Friday, 30 September 2011

Roulade Rouge- Baking that goes bump in the night

I'm not one to shy away from a baking challenge, but there are some past disasters so neatly scored into my mind that I have refused to try them since. When I was about 11 I made a beautiful swiss roll cake and then felt the bitter disappointment of a catastrophic roll-up. My creation was the frankenstein of rolls, more like a broken piece of sponge on top of a jagged one with jam oozing out. Distinctly un-Swiss. This may seem like a curious introduction to a recipe for Roulade but my point is that this recipe was not made by me but my mother. A roulade is beautiful meringue meets cake and becomes mouse-y when filled and rolled a few hours in advance. One of my favourite desserts and really stunning if you can roll it up! This mixture is ideal for rolling as it is light and fairly elastic. I've added Mary Berry's guide to rolling a roulade from The Great British Bake Off Book. Also bear in mind that shallow cracks are part of the aesthetic!

From Neven Maguire, Country Living

1 Tbsp sunflower oil
4 1/2 oz caster sugar
5 eggs separated
4 1/2 oz ground almonds
2oz flour
couple of drops of almond essence
10 1/2 fl oz cream
8oz raspberries, if frozen allow to thaw.

1. Heat the oven to 180 o C. Line a 33 x 23 cm swiss roll tin with non stick paper, coming up the sides too. Brush with sunflower oil.

2. Whisk the caster sugar and 5 egg yolks together until thick and mousse-like. Fold in the ground almonds, flour and the almond essence.

3. In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gently fold into the mixture. Turn into the prepared tin and smooth gently until even.

4. Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden and firm in the centre.

5. Remove from the oven and cover with a damp tea towel until cold- this will help with the rolling.

6. Turn out onto a sheet of non stick baking paper sprinkled generously with icing sugar. Spread the whipped cream leaving a border of about 2 cm on every side and scatter with raspberries.

7. To roll, place the roulade vertically, i.e. short side facing you. Place your thumbs underneath the short end until you have some of the roll to curl. Thumbs still underneath, hold the top of the roll with your fingers and tightly.

Mary Berry style-y
1. Leave to cool in the tin.

2. Lay a large piece of non-stick baking paper on the worktop and dust lightly with icing sugar. Turn the sponge onto the paper on the work surface with the tin foil facing up then carefully peel off the baking paper. Spread the cream leaving a clear edge. Using a sharp knife make a shallow cut on one of the short edges (there is no specific width but I would say around 2cm?).

3. Roll this edge over tightly to start. Use the sugar dusted paper to help continue the tight rolling by pulling it away from you as you roll. Finish with the join underneath, then lift the roulade onto a serving plate or board using a wide spatula.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Eco Friendly Kitsch Cook III- Cooking in Excess

Cooking in excess is environmentally friendly for a number of reasons. Firstly, you use only a little more energy cooking a large amount than a small amount. So it takes less energy to cook 10 chicken breasts one day than it would to cook 5 chicken breasts one day and 5 the next.  Secondly you are using less washing up liquid, water and energy cleaning because you are using only one set of utensils. Cooking in excess is also the perfect option for a lazy cook!  There is nothing more satisfying than coming in from work/study/the cold etc and pulling out a delicious dinner from the freezer. Fast food at its finest - homemade and healthy! 

Meals that freeze well
Meat in sauces freezes well- Curries, Bolognese, Stews, chilli con carne, lasange and Casseroles. 
Soups and sauces of all kinds. 
Uncooked Pastry and cookie dough, baked scones, bread (wrap carefully to avoid freezer burn), cakes.
Burgers, marinated meats, seafood, 
Grated ginger/chopped chilli/lemongrass. 

Meals that don't freeze well 
Most foods with dairy content, except butter, won't freeze well. Cream, custard, mayonnaise. 
Fruit and vegetables generally lose their shape and texture (although this can be fine if you are intending on stewing the fruit)
Foods containing gelatine. 
Rice, potatoes. 

Cuttings of meat and veg can also be stored in the fridge. Its probably best to use within a day or two. 

Tips for Successful Freezing
1. Defrost your freezer regularly so it will be at its most effective.

2. Freeze in small portions so that you can defrost only what you need.

3. A neat idea is to chop up meat, place on a baking sheet, spread out and freeze. When the cubes are frozen you can then throw them into a freezer bag. The cubes won't stick together and you can take out only what you need.  

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Love Cake

This cake is inspired by the 'Love Cake' song by Rocky and Balls (who also do a great "Murder, She Wrote Song", but my love of detective fiction is fodder for a whole other blog). The cake is mocha-flavoured from the 'Great British Bake Off' book. I used a heart shaped imprinted tin for a change. Not really the baking tin of choice for an impatient baker. I've used these before and they have never worked out. Bits of the cake always stick to the imprint leaving a craggy surface with half the cake stuck in the tin. I've figured out today that the secret is not only to grease the tin with margarine but to thoroughly cover the imprint with baking paper. This involves tracing and cutting out and carefully sticking the paper to the melted butter.

For the Cake
175g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
175g self raising flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 1/2 tbsp water
50 g chocolate grated or finely chopped

1. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and light. Lightly beat the eggs seperately and sieve the flour and baking powder into a clean bowl. Line 2 x 20.3cm baking tins.

2. Add the eggs a little at a time until all gone, adding a tbsp of the flour at a time to prevent the mixture curdling.

3. Fold in the remaining flour and the coffee gently.

5. Pour into the tins and bake for 15-18 minutes at 180o C or until a skewer comes out clean.

Frosting to sandwich the layers:
75g butter
200g icing sugar
40g dark chocolate melted
*1/2 tbsp milk

Cream the butter and icing sugar until the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the melted chocolate and the milk and beat until smooth.

*I find that the chocolate can give the icing a curdled texture so the little bit of milk brings the creamy texture.

I would have iced around the hearts but I just didn't have time so ignore the cracks!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Sugar Paste Flowers

I would consider myself quite a tomboy and not prone to 'girly' sentimentality but I cannot but swoon at anything remotely wedding-cake-like and these flowers fit the romantic bill. They add a touch of professional baker to any cake - they look so intricate and delicate. In fact they are quite easy to make if a bit fiddly. I tried to tackle them after my aqua aerobics on Thursday evening. I think the family were a little worried about my sanity as I almost fell asleep into a puddle of red food colouring but they do need two days to dry out so I had no time to lose!

1. Tint a small ball of ready-to-roll icing. It is easier to work with in smaller portions. To tint, use a cocktail stick to add strands of colour to the ready to roll icing in small portions. Add the colour slowly until you reach the desired colour. Knead the icing well after every addition to evenly distribute the icing. If the icing gets too sticky knead in some cornflour.

2. Roll out a sheet of clingfilm and pull off little balls of the icing and place on the film. Put another layer of clingfilm over the first and using your thumb, squash the balls until petal shape and quite thin.

3. Rub the first petal into a curl to make the centre of the rose. Gently mould the petal shapes around that centre curl, adding the outer layers slowly until you are happy with the size of the rose.

4. Allow to dry for 2 days until hard.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Cupcake Cookies

OK.... Maybe the title is a little bit misleading.... These are not some sort of Frankenstein hybrid cookie/cupcake but rather cookies in the shape of cupcakes. A baking supply store opened near me recently and in my excitement at all the wonderous possible shapes/glitters/lustres I bought (among other things) a cupcake shaped cutter. If you have patience and a sharp knife you could probably use a stencil to carve the cookies out in this shape, but nothing beats the finish of a cutter.

I'm not a big fan of the basic sugar cookies dough recipes, finding the biscuit not very tasty and quite hard (even though I added lime zest) so I would recommend using the shortbread recipe from my first post. It doesn't rise so you will get a cookie that can be easily iced. I used parchment/baking paper cones to pipe my icing as I think they give the best hold and you can have different ones for colours. They are also of course cheap to make and don't require cleaning out when you are done- one of my pet peeves!

Here are the pics.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Eco Friendly Kitsch Cook Post II

Each week I try to incorporate some eco-friendly ideas into my kitchen.

Since last week I have invested in a set of plastic containers from Aldi - success! Well.... I just have to remember to use them. But baby steps and all that.

This week I'm aiming to:

Cut down on using kitchen towel. According to Friends of the Earth, paper accounts for one quarter of household waste.
- Instead of reaching automatically for the kitchen paper when you spill a drop of milk, think about whether you really need to use kitchen paper. Can you use a washable cloth instead? In most cases you can. Perhaps you might need to use disposable paper towels if for example the spillage is really sticky or will make your work cloth smelly but these occasions are pretty rare.
- We are all over-inclined to grab a huge wad of paper to clean up a small spillage. Think about using one or two squares at a time. If out of habit you grab four or five squares to clean your hob, think about getting the most out of the paper by stashing it in a jar under the sink and using it for spillages where food-safety is not an issue, e.g. cleaning something off the floor.
- Cut up old and battered t-shirts and keep strips under the sink to use instead of kitchen paper.
- Buy kitchen paper that is made from recycled or bio-degradable paper.
- Use scrunched up newspaper instead to clean glass and mirrors- it works just as well as kitchen paper and doesn't leave lint residue.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Earl Grey Scones


The scone is a humble piece of work. It ranks somewhere between bread and a cupcake in my estimation and my favourite is warm sultana with a good blob of strawberry jam. I worked in Causey Farm  for three years and every day we served up fresh homemade scones, cream and jam to those coming from the farm. Never in all that time did I get sick of the smell of delicious scones baking nor could I resist one with a cup of tea. Some days the kitchen would literally make hundreds of scones - those ladies were professionals at rolling, kneading and cutting. Craving that lovely homely smell this morning I decided to make scones myself- but couldn't resist 'sexy-ing' them up a little bit! Next stop- Earl Grey Ice Cream!!

Recipe by Tim Anderson,

275g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
150g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
100g caster sugar
2 free range eggs, lightly beaten
60ml buttermilk
32g loose earl grey leaves (see note below)

Sift the flour into a bowl and add the pinch of salt. Add the cold butter and rub in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. I did this part with a food processor as it is faster and also keeps the butter cold, your fingers can melt the butter if you don't work fast. Add the caster sugar and loose leaves. Mix thoroughly.

Beat the eggs lightly and add the buttermilk. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the wet mix. Mix until a ball is formed.

Turn out on a floured surface and knead until smooth for about 2-3 minutes. There should be no cracks in the surface of the dough. Roll out to a thickness of 2cm/1 inch. Cut out scones with a 5cm cutter and space the scones out on a baking tray. Alternatively you could make balls and shape with your hands although you won't get such a nice finish. Brush the scones with milk to glaze.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown at 220o C. Turn after 10 minutes to ensure the scones are evenly golden.

Serve with jam, cream or butter and marmalade. Tim Anderson recommends serving with Amaretto clotted cream and blueberry jam.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Three Tiered Banoffi Cake

Who doesn't love banoffi? Well... maybe someone on a diet like Victoria Beckham.... but she hasn't had a piece of cake in 25 years so she's probably forgotten what it should taste like. Biscuit base with bananas, toffee and cream can do no wrong in my estimation and when I saw the recipe for Banana and Fudge Cake in "The Great British Bake Off" book I had to give it a go. Three tiers are quite time consuming. I only have two tins of equal size so I had to bake them, let the tin cool and bake the last cake, but I think it really adds a wow factor as well as allowing you to put loads of filling between the layers. Don't be hasty with the fudge filling. Make it and allow it to cool for about 2 hours or until the consistency of nutella. If it is too light it will flow down the sides of the cake and ruin the aesthetic. If you leave it too long and it is too hard to spread, pop in the microwave for 10 seconds only at a time. The fudge can go from hard to liquid mess so be patient.

For the cake
175g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
25g light brown muscovado sugar
3 free range eggs, beaten
175g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk

For the filling and topping 
175g light brown muscovado sugar
150g unsalted butter
75g double cream
2 ripe bananas, finely sliced

Line 3 x 20.5cm sandwich tins with non stick paper and grease the edges with melted butter. Put the softened butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add the eggs with a tbsp of flour, beating well after each addition until the eggs are used up. Sift the remaining flour into the bowl and mix with a large wooden spoon. Finally add the vanilla extract and milk and fold in.

Divide the mixture equally among the 3 prepared tins and spread evenly. Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden, rotating after 15 minutes. Test with a skewer. The skewer should be clean when pulled out of the cake.

Meanwhile make the fudge mixture. Put the butter, sugar and cream into a medium sized saucepan and set over a low heat. Stir frequently until the butter has melted. Turn the heat up to medium and simmer for 3 minutes, continuously stirring so the mixture doesn't catch and burn. Remove from the heat vigorously for 30 seconds. Pour into a clean bowl. Put in the fridge and allow to cool for about 2 hours or until spreadable. Spread one third of the fudge on each cake. Tier the cakes, sponge, fudge, bananas and top with the final sponge. Decorate with flake chocolate and cocoa. Store in an airtight container and eat within 4 days.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Stilton, Spinach and Potato Quiche

Stilton, Spinach and New Potato quiche as promised! I found Stilton in Aldi yesterday and was pleasantly surprised at how cheap it was. I've never had it before so decided to give it a go. The texture is lovely and creamy and although quite strong it doesn't suffer from that 'blue-mould' taste.

Overall I was a little underwhelmed by this quiche. The pastry adds walnuts but I really don't think they add much and a plain ole shortcrust would do just as well. The filling of potatoes, parmesean, eggs, cream and spinach doesn't pack any punch and if making again I would add double stilton to give the filling a bit of a boost. The taste was lovely and creamy but very subtle, the lemon rind being the biggest flavour. I served this with home made purple coleslaw but it overwhelmed the quiche and really should be accompanied by simply dressed lettuce leaves or home made chips.

For the pastry
200g plain flour, sifted
100g unsalted butter, chilled
good pinch of salt
50g walnuts, finely chopped to breadcrumb size
1 tsp paprika
2 large eggs

For the filling
250g spinach
7 small new potatoes, softly boiled
3 large eggs
250ml double cream
grated zest of half lemon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cayenne pepper
25g parmesan, freshly grated
small bunch of thyme springs stripped,
150g rindless Stilton, crumbled.

For the pastry
Combine the flour, butter and salt in a bowl and rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. I used a food processor for this. Beat one egg and mix in with the knife. then beat the other egg and add a teaspoon of it at a time until the mixture comes together. Gather the dough into a rough ball and wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. The trick with pastry is not to handle it too much and to keep the ingredients cold.

Line the base of a 23cm flan time with baking paper. Roll out the pastry between two sheets of clingfilm taking into account that you want the pastry to line the sides of the tin and also leave some pastry hanging over the edges (this is to prevent the pastry case shrinking in the oven). Chill the pastry case for 20 minutes, then trim generously.

Line the pastry case with non stick baking paper and baking/dried beans. Bake blind in a 180o C oven for 10 minutes. Take out of the oven, brush with left over beaten egg and put back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until golden.

For the Filling
Wash and drain the spinach. Cook for about 5 minutes at a rigorous boil until wilted. Squeez out all the excess moisture. Beat together the eggs, cream, lemon rind, cayenne pepper, half the thyme, black pepper and parmesan lightly. Add the spinach. Spread the potato slices over the base of the baked pastry case and crumble over the Stilton. Pour over most of the spinach/egg mix then place in the oven. When the case is in the oven top up with the end of the filling (this is a good trick to stop the filling spilling when transferring to the oven). Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the filling is the consistency of scrambled eggs with a bit of a wobble. I found the top of the quiche browning too quickly so I put a sheet of foil over after about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Great British Bake Off Book!

If you haven't heard of the Great British Bake Off I would describe it as X-factor meets Masterchef with a touch of the quaint Delia air about it. I would consider myself a pretty good amateur chef but I would be crying into my royal icing standing before the two judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. Boy do they know their stuff! After watching a few episodes I've decided I need to up my game and focus on perfecting some of the more technical elements of baking. This book is a really good mix of exciting new recipes (Chocolate, fennel and ginger tart) and back to basic recipes (the 'perfect' Victoria sponge) with good 'step by step' instructions. The book covers all elements of the show, cakes, desserts, biscuits, savoury pies and sweet tarts. Most of the recipes are original, many were featured in the show and so are presumably the finalist's own recipes. Call me a simpleton but I also love the nice glossy pictures. A cookery book is only as good as the last recipe you've made so I'm going to try Stilton, New Potato and Spinach quiche tonight and shall let y'all know how it works out! This is a book that you could imagine your grandmother having, covered in sticky fingerprints and dried-on cake mix.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Red Cooked Chicken

Warning! This does not photograph well!! In fact it looks.... brown and not so delicious. But it is! The chicken is 'red' because it is poached in a lovely soy sauce mix which tints the chicken. I served this with noodles but you could also serve it with boiled rice. I added some of the cooking liquid to the noodles which flavours them nicely. I also drained the liquid when the chicken was cooked, added water and then cornflour to thicken to a sauce. Dunno if that's exactly great food safety but nine hours later and I feel fine and I couldn't let all those lovely flavours go to waste!!

This would be perfect for a nice quick dinner. You could make the soy sauce mix and marinate in the fridge then come home from work, stick on the chicken and noodles and serve within 30 minutes.

For the poaching liquid
100ml dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
200ml dark soy sauce
1 star anise
3 garlic cloves roughly chopped
1 thumb sized piece of ginger
1 tbsp brown sugar or honey

4 chicken breasts/chicken thighs
Noodles to serve 4 as per packet instructions.

Mix together all the ingredients for the poaching liquid in a pan big enough to hold the chicken pieces in one layer. You will strain the liquid to make the sauce later so don't worry about big pieces of ginger and garlic, they will infuse the chicken as they cook.

Add the chicken and enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.

To cook the noodles, place in a pan and top with boiling water. Add 4 tbsp of the liquid from the chicken and boil until soft.

To make the sauce take another four tablespoons of the liquid from the chicken and place in a small pan under a medium heat. Because we used dark soy sauce the liquid at this time is very sharp. Add the 4 tbsp of water. Mix a tbsp of cornflour with a little cold water (approx 2 tbsp) until smooth. Cornflour goes very gloopy when water is first added, so mix rigorously until smooth. Add to the liquid constantly whisking until slightly thickened. If you do not whisk the sauce, the cornflour will go lumpy so keep whisking for about 5 minutes.

Serve by draining the noodles and the chicken. Spoon over the sauce and top with fresh coriander for a bit of colour.

Earl Grey Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting

Mr Spud requested 'buns' (cluchie Irish speak for cupcake) but I couldn't bring myself to make plain old cupcakes without a bit of creative flair. I LOVE LOVE tea. I really cannot emphasize that enough. When I'm stressed I want tea. When I'm tired I want tea. When I'm eating anything sweet I want tea. When I come in from outside I need tea. You get the gist. Earl Grey Tea is like my ultimate posh cuppa. So when I saw this recipe on an amazing blog- I had to make it. Earl Grey is infused with bergamot oil which is citrusy and fragrant so I thought lemon frosting would really compliment it.

I only wish I had a good camera as these pictures don't really do the cupcake justice! My piping needs some work but here are pics of some of the best.

This recipe makes 12.

125ml milk
4 Earl Grey Teabags
110g butter
225g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 tsp almond essence
125g self raising flour
120g plain flour

75g butter softened
200g icing sugar
2tbsp milk
rind of 1 lemon finely grated.

For the cupcakes
1. Bring the milk to the boil in a saucepan or the microwave. Add the tea bags, mix and allow to infuse for 30 minutes. Squeez out the teabags when infused and discard the teabags.
2. Beat the sugar and butter together for about 5-6 minutes as there is quite a lot of sugar in this recipe. The mix should be light yellow and creamy.
3. Beat the eggs lightly in a mug and add the almond essence.
4. Add the eggs a little at a time, each time you add egg throw in 2 tbsps of flour.
5. Add a third of the milk with a third of the rest of the flour. Continue until all the flour and milk is gone.
6. Fill up the bun cases until 1/3 full.
7. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 180o C.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing.

For the icing
1. Beat the icing sugar and butter together until the mix starts to come together as crumbs. Add the milk slowly and beat for 2-3 minutes until creamy.
2. Frost the cakes adding desired decorations.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Eco Friendly Kitch Cook.

I really like the idea of running an eco-and-ethically friendly kitchen. I recently picked up Richard Erhlich's book 'The Green Kitchen' and was pleasantly surpised at many of his ideas which are very practical. AS constientious as I am I don't intend on growing dreadlocks and eating locusts for dinner. So I thought I might have a weekly post on a few easy tips for a greener kitchen. Really its a matter of minor inconvenience and altering your routine. I'm going to try to master two changes every week and slowly make them part of my kitchen behaviour.

Two changes to make this week
1. Buy a good set of plastic boxes and use them for things you might otherwise store in squares of clingfilm or aluminium foil. Make sure you buy boxes that are airtight so you will maintain the freshness of using clingfilm or foil. Use the boxes for everything from freezing excess (more on excess cooking another time), to refrigerating scraps (for example if you cut up too much veg for a stir fry they will keep for up to a week in the fridge). Smaller boxes are probably better so you won't have to wrap things in clingfilm to separate them, e.g. put a sandwich and a piece of cake in two small boxes rather than one.

2. I think the poor kettle in our house never gets a break. According to the Energy Saving Trust (Ehrlich) 'If everyone boiled only the water they needed... we could save enough electricity in a year to power the UK's street lights for seven months.' Hmmh.... brings back guiltily the time you filled the kettle to the brim for that one cuppa 'just incase'. Ehrlich suggets using a cup to measure your water (with a little over to bring the water above minimum, no explosions please) and using the surplus of the kettle to wash or clean. He also points out that if you put the kettle on and leave the room (e.g. to see what's on the TV - guilty as charged) you will have to re-boil it when you come back in, thus using excess energy.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Craggy Raisin Oaty Biscuits

I couldn't sit down to the biscuit episode of The Great British Bake Off without having made biscuits. In my defence I never claimed to have anything but a pathetic life with a few sad little pleasures! These were easy to knock up and have an almost-wholesome feel about them. To stop the raisins burning on the outside due to high sugar content, push them into the mix when laying out the cookies.

Great with a cup of tea!

1 1/2 cups porridge oats
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp plain flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
113g butter
1/2 light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup raisins

1. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy and light brown. Beat the egg lightly in a separate cup with the vanilla extract.

2. Add about a quarter of the beaten egg mixture at a time with a big tbsp of plain flour to stop the mixture curdling.

3. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a clean bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the sugar, butter and egg mix and gently mix together to form a pretty dry dough. You should be able to shape this into balls with your hands.

4. Place on baking sheets in balls, flatten slightly and bake for 10-12 minutes in a 180c fan oven.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Donal Skehan- Kitchen Hero

I've been reading Donal's blog since.... Easter 2010 I think and I've gotten so many great recipes off it. There is a great mix- from the very adventurous (suishi and dim sum) which are fun to try, to reliable family staples (Swedish cinnamon buns). I was delighted to get Kitchen Hero as a present off my cousin and would highly recommend it. In the same vein as the blog it has a great variety of recipes and highlights include the nasi goreng, the whoopie pies and the vodka penne pasta.

His TV show is back tonight after a brief hiatus and is the Foodie TV highlight of the week!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Sweet Potato, Apple and Ginger Soup

You could probably live solely on soup (not that I'm recommending it as a diet!) and it really is so simple. Soup= what veg you have in the cupboard plus stock. I've heard people say that when they make soup it either ends up the consistency of baby-food or a watery mess and unfortunately there is no exact science. After the first 500ml or so I usually add the stock slowly, letting the veg cook until I get that nice consistency that slowly runs off the spoon.

This soup was a bit of an experiment and I think it worked nicely. Sweet potatoes are quite widely available now and recent bouts of roasting them a la Donal Skehan in his new book 'Kitchen Hero' inspired me to try them in soup. I used a cooking apple, rather than an eating apple as I thought the soup could end up overly sweet. The ginger adds a nice kick.

1 onion
3 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cooking apple, peeled and diced
2 tbsp of chopped raw ginger
approx 700ml veg stock
ground black pepper
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped

Fry the onion over a low heat until soft but not coloured. Add the apple and sweet potato and fry for about 5-6 minutes until soft on the outside but still hard on the inside. Finally add the ginger and thyme and fry for 3 minutes.

Add the stock, 500ml first and let the veg simmer until soft through and the apple has disintegrated slightly. I think its a good idea to let the soup cool now, then blend until smooth. The soup will be quite thick now so add the remaining water gradually until you are happy with the consistency.

Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve with crusty bread.

Strawberry Shortcake with Creme Patisserie and Balsamic Syrup

There is something about dessert that makes or breaks a meal for me. I used to love those sticky, gooey, chocolately creations like fudge cake or warm brownies but I'm moving towards a lighter end to the meal in my old age. For my parents (let's call them Mr and Mrs Spud) Thirtieth Wedding Anniversary I decided to adapt this recipe from Neven Maguire 'Home Chef' and was really pleased with the end result. They look really pretty stacked and dusted with icing sugar and make the best of summer strawberries while they are still in season. There really is nothing to dislike about crumbly shortbread, smooth creme patissiere and sweet strawberries! The only tricky part of this recipe is making the creme patissiere as the eggs can scramble if you don't keep beating rigorously when you put the mixture back on the heat, but with patience and a hand-held electric beater you won't go wrong. If in doubt, keep beating!!

The shortbread will keep in an airtight tin for up to 24 hours and the creme pattisiere can be kept in the fridge for up to a week so this is the perfect dessert to make in advance. 

For the Shortbread 
150g butter, diced at room temp
75g icing sugar, plus extra to decorate
150g plain flour
75g cornflour
pink of salt 

For the creme patissiere 
150ml milk 
seeds scraped from half vanilla pod
2 egg yolks 
25g caster sugar 
1 tbsp plain flour 

For the balsamic syrup (optional)
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
seeds scraped from half vanilla pod

To assemble 
275g strawberries (or raspberries)

1. To make the shortbread discs, place the butter in a bowl and sift over the flour, cornflour and icing sugar on top. Add the pinch of salt and about 2 tbsp of cold water. Using a hand held electric beater beat the ingredients together until a soft dough is formed. An extra tbsp of cold water may be required but only if the mixture is still very crumbly and won't form a ball. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave the shortbread to rest for at least an hour in the fridge. 

2. After such time roll the shortbread out on a HEAVILY floured work surface. Go gently as the dough is fairly soft and will break if treated too harshly. Cut out discs using a 7.5cm round cutter. Ideally you should leave the discs to rest for about a half hour to stop them shrinking when they are put in the oven. 

3. When rested, cook the shortbread in a 180c oven for 8-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool completely. 

4. For the creme patissiere place the egg yolks, caster sugar and flour in a bowl and beat with the electric beater for about 3-4 mins or until the mixture holds the trail of the beaters loosely and is a lighter yellow colour. Heat the milk in a pan with the vanilla seeds. Gently bring to the boil. When bubbles form on the bottom of the pan take the milk off the heat and pour onto the egg mixture, beating with the electric whisk all the time. Transfer to a clean saucepan and cook over a low heat, beating continuously with the electric beaters. Don't stop beating until the mixture is as thick as heavy custard (like Bird's Custard out of the carton for example) and keep the heat low. This should take about five minutes but be patient and don't be tempted to crank the heat up or you'll be eating scrambled eggs!! 

5. Once the mixture is thick take off the heat and straight away place in a clean bowl and leave to cool in the fridge. I think I may have been too cautious when cooking my creme patissiere and should have left it on the heat a little longer to thicken. 

6. The balsamic syrup is a fancy extra and can be left out. Place the syrup in a saucepan with 2 tbsp of water and bring to the boil. Quickly reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes until you have achieved a rich caramel colour or the sugar has hardened. Carefully add the balsamic vinegar (the pan will splutter), 100ml of cold water and vanilla seeds. Simmer for 2-3 minutes and then take off the heat to cool. Once cooled the mixture will become syrupy. 

7. To assemble, chop the strawberries evenly. Place a disc of shortbread on the plate/bowl, top with a tbsp of creme pattisiere and a handful of chopped strawberries. Place another disc of shortbread over this and again top with a tbsp of creme pattisiere and a handful of chopped strawberries. Finish with a final shortbread disc so you have a three tiered shortbread tower. Drizzle over the balsamic syrup.