Sunday, 21 September 2014

New bake New City

Wow, what a year and a half it has been. Life has moved me from the UK to the USA and I'm now living in a lakefront apartment in Chicago, exploring all the baking styles this region has to offer and learning to use yet another different oven!

I'm slowly but surely exploring my new city, but with at least 2 years to seek new things, I'm in no huge rush and I feel like I'm settling into life here well.

The baking has continued over the last year, my new favourite recipe being Nigella Lawson's London Cheesecake. A simple recipe which calls for only eggs and cream cheese; none of this sour cream  nonsense.

Today is my second weekly British Bakeoff viewing at a friends house. I'm taking the dessert and have opted to make a cheesecake with mixed berry compote and whipped cream.

Here's the recipe.

Mixed Berry Baked Cheesecake


  • 12 Graham Crackers
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 2 8oz packs of cream cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • vanilla
  • 1lb bag of frozen mixed berries,
  • 1pint Whipping cream
Crush the crackers into a fine crumb. Lacking a rolling pin (its en-route with my shipping) I used the base of my measuring jug.

Add the butter, melted to them, then pour into a 9" by 13" pyrex baking dish. Firm them down with your knuckles. Bake at 180 (375F) for 10 minutes just to firm them up.

Meanwhile beat the cream cheese so it is soft, add the eggs (beaten), sugar and vanilla. Beat together until a smooth batter has formed.

Remove the crust from the oven and let it cool slightly. Then pour the cheese/egg batter over smooth out with the back of a spoon. Bake in the same heat oven for about 25 minutes. 

Keep an eye on it, it should be firm, but with a wobble in the middle and the top shouldn't have caught.

At this point I had washed up my bowls and popped one in the freezer for later to make the whipped cream ( a tip given to me by my friend Stephanie Long).

The berry compote is so simple!

I opted for a 'fancy' bag of frozen berries, open them up and put them into a saucepan. Add some sugar to taste and warm up over a low heat. 

Easy as pie! When they are a suitable consistency then you just pour them over the cheesecake base and put the whole thing somewhere to cool. A fridge would do in a pinch, however it's not great to put hot things in there to cool when you have other food already chilled in there.

Top the whole lot with whipped cream, in the end I used just half of the pint I bought.

Baking tipple this afternoon has been Smith and Forge Hard Cider. You can take the man out of the West Country...

My baking background music this week has been Pink Martini's 2004 album, Hang on Little Tomato. Perfect sunday music.

My other recipe recommendation Flap Jacks. I replaced the golden syrup with honey a the former is hard to find and when you do (at Mariano's) it's very expensive! I like Bon Appetit magazine so much I've subscribed to it! 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

3 recipes for a tasty weekend.

I know it's been a long time since I last posted here! I've been busy with plays and work and today I finally feel like I'm on top of things again, long may this feeling last!
This caused me to spend some time baking this weekend and so here I am to share my recipes with you, my dear reader chums.

1) Hashed potatoes
2) Banana flapjacks
3) Tofu tortilla cups.

Hashed potatoes

I have fond memories of visiting my friends in America and enjoying American style hashed potatoes for brunch. This Saturday I woke up in the mid-morning, feeling quite peckish, and decided to make some brunch for myself.

I chopped up about 5 Charlotte potatoes, they have a waxy texture so can stand boiling and then frying whilst still keeping their shape and not turning into mush. The chunks were bite size so they didn't take long to boil. I was always told to boil anything from under the ground in cold water. So the potatoes go into the pan and then a pinch of salt and cold tap-water is added.
When the water is boiling I cooked until they were just tender, following this the potatoes were drained and left in the colander to dry.

Next I chopped up 2 rashers of back bacon and fried them off in some butter and oil, butter for the flavour and oil for its ability to handle higher temperatures. When these were cooked through I added some chopped cabbage and sliced onion. They sauteed down and then I added seasoning, along with a tap or two of smoked paprika.

The potatoes were added to the pan next and spread out in an even layer. I fried the lot, turning the potatoes a few times, until they were crispy. A generous grating of cheese was sprinkled over the top and the whole lot popped under the grill to brown off.
Meanwhile I fried an egg for a garnish.

When plating up the hash, the egg was draped over the top and some piri piri hot sauce drizzled along the ridges.


Banana Flapjacks
I was craving some flapjack goodness and when I saw that the humble oaty bar has fallen from grace and is being out competed by it's showier, more fancy, often more dry, cupcake competitor I was spurred onto make some.

I lined a deep rectangular baking tin with baking parchment and preheated the oven to 180C. Then in my favourite copper based pan I melted 200g of butter, 160g of soft brown sugar and 3 1/2 tablespoons of golden syrup. In a separate bowl I weighed out 450g of rolled oats and tapped in a sprinkle of nutmeg. When the contents of the pan had melted I mashed up 2 bananas (kept in the freezer when browning for this very purpose). 

finally I poured the liquour into the oat mixture and stirred it all together. It was poured into the baking tin and smoothed out then popped in to the overn and baked until golden and firm.

Once cool the flapjacks were cut into 16 squares.

Tofu Tortilla Cups
Whilst spending some time on Pinterest, my new obsession, I came across a mini lasagne recipe using wanton pastry and a cupcake tin. This inspired me to make use of the tortilla wraps I had frozen and make some stuffed tortilla cups.

I finely diced a small onion and a clove of garlic, frying them off in a pan before adding a teaspoon of lazy chopped chilli. To this I added half a package of sesame tofu, also diced, and some chopped cabbage. The dry mix was fried off and seasoned with pepper and paprika.
This is the paprika I use, it brings most dishes alive, just the smallest amount has a huge impact!

In a small saucepan I made a basic cheese sauce using the roux method. To this I added an egg and then decanted it into a jug for easy pouring.

the tortillas were cut into 1/4's and used to line the muffin tin.

Each cup was filled with two teaspoons of the tofu mix and then the cheese sauce was poured over the top. A light sprinkle of cheddar and tap of paprika finished them off before being popped into the oven. They took about 20 minutes and then when they came out of the over they were removed from the tin and cooled.

These were very delicious and would make a fantastic cocktail party snack. 
I will be making these again!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

When space is lacking, think up!

Now I'm not short of space at my allotment so my reasons for growing vertically is purely an experimental one. However if space is a premium for you and you have a handy shed door to hang something on then read on and discover the joys of growing upwards.

Here's how I did it

First I popped to Argos and bought their shoe holder, it's the cheap 6.99 one which is made out of fabric; this is the best kind as it allows drainage. Along with that I bought 30litres of basket compost, this has moisture retaining crystals in it which is ideal for these small exposed pockets as they could dry out quickly. Finally I popped to my local Sainsbury's and picked up two packs of their living salad, basically lettuce already growing in plugs and it only cost a pound! All in all this project cost me less than 15.00 to set up.

Hang up the shoe holder using the metal hooks provided, you will need to adjust them so they don't stretch out and let the shoe rack slip. The weight of the compost, water and growing plant could cause that to happen. If you have the ability to, screw it in to the door for even more sturdiness.

Fill up the pockets with the compost.

Water them, ready for planting and then put in the plugs of lettuce.

They will need regular watering, as you would a hanging basket. I'm also not sure on how the slugs will treat them, hopefully they will ignore them. I've just remembered that I left the other pack of lettuce on the floor so they may have eaten that as a sacrificial feast.

If you have a go at this, I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Sweet and Savoury Shortbread (part 2)

I know I haven't shown much of my allotment recently, well I've been having the same trouble as everyone else, too much rain! The slugs have loved it and the cold weather has meant stunted and troubled growth. However there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I can see how it will all fit together and next year hopefully it will be much better. I've also been asked to put myself forward to be on the allotment committee which is great, it means I could help organise socials and also work days as well as get to know the plot holders.

I have managed to salvage a cop of onions, shallots and garlic. A courgette is finally establishing itself and the potatoes are ready to be dug up. All in all I'm pretty happy, there is still much work to do though. Here's some shots...

Jerusalem artichokes.



Red onions, shallots and garlic.

Right this second post is to share the recipe for the cardamom and white chocolate shortbread biscuits.

What you need
  • 250g butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 125g cornflour
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 100g white chocolate
What you do

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then pour in the flour that you have sifted. Slower bring it together to form a dough, before you tip it out and chaff it (as before) add the rosewater cardamom and white chocolate. Honestly an electric mixer such as a Kenwood Chef or Kitchenaid really make baking so easy. 

I removed the cardamom from the pod and put it in a pestle and mortor and then ground it into a powder. I added the rosewater to this to enable it to be all poured out and into the dough.

I find that chopped fresh chocolate has a better texture when cooked than preformed chunks, they also lack all the emulsifiers what are needed to keep a chocolate chip shaped like a chocolate chip. 

Roll the dough up into a log about 12" long, wrap in cling and chill in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 180C, line two baking trays with greaseproof and using a sharp knife and a sawing motion (don't press down on the dough), cut 1cm thick slices. Bake for about 20 minutes until just golden brown.
Remove from the oven and decorate with melted white cooking chocolate.

They really have the cardamom flavour but the white chocolate chunks burnt, so I should have cooked them for a shorter time. I think I'll just stick to a chocolate topping in future with these. 

Hope you have enjoyed these two posts, leave a comment to let me know what you think of the blog.

Sweet and Savoury Shortbread (part 1)

God bless Ina Garten! Who doesn't love her? She is, as someone once put to me so affectionately, a plump bundle o' fun. Her show on the food network, Barefoot Contessa, is on daily and usually served up as a double helping. I think I have probably seen all of them now, but every now and then an episode crops up, like an episode of the Simpsons, that I've never seen.
She is responsible for my love of the food network UK. I first saw her when I was in Minnesota staying with friends, and when I discovered that they were showing her programme over here in the UK I was hooked. 

Ina lives a simple lifestyle, writing foodie columns for a magazine, living in a enviably massive colonial house in a town that feels like a rural idyll. It is quite a quirky town, all of her neighbours seem to be interior designers or florists, they are all pretty much in civil partnerships and the fleeting nature of her own husband Jeffery means that Ina pretty much mother hens the whole community. She holds endless parties and serves up good wholesome food, even if it is a bit heavy on the butter and salt.

Anyway for my Christmas 2011 my good friend bought me one of her books, barefoot contessa how easy is that? Named after her famous catchphrase, it is a collection from one of her series. So It's ideal in that I can watch the recipe being prepared by Ina on the TV and then recreate it from the book. So far I have made her tabuleh salad and also her banana cake, which being cooked in a round tin, put a refreshing turn on a classic banana bread. I know she loves her salt but actually it does make things taste better... After years of not using it at all in my cooking I'm finding more and more that I'm adding a pinch here and there.

So this evening I'm heading to my book club, now it's been a long while since I last attended which is bad on my part. I set it up about 2 years ago now and because I moved away from the area, getting to meetings has proven tricky. To make up for my lapse in attendance I'm taking some shortbread but with a twist. One batch will be from Ina's book how easy is that? and will be her stilton and walnut crackers (I'm not sure why they call them crackers, I suppose they would serve them with cheese and therefore classify them as crackers, I'd call them savoury shortbread). 
The second batch are cardamom and white chocolate shortbread, I love the taste of cardamom and it reminds me of wintery bowls of porridge, I would pound up cardamom with demarara sugar and then pour it all into the oats before making the porridge. 

Ina's Stilton and Walnut Crackers (Cheesy Savoury Shortbread)

You will need:

  • 4oz room temperature butter
  • 12oz of stilton (8oz with rind cut off)
  • 7oz plain flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1tsp black pepper
  • 1 egg for washing
  • 1 hand of walnuts, chopped finely.
Chop up the walnuts until fine and set aside for later.

Chop off the rind from the stilton, I freeze it to add flavour to soups and things later on. Also if your butter and cheese are fridge cold, slice them into 1cm thick slices, smoosh them against the side of a bowl and pop in the microwave for 10 second bursts until they are soft. 

Fit a paddle attachment to an electric mixer and cream together the butter and cheese until smooth, pale and fluffy. 

Now with the mixer turned to a slow beat, add the flour a little at a time, along with the salt and pepper, until it's all mixed in and a dough has formed. You may need to add a splash of water to bring it all together. When the dough has formed, tip it on to a floured surface and chaff it into a smooth ball. 

Roll it into a 12" long log and then brush with the beaten egg. Roll this log in the chopped walnuts, and then wrap in clingfilm. 

Put this log into the fridge for at least half and hour, you could even freeze at this stage.

Warm up your oven to 180C and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper. Cut the log into 1cm thick slices (3/8"). Bake them until very lightly browned (about 20-22 minutes). Cool them on the baking tray and then store in a tin. 


Check back very soon for part 2.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Broad Bean Falafel Flatbread

In-spite of the weather the broad beans have done reasonably well. The rain has meant they haven't been ravaged by hordes of black fly this summer, although they have taken some time to grow.
I picked a pan full of them and wanted to use them, food network UK is showing Eat Street and Street Feasts which gave me the idea of making falafel with them.

I first ate falafel in Bangkok, my travel companion at the time, a Californian, was quite surprised I had never even heard of it before, this was before they really took off in the UK. After trying them there, from a street vendor, I was hooked. I tried many packet mixes but they always let me down, too doughy or floury. This is the first time I have made them from scratch and they are well worth it.

For the mix, I had about 3/4lb of broad beans, podded but still in their shells. I blanched them for 3 minutes to soften them up, and make them easier to shell.

I'm assured that it's the shell around the inner cotyledons that caused the bitter flavour so that needed to come off, after I had shocked the blanched beans in some cold water.

This took some time, but it really is worth it. Just look at the insipid nature of the discarded shells and the lush green of the bean proper that they concealed. 

Using a potato masher I mashed the beans in a bowl until they were broken down into a coarse pulp. I didn't was a fine mash, lumps add character in my opinion. Into a mini food processor I poured some pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and hemp seeds. A good shake of each, I'm not sure of the measure but nothing too excessive really. These were blitzed until they were finely chopped, not powdered. I added these to the beans and then in the same chopper I put a clove and a half of garlic, a tsp of cumin, ground coriander and herbs du provence. These were blitzed until the garlic was chopped and mixed with the herbs and spices. This was added to the main bowl and mixed in along with 1tsp of salt and 1 tsp of pepper.

Using olive oil I greased my hands and started to mould small walnut sized rounds of the mixture.

In a large pan I heated up about 1" depth of sunflower oil. I am not a fan of deep frying so I opted to shallow fry. When the oil was up to temperature (tested by dropping a little loose falafel mix into it and watching it sizzle and bubble) I fried the balls 5 at a time, turning after 1 minute or so. It's important that not too many are done at once as this can lower the temperature of the oil and also make turning them over tricky.

After they were an even golden brown all over, with some green still showing from the beans underneath, I removed them from the oil using a slotted spoon and put them onto kitchen paper to drain off the excess oil. 

Now for the flat bread

Mix 2 cups of bread flour 3/4 cup of water, 1/2 tsp salt and 1tbsp olive oil. Mix all of this together and knead for about 10 minutes until the gluten has developed and given it a bit of elasticity. I didn't have a standard cup measure so I followed my own rule of just use the same cup to measure everything and you'll be okay... It seems to work.

Divide into 12 balls. I do this by rolling sausages of the dough and cutting it in to halves and thirds until I have 12 balls all roughly the same.
Roll them out with a rolling pin, turning a little after each roll so they end up round in shape.

Heat up a frying pan, but don't put oil into it, dry fry the bread 1min on each side. Don't let them burn, but brown spots on them is usual. When done keep on a plate covered with a damp, clean tea towel.

Load up the flat bread with salad, mayo and falafel, serve in pairs like a soft taco and enjoy!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Crispy Bacon and Custard Creams.

Now from the title I'd forgive you for thinking I'd gone and ruined perfectly good custard cream biscuits with bacon, that is not the case. It just so happens that today I cracked the art of frying bacon to a golden crisp and made some custard cream biscuits.

Perfectly fried bacon
Not to be confused with the soft, back bacon used for a proper English fry up, this is smoked streaky bacon that has been slowly fried to a crisp.
I wanted to have shards of bacon in my tabouleh salad for lunch so I did a bit of research and here are my top tips for perfectly fried, crispy, streaky bacon.

1) Start with a cold pan. Don't put the bacon into a hot pan, especially if it is rind on bacon, this just makes all the meat tighten up and cause it to curl.

2) Use a medium to low temperature. You are essentially rendering the fat out of the bacon and slowly cooking/drying it out. 

3) Turn frequently. When the bacon starts to sizzle you want to be turning every 45 seconds or so. This ensures an even colour all over.

4) Mop up and remove excess fat. When you notice the fat rendering out of the bacon it's time to remove it by tilting the pan and using absorbent kitchen roll to mop it up. A small sheen of fat on the pan is good, but the bacon shouldn't be swimming in it. For three rashers I used in total about 4 sheets of kitchen roll oh and use tongs, not your fingers, to do this.

5) Take your time. It's true what they say, good things come to those who wait. Well this takes time, any quicker than around 5 minutes and you're doing it wrong. It of course depends on the thickness of your bacon to begin with and the fat:meat ratio in the strip but go for 5 minutes as a ball park minimum and you'll be okay.

If you follow these rules then you will end up with some golden, crispy rashers of bacon that you can dry on absorbent paper and then crumble into a salad. Very much worth the time taken to cook them. 

New pans!
When I get the chance and a stray tenner in my pocket I like to browse through charity shops for second hand gems. I get it from my Dad, growing up I'd often go to the local car boot sale with him to look for what is now oh-so-trendily entitled as 'vintage kitchenalia'. I'm a sucker for 'vintage kitchenalia', be it a Hornsea coffee set, 1980's Tupperware or cast iron pans.

Imagine then the excitement I felt when walking into a charity shop in Monmouth I saw, for a total of 15 quid, these two Le Creuset pans.

Squashing down the bubbles of disbelief, I picked them up and hastily walked to the till and paid for them. Now I am the proud owner of two, volcanic orange, Le Creuset pans. They already have a lifetime of use and now will get another lifetime of use. They didn't have lids but that's not big deal. I can always find a lid on ebay or just get a generic replacement. It doesn't need to be the same brand, the lids aren't what conduct the heat so beautifully. 

Keeping with the volcanic orange theme, I discovered on (my new favourite place to browse for inspiration) a Fat Lava glazed mug.
Surely this is something I need to work at when I start my 27 week pottery course in September. 

Custard Creams

Custard creams are perhaps my favourite biscuit of all time, so much so that I tend to call them custard dreams. If you are unfamiliar with them think Oreo but with with a custard flavour and colour. They are pretty amazing really and a pack of 50 won't last more than a day with me around so I've taken to making my own. For some reason I'm slightly more reserved when I've taken the time to make them... only just mind. The recipe I use is based on one from Nigella Lawson's Feast book. She makes them as love heart biscuits, I have removed that saccharin association and plumbed for a basic fluted round.

For the biscuit, put into a bowl the following: 175g plain flour, 50g vegetable shortening, 50g butter, 3tbsp of birds custard powder, 1tsp baking powder, 3tbsp caster sugar. 
Rub these together with your fingertips until they resemble bread crumbs. Don't worry if some of the fat is in largish lumps, my experience with pastry suggests that when you chaff the crumbs into a dough it will come together and smear through the paste. 
Mix one egg with 1tbsp of milk and add them to the dry. Bring it all together to a crumbly dough and turn out on to a work top. 
Using both hands quickly chaff the dough into a smooth paste. You're looking for a Playdough texture. Wrap this in clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 mins. 
Meanwhile turn on the oven and warm it to 180C (160 if fan assisted). Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
After 20 minutes, remove the dough from the fridge and dust a rolling pin and surface with flour. Roll out to 4mm thickness. Cut out as many rounds as you can, bring the scraps together, re-roll and cut until you have used it all up.

Bake these for 10 minutes, keep an eye on them as they brown quickly; move them around in the oven if needed. I'm sure you know how your ovens work so I'll leave that to your discretion. Cool on a wire wrack. 
As you can see some of mine got a little more brown than I would have liked. It's no big deal though, they still taste good. I've stacked them in pairs for the most part so each on you see here is one complete biscuit. 

Now for the cream filling.
Cream together 50g of soft butter with 1tbsp of custard powder and 100g of icing sugar. When it forms a stiff paste add a little boiling water (about 1tsp) and mix to a smooth filling.
Sandwich two halves together with the cream filling and you're done.
Home made custard creams, far superior to those bought in a shop!

I wonder if adding cocoa instead of custard powder is all you need to do to make them into bourbons?