 recipes.  I don't thank you for your non-constructive feedback - saying 'I don't like it because I don't like it' is not particularly helpful!  Thank you for putting up with all the washing up - especially when the dishwasher broke right on top of Christmas.  Thank you for moving my cookbooks to the most prominent bookshelf in the house at the weekend and for not burning them as promised.  And thank you for giving me the opportunity to carry on experimenting and writing - even if it is less frequently than before.

So on to the recipe.  Well I enjoyed it just as much as I think I did a year ago when I first tried it.  This time I put creme fraiche in it which made it quite rich.  I also seemed to have masses of pasta - which wasn't bad because I'd not had a proper lunch today (Vanilla Coconut PowerBars do not a good lunch make) but if I make it again, I'd probably drop the pasta to 60g per head - especially as the husband insists on garlic bread with his.  And it definitely needs some green stuff on the side.  I couldn't be faffed to buy rocket which I won't use the rest of this week so salvaged the last tiny bit of my dying basil plant to perch on the top for the picture.

Here's the link to the original recipe which I also neglected to post a year ago.

*Miss A was obviously the first!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Mary Berry's Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Marble Cake

"And now, the end is here, it's time to face the final curtain....I did it my waaaaaaay".  Poor Frank is probably spinning in his grave if he's listening to me wailing My Way as I type.  Here I am, a year on and 366 recipes tried, tested and blogged about.
Boxed up and ready for nursery

I'm on holiday from work this week so I let Miss A choose the final recipe.  Despite starting out with the mindset of changing the way my family eat, I made the rules elastic enough that I could indulge my new-found passion for baking over the past year.  With a rainy day ahead, it seemed the fitting way to end the blog - doing something with Miss A who has also discovered a passion for baking this year.

At the weekend she made a cake under her grandmother's expert eye for my mum's boss.  He still won't believe that she did pretty much everything herself apart from putting it into the oven and taking it out.  And today, she eagerly participated in the marble cake making.
Expert drizzling by my two-year-old

I must admit to being a little impatient at some of the things she's picked up from CBeebies such as the sugar-shuffling, big and small mountains and scooping and sliding with 'John and Millie' the spoons, but I'm so proud that she can work with big numbers, crack eggs, knows what a lemon zester is for and is aware of the perils of the kitchen already.

Now the need to do something new every day has evaporated, we will be practising making all manner of things from my the two childrens cookbooks that I own to try and broaden her horizons and repertoire further.  I only hope this year has been a good experience for her.

As for the cake, the tag line says that "children particularly enjoy the fun of making marble cakes".  That was true this morning.  It didn't do much for my blood pressure though as the kitchen was marbled with chocolate cake mix.  After a good spring clean, we covered the cooled cake in white and dark chocolate drizzle and the kitchen was once again marbled in chocolate.

This was one of Berry's really easy bakes - an all in one mix which you then divide into vanilla and chocolate.  It bakes really well and is probably pretty failsafe.  Although it makes masses of cake.  I managed to divide it into 28 generous pieces.  Miss A wanted to make it to take to nursery for her teachers but there's enough to share around all her friends too if they divide the slices into two for the children.

The recipe is from 100 Cakes and Bakes which I bought to take part in the Weekly Bake Off - something I'll hopefully be doing a bit more now this year is over.

I can't find the recipe online to share, but the book is only about a fiver on Amazon and well worth it.  I will say that I preferred Dan Lepard's Chocolate Crumb Marble Cake with its indulgent top, but for speed, this is definitely a great bake to make.

So that's it.  Well nearly.  There'll be one more post some time this week when I answer questions from The Last Post - feel free to drop by and add a comment if you have any questions you'd like to ask me about this year.  Otherwise, thanks for reading!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Hairy Bikers Chilli Salad Bowls

Whilst idling away my lie in this morning, I happened across an article by Janet Street-Porter which included a part on the subject of this country's fascination with cookery books.  She likened the collecting of cookbooks to an obsession with handbags or shoes.  Expensive, and after the first few, probably unnecessary.  Despite generally finding JS-P a bit irritating, I have to agree with her on this particular point.

It was my collection of cookbooks that set me off on this mission last year.  I had around twenty which I would leaf through, imagining myself lovingly making some of the recipes for my nearest and dearest.  Then reality would surface and I'd just cook whatever made people happy.  And so I promised myself I'd spend a year using the books I had and cooking something new every day.  Did I stick to it?  Nope.

Yes, this is 'diet' food - about 450cal for the plateful
Well I stuck to the new recipe bit and the blogging bit.  What I didn't stick to was using the recipe books that I had.  I was seduced into buying some new ones that were heavily discounted 'because I need them for my challenge'.  I used recipes from my Good Food Mag subscription.  And I discovered the joys of finding recipes on the internet.  So at the end of this year, I have at least eight more cookery books* than 365 days ago, despite having enough recipe books that if I cooked one new recipe from one of them every day, I'd probably not cook the same thing twice before I die**

At the weekend, when I was out with the girls, one of them mentioned the Hairy Dieters book by the Hairy Bikers.  I'm not a fan of Si and Dave, but having flicked through some of their books at my mum's, I thought that maybe I should add their dieters book to my armoury.  I then wandered off into iPad-land and discovered that some of the recipes were published online anyway.  So did I really need to buy the book?  Probably not.  At least trying some of the online ones might sway me one way or another.  So I settled on trying their chilli bowls recipe tonight.

And this just goes to prove JS-Ps point (you can read the article here***).  I used to make something very similar many moons ago.  Except I served it in a soft tortilla rather than a baked one.  It was a staple diet meal until the husband decided he didn't want it again, and I forgot all about it.  In some respects, it was nice to be reminded of yet another option to add to our weekly repertoire that's family friendly.  But if I'd stirred the old grey matter a little more, I could've thought this one up myself.

Chilli is something I normally batch cook (the husband doesn't like kidney beans) and so I freeze portions so that I can have something different to him for dinners when I'm not a slave to the 366 Recipe Challenge.  Of course, there are plenty of people out there who've never cooked chilli before and would probably appreciate the friendly Bikers' guidance.  But once you've bought a few cook books, you should probably spend your pennies on something else.

The Wahaca book has recipes re-hashed from Mexican Cooking Made Easy.  My two Gordon Ramsay books contain around 30% of the same recipes.  The Hummingbird Bakery are guilty of recycling into the follow up Cake Days.  Even Dan Lepard is guilty, with a significant number of recipes from Short and Sweet also being available online from on the Guardian website****.  And once you own a few baking books, you notice that they all peddle slight variations on the theme of chocolate, coffee, carrot, lemon cake.  There are only so many recipes to go around.  And unless you want to eat Heston-food every night for dinner, it all starts to get a bit samey.

Nevertheless, a year on, I still love my cookery books.  They've fed my imagination since I was a child and used to make up stories in my head that involved intricate scenes of cooking lavish meals and extravagant cakes*****.

So does this mean I'll never buy another cookery book again?  Of course it doesn't.  I am as much as a sucker for cookery books as I am for high heeled shoes.  If there's a little leeway in the budget and a book appeals, I'll buy it.  And I want to buy 'classics' from the Roux brothers and Richard Bertinet.  But I'll definitely check the internet first.

You can save yourself a few quid and find the Hairy Bikers recipe I used online here.  It was an okay family meal and really filling.  I chose to eschew the tortilla bowls and use tacos instead.  I've not eaten tacos for a million years and it was great to know that you can eat three taco shells for only a handful of calories more than a single flour tortilla.  This in itself made the recipe a complete bargain.  If I was feeling extravagant, I'd add chopped coriander to the salad.

And guess what I have for tea tomorrow night?  Yes!  Leftovers.  Because there is only one more recipe to go.  And Miss A has insisted we do cake :o)

*Two were Christmas presents (Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy and the Great British Bake Off Book).  One I've not used at all on this challenge (Jamie's 30 Minute Meals).  One I've lost (James Martin's Masterclass).  One was the best investment ever (Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet).  One was for the Weekly Bake Off Challenge (Mary Berry's 100 cakes and bakes).  The others were Wahaca by Thomasina Miers and Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo.  I'm sure there were one or two others.
**As I child, I believed everyone lived until 100 and died on their 100th birthday just after the party.  I intend to do just this.
***I read the Daily Fail online.  So sue me.
****That said, I never would've gotten my mum into Dan Lepard if I'd not sent her links to recipes from Short and Sweet.
*****I still do this

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Cathryn Dresser's Roasted Vegetable Strudel

I want it to be summer all over again.  Well a proper summer, not the non-event of a summer that we've just had.  But a proper warm, English summer when you know that you have several weeks of good weather guaranteed ahead (the last time this happened was circa 2003) and you can plan an outdoor social event with confidence. Because I want to make and eat this strudel again.  And share it with my nearest and dearest who wouldn't whinge and whine that it's meat free.
Ready to eat

This recipe is from the current series of the Great British Bake Off and to cut a long waffle short, the flavours in this were amazing.  And I didn't even stick to the actual recipe because I don't have the time, space or patience to make my own filo* nor could I find Slipcote Cheese in the local Morrisons and so I made do with regular feta.  I only made enough for one person - okay so it was a greedy one-person portion that could have been eked out to two people with a green salad, a bottle of chilled chablis and a decadent dessert to follow - but I'd love to go the whole strudel (it's meat free, remember?) and serve this at an evening soiree held at the end of a beautiful summer's day.

Although the recipe sounds involved, it's actually not.  Chop up a lot of veg into little pieces and roast them.  Make some couscous.  Wrap it in liberally buttered filo with some cheese and herbs.  Butter again. And again.  This is a very James Martin-esque recipe.  Bake.  And butter again.

Dame Mary admitted during the programme that she finds it perfectly acceptable to buy your own filo so that makes the whole experience easier.  Plus if you read the original recipe, you need to make the pastry on a massive clear space like your huge, country kitchen table** or similar space.  Or just cheat and use shop-bought filo which will save your time and sanity.

Inside - pre-bake
I learnt from this recipe that the art to successful baked Filo wrapped things is to butter in between every layer.  Ordinarily, I just butter the outside to keep the fat down.  But having buttered the pastry to within an inch of its life, the crust was perfect and crispy - just how I like it.  My arteries are slightly more furred than they were this morning, but it was fully worth it.  Definitely on the make again list.

You can find the recipe online here.  Even though the weather is as miserable as sin outside, and everyone only wants to eat huge, fat winter stews, I can highly recommend this little taste of the Mediterranean to blow those autumn blues away.  And I'd like to wish Cat the best of luck with the rest of the GBBO.

*If you didn't see the episode where Cat made this, she was being shown the Filo-whacking technique by one of her fellow bakers and her pastry ended up on the floor, covered in bits of green carpet.  I don't know if this added to or detracted from the bake that was served on the tellybox, but a similar accident in my house would leave it full of dog hair and bits of chewed up crayon - hence why it's easier to use pre-bought pastry.

**Why is it that none of the GBBO contestants have tiny, clutter-filled kitchens like I do?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Thomasina Miers' Churros y Chocolate

This recipe has been on my to-do-list ever since I first got my grubby mitts on a copy of Thomasina Miers' Mexican Cooking Made Easy (my second favourite book after Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet) and I knew that if I didn't make it today, I probably never would.
Just a light breakfast

It's the kind of thing that you a) have to share with other people and b) couldn't cook in my house because the husband would freak out about the thought of all that hot oil catching fire.  So I decided to make it whilst visiting the Mothership as I knew she'd just about trust me to cook it by myself (see last night's brandy episode) and that my stepdad would do the honours and eat every last scrap.

The recipe supposedly makes 16 3-4" churros and I did consider only making half of the batter but figured that four each would be about right.  In the end, I must have had about 24 3-4" ones (and they all went).  It also makes far more chocolate sauce than it's humanly possible to eat at that time of the morning - but of course that will keep for another time or can be chilled and turned into truffles.

Mount Churros
Aside from the faff of deep frying, the recipe is simplicity itself.  The batter is just flour, oil and water;  the sauce a simple ganache of dark and milk chocolate*, double cream and golden syrup; the "sprinkly bit" cinnamon and caster sugar.  There's no need for a deep fat fryer to cook them - I did mine in a wok filled one-third full with oil.  You just need to be a bit dextrous trying to snip the batter from the piping bag when it's hanging over a pan of hot oil.  I had a couple that stuck together as the previous one floated into the path of the new one I was squeezing out but other than that, everything went to plan.

The only other tip is to either keep the pre-cooked ones warm whilst cooking the others or to serve them to people shortly after draining.  I made all mine first and so the last few were a bit icky when cold but the chocolate sauce definitely made up for it.

I would definitely make these again if I ever had a crowd to feed.  Which will be never.  But definitely worth the effort if you fancy a treat.  If you don't own a copy of Mexican Food Made Easy (then go buy one!) you can find the recipe here.

*It did feel slightly wrong cooking with 250g Finest Peruvian chocolate at 8am.  But only slightly!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Mary Berry's Steak Diane

Just five more recipes to go and I'm staying with the mothership for the weekend.  It was the last weekend that I've had to do battle with the 'I need to cook for my blog' issue and I thought I'd warm her up to the idea by offering to cook what used to be her favourite meal.  I don't know if it still is (I forgot to ask and can't be bothered to walk downstairs to check).  But I remember being fascinated as a child, on rare meals out to The Four Horseshoes in Nursling, by the waiter burning my mum's tea at the table whilst everyone stared.

The recipe comes from Dame Mary's Complete Cookbook.  According to my mother, the Steak Diane connoisseur  it's not authentic because it doesn't have cream in it.  A quick Google reveals that Gordon and AWT use cream.  The Wikipedia description doesn't mention cream.  There aren't that many 'sleb chef versions of it on the web - probably because it's considered naff as its a seventies throw back.

Despite its grand French name, the sauce is simple enough to make.  Sautee some onions; add that French classic Worcestershire sauce; season with parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper and then pour in some flaming brandy.  At the brandy lighting point I had to remind my mother that I am 35 and quite capable of setting light to alcohol by myself without supervision.  She's probably right not to trust me as I nearly set the extractor fan alight at Christmas when I flambeed the Christmas pudding (although she doesn't know this as she was too busy acquainting herself with the wine).

The meal went down well with the family although I found the sauce a little too oily for my taste.  I appreciate the sunflower oil was to stop the butter burning but I think I could've gotten away with one tablespoon rather than two.

Four more days and counting!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mary Berry's Crab and Sweetcorn Soup

Next on the list of things-I-have-to-use-up-before-next-Tuesday-because-I'll-never cook-with-it-again was a tin of crab meat.  I bought it months ago with the intention of making Leith's Chilli Crab Noodles one night when I needed a store cupboard meal.  That was about eight months ago.  Obviously being tinned, it wasn't too much of a trauma and it didn't take up much space.  But it was sitting there looking too much like a spare can of tuna and it had to go before I decided I wanted a tuna jacket, only to find that all I had was crab meat.

I'd eaten crab a sum total of once before in my life.  That was 25 years ago and then it was only the tiniest morsel as I found it too 'sweet'.  We were on a family trip to Cancale in France - it's a haven of seafood that I'd love to visit now I'm older and would appreciate a plate of fresh-off-the-boat Fruits de Mer but back then all I wanted to do was crack open everyone's langoustines and was then resolutely horrified at the French lady who sat on the side of an oyster bed, picking them out, shucking them and knocking them back like she was doing tequila shots.  It seemed both gross (I was 10) and barbaric at the same time.

The crab dish wasn't at all planned for today.  I had every intention of making Cathryn's savoury strudel from this week's bake off but stuff happened at work and I ended up being dragged along to a free lunchtime Mexican fiesta.  They say there's no such thing as a free lunch.  When you have to walk a mile down hill and then back up it in four inch heels, you certainly pay the price.  But it was worth it to spend time out in the fresh air and laugh at the management team who - replete with fake 'taches - looked like the band from the Doritos ad.

So the soup was the antithesis to the excess of mass cooked, watery fajitas and slightly chewy mystery meat tacos from lunch time.  Storecupboard fodder and simple enough to make when you're also juggling cooking a steak and mushroom ciabatta and fish fingers with Peppa Pig spaghetti.  As I was making it for one I used a whole tin of crab meat so it was much thicker and bulkier than it would have been for two.  The flavours were good although I added some chilli to give it a little heat and that worked really well.

The recipe I used came from my trusty Mary Berry's Complete Cook Book (the original version) but you can find it through this Google Books link.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Abigail's Strawberry Shortcakes

When I was a child, I remember Hanna Barbera's "Wait til your Father gets home" being on the telly.  I'm sure it was entertaining but literally, all I can remember is the title.  The meaning was slightly lost on me at the time as I never had the fear (or joy) of my father coming home.  But now it resonates as I've become that parent coming home to face the needs of Miss A.

I can pretty much guarantee now that whenever she's been subjected to Daddy DayCare, at some point, he will have used the 'Wait until Mummy gets home and then you can...' line on her.  Having a child generally makes crap days at work (like the one I had today) worthwhile.  But boy, I could've done without coming home to 'but Daddy said we could make Strawberry Crown' when I finally got in after a twelve hour day.

The fragrant Katie of 'I Can Cook' fame is to blame for this one.  We're going through a princess phase at the moment.  Yesterday this was a bonus as I managed to get Miss A's hair brushed twice without tears because I've been telling her for months that princesses have their hair brushed 100 times.  She finally succumbed to this yesterday, but I paid the price tonight because princesses must eat Strawberry Crown for pudding when they've been good all day.

Not being in the mood for soothing another tantrum (that's all I've done all day today - and I've had a few of my own too!) I gave in way too easily and soon we were in a happy, sticky, floury mess of a kitchen.
Cooked by my favourite chef!

In essence, it's a shortbread biscuit, topped with jam and strawberries and baked in the oven.  I never realised you could bake strawberries and they'd still come out pretty whole.  So I've learned something today.  It also got Miss A to eat something green because the jam is sprinkled with basil.  Okay so it was a tiny bit of green stuff but it was a new taste sensation for her.  And if I can convince her that lettuce is a kind of basil tomorrow then I'm getting somewhere.

Because I couldn't be bothered to dig out the original recipe, I just made my own base up and used almonds to give the shortbread a better texture.  Of course, they don't do that on the telly because of nut allergies.  I think it works well, but you can always substitute them with extra flour.  And to top it off, it's sprinkled with Demerara sugar.  I can't believe that Miss A was able to work out that soft brown sugar was not Demerara sugar when we were getting the ingredients out of the cupboard.  She's two.  This is slightly scary. If I'd not used up all my glitter stars making Dan Lepard's sparkly plum jam the other day I think we'd have used those instead as the 'gold' melted on cooking so we had to sprinkle more for decoration before serving.

Even the husband liked this one.  It's a great one for kids to make pretty much by themselves with a little bit of guidance.  If my two year old can do it, anyone can.

Serves 4 (adapted from I Can Cook)

100g plain flour
50g unsalted butter, cubed
50g ground almonds
25g caster sugar
8 strawberries - hulled and halved
4 generous teaspoons of good quality strawberry jam (we used Bonne Maman)
6 basil leaves, torn
Demerara sugar or edible glitter

Preheat the oven to 220c/200c fan
Put the butter and flour into a bowl and rub together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the almonds and sugar and bring together to form a soft dough.  You may need a little extra flour if the mixture is a little soft.
Divide the mixture into four.  Shape into balls and then flatten to about 1.5cm thick.  Place on a baking tray.
Make a dip in the middle using your knuckles and spread a teaspoon of jam into the centre of each biscuit.
Sprinkle the basil over the jam then top with the strawberries.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until the biscuit is starting to go golden brown.
Leave to cool then sprinkle with Demerara sugar or edible glitter and serve with creme fraiche, yogurt or ice cream.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Hugh's Veal Stew

With only eight more days to go, I'm trying to work through all the things that I've bought during this year that have ended up languishing in the back of the cupboard or in the freezer that I know I'll never use again.  It's kind of a bit like Ready, Steady, Cook.  What can you make with veal, polenta, filo pastry, chickpea flour, black eyed beans, pinto beans, anchovies, tinned crab and a jar of pineapple and coconut curd?  I'm no Heston Blumenthal!

It's not Hugh's Stew, it's my stew!
So first up was the veal which I bought for the Olympic Food Challenge.  No idea what country it was for.  Bulgaria? Portugal?  Wherever it was, I was convinced I'd bought veal steaks and so had every intention of making Mary Berry's veal marsala.  That was until I got it out to defrost last night and realised that I actually had cubed veal which needed stewing.

Google kindly led me to Hugh's stew (with added anchovies - bonus) and I took the advantage of working from home today to make my own bread to go with it.  Normally, I don't get in before five, but I did a slow-rise loaf with just half the yeast - started off before my run at stupid o'clock this morning and popped it in to bake during my late lunch hour (3pm! - see working at home isn't fun at all).

Cracked on with the stew at 5pm and made two other different dinners as well.  I have achieved very little this year but at least next week I can go back to cooking two different dinners and eating toast myself.

Anyway, the stew was a pleasure to make.  I'm eschewed the faffy tomato stage - because I don't have a massive garden with a glut of fresh tomatoes - so I used passata instead.  I must admit I probably over-reduced the sauce so it was a little too thick for stew but the intense flavours were great, especially when mopped up with home made six-grain bread.

I doubt I'd make this again with veal due to the expense - but the sauce would go equally well with chicken pieces, so it may be landing in front of the husband and the child at dinner time very soon.

You can find Hugh's stew here.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Dan Lepard's Fresh Ginger and Coffee Cake

This is looking like a cake just for the connoisseur rather than a crowd.  Initially attracting a lot of admiring glances, my trusty cake box hadn't had its lid removed once by the time I lifted the lid today.  I'm assuming that perhaps people were put off by the flavour rather than that they were just snubbing me and my cake.  But it's their loss because with just three more days at work before I bring this challenge to its conclusion, it's the very last time they'll be getting cake.

Coffee cake is admittedly a bit of a marmite choice.  You either love it or hate it.  In a room of a hundred people, you'll probably have around half of them eschewing coffee in favour of tea or soft drinks.  Working in IT as I do and being one of the many who mainlines caffeine on a regular basis, I figured that this slight boundary push was a risk worth taking.  And so far, it's spectacularly failed.

Much as they eat a lot of cake, they don't have a passion for Dan Lepard cakes as I do.  Or at least they really like them, but couldn't care less whose recipe it is that I'm using.  The recipe is one from the Guardian website and I chose it purely because I was interested in the flavour combination.

Having baked the sponge late yesterday, I was up at 5am icing it.  For once, I cut a piece out of the whole cake for photographic purposes and I decided to try a bit as I was curious.  The flavour combination works.  My brain struggled a little to compute all the flavours as they were going in but it works so well together, the cake is a taste sensation for anyone who doesn't think that Mr Kipling is the be-all and end-all of cake making*.

Filled with chopped pistachios and both fresh and stem ginger; and speckled with real, rather than instant coffee, the flavours are subtle enough to compliment each other and the lemon-cream cheese icing on the top adds another subtle dimension.

Coffee cake is one of my all time favourites and if I'm honest, I'd probably make a bog standard coffee sponge with coffee buttercream for nine out of ten coffee cakes but this is definitely something I'd share at cake club in the future.

The cake was slightly drier than I would've expected but this may be to do with me baking it in a rectangular rather than the recommended square tin.  I had to extend the cooking time a little to ensure it cooked through and of course, it's the corner pieces that always pay the price for an extended baking time.  Lesson learned - but the square tin had my disasterous marshmallows in it.

If you fancy testing your cake connoisseur credentials, you can find the recipe here.

*My father in law does

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Homemade Marshmallows

Marshmallows are a currency in our house.  Far be it from me to fib about bribing my child with sugar-filled products in order to get her to co-operate.  She knows the tariff for various activities like not messing around at the tea table (grapes and blueberries for pudding), tidying up (two bedtime stories instead of one) and probably the worst bribe of all, a marshmallow if she has her hair brushed.

Depending on her mood, hair brushing is somewhere on the scale between tedious and an all out nervous breakdown from the perspective of her parents.  Some days, we can get away with telling her she'll look beautiful like Lizzie (her favourite nursery nurse) and her hair is done without too much fuss.  Other days, one of her toys or one of the dogs will do her hair - she believes absolutely that inanimate objects and beings without opposable thumbs are capable of wielding a hairbrush, clips and bobbles - and the unlucky parent just about manages to get through the ordeal without reaching for something alcoholic.

So near, but yet so far...
On rare occasions, however, we do have to resort to all out bribery.  This usually happens when we've got somewhere to go and not much slippage in the itinerary for getting out of the door.  Bargaining starts before breakfast with the usual promises of 'beautiful Lizzie hair' or a list of animals or wooden jigsaw dinosaurs that she might like to have do her hair, but it's like she has a sixth sense that time is tight and she has a melt down at the mere thought of having her hair done.

I let her brush my hair and put conditioner in it.  This still doesn't persuade her to have her own done.  She sits rigidly with her head against the back of a chair and refuses to move, tears and snot coursing down her face.  A pile of unsuitable animals build up on the floor.  She doesn't want to look like any of her nursery teachers or her best friend Charlotte.  I threaten to have her hair cut off so she looks like a boy (which is what my mum did to me when I was small because I used to do this - and my hair is a hundred times worse to tame than Miss A's).  Even this doesn't work.  And her hair is so cute when it's done that I can't bring myself to follow through on the cutting threat.

And so I offer up a 'Marshie'.  And not just any marshie, but a pink marshie.  The snot covered child crawls onto my lap, smearing my top with snot (I've learned not to get myself ready to go out until the hair battle is over) and she reluctantly lets me tame her Cheerio and milk encrusted hair into bunches or a pony tail.  Eyes dry, we head into the kitchen to find the marshie pot.

So today's recipe of choice came about when I read about one of my fellow blogger's joy at being able to make her own marshmallows.  The recipe comes from the Eat Like a Girl blog and I knew that I just had to give it a go.  With a huge pile of 'marshie' you can even make your own shapes as Nelly of Nelly's Cupcakes did - melting a snowman into her hot chocolate.  What a fab, wintry idea.

Niamh gives you some of the science behind the actual marshmallow recipe.  Basically, marshmallows contain Italian meringue with some gelatine and flavouring thrown in.  The only downside to the recipe is that it's more descriptive than exact science and this meant that I had a bit of a disaster.  When whipping the meringue with the gelatine, the instruction is to "...continue to whisk until the marshmallow mixture holds its shape. Don’t over whisk or your marshmallow will lose fluffiness".  I was a bit worried about over whisking and consequently stopped whipping too early.  All looked well in the tray and it set well but sadly, the gelatine separated out.

The top bit tasted lovely although it was a little too wobbly - because it lacked the full amount of gelatine.  I then re-read Nelly's post and remembered she'd pointed out the length of time you need to whip it for.  Ah well.  Whilst Miss A announced that the top bit was "'licious" she decided the bottom "cheese bit is stinky winky" so it went in the bin.  But I'll try again another time when I have the house to myself and can put the mixer on for more than five seconds.

You can find the original recipe here.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Wensleydale and Ginger Scones

What is up with the weather?  One minute, everyone is raving on about how autumnal it is; my fellow foodies are twittering about soups, stews and casseroles; and I'm desperately trying to find my gloves*. The next, it's roasting hot and I'm feeling like Pinchy probably did when he met his end a little while back.

When the weather turned earlier this week, I figured I'd make some soup this weekend and that it should be complimented by a plate of hot, buttered cheese scones.  My mind then wandered off at a tangent as I bought some Wensleydale to go with Bath Olivers - recommended to me by Lizzie (aka @Mrs_Gaffer).  Whilst perusing Ocado online, I came across Wensleydale with Ginger and thus, Wensleydale and Ginger scones were born.
Slightly singed scones with even more cheese

Wensleydale was one of my favourite cheeses long before Wallace and Gromit appeared on the scene.  For the uninitiated, it has a very delicate flavour and is very crumbly too.  It works well with sweet things such as proper apple pie (with a top and a bottom) or ginger cakes.  I have yet to try it with Bath Olivers as I used it all in my scones and will therefore have to buy more next week.

Because I already had a jar of stem ginger in the fridge, I decided to just buy regular Wensleydale and to combine the two into a scone.  That way, I could make some plain Wensleydale scones to see what they were like on their own - and to feed to my fussy toddler, just in case - and I could do some with ginger in as well.

So I made two sets of mixture, one with cheese, a touch of cayenne and a smidgen of mustard; the others with cheese and finely diced ginger.  I placed them in the oven to bake and couldn't work out why, after 12 minutes, the plain scones had barely risen, let alone browned.  Then I noticed I'd stupidly switched my oven on to grill mode in my sleep-befuddled haze (this was 7.30am**) and so consequently, the ginger ones were cooked and nearly singed on top***, whilst I had to rebake the plain Wensleydale ones again.

The resulting scones were both enjoyable, although the Wensleydale flavour is so subtle in the scones that you'd either need a lot more of that and barely any ginger to get both flavours; or as I would recommend, you should just make the ginger scones, omit the cheese from the recipe and eat it on the side in a big fat lump.

Just getting back to the weather - after barbecuing myself in the sunshine all day (and eating a dodgy looking ice lolly), I returned home to find I was shivering cold and so ended up also making this tomato soup from BBC Good Food.  This is the quickest soup ever and is great when a tin of rather foul Heinz tomato soup is the only thing in your store cupboard.

So here's the recipe for both sets of scones.

  • 225g self raising flour
  • 50g cold butter, cubed
  • 145ml buttermilk (or 140ml milk and 5ml lemon juice), warmed
  • pinch table salt

-then either-

  • 150g Wensleydale, grated
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • pinch English mustard powder


  • 1 ball stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 150g Wensleydale (optional if you want to try the Wensleydale and Ginger version)

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/425f.  Place a baking tray in the oven to get hot.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add your other chosen ingredients and give a quick mix to spread through the bowl evenly.  
  4. Pour in the buttermilk and work to form a soft, dough using a round ended knife.  Don't over work the dough.
  5. Tip out onto a floured work surface, pat to be about 2.5cm/1 inch thick and then cut using a pastry cutter.  I used an 7cm cutter for my ginger ones and got four from the mix (and one for the dog) and a 5cm cutter for the plain cheese ones and got eight (and one for the dog).
  6. Remove the baking tray from the oven, place the scones on to the tray and bake for 10-12 minutes.  If you're baking larger scones, leave them for 14 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly before serving with lashings of butter.

*cold hands = warm heart
**at this point, I'd abandoned the soup plan in favour of a day out at the local-ish farm park with Miss A so the scones had been promoted to picnic fodder
***thankfully I didn't wake the husband with the smoke alarm for once

Dodgy ice lolly

Friday, 14 September 2012

BBC Good Food Coffee Semi Freddo with Dan Lepard's Caramel Sauce

I'm known for bemoaning my husband's lack of interest in what I do.  Tonight was one of those nights when I wish he'd ignored what I was doing.  Because I had to end up sharing possibly one of my favourite dishes of this year.

With days to go and a whole heap of work and personal stuff going on, I've not had a minute to sit down and leaf through my cookery books and have to confess to increasingly resorting to t'internet to help me track down suitable recipes.  Instead of focussing on the end of this challenge, my mind has already raced ahead to future projects (writing for other blogs, Christmas hampers, my own new blog, getting back into running).  I'm probably in denial that I'm going to have a huge hole in my evenings between the child going to bed and my own bedtime and need to find something to fill it before the husband makes me do cleaning.

So this in turn led to lots of middle of the night 'window-shopping' on the BBC Good Food website where I happened across this recipe for semi-freddo.  I would love to visit Italy one day - it's something I doubt that will happen with my husband as he always gets to choose our holiday - but a girl can dream.  I want to stuff my face full of pasta although I'm less keen on gelato.  So the idea of making semi-freddo was a bit of a hit and miss chance.

Messy, but soooo tasty
For the uninitiated, semi-freddo is basically a frozen mousse so there's no faffy churning like you'd get with real ice cream.  It's texture is far lighter and it melts quite quickly so is more like an ice-cream that's been out of the freezer for a fair while.

The BBC recipe recommends using Toblerone but I could only get hold of a massive one and in my world, Toblerone is something you only ever buy in duty free and scoff on holiday (I did this once with one of the 2kg packs and it's pretty much put me off of Toblerone for life).  So I went with Green and Black's Burnt Toffee chocolate instead.

To complement the ice cream, and because I love caramel syrup with my lattes, I made Dan Lepard's Caramel Sauce from Short and Sweet and spiked it with a healthy dose of sea salt.  This stuff is lethally addictive.  I tested it several times to get the sugar/cream/salt ratio correct to ensure the slightly burnt flavour wasn't too intense but complimented the coffee and burnt toffee chocolate flavours.  Then I tested it several times more just to check for consistency as it cooled of course.  And a few more times for luck.  It's a good job I only made half the recipe or I'd be in a sugar-induced coma right now.

I did the same with the semi-freddo - making it in my 500g loaf tin.  The tin is long and shallow so the slices aren't as elegant as on the BBC website but it's all about the taste for this post.  Plus I thought I would be eating it all (over a few days of course) and semi-freddo apparently doesn't keep well with the egg whites forming little frozen blobs after a few days.

I won't be able to test this theory.  Especially now.  Because for the first time since last November when I made Mary Berry's chocolate roulade, the husband seemed hell bent on stalking my every move all evening.  He normally slumps in front of the telly until midnight but everywhere I went he was a couple of paces behind.  Consequently, he asked to try a bit of my pudding.  He ate half of one slice and said he liked it but then insisted that I make him his own bowlful.

I left him watching the X-Files to come and eat mine in peace and type this post but knowing him as I do, he will have licked the bowl completely clean.  And I when I say licked, I mean licked.

This is definitely on the make again list.  You can find the semi-freddo recipe here.  For the caramel sauce, you can use this recipe here although the one from Short and Sweet doesn't use butter or golden syrup and is flavoured with vanilla bean paste and a touch of salt (or a big pinch for the salted caramel I used)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

BBC Good Food Paprika Pork

I bought some pork belly a few weeks back with the intention of cooking something from Bulgaria (or somewhere) for the Olympic Food Challenge.  It's been clogging up my freezer ever since as pork is something that is definitely not on the menu in our house*.  In fact, since I've known my husband, I've only cooked pork once - which was a rather yummy satay pork and apple dish for this challenge a couple of months ago.

With just a few days left of this self-imposed year of cooking something new, I knew I had to do something with that pork before it got left to languish in the freezer for a couple of years and then ended up in the bin as it was long past its freezer-life date.  Having thumbed relentlessly through my recipe books, there was nothing that was quick and easy for a work night so I took to good food where I found the paprika pork recipe.

This particularly appealed because my Grandma used to make a turkey-based dish just like this when I lived at home, served with tricolore pasta twists**.  It was during a particularly difficult period in my life when my mother had just 'abandoned' me in favour of her first husband.  My mother had never liked the dish and I swear that my gran used to make it whenever my mum was coming to visit just to spite her on my behalf.  My Grandma was an amazing woman and always saw both sides of every story, but in this case, she didn't approve of the husband and approved even less that my mum effectively picked her own happiness over her daughter and so I'm sure this was her secret way of making a point.

As the dish was cooking last night, all I could hear in my head was my mother going 'Oh no.  Not smoky turkey again, you know how I hated that'.  To make the dish authentic, I added red and green peppers which give it a little colour through the thick sauce and they're also great for bulking out the dish a bit if you're stretching it to feed a few extra mouths (or if you're just greedy like me).

Not one for my family - I didn't even bother to try convincing them to try it after the 'stinky winky sauce' of last night - but something I'll make again in the future, probably with chicken when it's just me and Miss A for tea and her palate's developed a little.

You can find the original recipe here.  I added the equivalent of two bell peppers to the dish if you were making it for four and fried them with the onions.

*Unless you count bacon and sausages
**So Nineties

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

BBC Good Food Hidden Vegetable Sauce

"I don't like that.  It's stinky winky!" came the plaintive voice from the dinner table.  I was in the kitchen photographing my own plateful and I knew at that moment that I'd failed.

I'm sure you've guessed from the title that I was trying to fool Miss A into eating vegetables.  It's one of those great bugbears of parenting.  The child who won't eat vegetables.  Thankfully, because I don't have the opportunity to hang round with many other mothers for more than a few minutes - apart from a minute or two's snatched conversation in the Ladies' with equally harrassed looking female colleagues who are also trying to juggle parenting and working - I've not had the misfortune of coming across one of those awfully smug mothers whose child eats every vegetable placed in front of it.

It smells quite nice, actually

Awful person that I am, I almost wept tears of joy when one day I spotted one of my neighbours returning with their child from McDonalds*.  Although deep down I know that Happy Meals are nothing like they were when I was young (I have only read about this in the papers), I was just a little bit smug that Abigail has never been inside the place.  And if I have anything to do with it, won't go in there until she's in her teens.

In fairness, my neighbour is a keen cook and on the rare occasions when we've spent time together, I've nodded sympathetically whilst she bemoaned her own child's adventurous palate.  It's so heartening to hear honesty from another mother.  Women of a certain age and background willing to admit that their child is far from perfect are as rare as hen's teeth.

The closest Miss A comes to eating vegetable is having a bit of lettuce in her mini fajitas.  It's been a trial over this past year to get her to eat meat.  I am proud to say that she no longer has fish fingers or pasta for tea every night and will eat chicken or steak or meatballs with aplomb.  But despite her eating fajitas, she'll religiously pick out every trace of onion and pepper.  It's also difficult to hide them as I make her mini wraps using a pastry cutter from a big tortilla.  They're barely big enough to hold a piece of chicken so the veg is really obvious.

Pretty colours
So tonight's experiment was to make this tomato-based sauce which is rammed solid with carrots, leeks,  peppers, onions and celery.  I thought it would be a good thing to do regularly as I usually end up with various leftovers of all of those rotting slowly in the bottom of my fridge.  In winter I'd throw them in soup but in summer they wilt until I end up feeding them to the dogs.

The sauce is really nice.  Its smell is reminiscent of my grandmother's minestrone and despite processing, it keeps a good texture.  The addition of balsamic gives it a little kick.  Sadly, Miss A didn't like it and although I didn't dare serve it to the husband, he took one sniff and agreed that it was 'stinky winky' and then asked what was in it in his own inimitable style.  The answer did nothing to persuade him it was worth trying.

But it freezes well so I have now stocked up on a great, healthy pasta sauce for me to eat all to myself.  And the grumpy pair can just have plain pasta with cheese.

You can find the original recipe here.

*I wonder what Mrs Sconegate would have to say about that?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Dan Lepard's Spiced Baklava

With just two weeks to go, I had to get my act together and try making baklava.  It's something I've wanted to do for years and it was on my list for the Olympic Food Challenge but because it could have been a recipe from about three of my countries on the list, I kept putting it off until I had no suitable countries left.  I'd gotten as far as buying the filo, but that was it.

So today, having promised my work colleagues at the other office that I'd bring them cake, I figured it was time to get my pastry thang on and put another tick on the list.  And who better to guide me through the minefield of recipes than Dan Lepard?
Partially syruped baklava

The recipe is simplicity in itself.  The only problem I had was with the power of my food processor with it taking nearly ten minutes to process the nuts to a dust.  And a bit of stupidity on my part where I didn't quite pay attention to the instructions for the dark sugar syrup and put all the water into the pan at the start - thus having to try and ladle it all out again without removing the sugar.

Using shop-bought filo is one of those acceptable kitchen shortcuts that even the most capable of bakers will do.  I'd love to see them have a filo-from-scratch challenge on the Great British Bake Off - it would probably make great entertainment.  Most people shy away from making their own filo but the lovely Lauren from the Eighty Bakes blog made her own in an epic version of baklava.  I am in awe of her patience.

The recipe calls for 500ml of syrup which seems massively excessive.  I was in two minds about whether or not to use it all, but knowing Dan's recipes always work pretty well (see the chocolate cake disaster) I ended up using it all.  Having just popped out to check on it as it cools, it seems pretty soggy so I'm hoping it will set once its cold.  This will be one of those posts where I'll have to update with feedback tomorrow.  Keep your fingers crossed for me.

You can find the recipe here

Updated 12th September @ 12:10

I should have gone with my gut instinct.  500ml of syrup was way too much.  It wasn't so much a soggy bottom as a drowned bottom.  The whole lot ended up in the bin at about 5am this morning.  Saddened is an understatement - especially as the nuts and filo were so expensive.

I'd recommend anyone trying this recipe to add the syrup in stages and review after each addition has had time to soak in.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Rhubarb and Custard Tarts

Today was a lesson in how to not transport cakes.  After lovingly baking a batch of tarts, I stupidly put the tin into a carrier bag and forgot to check that the tin was flat when I picked the bag up.  Consequently, when I realised my mistake, the tin was already full of sloppy rhubarb curd.

Let me take you back a few steps.  One of my colleagues is a massive fan of my rhubarb and custard cupcakes.  I came up with the recipe long before the Hummingbird Bakery published the recipe in 'Cake Days'.  I'm sure it features in many other books as it's such a classic combination.  I fill mine with a spiced rhubarb centre and then top with custard buttercream.  P is intrigued as to how I achieve the hidden middle.  He's quite intelligent but he really can't work out how I do it.  At first I thought he was joking when he asked, but he's asked so many times now that I know he's truly curious.

P is also a huge fan of custard tarts.  Whenever he brings in cakes to work, he'll always ensure that 50% of the batch are custard tarts.  I had never eaten one until recently as I really didn't think I would like the cold custard thing but I was pleasently surprised.

So when I happened across this recipe, I knew I had to make them for him.  I made the curd last week when another friend gave me a batch of rhubarb.  If I'm honest, I was a little disappointed as the curd took away a lot of the sharp tang of the rhubarb which I love.  It was also a bit 'eggier' than some of the citrus curds I've made in the past - this may have been my mistake in cooking it.  If (or when) I do this again, I'd probably make a rhubarb jam instead.

The rest of the pie is based on a Dan Lepard recipe.  I used up the rest of the beautiful pastry I made for the Botswanan Chicken Pie I made for the Olympic Food Challenge and the custard is also a Dan recipe.  I loved the idea of putting a cupcake case into the pastry cases to hold the beans for blind baking.  And I was happy that the pastry came out of the tin far easier than when I made Thomasina Miers' mince pies at Christmas.  I have to experiment now as I'm not sure if it was the blind baking that made them come out more easily or if the pastry I made at Christmas was a bit rubbish.

Anyhow, when it came to baking the custard part, the blogger (Ms North) recommended filling them half full with custard to leave room for the topping.  I found that on baking the custard had decreased in volume somewhat - whether it was because it settled or dried out a little I'm not sure.  I'd definitely recommend going for two-thirds custard to one third rhubarb.  Plus it means you won't have so much spare custard to force yourself to eat!

The overall flavour was good with the orange complimenting the rhubarb nicely, but as I said it was just a tad too sweet for me with the custard and the curd.  But that's just personal preference.  The pastry was lovely and crisp on the one that I'd saved to test and photograph - it was also the worst looking pie before the disaster.

I would also recommend making them and serving them straight away.  After being in a tin all day, the pastry had gone soggy - I'm guessing from the dampness from the curd.

You can find the original recipe here.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Silvana Franco's Patatas Bravas

I think I should have been born Spanish.  Tapas definitely appeals to my inability to make a decision.  I hate going to a restaurant where I want to try just about everything on the menu and have to commit to one dish per course.  If I luck out on what I choose, then fantastic.  But if I pick something and it's below the par of my expectation then I spend the rest of the evening (or if you ask my husband, the rest of the week) mithering on about how I wish I'd chosen something else.  Give me a restaurant where you have three choices per course and only one of those is chicken or vegetarian and I'm happy.
I did manage to save a bit for a picture

On the other hand, I love tapas. Because you can order lots of little portions of different things without feeling terribly greedy and if I don't like one thing, there's always something else I'll like.  Plus I can order something I'm not quite so sure about and if I like it, then happy days; if I don't then I can just compensate myself with an extra spoonful of something else.

When we first moved to the sticks, there were only Chinese or Indian restaurants in town.  Italian was limited to Pizza Express - and at a push you could just about say that Pizza Hut was the alternative.  Or fish and chips (which Buckles do very well thank you).  Anything else and you had to travel.  We now have a lovely tapas restaurant, which I'm dying to try.  But I just know it's not the husband's type of place and being a full time working mother, there's just been no time to cultivate relationships with other women* in order for me to suggest it as a venue.

So today, given that it was meant to be sunny and I had the house to myself for a whole hour and a half (the child was having her nap, the husband was out) I decided to make myself patatas bravas to go with the six grain loaf** I'd knocked up earlier.

The recipe was simple enough - a bit of chopping; pop the stuff in the pan; wait impatiently for it to cook; get disturbed by husband coming home early; don't eat as planned due to domestic issues; stand in the kitchen later on eating cold patatas bravas straight from the pan and consequently feel sick from overeating.

Really really liked it and it's a great way to use up leftover new potatoes.  We rarely use them and I normally end up letting half the bag go rotten.  So now, I will be really good and use them up making patatas bravas instead.  The only thing missing was the sunshine and a glass of chilled white or Rijoa.  There's always a next time.

You can find the recipe here.

*I do know other mothers but most of them either make me feel totally inadequate for working full time or just make me want to stab myself in the eyeball with a fork with their competitive mothering antics.  And if any of them read this blog, I'm sure they'll dislike me even more!
**Flour purchased from Wessex Mill.  First time I've made a brown loaf that the husband has liked.  Result!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Barney Desmazary's Lobster with Thermidor Butter

Okay, I wimped out in the end.  I just wasn't brave enough to buy myself a real, live lobster and so ended up with a pre-cooked one instead.  In my defence, living a fair distance from a decent fishing port means that live lobsters are hard to come by.  Some research on the t'internet revealed a fishmonger on a farm shop some forty miles from here.  As I was only cooking this for me, I really couldn't justify the petrol and expense of a huge, live lobster.  At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Pinchy's final mug shot
I've mentioned before how I'm a bit of a wuss and if I had to kill my own food, I'd be a confirmed vegetarian before you could say 'peanut butter on celery'.  Had I gotten my hands on a live lobster, I most certainly would've been tempted to be like Homer Simpson and turn it into a pet.

That particular Simpsons episode evoked memories of a holiday on the Isle of Wight with friends of my mother.  I was probably about five or six at the time and they drove an estate car which back then, we kids just used to ride in the boot of.  That particular summer, we got to share the boot with the world's most ginormous live lobster.  I swear blind that it lived in the boot of that car for most of the two weeks of our holiday.  I don't know why it was there or what was meant to happen to it but it definitely happened as there's a picture of us all sat in the back of the boot somewhere at my mum's house.

Anyhoo, having avoided the need to choose between stabbing the poor thing through the head or flinging it into a pot of boiling water, I turned to Dame Mary for advice on how to cut and clean the lobster.  There are a squillion and one online guides on how to do this, but the trusty 'Know How' section in Mary's Complete Cookery Book (the original one, not the re-released one Amazon now peddle) has a step-by-step pictorial and I just knew that I'd be safe with Mary at the helm.

One downside of having a cooked lobster was that the husband failed to be terrorised by it.  He's a bigger wuss than I am and will not remove spiders or moths from bedrooms nor will he collect seaweed with Miss A at the seaside.  On the other hand, Miss A wanted to play with pinchy and had a full on meltdown as I tried to explain that he was for tea.

It's lobster, not mini octopusses.  Or octopi??
I now also know that I wouldn't ever want to get into a fight with a lobster.  It was pretty easy to knife through the shell but ouchy - those claws have got some nasty sharp bits on the outside when you're trying to extract the lovely claw meat.

I'd originally intended to serve it with Thomasina Miers' pumpkin mole but forgot the coriander (next time I see langoustines, I'm so doing that recipe) so I went for thermidor butter instead.  Next problem was assuming it was possibly to change a nappy in the time it would take for the wine to reduce from 150ml to not much at all.  Wrong.  Burnt shallots do not taste good.  Nor do shallots burnt in white wine that has been open for several weeks.  Oops.  Did I mention I rarely drink?

I got there in the end.  I must say the mustard was slightly overpowering - but that may have been just the brand that I had (Waitrose own) or that I used a little too much.  Other than that, it was a really simple recipe and should I ever find myself cooking a meal for another lobster lover, it's great because you can prep both the butter and lobster well in advance of serving.  Chances of that are probably less than zero but hey - you never know what life may bring you.

You can find the recipe I used here.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: African Banana Coconut Bake - Equatorial Guinea

With a population of just 676,000 - making it the 166th biggest country in the world, Equatorial Guinea actually has the 29th highest GDP per capita due to recently discovered oil reserves boosting its economy.  Sadly, like most countries, the majority of the money lies in the hands of just a few.

Given the size of the country, I was unsurprised to learn that they sent just two competitors to the main London 2012 event (they left empty-handed) and they didn't field any athletes at the Paralympics.

So on to the foodie bit.  The detail from Wikipedia is as small as the country and gave me little help at all.  It did indicate that meat is very prevalent - specifically game, chicken and bush meat.  Knowing that I was unlikely to be able to source chimpanzee from Ocado, I went with fish.  Next problem, recipes are few and far between but eventually I happened across one for Pick a Pepper Stew which is basically fish cooked with peppers and herbs and served with rice.  Simple.

Well you'd think.  The recipe called for snapper but after a lot of effort by the fishmonger at my local Morrisons, they were unable to source any and recommended Tilapia instead.  I collected said fish yesterday afternoon and although it was gutted and descaled, I was left to my own devices to fillet the fish.  I should never have let the thought of 'how hard can filleting a fish be?' float through my head.

I've always had a bit of a fear of fish with their eyes in ever since my mother terrorised me with a dead trout when I was a child.  And then I owned a psychotic goldfish that kept jumping out of its bowl onto the kitchen floor.  I'm sure this is why I have a phobia of swimming in the sea. I really don't like fish.  Seriously. Unless they're battered with chips; in a fish finger sandwich; or in a meuniere sauce.

Tilapia must have the measliest amount of flesh to bone ratio of any fish ever.  Seriously, it's like a goldfish on steroids.  I managed to scrape two two-inch square bits of fish from it and was left with a massive fishy carcass, which I'm sure would make some fabulous fish stock if I didn't live in a house where the chief resident complains of any non-Captain Birds Eye fish smells.

So I ended up having to think on my feet and with a lack of bananas, I made Chef Jeena's onion bhajis. Fast forward to today and rather than doing the fish thing again with different fish, I settled on making African Banana Coconut Bake.  It's about the only dessert I can find with any reference to Equatorial Guinea.  The other choice was something containing raspberries and bread which sounds suspiciously like bread pudding.  At least this is vaguely exotic with its citrus fruits and coconut.

It's a really simple and scalable dish.  I made it just for me so rather than baking it in a dish, I just wrapped it all up in foil, a bit like a Cornish pasty, and baked it for ten minutes.  The sauce was amazing - although it made the coconut soggier than I would've liked.  Definitely one for the barbecue if we ever have sunny weather again.

And that is definitely the end of my Olympic Food Challenge contribution.  I only hope we finally hit the 204 mark on Sunday.  I'd like to say a mahoosive thanks to the team Coach - Ewan Mitchell - for letting me join his 'games'.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Chef Geena's Baked Onion Bhajis

With less than three weeks to go, I've realised there are a few things I still need to tick off of my blog to do list.  One of those was to make onion bhajis again.  I had a disaster with a recipe on day four (I have no idea where the year has gone) and vowed that I'd make them again so, having had this recipe in mind for some weeks, I finally got round to trying it.

The good thing about these bhajis is that they are baked and not fried.  Although there is oil involved to soften the onions and to give them a 'fried' taste, it's probably not quite as bad as slinging them in the deep fat fryer.  Plus there's much less risk of them disintegrating.

Bhajis with lime pickle
The mixture is pretty easy to make and, unlike my last attempt, came together and actually looked how I would expect bhaji mix to look.  I used two smallish onions - I didn't weigh them - and this produced two bhajis.  I'm guessing you'd get 6-8 decent sized ones from the 1lb of onions the recipe suggests.

On the down side, I used the full recipe quantity of spices, even though I was only making a fraction of the other ingredients but you couldn't really taste the spicing and I think it would be lost if you had more onions and flour.  I'd definitely recommend doubling the spices if you use the full recipe.

As for the baked vs fried bit.  They were okay, if a little stodgy in the middle.  Then again, if you can put up with the grease, things taste so much better when they're deep fried.  But we all know that's bad for you so let's not go there.

Far happier with this recipe than the last attempt.  I think they'd go well with a healthy curry meal if you're looking for that kind of thing.  I had them for tea with a random leftover Waitrose samosa which also snuck into the picture, just because that's how I roll on a Thursday night.  Sometimes.

You can find the recipe here.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Olympic Food Challenge: Botswanan Chicken Pie - Botswana

With four competitors in two disciplines at the main London 2012 Olympics, Botswana managed to gain a silver medal in the Men's 800m.  Unfortunately, Botswana had to pull its team from the 2012 Paralympics due to financial irregularities in their Olympic Committee.

Moving swiftly on to the food (sorry for the short post), Botswana has its own unique cuisine, but is also influenced by its neighbouring countries.  Having already made Pap and Chakkalakka (just because I liked the name) when I did Lesotho, and lacking a three-legged iron pot (commonly used for cooking), I plumped for Botswanan Chicken Pie as chicken cooked for a guest shows special hospitality.

Sadly I had no guests and I was just cooking for myself.  The appeal in this recipe was that it was for individual pasty-style pies so I could make just one.  I must confess I cheated a little as I was trying to hone my pastry making skills which leave a lot to be desired (see the Apple and Rhubarb Pie and Quiche Lorraine trials) and so I'd a piece of Dan Lepard's Shortcrust Pastry lurking in my fridge instead of the pastry recommended by the recipe.

Whenever I make pastry, it's too short and consequently crumbles everywhere.  As a last resort, I put my faith into Dan.  This is the best pastry ever.  He recommends using half butter and half lard.  I didn't have any lard so went with the 'you can use all butter' caveat and it turned out to be the tastiest, butteriest pastry I have ever had the pleasure to eat.  I expected nothing less and yet again, Short and Sweet delivered.  Miss A even now refers to Short and Sweet as 'Mummy's favourite recipe book' even though I have never uttered these words in her presence.  I'm pleased her two-year-old mind is capable of forming such opinions already.

As for the pie filling - it's a mix of chicken, apple, onion, tomato and currants.  If it wasn't for the OFC, I never would've tried the sweet and savoury thing.  But I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it.  It just worked.  The recipe mentions the filling as being a little dry so I roasted a chicken breast at 190c fan for 17 minutes so it was barely cooked.  I immediately chopped this and popped it into the pan to fry, thus finishing the cooking and stopping it from being too dry in the finished product.

Do try these. My picture is a bit rubbish as I wanted you to see the filling of the pasty and the crisp pastry meant it shattered perfectly, but wasn't very photogenic!

You can find the recipe for the pie here and watch Dan making one of his shortcrust pastry recipes here although I used his basic eggless pastry from Short and Sweet.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Dan Lepard's Dark Chocolate Berry Cake

There are a few things that I've tried several different recipes for over the course of this year in the hope of finding the perfect recipe.  I've found my favoured recipes for naan bread, vanilla cupcakes, lemon cake and meatballs (this is a cheat because we settled on Waitrose ones).

Poor lighting - taken at 4.57am!
But good chocolate cake has eluded me.  Pre-blog, I had made Angela Nielsen's Ultimate Chocolate Cake and after a disaster with a vanilla cake, it gave me a back up base cake for this challenge.  I then tried Nigella's chocolate cake  which I really wasn't a fan of.  I had a disaster with Dan Lepard's Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake and a similar crisis with a chocolate and clementine loaf cake that Miss A and I tried to make the other day that I was too embarrassed to blog about.

So today, having made a bargain with Miss A that if she'd make a lemon cake for my Grandad's birthday on Saturday (he hates chocolate cake, she believes that all birthday cakes should be chocolate), we set about trying Dan Lepard's Dark Chocolate Berry Cake for me to take in to work tomorrow for my lovely colleagues on my Business Process Excellence course.

Having made a deal with the trainer that if we finished by 4pm today, I'd bring in cake tomorrow, I was a little nervous that I'd have a further disaster (I'm touching my laminate floor in the hope I don't now jinx myself and drop the darn thing on the way into work in the morning!).  But so far, so good.

I nearly forgot the butter - which is the very first ingredient - but managed to redeem myself at the last minute.  Then I didn't realise that if you start the timer on my mobile phone and then plug it in to charge, it stops the timer.  Thankfully I'd double checked the time on the cooker clock when I put the cake in so I was able to work out how much longer it needed and now it's nicely risen and cooling in the tin.
Hutch plays mother

Of course, by the time it's completely cooled I will have to be in bed, meaning that I need to ice it first thing in the morning.

My only comment (so far) is that the instructions are a little scant for the novice.  For example, with the icing, it doesn't tell you to melt the chocolate in a bain marie.  I'm partly tempted to do it straight in the pan but I could do without a burnt chocolate crisis at 5am.  Nor does it tell you how to cool the cake - in the tin or on a rack?  I'm going for the in the tin method.

Keep your fingers x'd for me and I'll update the post tomorrow with a picture of the finished article and some feedback.

You can find the recipe here.

Updated 5th September 2012 @ 19:58

Having gotten up at 4.30am to ice the cake this morning, I'm afraid it's not particularly photogenic and the picture is poorly lit.  However, I'm loving the chocolate icing with the subtle hint of berry coming through from the jam.  I used cherry jam with mine and I absolutely recommend buying the Mirabel jam that you can get in Lidl which I used for my cherry Viennese whirls.  It has a really strong, sharp cherry flavour and cuts well through the chocolate.  I find English cherry jams far to sweet and I think they'd be lost in the richness of the frosting.

One miniscule criticism is again surrounding the food photography.  This time, it's the Guardian's website.  The stylist seems to have used a buttercream type frosting rather than the chocolate/jam/icing sugar version that Lepard suggests.  The icing in the official picture is very smooth and thick, showing no hint of cherries lurking in it - which is a shame.  Or maybe they just used a sieved cherry jam?  Nobody's ever going to taste that picture so they probably only cared that it looks aesthetically pleasing.  And in this instance, there's no picture in Short and Sweet to compare it to as the recipe isn't in the book.

Anyway on to the reviews.  My chief cake tester is on his holidays at the moment.  The second in command (on the cake testing front) gave it the seal of approval, as did the rest of the course delegates and the assorted managers who came to review our final presentations.  In fact, I've now been invited to attend twenty training sessions taking place between now and Christmas by one manager who was told that I always take cake when I got to a training session.  He'll be lucky!

My personal opinion from the tiny sliver I had was that it was a good, flavoursome, solid cake that would stand up to a wide variety of fillings and could probably slice well into a three layer cake.  It was a little drier than I would've liked which is purely my own fault.  Partly because of the timer issue (see above) and partly because I was trying to juggle Miss A into bed around the time it was due out of the oven so it got a few minutes more than it should have had.

Nevertheless, I will definitely be making this one time and again.  Chocolate cake recipe?  Sorted.

And finally, thanks to Hutch who got press-ganged into having his pic taken for the blog - just to prove I don't eat all the cake myself!
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