Thursday, 10 April 2014

Peanut Cornflake Cakes - Jo Wheatley

I've pretty much stopped buying recipe books - well, unless it's one I really want or 'need'!  I just don't have the space to store them, and it seems profligate to have too many.  Of course I make delighted exceptions to this rule for gifts, and also for irresistable bargains...  So when I found Great British Bake Off winner Jo Wheatley's 'A Passion for Baking' in a local charity shop for only a pound, I figured I had nothing to lose in buying it.  It's full of appealing recipes, mainly sweet, and has a nice section on Baking with Children.  Ted is just beginning to show an interest in helping in the kitchen; although 'helping' in the loosest sense of the word, as only a toddler can!  However, I love to include him when he wants to help out.  Here he is starting off our chilli con carne earlier this week (eating the raw onion pieces!):

I decided to make my first Jo Wheatley recipe a seasonal one, and make her Peanut Cornflake Cakes, but substitute Mini Eggs for the Peanut M&Ms she suggests.  There's something that appeals to everyone, adults and children alike, about those mini nest-like cakes at this time of year...  And I have to say that this is the best recipe for them that I have ever found!  The addition of peanut butter to the mix makes them really special and completely more-ish.  Initially I loved the fact that the recipe only made a small amount, I didn't want to end up making 24 of them if they didn't turn out to be that tasty, but now I'm wishing I had more as this little batch disappeared within 24 hours!

A visiting friend asked for the recipe having tasted them (er, eaten two!), but I couldn't find it anywhere online.  So I thought it was a perfect recipe to blog.

Peanut Cornflake Cakes - from A Passion for Baking by Jo Wheatley

40g unsalted butter
2 tsp golden syrup
100g milk chocolate, chopped
2 tsp peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
80g cornflakes (although I used bran flakes which worked brilliantly)
1 small bag of peanut M&Ms (or Mini Eggs, which I used)

You will also need 6 paper muffin cases or 10 fairy cake cases.

Combine the butter, golden syrup and chocolate in a saucepan over a low heat; stir until melted.  Add the peanut butter and stir until smooth.

Tip the cornflakes into a large mixing bowl, pour over the chocolate mixture and stir until all of the cornflakes are coated.

Spoon the sticky mixture into the paper cases and top with an M&M or Mini Egg.

Chill in the fridge until set.

If these are anything to go by, that was a pound well-spent, and I'm looking forward to trying more recipes from this book.

Happy Easter!

Monday, 11 November 2013

More Apple Jellies

Back to the long-neglected blog! 

As Autumn turns cold and soggy, I only have to look at my now-full preserves shelf to feel cheered. 

This has been an incredible year for all kinds of fruit.  Our Bramley tree which last year produced a grand total of 3 apples, has this year excelled itself and we have had more than we know what to do with.  Of course we've made great efforts to use what we can in cakes, puddings and chutneys, and I've enjoyed experimenting with a couple of new jams and jellies, as well as the 'usuals' (apple chilli, apple rosemary, and apple mint, instructions for which can be found earlier in this blog).

First off, Spiced Apple Butter.  Apple Butter is a very North American treat, although I don't think I ever actually ate it when I lived in Canada.  Slightly confusingly, it contains no actual butter, but is a long-cooked apple puree, often with spices such as cinnamon added.  I decided to try a recipe that used my rather neglected slow-cooker, and the results were delicious, making the entire house smell like Christmas! 

 I've put it all into sterilised jars ready to use in some festive baking.  I have of course sampled some already and it's great on toast.

The recipe can be found here, on the Frugal Foodie Mama website.

Next was Apple Quince Jelly.  I adore quinces, with their heady, almost floral scent, but they seem very difficult to come by in the shops.  This year I was lucky and managed to pick up a few windfalls locally. 

The flavour is intense so you actually don't need many to produce a beautiful preserve, bulked up of course with some apples!  Just look at this gorgeous colour, and it tastes wonderful too.  It's currently my breakfast toast-topping of choice.

I found the recipe here, on this nice foodie blog.

Finally, Apple Sloe Jelly.  The hedgerows are laden with sloes this year.  I have never used them for anything, save for drinking my father's homemade Sloe Gin!  On the tree they are mean fruit, small, hard and lip-puckeringly sour, but I felt sure that there must be potential for using them in something other than liqueur. 

A quick google brought me to this recipe, on The Cottage Smallholder (which incidentally is a fabulous blog, bursting with useful recipes).  Like the Quince jelly, this is a luscious colour, dark ruby red and gloriously clear (never squeeze the jelly bag when you're straining the fruit, otherwise your jelly will be cloudy).  I had slightly too much of this to fit in the available jars, so I'm currently working my way through a bowl of it on my toast.  (I eat a lot of toast!).  It's also  popular with the youngest member of the household.  

 I turn my back for a second...

The recipe indicates that this is a good jelly to eat with meats, but personally I think it's a little too sweet for that.  There's a lot of sugar in there (and I used a little less than the 1.5lb per pint stipulated as I ran out of sugar), so the sourness of the sloes has disappeared in my batch.  This makes it perfect as a jam, but probably not so suitable for eating with your sausages.  If I were to make it again (and I will) I think I would use 1lb of sugar per pint of juice, as you do usually when making jellies.

So all in all a successful year of preserving.  Just in case I forget to blog it properly, I also experimented with a new chutney, one that includes tomatoes.  The recipe is here, on the BBC Good Food website.  I used red pepper instead of green, but otherwise the recipe was unchanged by me.  It's still maturing in jars so I have yet to taste it, but I'm looking forward to it!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Banana Breakfast Cakes

... or 'Wakey Wakey Cakey' as they're cutely named on the website where I discovered this recipe!

Whilst my 12 month old baby-led-weaner enjoys his food and remains a relatively adventurous eater, breakfast is a bit of a non-event for him.  Our co-sleeping breastfeeding relationship means that he spends much of the night snacking at 'the best restaurant in town' so when we get up at about 8am he is rarely hungry.  He might nibble on the odd piece of cereal, but is generally happy not to bother.  However by mid-morning he is definitely ready for some food, a potentially inconvenient time as we are usually out and about by then.

He is a huge fan of the 'Goodies' baby oaty bars made by Organix (and I am too, they're delicious!), but while I appreciate the convenience of these pre-packaged baby/toddler foods, I am always more inclined to try and make my own versions.  I did experiment with my own oaty bar recipe, but so far have only managed to make bars that are crumbly rather than chewy (I will continue to experiment though, so watch this space!), but I wanted a portable snack that wouldn't make quite so much mess.

Some food-forum advice, plus some internet searching brought me to this recipe on the Baby Led Weaning website, and I have now made 2 batches with slight variations, both well received.

The basic idea is this:

Mash up one Weetabix, one ripe banana, 100ml of milk and 20g of cornflakes.  Add a second Weetabix and stir until you have a 'cement-like' mixture (which sounds so appealing!).  Then divide into 6 greased fairy-cake trays and bake at 190 degrees for approximately 30 minutes until firm and beginning to brown.

I have taken this very much as a template and played with it somewhat.  We didn't have cornflakes in the house so I used oats instead (I like to use oats for their slow-release energy).  I also didn't have full-cream milk so used a semi-skimmed plus a large dash of double cream (to make sure he gets enough fat).  For the first batch I added some very ripe strawberries mashed in with the bananas, and in the second batch I used extra banana as I had 2 that were turning black, and also threw in a handful of raisins.  With both batches I just added some extra oats to get what I thought was the right consistency.  I also used a very shallow jam-tart tray so ended up with 12 'discs' of cake rather than 6, and therefore they only needed about 20 minutes' cooking.

They turn out as a slightly chewy, cakey creation...  I'm not entirely sure that I'd recommend anyone without small children to make them for adult consumption, but they're not bad to eat, (although obviously I'd rather have some real cake!).  I like the fact that they're basically what you might have for breakfast; cereal, milk and fruit.  Weetabix does contain some sugar, but you are not adding any extra, so I think they're generally a 'good' option for a toddler snack.  They hold more-or-less together without crumbling messily into thousands of pieces, but are still soft enough for gumming.

And despite the serious face, this one-year-old thinks they're good too!

Monday, 1 July 2013

Epic Roast Chicken Salad

I belong to a couple of 'foodie' groups on Facebook, and I love to look at other people's food photos and hear what they've been cooking.  I often find that this inspires me to make something similar, and this is exactly what happened last week.  A friend posted that she had made and loved Jamie Oliver's Epic Roast Chicken Salad, and as the weather was set fair (gloriously sunny actually!) an epic salad sounded just the thing!  The recipe was from a Jamie book that I don't have, and I couldn't seem to find the exact recipe online.  However, I did find a lovely blog by a lady called Elspeth who had also created a fabulous chicken salad, based on the Jamie recipe.  I ended up using this as a basis (thanks Elspeth!) but made a few changes myself.

I actually made this using chicken leftovers as we had roasted a large chicken the night before.  I had both the breasts left, so began the layering of the salad by tearing these up, cold, and putting them on a large plate. 

I topped the chicken with the roasted tomato layer.  I had roasted these simply in a slug of olive oil with a handful of garlic cloves, and laid slices of streaky bacon over the top so that the bacon fat would flavour the tomatoes.  I also laid the leftover chicken skin on top of the tomatoes to re-crisp.  For the last 10 minutes of the tomato roasting time, I tore up a small ciabatta loaf and tossed it into the tomato pan, letting it soak up all the tomatoey and bacony juices before going back into the oven to crisp up.  This glorious pan-full was tipped over the chicken, breaking up the now-crispy bacon and chicken skin as I did so.

Some simply steamed green beans were added, hot, to the top of the heap, before the whole lot was dressed with the mix of wholegrain mustard, fresh mint, lemon juice (I subbed this for cider vinegar) and olive oil described in Elspeth's recipe.  

To finish I scattered over the toasted salted pumpkin seeds that I had prepared earlier.

This was a fabulous supper, and was also enough for me to have leftovers for lunch the following day.  I think it's important to eat the ciabatta croutons while they are still warm and crispy, so I made myself some fresh ones to go with the leftovers. 

I don't know how far away this is from the 'original' Jamie Oliver recipe, but to be honest I think it's a formula that can be successfully adapted according to the ingredients you have to hand.  Some chopped spring onions would be a nice addition for example, and perhaps fresh basil in place of the mint?  But definitely a recipe that I will try again.

Lemon and Elderflower Self-Saucing Pudding

I've recently started borrowing lots of recipe books from our local library.  Our cookbook shelf is full, and I have far too many books that I haven't cooked enough from, so I'm trying a) not to buy any more, and b) to use the ones I've already got.  But sometimes I feel the 'need' for a fresh crop of recipes to inspire me, so using the library is a perfect option.

Last week I picked up a really nice little book from the 'My Kitchen Table' series entitled '100 Foolproof Suppers' by Audrey-Hepburn-hairalike Gizzi Erskine.  Lots of my foodie friends had been raving about her recipes recently so I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.

First impression?  Brilliant!  I found myself jotting down a long list of recipes that I'd like to try, which is always a great sign.

First off was the Nasi Goreng, or fried rice.  We had been longing to try to recreate this at home as it was one of our very favourite dishes in Brunei.  I don't actually think it's possible to replicate this exactly without a fierce gas-flame and a well-seasoned wok, but this recipe worked  fantastically well with our crappy electric hob and a non-stick frying pan.  We've copied out the recipe to keep, but if you fancy trying it it's online in the Amazon preview of this book

Tomorrow I'm trying her Fish Goujons with Mushy Peas and Sweet Potato Wedges, and next week I'm having a go at the Aubergine, Artichoke and Lamb Bolognese (we had roast lamb at the weekend so I'm giving it a few days before we have lamb again)...  but what I REALLY want to blog about is the most amazing pudding which I made last night:

The recipe is actually entitled Lemon and Passion Fruit Self-Saucing Pudding, but my search for passion fruit juice proved, er, fruitless.  I did find a carton of it, but as it was only about 10% passion fruit juice, I thought it wasn't quite right.  Instead I decided to replace the passion fruit juice with Elderflower Cordial.  We've just made a batch of it, as we do most years, and as it's made with lemons I thought it would complement the lemon flavour of the pudding very well.  And, well, I was right; it's perfect.

The recipe can be found on the My Kitchen Table website - just follow this link.  I'm certain that the passion fruit version would be fabulous, but I can whole-heartedly recommend the elderflower.  The only slight issue that I had was that after 45 minutes' cooking the pudding looked perfectly done, with the sponge topping lightly browned.  However, when I dug beneath the surface the custardy sauce was still quite liquid, rather than the texture of lemon curd, as it should have been.  Too impatient to put the whole pudding back in the oven, we simply spooned out portions into bowls and gave each one a minute in the microwave on high, and bingo, the sauce thickened beautifully.

Not exactly the most photogenic of desserts perhaps, but who cares.  We served it with lashings of double cream.  Thanks Gizzi.

Edit:  Having polished off the final portion of this pudding last night, my husband announced that it was lovely, but 'a bit too sweet'.  He probably has a point as the elderflower cordial is very sugary. Perhaps next time I'll cut the sugar in the pudding mix down (by a couple of tablespoons?) to compensate for the addition of the cordial.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Pasteis de Nata

In March this year we spent a week in Lisbon, the beautiful capital of Portugal.  It was our first trip abroad with Ted, and an all-round success, we loved it.  True to form a big part of the holiday's success was the food involved!  We were staying in a self-catering apartment (for ease with a baby) so cooked for ourselves every evening.  I don't think we managed to eat a huge amount of 'traditional' Portuguese food, as Rob isn't really a seafood fan, and neither of us fancied tackling one of the slabs of salt-cod we saw for sale everywhere, but one typical local delight that we did eat rather a lot of was Pasteis de Nata, Portuguese custard tarts.

We would buy a 4-pack of these every day from the local supermarket...  one each for morning coffee, one each for afternoon tea!

We also took every opportunity to have these when out and about in the city.  This was a very famous cafe in Belem which specialised in these pastries.

Pasteis de Nata are a far cry from the custard tarts that we know and love in England.  English custard tarts are made with short, sweet pastry, sprinkled with nutmeg, then cooked slowly to set the eggy custard to a gentle wobble.  Portuguese custard tarts are made with flaky puff pastry, and blasted at super-high heat to puff the pastry and scorch the custard within.  I'd heard that it was tricky to recreate these delights at home as you can't really get a domestic oven to the requisite heat, but I thought I'd give them a try anyway.

I have a couple of Facebook friends who are also big fans of Pasteis de Nata (hi Helen and Tina!), and stumbled upon a discussion about them in which a Portuguese friend of Helen's posted a link to the following recipe on Leite's Culinaria.  I figured that as she was Portuguese this was as good a recommendation as any, so this is what I used.

*Lazy Cook Alert*...  I couldn't be bothered to make my own puff pastry (hangs head in shame) so used a ready-made sheet of it.  I'm actually glad that I did as making the custard was quite a palaver, requiring sugar syrup, a sugar thermometer, and rather vague instructions such as 'stir for a minute until very warm but not hot' (note: I erred on the side of cool, not wishing to scramble the eggs); and let's face it, my baking is usually time-restricted to fit in with Ted's midday nap.  I just wouldn't have had time to make the pastry too.  If you choose to have a go at this recipe, bear in mind that for this amount of custard you will need TWO sheets of puff pastry.  I only had one, so now have half the custard in a jug in the fridge waiting for me to buy another sheet to use it up.  So either buy two, or halve the custard recipe.

You create the signature 'swirly' base of the tarts by rolling the pastry into a log, then cutting sections and squidging them into the holes of the muffin tin.  This bit was fun, but take it from me, you need to grease the tin first...  oops!

It was NOT easy to extract the tarts from the tin.  So much for non-stick!

 Lots of soaking required.

 The recipe states that they need to cook for 8-9 minutes, but I found that after this time the pastry was still uncooked so I put them in for another 3 minutes.  I then removed them from the tin (with some difficulty!) and placed the tarts back into the hot oven in order to crisp up the bases and sides a little more.  Perhaps you wouldn't need to do this if your oven was a bit hotter, but mine only goes up to 250 degrees, not the 290 the recipe requires.

And the results?  A little rustic perhaps, but pretty darn authentic as far as we are concerned!   Being mini-muffin-sized it's dangerously easy to eat several at one sitting.  As we found in Lisbon, these are at their nicest when warmed slightly in the oven before eating, and you can add an optional sprinkling of cinnamon or icing sugar if you choose.

Swirly base (not a soggy bottom in sight!)

I'll definitely try these again in the future, greasing the tin next time, and also perhaps filling them slightly less full to avoid quite so much overflow.  This half-recipe made 23 mini tarts, but I will cut the next sheet of puff pastry into only 20 (the full recipes says it makes 40) as with some of my tarts the pastry was a little thin. 


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Savoury Flapjacks

Did you read the title of this post and think 'YUK'?  I have to admit that I did when I saw a recipe for them in a book recently.  When I think of flapjacks I think of sweet, chewy, syrupy, oaty treats...  but a savoury version?!  Just wrong.

Well I can only urge you to put your prejudices aside and read on. 

These flapjacks might better be called 'Cheesy Flapjacks' (does that sound any more appetising?!) and the recipe is taken from the brilliant 'Baby Led Weaning Cookbook' by Gill Rapley.  I tend to make a half-sized batch of these, but as Ted is beginning to eat more and more (and I love to snack on them too) I think I'll start making the full amount.  They are really useful portable snacks for babies, but if you don't have children to feed then please don't ignore this recipe, they're delicious for all ages!

Savoury Flapjacks

100g butter ( preferably unsalted if cooking for young children)
300g porridge oats
350g grated cheese (I usually use mature cheddar, but used 50% red leicester in my most recent batch which gave them an attractive orangey colour)
2 beaten eggs
200-300g of one of any of the following (grated): carrot, courgette red onion, sweet potato, swede or parsnip (the veg is an optional addition, but I usually grate in whatever veg I have in the fridge, just to make them extra-nutritious).

Preheat oven to 180 and lightly grease a Swiss roll tin (for a half-batch I use my 20x20cm silicon pan).

Melt butter in a pan over a low heat. Take off the heat and combine all ingredients in the pan, mixing well.

Press down into the tin using the back of a spoon or fork. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown (I usually find they need an extra 5-10 minutes, but that might just be my oven, or my own personal preference).

Allow to cool for 5 minutes then cut into slices and turn out onto a wire rack (although if I've cooked mine in a silicon tray I let them cool in that before turning them out onto a wooden board and cutting them into slices).

And my harshest food critic?  He approves!  Success.