Sunday, 19 December 2010

Savoury Canapes and a Gluten-Free Cake

A view from my bedroom

Like many others in the South of England I woke up find a surreal wonderland blinking back at me in the late morning sun. You know how when your part of the world is just blanketed with this smothering, fluffy, white sheet, how the light quality subtly changes but it takes a while to realise the cause?  I love that feeling, it's not very often one gets to experience it, all too soon the chaos of snow catches up with us and we soon wish it gone again.  Although laughed at when I first bought them, my new snow grips have proved to be a Godsend.  Unlike many I have the freedom to roam around the outdoors relatively freely, to really enjoy the snow without fear of slipping ungracefully - not to mention probably painfully on to my unsuspecting behind! With my magical shoe attachments, I was free to buy food for my house Christmas meal with pleasure, not to mention collect my missing button from a lovely elderly woman down the road who I work with.  With that I will stop going on about how much I love my shoe chains and talk about things related to my blog, that's right food.

Gluten-free Layered Chocolate Cake with Clementine and Cognac Whipped Cream

I love December, it's the season of festive eating not to mention the one time it's perfectly acceptable to pile on the pounds without comment.  So far I have had several Christmas dinners in the form of Latin-style tapas, traditional four-course vegetarian meal Exeter-College style with carol singing in-between courses, Asian buffet and two house ones in the guise of "practice" and "real".  Other things I get excited about this season are the carol services by candlelight and festive craft evenings where delectable canapés are served around talented women.  This year I failed to make an appearance due to going on a last minute dancing weekender which was fantastic, but not before leaving my canapé contributions for the church.  Last year I went for tomato and basil puff pastry stars but this year I went for slightly more daring and chose: savoury filled mini palmier, goats cheese filled profiteroles and mini cheese and tomato filled scones (Recipe below).  My house mate and I were just discussing how at first sweet things are gushed about but without fail, the savoury (unless they're boring dry sandwiches) bites will always go first, why is that?

My Canapé selection for the Craft Evening

I had great fun making the canapés, especially the palmier which were easier to do than I imagined.  They will definitely be made again.  The Profiteroles as you can see from the photos are unfilled, and I don't recommend filling them until they're ready to be served as they then can't be re-crisped in the oven.  Upon saying that though I tried one (or five) filled after a day and although not crispy they still had a wonderful taste and texture, they're just that bit nicer straight out the oven.  With that I leave you with a handful of canapé recipes, and a cake recipe which is coeliac friendly that I made for our "real" house Christmas dinner.

Layered Chocolate Cake
(Serves 10)

  • 250g Dark Chocolate (around 70%)
  • 190g Butter/Margerine
  • 3Tbsp Rum
  • 125g Ground Hazelnuts/Almonds
  •  - Flour can be used if not required to be gluten-free
  • 5 eggs
  • 190g Granulated Sugar
  • 1tsp Baking Powder
  • 4-6Tbsp Apricot Conserve
  • Icing to dust
  • 300ml Double Cream
  • Zest and Juice of 1-2 Clementines
  • 1Tbsp Brandy
  1. Pre-heat the oven to GM3/160C/325F and line a swiss roll/baking tin
  2. Over a double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together gently, stirring until smooth and glossy.  Remove from heat and stir in the alcohol if using.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk eggs and sugar together until the mixture thickens and falls in thick ribbons rather than a thin stream.
  4. Gently fold in chocolate mixture until no streaks remain and repeat with the flour.
  5. Pour into the tin and level, then drop carefully from a height of about 10-15cm to remove large air bubbles and bake for 20-30 minutes until a skewer comes out with a few crumbs on. Leave in the tin to cool for 5 minutes.
  6. On a cooling wrack, place a liberally pierced baking paper to line it and transfer the cake onto it to cool completely.  Score across the long part of the cake to divide it into three equally.  
  7. Once cool, cut one slice and transfer to serving dish/board. Beat the apricot to loosen and spread liberally across the sponge.  Top with a second piece of cake and repeat with the jam and top with the final piece.  Trim the ends to neaten and dust with icing sugar and Clementine zest.
  8. Cream: To make the cream, pour everything into a jug and whisk until soft peaks form.

    Homemade Tomato Paste
    (Makes enough for all canapés listed)

    • 400g Tinned Tomatoes
       -plus swill water - 1/4 can
    • Olive Oil
    • About 100ml of red wine
    • 1 Onion, finely chopped
    • 1 Garlic Clove, crushed
    • 1 Carrot, finely ch
    1. Gently fry the onion and garlic until softened.
    2. Add the wine and bubble away for a few minutes and add the tomatoes with a 1/4 can water to swill out the can. Bring to the boil and simmer moderately partially covered until reduced by half.
    3. Blend roughly to thicken the sauce.  I used this one batch for my mini pizzas, palmier and scone filling.

      Savoury Palmier
      (Makes lots)

      • One block Puff Pastry (500g)
      • Sundried Tomato Paste or Homemade Tomato Paste (as above)
      • A few Basil Leaves, shredded
      • 50g Soft Goats Cheese, crumbled
      • A few Black Olives, finely chopped
      • 100g Mature Cheddar Cheese, finely grated
      •  Salt and Pepper
      Left to right: Unbaked, puffing up in the oven to the finished palmier
      1. Cut the pastry block into 4 lengthwise so you end up with 4 long thin strips.
      2. Roll out each separately on a lightly floured surface until about 3mm thick - try to roll so that the rectangle shape is maintained.
      3. Spread two of the rolled out sheets thinly with tomato paste, sprinkle thinly with a mix of olives, basil and goats cheese. On the other two sheets, spread moderately with grated cheese, salt and pepper.  Maybe add some very finely chopped onion, chives or shallots. 
      4. Roll lengthways from both ends so they meet in the middle and fold over each other.  Roll lightly into shape and chill for 5 minutes in the freezer, wrapped in cling film. 
      5. Slice just less than 1cm thick and lay out on a non-stick baking tray. Reshape if necessary by pulling apart the rolled bits a bit and pinching the fold lightly to form a heart.
      6. Bake in a pre-heated oven GM7/220C/430F for about 20-25minutes until golden.
      7. Cool on a cooling wrack and pack into airtight tins.  These can be re-heated before serving by giving them 5 minutes in a hot oven (at least GM6/200C/400F)

        Mini Star Cheese, Chive and Mustard Scones
        (Makes lots)
        • 175g Self-Raising Flour
        • Salt and Pepper
        • 25g Butter
        • 1 Med Egg, beaten
        • About 30ml/2 Tbsp milk 
        • Handful of Chives, chopped
        • 1-2 tsp Wholegrain Mustard
        • 75g Mature Cheddar Cheese
        • About 4 Tbsp Tomato Paste
        • About 50g Full-fat Cream cheese
        • Chives or Shallots, finely chopped
        1. Pre-heat the oven to GM 7/220C/425F and grease a baking tray.
        2. Mix together the flour, salt and pepper then rub in the butter.  Reserve a handful of cheese for the topping and stir in the rest along with the chives.
        3. Add the egg and enough milk to make a soft dough.  Roll out to about 1.5cm/0.5" thick and use mini cutters about 1-1.5cm/0.4-0.5" diameter to cut out as many shapes as possible and place evenly on the baking tray.  These will not spread much so you can happily put lots on, just make sure there's a bit of a gap between each.
        4. Brush the tops with milk then sprinkle with cheese and bake for 8-10 minutes until risen and golden.
        5. Leave to cool then cut in half. Spread one side thinly with tomato paste, the other with cream cheese.  Sprinkle some shallots or chives on and sandwich together. 

          Mini Wholemeal Pizzas
          (Makes 15-16)

          Pizza Dough:
          • 100g Plain flour
          • 100g Wholemeal flour
          • 1tsp/7g Yeast
          • 125ml Warm water
          • Homemade Tomato Paste or tomato purée
          • Spinach, sliced thinly
          • Cheddar Cheese, finely grated
          • About 8-10 Black olives, finely chopped
          • 1-2 Shallots, finely chopped

            1. For the dough: Mix the yeast and water together, combine all the dry ingredients together and pour in the yeast mix and mix to make a dough. 
            2. Transfer to a surface, lightly floured if necessary and knead until smooth - about 5 minutes
            3. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes and proof.
            4. Pre-heat oven to GM9/240C/465F. 
            5. Divide into 15-16 balls, and flatten into discs.
            6. Spread with tomato then top with cheese, shallots, olives and spinach.  Don't over-top or it'll go all soggy and horrible.
            7. Bake for 10-20 minutes until the cheese is all melted and the base look slightly golden.
              Savoury Filled Profiteroles
              (Makes about 30)

              • 60g/2.5oz Plain flour
              • 50g/2oz Butter
              • 150ml Cold Water
              • 2 Large Eggs
              • Salt and pepper
              • 500ml Cream
              • 100g Goats Cheese
              • Pinch of salt
              • Handful of chopped chives
              • Ground Black Pepper
              1. Pre-heat oven to GM6/200C/400F.
              2. Melt the butter and water together as fast as possible then remove from the heat.
              3. Beat in the flour until a ball forms.
              4. Beat in the eggs gradually and continue beating until a creamy and shiny mixture results.
              5. Season then pipe onto two greased and dampened baking trays.  Each ball should be about a teaspoon's worth of Choux pastry.  Leave at least 2cm between each all - I fit about 15 per tray.
              6. Bake for 10 minutes then increase the oven temperature to GM7/220C/425F and bake for another 15-20 minutes until golden.
              7. With a pair of scissors, cut the profiteroles at the top to let steam escape and cool on a wire rack.
              8. Meanwhile make the filling: Mix together the goats cheese, cream and chives together.  Season with salt and pepper then whisk until thick enough to pipe.
              9. When cool, pipe each profiterole with the cream mixture.  

              Tuesday, 16 November 2010

              Healthy Cinnabon anyone?

              Every month I go home - and every month as I finish church, I find myself walking in a wonky line into the local T. K. Max.  Unusually though, their clothes hold no interest for me, but their homeware department on the other hand... oh my.  I can happily float around the store and lovingly look at their Le Creuset range, or their farmhouse crockery ranges, flirting with the idea of buying a set of oven dishes or a large earthenware casserole pot; sadly though I do not have my own place and so space is an issue.  As I walk around the store I continue to furnish my future home in my head.  This time though I broke the mould a bit and found myself gazing at their book selection - naturally the cookbook area.  Fingering the slightly dusty spines, a hardback - beautifully photographed popped out at me.  At first the initial cynicism kicked in, whereby I thought that if the poor book made it to a discount store it was bound to be fussy with recipes a mission to follow, ingredients impossible to get hold of even if I knew what they were, and I could go on, but I won't - because this book is truly a gem of a cookbook.  As one review said, it gets respect straight away just by not featuring a single cupcake anywhere - don't get me wrong though, I love a cute cupcake as much as the next person - it's just refreshing to find a baking book which doesn't bank on the fact it contains cupcakes to appeal to its audience.

              Are you wondering what this amazing book is called yet? Probably not, but if you are curious, it is called Warm bread and Honey Cake by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra.  It is a rich book containing history, life anecdotes, and wonderfully simple recipes of baked treats from around the world.  I must say the selling point for me was the in depth feature on the Red Bean Paste cakes commonly enjoyed as mooncakes which is eaten once a year by the Chinese community during the mid-autumn festival where friends and family join together to enjoy watching the moon in its full glory.  The whole book is filled with similar enchanting treats along with a highly fascinating history on how they came to be.  For my house mate's birthday a gluten-free version of her chocolate slice cake was made with ground almonds - although there was enough to serve a small army, this cake disappeared alarmingly fast between 4 chocoholics!  Today though I will leave you with my fruity adaptation of Gaitri's chocolate and hazelnut buns.

              Fall Buns
              (Makes 8-9)

              • 125g wholemeal flour
              • 125g plain white flour
              • 1.5tsp Dried active yeast
              • 2tsp Sugar
              • Pinch of Salt
              • 55g/2oz/0.5stick Butter, melted and cooled
              • 1 Egg, beaten
              • About 150ml/5fl oz/2/3C Milk, lukewarm

              • 2 Medium/200g approx. Bramley/Tart Apples, chopped into 5mm chunks approx.
              • 50g Raisins
              • 2Tbsp Honey
              • 1Tbsp Cinnamon

              • Whisk together all the dry ingredients, then mix the butter, milk and egg together, add to the dough and mix to bring together into a ball of dough.  Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic ( I find I do not need extra flour in the worktop).  If the dough is too sticky, add a sprinkling of flour, if too dry, add a few drops of water.
              • Oil a the bowl, return the dough and coat in the oil then cover with cling film and leave to double in bulk in a warm area - about 1-1.5 hours.
              • Before rolling out the dough, chop up the apples, mix with the honey, and cinnamon and raisins then set aside.
              • Roll out the dough to a rectangle roughly 40cm x 30cm or 16" x 12", then spread with the apple mixture - but leave about 2cm clear all round.
              • Roll up the dough into a sausage starting from the longest edge.  Cut along at 4cm intervals into 8-9 spiralled buns and tuck into a greased round or square cake tin, about 20cm in diameter/width.
              • Cover loosely with a damp tea towel or cling film and leave to rise again for another 30-60 minutes in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk.
                NB: The juices from the apples may leak out into the tin, don't worry about this, it shouldn't affect the bread!
              • Roughly in the last 15 minutes, pre-heat the oven to GM4/180C/350F
              • Bake the buns for 25 minutes or until golden brown.  Leave to cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely - or enjoy warm!

              Sunday, 14 November 2010

              Hazelnut Fudge

              This weekend, my rock n' roll friend celebrated her birthday in a pub situated (to me anyway) in the middle of nowhere, and it was a fantastic night - what with a skittle alley, giant connect four, friendly people and of course, dancing! If you want to check this dinky pub out, it is called The Red Lion situated in Islip, Oxford.

              I was having one of these "I keep losing time to do things" day, and needed to rustle up a quick birthday present. Luckily for me, I was looking up gift ideas last night and remembered a favourite easy fudge recipe which can be found on the Waitrose website in their handy recipe archive. Below is my adaptation of their fruit and nut version. I decided on a gift-packaged batch of homemade fudge with a homemade birthday card containing the recipe.  As the fudge is really rich, I cut the slab into small cubes and wrapped them in tissue paper, tied with a bow and placed into a box made from arty paper - which I then promptly threw into my handbag as was late and had to find said friend's obscure habitat! Typical... Anyway, this recipe makes lots, and I had to freeze the remaining condensed milk.  I hope it will be OK! I feel the outcome of it will probably warrant another post.  In the mean time though I leave you with a quick and easy fudge recipe which does not require the faff of a sweet thermometer! 

              Hazelnut Fudge
              (Makes lots)

              • 200g Good dark chocolate
              • About 200g Sweetened condensed Milk
              • 100g Icing Sugar, sifted
              • 50g Hazelnuts, finely chopped
              • 1Tbsp Frangelico/Hazelnut liqueur (Optional)
              1. Line a 21x21cm tin or similar with baking parchment.
              2. Heat up about 1cm water and place a heat-proof bowl over the pan, making sure the base does not touch the water.  Melt the chocolate pieces and condensed milk together gently and stir until all melted.
              3. In the mean time, if hazelnuts are whole, either crush or chop with a knife or pulse blitz in a processor, but make sure you do not over-process!
              4. Remove the melted chocolate mixture from the heat and stir in the liqueur if using then add the nuts and icing sugar and mix until well combined.
              5. Spread the mixture into the lined tin, level out and dust with sugar and cocoa then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours preferably until firm. 
              6. Cut into cubes, re-dust with sugar to avoid sticking and enjoy!

              Saturday, 30 October 2010

              Orange and Lemons...

              For a short period in October, the theme appears to be orange and black - you guessed it, it's around the time of Halloween.  I really dislike this combination, although I am a huge fan of the saffron orange which just conjures up the impression fiery warmth and life.  Another reason why I love the colour orange is that it reminds me of the fruit as well, which comes in beautiful gluts at this time of the year.  Naturally then, this glut will feature somewhere in the form of a cake, and this happens to be one of my all time favourite cakes.  Tunisian orange cake was first introduced into my hemisphere as I worked at Harbour Lights behind the bar.  It is in effect a light citrusy sponge drenched in an orange syrup and tastes much better the next day as the flavours mingle and time has allowed the sponge to really absorb the syrup.  The recipe was found in a Waitrose Kitchen magazine (Oct '10) as a feature of a family-run cafe called The Main Street Trading Company which resides in Scotland.  If you're ever around the area, check it out, it looks so inviting!  In the meantime though, I leave you with their recipe.

              Tunisian Orange Cake
              (Serves 8)


              • 45g Polenta
              • 200g Caster sugar
              • 100g Ground almonds
              • 1.5tsp Baking powder
              • 215ml Olive oil
              • 4 Eggs, lightly beaten
              • Zest of 1 Orange
              • Zest of 1 Lemon
              • 45g Granulated sugar
              • Juice of 1 Orange
              • Juice of 1 Lemon
              • 1/4 of a large cinnamon stick
              1. Line the base of a 19/20cm cake tin with baking parchment and grease the sides with some oil
              2. Mix together the dry ingredients of the cake: polenta, almonds, baking powder, caster sugar and zest.  Beat the eggs and oil together, then whisk into the dry mixture.
              3. Pour into the prepared cake tin and put into the cold oven.  Switch on the oven to GM 5/190C/375F and bake for 50-60 minutes, until lightly golden and a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre.  Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.  
              4. Meanwhile, put the granulated sugar, orange and lemon juices and cinnamon stick into a pan and heat until all the sugar is dissolved, stirring often. 
              5. Skewer holes all over the cake and pour the syrup over the cake gently, giving the cake time to absorb the liquid.  Place a baking tray underneath the cake to catch the juices!

              Wednesday, 27 October 2010

              Much to do about a Pumpkin

              What does usually think of when Halloween once again pops overs for a visit? Well in this household it is what to do with the Jack-O-Lantern left behind? Leave it to go mouldy and try to dispose of it without touching it? Or, chop it up and make it into hearty meals thereby giving Jack a purpose to his short life other than to look spooky-but-not-really for one night.  Naturally we chose the latter, and so jack soon became among other things, part of a lasagne, soup, quick bread and pie.   Jack, you have done well and we look forward to seeing you again next year!  Until then, below will be a record of your invaluable contributions to our happy bellies.

              Pumpkin Lasagne:
              (Serves 4)

              This came about as a result of copious bottles of opened red wine sitting around and a craving for something indulgent but wholesome and a need to empty some almost-finished boxes of lasagne sheets.  I used tinned plum tomatoes, as I don't know about you but for some reason I really do not like the taste of chopped tomatoes!  Try cherry tomatoes too, they are divine in a sauce.


              Red Wine Sauce:
              • About 400g Pumpkin, cubed (1cm)
              • 1 Small Pack (250g) Spinach, Chopped
              • 2 Red Onions, chopped
              • 2 Garlic Cloves, crushed and chopped
              • 1 Carrot, Finely chopped
              • 1 Celery stalk, finely chopped
              • 1Tbsp Fresh Sage, chopped
              • 400g Tin of tomatoes
                 -Plus 1/4 Can Water to swill and add to pot
              • 200ml Red Wine
              • 1Tbsp Oil
              White Sauce:
              • 1tsp Dried Thyme
              • 300ml Milk
              • 25g Butter
              • 1Tbsp Flour
              • 50g Strong Cheddar Cheese, finely grated
              • Nutmeg, grated
              1. Pre-heat the oven to GM6/200C/400F
              2. Coat the pumpkin with oil, salt and pepper and roast in oven for about 45 minutes until tender
              3. Coat the base of a large pan with oil (I used sunflower), add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and gently heat for about 15 minutes with the lid on, stirring occasionally. 
              4. Add the red wine to the vegetables and simmer uncovered gently for about 5 minutes to evaporate the alcohol, then stir in the sage, tomatoes and water.  Break up the tomatoes and stir to mix, then bring to the boil and simmer partially covered for 20-30 minutes gently until all the vegetables are tender.
              5. Meanwhile, pan-fry the spinach in a little oil, and season with nutmeg and pepper.  Set aside.  (I actually used mature spinach from the garden which takes slightly longer to cook, but equally delicious).
              6. Heat the milk and add the thyme until almost boiling.  Remove from heat, season and leave aside to infuse.
              7. Blend the red wine sauce until mostly smooth and stir in the cooked lumps of pumpkin.  Season with salt and pepper.
              8. To make the white sauce, melt the butter gently until sizzling, add the flour and stir over a low heat to cook for about a minute.  Stir in the milk gradually over a medium heat to prevent lumps (whisk if lumps form or keep stirring) until the sauce thickens.  Season and set aside.
              9. Assembly: In a oven-proof dish, layer half the red wine sauce, top with half the spinach then sheets of wetted lasagne sheets.  Top lasagne sheets with the remaining red wine sauce and spinach then another layer of wetted lasagne sheets.  Press down the sheets gently to level and pour over the white sauce.  Top with the grated cheese and put the lasagne in the oven for about 30 minutes until the whole thing is bubbling hot and the top golden.

              Pumpkin and Ginger Teabread:
              (Serves 10)

              This recipe was taken from the BBC Good Food website which was mildly adapted to suit my caeliac of a housemate to be gluten-free.  It's best served warm straight from the oven in my opinion or microwaved for a few seconds on high later on.  Other than plain and simple, I liked spreading Nutella on top of my slice for a little bit of chocolate naughtiness.  I made this in a tray baked for about 50 minutes but of course times vary with ovens or tins used.  The site recommends 50-60 minutes in a 2lb loaf tin.

              • 175g butter , melted
              • 140g clear honey
              • 1 large egg , beaten
              • 250g raw peeled pumpkin, coarsely grated
                 -(about 500g/1lb 2oz before peeling and seeding)
              • 100g light muscovado sugar
              • 350g Gluten-Free self-raising flour
              • 1 tbsp ground ginger
              • 2 tbsp demerara sugar
              1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4/ fan 160C. Grease and line the base of a tray bake with baking paper.
              2. Mix the butter, honey and egg and stir in the pumpkin or squash. Then mix in the sugar, flour and ginger.
              3. Pour into the prepared tin and sprinkle the top with the demerara sugar. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until risen and golden brown. Leave in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out and cool on a wire rack. Serve thickly sliced and buttered.
                NB: I found with gluten-free flour the cake was slightly more fragile, so handle with care!

              Pumpkin Pie
              (Serves 4)


              • 300g Pumpkin, cubed (1cm)
              • 2 Bay Leaves
              • 1 Courgette, sliced
              • 1 Clove Garlic, crushed and chopped
              • 1 Small Onion, chopped
              • 1 Carrot, finely chopped
              • 1 Celery, sliced
              • 100g Green Lentils
              • 1/4tsp Dried Tyme
              • 1 Tomato, cubed
              • 150ml Red Wine
              • 200ml water (made up with courgette pan juice)
              • 2Tbsp Soya Sauce
              • 3 large potatoes (about 300g), peeled and quartered
              • 1 Small Bunch Dill (25g)
              • 1Tbsp Wholegrain Mustard
              • Knob of butter
              • Splash of milk
              1. Pre-heat oven to GM6/200C/400F
              2. Boil some water with a bay leaf and enough to cover lentils generously and cook for 30-45 minutes until tender.
              3. Coat the pumpkin in oil and season before roasting for 30-45 minutes in the oven until tender.
              4. Heat some oil in a frying pan and pan fry the courgettes over a high heat until lightly singed and withered. Season and set aside.
              5. Swill out the pan and make up to 200ml to make some stock.
              6. In a pan, coat the base of the pan with oil and add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery - cover and cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
              7. Add tomatoes and cook until softened then add wine and simmer for 5 minute uncovered to evaporate alcohol.  Add the stock, bay leaf, thyme and soya sauce, bring to the boil and simmer covered for about 20-30 minutes until all vegetables are tender.
              8. Meanwhile, boil some salted water and cook the potatoes for about 20 minutes or until tender.  When cooked, mash with butter, mustard and enough milk (about 75-150ml) to make a smooth spreadable mash.  Stir in the dill and season.
              9. Blend the sauce when ready and stir in the pumpkin, courgettes and lentils then seaso.
              10. To assemble: Pour the filling into an oven-proof dish and top with the the mash, level out roughly and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until bubbling hot and golden.

                Tuesday, 12 October 2010

                Forcaccia and the first of the Autumn Soups

                My last post raved about the beauty of autumn, but does anyone else feel the slight pressure to cling to the light meals of summer still?  It is that strange phase of change where my body just has not had a chance to adapt yet.  The weather so far has swung between summer sunshine to waking up to a sparkling frost blanketed scene.  Autumn's harvest bounty is steadily growing though so I thought I would introduce the first of my experimental autumn recipes.  Naturally it would be soup, and naturally I would find inspiration for it by rummaging through my fridge.  Stupidly though after a thorough search through my house, the scrap of paper containing my recipe is gone (for good? who knows?) so I will have to just let your imagination fill in the blank!  It involved carrots, parsnips, celery, mushrooms and soya sauce, partially blended to make a thick earthy broth.

                The other night as I was on a baking spree, I decided to make some bread again.  I feel the bread section of this blog needs padding out and bread making is just the most satisfying experience.  This time, after being tempted to make some Mediterranean forcaccia I settled for some aromatic fennel forcaccia instead which has a milder flavour so more potential for different sandwich fillings!  Happily I discovered that fennel forcaccia and ugly root vegetable autumn soup marries together beautifully with lashings of butter.

                I also love it sliced in half with butter and yeast extract for breakfast, hummous with St-Paulin cheese for lunch or spread thickly with yummy jam as an any-time snack.

                Fennel Sandwich Forcaccia:
                (Serves 8-10)

                • 2 Cups Warm water
                • 1.5tsp/7g Sachet Dry yeast
                • 1tsp Sugar
                • 3Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
                  -plus extra to glaze
                • 1.50tsp Salt
                • 1Tbsp Fennel seeds
                  -plus extra to spirinkle
                • 1 Cup Wholemeal/Brown flour
                • 5 Cups Plain/Bread Flour
                • About 2Tbsp Cornmeal/Polenta to dust
                1. Stir the yeast and sugar into the warm water and leave until foamy - at least 10 minutes.
                2. In a bowl, mix togehther  along with the yeast mixture, wholemeal flour, salt and olive oil.
                3. Gradually add the remaining flour until a dough forms and turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  Return the dough to an oiled bowl, coat in the oil by rolling then cover with a damp tea towel or cling film.  Leave the dough to rise until doubled in bulk - At least an hour.
                4. Oil a baking sheet/pan and dust with fine cornmeal/polenta, then roll out the dough to roughly fit the pan.
                5. Press the dough into the pan until about even, cover and let rise for another hour or so.  The dough should be tender to the touch.
                6. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200C/400F during the last 15 minutes.
                7. Dimple the dough with fingertips, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with fennel seeds and bake for 30 minutes in the bottom third of your oven, or until lightly golden.  Cool on a wire rack. 

                Monday, 11 October 2010

                Autumn Harvest - Apples

                Finally, we have come to this beautiful time of year again where the temperature is starting to fall, the air is slightly crisp and the leaves are gradually donning their gilded coats of golds, russets and saffron.  Autumn is my favourite season visually, in terms of the smell in the air - slightly toasty and earthy and of course the abundance of delicious food.  Cue, plump squashes, leafy spinach, chard, various stoned fruits and of course rosy apples and juicy pears!  Goodbye Mediterranean, hello homey comfort food.

                Last week, my house mate and I went scrumping for apples in the derelict orchard down our road which our wonderful nature loving neighbour brought to our attention.  Previously we have drenched our shoes as we trudged about picking brambles and plums in the wet forest, so this time we had the bright idea (well at the time) or wearing flip flops which resulted in a slightly treacherous session in the forest among the clumped nettles, thorny bramble vines snaking across the floor and vertical twigs grappling to skewer our feet.  All in all though,  some tree climbing and clever dodging later, I was triumphantly walking home with my apple bounty.  At home though, after filling a bucket, the problem arose of what to do with it all?

                So in the near future, expect lots of sweet apples treats to be popping up!  So far, I have made rum soaked apple layer cake (yummy but ugly), apple crumble (naturally), apple cupcakes, apple and custard muffins, potato and apple boulangère (Not recommended) and the list will hopefully go on.  Until next time, I leave you with an apple and custard muffin recipe adapted from my M&S cakes books.

                Apple and Custard Cakes:
                (Makes 12 muffins)


                • 90g Butter
                • 110g Caster Sugar
                • 2 Eggs
                • 110g Self-raising flour
                • 30g Custard Powder
                • 2Tbsp Milk
                • 1-2 large apples (200g total), cored and thinly sliced
                • 1Tbsp Extra butter, melted
                • 1Tbsp Ground cinnamon
                • 1Tbsp Sugar
                Custard Filling:
                • 1Tbsp Custard Powder
                • 1Tsp Sugar
                • 125ml Milk 


                Custard Filling:
                1. Mix a little milk with the custard and sugar to form a paste.  Heat the remaining milk, mix with paste and heat gently until thickened.  Cover and leave to cool.
                Cake mix:

                1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/GM 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
                2. Beat together butter and sugar and custard powder until soft and creamy, then whisk in eggs gradually.
                3. Whisk in the milk and fold in flour until just combined (a figure-of-eight motion with the whisk is very effective).
                4. Divide half the mixture among the paper cases, top with custard, then finish with distributing the last of the cake mix among the 12 cases.  Top with sliced apples, pressing in slightly and bake for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine 1Tbsp sugar with ground cinnamon and set aside. 
                5. Turns cakes onto a wire rack, brush with melted butter then sprinkle with the sugar and cinnamon mix. Leave to cool on the wire rack or serve warm.

                Saturday, 9 October 2010

                Poppy Seed Bread

                I feel I should start off this post with a massive apology for not updating for a long while, truth be told I haven't been cooking anything inspiring lately and life's not too bright at the moment, what with a bike crash accident and a lack of supporting job. On the good side though, I've had time to dance more and read more cookbooks. One book I find myself referring to time and again is the Cornucopia at Home cookbook from Dublin's wholefoods vegetarian restaurant. We came across this tiny treasure cove a few years back, and it's heartening to know that the restaurant is doing so well, it's expanding into the building next door.  Rarely, does one find a cookbook and cook through it's contents eagerly, but I have progressively gone through most of the recipes in this book and I can confirm that most of the recipes work beautifully with surprisingly little hassle ending in a homey and delicious meal at the end of my enjoyable labour.

                I finally decided to delve into the bread section of the book recently and tried out their poppyseed load which I have to say was delicious and entertaining seeing poppy seeds make a break for it as I kneaded the dough into a ball of smooth, elastic dough.  I really do not see the point in buying a bread machine when this part of the bread making process is just so soothing.  Upon saying this though, waking up to the smell of bread is lovely and can only be achieved by hand by a dedicated early riser... which I am not. I tend to find myself baking at night so I go to bed to the smell of fresh bread instead which is equally good as I have the anticipation of fresh bread in the morning.

                This bread was lovely with blackberry & ginger chutney and goat's cheese, as well as dunked into thick and creamy soups or simply spread with jam for breakfast.  With that I leave you with a recipe and hopefully an incentive to buy this wonderful cookbook.

                Poppy seed Bread
                (Makes a 2Lb loaf)


                • 250g wholemeal/Brown flour
                • 250g plain flour
                • 70g poppy seeds
                • Pinch of salt
                • 70ml vegetable oil
                • 1.5tsp active dried yeast
                • 280ml warm water
                • 0.5tsp honey


                • Stir the yeast and honey gently into the warm water and leave to foam for about 10-15 minutes
                • Combine the flours, poppy seeds and salt into one bowl - I used a whisk to mix the dry ingredients together well.   
                • Add the oil and mix well using your fingers to rub the oil into most of the flour.  Just like rubbing butter into flour for pastry.
                • Make a well in the centre of the bowl and pour in the yeast and water mixture.  Mix with your hands until you get a soft ball of dough.
                  NB: if sticky, sprinkle more flour and conversely, if too dry, add water a drop at a time to the right consistency.
                • Roll out onto a clean surface (I didn't bother with dusting with flour and it was fine) and knead for about 10 minutes.  Oil the bowl (which should be clean of dough), turn the dough to coat it in the oil and cover with a damp tea towel or clingfilm.  Leave to rise for 1-1.5 hours in a warm place or until doubled in bulk.
                • Knock back/punch the dough to its original size and either put into a 2Lb tin or shape into a loaf shape.  
                • Leave to rise for another 30 minutes - in the last 15 minutes, pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F/GM 4.
                • Slash (do not tear) across the top of your loaf 3-4 times with a sharp knife and place in the oven for 50-60 minutes (tin) or 40-50 minutes if free-form loaf.
                • The bread is ready when it sound hollow when tapped at the base and lightly golden.
                • Leave to cool on a wire rack.  Cover with a tea towel of you want a soft crust. 
                adapted from Cornucopia at home by Eleanor Heffernan

                  Tuesday, 31 August 2010

                  Foodie Festival Oxford

                  About a week ago a friend of mine recommended a foodie festival in the heart of Oxford, even better though it was a short cycle away and the ticket spanned the whole three day festival period.  Naturally I could not resist and eagerly bought my ticket, hoping someone would like to come with me.  Luckily people did so I was not left to enjoy the whole food-filled weekend as a loner.  The format of the festival was in the form of three "theatres" or glorified tents featuring a food master class, wine theatre and chef demonstrations theatre, with rows upon rows of local producers (plus some not so local).  Treasures on offer included gourmet cheeses, artisan chocolates, various wines made within the UK as well as Italian wines and unusual liqueurs.  Chefs from around Oxford came to show off their culinary skills, including chefs from the Ashmolean Dining Room and The Cherwell Boathouse and bakers to host fun cake decorating classes.

                  Decorated cupcake from Holly Cupcakes, St Germain van and an amazingly carved watermelon from the Thai food stand.

                  The first day was spent gawking at the sheer size of the place, and navigating myself around the place.  We didn't quite understand how to book things yet so only managed to book on to the Holly Cupcake class and a wine tasting class hosted by Villa Maria, which I must say was fantastic.  The presenter of the class was a dedicated wine drinker and reviewer: Quentin Sadler who was highly entertaining, full of fascinating stories based around the wines tasted and the region in which they originated.  I learned that looking at a grape type in wine is not reflective of its taste but that the flavour is also influenced by the climate.  One thing I took away with me was the knowledge in that the more acidity a wine has, the less ripe the grape is and that a Syrah is the same grape as Shiraz only from New Zealand instead of Australia, but has a milder flavour and lighter hue due to the cooler climates, cool huh?  We dined outdoors for lunch, settling for a Thai green curry from Chiang Mai Kitchen (vegetarian of course) after carefully seeing what was on offer from the various stands dotted around.  In the following days we tried Jamaican from Sizzlingpot Supreme (not worth it - I thought I was going to get food poisoning from the cold rice which was a mix of uncooked and over-cooked grains topped with a soggy greasy fish) and a Moroccan tagine which was fantastic, consisting of fluffy couscous buried under mildly spiced roast vegetables in a tomato sauce with a side of green lentils, salad and olives, so good!  Half way through the day we ran to a friend's house as it suddenly decided to downpour, but we happily holed up for an hour munching lemon bon bon and ginger fudge from Yum Yum Tree Fudge.  The day was complete with a tasting session first with Cordorniu complete with cute gifts then with Villa Maria, needless to say it was a jolly walk home!

                  Left to Right: Quentin Sadler wine blogger, Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham from Dwink and Jo Sorenson for Cordorniu

                  The next day, I was slightly more on the ball and proudly booked a cooking demonstration featuring Arun Manickam from the Ashmolean Dining Room and a chocolate tasting session hosted by Chocolate and Love.  My favourite chocolate from that session was called conscious chocolate which is bizarrely labelled as "raw" but upon seeing our confused faces, it was explained how the process did not heat the cocoa above 42C to keep all the antioxidant properties and flavour; what resulted was a soft fudge like chocolate which was messy to pick up but tasted amazingly rich and dark but not bitter.  If I had money I'd make this my chocolate of choice hands down!  This was also the day we braved Jamaican food from Sizzlingpot Supreme which seemed a good idea at the time, but what ensued a long wait whilst the team argued and a worrying discussion on the rice occurred.  Optimistically (or foolishly) we waited patiently during which a customer returned with their meal saying it was not cooked and about 10 minutes later our cold rice came out to be microwaved and a soggy "fried fish" was slapped on top and away went £6.50.  I have to say I was tempted to leave it, for safety reasons but then decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and ploughed through as much as possible which did not end up being much.  I failed to understand how the rice could be both overcooked and soggy and undercooked and hard simultaneously.  Oh well, out of the whole weekend this was the only dampener and more good food were to follow!  Bellies just about filled, we continued to wander around the place and happily sampled a whole array of handmade flavoured cheeses from Lymn Bank Farm which I found so amazing I bought a range of flavours which included tomato and basil, ginger, horseradish and garlic.  £10 for 5 cheeses was not too bad in my opinion and since then they have been lovely to eat as a nibble or topped on home made pizzas.

                  The final day brought more friends and a boozy start participating in a boutique beers and cider masterclass lead by a pair called Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham who were hilarious and they showed a genuine passion for beer and cider which turned out to be every bit as complex as wine drinking.  They talked about the art of mixing beer with cheeses, beer in cooking and how to enjoy certain beers and food partners as well as how each of the six tried were made and how they differed in flavour.  The one thing I took away with me that day was the purpose of levelling the head of beer - apparently it removes the larger gas bubbles leaving only small bubbles which resulted in a smoother head which lasted longer.  Interesting fact but I doubt I'll ever put that to practice!  Their site is well worth a read though, it's highly entertaining as well as informative filled with reviews, facts and competitions.  The next masterclass to follow was about appreciating the origin of Parmiagiano Reggiano and Parma Ham alongside Burgundy wine which also came in a white and rose which surprised me.  I missed the ham out (not a fan of most meats in the slightest) but tasting the different cheese vintages was amazing as the depths of flavour noticeably developed with age.  coming out of that tent though, I must admit I am not keen on Burgundy; the wine was sickly sweet and quite potent.  I have faith that I might grow to like it one day... Another friend came with me today and we returned to Lymn Bank Farm cheese stand where he proceeded to buy lots of cheese as I did (they really are that good!) but upon the third visit taking friends we met up with later, it got slightly embarrassing as they threatened to rename their stand.  Next we went to pay a visit to the St Germain blue van , whereby we had a fun conversation with the bar man and proceeded to sample all three liqueurs: St Germain, Frangelico and The King's Ginger and consequently I broke my personal promise of no alcohol purchasing, taking home a bottle of Frangelico which tasted divinely of hazelnuts.  The bank holiday ended beautifully with another wine tasting session, this time with Errazuriz which is a family run business specialising in Chilean wines.

                  Monday, 23 August 2010

                  What to put in my lunch box?

                  Every year, my church hosts a holiday bible club for children from both Christian and non-Christian backgrounds.  This year I have had the pleasure of helping and tomorrow the kids will start flooding in for a week of fun and chaos.  There is a Spy Theme going on, and I'm pondering what to wear for the opening day - Sherlock's cloak or a bowler hat and black tie?? Choices, choices...  More importantly though, the leaders have been told to provide their own lunch, which opens so many possibilities.  For my placement year about two years ago I adopted the Bento lunch style, and I am hoping to repeat this again this year, not just for Holiday Club but for when I start my new job in little more than two weeks' time!  

                  I find making my own lunch so much more satisfying than queuing in a mediocre over-priced canteen where vegetarians are forced to buy either cheese laden dishes or salad.  No sir, not for me.  I am interested in tasty and cheap meals, be it left-overs from dinner or quick to prepare and healthy (well sometimes) dishes which have a tendency not to leak.  Upon saying that though, I find a bowl of homemade soup and a hunk of toasted bread in the cooler seasons so satisfying and warming and have somehow managed to carry said soup in a not 100% leak-proof container.  I suspect lots of kitchen roll was involved... Anyhow I digress again, my first lunch which I really hope I remember tomorrow is a couscous salad with broccoli and spinach pesto and grilled vegetables, finished off with an apple cupcake, apple bun and nectarine for dessert and snack.  It sounds complicated but really isn't and is ready in less than 20 minutes, score!  I would say it is a very healthy dish except I am pretty sure I cancelled all health brownie points by adding copious amounts of creamy goats' cheese.  What can I say? I love goats' cheese.  I hope you enjoy making and eating this as much as I do! 

                  Couscous with Broccoli and Spinach Pesto and Grilled Vegetables
                  (Serves 1)  

                  • 2 Florets Broccoli - about 50g, broken into small pieces 
                  • Handful Spinach, washed
                  • 1 Small Red Pepper, deseeded and halved
                  • 1 Small Courgette, finely sliced
                  • 1/4 Large Onion, finely sliced
                  • 1 Clove Garlic, peeled and crushed
                  • 1tsp Balsamic Vinegar
                  • 1/2tsp Mixed Herbs
                  • 10g approx. Goats' Cheese
                  • 60-80g Couscous
                  • 2tsp Vegetable oil 
                  • Salt & Pepper to taste
                  1. Brush the courgettes and pepper skin lightly with oil then place until a grill until the pepper skins char - about 10 minutes.  In 5 minutes, check the courgettes and flip them to avoid burning.
                  2. Cook the couscous as per instructions - I put mine in my lunch box with some pepper and herbs, covered with boiling water and closed the lid for 5 minutes.
                  3. Place the broccoli into a ramekin and add about 50ml boiling water and cover with cling film then pierce.  Microwave for about 3 minutes full-power, remove and let stand for 5 minutes, add the spinach, recover and microwave for another minute, then leave to stand to continue cooking.
                    -alternatively boil/steam the broccoli then spinach gently until tender
                  4. Heat the oil in a small pan, add the onion and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes until the onions look tender.  Season and add the balsamic vinegar.  Peel the pepper and slice thinly, adding to the pan along with the courgette.  Mix well and add the couscous.
                  5. Blend or process the broccoli, spinach, and half the goats' cheese until smooth(ish), season and add to the pan. Mix everything together and serve with the remaining cheese or box up for lunch. 

                  Apples and Midnight Baking

                  It's that time of year again when apples fall in prices in shops and the apple trees dotted around start to shed their fruit, plopping them lightly onto the wet grass below.  Since starting this blog, I have become a lot more aware of fruit trees and brambles, which makes walks that much more exciting.  Cycling past my neighbour last night, out walking his dog, we stopped for a while to have a chat which is when he showed me his "scrumping" bounty - a bag full of crispy looking apples fresh from the orchard straight down my road which I never knew existed before then (the orchard not the road, I'm not that oblivious).  Happy times, I will be sure to go foraging around there later!

                  Apple and Cinnamon Cupcakes 

                  In the meantime though, I have been blog hopping around the net looking for healthier cupcake sites which is when I came across Anecdotes and Apples, which was filled with wonderful wholesome and homey looking recipes - all vegetarian with a good selection of vegan too.  I came across two recipes which just called out to be made together: apple dapple cupcakes and apple buns.  The cupcake recipe is actually for 24 muffins, so I divided everything by a third which yielded enough for 12 normal cupcakes.  I think I replaced the cream with crème fraîche and quartered the frosting recipe and still had some left over - perfect to go on my apple buns if I so wish.  I also left two unfrosted as they're scrumptious as they are, maybe with a dusting of cinnamon as well...  Originally I thought it would be a good idea to make these before church but that turned into after church then much later after church... Needless to say it was gone midnight by the time I had a batch of lovely bread rolls and cupcakes - but I think there are much less pleasant things to go to bed to than the warm and spicy scent of sweet cinnamon, not to mention the anticipation of waking up to fresh bread!  I halved the bread recipe and reduced the cupcake recipe so ended up only using the one apple - next time though I feel I would happily add an extra one to the bread (the season of apples is oh so near).  Whilst the bread was proofing I made the cupcakes, which gave me something to nibble on whilst the bread was baking - all in all a fun process albeit kind of late... For the bread, I think it needed a longer second rising and/or more flour - but I did try the lower end of the recommended amount of flour and second rising; pushed for time towards the end (bed was calling).  The resultant bread was slightly sticky and elastic - although not unpleasant, just different but still tasty! Next time...

                  Anyway to end, I highly recommend you visit Monet's blog, it's packed full of wholesome ideas, the next thing to have caught my attention is the avocado pound cake, I have a glut of avocados which need eating and this sounds perfect! In the meantime though, I'm off for a cup of tea and an apple cupcake.

                  Thursday, 19 August 2010

                  Peas Please!

                  Last week my house mate left me for France and also left a bag of peas in their pods.  I only just re-discovered them today and needless to say I did not have a clue what to do with them.  I spent today helping out my church preparing for holiday club, and must admit to scoffing one too many cupcakes and biscuits, a childish mistake which resulted in a ruined appetite for dinner.  Looking at the peas, looking at my stomach which refused to be hungry for real food, and looking back at the pods, I decided some podding was in order, and hopefully the sight of shiny green peas popping out might re-ignite my appetite.  Meanwhile though, a coffee and cupcake was in order to see me through the podding... (some people do NOT learn...)

                  Thinking about peas invariably always leads to thinking about mint, so one wet but short trek later to our mint weed patch and a handful of mint joined my shiny peas.  A rogue new potato was found in my cupboard along with a fat clove of garlic sitting around the work top hoping to be useful, a small onion rolls on scene and I am suddenly inspired to make soup!  In hindsight, lemon juice would have been a welcome addition, the acid adds another sparkling dimension to the soup, magically pulling all the flavours together.  Next time... I decided to pulse blend the soup to add some texture, a generous grind of pepper and a drizzle of plain yoghurt later and enjoyed a lovely light meal which felt healthy, therefore (in my opinion) justifying the copious cupcake eating I did today...

                  Fresh Pea Soup
                  (Serves 1)


                  • 1 Small potato (about 50g)
                  • 75g Peas (podded weight)
                  • 1 Small Onion
                  • 1 Clove Garlic
                  • Handful of mint (about 10g)
                  • 300ml Water or stock
                  • 1tsp Olive Oil
                  • Squeeze of lemon
                  • Salt and Pepper
                  • Plain Yoghurt to garnish

                  1. Heat the oil in a small pan, slice the onions, crush and mince the garlic then add to the pan and gently fry for about 5 minutes, covered.
                  2. Cube the potato in 5mm cubes and add to the pan, stirring to coat in the juices.  Cover and continue to cook gently for about 5 minutes.
                  3. Add the peas and water, bring to the boil, season and simmer for 20-30 minutes until all the vegetables are tender (fresh peas take a lot longer to cook compared to frozen - adjust time accordingly).  Add the mint in the last 10 minutes of cooking.
                  4. Blend the soup roughly by using a pulse motion with the blender, so some peas stay intact.
                  5. Squeeze in pepper and lemon juice to taste then serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt.

                  Wednesday, 18 August 2010

                  Mmmm, cupcakes

                  Wow, it really feels like it's been a while since I updated this blog.  On the bright side though, it must mean I am actually becoming busier and my blog addiction is subsiding somewhat... but on second thoughts, I'm completely happy to be blogging again so maybe it hasn't subsided that much!  Over the last week, it seems as if I have been baking every day in one form or another.  Gingerbread men were cut, cupcakes for picnics and birthdays were whipped up, shortbread ducks and stars were created and a frugal hotpot made from the contents of my magical fridge which still does not look as if it is emptying any time soon.

                  I have not been the most organised of humans this week, so I thought it would be safer to stay indoors as much as possible to minimise being a danger to myself.  I felt it was going to be one of these weeks.  So far I had managed to mistake a friend coming over on Monday when it was actually Tuesday,  triple-booked myself on said Tuesday, having to reveal my embarrassing blunder to get myself out of two appointments and proceeding to cook an awful lunch for a friend who I was meant to have met Tuesday but postponed until Wednesday...  And today I had an enjoyable walk into town (so far so good...) to the Gloucester Green food market with my friend.   This was my first trek to the market in what feels like months (and it probably was) and I was greeted by a beautifully colourful sight.  Casually sitting on the tables were summer squashes, and other modest vegetables but the fruit stand was a glory to look at: mounds of rosy cheeked apricots, succulent plums, peaches and nectarines, towering punnets of cheap cherries, raspberries and blueberries.  I was also excited to see raw beetroot, which I was inspired to give a go by Designer from our weekend together.  Whilst queueing,  I managed to lose a £2 coin which was upsetting and hit by a sudden downpour of water which has somehow collected in the tent top.  I was rather fuddled by this as I had not realised it had rained today, but it was still sunny when we left the market, so we had time for tea in a Coffee Republic and proceeded to miss the dry spell and got poured on as we ran to Waterstones for shelter.  Quite a feat considering I was lugging an impressively heavy food laden backpack and my friend a bag of delicate soft fruits!  A leisurely read of the River Cottage Preserves Handbook later and a tentative glance outside the second storey window, and we were ready to brave the walk back home which promptly led to a blister forming which became ripped and painful, successfully rendering myself incapable of dancing tonight.  Every cloud has a silver lining though, we ended up curling up to watch Singing in the Rain instead which I had forgotten how much I had loved.  So it looks like my week of bad luck hasn't run dry yet, let's hope tomorrow will be better!

                  I do like to digress, but back on topic, below are two recipes for mocha cupcakes and shortbread.  I missed my friend's birthday over the month of July due to caring for my mum so I made him a very belated mocha cupcake and mini duckie shortbread instead.  The Shortbread recipe was based on a Delia Smith Recipe which can be found on her website - I just replaced the cornmeal with rice flour as I found cornmeal weirdly chewy the last time I used it.  I love all kinds of shortbread but my favourite are the thin and crispy ones which make me feel more saintly until I realise I have just eaten the whole batch.  The mocha cupcakes I kind of made up on the spot using basic cupcake knowledge.  I wanted to use coffee, so increased the flour to 125g from 100g, but added the standard 25g cocoa.  I used about 2 Tablespoons of hot coffee in the end, so wasn't quite sure how they were going to turn out!  After a 15 minute wait of suspense, the cupcakes came out wonderfully moist and soft.  I really recommend them if you're a coffee lover. With that I leave you and hopefully I'll make it to update again soon still in one piece!

                  Mocha-Choca Cupcakes
                  (Makes 16-18)

                  • 100g Margarine
                  • 125g Self-raising flour
                  • 25g Cocoa
                  • 2Tbsp Very Strong coffee
                     - I made mine with 3tsp coffee granules in 4Tbsp hot water
                  • 2 Eggs
                  • 45g Dark eating chocolate 
                  • 15g Butter
                  • 80g Icing sugar
                  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy
                  2. Gradually whisk in the eggs
                  3. Carefully and gradually whisk in the coffee - don't worry if it curdles a bit - just add some flour
                  4. Mix together the flour and cocoa, then fold into the mixture until just incorporated
                  5. Spoon teaspoon mixtures into cupcake cases until 3/4 full
                  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed.
                  7. Leave to cool and make the chocolate icing
                  8. Melt the butter and chocolate together over a double boiler or carefully in the microwave.
                  9. Stir in the icing sugar and add enough coffee (preferably hot) to make the icing either spreadable or piping consistency.
                  10. Pipe or spread onto the cool cakes and leave to set.  Before it sets, I added some white chocolate stars to the frosting.   
                  NB: With the chocolate icing, I only made enough for about nine of my cakes as I: i) prefer some un-iced and ii) only wanted to ice a few for my friend's birthday presentation.  Just double the recipe (chocolate, icing and butter) to cover all the cakes.  If you are spreading, you'll probably have enough with just the half recipe.  I use cheap dark chocolate for this as I still get a glossy frosting and the sugar content works better than expensive dark chocolate which tend to be more bitter.

                  Shortbread Thins
                  (Makes about 2 trays worth)

                  • 40g Rice Flour
                  • 75g Plain Flour
                  • 40g Caster sugar
                  • 75g Margarine or Butter
                      - I used half of margarine and butter
                  1. Pre-heat Oven to gas mark 2/150C/300F
                  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light
                  3. Add the flour and rice flour, mixing to form crumbs.  Push the mixture together with the wooden spoon or your hands until it resembles a crumbly ball of dough.  
                  4. Roll out thinly - about 3mm and cut out shapes with a cutter
                  5. Place on a non-stick/greased baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until just golden.

                  Monday, 16 August 2010

                  A Lazy Sunday

                  The Girls came over from London and Southampton on Saturday, which turned out to be a stormy day filled with torrential rain.  Nonetheless, we had amples of fun buying an ambitious amount of alcohol and mixtures and slogging home in the downpour.  It was lovely catching up with them, as I have not seen some of them for over a year - another scary indication of how fast time flies.  Originally we were planning on a cocktail session at home, then a leisurely mini pub-crawl.  One pub later and we were back in the house sipping hot chocolate and ready for bed!  How the times have changed and I really am beginning to feel old! Luckily for me, I was not the first to cave so the "host" can not be blamed for the end of the "party"...

                  My messy worktop

                  A morning chat, some rustling and mini activity of packing later and I hugged The Girls goodbye.  The end of one event and another unexpectedly appears.  One machine wash load later and I found myself entertaining The Anthropologist and Pixie Boy.  Originally I was supposed to have met up with people from Ceroc in University Parks for a picnic.  Needless to say, by the time I had finished two wash loads, made a batch of coconut cupcakes and for Mini to come over, it was hardly worth the hour and half trek to the picnic.  Sabotage was in order, so a quick text later and we were off to our own picnic in the park down the road... which I must say I approved of much more.  I am all for energy conservation and a walk longer than an hour just seemed unnecessary on a Sunday afternoon.  Another friend met us up in the Park, contributing Jaffa cakes and giant chocolate buttons and we were set to enjoy a beautiful afternoon which turned into an equally stunning evening.

                  Raspberry-Filled Coconut Cupcakes
                  (Makes 10-12)

                  • 50g Butter
                  • 50g Self raising flour
                  • 50g Dessicated coconut
                  • 50g Caster sugar
                  • Raspberry Jam
                  • Icing Sugar to dust
                  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy
                  2. Gradually whisk in the egg
                  3. Whisk in the coconut
                  4. Fold the flour into the mixture until just incorporated
                  5. Spoon teaspoon mixtures into cupcake cases until 3/4 full
                  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed.
                  7. Leave to cool and make beat the jam in a bowl to soften
                  8. Cut a cone out of the centre of each cake, fill with jam and replace.
                  9. Dust the cakes with icing and enjoy!  
                  NB: I wanted to make a small batch of cupcakes for a small picnic and made these.  I wanted frosting but from experience knew it would be hard to transport so opted for a filling instead, which means if need be, the cupcakes can be stacked.  

                    Tuesday, 10 August 2010

                    Project Frugal: Day Nine

                    Yesterday's sunshine felt as if it never existed today, as it continued to drizzle down miserably all day.  Luckily for me though, I currently work from home so felt no need to stretch my legs outdoors.  Mooching around the house, I pondered what was considered a suitable lunch for such a day as today.  Looking into my shrinking fridge, I spotted sundried tomatoes in oil, leftover tinned tomatoes and some red peppers beginning to look a bit tired along with a wrinkly carrot - inspiring stuff I know.  When in doubt, my philosophy is to throw everything together in a pan and see what happens.  The result today was quite surprising as a vibrantly warm broth came out making up for the lack of sun and blue skies outside.  I used the oil from the sundried tomatoes jar as I have always been slightly at a loss as to what one does with all that oil, be it in a jar preserving various peppers and tomatoes or in tinned sardines or tuna.  I've always heard that pouring the stuff down drains is a bad idea, and emulsification via washing up liquid is just faff I did not want to handle today.  What can I say? It's wet and not too warm, I feel justified in just curling up and doing as little as possible until the sun decides to come out again.

                    Some work and much procrastination later, I dashed out to Cafe Noir to catch up with a friend, which turned out to be very enjoyable albeit slightly soggy - the rain of course had decided it quite liked pouring down at a slanted sheet, all the better to drench people with!  Arriving on scene, shaking out pools of water I trudged into the room feeling slightly ruffled; luckily it was nothing a hot chocolate and good company could not fix and soon enough the rain outside got bored and went away, finally letting the sun out to play.  Some time later, we left the cafe to a beautiful evening with everything glittering to make up for a muggy day.  On my way home I spotted a elderberry alongside more ripe and luscious blackberries, so to date, my roadside now sports: blackberries, elderberries and plums.  Exciting times! I finished the evening with the broth I made this afternoon, thickened with some soup pasta and sardines and crackers.

                    Running costs so far is about £15 over 9 days but that did include a cheeky bottle of Martini.  I completely follow Nigella's thought train though: vermouth keeps whereas white wine doesn't so actually it is an investment...

                    Sunshine on a Rainy Day Broth
                    (Serves 1)

                    • 1 Carrot, sliced
                    • 1 Small Red pepper, diced
                    • 1 Garlic clove, minced
                    • 1 Stick Celery, sliced
                    • 3-4 Sundried tomatoes, chopped
                    • 1/4 Tbsp oil
                       -i.e. from jar of sundried tomatoes
                    • 2 plum tomatoes/1/4 Tinned tomatoes
                    • 400ml Water
                    • Cheddar cheese to garnish
                    1. Cover the base of a small pan generously with oil and heat gently.  Add the carrots, celery and garlic, stir to coat then cover and gently cook for 5-10 minutes.  
                    2. Add the peppers and sundried tomatoes, fry for another 2 minutes then add the tinned tomatoes and water.  Beat the tomatoes to break up then bring the whole lot to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the carrots are tender.
                    3. Spoon into a bowl/cup and sprinkle with grated cheese and serve with crackers or bread.
                    Variation: Add a handful of small pasta towards the last 10 minutes to thicken the broth.  I did this when I was reheating the left-overs then stirred in a tin of sardines before serving to make an evening meal.  If adding pasta, add more water to compensate.

                    Monday, 9 August 2010

                    A Weekend in Bridgwater

                    Vegan cupcake with raspberry butter cream frosting
                    Last weekend I visited Designer in her home town near Bristol.  The train journey up was surprisingly smooth, but alas I can not say the same about the journey back due to a mix of badly labelled and positioned trains and confusion over stations, which led to mad bolting towards unknown platforms and hopping on random trains.  I know. Mad. Returning to Oxford only half an hour later than expected though was acceptable to me and overall the weekend was a wonderfully packed one full of baking, eating, baking, drinking, baking, make-over, films and fruit picking.  Did I mention baking?  What more can one ask for?

                    Beetroot Risotto with crème Fraîche and dill
                    Arriving late Friday evening, we settled down to a beautiful beetroot risotto made by Designer, which was a stunning characteristic blush red.  Washing it all down with a small glass of Rhône, I can happily concede the weekend had well and truly started.  We had a lazy start the next day, watching Saturday morning cook shows on the TV whilst it showered in the grey outdoors.  I had to admit I was hoping for a sunny day - but I speak too soon.  As we were leaving to go find a Pick Your Own (PYO) Farm, the sun blazed out and burned the remaining clouds away, leaving us to a beautifully bright and mild day with a playful wind teasing us.  After getting slightly lost down a maze of brambles-lined country road, a friendly local redirected us to the PYO, which turned out to be closing the very next day due to reaching the end of their season.  Determined, we trundled down the extensive farm looking for raspberries and gooseberries and found both.  A fun, albeit slightly prickly session later, we left with a punnet of white and black gooseberries and sinfully sweet raspberries, basking in the sun with a farm-made ice cream.  A short drive later and we found ourselves walking down beside the locks, gazing at the canals, blackberry bushes and sloe berries.  It was too early to pick anything yet so no foraging, but the delicate purple blackberry flowers were a delight to look at nonetheless.  We enjoyed the last of the sun for the day sitting outdoors enjoying a traditional cream tea whilst watching a wasp trying to engulf a jam splodge.  Quite amusing really!  Supper that night was a lovely simple dish of smoked salmon, prawns and lemon spaghetti dish in a crème Fraîche sauce, this time accompanied by a Rose Pinot Grigio.

                    PYO Farm showing raspberries and black gooseberries
                    As evening approached, we perused gingerbread recipes and finally alighted onto one found the in the Hummingbird Bakery Book.  Instead of using the specified list of spices though, we substituted the equivalent amount in gingerbread mix, lovingly made up by Designer's mum.  The smell was divine, and we hadn't even baked them yet.  Patiently we tucked the dough into the fridge to allow the flavours to develop over-night as we turned to making grilled pepper salsa which tasted heavenly with toasted pitta strips and tortilla chips, which we happily munched with Pinot Grigio and watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  Tonight was finished with a rich chocolate mousse hiding brandy-soaked black cherries in the bottom, with delicate almond macaroons we made earlier along with the mousse.

                     Cream Tea by the Locks

                    Sunday morning was a relaxed affair, once again watching addictive cookery shows and sipping tea.  Eventually we naturally migrated to the kitchen to start some much anticipated baking.  Upon commenting on the sadly steep continual rise on dairy products, especially butter, we settled for vegan chocolate cupcakes adapted also from the Hummingbird bakery with the intent of decorating them in butter cream later.  The mixture resembled a stiff chocolate paste, resembling more brownie than chocolate cupcake, but in the oven it went with the two of us each believing it would not rise due to how heavy it looked.  In the meantime though, we had fun rolling out the gingerbread dough and making little boys and girls.  A check on the cupcakes and to our delight, the mixture had ballooned and we had cute round cupcakes waiting to come out, trading their oven space with the gingerbread people.  We watched part of Gigi, one of my all time favourite musicals before realising that time really wasn't on our side.  Off to the kitchen we ambled to get started on decorating.  A hilarious session later, we finally had icing the right consistency to pipe: white glace for the gingerbread people and a raspberry tinted butter cream for the cupcakes.  With the kitchen a tip, although filled with lovely aromas and baked treats, I realised I was about to miss my train if we didn't leave pronto.  A fast pack-up later (in which time, Designer had thoughtfully layered some gingerbread friends into a box for me) we were out the door speeding towards the station which mercifully was a short distance away.  With the arrival of the train, our weekend together came to an end, and we said our farewells.  I was about to embark on a complicated journey home, on a mission to reach my church service on time; Designer was headed back to her now "slightly" chaotic kitchen and I had gingerbread friends to keep me smiling all the way home.

                     Gingerbread Making Fun