Friday, 23 December 2011

Last minute Christmas treats/gifts - Chocolate Coins

A quick treat to share with friends and family this Christmas.

It's the easiest nibble to whip up for any unexpected guests or as a last minute (cheap) present.

This is so simple that it requires no recipe and no amounts... but here is the method, such as it is.

Simply melt some chocolate (preferably 2 different colours to achieve a ripple effect). Use the best that you can afford. Allow it to cool slightly.

Then take a desert spoonful and drop this onto baking parchment. Allow it to spread out slightly into an even circle (2 bars of chocolate made around 20 coins). Now it's ready for you to add whatever flavour combinations you fancy.

I added a tiny dusting of cinnamon and salt and some chopped dried cranberries. Just make sure that you work fairly quickly as you need to add the flavours while it's still soft.

Then just place them in the fridge for 30 minutes. Once they're set carefully peel them off the paper and they are ready to eat!

Happy Christmas and a very yummy New Year!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Pretzels - a simple recipe

When a colleague of mine turned 50 recently, we decided to each make and bring a dish for her Birthday tea that we knew to be one of her favourites. I quickly added my name to the list next to 'pretzels' as I have always fancied having a go at making them. 

However, when you look for a good but simple recipe you find words like 'pate fermente', 'goggles', 'solution of water and lye' etc. I don't think so.

So, after some experimentation here is the simplest recipe that I found and altered that works well. It produces soft, shiny, golden, salty pretzels.

Makes 12 large pretzels
2 teaspoons instant yeast/1 sachet
2 tablespoons brown sugar
375g  white bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
500ml warm milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Warm the milk and add the yeast to activate it (the milk must not be hot, just warm).
Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl but leave about a third of the flour out to one side. 

Mix in the milk and yeast until it makes a kind of thick batter.
Then add the rest of the flour a little at a time until you make a ball of dough that you can knead. You may not need to use it all.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it becomes springy. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave for 1 hour in a warm place until it has almost doubled in size.
After that, knead briefly and then you are ready to roll it out.

Divide the dough into 12 equal(ish) pieces. Roll each piece out into a sausage shape. To begin with this might be quite tricky because the dough might keep springing back. If this happens, roll them out as far as they'll go, leave them for 5 minutes and then when you come back to them they will have relaxed and should be easier to roll. 

(NB. I thought that mine were thin enough but they puff up a lot when they cook, so try to keep them fairly thin).
Take one piece at a time and lay it out in front of you. Then take hold of both ends, take them upwards and cross them over  - as in the picture.
Then, hold the dough where it crosses over and pull the top section down until it just overlaps the bottom of the loop.

(This all sounds a lot more complicated than it really is. Once you've had a go and finish the first one, the rest are easy.)
Once you have shaped them, place them on a lightly floured baking tray covered with baking parchment.

Here comes the weird bit. Next, you need to boil each pretzel!
I know. But if you dont, they will come out like crusty bread. The boiling creates the glossy, soft bagel-like crust.
Take one at a time and place into gently boiling water. It's a good idea to put each pretzel on a fish slice/spatula so that they don't break up. Dunk each one into the water for only 5seconds each and then return them to the baking tray.


Beat one egg.. 

and brush a little all over each boiled pretzel.

Sprinkle each with some rock salt. 
Place in the oven for around 15minutes but keep an eye on them and take them out when they look golden brown.
Eat immediately with good butter and a little mustard.
I had never made these before and was really pleased with the result. They tasted good and although it sounded complicated, this version of the recipe makes it as easy as possible. Now that I've had a go it wouldn't be difficult at all a second time around. As you can see, mine look rather too fat! So, next time I shall attempt to roll them out a little thinner. 
These are well worth a try - they don't keep very well but that didn't matter as they were all eaten within two days. Success!

P.S. Don't forget to serve these with some good beer.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Mojito Chicken!

Mojito: Traditionally, a Mojito is made of five ingredients: white rum, brown sugarlime juicesparkling water and mint

One of the happiest things to be served sitting at the bar for me, is a fresh ice cold mojito. I had just such a happy moment last week @Jamie's Italian, yum. Our dinner there was lovely and I had spatchcoc chicken. This evening of bliss got me thinking... roast chicken recipes tend to work best when the chicken is kept moist and with three key flavour elements: citrus, slight sweetness and something happily alcoholic and fresh to deglaze the pan and create scrumptious gravy.
Sadly, when I got home (and googled it) I found that others had already had my idea. However, none of them seemed to go further than adding a bit of mint and lime to chicken. So...

call me crazy but I'm about to attempt a truly mojito flavoured roast chicken!

You'll need:
1 whole chicken (I used a 1.5kg bird), large of sprig mint, 4 limes, brown sugar, rum, 1 large onion, butter, salt and pepper.

Firstly, cut off any string from the chicken. Cut up 2 limes into quarters and place them inside the chicken cavity.
Next, take 2 heaped spoons of softened butter and mix in the zest of 1 lime. Finely chop a small bunch of mint and mix that in too. Season with plenty of salt and a little pepper.

Mix that altogether. When it is a paste-like consistency, it is ready to put under the chicken's skin. This will keep the chicken really moist and will infuse it with the lovely flavours. Make sure you push the butter all over, underneath the skin.

Cut the onion into large chunks and place in the roasting tin. Place the chicken on top and drizzle on a little oil. The chicken is now ready to cook (further flavours will be added at a later stage but if added now the chicken is likely to burn). Place chicken in the oven and cook as normal (depending on size).

20 minutes before the end of cooking time....

Mix together: 4 tsp brown sugar, 2 shots rum!, 1 shot water, salt and pepper, a good glug of oil, the zest and juice of 1 lime.

Pour this over the chicken and put it back in the oven. Cook for a further 20 minutes basting every 5 mins. 

Once the chicken is properly cooked through and looks golden brown, remove from the oven and from the pan - leave to rest.
Deglaze the pan with a little more rum and add a little flour to thicken. Cook the juices until they thicken slightly to create your gravy. Yum!
Serve with some roast potatoes and a mint, onion and tomato salsa salad. 

The result... well, considering this was a slightly odd idea I think it works really well! Althought the flavours in a mojito are rather strong, the flavours at the end of this recipe were subtle and I think it worked really well!
Sometimes it pays to experiment. :-)

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Ultimate time-saving Chocolate Cake (with the perfect Chocolate Frosting)

I have eaten more than my fair share of chocolate cake over the years. I love to cook them almost as much as I like to eat them. Here's my check list for the perfect chocolate cake:
  • it must taste of chocolate - not cocoa
  • it must be moist
  • it must not be too flat
  • soft chocolate icing, not bitter and hard icing
  • it must be easy and quick to make
  • it must make people smile
So, after much experimentation I have found what, for me, is the ultimate chocolate cake and icing recipe combo.

My favourite cake recipe is by Nigella Lawson but I have altered the recipe slightly (due to personal taste and the need to make it as easy as possible using things you are more likely to actually have in your fridge).

Using 25cm tins x2. This will serve 8-10 people:

300g plain flour
300g caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
60g best-quality cocoa
260g soft unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
225ml sour cream
200ml natural yoghurt
25-50ml milk (start with 25ml and add the extra if the mixture looks too thick)

Here's the good part. I have tried the recipe the hard way (i.e. "cream together the butter and sugar, then...") and I have tried it the easy way (i.e. bung it all in together) and here's what I discovered

None at all.

So, carefully measure out the ingredients. Put all the ingredients into a blender or food mixer together, and blitz! Just make sure that you don't over mix it. Turn off the mixer as soon as everything looks well combined. The mixture should be quite loose.

Bake at 180°C  for around 30 minutes (but keep checking).

Once your cake is perfectly cooked, leave them to cool in the tins for about 5 minutes and then turn out to cool completely. The cake should be very springy and light.

If you have time and would like to ice your cake too...

The best icing recipe I have found to go with this kind of cake does not come from Ms Lawson. I prefer Lorraine Pascale's chocolate frosting. It is simpler and more tasty in my opinion.

Beat 300g butter and 225g icing sugar together. Then mix in 150g melted and cooled dark chocolate. This should make gorgeous, soft, buttery icing that is easy to use.

Use about a third of this in the middle.

Then use a knife or palette knife to smooth the remaining icing all over the outside of the cake.

And there you have it. This is the fastest and tastiest chocolate cake that I can make! 
I challenge you to find a faster one!
...and if you do, I'd love to steal the recipe :-)

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Halloween: wicked web cakes

Halloween: originally a Celtic Festival – Samhain, meaning summers end, is a time to acknowledge a change in season, weather and light.
Crucially for us foodies, it is also a feast day. In medieval times it was a time when the poor would go ‘souling’ (the original Trick-or-Treating) in which they would beg door to door for food. In return they offered to say prayers for the dead.

So, let’s not make them beg this Hallows Eve, whip-up these simple spidersweb cakes – they’re great for little trick-or-treaters.

You will need:
  • to make vanilla flavoured buns or cupcakes using your favourite recipe. The buns will need to be flat, so if yours rise into a peak as mine did, let them cool and then cut off the tops.
  • white icing (mix a few drops of water at a time into icing sugar until you get a smooth medium/thick mixture)
  • green icing - made as above. This will need to be slightly thicker.
  • a piping bag (or make a simple cone from baking paper and snip off the end)
  • a cocktail stick (the point of a knife would do if you don't have any)

The important thing when icing these, is to only do one or two at a time otherwise you wont get the same effect if the icing goes too hard.
Put a teaspoon of white icing onto the middle of a cake. Tilt the cake gently to encourage the icing to spread evenly until it looks like this:

Next comes the piping. Put the green icing into the bag and squeeze it down to the end. Fold over the top. 
Pipe a small circle of green icing in the center of the bun. 
Then pipe 2 larger circles around the first.

Then take your cocktail stick and, starting from the middle of the bun, drag it lightly out to the edge. Wipe off any excess icing and repeat several more times to create around 5 spokes. 

And there you have it! 

Spiders web cakes that will make any little ghosty, vampire or goblin happy. 


P.S. You could try these with pale orange icing and pipe on a black spiders webs. Either way, they'll taste ghoulishly good.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Victoria Sponge

Hello again foodie peeps,
Having had a mini-moan about the rubbish British Summer last time, someone seems to have been listening because the last week has been hot Hot HOT!
So today I decided to mix a British summer classic and give it an autumnal twist for this strange summer/autumn weather.
Having made blackberry jam, I decided to use it to fill a Victoria Sandwich. 

Well, here is the basic principle of a Victoria Sandwich...
You can make it in various sizes/amounts depending on the size of your tin or how many eggs you happen to have in your fridge.
The important thing to remember is that your flour, butter and sugar should each weigh the same as your eggs. So, if the 2 eggs you’re using weigh 100g, then you need to weigh out 100g of butter, sugar and flour too. 
Your average medium sized egg weighs around 110g. So bearing that in mind...
110g butter (room temperature)
110g caster sugar
110g self-raising flour
2 eggs
  •          Preheat the oven to 170 c.
  •          Grease or line 2 sandwich tins (18cm)
  •          Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy
  •          Then continue to whisk/beat the mixture and add 2 eggs a tiny bit at a time.
  •          As you add the egg also add small amounts of the flour too (no more than ¾ of it)
  •          Use a metal spoon and gently fold in the remaining flour until combined
  •          I’d also recommend adding a few drops of vanilla too
  •          If the mixture is a little too thick (it should easily drop off the spoon) then just add a  
        desert spoon of milk
  •     Bake for around 25mins
  •     Once baked leave for 2 mins to cook slightly. Then turn them out onto wire racks to

Once cakes are completely cool you can add jam and/or cream and sandwich them together.
·         Dust with icing sugar and enjoy.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Making Blackberry Jam to celebrate Autumn

So, after a long (and not particularly hot) summer, today is the first official day of autumn.
Early autumn is one of my favorite times of year - the colours, the conkers, the mist.. beautiful.
Autumn demands a new approach to cooking that takes full advantage of the abundant fruits, vegetables and meats that come into season. Right now the hedgerows are heavy with blackberries - delicious fruits and totally free
I first went blackberry picking when I was five with my mum and for many years after that. As soon as little bro and sis were old enough they came too and then it became a competition - a mad rush of scratched hands to bring home the biggest, best and most juicy berries. 

Blackberries are totally delicious and can be used to create so many tasty delights. 

Plus, if you don't know what you want to make with them yet, just pick them while they're here and freeze them until you do know!

Just one word of advice - I've seen so many people picking them on busy roadsides but fumes from the traffic can ruin the fruit and may mean that you're consuming all sorts of nasties.

Today, I wanted to make blackberry jam.
I am no expert at jam making and have chosen not to use pectin (often used for thickening jam) but kept my recipe as simple as possible.

Carefully wash 1kg of blackberries well under cold running water.

Add 1kg of caster sugar.

Add the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of salt.

Stir and heat to a rolling boil.
Cook for aprox. 20 mins stirring regularly.

Allow to cool slightly and then transfer to sterile jars. Leave a 1cm gap at the top.

Seal and store in the fridge once completely cool.
Enjoy on hot buttered toast - heaven.

P.S. The Daily Mail tells me that blackberry picking is in decline even though "the current economic climate makes it the perfect time to plunder nature's bountiful store cupboard". This seems such a shame. Blackberry picking is as quintessentially British at this time of year as tea and cricket. 
I would urge everyone to head out and pick as many as you can - they are free people, FREE!