Sunday, 29 May 2011

For my Nanna, and her legendary Sunday Lunch

What I love about food, about eating, are the memories we get from it. I'm sat watching Formula 1 with hubs and all I can smell is my nanna's Sunday Roast; I can small the roast beef (always roast beef), the gravy that I've never been able to replicate, the perfect roast potatoes that my cousin and I used to call cheesy potatoes - they weren't of course, but somehow they used to taste that way. I remember, as we all took our seats, the once over I'd give mine and my cousins plates to make sure she didn't have more than me, my Uncle Clive pouring out the beer to make a shandy, and my cousin and I being able to have the weakest shandy ever known, but we felt so grown up! The saxa salt and pepper on the table is the reason I always, without fail, have to have white pepper shaken over my mashed potatoes. And the sound of the cars on the TV, it seemed like every weekend but of course it wasn't, as clear in my memory as it is in my living room.

Lunch was served at 2pm, without fail. My cousin Jane always mashed the potatoes, Uncle Clive always had the end of the meat but of course, my nanna always, always had the final say on who got what and when. Sunday Roast ran like clockwork,

Fast forward 10, 12 years. My wonderful, warm nanna who made the best Sunday Lunch was all of a sudden at my childhood home on a Sunday, being cooked for by my mum and dad after a fall in the kitchen, which soon led to dementia which soon led to her passing away. It was at this point I began to realise how good my mum's Sunday Roast was. Was it because the torch had been passed, almost, as she cooked for my dad's mum? Was it because my mum, like me, the black sheep of the family, took it upon herself to look after my nanna the way my nanna looked after us, by getting the family together and feeding us our Sunday Lunch? Or was it always that good but I never knew, so certain I was that my nanna was the best?

I don't know, but as I listen to the cars whizzing around the track in Monaco, I'm sat with a lump in my throat as I think of my nanna and her legendary Sunday lunches, looking back at the eight year old me and the cousins I no longer know, smelling the mashed potatoes, roast beef and gravy all covered with pepper. So I'm off now to make roast beef and yorkshire puddings, and I can because I watched my nanna in her pinny working her magic and learnt from her. This lunch is for my nanna. We miss you x

Hangover Savior - Bacon Cheesy Bread

Reliving their youth in Sankeys
Champagne boys!?
I'm married to a 34 year old man desperate to re-live his youth, as are the four other friends he went out with in Manchester last night in search of their teenage years. Off to Sankey's they trundled, having had to check the dress code on the website before - none of them had been since their late teens and they realised that shell suits and glo-sticks are out, but didn't know what was in. (They actually asked for a glo-stick at the bar and got blank stares in return.  How I laughed).

So, feeling sorry for myself as I was meant to be in Berlin this weekend, I decided to be a good wife and make something yummy for when he got home, feeling middle aged and mourning his mis-spent youth. Having raided the cupboads and realising they were bare, I couldn't quite bring myself to go to the shops.

There was bacon, but it was streaky; If I tried to feed him a bacon sarnie with streaky bacon, I may as well have given him a fruit salad for his mid-night munchies. But maybe that'd have to do? Ah, no bread. Shall I make some?

Lightbulb moment - Bacon Cheesy bread! It doesn't need yeast, it's more like a cake in that way, so no need to let it rise which was a good thing - with Col being out and me feeling sorry for myself, I'd managed to sink a bottle of wine whilst watching SATC, so I couldn't guarantee not passing out before the oven timer pinged.

Anyway, I knew hubs would love, love, love me for freshly baked bread when he came home, warm with melty cheese inside, salty with bacon, stodgy to soak up the vodka (alas, they may want to relive their youth, but none of them can handle the lager of the '90's any more.  In fact, they started with champagne - would you have ordered that at 18, lads?).  It doesn't take long to make and no kneading necessary - perfect for a Saturday night.

I was wrong. As he stumbled through the front door, talking to the cats and doing elephant tiptoes up the stairs, I whiffed that distinct tangy, scraped-up-off-the-floor, garlicky-in-a-bad-way, only-attractive-when-you're-drunk kebab smell.

My husband. Had brought home. A Kebab. It was worse than if he'd brought home a random woman.  Ish.

Even worse, he slopped it into a bowl and brought it to bed. To bed! The only time I've had a kebab in bed was with my fab friend Lou at uni, drunk on Morrinov vodka (that is (was?) Morrison's own brand Vodka, for those of you not in the vodka conoiseur arena). For the record, Lou was the ultimate kebab monster. She used to eat half walking home and save the rest for the next morning . Even Lou has grown out of Kebabs now. I was never a kebab girl. Chips and gravy? Every Friday night. But never kebab. So for my husband to bring a kebab home when I hadn't had one in my home for nearly ten years was bad. The fact that he'd rejected my bread? Grounds for divorce.

So, he passed out at 4am. I lay awake for hours, eventually falling asleep to the smell of kebab, the sound of bird song and drunken snoring.

But it turns out that Bacon Cheesy Bread is the ultimate hangover cure, given that he gobbled 5 slices with a cup of tea only 6 hours after kebab-gate.

So if you want to know 'How To Feed A Man' (that was for you, Sarah at Maison Cupcake), make this bread to cure a hangover; a vodka hangover and a hangover from your youth. This bread is the new, middle aged man's kebab. No Glo-sticks necessary.

*I remember reading this recipe somewhere. I don't remember where. I searched for it and ending up based this recipe on one I saw on the back of a flour packet some years ago. So if this is something to do with you, I'm sorry I've not give you any credit!

Bacon and Cheesy Bread

  • 150g smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 320g plain flour
  • 3 tbsp Baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 100g grated cheese (I used vintage Cheshire Cheese)
  • 200ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

1. Pre-heat your over to 180 and line a loaf tin with baking paper.

2.  Cook the bacon until crispy and leave to cool

3. Sieve the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl, add the bacon and cheese and mix together.

4. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, eggs, olive oil and mustard and add slowly to the dry ingredients, stirring all the time until combined to make a batter.

5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes.  Remove from the tin and bake for a further 15 minutes to crisp up the bottom. 

6. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Hubs munched this with butter, but for me, you could do a lot worse than dunking this in tomato soup.  Gorgeous.


Friday, 27 May 2011

Ben Vear's ice cream; It's got the 'Oooh!' Factor!

I’ve been really lucky to get my hands on the introduction and three delicious recipes from Ben Vear's forthcoming book, Make Your Own Organic Ice Cream: Using Home Grown and Local Produce. I’ve been thinking about buying an ice-cream maker for some time but haven’t yet bitten the bullet, so to see that you only need basic equipment and very good locally produced ingredients for this book, I couldn’t have been happier. Ben gives instructions for both ice-cream makers and churning by hand and whilst churning by hand isn’t the easy option, it’s the way his great-granddad used to do it – if it’s good enough for the man who started the business in 1925 that now churns 1 million litres of ice-cream a year, it’s good enough for me. The book is very clear in it's message - ice cream is not hard to make, is not time consuming and absolutely does not require all types of expensive and fanciful gadgets. And you should 100%, absolutely support your local community.

Living in Cheshire, abound with local produce and local business, buying local is something I really champion, going so far as to grow as much of my own as possible.  So Ben is a man after my own heart. “It's important to me to give back to the local community” Ben tells me. The family business started when Ben's great-grandfather foraged in the local hedgerows while his son's played golf on beautiful Rodborough Common. "He would pick fruit, herbs and vegetables, go home and make dinner for his sons after their round of golf from what he found. They would bring their friends, who would bring their friends and so on, creating the business - so community is important."  As a result, Winstones Ice cream use local wherever possible - local farmers, growers, packaging, even down to the labels and electricians they use.  However, with our tastes changing, there are some ingredients that can't be sourced in Gloucestershire - vanilla and mixed spice being good examples, but the business ensures they source responsibility at all times.

Ben is a busy boy; as well as writing his book, due for release in October, he manages marketing and communications for the business, whilst studying for an Economics degree at university. I wondered where he found the time and energy, and it became clear that his passion for food, family and community drives Ben, having left a high flying City career to go to university and to write his book. All of Ben's free time is spent with food;  making ice cream, pastries, jams, marmalade, recreating his grandfathers recipes, a modern take on old family classics. And this modern take is reflected in the book, where we can expect what are sure to become modern favourites; olive oil ice cream, cracked black pepper ice cream; not meant to be served in a cone with a flake, but as part of a wider gastronomical experience.

Home-made marmalade,
next seen disguised as ice-cream

And so to the book. The recipes I’ve seen in this book so far look so delicious that I just had to try a couple. Anything that says ‘serve with lashings of cream and fruit’ gets my vote, so Winstones Chocolate Ice Cream was in my good books from the off.  I must confess that, due to the lack of ice-cream maker, I’ve never made ice-cream before but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. I made some marmalade (thick-cut, naturally - who has the patience!) earlier in the year for my husband; it’s one of his favourite things, spread (too thickly, in my opinion) on toast. The delightful introduction to the Marmalade Ice Cream recipe informed me that it’s also Ben’s dads favourite. That, and the fact that marmalade is taking over my fridge, made this the first recipe I tried.

To stay true to the books ethos, I dug deep and bought local and organic cream and milk, and set to it with my home-made marmalade. The recipe, clear, concise and easy to follow, turned out a soft, smooth, tangy, creamy dessert even when doing it by hand. 

Marmalade ice-cream

I then turned the page to find Mixed Spice Ice Cream. I really didn’t like the sound of that, so what better reason to give it a go! So, I retrieved my whisk, created more space in my freezer and nipped to snatch some fresh eggs from under my friends hens bottoms (oooh, still warm).

Mixed Spice ice-cream

And another successful, easy to follow recipe delivered a heady spice mix, cool on the tongue, but strangely warming at the same time. I’m so pleased I tried this recipe, my husband loved it - 'mmm, aaah, oooh it's so good', were the sounds of our house tonight (and sadly, they were nothing to do with me!) He even said he 'didn't think home-made ice cream could be that good.  Seriously'. Needless to say, he, and I were impressed.  Ben suggests serving this with Mulled Wine, conjuring thoughts of winters by the fire with a huge slice of apple or pecan pie served with a dollop of this oddly warming ice-cream melting over the top. Odd, how a bowl of ice-cream has made me wish the summer away, dreaming of winter when I can get my hands on this book and eat ice cream in front of the fire.

Confused (by wanting ice-cream in winter and the noises emitted by my husband)? A little. 

Delighted? Definitely.

Huge thanks to Ben for allowing me a sneak preview of his book and recipes, and for taking some time to speak to me. You can pre-order his book here and keep up with Ben at his Blog here

Monday, 23 May 2011

Bea's Bangers - Making my own Sausages

Ellen trying to lick Nutella off her
nose - see what I have to put up with!?
"Now, he will push his meat into the chamber, while you, Dear, can handle his sausage."

This was said by the lovely lady from Design a Sausage at Tatton Park Foodies Festival this weekend as I stood on stage with a random man, thanks to my 'friend' Ellen pushing me up to help make sausages. I truly believe the sausage woman didn't realise what she was saying, but the audience certainly engaged in a game of Innuendo Bingo (Ellen definitely did - nearly doubled over laughing)! And I fear this experience is going to start a sausage obsession at home (not the innuendo experience you understand, the sausage making one). I'll be filling my dried cow's hide casings with combinations of herbs, spices, meats and breadcrumbs, knowing exactly what's going in them and how much of it is actual meat.

You can buy really good sausages out there but they ain't cheap. The cheap ones are full of what can only be described as crap (sorry). I learnt at the fair that you need to have a base mix (rusk or breadcrumbs) and  a stabiliser so the sausage doesnt turn into mince meat when you cut it open, and it stays sausage like.  

Design a Sausage Kit Contents

Taking this at face value, I invested in a sausage making kit from Design a Sausage to get me going. Having got it home and had a good look at it, I wished I hadn't bothered. It included 30cm of sausage casing (useful), a filler bag (basically a piping bag - I have a ton of these already) and a ready mix for lincolnshire sausage, which involves stabilisers, rusk base and spices. Looking closer at the mix, I saw E numbers and chemicals that I didn't recognise listed in the ingredients. Mix thrown in the bin and spice cupboard raided. I have breadcrumbs in the freezer and the stabiliser? Well, after a little perusing on t'interweb, I found that if you mix the spices and meat until sticky, the myosin in the protein is released, making the end result stick together like a sausage should (and it worked). Ah-ha! But, my £7.95 was wasted.

So, I set about making my version of a lincolnshire pork sausage, a Cheadle Sausage, if you will. Having selected my spices and mixed my mix until sticky (the easy bit) I set to filling my casing (the not so easy bit).

I now realised that I need to invest in a fan-dangled sausage filler for the Kitchen Aid, but before I do, I need to see if this catches on or if it's yet another fad of mine.  So piping bag it is.  For now.

I filled my piping bag half full with sausage mix, wiggled the casing over the end and squeezed. The casing flew off the end of the bag and sausage mix squirted up the wall. I started again holding the casing in place as I squeezed the bag.. And I had a sausage! I squeezed and squeezed and then... it overflowed out of the top of the casing. So I sqeezed the sausage mix already in the casing further down to make room for more meat. And then the casing split. So I started again with new casing, before it squirted out of the top.  Again.  So I 
pushed the sausage mix down a little, carefully this time (live and learn), and re-instated the sqeezing.  As it came to the top, I stopped, pushed the meat down again, started squeezing again.  Split the casing... and so on   I carried on in this vain and ended up with three sausages of varying sizes. But they were sausages! So I twisted them and made seven glorious, squat, pink, fat sausages the same size as my first, to look like my mistakes were intentional.  Hurrah!

And the cost? Well, the organic pork mince was £2.99 (if you buy your meat and mince yourself it will be cheaper), spices, well I have those in so can you put a price on it? The casings are £4.95 for 18m strands, so pennies per sausage. In total, (not including my wasted £7.95 for the kit) these 90-ish% pork sausages were just over £3 for 7 (I'm sure I could eek out 8 next time).  Same as decent sausages in the supermarket.  

Would I make them again?  Yes, I would.  They were delicious, meaty, spicy, peppery (I love pepper), but most excitingly, I can develop flavours of my own.  I'm thinking fish sausages... lamb and cherry perhaps...  Now that is exciting.

And so, here you have it, my first go at my own sausages

Bea's Cheadle Bangers

  • 500g Pork Mince
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • Scant 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp Cornflour
  • 60g breadcrumbs
  • 100ml ice cold water
  • Sausage Casing (from Design a Sausage)

1. In a large bowl, mix the pork, herbs, spices and flour together with your hands until it is sticky.

2. Add the breadcrumbs and mix with your hands before adding the ice-water. Mix it all together and leave the mixture for a couple of minutes, for the breadcrumbs to hydrate.

The start of my first sausage.

3. Fill your sausage casing. Measure 1" up a disposable piping bag and chop the end off. Half fill the bag with the sausage mixture, and place the tip of the bag inside the casing. Do not un-ravel the casing (as above). Twist the top of the bag to stop the sausage meat escaping and squeeze. If the sausage meat stops moving into the casing, gently ease it down with your fingers being careful not to split the casing. Be careful not to over fill the sausages; if you do, they may burst in the oven.

4. Once all of the sausage meat is used up, twist into links and refrigerate for 24 hours.  Cook as you would with bought sausages (mine were baked at 180 for 30 minutes, served simply with lots and lots and lots of mash and onion gravy... what!? I'm Northern!)

Cooked Sausages!  I'm feeling very
pleased with myself right now

P.S.  A massive Thank You to John and Aimee for the tickets to the festival for my Birthday - see what you've started!? x

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Chocolate Chip and Candied Bacon Cookies... IT WORKS!

One of my favourite food blogs, How Sweet It Is, posted a recipe for Candied Bacon a few weeks ago, and more recently, Peanut Butter cookies with Candied Bacon. The author is crackers. I was intrigued.

On Friday night, I was bored, faffing on Amazon, and came across the Flavour Thesaurus and promptly ordered it (it's scary how easy it is to order from Amazon. It does, however, explain my groaning kitchen shelves). Being the impatient soul I am, I downloaded the sample to my kindle, which gives you the first few pages for free. I got into bed with my hot milk (I know, I know, I'm in my 20's, only just however, but I was tired and I'm getting ill. That's this weekends excuse anyway!) Included in these first few free pages was Chocolate and, low behold, there it was - Chocolate and Bacon. It was a sign, it had to be done.

Inspired by the crazy nature of How Sweet It Is (and not exactly a fan of peanut butter), I made the candied bacon and added it to my adapted Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe as a little Sunday afternoon experiment and taste test for hubby.

I'm in love.

I made the bacon, coated it in chocolate, and handed a piece to hubs as I couldn't keep my little secret any longer. Liquorice? he guessed... erm nope, guess again! I couldn't wait and let the cat out of the bag. He pulled a face then realised he was enjoying what he was eating before stating in an authoritarian way 'Oh yes, that works'.  Funny how the brain tells us what not to like when our taste buds tell us differently.

It's really important to use smoked bacon here; it really adds another dimension. What I love about this is the classic sweet and salty contrast that works so well - salted caramel anyone? You can't really recognise the bacon - you know there is something different but you can't put your finger on what. And the texture! The crunch of the bacon, the chewy cookie, the smooth chocolate combined creates a sensation for the senses.

Anyway, here it is. Thanks, How Sweet It Is, for the candied bacon and for planting the seed. This is a keeper.

Chocolate Chip and Candied Bacon Cookies

For the bacon
  • 6 slices smoked streaky bacon
  • 2.5 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 150g dark chocolate
For the cookies
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 150g brown sugar
  • 150g white granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla essence
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175g chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate)
Note, if you don't want to use the bacon, substitute with nuts of your choice, or just leave them out altogether. Also, add 1/2 tsp salt to the flour.

1. Pre heat your oven to 180, line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof paper and leave a third un-lined

Chocolate covered candied
 bacon - what's not to like!?
2. Mix together the 2.5 tbsp brown sugar and the cinnamon and coat your bacon slices.  Bake for 25 minutes, turning once half way through.  Leave to cool on kitchen paper and resist eating a piece (or make extra so you can munch while you wait).

3. Melt 150g dark chocolate in a bowl over barely simmering water, ensuring the water doesn't touch the bowl.  When melted, cover your bacon in the chocolate and place on greasproof paper to set.  If it's a warm day, place the covered bacon in the fridge to set whilst you make your cookie dough.

4. Cream the butter and sugars together in a mixer with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly in between.  Ad the vanilla and mix again until weel incorporated.

6. Mix the flour and salt together, add to the mixer and mix until combined.  Do not over mix.

7. Break your set chocolate covered bacon into smallish chunks (scissors make this job easier). Fold the chocolate bacon and chocolate drops into the dough.  If the dough is loose, leave in the fridge for 5 minutes to firm.

8. Using an ice-cream scoop, place balls of the mixture on the baking trays.  These are very large cookies and you will only get three per tray (the mixture makes 12).  Bake for 15 minutes.  The edges will be golden and the middle won't feel set.  Don't worry, they will firm up as they cool.  Once cool enough to handle, transfer to a wire rack.

You can either bake the remaining cookie dough or freeze for a later date.  I can only eat one of these bad boys at a time, so I scoop the rest of the mixture into balls, freeze on a tray and, when frozen, transfer to a freezer bag.  They can be baked from frozen but may take a few minutes more.


Saturday, 21 May 2011

Chocolate and Wine. Together. In a Bottle!

Chocolate and Wine are two of my favourite things, sometimes together, sometimes not, but always delicious and indulgent. So imagine my delight today when, at The Foodies Festival in Tatton Park, Cheshire I found Chocolate Wine. Together. In a Bottle. You did read that right.

'The Secret' Chocolate wine, created and bottled in Ramsbottom, Bury, is an English (no less) fortified wine infused with real chocolate essence. It's well knows that port works well with dark chocolate which, with a high percentage of cocoa solids, can help reduce some of the bitterness. Chocolate also adds an extra layer of silkiness to port and both of these traits shine through in this delightful tipple.

I probably should have taken the picture before
breaking into it... but I couldn't help myself.

In the glass, this wine is cherry red, not dark like an aged wine - it looks young and fruity. As you swirl the glass and hold it to your nose, the aroma is Green & Blacks Cherry Chocolate made into ice-cream form - wow, heaven. As you taste, the first sensation is velvet, followed by smooth chocolate, with a lasting cherry and strawberry note, all compliemnted but not overpowered by the wine itself. Perhaps this is due to the alcohol content - not shudder inducing 20-25% of port, but a nice wallowing 12% proof, making this warming, not burning.

I can imagine a glass of this in front of the fire at Christmas, but it wouldn't be out of place at the end of a meal for those not partial to cheese and port. In fact, I'm drinking this now at 4.15pm (it's a Saturday, don't judge me, and please don't tell anyone).

My only concern with this wine is it's shelf life of 6 months after purchase, and 1 month after opening. It's a real shame, but then again, I'm not sure this wine will make it that far. I have recipes planned!

You can buy a bottle of this wine from The Vineyard's Online Store, or in person from Ramsbottom in Bury. But whatever you do, buy a bottle soon, you won't regret it.

('The Secret' Chocolate Wine, £9.95 from The Vineyard Wine Shop)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Bea's Fruity take on Nigella's Anglo-Asian Lamb Salad

I'm pretty new to blogging, both reading and writing, and a week or two ago I came across Maison Cupcake, a lovely, warm, honest blog I'm now following. I saw the Blogging Event, Forever Nigella (click here for more details), and this month Belleau Kitchen chose the theme of 'Salad Days'.  I just had to take part for two reasons; I LOVE Nigella (who doesn't!?) and my garden is being taken over by lettuce and mint that needs eating!  

Me and Nigella at her signing.
Yes, she looks, and is, beautiful? Me? I look like an idiot, all excitable.
Picture was taken on my mobile by my mum, hence the quality!
I met Nigella, once upon a time, at a book signing for Nigella Express, so I chose a recipe from MY SIGNED COPY, (that I've tried so hard to keep pristene but is now covered in food - Nigella would be proud) that I've adapted to suit my taste, cupboard and garden.  Anglo-Asian Lamb Salad has lots of lovely greenery, perfect for my lettuce overflow and also allowed me to use the chilli's from my chilli plant. Instead of the lamb loin suggested by Nigella, I spoke to my butcher who had a lovely piece of leg fillet that looked so tasty, I brought that home with me and sliced it in the middle to make it a little thinner. 

To make the salad more summery, I added some blanched sugar snap peas (a favourite of Nigellas) and some fresh raspberries; I love fruit in a salad and the market didn't have my original choice of pomegranate, but now I'm rather pleased; the raspberries worked a treat. Finally, I played with the dressing, making it fresher by using lime instead of rice vinegar.  I didn't have any fish sauce, so used a tablespoon of soy sauce instead of the teaspoon Nigella uses.   

I was nervous about changing Nigellas recipe for this feature in case everyone hated it; perhaps it'd be too much change? But I have to say, I loved it; the raspberries made it really fresh and took some of the spice of the chilli away and the sugar snap peas gave it some crunch. GORGEOUS.

Bea's Fruity take on Nigella's Anglo-Asian Lamb Salad!

Not a great picture (the storm outside was
against me, light-wise!) but look at those colours!
For the Salad

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 lamb leg fillet, approx. 250g, about 1 inch thick (or slice a large fillet in two)
  • 2-3 large handfuls of mixed salad leaves
  • 3 x 15ml tablespoons chopped mint
  • 150g Sugar Snap Peas
  • 100g raspberries

For the dressing
  • 1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced

1. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and pan fry the lamb for 5 minutes on one side and two minutes on the other.  Remove from the pan and place the lamb on a piece of foil and make a loose parcel, allowing the meat to rest.  This will give you nice pink meat.

2. Whilst the meat is resting, boil the peas for 1 minute then drain and rinse in cold water.

3. In a large bowl, mix all the dressing ingredients.

4. Prepare your plates with the salad leaves.

5. Open the lamb parcel and add the juices from the meat to the dressing.  Slice the meat, toss it in the dressing and then place the lamb on top of the salad leaves. 

(Nigella's tip - if you want your lamb more well done, leave in the dressing for longer.  The acid in the dressing will cook the meat.  My dressing is very acidic with the lime juice and cooks it very quickly, hence why I cook the lamb for 6 minutes and Nigella cooks it for 7 and a half).

6. Top with sugar snap peas then drizzle with the remaining dressing.

7. Finally, scatter the raspberries over the salad.

You can find the original Nigella recipe here.


Time for a fridge clear out - Random Cheese Tart

I opened the fridge to have a root around for lunch. My Husband wandered in, took one look at me and said ‘phwoar!' (not in the good way) 'What’s that smell!?’. Delightful. ‘It’s the cheese!’ I insisted, ‘It’s starting to pong and there is so much of it!’ 

I love cheese, but I get very over-excited once I enter a cheese shop, it’s quite embarrassing. I always tend to buy more, so much more than I actually need and then it goes pongy, then furry before I can eat it all. I love the pongy nature of cheese, but it’s when it starts to pong out the fridge that, when I'm out, hubs goes in and chucks the lot away.

To stop this amount of crazy (and ridiculous waste) in my house I took action. I pulled out of the fridge:

A few wodges of cheese of varying types in various states
A few slices of ham going a bit curly at the edges and a couple of prosciutto
Half a jar of sundried tomatoes

After a further root around, I found some cream that was about to start to pong too – and not in the good way that cheese does.

So I came up with this cheese and ham tart. It’s a proper fridge clearer of a recipe (which is exactly what inspired this in the first place). The next time you buy cheese for a dinner party and only one person nibbles on the corner of the cheddar, try this baby for lunch the next day.

Random Cheese, Ham and Tomato Tart

  • 250g Plain Flour
  • 125g Cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp Cold water
  • 280 - 300ml double cream*
  • 2 eggs
  • 250g (roughly) of mixed cheeses
  • 4 slices of smoked ham 
  • 6-8 sun dried tomatoes
Please note - the eggs, ham and tomatoes are just a guide. If you have other hams, cheeses, fresh tomatoes, a bag of spinach etc, use these instead! For the cheeses, I used a herby boursin, a strong cheddar and edam. I'd have loved a blue but didn't have any in.

*300ml is ideal, but if you have less, that's fine, but try not to go lower than 280ml. If you do your filling will poke over the top cream mixture.

1. To make the pastry, tip the flour and butter into a food processor and blitz to fine breadcrumbs. Add most of the water, and blitz again until it forms a dough (do not over mix). Add a little more water if necessary. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, shape into a disk and leace to chill in the fridge, wrapped in clingfilm, for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 180.

3. When chilled, remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out on a floured surface until your pastry is about the thickness of a pound coin. Take an 8" loose bottom flan tin and lift your pastry into the tin. Immediately place the edges inside the tin and then edge and mould to the sides. The alternative is to place the pastry on top of the tin and push inside with your fingers. If you do it this way, you will stretch the pastry and it will shrink whilst cooking.

4. Line the base with a circle of baking paper and baking beans, and bake blind for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the beans and paper, and return to the over for another 10 minutes.

5. To make the filling, lightly beat the eggs and the cream. Tear or chop the cheeses into small-ish pieces (I do this by hand - if you have rough chunks of the harder cheeses you get pockets of gooey goodness when you bite through the tart) and tear the ham into lengths.

6. Throw the ham, cheese and sundried tomatoes into the tart case and pour over the egg and cream mix. Give it a shake to make sure the egg and cream are evenly distributed.

7. Bake for 40 minutes until set (but a little wobbly in the middle) and golden.


Monday, 16 May 2011

Sowing Sunday Week 8…. On a Monday Again!

Quite a short post this week given as all that's happened is my garden got drenched by the rain! The plants love it. I, on the other hand, do not. No pottering for me this week and you know what?  I've really missed it.  Just thinking about all the healthy plants and gorgeous food to come.

Things are looking very healthy (and smelling very.... fresh!) out there, and no plant bereavements this week - hurrah, an improvement on last at least.

My radishes began to take over and I was sick to the back teeth off nibbling on them just to get rid of them, and it was too cold for salad. But, I found a way to use my glut, enter Radish Top Soup with Tempura Radishes (click to see recipe).

All other veggies are shooting up, it won't be long before I have other types of gluts on my hands.

My courgettes are going ten to the dozen, with new flowers popping up and the bees swarming round.  I'm waiting for enough to get a courgette flower risotto going.  I've never tried them before so I'm getting impatient.

And the strawberries! I spotted my first British grown strawberries in the shop last week, and by the looks of things mine won't be far behind.  I feel an Eton Mess coming on....

As per usual, my herbs are growing crackers, it seems I can't use them fast enough, which is never a bad thing... I may have to get going on the old drying.

Until next week...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Schwarzwälder Kirchtorte – German Black Forest Cake in honour of Eurovision

I loved Eurovision last night. Husband and I laughed until we cried, until our bellies hurt, and how better to celebrate Dusseldorf hosting this event than a traditional German Cake.

Tess and I at one of the many Gluwein stands in Germany
One of my best friends, the lovely, gorgeous Tessa has lived in Dusseldorf for nearly three years and oh, I’ve missed her terribly. But I can’t say I haven’t loved my visits to this wonderful city that completely took me by surprise with it’s café culture and wonderful, wonderful people. I was going to visit for Eurovision but you should have seen the price of the flights! I could have bought a plane for that!

My favourite memory of my trips to Dusseldorf is visiting the Christmas markets, a magical day and evening full of snow, Gluwein, market stalls, Gluwein, singing Christmas songs, friendship, food and er, more Gluwein. We had a wonderful day, but we drank nearly 13 glasses of the stuff, purely to warm ourselves through you understand! Well, we were a little worse for wear, singing Christmas songs far too loudly (given we were two of the very few people that knew the words to the English songs) and we got chatting to some very, very nice German people, one of whom, Cathrin, has since become a good friend of Tessa’s (and who wouldn’t want to be a friend of Tessa’s?)

I asked Cathrin if she had a traditional German recipe I could try and her mum has been kind enough to give me her Schwarzwälder Kirchtorte recipe, a German Black Forest Cherry Cake for me to bake this weekend in honour of this fabulously fun event.  

I was so pleased when I saw this!  No only are cherries coming into season (I bought my first punnet yesterday) but this cake is the taste of childhood, when my Auntie Val used to defrost a Black Forest Gateaux just for me on special occasions. Oh how I loved it, the chocolate cake, cherries and gooey cream. Especially when it hadn’t quite defrosted enough and I got a cold cherry to bite through in the middle!

This version is so much better. I made mine with Cherry Brandy (the recipe says Kirsch, but to all intents and purposes it is the same thing). Don’t be put off by the length of the recipe. Whilst a little complicated, this cake is delicious, light, fluffy, alcohol soaked. Never will a Black Forest Gateaux find its way into my freezer again. 

This is so fabulous, I'm entering it into English Mum's Bake Off... wish me luck!

Thanks Cathrin’s mum – I owe you one.

Schwarzwälder Kirchtorte recipe, a German Black Forest Cherry Cake

(The recipe below is for 3x7” layers. I used the exact same recipe but did 2 x 8” layers in the picture) 

For the cake

  • 140g unsalted butter + 1 tbsp for greasing 
  • 6 eggs 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 200g caster sugar 
  • 65g self-raising flour + 2 tbsp for coating 
  • 40g cocoa 

For the Syrup
  • 150g sugar 
  • 250ml cold water 
  • 80ml kirsch or cherry brandy 

For the filling and topping
  • 500ml chilled double cream 
  • 50g icing sugar 
  • 60ml kirsch or cherry brandy 
  • 1 tin of cherries drained and rinsed 
  • Fresh sweet cherries with stems 
  • 100g Dark chocolate 

1. Preheat the oven to 180. With some greaseproof paper, lightly coat the bottoms and sides of three 7-inch round cake pans with the 1 tbsp of soft butter. Sprinkle the flour into each pan and tip them from side to side to coat, discarding any loose flour.

2. Clarify the remaining butter. In a small saucepan, melt the butter slowly over low heat without letting it brown. Let it rest for a minute off the heat, then skim off the foam. Spoon the clear butter into a bowl and set aside. Discard the milky solids at the bottom of the pan.
Cake batter after step 3
3. In an electric mixer, beat the eggs, vanilla and 1 cup of sugar together at high speed for at least 10 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and fluffy.

4. Sift the flour and cocoa together and add to the egg mixture a little at a time, folding it in gently with a rubber spatula. Finally, add the clarified butter 2 tablespoons at a time, being careful to not overmix. Gently pour the batter into the prepared cake pans dividing it evenly amongst the three.

5. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool in the pans for about 5 minutes. Then run a sharp knife around the edge of each cake and turn them out on racks to cool out completely.

6. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by placing the sugar and water in Combine sugar and water in small saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Boil briskly, uncovered, for 5 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. When the syrup is lukewarm stir in the kirsch or brandy.

7. Prick each cake in several places with a skewer. Sprinkle the layers evenly with the syrup and let them rest for at least 5 minutes.

8. Drain the tinned cherries and rinse in cold water. Dry completely with paper towels.

9. Whizz the cream until it thickens slightly and sift the icing sugar over the cream. Continue beating until the cream forms firm peaks then pour in kirsch or cherry branding in a thin stream, beating only until the liquid is absorbed.

10. Make the chocolate curls but running a vegetable peeler down the side of the bar of chocolate. 

11. Assemble the cake. Place one of the cakes in the center of a serving plate. With a spatula, spread the top with a 1/2-inch-thick layer of whipped cream and place the dried canned cherries over, leaving about 1/2 inch of cream free of cherries around the perimeter. Gently set a second layer on top of the cherries and spread it with 1/2 inch of whipped cream. Then set the third layer in place.  Spread the top and sides of the cake with the remaining cream.

12. With your fingers, gently press chocolate curls into the cream on the sides of the cake and arrange a few chocolate curls and fresh cherries on top.


For The Love of Fellow Foodies

I’m less than two months, eight (was 10 until Blogger miss-hap) blog followers and 190 Twitter followers into my Blogging Life and last night, in a typical female tantrum way as I watched Blue’s great start in the Eurovision song content fade to oblivion, I nearly deleted the whole thing and gave it up for a bad job.  I hadn’t been drinking (for once I hear you cry), I was just being self-centered and feeling utterly sorry for myself.

I’ve spent the last 8 years of my life, since leaving university, looking for my passion in life.  Food was always there as a passion, it wakes me up, cheers me up and gets my creativity flowing, but it wasn’t until I decided to put pen to paper, inspired by a decidedly retro pot of vanilla, that I felt like I’d truly found my vocation.   I love it.  My friends, when I dared to show my blog to a couple of them, were full of encouragement, support and compliments.

But last night, as I read the many, many blogs I follow, I felt very, very insignificant.  I was proud of my 10 followers (one of which is me, the other is hubby), of my 194 hits in one day (not bad for a blog less than two months old), but last night, I felt like I, it, wasn’t good enough, that perhaps I was being laughed at.  Did these 194 people not like what they see?  But then they do keep coming back, with 50 hits per day on the days on don’t post (sadly, I’m addicted to the stats button).  Either way, I was blue.  No one else wanted to follow me.  That 8 (or 10) is going nowhere.  I felt like the last kid to be picked for the team.

I woke up this morning feeling the same, and went to my kitchen to make Granola for a lady who won it in a Bake Sale.  I tipped the maple syrup in my tea instead of the mixing bowl and burnt the oats.  Sod it.  I chucked the lot in the bin.

I turned to twitter, always some fun ramblings on there to cheer me up.  And there I found the kindness of folk.  I didn’t moan (well, not much), just interacted with other foodies and realized just how lovely they are.  What I have stumbled upon is a group of people, so fun, friendly and talented.  People who are happy to read my ramblings on food, and chat back.  I’ve been struck by just how fabulous these people are.  And to say it is a hugely competitive area, to get your blog noticed and read, and mostly written by women, it’s not bitchy at all.  It supportive, helpful, friendly, we promote one another, we make each other laugh, think, ponder.  I’m going to make a cake to celebrate.

So I’m going to keep writing my little blog.  I’m so over the mardy I had last night (not from the Midlands?  It means I had a sulk).  I love the followers I have and other followers will come.  Those who already read will hit that little button in time.  And if not?  Well, I’ll continue to bake cakes, roast meats, potter in my garden and eat in restaurants.  And I’ll continue to write about it.  But here’s hoping they follow one day.  And here’s to cake.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A Glut of Radishes? Try Radish Top Soup with Tempura Radish Croutons

What can I do with a Radish Glut? My garden is over-grown with radishes - I planted a row of seeds together, not really thinking about what would happen when, 8 weeks later, I would be inundated! You can't keep them, chutney them, like you can most other gluts, so what's a girl to do!?

Chatting to my dad earlier, he told me I could eat the tops in a salad, but to be very careful as they can sting... but unfortunately, I'm not a fan of food that hurts but I got to thinking. You can make nettle soup, so why not Radish Top Soup? It's worth a try right? I won't be using part of the radish I planted the seeds for, but it's better than nothing? So I ran into my garden, pulled up a load of radishes and got to creating this smooth, peppery soup, reminiscent of watercress soup but much more flavourful. It really is lovely. It needs a fair it of seasoning to bring out the earthy taste, but my word, it's delicious, and made from something that you'd normally throw into the compost bin! I'm just sad I threw so many tops away before I realised what a joy these leaves could be.

But then I was left with 6 little red cherry like bulbs of tender peppery-ness; I couldn't throw them away, couldn't face chewing on yet another radish just because it was there and needed eating; it was raining outside and I didn't fancy a salad for lunch. I thought about slicing them and sprinkling them over the soup... a bit boring though.

My eyes fell on the bag of flour I had out for the pastry I was making afterwards and, ding! light bulb moment, inspiration struck for Tempura Radish Croutons, a little bit of crunch on top and none of the plant wasted - perfect!

Great hot as a starter or at room temperature as an amuse bouche served in a shot glass (in this case without the tempura - good thinking hubby).

So here we go; Radish Top Soup with Tempura Radish Croutons (hubs wants to call this soup Radish-tastic - thoughts? Please let me know what you think in the comment box!).

Radish Top Soup with Tempura Radish Croutons

By the time i got this outside for the photo, the Radish
Tempura had begun sunk, but it looked lovely!

For the soup

Don't worry, I washed the
mud off the radishes!

  • 35g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 potatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 150g radish tops (this for me was 6 radishes)
  • 1 tbsp creme fraiche or cream (optional but really tasty)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

For the Radish Tempura

  • Radishes from the radish tops, sliced
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 100ml ice cold water
  • Pan with 1-1.5inches of hot sunflower oil, about 180 degrees centigrade
1.In a large pan, heat the oil and the butter on a medium heat and add the onions, sweating them from 5-10 minutes until they start to go translucent.

2. Add the potatoes and coat in the butter and oil, and leave to cook for 5 minutes.

3. Pour the stock over the onions and potatoes and bring to the boil.

4. Add the Radish Tops, bring to a simmer, and leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

5. Blend until smooth, then add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cream, keep warm.

6. Mix the egg and water, together, and pour into the flour. The water must be ice cold to keep the batter light. Mix into the flour briefly; do not over mix, it doesn't matter if it is lumpy.

7. Dip your radish slices into the batter, covering the slice and drop into the hot oil. If it sinks to the bottom, the oil is too hot, or too cold.

8. Leave until the batter is golden brown (about 4 minutes), drain on kitchen paper.

9. To serve your soup in bowls, swirl with single cream and top with radish croutons.  To serve as an amuse bouche, serve in a shot glass with a radish (complete with top).

If you have any tempura batter left over, it won't keep, so grab some other veggies and fry away!  I had a courgette left over, hubby's favourite!


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The story of 131 Little Pink Sparkly Cakes. Never underestimate a professional!

I'm not a buttercream swirler. I've mentioned this before. I've dabbled, I've played, I've bought the nozzles, but it's just not me. I'm more rustic, a slap bang wallop kinda girl (just ask hubby - ahem). But when Cancer Research asked me to make some pink cakes to raise awareness for Race For Life (which, incidentally has fewer runners this year than ever before), I couldn't, wouldn't say no. Donating time is something I love to do and the ingredients never cost the earth. And I love to cook (ya think!?) and this is a great excuse, so said 'of course, when for? How many?'. The reply came 'Thursday (two days away) and 500'. Blimey! I couldn't do 500, I work full time, but my employers allow us to work from home, so I agreed to 100, getting them baked at lunchtime (2 x 24 hole tins and I'd be, and was, done in an hour) and iced at night (a big batch of buttercream and quick piping, I'll be done in an hour). HA!

So, feeling altogether altruistic, I baked my cakes, finished my work and got down to the task of making the buttercream. A doddle. 

Now, it's been a while since I made buttercream and it conveniently slipped my mind how icing sugar gets everwhere. Everywhere. Floor, ceiling, hair, eyes, nails, nose, toaster, cats. Really. However, I took a deep breath (choking on the stuff at the time), cracked on and whizzed my way to a perfectly smooth, creamy, bright pink, strawberry flavoured cream. Nozzle in, piping bag at the ready and I created my first swirl. Wrong nozzle. Buttercream and nozzle out, new nozzle in. Buttercream off original cake, ready to start again, I thought this was a good time to make some more to get ready. Clever girl I am, didn't wash the bowl out in between, new buttercream goes lumpy. Didn't realise, squeezed the bag of new, lumpy buttercream onto cake, lump of sugar stuck in nozzle, pink buttercream goes flying off in all directions. Hair, cupboards, shepherds pie ready to go in over for dinner, other cat, all covered in pink buttercream (cat likes it by the way).

Rant on twitter.

(Quick note. I have an open plan kitchen with a dining room. Cat was in dining room under a chair at the time. How? I mean.... how?).

So, start again with the buttercream, it goes well and I select the correct nozzle.  At last, we're away, 131 cakes creamed up with a sprinkling of edible glitter. What fun.  What pain.  

And then, the dilemma.  How to transport 131 tiny cakes to work, to be picked up from the lady at Cancer Research.  A quick question on Twitter, and I'm advised egg boxes will do the trick and my local deli obliged.  They look very quirky in their little egg box holes.

I now, after the trauma of this evening, have a new found respect for professional cupcake bakers, actually, for the decorators to be precise; the lady who normally does this for Cancer Research makes 500 at a time!  I'd be at my wits end swirling 500 times over - nuff respect!

Those shrewd mathematics amongst you will realise that 24 does not go into 131. Now, you see, I assigned myself as chief quality tester; we don't want to be putting people off running the Race for Life, so ate I 12 to make sure - I'm proud of my reserved nature (and threw one at the wall in frustration. This is now in the bin. And I have pink buttercream up the wall. Good thing hubby is out late tonight).

They tasted great. So good, that I've given the recipe for vanilla cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery below. The best recipe I've found, and because it only uses 1 egg and 40g butter, it's cheaper than most. The buttercream recipe is adapted slightly. The only downside to these cakes is that they don't come away cleanly from the cases, but they are so good that I'll forgive them this little misgiving.

Now back to cleaning the dining room carpet....

Vanilla Cupcakes with a simple Strawberry Buttercream topping

131 little treats for the people of Liverpool.  Yummy.
Not a great picture, but carting them into natural light now may be the end of me.

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes or 24 mini cupcakes.

  • 120g plain flour
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 120ml whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the Buttercream
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 85g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • Strawberry flavouring (couple of drops to taste, or other flavouring)
  • Pink gel food colouring (or other colouring)

1. Line the tins with cupcake cases and Pre-heat your oven to 180.

2. Using the paddle attachment on your mixer, combine the flour, sugar, butter, baking powder and salt on a low speed until it is a rubbly, crumbly texture.

3. Add half of the milk with the mixer still running.

4. In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the milk with the egg and vanilla. Once the flour mixture and milk is combined, add the egg mixture and mix on a medium speed until combined and smooth. Do not over mix of your cake will be heavy.

5. Bake for 20-25 mins for cupcakes, or 10-12 mins for mini cupcakes.

6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

7. Whilst your cakes are cooling, make the buttercream. Sift the icing sugar into a mixer and, using the paddle attachment on a very low speed, mix with the butter until combined. Prepared to be covered.

8. Add the milk and flavouring and whizz on a high speed for 5 minutes to ensure you get light and fluffy buttercream. Add a little colouring half way through, adding more as you go for higher intensity of colour (taste here too to see if you need more flavouring).

9. Spread, swirl, swipe or slip your buttercream onto your cakes.


P.S - Thanks to Laura's Little Bakery for the opportunity to do this.