Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Cocktail party

OK, so it's more cake really. But cocktail themed cake! For my last Harmummies (boo!) I was on cake duty, and felt like going to town. It's five o'clock somewhere, right?

Cake 1: Gin and Tonic (alcoholic)

Hilariously I found this recipe on a blog called "days out with the kids". However, this particular version seems to have originated with Pudding Lane blog and was featured in the London Metro just yesterday. Harmummies, cutting edge as ever.

The recipe is a 4-egg sponge (4 large eggs plus their weight in each of self raising flour, butter and caster sugar), with the cheeky addition of four (FOUR) shots of mother's ruin, the zest of two lemons and the juice of one. I don't think it really matters how you make the sponge (creaming method or all in one) as it gets a bit sloppy with the extra liquid anyway. I like to cream the zest in with the butter and sugar so it is well distributed.
Zest note: since I bought a microplane grater I do loads more citrusy cakes. It's so much easier. But if you have to do it on a punched-hole grater, know that pressing chilled butter on to the surface gets all the lovely zest off without lacerating yourself.
The cake baked for around an hour at 170°C (fan oven) in a lined 1kg loaf tin. (Handy tip - a 1kg tin holds about 1.5L of water, if you're not sure what you have.) It was a BIG cake and filled the tin when cooked (checked by the skewer test). It made 12 generous slices!

While the cake bakes, mix together the juice of the other lemon, four more shots of gin, a splash of tonic (careful now) and 150g granulated sugar. Do the usual lemon drizzle thing of letting the baked cake cool a weeny bit then pricking the top and drizzling the liquid over to soak in and leave a sugary crust behind.

Because I can't leave anything alone, I also candied a third lemon to decorate the top: bring 150g caster sugar and 175ml water (ish...) to a simmer. Add a thinly sliced lemon. Simmer for 5-10 mins or until the pith is going translucent. Keep the resulting lemony syrup for, er, cocktails I guess ;)

Cake 2: Pina colada traybake (non-acoholic, dairy free (cake only))

This was inspired by a gift of pina colada curd. I said this was alcohol free, and inadvertently lied, not realising that said curd contains coconut liqueur. I'm not aware it was a problem for anyone this time, but it's a lesson to check carefully! It is indeed dairy free, excluding the topping.

The cake was a fat-free pineapple sponge. This uses a large tin of pineapple in juice, blended, to add moisture - it certainly did, and even using less pineapple than stated the batter was extremely liquid. It may be because I used a tin of cheap (well, Waitrose essentials ;) pineapple which was more juice than fruit, so I'd say try something nicer next time and even consider losing some juice. I also cut the sugar down from a whopping 400g (!) to 250g and it was fine.

Sieve 250g plain flour with 2 tsp bicarb and mix in 250g caster sugar. Beat 2 large eggs with a teaspoon of vanilla. Blitz a large tin (~450g total weight) of pineapple in juice until fairly smooth. Mix everything together just until all the dry flour has gone, pour into a lined tin, and bake immediately* (170°C fan) for about 45-55 minutes until it passes the skewer test. The recipe says a 20 x 30 cm tin, I used 20 x 20 cm without a problem except I had to bake it longer.

*Actually, I didn't bake immediately, but blobbed in teaspoonfuls of the curd. I hoped it would kind of remain suspended in the cake as it baked, but it sank. Still tasted good, but I think that particular idea would be better with a normal sponge mix to be honest.

Unwrap the cake before it gets cold (but after it has firmed up a bit) as greaseproof paper will stick to this like anything. This edition was a very moist, pudding-y texture, which was not quite what I expected but worked well enough with the topping.

For the topping I mixed about 175g of mascarpone plus the creamiest few spoonfuls from the top of a small tin of coconut cream (do not shake it!!) and icing sugar to taste, then desiccated coconut on top. I am rubbish with coconut cream/creamed coconut and I should have got the latter (firmer) as my topping was a bit gooey.

Cake 3: Margarita whoopie pies (alcohol free)

See? More citrus.

I used a Dr Oetker recipe for the cakes, subbing plain yogurt for the buttermilk they used, and adding the zest of a lime. So that's 125g caster sugar and the lime zest creamed with 200g soft butter and a large egg, then sifted plain flour (450g) and bicarb (1/4 tsp) mixed in gradually, plus enough yogurt to make a stiff but smooth batter. I suspect it needs to be stiff  in order to not spread too much when baked freeform. The resulting texture was a bit scone-like.

The recipe says to portion out the mix with a 2" ice cream scoop, but I just eyeballed it (well, they were probably more ping pong ball size than eyeball, flattened and then smoothed with wet fingers). The mix made 18 or 20 cakes. They baked at 180°C (fan) for about 15 minutes but were slow to get any colour. Maybe due to the low sugar content? I might milk-wash them next time.

Once cool, these were drizzled with lime icing (icing sugar and lime juice plus a dot of green colouring, to a firm but pipe-able consistency - start very sparingly with the juice as you don't need much at all). They were then given a touch of salt before the icing dried, and sandwiched together with lime buttercream (75 butter, 175g sifted icing sugar, zest of a lime, pinch of salt).

Not for one second are these delicate cakes. They are like the galumphing great country cousins of dainty Parisian macarons. But, hey, they all disappeared :)



Sunday, 8 March 2015

Marmalade tea bread

I was lucky enough to be given a jar of home made marmalade by a friend - proper, chunky, dark, slightly bitter marmalade. In a moment of need the other week I stole a proportion of the jam (leaving the peel) for the filling in a chocolate orange cake (4-egg sponge with 3tbsp cocoa + microplaned orange zest). This left me with marmalade too chunky to spread on toast, but I had another use in mind.

I made a dairy free tea bread for a Christmas hamper, which included a couple of tbsp of marmalade in the recipe. At the time I used apricot jam but now I had lovely chunky marmalade to use. It's a winner :)

Original recipe (Nigella forums)

8oz self-raising flour
4oz sugar
8oz mixed fruit soaked in 1 cup cold black tea
1 egg

How easy is that?!

I doubled it, but omitted the sugar and put more marmalade in (last time I made it I forgot the sugar, oops, and it was perfectly edible). I don't think the quantity matters but there was about a third of a 1lb jar (for 2 loaves, remember). I soaked my fruit for ages (over 24hrs) due to general disorganisation, and then when it came to cake-making I mixed the marmalade and my 2 (beaten) eggs into the fruit/tea. I sifted the flour with some mixed spice, then poured the wet mix over it and stirred well (I kept finding pockets of flour but this would be easier if only making a single quantity).

Divided between 2 loaf tins, it took an hour at 170°C (fan) to cook to a nice moist-but-done consistency. It's lovely, and the marmalade really comes through.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Veggie lasagne invention

I get a bit fed up of the same old same old tomatoes-onions-courgettes-peppers-mushrooms mix; we use it as a base for everything from sausage casserole to chilli to pasta sauce. So that, plus the desire for another veggie dish on the menu this week, and some stuff to use up, led to squash & chickpea lasagne.

2 onions
oil for frying
1 pepito squash (smaller than butternut, but use whatever you have)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tins chickpeas
1 stock cube
6 lasagne sheets
45g butter
45g plain flour
milk to make your desired consistency of sauce
salt, pepper, dried oregano, mustard powder, ground cumin & coriander to taste

Peel and process the squash - I used a coarse grater blade on a food processor but finely chopping would also work, as would pre-cooking it (halve, rub with oil, bake at 150-180°C until soft, then cool and coarsely chop).
Make up the stock and whizz with the tomatoes until smooth.
Drain and rinse the chickpeas.
Finely chop the onions and fry gently in oil with cumin and coriander until translucent. Add the chickpeas and squash, then the tomatoes and stock, oregano, and a bit more water if needed to cover. Simmer until the squash is falling apart and the chickpeas are a bit more tender, maybe 20 minutes. Season to taste and then mash a little bit with a potato masher to get a thick, soupy consistency with some whole and some smashed chickpeas.
While simmering, get a head start on the white sauce (melt the butter, fry the flour and spices (cumin, coriander, mustard) for a few mins, then add milk gradually, stirring well each time, to get the consistency of sauce you want).
Layer the squash mix, white sauce and lasagne in a dish and finish with a sprinkle of grated cheese. Bake for the time indicated on the lasagne packet.

The adult contingent in the house loved this. The toddler contingent wouldn't touch it with a barge pole, but I refuse to class that as a "didn't like".

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Porotos granados (squash & bean stew)

This is one from HFW's Veg Every Day! book that for some reason I didn't blog before. It's become a bit of a favourite - a good tasty one-pot meal and a nice veggie recipe to add into our rotation.

The recipe is online here but essentially it's a stew of squash, green beans, sweetcorn and tinned beans (we usually use black-eyed or pinto but any will do), in an onion, garlic and stock base, with smoked paprika and oregano plus a bay leaf. My only amendment to the recipe is the usual pre-cooking of the peeled and chopped squash (I microwave it on high for 8-9 minutes while I do the onions and garlic) which ensures it's nice and soft in a reasonable cooking time on the hob. Nothing worse than being all ready for a comforting stew and finding hard chunks of squash that need more cooking :(

I find it really benefits from plenty of herbs and black pepper, but the combination of soft squash and beans, and crunchy greens and sweetcorn, is great. It's a good winter warmer and goes well with dumplings on top!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Reet good Yorkshires

By gum, and all that jazz.



Recording for my own reference before I forget, since they've never been quite this good before...

2 eggs
70g plain flour
100ml milk
salt & pepper
fat for cooking (I used Trex)

Beat the eggs and flour together with a whisk until smooth. Mix the milk in, in three or four goes, combining it well each time and adding seasoning on the last one, then give it a good old beat to get some air in. Leave to stand while you sort out the tin.

With the oven already cooking the beef (mine was at 170-180°C), place a dot of Trex in 8 holes of a muffin pan. (Dot = chickpea size or a bit bigger, although surely no true Yorkshireman would fart about with such airy fairy rabbit food.) Give the pan a good 15 minutes or more to heat up - I put the pan on the top and moved the meat and roasties to the bottom shelf.

20-25 minutes before you want to serve your roast dinner, quickly whip out the pan, add the batter mix to the eight holes (get the right eight!) and return to the oven. After this, open the door as little as possible - I had to open once to get the meat out to rest. Watch and wait. If they don't rise after all that, don't blame me! These ones did receive genuine Yorkshire approval.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Banana muffins

Here's one from the Moosewood desserts book, called into action to deal with a glut of ripe bananas. It turned out really well, especially given that it received help from a nearly-2-year-old in the making.



I used the cup measurements but have given a conversion to weight (untested) from a website.

2 cups plain flour (280g)
1 tsp each of baking powder and bicarb
pinch of salt

3 ripe bananas, well mashed
1 cup packed brown sugar (170g) (I used a mix of light and dark, and would try reducing a little next time)
0.5 cups vegetable oil (110ml)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

~0.5 cups (80g) each of dark choc chips and dried apricots  - could also try chopped nuts, sultanas, coconut...

Preheat oven to 180°C (fan) and line a 12-hole muffin tin with cases.

Sieve the flour, raising agents and salt together. Mix the bananas, eggs, oil and vanilla using an electric mixer. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet until just combined, then stir in the additions. Quickly spoon into the muffin cases (they will be quite full) and bake for 20-25 minutes.

The muffins rise beautifully with nicely cracked tops, and are really light and tasty, although quite sweet so I think they could stand a little less sugar. Choc chips and apricots work well but the variations are pretty endless!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Khoreshteh Fesenjan (Persian chicken & walnut stew)

I made this for a friend's themed party - it peeked out of the November 2013 edition of BBC Good Food I was browsing just a day or two before the invitation arrived, so I took that as a good omen!

This is an easy dish, utterly unlike anything I have cooked before, and it turned out well. I think it works best as part of a bigger spread as it's too rich on its own. Essentially it's chicken thighs and browned onion simmered in a sauce made of walnuts, water and pomegranate molasses. It needs little prep and a long cooking time, and tastes best if left overnight.

8 skinless chicken thighs (I used thigh fillets and diced them, to make it more of a sharing dish)
1 large onion, chopped
Olive oil for browning

1 tbsp flour
550g walnuts, finely chopped/ground in a food processor
300ml pomegranate molasses (= 2 x 210g bottles from Waitrose)
1.2 litres cold water

to serve: pomegranate seeds, chopped walnuts, parsley

Brown the flour slightly in a dry (large) pan, then add the walnuts and toast gently, stirring often so they don't burn (this is important!). Add the water, stir well, bring to the boil, then simmer for 1hr. (I wondered whether in future I might toast the walnut halves before whizzing them, as it was hard to stir such a large volume of ground nuts.)

Meanwhile, season and brown the chicken and set aside. Slowly cook the onion in the remaining oil/chicken juices, then add chicken and onions to the main pan once the hour is up on the walnut sauce. Also add the pomegranate molasses. Simmer on a low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally (I'd uncover for the last hour if it hasn't thickened much). Serve over basmati rice or with flatbread, plus a nice crunchy salad - the BBCGF feature recommends tomato, cucumber, red onion and more pomegranate seeds, plus a dressing of lemon juice, sumac, mint and dill.

I was surprised there was no other spice or seasoning apart from what's put on the chicken, but it works fine. The pomegranate molasses is a nice blend of sweet and sharp, and rounds out what tasted like a worryingly thin walnut sauce. It did become much darker and richer over time, so definitely plan to make it ahead.