Monday, 30 May 2011
When my dear friend Sandra left the Manchester for the altogether warmer & sunnier city of Dubai, I inherited some useful and interesting baking ingredients. None of these came close to making up for the fact that she was leaving, that is a very sad fact ( :( ), but a little baking with interesting ingredients does do a little to soothe my sadness.
You don't get canned pumpkin puree in the UK. You can buy it online for an exorbitant price of course, but that is just not worth it. I could just buy a whole pumpkin and massacre it myself, but I am not feeling quite enthusiastic enough for that. And its not the right time of year for fresh pumpkin anyway (thats my excuse and I'm sticking to it). So when I gleaned a tin of pumpkin puree from Sandra's cupboard, I started to mull over all the potential uses. I have made pumpkin brownies before, and I did not want to be quite traditional enough to go with a pumpkin pie, so I settled on biscotti for my first half of the tin of pumpkin.
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Friday, 27 May 2011
I do try to eat healthily, I really do. I buy kale by the huge bagful and tomatoes by the branch. I have bushes of herbs outside my back door. I stock up on bananas, strawberries and blueberries to accompany my granola and muesli breakfasts. But sometimes, just occasionally, one needs pancakes for breakfast.
I do believe all things in moderation are ok. A glass of wine, not a whole bottle. A couple of chocolate truffles, not an entire boxful. Pancakes for breakfast now and again, not every day. Besides, these pancakes have oats, and raisins so they aren't all bad and indulgent. And you're allowed to indulge occasionally, thats ok. Just make sure you go to the gym afterwards. Or go for a run. Or get on your exercise bike/cross-trainer that I know has been acting as a glorified clothes horse in your house for the last year.
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Sunday, 22 May 2011
A good pear is hard to find. And when you do find one, one that smells sweet, feels soft, but not too soft, and tastes like manna from heaven, it is very, very hard not to gobble it up straight away. It is hard to peel it, cut it up into little pieces, resist devouring those, and then put it into a cake.
I rarely buy pears as more often than not, they are rock hard when you buy them, and they stay rock hard for about 2 weeks, and then they begin to rot. They never actually ripen. So I tend to save myself the anguish of being teased with the promise of pear loveliness that ends in rotten disappointment. Last week I found some good pears.
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Thursday, 19 May 2011
Sometimes all the cake can be too much. Too much sugar. Too much butter. Too much unhealthiness. I am not a healthy eating fanatic, not even close. But sometimes you need a break from the cake.
So what do I do when I feel like this? I look around for something wholesome, and tasty, and good. Something that will balance the cake, but make me smile at the same time, no kale and cucumber smoothies or cranberry juice detox diets. Just wholesome goodness. And granola and banana and yoghurt tick those boxes for me.
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Saturday, 14 May 2011
Anyone who has ever watched much American TV or American movies has herd of Gumbo. I had heard of Gumbo. But I had never seen it, tasted it, let alone tried to make it, so I was thrilled when this month's daring cooks challenge was revealed as Gumbo. Our May hostess, Denise, of There's a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we'd need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew's Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.
So, armed with a very long recipe/s I set off to source some chicken and smoked sausage. I went off to the Farm Shop in nearby Alderley Edge for the chicken. I have an opinion on chicken, yes. I don't like supermarket chicken. In the supermarket most of the chicken is battery farm chicken, and I loathe buying that on principle alone, but also because the poor little chicken breasts of the chickens who have never seen the sunshine and never set foot outside their warehouse are so small, that the supermarkets/suppliers feel the need to inject the tiny chicken breasts with water to plump them up. So on the shelf they look fat and juicy but when you get them home and cook them they shrink ridiculously and end up a quarter of the size that they were when they went into the oven. How its not illegal to do that, when us poor consumers are paying by the weight, I just don't know.
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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
I am enamoured with the concept of the cake ball. I am not ashamed to admit it. I discovered the concept at a little bakery I regularly visit, and since then, my mind has been turning over the possibilities of future creations. How to create, change and improve.
In my list of possible cake ball flavours to attempt is a strawberry and cream cake ball. But this weekend I made a variation of strawberry and cream. Raspberry Red Velvet cake balls filled with cream cheese and a whole raspberry. I bought some red candy melts online last week in my quest to find the perfect cake ball covering, and their bright pinky red colour inspired the berry thoughts. Then I wanted red cake. And instead of dyeing a plain cake red, why not make it interesting and make it red velvet cake. And not plain red velvet cake. Raspberry Red Velvet Cake.
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Sunday, 8 May 2011
You know those nights, when you are driving home from work and you are wondering what you will have for dinner. There is nobody to cook for except yourself so there are no rules. I had one of those nights last week. I'd had a particularly crappy work day and I was on my way home doing a mental inventory of the food in the house, and I came to the conclusion that I needed butter. I already knew that I was going to embark on a theraputic baking exercise when i got home, but baking options become significantly limited when one is out of butter. Now I know there are loads of lovely vegan baking recipes online that would be suitable for such an occasion, but I wanted butter. I wanted creamed butter and sugar. And I wanted bread and butter pudding.
I watched this video on Joy the Baker's website a couple of weeks ago, and it was doing the rounds in my head. I wish I had a baking buddy like that, what fun! And the Bourbon Bread and Butter pudding that they made looked simple, comforting and delicious. But I needed butter. It was 17:45-ish and the thought of driving any kind of distance in the traffic for a simple brick of butter was out of the question. So I sucked it up and drove past my house and onwards to Asda.
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Saturday, 7 May 2011
Due to my injury inflicted running fast, I have really been trying to eat well this week. Due to my love of all things baked and sweet, its not easy. I have been fighting the call of the chocolate and resisting the lure to bake something horribly decadent. I am strong. Like a bull.
So in the interest of healthy eating and to ensure that I go to work armed with enough vegetable goodness to obscure all thoughts of the vending machine, I decided to make a huge vat of tomato soup. Tomato is my absolute favourite soup and I don't need much of an excuse to crack out my biggest saucepan and the tomatoes and basil.
This soup uses tinned tomatoes and it really has a different flavour to a fresh tomato soup. Fresh tomatoes have their place, and they are beautiful and tasty, but tinned tomatoes also have their place. Pasta sauce, bolognaise, stews, and this soup. Don't believe me? Try it for yourself.
All tinned tomatoes are not created equal. Some are saltier, sweeter or more acidic than others. taste the soup before seasoning and then add, salt, pepper, and even some acid-balancing sugar to taste. Its your soup, make it uniquely to your taste.
Don't you love the colour of it? Its just so red and vibrant and gorgeous. Where's a spoon?
It makes a lovely work day lunch on a sunny day when you have just been for a blustery walk and the hunger pangs are just starting. Or even a hot and comforting dinner for one, with a chunk of fresh bread and a girlie movie enjoyed while curled up on the sofa.
Creamy Tomato Soup
Adapted from the fabulous Joy the Baker
50g unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
course sea salt and fresh black pepper
splash of red wine vinegar (just over 1 Tablespoon)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 dried bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
800ml chicken stock
800g whole peeled tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup cream
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven melt butter over medium heat. Add oil, carrot and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is translucent and the carrots are well on their way to softening, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the splash of vinegar at stir until cooked off.
Turn flame to low and add flour. Incorporate into the onion and carrots. Add tomato paste and cook for 1 minute to distribute the paste and cook off the flour taste. Add chicken broth and bay leaf.
With clean hands add the tomatoes to the pot, breaking the whole tomatoes up with your hands as you add the tomatoes and the juice. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat. Using an emulsion blender, puree soup in pot until you've reached the desired consistency. If you don't have an emulsion blender, let the soup cool for about 30 minutes and, working in two or three batches, puree some of the soup in a conventional blender until smooth. Place pureed soup in a bowl and puree the remainder in the pot.
Return pureed soup to the pot and stir in milk or cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool to room temperature before dividing among airtight containers or jars (leaving 1 inch of space at the top) and freeze.
Orignal From: Creamy Tomato Soup
Thursday, 5 May 2011
I was given a big, beautiful bunch of rhubarb last week. To me it was as good as giving me flowers. The slender, long, pink stalks still had dirt near the ends and huge leaves at the top. As beautiful as a bunch of roses to a baker.
Their colour instantly bewitched me, and I set about making the crumb cake which I have already written about, and then came the cheesecake.
Cheesecake is truly a divine dessert. A rich, creamy, sweet topping on a gingery, crunchy, crumbly base. A little (or large, I don't skimp) slice of heaven. I ALWAYS use ginger biscuits for my cheesecake base. I just think that their subtle spiciness pairs perfectly with a cheesecake. I have not made one yet where they did not go, so I'm going to keep using them until I do.
Somehow I managed to lose most of my photos for this post. I'm sure I took a lot more photos than this, but can I find them? Nope. I have scoured every corner of my harddrive, scanned the camera, flipped through my folders. Nothing. So I am very sorry dear reader, these few will have to do. But they are pretty and pinky so I hope you don't mind too much.
The foundation of this cheesecake is much the same as any other, but the baked rhubarb part. The syrupy, sweet stems placed on top of the creamy cheesecake base are fun to do and not technically difficult at all. So you need a couple of hours to bake the rhubarb and then construct and bake the cheesecake, but are there any better things to do on a Saturday afternoon? I can't think of any.
Yes, my cheesecake cracked. I know that a crack is an 'undesirable' thing in a cheesecake. I could have wrapped the tin in foil and put it in a bain marie and that would have helped prevent it cracking, but you know what? I think that a crack gives a cheesecake character. Either way, This cheesecake was going to be piled with rhubarb and then with sour cream, so who's gonna see the crack anyway? Nobody, thats who. And you won't tell right?
I know, no pictures of the cheesecake construction. Shoot. I'm kicking myself right now. Hard. Ouch.
But take my word for it. Its a beautiful cheesecake with the perfect balance of sweet and sour and creamy and tangy. And almost a kilo of cream cheese. how can that not be awesome?
Rhubarb and Orange Baked Cheesecake
Just a warning, this cheesecake is hard to cut. The pieces of rhubarb are awesome but get in the way of the knife a little so that a fresh slice looks a bit like its already been attacked by a tasmanian devil. If you figure out how to cut it cleanly, I'm open to suggestions. Give me some.
What you will need:
800g rhubarb (untrimmed weight)
1 large orange
250g caster sugar
FOR THE BASE
75g unsalted butter
200g digestive biscuits, crushed
2 tbsp demerara sugar
Butter for greasing
900g full-fat cream cheese, such as Philadelphia
250g caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp
3 tbsp plain flour
Pinch of salt
Grated zest of 1 small orange, plus 1 tbsp orange juice
3 large free-range eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
400ml soured cream
2 tsp lemon juice
What to do:
Preheat the oven to 110°C/fan 90°C/gas ¼. Wipe the rhubarb stalks clean, trim off the ends and cut the stalks into 5cm pieces. Peel 3 wide strips of zest from the orange and cut them into fine slivers (like pine needles). Halve the orange, then squeeze out and reserve the orange juice.
Spread the rhubarb over the base of a large roasting tin and scatter over the orange zest, sugar and orange juice. Cover the tin tightly with foil and bake for 1½ hours. Meanwhile, remove the cream cheese from the fridge and leave it to come to room temperature.
Remove the rhubarb from the oven, uncover and carefully lift the pieces onto a baking tray with a fish slice. Leave, slightly raised at one end, to cool and drain. Strain the cooking juices from the roasting tin into a small pan and set aside.
Increase the oven temperature to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4. Line the base of a 23-24cm springform cake tin with baking paper. For the base, melt the butter in a medium pan, then stir in the crushed biscuits and demerara sugar. Spoon into the tin and press onto the base (not up the sides) in a thin, even layer. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes, then remove and leave to cool. Increase the oven temperature to 240°C/fan 220°C/gas 9.
For the topping, grease the sides of the tin with a little butter. Scoop the cream cheese into a large mixing bowl and beat with a hand-held electric mixer for 2 minutes until smooth and creamy. Beat in the 250g caster sugar, flour, salt, orange zest and juice, followed by the eggs, one at a time, then the yolk. Stir in 200ml soured cream.
Pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin, bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 110°C/fan 90°C/gas ¼ and bake for a further 30-35 minutes until just set but still quite wobbly in the centre. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly and leave the cheesecake inside to cool.
When the cheesecake has cooled, set it aside and preheat the oven to 150°C/fan 130°C/gas 2. Mix the rest of the soured cream with the remaining 1 tbsp sugar and the lemon juice. Arrange most of the drained rhubarb in a single layer over the top of the cheesecake. Spread the soured cream mixture over the top of the rhubarb, then return the cheesecake to the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and leave to cool once more, then cover loosely and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight. Add the juices from the baking tray to the rhubarb cooking juices in the small pan and boil rapidly for 5-6 minutes until slightly reduced and syrupy. Leave to cool, then pour into a small jug and chill alongside the cheesecake.
To serve, run a round-bladed knife around the sides of the tin to release the cheesecake, then carefully remove it from the tin. Drizzle over a little of the syrup, then serve cut into wedges with the remaining rhubarb and a little of the syrup spooned around.
Orignal From: Rhubarb and Orange Cheesecake
Sunday, 1 May 2011
I can't remember the last time I had rhubarb. When I think of this long, leafy plant (which is technically a vegetable and not a fruit) I think of the rhubarb crumble and custard that my mom used to make when we were kids. I love sour things (I eat lemon, much to the bewilderment of anyone nearby) and I always loved the contrast of the very tart rhubarb and the smooth, creamy custard.
My green-fingered neighbour Geri has an enormous pot of rhubarb growing in her back garden, and when I was over there last weekend, Kevin mentioned that they did not know what to do with it all. It was a monster of a plant. I recalled that I had received a Delicious Magazine a while ago that had a few rhubarb recipes so I offered to take some off their hands and return it in the form of Rhubarb, Vanilla and Soured Cream Crumb Cake, and a Rhubarb and Orange Cheesecake. Kevin, being a huge fan of all things baked, jumped at the idea and on Friday they turned up at the door bearing a huge bunch of beautiful rhubarb, leaves and soil-covered stalks and all. Awesome :)
The crumb cake is very reminiscent of the rhubarb crumbles of my childhood, and although it has quite a few steps, its not difficult. I did have a slight issue with the toffee sauce part as I did not have golden caster sugar and the coarser sugar I used did not seem to dissolve properly, but it turned out ok and absolutely still tasted fantastic, so I'm not complaining.
I served the cake with the ginger ice cream I made the other day, and a bit of orange rhubarb sauce that was left over from roasting the rhubarb for the cheesecake. It was a lovely combination of the sweet, tart rhubarb crumbliness of the cake with the creamy ginger bite of the ice cream. yum.
Rhubarb, Vanilla and Sour Cream Crumb Cake
From Delicious Magazine
What you will need:
Butter for greasing
50g caster sugar
2 tsp plain flour
For the cake:
6 tbsp sour cream
1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
100g plain flour
100g caster sugar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g ground almonds or hazelnuts
For the crumbs:
50g unsalted butter
25g light muscovado sugar
40g caster sugar
¼ tsp vanilla bean paste
100g plain flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
What to do:
For the crumbs, melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Remove from the heat, add both types of sugar and stir constantly until dissolved into a smooth, toffee-like sauce. Stir in the vanilla bean paste, pour into a small mixing bowl, then stir in the flour and salt to make a stiff, biscuit-like dough. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the bowl and set aside to go cold.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas 4. Grease and line a 23cm round cake tin. Wipe the rhubarb stalks clean, trim off the ends, cut the remainder into 2.5cm pieces, then put into a mixing bowl. You should be left with about 225g rhubarb. Mix the sugar with the flour, stir into the rhubarb and set aside for 15 minutes or so, stirring now and then, until the flour and sugar mixture has become moist and clings to the fruit. Set aside.
For the cake, stir the soured cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla in a small bowl. Sift the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into another bowl. Add the butter and mix using a hand-held electric mixer until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the nuts, then gradually beat in the soured cream mixture until smooth.
Spread the cake mixture into the base of the prepared tin, then scatter over the rhubarb mixture. Break the crumb mixture into hazelnut-size pieces (or smaller if you prefer) and scatter over the cake. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted into the cake comes away clean (don't forget – if you hit a piece of rhubarb it will still be moist). Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then dust with icing sugar.
Orignal From: Rhubarb, Vanilla and Sour Cream Crumb Cake