Friday, 13 December 2013

Crispy Pata and Atacharang Papaya

I first had crispy pata about 6 years ago in a pub in Kenilworth, The Famous Virgins and Castle, which has a half English, half Filipino menu. For those who aren't aware of the delights of crispy pata, it is a deep fried pork hock. It should have a rich brown skin that snaps when you break it (like the savoury equivalent of the top of a crème brulee), and very tender flesh. It's rich, fatty, and the meat in almost gelatinous in place, and you'll need a lie down after eating.
The Famous Virgins and Castle serve the pork with rice and atcharang papaya. I only ever have a few mouthfuls of rice, or I fill up and can't eat all my pata, which would be a terrible thing indeed. Atacharang papaya is a pickle, made with unripe papaya. It is sweet and sharp and cuts through the fatty pork very well.
Crispy Pata has to be the most terrifying dish I have ever cooked. I don't think I'll be making it again without a deep fat fryer, and even then, I'm not sure it's worth the clean up and the terrifying noises of the pig skin blistering and popping. I'm glad I attempted it, but I think it'll be a dish that I'll order in restaurants rather than make at home.

Atacharang Papaya
You need to know if you want atacharang papaya a few days before you eat- it improves with a little time. Every recipe I looked at specified the importance of using green, unripe papaya. Luckily, that was all I could find in the supermarket anyway.

1 green, unripe papaya
1 tbsp salt
4 cups vinegar
4 cups sugar
5-10 shallots (the recipe I was using this a base for specified red shallots- I could only find regular ones, and used these)
1 red pepper
2 large red chillies
1 large carrot
1 cucumber
handful raisins
I head garlic
a few slices of ginger.

Peel, destone and finely shred the papaya. Place in a bowl, and sprinkle with the salt. Let it sit for a minute or two, then place in a sieve and rinse off. Squeeze the papaya to remove as much as the moisture as you can. Set aside. Shred the cucumber and carrot, the pepper and the chilli (removing seeds and pith from the last two). Peel and finely slice the shallots. Mix all these together in a bowl, with the papaya and the raisins.

Put the vinegar and sugar in a large sauce pan with the slices of ginger. Slice the head of garlic horizontally in half, and add this too. Dissolve the sugar over a low heat, and then boil for 3-5 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. I discarded the ginger slices, but peeled and separated the cloves of garlic and included them in the pickle.

Put the shredded vegetables in a large jar and pour over enough of the pickling liquid to cover. Leave for 2 days before using.

Crispy Pata
1 pork hock
6 bay leaves
2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
4-6 star anise
teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons garlic powder
12 to 15 cups water
8 to 12 cups cooking oil

Bring the water to the boil in a pan large enough to take the meat later.
Add the bay leaves, whole peppercorn, star anise and 4 teaspoons of the salt along with the pork hock. Simmer the meat until it is tender. The recipe I used suggested 45-60 minutes, I ended up cooking it for more like 2 hours.

Remove the pork hock and set aside to cool.Rub the leg with the ground pepper, garlic powder and remaining salt. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large cooking pot with a lid. Don't use a pot without a lid, it is far too messy, and more importantly, dangerous to leave this uncovered.

Gently put the pork in the oil (to avoid splashing). Cover, and leave top crisp up on one side, then turn and cook the other side. This takes far longer than you would expect. The skin needs to properly crackle and blister before it is ready. When the skin is well browned and crunchy, it is ready.

Serve with the atcharang papaya and some plain rice.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Sweet Potato, Roast Garlic and Coconut Soup

I was tempted to call the title of this post Sweet Potato, Roast Garlic, Lime, Cumin and Coconut Soup, but I thought I would stick to the Rule of Three. Despite a rather long and overcomplicated name, the ingredients blend together to a much more mellow soup than you would expect. That is not to say it is dull, I like to think the combination makes a beautiful balance, like in a good Thai curry.

2 heads of garlic
Olive oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp butter
4 spring onions
1 long red chilli
800g (ish) sweet potato
1 can coconut milk
1litre chicken or vegetable stock, or water
Fish sauce (to taste)
1 lime

Preheat the oven to 180C. Tear 2 squares of foil. Place a head of garlic on one of the foil squares, drizzle over a little oil. Crimp the edges of the foil together tightly, so the garlic is encased in a baggy foil packet. Repeat with the other head of garlic. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until the garlic is very soft- leave it for longer if it is still hard.

While the garlic is roasting, toast the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan until they start to smell fragrant, then tip into a pestle and mortar and grind as finely as you can.

Chop the spring onions and the chilli. You can do this quite roughly, as they will all get blended up in the end. I keep the chilli seeds in this for the extra bite, but you can remove them if you prefer a milder soup.

Melt the butter in a pan big enough to accommodate everything. Add the chilli and spring onion, and let them cook over a gentle heat. Whilst they are cooking, peel and chop the sweet potato into even sized pieces. Add to the chilli and spring onion, and cook for a few minutes more. Stir in the cumin, then add the stock or water and coconut milk. Simmer until the sweet potato is tender. How long it will take depends on the size you cut your potatoes.
Remove the garlic from the oven, unwrap and allow to cool enough so you can handle it. Squeeze the garlic pulp out of its skins into the pan. Blend the soup with a stick blender until completely smooth. Add a dash of fish sauce and half the juice of the lime, stir and taste. Add more lime or fish sauce to your taste, and serve.

The soup is surprisingly filling, I found a bowl with some bread made a very tasty and warming supper.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Plum Gingerbread Swirled with Cheesecake

A quick food shop last week turned into a splurge on autumnal produce-I came back with rough-skinned russet apples, root vegetables to turn into a comforting, cream enriched soup and two big punnets of plums. Most of the apples are gone, the majority just eaten on their own, or with some sharp cheddar. A few were used as a topping for a pecan cake, sprinkled with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. The vegetables have been peeled, cooked, pureed and eaten; I had forgotten how nice a simple vegetable soup could be, especially when you've caught the dreaded cold, like I had. I still have a lot of plums though, even though I like them a lot I was lacking inspiration. Thank goodness for the internet, especially at the moment when I am living without most of my cookery book collection. The first thing that caught my attention was plum gingerbread, then this plum traybake with cheesecake and finally these gingerbread cheesecake bars.

The cake I made came closest to the gingerbread cheesecake bars. The recipe was essentially the same, but with a few additions. Plums, obviously, but also some stem ginger to the gingerbread mix, and some lemon zest and juice to the cheesecake. I omitted the ground ginger from the cheesecake batter, as I wanted complete contrast of the two mixes. Also, instead of pouring the gingerbread batter in the cake tin, covering it with the cheesecake mix, then marbling the two, I put alternating spoonfuls of the batters in the tin and then swirled them up with a knife. I think my method would be easier, as the gingerbread batter is much heavier and denser than the cheesecake, so to try and swirl the gingerbread above and into the cheesecake seems rather difficult.

I have just a cold piece with a cup of tea , and I was very pleased- I really like the contrast between dark, heavy gingerbread and light, tangy cheesecake. I wouldn't go as far to say that the plums 'make' the dish, but they are a really nice addition and suit the flavours of the cake.

If you want to make this recipe, I used this one as a base, from the Oven Adventures blog, which looks great- I'll be pouring over it later. Add the zest of one lemon and one teaspoon of the juice to the cheesecake batter, and one ball of stem ginger, grated, plus a little of the syrup from the jar to the gingerbread. Omit the ground ginger from the cheesecake mix. See my notes above for mixing the two batters in the cake tin. Finally top with some sliced plums. I used 4 plums, each cut into four thick slices.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Toblerone Fridge Cake

I'm a big fan of Felicity Cloake's 'How to cook the perfect...' series. Felicity has my dream job, refining recipes to perfection and writing about it. Her final recipes are great- at least the ones I have made are, but I trust the other recipes are equally good. 

One of her recipes is for the perfect fridge cake. It doesn't use Toblerone, but I had a large bar at home, and after making Nigel Slater's Toblerone sauce for ice cream, I was keen to use it in other recipes. Felicity's recipe calls for half milk, half dark chocolate, which easily could be aped with a mix of dark and milk Toblerone bars. I just used milk because it is what I had at home, but perhaps the recipe could be bettered with the substitution of dark Toblerone for some of the milk. I did enjoy it as it was though, but I do have quite a sweet tooth. 

The overall flavour wasn't especially Toblerone-like, but it did have the added bonus of nougat pieces peppered throughout. The next time I make it I may use honey in the place of the golden syrup, and add a tiny drop of almond essence to boost the flavour

I omitted the 50g of candied peel, as I don't like it much, and made up the weight with some extra dried fruit. My choice of dried fruit was 70g dried apricots, 70g dried cherries, 70g dried cranberries and 40g sultanas. I only used the sultanas to make up the weight of the dried fruit, but actually I am glad I used them- the cherries and cranberries are so tangy, it was nice to have a more mellow fruit. I decided not to do the grown up option of soaking the fruit in alcohol, and stuck to orange juice. To be honest, a boozy hit isn't what I fancy in a piece of fridge cake, I prefer to save that for puddings rather than have it in my mid morning treat.

For the nuts, I used a half and half mix of pecans and almonds. I think for a Toblerone fridge cake you need to include some almonds to match the nougat in the chocolate. Macadamia strike me as a nice, but pricey addition. 

I was interested to see how little golden syrup she used- only one tablespoon compared to 4 tbsp in my other favourite fridge cake recipe. Also, using an egg in fridge cake seemed odd to me, but the resulting texture was perfect.  

I have copied the recipe with my notes added:

200g of your favourite dried fruit, chopped into raisin-sized bits- I used 70g dried apricots, 70g dried cherries, 70g dried cranberries and 40g sultanas
150ml orange juice (or rum, whisky or Cointreau for grown-ups)- just orange juice for me- I didn't measure, just used the juice of 1 large orange
200g digestive biscuits
150g dark chocolate- dark and milk chocolate replaced with 300g milk chocolate Toblerone
150g milk chocolate- see above
120g butter, at room temperature
1tbsp golden syrup
1 egg yolk
50g mixed peel- omitted, weight made up with additional dried fruit
100g flaked almonds or other nuts, chopped- I used 50g pecans and 50g blanched almonds
Put the chopped fruit into a small pan along with the juice or alcohol and heat very gently until the fruit becomes plump and squishy, and has absorbed most of the liquid. Set aside to cool. Break the biscuits into small pieces.
Line a roughly 20cm square brownie tin with baking paper (you can use a little butter to stick it down at the corners).
Break the chocolate into pieces by whacking the sealed packets against the kitchen counter. Put a heatproof bowl above, but not touching, a pan of water and bring to the boil. Tip the chocolate into the bowl, turn down the heat, and stir until the chocolate has melted. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
At this point I toasted the pecans and almonds in a dry frying pan, and let cool before chopping. The toasted flavour of the nuts was lost in the finished cake, so I probably wouldn't do this next time. 
Meanwhile, put the butter in a large mixing bowl with the syrup and use a wooden spoon, or electric beater, to beat them together until they're soft and a bit fluffy. Add the egg and mix in well.
At this point I drained the dried fruit, so the so the orange juice that wasn't absorbed didn't change the texture of the cake. 
Beat the chocolate into the butter mixture, then tip in the rest of the ingredients and stir until they're all coated with chocolate.
Spoon the mixture into your baking tin and press down firmly with a wooden spoon to make it as flat as possible.
Put in the fridge for a few hours until it has set solid, then lift the paper out, and cut into squares with a sharp knife.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Ginger and Five Spice Roast Duck

This is a Chinese-flavours-inspired way of roasting duck that tastes really good and is very simple. I was cooking a special meal for two, and originally had in mind making a stuffing with apples and chestnuts. After a long day a work I was in the mood for something simpler, both in terms of cooking and stuffing. I certainly wasn't looking forward to peeling the potatoes that I would need to roast to go alongside this stuffed duck. So I went for this altogether easier dish.

Place a rack in the sink and sit the duck on top. Fill the kettle to the maximum limit of water and put it on to boil. Pierce the duck with a skewer or fork all over the breast and legs, and when the water has boiled pour the water slowly over the duck. Leave the duck to dry off for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Make sure the duck is properly dry inside and out, dab it with some kitchen roll if necessary. Slice a piece of ginger root, and rub the cut side over the duck's skin. Put 2-3 slim slices of duck inside the cavity. Take 1tsp of 5 spice, and rub it all over the duck.
Put the duck in a roasting tin, on a rack. Roast for an hour and a half. Let it rest, and serve.

We ate this with plain rice and pak choi stir fried with some chilli bean sauce, and chinese barbecue sauce, which you can find the recipe for here (near the bottom of the page)

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Granola and Berry Muffins with Greek Yogurt Frosting

These sound very much like something you would get from a chain coffee shop, but they have the benefit of being homemade, so they aren't dense and claggy like most shop bought muffins. The recipe I based this on was Nigella's for granola muffins. I initially thought berries would be a good addition, and then adding something yogurty seemed like a natural progression- one of my favourite breakfasts in muffin form.

The yogurt frosting is simply yogurt and sieved icing sugar, mixed together. But I was really pleased with it, as it has a slight tang from the yogurt and it sits softly on top of the muffins. It does though up a dilemma, however- if you want to eat the muffins warm (the best way) you don't want to ice them and let them sit, as the frosting will just run off the muffins. So you can have them cool with frosting, or warm without. There is the possibility of spooning the frosting on a muffin as you eat it, then you get the combination of warm muffin and cooling yogurt.

From the amount of batter I made, I ended up with 6 large muffins, and 11 mini-muffins. As I was simply bulking out the original recipe with berries, the large yield wasn't surprising.
The recipe for the granola muffins can be found here. I added about 150g berries stirred in with the granola, a mix of blueberries and redcurrants, but I most berries could be used. For the icing, I mixed about 100g Greek yogurt with 4 heaped tsp icing sugar. This didn't make enough for all the muffins, I only wanted to make a small amount as it was an experiment. So if you want to make enough for all of them, I would triple the quantity

Monday, 16 September 2013

Harissa Roast Chicken

This is a very simple roast chicken recipe, which I made when I had a chicken in the fridge, but little inclination to go to the shops to buy flavourings. Luckily, I had a jar of Belazu Rose Harissa, which is a lovely product, something I buy when I take myself out to Waitrose as a treat. I served it with flatbread, roasted tomatoes and olives with feta and some garlicky yoghurt. If I had been to the shops, perhaps I would have got some mint for the yoghurt, or may even bought the ingredients for tabbouleh (which I think this would have gone especially nicely with the chicken). Even so, it was a great meal.

1 roasting chicken
2-3 tbsp rose harissa
enough olive oil to loosen the harissa- about 1 tablespoon

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Mix the harissa with the olive oil in a bowl. Gently loosen the skin of the chicken with your hands, and spread the harissa mix onto the breast of the chicken. Spread any leftover harissa over the legs, inside the chicken cavity, all over. Sprinkle the chicken with salt- something nice and flaky, for preference.
Roast the chicken for 20 minutes for every 500g, plus an extra half an hour. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before carving and serving.

I made a little sauce to go with this- just the chicken juices scrapes up from the bottom of the pan, loosened with a little chicken stock, then boiled to concentrate the flavours. A little honey stirred in to sweeten, and served alongside the chicken.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Peach and Blackberry Galette

The blackberries growing near me seem especially good. A few years ago I went blackberry picking and the fruit I got were mean, sour little things with not much taste to them at all. But this year they have been delightful, big and plump, and nice to just pick off as a little snack when you happen to walk past a bush.

In How to be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson has a recipe for blackberry galette. This is the same recipe, but with one peach, sliced. I made the blackberry only version, and a week later made the peach and blackberry. I think I prefer the addition with peaches, but then I really enjoy baked peach. The contrast of late summer and early autumn fruit is lovely too- it captures that wonderful time of the year when it is still sunny and bright, but there is a chill in the air, and the promise of a warm pudding makes the dark evenings bearable.

I was a big fan of the pastry- the cornmeal gives it a slightly sandy texture, which is nicer than it sounds. It is also nice to work with, easy to roll out and handle.

The link to the recipe can be found here. But to make my version, just cut a peach into thin slices, and top the pastry with it along with the blackberries. Aesthetically, I think peaches under the blackberries is best. I didn't reduce the amount of blackberries, despite the addition of peach.
One thing I did notice was in Nigella's recipe is that after you have rolled out the pastry, she instructs you to:
'Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons sugar, to taste, then dollop with creme fraiche'
It is better to spread the crème fraîche over the surface of the pastry than to dollop. I think she must have done this too, judging by the photos. Lumps of baked crème fraîche are OK, but its nicer to spread it all out under the fruit, so it mixes with the blackberry juices evenly.

This is a very easy recipe, and good if you have friends over. The pastry can be left for a few hours in the fridge, and rolling it out and topping with fruit takes very little time. In 25 minutes or so, you have a great hot pudding that you can serve with the rest of the crème fraîche from the recipe. And like many things, its really good cold for breakfast.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Pecan Friands with Pear and Maple Syrup

This was a very successful experiment. I used a basic friend recipe, replacing the ground almonds with ground pecans, and some of the sugar with maple syrup. The resulting friands were a little damper and heavier than normal ones, with hints of sticky toffee pudding. The characteristic slightly crispy outside and soft inside that you get in a friend made with ground almonds was turned up a notch with the pecan version, making them irresistible to me. I wanted a more autumnal addition to these friands- berries often make an appearance- so for this batch I stirred some finely diced pear into the batter.
I did notice that when they were cooking, the friands seemed to leak a bit of butter, and I when they were in the oven they looked like they weren’t going to work- almost as if the mixture had separated. Once they were out and cooled a bit they were fine, so don’t worry if this happens to you.

125g pecans
185g unsalted butter
6 egg whites
180g icing sugar
75g plain flour
80ml maple syrup
1 pear, peeled and finely chopped
Whole pecans- enough to decorate

Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees. Grind the pecans as finely as you can in a food processor. Set aside. Using a pastry brush, coat the insides of a friand tin, or, if like me, you don’t have one used a cupcake tin, or mini-muffin tin. I used a 24-bun mini muffin tin, and this filled 21 of the moulds.

In a roomy bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy- not stiff, just bubbly. Sift in the flour and icing sugar, and fold in with a metal spoon. Add the ground pecans and maple syrup. Stir in the finely chopped pear. Spoon in the tin-this is runnier than regular friand batter, so a little more care is required. Stud the top of each friand with a pecan, and place in oven. Bake for about 15 minutes. Let them cool for a bit before gently removing, running a butter knife around the edges of each cake to loosen them from the tin. If you have been thorough with greasing the tins, they should come out neatly. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Best Apple Pie

Not my recipe, but another one from the BBC Good Food 'Ultimate' Series. Like the other recipes I have tried from this series, I have little interest in using any other recipe for the same dish. And unlike other recipes from this series, I think it has not been subjected to being madeover into a healthy version- I have already vented about this in my post on their ultimate cheesecake recipe.

To me it seems too far early in the year for Bramley apples to be falling off the tree, but despite this my mum brought me a bag full of them from the garden along with several yellow and green courgettes. On Sunday night we ate pasta with slow cooked courgettes, lots of basil and garlic and a little cream,   followed by apple pie- a perfect transition from late summer to autumn in one meal.

One of the things I really like about this recipe are the unconventional methods used in making it. The pastry is the only pastry I have made where the butter needs to be soft, so you can mix it quickly with the sugar. It's much easier than fussing about with hard lumps of butter, iced water and cursing your warm hands. For the filling, the apples are cut up, and left to go brown, meaning the apples don't leak once they are cooked and make the pastry soggy. Magically, they lose their unappealing brown colour once cooked.

We ate this with proper custard, I used Delia's recipe. The recipe suggests cream, but this was perfect for me.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Orecchiette with Gorgonzola, Bacon and Spinach

200g orecchiette (or other pasta)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
2-3 rashers bacon, diced, or (even better) a small block pancetta, cubed
Small splash Marsala
2 big handfuls spinach, washed
100ml crème fraîche
100g gorgonzola, cubed

Bring a pan of water to the boil, salt the water and add the pasta. Whilst the pasta cooks, get on with the rest of the dish. Flatten the garlic clove, so that it is still whole, but squashed. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, and add the garlic clove. Let it cook for a few minutes until the garlic is slightly browned and the oil is fragrant. Remove the garlic, and turn up the heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until very slightly crispy- not cremated. Add the marsala, let it bubble for a few seconds and stir in the spinach, letting it wilt. Turn the heat down, and stir in the crème fraîche. Stir in the gorgornzola, and let it melt into a creamy sauce. When the pasta is cooked, drain, mix with the sauce and serve.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Simon Hopkinson's Kipper Pâté

This recipe is from Simon Hopkinson's book Week In, Week Out. Although I have read this book, usually curled up with a cup of something comforting, many times, I haven't made that many recipes from it- something to do with having too many cookery books and only three meals in a day.

The kipper pâté is possibly the easiest recipe in the book, but it is really delicious. I don't usually do starters, but if I did I think this would be a good one to serve.

You take two pack of vacuum pack of kippers, the sort with a flower shaped pat of butter included. Boil them for half the amount of time recommended, for the packs I had this amounted to 7-8 minutes. Leave them to cool, and then open the packets and slide the contents on a plate or tray with a lip, so the buttery liquid doesn't spill. Scrape off the skin and remove the central bone, and put all the fishy flesh into the bowl of a food processor.
Over the bowl of the processor, put a sieve, and tip the fish detritus and butter into the sieve. With the back of a spoon or similar, press down on the mixture to force as much flavour as possible out.  Pulse to break up the kipper, then add 150g melted butter, 125g cream cheese, the juice of one lemon, and a dash of Tabasco.  Now process until very smooth. Spoon the pâté into ramekins, smoothing the surface over with the back of a spoon. Melt some more butter, and pour over to seal. Place in the fridge for at least two hours. Serve with hot toast, or warm baguette.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


I managed to limit myself to only the one impulse purchase on my last trip to K L Oriental, one of my favourite shops to explore in Leamington- a pack of sweet red bean paste. I have seen several recipes from blogs using this, which intrigued me, but had nothing definite in mind.
I was tempted to try out another recipe from Sunflower's Food Galore, but seeing as I have written about so many of her recipes I wanted to try something new.
I came across anpan on my trawls across food blogs. I had never tried them before, but my housemate had, and gave them a good review. After looking at various recipes for them, I came across on that looked particularly nice from the blog Our Adventures in Japan. Other than the long kneading time, this recipe is very easy- it's worth doing on a lazy weekend. I may try making the dough and letting it rise overnight, and then have anpan for a special breakfast.

A few things about the recipe:
  • The kneading time is long, but it is worth it- it really benefits the texture.
  • Folding in the butter makes the dough unpleasantly greasy to handle, but persevere, it turns smooth and elastic after the second knead.
  • I am usually put of by recipes that list half an egg as an ingredient, but you can use the other half to glaze the buns before they go in the oven.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Orange, Almond and Redcurrant Cake

My housemate found an unclaimed redcurrant bush during her exploration of deepest darkest Lillington. This was exciting news for me- free fruit, and lots of cooking opportunities. We went out with a few bags, and came back with far more currants than we thought possible from one small bush.

The first thing I made were little redcurrant tarts, which were a smaller version of Nigel Slater's redcurrant tart. If I owned a large tart tin, I would have made that instead, but I am limited to the ones I own. I may post a recipe for them- however the pastry is extremely fragile, and only 6 of the 12 pastry cases made it out of the tin without crumbling and breaking up. However, those 6 were delicious, and I will make the larger version when I procure a tin- I'll probably have to wait until next July for the next batch of fresh redcurrants though.

I am not sure where the idea for adding the redcurrants to Claudia Roden's rather famous orange and almond cake came from, but it was one I am really pleased with. The cake in it's original form is damp and aromatic, it makes a wonderfully understated but delicious pudding, as well as a nice cake to cut into as and when during the day (being such a moist cake, it keeps well)
It is also very easy, although does require some time- the first stage is to boil oranges for about 90 minutes, so you don't have to do anything, but you do have to wait for the oranges to get soft enough to easily blitz into a paste.

The addition of redcurrants looks really lovely, and adds bursts of tart fruit flavour. I think I prefer it this way, although perhaps it is slightly arrogant to think I have improved on a classic recipe.

The recipe for the cake can be found here. To make this version of the cake, you just need to sprinkle a small punnet of redcurrants over the uncooked cake batter, in the cake tin just before it goes into the oven.

We ate the first slices of the cake warm, with the leftover vanilla cream that never made it into those 6 pastry cased. It was perfect.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Red Cooked Pork

Served with steamed rice and pak choi, to cut through the richness of the fatty pork belly
Red cooking is what you would expect- the cooking process (a slow braise) imparts a red colour to your chosen meat. The flavour is rich, slightly sweet and deep. This is a variant of another recipe from Sunflower's blog- I have used other recipes, but this is my favourite. This time I made it, I did not use potatoes, which are used as a thickening agent as well as an extra comforting carb. I rather like drowning my rice in the thinner liquid, but you may feel differently- if so you can refer to Sunflowers instruction. I also cooked it for a lot longer than suggested, about 2 hours longer. For this reason, I use a casserole, and not a wok. The meat holds together, but barely, and the skin and fat from the pork belly is a soft, gelatinous treat.

You may need a trip to your local Chinatown for the fermented red beancurd and anything else, but nothing on the list of ingredients should be hard to find.

*Update 14/10/15*
This is still a fairly regular meal I make. I haven't changed anything I do cooking-wise, but I would like to recommend having some good chilli oil to hand when eating this.
I cooked this last night- here are some new photos:


2 tbsp oil
About 400g belly pork, cut into small chunks
1 rounded tbsp of red fermented beancurd, mashed
2 tbsp of the red pickling juice from the fermented beancurd
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 - 3 slices ginger
1 tsp five spice powder
3 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 star anise
1 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp dark soy or mushroom soy
3 tsp sugar
some ground pepper

Heat the oil to a high heat in a casserole, and stir fry the ginger and garlic until fragrant. Add the beancurd with some liquid from the jar, five spice and star anise, cook for a few seconds, then add the pork. Continue to stir fry for a few minutes, then add the wine, soy sauces and sugar, plus enough water to cover the pork. Bring the pan to the boil, and then reduce to a low heat.
Cook for about 2 hours on a very low simmer, until the meat is extremely soft.
Serve with rice.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

A Small Collection of Elderflower Drink Recipes

Gooseberry and Elderflower Cordial, Gooseberry and Elderflower Vodka, Elderflower Cordial

To make elderflower cordial, you will need:
2.5 kg sugar
about 30 elderflower heads- check for bugs, thick green stalks removed
2 unwaxed lemons
85g citric acid

Put the sugar and 1.5 litres of water in a large saucepan and put over a low heat to dissolve the sugar. Stir from time to time. When all the sugar has dissolved to syrup, bring to the boil and then remove from the heat. Leave to cool slightly- go and pick your elderflowers now if your you have a nearby supply. Pare off the lemon zest with a peeler, and then cut the lemon up into slices. Add the lemon, the elderflowers and the citric acid. Leave for 24 hours.

The next day, strain the elderflower cordial through a sieve lined with muslin. Using a funnel, pour the cordial into sterilised bottles.

To make gooseberry and elderflower cordial, the procedure is much the same. When the sugar has dissolved, add 1kg of halved gooseberries (no need to top and tail) and boil the syrup for about 8 minutes. Let it cool slightly, and add the elderflower and citric acid in the same quantities as the above recipe. No lemons this time. Leave to cool and bottle as above.

For something a little stronger, and even easier to make, you can try gooseberry and elderflower vodka. I filled a jar about halfway with halved gooseberries, about 8 elderflower heads, a good pour of caster sugar and filled it to the top with vodka. The only downside is the waiting time- at least a month is recommended. I am trying to leave all my vodkas for a year, so I can drink suitably seasonal alcohol all year round come 2014.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Key Lime Pie

I suppose outside of the States, possibly even Florida, key lime pie is rarely made with actual key limes. Instead, the name now is used to evoke an acid-laced cream inside a biscuit base. I had never tried, let alone made my own KLP, but I have heard good things, and I really like lime. As normal, I made Nigella's version for my starting point.
As much as I enjoyed it, (and I did, as did my fellow eaters) I could tell on my first mouthful that this would be hugely improved with crushed ginger biscuits for the base, instead of digestives. The filling is so light that I feel it needs a robust as possible outside, which the ginger snaps would provide. I tried the pie after the minimum setting time, and 24 hours later- leaving it overnight is a definite improvement to the texture of the filling.

For the base and sides:
250g digestive biscuits (see above)
50g unsalted butter

For the filling:
4 limes
400g (or more likely 397g) condensed milk, preferably chilled
250ml double cream

Grease the sides and base of a a 25cm round springform cake tin, or pie dish. As you can see from the picture, I had neither and used a square cake tin, which worked just fine too. Crush the biscuits finely in a mixing bowl, melt the butter and stir it into the crumbs. It should be a damp, sandy consistency, if it is a little dry add some more melted butter. Press the biscuit mix onto the base of the cake or pie tine, and up the sides as well. Put in the fridge while you get on with the filling.

Zest and juice the limes. Set the zest aside in the fridge, clingfilmed, for decoration later. In a large mixing bowl, mix the condensed milk and lime juice- don't worry if it curdles. Add the cream, and whisk either by hand, electric whisk or freestanding mixture, until it has thickened and increased in volume. It will feel both light and unctuous. By hand, the whisking took about 5 minutes, so it isn't hard work at all. Pour the filling into your prepared base, smoothing out or swirling the top, whatever your aesthetic preference. Let it chill for a minimum of 4 hours, but preferably overnight. Sprinkle with the reserved zest before serving.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Slow Roast Lamb (and what to do with the leftovers)

The best thing, for me, about this icy weather is the food you can cook to keep the cold at bay. Last week we made a particularly nice roast lamb leg that I feel needs sharing. We actually used a slow cooker for this-the first time I have used one- but if I was doing this at home I would just cook the lamb in a low oven, covered in foil. You could also use shoulder, instead of leg, which I think might be even nicer.
This is one of those recipes that are far to forgiving and flexible to be put into a strict recipe.

Start late morning/ just after an early lunch. Heat the slow cooker, or put the oven onto a low heat- about 150C. Make a paste, either with a blender, or some dedicated knife work with 3 cloves of peeled garlic, 2-3 anchovy fillets, a handful of rosemary leaves, a spoonful of capers, and some lemon zest. Add olive oil to make it a spreadable consistency. Set aside. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan, and brown the lamb all over, taking your time to get in a good colour. Remove from the heat, and with a spoon, spread the paste allover the leg- it's easiest to do one side, put it in the slow cooker or roasting dish the other way up, and then spread that side with the paste. Add some white wine, and a few peeled but whole shallots. With the wine, we used about 1 large glass, but as the resulting juices were so delicious, I would say use at least half a bottle, possibly the whole thing. Cover, with foil if you are cooking in the oven, or with the lid if you are using a slow cooker. Leave to cook until dinner time, maybe turning the joint over once.
All you need to do is carve the lamb (not proper carving, it is too soft for that), and drain the fat off the gravy, and serve.

I would usually coat the lamb in the paste before browning, but found that the flavours tasted much fresher without the extra cooking.

You can do the obvious with the leftover meat (sandwiches, shepherds pie), but a surprisingly successful meal was a homespun kebab. Split a pitta per person, and spread generously with hummous and fill with the cold lamb. Wrap each pitta in foil individually, and heat in an oven at 180C for 10-15 minutes. Prepare the extras- we had cubed feta, red onion very finely diced, thin strips of pepper, halved cherry tomatoes and stoned olives. I think it is much nicer to have these components separate, so everyone can make their ideal pitta. I also made some garlicky creme fraiche to go alongside- yoghurt would have been the more natural choice, but use whatever's in your fridge.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

New Year Lychee Vodka

A belated happy new year. This year, I have decided to re-embrace flavouring vodkas. Resolutions usually cause nothing but resentment and disappointment in oneself, but I think I can manage this. I am going to aim for about one vodka a month, to build up a store cupboard of fruity alcohol.
So, to start, I made my favourite from my previous experimentation: lychee. I added a star of star anise too, which hopefully will complement the lychee's perfume.
No photo, I am afraid. It doesn't look very nice, in fact it looks like a jar of pickled eggs.