Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Sunshine and Sausages...


Suddenly it hit me; as I sat in the garden, drinking elderflower cordial, nearly falling off my chair as I attempted to evade a wasp and still wearing sunglasses as I ate my dinner- This has been a pretty bloody good summer. Like, seriously, I have tan-lines kind of good...

Yup, as I fanned my bronzed (and now slightly peeling) shoulders with the latest, tropical fruit adorned copy of Jamie magazine (suitably sunny as well as being my absolute favourite) it dawned on me like a slap in the face with the tennis ball my sister was throwing around the garden (or maybe that actually was the ball...) that I have spent more days in shorts this year than I can remember in a long, long time. And I am talking of short-wearing in England; the land of endlessly waiting for the Indian Summer that never appears, where grey August afternoons are the norm and summer wardrobes seem to spend much of their lives getting dusty under the bed...


Now, even after that slight moan, I can’t grumble about previous dodgy summers too much. It would be hypocritical for me to whinge about the rain ruining the Queen’s Jubilee last year, or the lack of Rosé that was consumed on the patio during, what I am assured was, the rainy summer of 2012. Yeah, I can’t really complain can I- For me, last year was more mountain biking in Bolivia and sipping Mojitos on Miami Beach than digging out my anorak and debating the socks with sandals look after getting caught in a surprise shower.

But I am still absolutely loving it- Eating strawberries like a possessed five year old hidden in the bushes on the Pick your Own field (juice smeared, stupidly sticky face to match, of course), discovering a very hidden enthusiasm for Frisbee (and, unfortunately, a little bit of an ugly competitive streak...) spending more time in tents than I ever dared to imagine; this summer has indeed been downright delicious.


But, most of all, and speaking of delicious; I absolutely adore the way that the warmth brings out the pop-art colours in the fruit and vegetable aisles, how the sun-drenched garden encourages heady herb fragrances and fresh tomatoes in every meal. Basically, I just can’t get enough of the al-fresco magic that seems to make every single thing created in the kitchen shine as brightly as the swimming-pool blue sky.

It is at this time of year that makes me want to raid the vegetable box, grabbing colours like a crazed circus costume designer, throwing all that goodness in a dish, giving it a shake, bunging it in the oven and just letting all those fresh, amazing flavours do their thing. For me, that is all there is to it when the sun is shining; leaving more time for eating ice cream and getting hit in the face with tennis balls...


And this neon-bright, ridiculously tasty sausage, cannellini bean and butternut traybake is hard to beat. Nestled between the sunny slices of squash, ruby-red cherry tomatoes, slices of red onion and creamy beans; the sausages add just enough richness and spice (and an added bit of summer naughtiness) to this fresh, amazingly tasty dinnertime delight. Speckled with a bounty of fresh herbs from the garden (I grabbed everything in sight, only just managing to leave the grass intact if I’m honest...) doused in olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar to add just the right amount of bite; all that needs to be done is throw it in the oven and bake until the sausages are browned and sticky and their bean and butternut bed has reduced to a chunky sauce.

This is sausage and beans with fancy bells on. Simply serve with crushed new potatoes spiked with a squeeze of lemon and hey presto; now get out in that sunshine and work on your vitamin D intake- You know you want to...


Sausage, Butternut and Canellini Bean Bake, Serves 4

I red onion, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, skins on and slightly squashed
1 red chilli, sliced
½ Butternut squash, peeled and thinly sliced
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tin cannellini beans, drained
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Fresh herbs (Any you fancy- Think Bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, basil, thyme...)
12 good-quality sausages
-
Preheat the oven to 190oc

In a large baking dish, combine the beans, squash, onion, garlic, chilli and herbs. Add a large glug of olive oil, a good splash of vinegar and season well

Prick the sausages and place on top of the bean mixture. Give all of those lovely flavours one last shake up (get your hands in there!) and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until the sausages are browned and the squash cooked


Serve with crushed new potatoes and some sautéed spinach, YUM

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Something a Little Bit Fishy...


In my last post, I mentioned a distraction that had been keeping my fingers away from the keyboard and the blog uncharacteristically quiet. Now the time has come to admit to the cause of my recent period of silence- Yes, brace yourself, the rumours are true; I have indeed, through absolutely no fault of my own, accidentally become a Fish Monger.

Not entirely what you imagined, hey? Well me neither. I think it is pretty fair to say that if you had asked a snotty-nosed, metal-mouthed, bespectacled young me (yup, I was an attractive child) what I wanted to be when I was a grown up; Fishmonger would not have exactly been top of my list.



But, as destiny would have it, I have somehow, sort-of become exactly that. Yes, the young me would have stuck her tongue out at 5am starts (who am I kidding, I still have to restrain myself), rolled her eyes at the white overalls and green, floor length, oilcloth apron. She would have probably stamped her feet at the constantly freezing temperatures, ice and sharp fish bones, and, I don’t blame her, almost definitely have had a major temper tantrum in the bread aisle of Tesco’s over the uncanny way that fish makes the sleeves of all jumpers smell, bizarrely, of wet dog.

But, it has happened. So, in the words that I never imagined I would utter (particularly not to my hairdresser, as I was forced to last week), but that have become a sort of mantra to my present existence- “If you smell fish, it is probably me...”

Now, let me explain- I haven’t been involved in a swashbuckling kidnap to become the bride of a fish-loving pirate, nor have I tripped and become trapped in a net at Billingsgate Market; the corner of which my professional path has turned of late, is purely coincidental. Having been obsessed with food (you would never have guessed right?) since I was the afore-mentioned, incredibly good-looking child; I have been in search of a career in the industry that I love for more time that I could care to mention. I have done all sorts; baked cakes in cafes, decorated 200 tarts with basil leaves, butchered a whole pig, written blog, upon blog, upon blog...But I honestly think that my recent days playing Fish-wife have been the strangest (and definitely the smelliest) to date.

It all stemmed from a very innocent sounding internship at a luxury food wholesale company. I was imagining, you know, maybe some sales experience, possibly some buying, maybe even some product development- Strange as it may seem, gutting sardines at 6 o’clock in the morning never really crossed my mind. But, as luck would have it (glass half-full and all that); the well-timed camping trip of the official Fishmonger (keeping positive), and lack of anyone to hold down the ship (as it were...) led to an aprehensive and totally inexperienced me being overalled, aproned and reeled straight in. Maybe for a couple of days, the old, un-fishy me thought? Nope, no such luck there, and after the fourth week of squeezing on my pair of very own personal wellies, setting my alarm for 4am, and considering bottles of Detol body wash in Boots, I realised that things had got pretty serious...


However, and this is a surprise to me too; it’s not all so bad. Regardless of the way that the aroma of wet fish seems to linger everywhere exactly like the bad smell it is (on the car, my clothes, even my carefully scrubbed forearms as my boyfriend not-so gleefully informed me last week..) the experience has not been entirely negative. It may not be entirely what I imagined would be making me proud 3 years after leaving university, but a perfectly filleted Bream, or a damn fabulous Monkfish loin makes me feel unnervingly happy.
And imagine my joy when I stumbled across a rainbow bounty of glistening, super fresh fishes crowning a market stall on my recent holiday in Brittany. I could not contain myself- a good ten minutes was spent confusing the stall owner and embarrassing my boyfriend by naming everything in sight, describing the filleting process and declaring quite emotionally that Hake is my absolute favourite; before the possibilities for a pretty fancy fish barbeque started to make me very very happy of my shiny new set of skills.

After getting over the excitement of a new way to gut sardines (I won’t go in to that here, there is simply not time for those kind of revelations...) I chose my victims (sardines and trout), grabbed some tin foil, the essential bottle of Rosé and started planning. Scrabbling together my limited camping ingredients, which were somewhat boosted by my boyfriend’s ingenious Tic-Tac box spice dispensers, I marinated, stuffed and seasoned to my heart’s content.



The trout, stuffed with flaked almonds, zingy lemon zest, olives and fresh basil was wrapped in tin foil, doused with white wine and crowned with lemon slices. Nestled in with the super-hot coals, it emerged fragrant and almost steamed, the delicious stuffing ramping up the flavour and adding a little bit of crunch to the soft, blush pink flesh.

The gutted sardines were marinated in lemon, garlic, dried chilli flakes (slightly Tic-Tac scented), rosemary and olive oil and barbequed for a few just a few magical, flavour boosting minutes. The punch these little beauties packed after so little effort was quite ridiculous; fragrant with rosemary, sharp with lemon and hot with chilli, they were the perfect end to a day of getting insanely sunburnt on the beach. Or maybe that was the wine?


So, you see, there was a silver lining to all that slicing, scaling and shivering- and not just as the perfect opportunity for my friends to make fish-based puns (if in doubt, Plaice is always a good fall-back option here...) And I did get to do all the good, non-fishy stuff I expected during my internship before I was handed the dreaded green apron.

However, there is only so long I can get away with telling people that I am an ‘Aquatic Surgeon’, let alone using as much washing powder as I seem to have been lately. So almost as abruptly as they began, my days spent elbow deep in fish pie mix are almost at an end. If my mind was not made up from the way that sitting in my car has become nauseating even when I am not wearing fish soaked jumpers, I very nearly completed a full back flip this morning after skidding on some Monkfish membrane. Yup, I think it is about time to move on...


Sunday, 18 August 2013

An Apology and a Confession...

I am going to start this post with an apology. A big fat sorry for neglecting the blog and leaving you all in the dark on the particularly important musings on what I have been scoffing with my afternoon tea or hiding in my under-the-bed box of random crockery for more time than is really acceptable. I could blame the sunshine (more feasible this year than last, I suppose), or perhaps my recent purchase of a new pair of trainers and gym membership that has led me to break a sweat for the first time since year 6 sports day. Or, I could just face the brutally honest music that has not been blaring from my laptop as I have been avoiding putting any words to virtual paper and tell the truth; I mean, the trainers have not been that busy- I have simply been a little teeny bit lazy of late...


But, let’s not dwell on the past; I am back, and as means of apology for my lack of commitment, I am going to kick off this post with some deep and meaningful  questions to really get you all thinking. Only joking, you don’t need that on a Sunday; but I would like to air a few concerns about whether my car-boot-sale-loving, quilt stitching (yes, really) 24-year-(supposedly)-young life is entirely normal. I have based my concerns on a few tendancies that seem to have emerged in the past 6 months, tendancies that seem to rear their blue-rinsed, permed heads on Sundays more than any other day of the week. Of course, a preference I share with all my Grandparents (there are a few, it seems) the day that signals guilt-free lie-ins, papers in plastic wrappings, roast potatoes and early mornings spent riffling through people’s old junk in fields across the land is without a doubt the day for me.

And herein lies my concerns. Take this morning. I started the day, as you do, furiously scrubbing the labels of two rosé bottles that I was adamant were to be brought all the way back from my recent holiday in Brittany to be transformed in to olive oil decanters. The fact that I do not yet own a house, let alone any olive oil is, obviously, beside the point; as is that fact that I also insisted on fragrancing my boyfriends overstuffed car with a Camembert box, minus any actual cheese but with a very distinctive lingering aroma, just because I took a fancy to the label. Normal? I’m not so sure.


But that’s not all, after the scrubbing had ceased, and a nice cup of tea had soothed my nerves; I trekked, old carrier bag and purse of 10p coins in hand to the car boot sale down the road. Pennies worth of floral plates later I was happy, but still left wondering if I have somehow flicked the switch on my biological clock to dog years and am in fact 109 years old.

And my worries about my old-age pensioner inclinations do not stop there. What other 24 year old gets excited when LOOK magazine declares that the ‘Granny Sandal’ is the new Fashionista footwear of choice (I already have several pairs of said sandals, one of which are so convincingly on-trend that my Mum started making my ‘Grandma’ a cup of tea as soon as she saw them next to the door.) Then there is the fact I have had to turn off the Radio 1 breakfast show on the way to work, my all consuming love of tea and cake, my insistence on wearing midi-skirts even though I know my boyfriend hates them with as much passion as he hates the granny-shoes and any kind of second-hand floral crockery. Is any of this actually, you know, alright??


But what I really want to talk about (so excuse all the wittering on, it must be my age...) is my obsession with breakfast. Is it ok that even before the last spoonful of muesli has left the bowl I am planning my next morning meal? Is it really allowed that my favourite thing is sitting down with the crossword, a mug of tea as big as my face and a bacon sandwich ready and waiting to soak up any whisper of overnight hunger, at 24 years old?

Well, whatever, I don’t care...Just as Sunday is my favourite day of the week; breakfast is without a doubt my favourite meal of the day. I’m sure I am not alone in revelling in those magical mornings when there is time to stew over some French toast, or dreamily dunk those soldiers in to a perfectly boiled egg yolk, slowly and deliciously apologising to your body for all those bad glasses of wine you seemed to consume the night before (See, not so OAP). Honestly, I would eat toast and peanut butter at every meal if it was allowed. I have no doubt that if the Breakfast Club actually did what it says on the tin I would be first on the list to sign up- After all, there is very little else that makes turning off the electric blanket and getting out of bed worth all the effort.


Thankfully, one of my absolute favourite breakfast recipes is about as far from meals-on-wheels as you can get. A pretty wicked hangover cure for those days when a fry-up is just no cutting it and your sweet tooth is winning the battle of the breakfast table, this honey scented Brioche French toast, crowned with glistening roasted apricots and speckled with flaked almonds is almost enough to transport you, spoon in hand, to the whitewashed rooftop of a Greek island villa. But if you are not quite that lucky, and the never ending sky that accompanies your breakfast is more an English shade of grey that a sun-soaked azure blue, one whiff of vanilla spiced apricots, drenched in honey and sitting atop the fluffiest French toast will make everything seem that little bit brighter.

Make the roasted apricots the night before, and your path to a sunnier morn and a clearer head will be on the table in no time. All you will need to do is fry the egg soaked brioche, pile the sticky apricots, big pillows of creamy, gorgeously rich Greek yoghurt, honey and toasted almonds in to bowls, gather around some friends and get stuck in. Just what a Sunday morning calls for...



PS. Don’t worry too much about me; I am moving to London in 2 weeks so will endeavour to curb my car-booty habit and turn off Countryfile asap. Perhaps I will find all those elusive, sandal wearing Fashionistas and finally not be the only person in the same shoes as Vera from next door and the rest of the local bowls club...

Brioche French Toast with Honey, Apricots and Almonds

2 tins halved apricots in juice, drained
2 tbsp honey
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod
4 thick slices of Brioche
3 eggs
600ml milk
1tbsp caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Greek yoghurt and a handful of toasted almonds, to serve
-
Preheat the oven  to 180oc

To make the spiced apricots; arrange the halved fruit in a dish, drizzle with the honey and add the cinnamon stick and split vanilla pod. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, until the fragrant spices have infused and the fruit is soft.

Meanwhile, make the French toast. In a bowl, beat the eggs and milk until evenly mixed, before stirring in the sugar and lemon zest.

Dip each piece of bread into the eggy mixture, before frying in a hot saucepan and a little butter. Turn when golden, after about 5 minutes, and cook until evenly coloured.

To serve; top the toast with the baked apricots, a spoonful of yoghurt, some chopped almonds and a little honey.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Going Cocoa-Loco...



One of the perils of Easter, other than the sudden appearance of a giant fictional rabbit in the garden, is the ridiculous amount of chocolate that manages to wiggle its way into every nook and cranny of the house, the car, down the back of the sofa...


The tidal wave of chocolate at this time of year is almost entirely unavoidable. And why would you want to hide from away from all those boxes of deliciousness at the only time when being a chocoholic is not a burden but a much-envied blessing? But now, after too many evenings spent in a cocoa induced daze; my bedside table has slowly transformed itself in to a miniature replica of the supermarket confectionary aisle, my handbag has begun to resemble that of an overweight shoplifter with a serious sweet tooth, and, most sadly of all, my ability to cram my face with crème eggs has finally begun to dwindle.


But what to do with your glut of foil wrapped chocolates when your sweet-tooth has finally given up the ghost? Hide it in your knicker drawer for an emotional crisis or nuclear disaster? Experiment with chocolate facials? Nah, I reckon the only use for all those neglected eggs and bunnies is to smash them up, melt them down and bake the whole lot into something entirely delicious.
And look no further than these toothsome, devilishly moreish recipes. Why not start your chocolate spring clean with the wickedly delicious Turkish Delight and Pistachio Rocky Road; delicately flavoured with neon pink chunks of Turkish delight and flecked with desiccated coconut. The crunch of pistachio nuts is the perfect contrast to the pillowy softness of pure white marshmallow, but throw in a bit of whatever you have lurking in the cupboard; raisins, honeycomb, almonds, dried cranberries, sour cherries. Get stuck in to the ingredients cupboard and then tuck in with a vengance- They won’t hang around for long...

And if the mountain of chocolate you have to deal with is of the white variety, why not give these delectable Black and White Blondies a go? Moist squares of white chocolate and coconut, flecked with fresh blackberries (see, now you get the name..) they are a chocolate lovers dream; almost good enough to make a certain bunny but a bungalow on the Costa del Sol and hang up his basket in early retirement.

Black and White Blondies


200g white chocolate, chopped
125g unsalted butter
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
A pinch of salt
75g dessicated coconut
100g blackberries, halved

-

Preheat the oven to 170oc, and grease and line a 33/23” baking tray.

In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, heat the butter and 150g of the chocolate until melted and smooth.

Remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring well. Add the eggs and vanilla, before folding in the flour and salt until well incorporated.

Carefully mix in the coconut, remaining chocolate and blackberries until they are evenly distributed throughout the mix.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tray (it will be quite thick, don’t worry!) and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown but still soft in the centre. Leave to cool and dig in!

Pistachio and Turkish Delight Rocky Road

100g milk chocolate, chopped
100g dark chocolate, chopped
100g butter
150g golden syrup
250g rich tea biscuits
50g desiccated coconut
50g glace cherries
40g mini marshmallows
100g raisins
50g pistachio nuts
3 Frys Turkish delight bars, chopped
A pinch of sea salt

-

Line a medium sized baking tray (about 24cm square or equivalent) with greaseproof paper.
In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water; melt the butter, golden syrup and chocolate until smooth and glossy.

Put the biscuits in a freezer bag and break with a rolling pin, until you have medium sized pieces.
Mix all the dry ingredients into the chocolate mixture and stir until full combined. Tip into the lined tray and refrigerate for about 2 hours or overnight.

When completely set, cut into squares and get stuck in!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

P.S...


By the way- I couldn't resist making another giant bowl of gorgeous truffles from this recipe at the weekend; using Easter and the tidal wave of chocolate as a perfectly wrapped excuse for the hundredth time since Hot Cross Buns started appearing on the supermarket shelves. This time I plumped for a heady mix of crystalised ginger, honey and spiced whiskey; shaped them into egg shapes (what else?) and arranged the devilishly rich little chocolate gems into pastel egg boxes, lined with grease-proof paper and the leftover muticoloured foil wrappers that seem to appear every time I put my hand into a bag or under a cushion. Well, waste not want not...

The perfect Easter treat; just keep them well away from anyone young enough to still believe a giant rabbit hopped into the garden and hid Creme Eggs in the flower pots...

Sunny-Side Up..



Having time for more than an unbuttered, half burnt piece of toast or a spoonful of soggy, cardboard flavoured cereal at breakfast time is my favourite thing in the whole wide world. The luxury of actually sitting down at the table, drinking orange juice in sips rather than student union style gulps, trying to do the crossword (and failing in my case; I once convinced myself that ‘four letter flightless bird’ was, obviously, a duck..) is what Bank Holidays are absolutely made for.

This Easter weekend, it was, of course, all about eggs. I know what you are thinking, and yes, chocolate for breakfast is technically OK at this time of year; but before the cocoa carnage that occurred after the Easter Eggs were hunted and de-foiled, the treats on our breakfast table were more of the yolk and white variety than Cadbury or Mars. It all started so well...


Eggs for breakfast is kind of an unspoken rule over this otherwise chocolate filled weekend; a symbol of rebirth (on a serious note) and as much an Easter staple as mince pies at Christmas or too much champagne at New Years (hopefully less seriously.) A leftover tradition that hails from the days when Lent was followed much more religiously than quitting Facebook or giving up the lift at work; the glut of eggs in the pantry after the 40 days and 40 nights of serious fasting (chickens have never been too good at reading ‘no need to lay’ memos, thus cramming the larder as Good Friday dawned) meant that boiled, fried or scrambled, they were the obvious choice on Easter morn.

 This year, despite the fact that my army boyfriend was in Suffolk for the weekend, thus providing the perfect opportunity for an ‘Eggs and Soldiers’ post; it was the frying pan that got the brunt of the action. And with sunny-side up brightening the kitchen table in a way that the sun itself couldn’t quite muster; these fresh and spicy Mexican eggs with corn pancakes were a real winner. Crammed with fresh veg and herbs, fiery with chilli and paprika and sprinkled with zingy lime and coriander, they were the perfect contradiction to the early morning chocolate feast that is almost obligatory at this cocoa-loco time of year. Just what the Easter Bunny ordered; after all this might be the only meal that doesn’t involve cracking a chocolate egg for a while...



Mexican Fried Eggs with Corn and Jalapeño Pancakes

Crowned with smoky-sweet peppers and onions, delicately spiced with cumin seeds and paprika; the fluffy, jalapeño spiked pancakes are the perfect platform for the naughtiest of eggs. No poaching or egg white omelettes here (well, is there really much point after cramming your cheeks with chocolate bunnies?) serve this delicious take on my favourite Huevos Rancheros with bowls of sour cream, grated cheddar, chopped spring onions, sliced avocado and wedges of lime. Ramp up the spice with extra chilli for those with a fiery tooth (or a hangover) sprinkle over some fragrant coriander, cram the table with as many people as you can and get stuck in...

Smoky peppers and onions

Olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 pepper, sliced
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper

Jalepeno and corn pancakes

1 green chilli, finely chopped
150g plain flour
100g polenta
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten.
200 ml milk
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp melted butter, plus extra for cooking.
To serve
4-8 eggs, fried to your liking
Sour cream
Coriander
Lime wedges

-

To make the smoky peppers; first fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat in a little olive oil. When softened, add the cumin seeds, paprika, tomatoes and sliced peppers and fry for a further 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar, sugar, tomato puree and a splash of water, season well and leave to simmer over a low heat until thick and sticky.

Meanwhile, make the pancake batter. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre and whisk in the beaten eggs until you have a smooth paste.

Gradually add the milk, whisking all the time, until you have a thick batter. Stir in the chopped chillies and melted butter and leave to stand until ready to assemble your breakfast.

In a saucepan, heat a little butter or olive oil. Fry ladlefuls of the thick batter until bubbles begin to appear on the surface and the underside is lightly browned. Turn and fry for a few more minutes on the other side.

To assemble, top the pancakes with the peppers and onions, fried eggs and a sprinkle of coriander leaves. Serve with bowls sour cream, chopped spring onions, grated cheese, extra chillies, sliced avocados and get stuck in!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Truffles for Triumphs...



Rich, dark, and wickedly delicious Chocolate Truffles are not your everyday lunchbox filler; instead waiting patiently in the wings like the other social butterflies of the kitchen (the canapé, the soufflé, or anything else ending in é, in case you were wondering) for one of those occasions that calls for the special china or the fancy napkins, rings and all. Cream, chocolate, a splash of something alcoholic and an enormous measure of down-right scrumptiousness, these little balls of all things bad for your waistline but glorious for your taste buds, are quite rightly one of those decadent, and dangerously moreish treats that are only allowed to roll out of the kitchen on special occasions. And thank goodness for that, you hear me sigh, I would need a crane and strategically placed hole in the roof just to get out of the house if they were on offer much more often...

Last weekend, one of those perilous occasions where truffles are most definitely called for, or so I like to think, arose.,, I can only blame my boyfriend, (seemingly a more and more regular feature on this blog...starting to suspect I’m a feeder) who is somewhat an over-achiever; one of those annoying people that is always doing something worth celebrating, which, in my rather food driven world, obviously means something worth cooking for. This time round, forgetting the carrot cakes and pork pies of old, the leftover dark chocolate in the fridge was the star of the show.


Feeling like the Hermione Granger of the kitchen (I would say Harry, but I don’t suit glasses..) the somewhat miraculous transformation of a matt block of dark chocolate to the thick, spectacularly shiny, see-your-face-in-it stuff that appears when it is added to hot cream, is nothing short of magic. And it really is as easy as Hermione makes mending those ugly aforementioned glasses look; once you have mixed, flavoured and tasted to your heart’s content, all that is needed is to leave the bowl to its own devices in the fridge for a few hours before rolling into balls. Easy peasy.

But the truly great thing about truffles in my eyes, (yup, even better than being ridiculously quick and even more stupidly yummy) is that they are almost a complete blank canvas of chocolate; giving your imagination free reign and letting you get totally creative. Adding a bit of this nut, or (a lot) of that liqueur takes the mixture from a bog standard choc to a treat that is truly your own.

As I got stuck in, it seems that I was feeling a little bit exotic as far as flavourings go. Don’t ask me why, it certainly had nothing to do with the weather, but drawing inspiration from my favourite, pink foil wrapped chocolate bar, half of the glossy cream and chocolate mixture took on the flavours of a Turkish delight. Enriched with pieces of the neon, rose flavoured jelly, pistachio nuts and rose water, before being rolled in bright green crushed pistachio nuts, they are not only full of Eastern Promise, but promise to fly off the plate almost as quickly as they got there. They would look beautiful piled on to a glass dish at Christmas time, not at all out of place in Nigella’s winter wonderland of a kitchen. Just don’t be too fussy about arranging in a meticulous, Ferroro Rocher style pyramid, they are guaranteed not to last long...



The other half of the basic truffle mix was a slightly manlier affair; speckled with crunchy salted almond praline, spiked with red chilli and given an added kick with a glug of spiced rum. Just yummy. Both were totally delicious, but if you don’t fancy the idea of a chocolate that will make your lips tingle, add your favourite nuts, dried fruit, spices, orange zest; go mad, the possibilities really are endless. Just get stuck in and get creative, these are a treat a million times worth any of the minimal melting, stirring and imagination required.

Ps. Listen up, this is a serious point; as I learnt after a few hours on the train and tube with my bag of treats, truffles do not travel well. If you want to avoid presenting your loved one with a bag of something that looks a lot more like something you would give to your enemy, make sure you keep these cold and un-squashed. Because they are definitely not an attractive present when they arrive in one brown, squidgy mess. If you know what I mean...

The Best Chocolate Truffles.

Basic Dark Chocolate Truffle
300ml double cream
A knob of butter
300g good quality dark chocolate, broken in to small pieces
A pinch of sea salt
A splash of alcohol (brandy, rum, orange liqueur- Whatever your tipple!)
-
Chopped nuts, fruit, marshmallows, praline, orange zest, dried chilli flakes or whatever extra flavouring you fancy.
Chopped nuts, cocoa powder or dessicated coconut; to roll.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until very hot but not quite boiling. When small bubbles begin to appear on the surface, add the butter and stir until melted.

Pour this hot mixture over the broken chocolate, whisking to combine, and allow the chocolate to melt nice and slowly.

Mix in a splash of your chosen alcohol, a pinch of salt (really brings out the flavour of the chocolate, honest) and any flavourings you fancy. Stir until the chocolate is melted, and the mixture is thick and smooth.

Leave to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours- You can make it a few days in advance if you are short of time.

About half an hour before you want to serve your truffles, roll spoonfuls of the mixture into small  balls; coat in chopped nuts, cocoa powder or desiccated coconut and serve!

Monday, 11 March 2013

Food Safari - The View From the Sink...


A few weekends ago, I was lucky enough to be asked to help with one of the brilliant Food Safari ‘Bread in a Day’ courses, getting my hands dirty as I delved in to the mountains of washing up, scraped the remains of the plentiful loaves out of the bowls of the all-kneaded-out participants, and measured endless jugs of water and portions of butter. Now, it is not often that the words ‘lucky’ and ‘washing up’ are seen in the same sentence, the last time probably being from the mouth of a pot washer on Roman Abramovich’s super-yacht moored in some balmy Caribbean paradise; but on this occasion, an exception must definitely be made. From my station at the sink, I learnt a wealth of bread making tips, secrets of the trade and even had a sneaky listen to some of Chef, and resident bread-making instructor, Peter Harrison’s well-guarded recipes...

Now, if you love food, and live in Suffolk, the chances are that you have heard of, and almost definitely, covet a place on one of the unique, experience-led courses at the Food Safari. Brainchild of Sweffling’s Polly Robinson, the food lovers haven is hot on the radar of foodies near and far, dishing up the perfect opportunity for those with a true love of good-grub to learn more about their favourite producers, get down and dirty with butchery, rummage in the hedgerows on one of the incredibly popular foraging days or try their hand at producing beautiful loaves of artisan bread. The exciting venture, started in 2009, is all about getting back to the real, grass-roots of food; inspiring a real connection with where the stuff we pile onto our plates comes from and how it is made; encouraging a reconnection with the unique and exciting local producers that make this possible, and that we are lucky enough to have right on our doorstep.

The Food Safari gives the intrigued day-tripper, to the full on gastro-geek the chance to go behind the counter of our most exciting food producers, delving in to the traditions and processes that make their offerings so special, whilst encouraging the intrepid food explorer to get elbow deep in the finest quality ingredients with an absolutely unique range of utterly hands-on courses and experiences. Whether you long to peek behind the doors of the smokehouses at Pinney’s in Orford, crammed with rows of vibrant, glistening sides of salmon; long to learn more about Sourdough starters at the now famous Pump Street Bakery, or want to get your hands dirty with a spot of game butchery with the Wild Meat Company; the experiences offered up by Polly and her team are totally unrivalled. Winner of the hotly contested Best Day Course/Food Experience category at the 2012 UK Cookery School Awards, the company is rapidly spreading it’s wings, growing up and getting ready to fly the nest and dive into the extensive waters of the wider British food scene; with branches popping up in London, Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire to name but a few. Now you see why I was excited to squeeze on those Marigolds.


But, back to the loaf in hand, and on with a little reminisce about a day filled to the brim with almost every kind of homemade bread possible; that passed in a cloud of flour and a blur of washing up suds and, to be honest, left me absolutely desperate for a sandwich...

The day began at 9.45am (I would say sharp, but the roads around Suffolk are notoriously not too friendly with the SatNav;) the group arriving in excited dribs and drabs, armed with bread making questions, and keen to discover where their brick-like,  tasteless loaves had been going wrong. Over steaming coffee pots and baskets of wholemeal scones, homemade Eccles cakes and local jams, the small crowd of novice bakers took the opportunity to indulge in a short chat about all things bread; grilling Peter for advice and delving into his catalogue of experience for any little titbit of trade secrets, before getting straight to the work stations, out with the scales, and on with the arm-stretches to avoid any kneading based injury (the true peril of bread, never mind what the dieticians say.)

As the sink filled, and I got to grips with the finer points of washing up plug-clogging bowls full of dough (definitely as exciting as it sounds); the class cracked on with mixing, shaping and proving enough beautiful loaves to fill a small bakery. White and brown tin loaves emerged from the oven in perfectly bronzed drones; tea breads filled the air with delicious wafts of fruit and spice, and overflowing basins of pillowy pre-made dough were rolled, flattened and pinched into every shape imaginable before being covered in poppy, sesame and sunflower seeds; making an army of rolls big enough to take on any dinner party.

As lunch neared, a tray crammed with mismatched bowls of the most beautiful pizza toppings appeared, ready to adorn the olive oil enriched foccacia dough, proved and waiting by the side of the Aga. After forming half of this great duvet of creamy white dough in to dimpled, shining foccacia, topped with sea salt, rosemary and glistening pools of olive oil; the apron-clad bakers smothered their freshly rolled bases with homemade tomato sauce, before speckling with their favourite toppings from a deli-lover’s bounty of creamy mozzarella, olives, glistening Sunblush tomatoes, spicy chorizo and Parma ham. So, as I tried not to dribble (unprofessional, even for a washer-upper,) the guests feasted upon their anchovy or goats cheese strewn pizzas; twinned with likewise drool-inducing chargrilled vegetable and chickpea, and grilled chicken, roasted squash and pesto salads. Dessert, of course followed, a gorgeously sticky orange and almond cake, served up with neon pink roasted vanilla rhubarb and tart crème fraiche, and glasses were amply filled with plenty of local apple juice, wine and Adnams beers. Just what those worn out arms needed.


So, after a quick wind-down and fill-up, it was straight back to the worktop; ready to stretch some more gluten strands. After lunch it was the turn of flat breads; charred in a hot griddle pan, puffed up under a pan lid on the Aga, or baked in a scorching hot oven to produce perfectly pocketed pittas. What a mouthful. Served with roasted cumin seed and coriander yoghurt or butterbean and garlic dips, the delightfully misshapen rounds were just further proof of the versatility of bread; perfect for a dinner party or as the ideal base for a special lunch- piled with hummus, roasted peppers and charred chorizo.

One of the best things about the course, other than the absolutely vast array of delicious food that was offered up on an almost non-stop basis; was the opportunity to grill a seasoned baker, discovering the answers to all the questions you have always wished were written on the back of your bag of strong white flour; tips that make the difference between a loaf that breaks the bread knife, and the kind that will make you turn away from the supermarket bakery aisle time after time in favour of. From the best flours to buy, the ultimate temperature for a perfect crust, to the slightly alarming, but as the class was assured, completely safe, spraying of the inside of the oven with water to achieve the optimum bake; there were more tips being thrown about in that room than in a good American restaurant.

However, my absolute favourite in the quest to avoid bread only worthy of the duck pond, was the ‘window-pane’ test. Don’t worry, this does not involve throwing your rolls at the French doors to check their texture or crust; it is simply the best way to check if you can give your arms a break and stop kneading. Pinch a small piece of dough from your kneaded ball and stretch between your fingers, looking out for a texture that holds together like a thin piece of Clingfilm (or indeed glass.) If (sorry arms) any breakage occurs or holes appear before you have formed a translucent film, it is back to the kneading board to achieve that perfect texture, where the gluten strands have been stretched enough to guarantee the perfect loaf. Phew the tension, I definitely couldn’t help leaving the sink for this part of the bread making process...

At the end of the day, as the guests left with bag upon ‘Food Safari’ stamped bag of fresh, still warm bread, I leant back against the sink and realised that I have never enjoyed washing up so much. The day was a whirlwind of yeast, flour and balls of dough, splattered with plenty of periods reserved for eating gorgeous local food, asking questions and racking Peter and Polly’s bread filled brains for tricks of the trade. The bowl of every participant was overflowing with an obvious love of food, and the importance of good, local ingredients was highlighted by the team in a way that only those with a true love and respect for producers and products can make possible. This was definitely not your average day of bread-making; the quality of the ingredients mouth-watering, the passion of the teachers inspiring, and, I like to think most importantly, every bowl scrubbed to complete, sparkling perfection...

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Mid-Week Munchies...



Weekday dinners can spell a few things in my house. Firstly, panic. Followed by seemingly endless amounts of time spent with my head in the fridge, resorting to sending my Dad over the road to the Co-op, losing him for approximately 45 minutes, only to return with six reduced Cornish pasties, a near out of date packet of prawns and, no doubt, a cremated rotisserie chicken that despite only costing 50p, better resembles an extra from a Lord of the Rings film than anything even vaguely edible.

So, head goes back in the fridge (well, better there than in the oven I suppose..) before settling for something to do with minced beef that almost always emerges from the pot as some kind of variation on a Spaghetti Bolognese theme. Which I don’t mind in the slightest, don’t get me wrong; just as long as it doesn't come in a microwave-proof, plastic lidded container and, most importantly, doesn't contain any ingredients that bear even a passing resemblance to Black Beauty or any of his friends...

Oh yes,  it is the unavoidable story of the moment, the words on every newsreader and local food activists lips;  the Horse-meat Scandal has shocked and outraged the British public, sparking, hallelujah  the kind of opportunity for a Food Revolution that Jamie Oliver would do naked cartwheels through organic lettuce fields for. Wow. What an image. Sorry, must focus; what was I talking about again?


 Ah yes; as ‘holding your horses’ became a phrase more apt to carrying a plateful of Ikea meatballs, and the equine invasion of the frozen food aisle got more airtime than misbehaving MPs or even Katie Price, the real shocker for many a foodie, definitely including myself, was the amount of people for whom a frozen lasagne is actually a regular fixture on the dinner table, and not just when the oven is broken. Whether it is because people feel that they don’t have the time or money to make a meal from scratch, or simply, and this really gets my goat (or pony, as the case may be..) can’t be bothered to try, I can’t help hoping that this scandal might give our attitudes to the food we put into our bodies, the shakeup it needs, and not just by changing the meaning of being so hungry you could ‘eat a horse’.

Jokes aside, and there are many, the fact that people can’t make a good, healthy meal using fresh, healthy ingredients, therefore knowing exactly what they are eating, makes me, well, just a little bit sad. I can understand lacking the funds to create a Michelin starred meal every night, but it really doesn’t take much to avoid resorting to zapping a plastic container of, let’s be honest, god knows what in the microwave. I have had my fair share of budget dinners, living the £5 a week student dream for four spectacular, wine fuelled but, all in all, pretty well fed years. And although spag-bol made a rather starring appearance, it definitely taught me that eating on the cheap doesn’t have to mean opening endless packets of Supernoodles, and certainly doesn’t have to carry the risk of knocking out any of next year’s Grand National hopefuls.


Yes, in between discovering how to make a Cheeky Vimto and (unsuccessfully) trying to iron a skirt using hair straighteners, I became a dab hand at knocking out a dinner for pennies; just taking a little bit of effort and some sneaky supermarket choices to make something really good for a lot less than you would expect.

And this sticky and sweet sesame chicken, with tangy fennel and apple slaw, topped off with spicy paprika wedges, is exactly what I am talking about. Delicious, satisfying and won’t require either a mortgage or hours in the kitchen, I promise. Swap chicken breasts for thighs, use seasonal (and beautiful) cabbage and apples, ramp up the flavours using a few store cupboard essentials and you will have a delicious dinner in no time than your hungry housemates will be chomping at the bit (the last horse joke, I swear..) to delve in to.


Marinated in a punchy honey and sesame seed sauce, spiced delicately with paprika, garlic and thyme, balanced with a sharp slaw dressed with yoghurt, lemon and mustard and topped off with spicy potato wedges, this is one of my all time favourite midweek dinners. It blows the famous, secret-recipe bargain bucket completely out of the drive-thru window on every possible level; this really is finger lickin’ good. And I promise I won’t keep any of the ingredients up my sleeve like a certain white haired Colonel...

Sticky Sesame Chicken thighs

6 chicken thighs (skin on and bone in is best, ans cheapest!)
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp whiskey (leave this out if you are on a tight budget)
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper or to taste
2 tsp mustard
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 garlic clove, crushed
Few sprigs fresh thyme

Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, before adding the chicken thighs, covering and leaving to marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Remove the thighs from the marinade and put the chicken into an ovenproof dish. Bake, covered with tinfoil, for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, reduce the remaining marinade in a saucepan until thick and sticky.

When the thighs have been cooking for half an hour, pour over the sticky sauce and bake,m uncovered for a further 20 minutes, or until sticky and brown.

Serve with the slaw and wedges (below), and some charred corn on the cob.

Fennel and Apple Slaw

½ bulb fennel, finely sliced
½ small red cabbage, finely sliged
1 apple, grated
1 carrot, grated
1 red onion, finely sliced
3 tbsp natural yoghurt
1tsp Dijon mustard
Juice 1 lemon
Salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients, seasoning to taste. Easy-peasy.

Paprika Potato Wedges

5 potatoes, cut into wedges
1 tsp paprika
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Arrange the potatoes and garlic in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle over a few glugs of olive oil, the paprika and season. Bake for about 1 hour, turning at regular intervals, until golden and crispy.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Eating Porky Pies...



As you may have noticed from this post, I seem to have fallen seriously out of love with Valentine’s Day of late. Yup, call Relate, book a last minute romantic weekend to Paris, maybe even buy a puppy; Cupid and I are on a slippery slope to divorce, one lonesome 14th of February at a time.


And if a Valentine's spent watching Loose Women and eating chocolates still hanging around from Christmas are what I have to get used to now that my boyfriend is leading a busy (and far away) life as an Artillery Officer, then I am well and truly getting the practice in. As couples all over the land cuddled up with a bottle of wine or tried to hold hands over candlelit tables for two without setting their sleeves alight; I was in a cold village hall, surrounded by middle aged women in jogging bottoms, trying to stop myself from falling asleep as I rolled about on the floor pretending to do Pilates. And the romance did not stop there; my Mother and I followed our evening of deep breathing and cat stretches with a candlelit fish pie at the pub, encircled by heart shaped napkins and still wearing our trainers and tracksuits.


And, to be honest, aside from the fact that I actually own a tracksuit (and wore it in public), I don’t really see too much wrong with that. Without a boyfriend in the vicinity to lavish me with flowers, chocolates, champagne and anything else expensive (which he obviously would have done...) there is just not really much point. Eating a few of these cupcakes to celebrate is fine, even opening the card that you know is from your Mum but still pretending you have a secret admirer is kind of acceptable; but without someone else sitting on the opposite side of the table, candlelit dinners should really be saved for power cuts.


But it is not all doom and gloom on the romance front; the celebrations were just pushed to the weekend, avoiding the tables scattered with rose petals and dodging the meal deals just perfectly. And the gifts have followed my somewhat unromantic outlook. Continuing the practical theme that led to my boyfriend buying me a Satnav for Christmas, I went for a gift that I am absolutely, 110% sure will not end up hidden under the bed or attracting moths in the wardrobe (like the seemingly miniature shirt I accidentally bought him for Christmas..) Yup, this year, avoiding anything covered in glitter or rose petals, I presented my boyfriend of 4 and a half years, with 4 pork pies. Homemade of course, and based on some pretty solid reasoning.



 It is fair to say that my boyfriend has rather a penchant for these little pies, particularly those from motorway service stations, and has been known to eat six, one after the other, over the course of one car journey. So, based on cold, hard fact, I know that this present will go down a lot better than the miniature shirt. Maybe it was romantic after all?

To be frank though, I hate those plastic wrapped, lurid pink centered, slimy jelly filled parcels that I so often have to wade through to find the seat of R’s car. The almost neon, plasticky meat gives me the heeby-jeebies, and as much as I adore the pastry, it’s not really the done thing to buy a pork pie and eat around the pork. But these little gems, stuffed with real, local, Dingley Dell pork from the brilliant butcher round the corner, flavoured with sage, smoky bacon and sweet, juicy apricots, have well and truly won me over.


One of the biggest surprises resulting from this gift idea, was how easy pork pies actually are to make, proving my Great British Bake Off based pre-conceptions almost entirely wrong. The hot water pastry, made with melted lard and hot water, requires a quick hand and a little bit of organisation, but if you have a muffin tin, these will not prove too much of a disaster. And even if they do not look altogether picture perfect when you put them in the oven, as the juices ooze out from the beautiful pieces of pork (no bright pink plastic here) they will come out looking deliciously rustic and wonderfully homemade. And I really do mean that in a good way...

PS. Three of these were eaten within an hour of opening the box- I told you they would go down 
well...

Apricot, Sage and Bacon Pork Pies.

Filling:

400g pork shoulder, diced into small pieces
125g streaky bacon, diced
Handful of dried apricots, diced
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
½ tsp allspice
¼ tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Pastry:

450g strong white flour
Large pinch of salt
50ml milk
150g lard (chopped into small pieces)
Beaten egg, to glaze

To finish

100ml hot chicken stock
1 gelatine leaf

Preheat the oven to 180oc

To make the filling, mix the pork shoulder (chopped into small pieces,) bacon, apricots, sage and spices. Season well and test by frying a small piece of the mixture in a hot pan and tasting.

Now make the pastry. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Heat the milk and 50ml of water in a small saucepan and add the lard.

Heat gently until all of the fat has melted, before bringing just to the boil.

Pour the hot mixture onto the flour and mix using a wooden spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and (if cool enough to handle) knead slightly.

Now it is essential to work quickly, before the pastry gets cold and cracks. Take two thirds of the dough and separate into 8 pieces.

Put each piece into a hole of muffin tin. Using your thumb, work the pastry up the sides of the tin, leaving about ½ a centimetre overlapping the edge of each hole. When you have a thin pastry case, make absolutely sure that you have no holes in the pastry- If you do the jelly will seep out and make everything soggy later.

Divide the pork between the pastry cases. Now roll out the remaining pastry for the lids. Cut into rounds (about 8cm in diameter) and brush around their edges with the beaten egg.

Place on the pie, egg side down, before crimping the edges together using a fork or your fingers.

Make a steam hole in the top of each pie, glaze with egg and bake for 50 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp.

Leave to cool in the tins, and make the jelly.

Soak the gelatine in cold water until soft. Squeeze out the excess water, before whisking into the hot stock. Using the nozzle from a piping bag, pour a small amount of the stock mixture through the hole in the top of each pie. Leave to cool completely in the fridge, for at least a few hours or overnight. 

EAT!
e l He

Friday, 15 February 2013

Cake for the Cold...



Just lately, looking out of the window is almost always greeted with a big, soggy slap in the face of flat, grey skies and shiver-inducing drizzle. Oh yes, we all feel it as we struggle to extract ourselves from the warm cocoon that is our bed; winter is still having a whale of a time, basking in the attention of amber weather warnings that continue to splatter the weather map, ignoring all of our pleas to get back to Siberia or from wherever whence they came. The chilly, not quite sub-zero, but definitely sub-pleasant temperatures mean that I have taken the controversial step of wearing my fleece lined slipper socks inside my boots to go to work, and would rather wear completely mismatched gloves than bare my chapped mitts to the bitter, and now slightly boring, elements- As has become worryingly evident, the snow is doing nothing for my fashion sense. Thankfully, street-cred is not something I worry about too much, living in a small village in Suffolk where Joules wellies are about as high fashion as most get; but I would like to reduce my jumper quota to one a day now please...


When the first flurries of the snow fell in January, it was on with the bobble hats and straight out in the garden to build a snowman, throwing perfectly aimed snowballs into my boyfriends face and drinking hot chocolate at a rate that was starting to get slightly ridiculous. Now, with a sprinkling of the white stuff still dusting the garden, I can’t help feeling that Mother Nature had better start brushing up on her parenting skills. Call Supernanny quick, this has gone on long enough; the snow has been causing havoc and runny noses long past its curfew- ground it, sit it on the naughty step; anything to make it bugger off.


Phew, sorry about the moan, but I am pining for spring. And not just because of all the foil wrapped chocolate eggs that we will be encouraged to eat in a few weeks time; give me daffodils, replace the freezing temperatures with snowdrops and I will be much happier, and might even take my precious slipper socks off. If they are not already welded to my feet.


 There are, however, a few good things about the face-numbing temperatures; for one, my permanent red-flush has dramatically reduced my blusher usage, which was getting to be a rather expensive hobby- well, if they will make YSL packaging so damn pretty...Most of all though, I seem to get rather more forgiving of the cold when I am tucking in to a big slice of homemade cake and steaming mug of tea, with the need to warm my almost reptilian blood to a reasonable temperature providing a sort-of reasonable excuse. Yup, baking is my knee-jerk reaction to the cold weather, and filling the house with the buttery smell of this ginger cake is almost good enough to make me forget the chipping of the all too familiar layer of ice from the car windscreen that is no doubt going to have to be done before work tomorrow.


So, as I take a break from whining (sorry about that, I am starting to think that I have SADS..) I will put my mind to better, scrummier things. Spicy, sticky ginger cake is not only totally delicious, but also my favourite way to use up the beautiful rhubarb (used in these pancakes) that is just starting to force its way into season. Double whammy. Lighter than your average gingerbread, with golden syrup in the place of treacle (thankfully; sticky things don’t really agree with me- I have spent most of this afternoon trying to get syrup out of my hair) with the sweetness balanced by the beautiful neon pink fruit; I like to top the sticky cake with some gingery cream cheese icing to make it just that bit more special. This will definitely warm you up as the cold snap continues; maybe even save a slice for your beloved as a post Valentine treat? I will try to restrain myself until mine gets here on Saturday; no guarantees though...

Ginger and Rhubarb Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Addapted from this Nigel Slater recipe, this beautifully moist afternoon tea winner is almost guaranteed not to fail, the perfect cake if the last time you unearthed the cake tin did not have the happy ending you were expecting. So easy, and so good.

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake.

250g self raising flour
2tsp ground ginger
½ tsp mixed spice
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
2tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger
3 pieces stem ginger, chopped
1 ½ sticks of rhubarb, chopped
Zest 1 orange
125g muscavado sugar
2 large eggs
240ml milk

Gingery Cream Cheese Frosting

100g cream cheese
70g butter                 
270g icing sugar       
2 pieces stem ginger, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180oc and line a 20x20cm square cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, spices, salt and bicarb.

In a saucepan, heat the syrups and butter until melted and starting to bubble. Add the sugar, rhubarb and chopped ginger and leave to bubble for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to stop the fruit from sticking, before removing from the heat.

Slowly add this mixture with the orange zest, to the dry ingredients, stirring until all ingredients are combined well.

Mix the milk and eggs in a jug and beat into the batter (Don’t worry; the mixture should be pretty sloppy.)

Pour into the cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

For the icing, beat all of the ingredients together using an electric mixer or whisk, adding more icing sugar if the frosting is a bit wet.

When the cake is cooled, spread with the icing and leave for about 30 minutes to set before cutting into squares and tucking in.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Flippin' Lovely...


As I discovered while in America last year, a time spent practically living in aluminium and leather clad diners, chomping down on Cobb salads and slurping malted milkshakes whenever given the opportunity; pancakes are a hungry girl’s best friend. The star-spangled showstoppers of an American breakfast menu, I ate them speckled with banana polka dots, topped with fresh berries and Chantilly cream, and even smothered in hot apple sauce and sizzling sausages. Yup, I was indeed hungry a lot, and pancakes helped me out of the notorious hunger-induced personality coma on more than one occasion.

From all those plate sized, pillowy stacks that I consumed by the bucket-load in the US, to the infinitely more flippable, paper-thin creations that us Brits douse in lemon and sugar and try to avoid getting stuck to the ceiling, who would’ve thought that a bit of flour, egg and milk would be such an enduring hit? Yes, although they are essentially just a few small ingredients away from the gloop we all remember using to stick newspaper to a balloon at primary school, pancakes have been flipped and feasted upon since prehistoric times- beating porridge and even the humble loaf as the world’s first cereal based favourite. And for good reason, all you need is a few cheap-as-chips ingredients, a pan, and this one is kind of essential, some kind of heat- Well, the cavemen didn’t make fire for nothing...


As the perfect host for a huge variety of both sweet and savoury toppings and fillings, pancakes bask in the same levels of kitchen popularity as Justin Beiber does on Twitter; at every turn there is another delicious ingredient desperate to get involved with these ridiculously versatile rounds of batter (the pancakes I mean, not the Beibernator.) There is of course the quintessential Shrove Tuesday staple of lemon and sugar, with bottles and bags of the stuff pushed right to the front of the supermarket shelves as the big day approaches, but why not take a break from all the familiar sprinkling and squeezing and push the boat out a little this year?

How about the old-American favourite streaky bacon and maple syrup? Or maybe bananas and pineapple cooked in rum and brown sugar; with some delicious coconut yoghurt (Rachel’s Organic is amazing)? Chocolate chips, stewed cinnamon apples, blueberries, nutella, icecream; the possibilities are pretty much endless. Even if savoury is more your thing; try filling a few thin crepes with roasted butternut squash, walnuts, spinach and blue cheese, rolling and placing in a dish, before smothering in crème fraiche and parmesan and baking in a hot oven.

For me, the flipping is going to begin at Breakfast. Yup, as this blog probably makes unavoidably clear, I am a huge lover of any kind of cake; so, on the day that we are actually encouraged to eat them in preparation for the Lenten fast that we will no-doubt all be embarking upon on Wednesday (PAH), I am not going to waste any time. Inspired by the fruit filled, unbelievably delicious, big-as-your-face pancakes that I ate for (very late) breakfast in a Philidelphia last year, these gorgeously light ginger and oat American pancakes, smothered in strawberry and rhubarb compote and topped with natural yoghurt are definitely on the menu in the Gaffer house. Inspired by the beautifully pink forced rhubarb that I spotted in the greengrocers, I just make the compote a day or so before, whip up the batter and whaddya know, your brekkie is ready in a flash.

And if cooking a breakfast any more complicated than Readybrek on a school-day still sounds a little too much like hard work (I don’t blame you), then these are the perfect lazy weekend treat. Double or triple the recipe depending on how many sleeping shapes you have managed to accumulate on your sofa or living room floor, they will love you for it, this is a very impressive, and totally moreish start to the day. And if you are feeling slightly less virtuous than topping your breakfast with rhubarb, maybe throw some chocolate chips in to the batter and top with sliced banana and syrup; it is the weekend after all!



 However they reach your table, as you sit with one hand holding the Sunday paper, and the other happily engaged in transporting yummy forkfuls to your mouth, you will never look at those coco-pops again...                 
             
Gingery Oat Pancakes with Strawberry and Rhubarb Compote. Serves 5 hungry people...

Compote:

4 sticks of rhubarb, chopped
8 strawberries, quartered
2tbsp light brown soft sugar
2 tbsp caster sugar
Juice and Zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger

Pancakes:

200g plain flour (wholemeal works well)
120g rolled oats
2 heaped tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
5 Large eggs
2tbsp natural yoghurt
200ml milk
2 balls of stem ginger, chopped, plus 3tbsp of the syrup

Honey and natural yoghurt, to serve.

To make the compote, put all of the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft and the compote is quite thick and syrupy. 
Make a day or so in advance and keep in the fridge if you are short for time, or just fancy a lie in!

Now, make the pancake batter; in a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients, make a well in the centre and whisk in the eggs and yoghurt.

Beat in the milk and ginger (including the syrup) to make a thick batter.

Heat a slightly oiled pan until quite hot. Spoon large circles on to the pan, cook until bubbling, flip and cook on the other side until golden.

Stack on to a plate, top with the compote, spoon over some natural yoghurt and a drizzle of honey. Yum!