Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Peanut Butter Fudge

I am planning on making some fudge for a secret santa present this year, and I wanted to give it a trial run. I wasn't going to risk making a dodgy recipe for a gift- and I wanted my own batch. I specifically wanted to make peanut butter fudge, as I the person I have for secret santa loves it.

A quick google search came up with the Sophie Dahl recipe for peanut butter fudge, which looked pretty easy- there is no mention of a sugar thermometer, for one thing (which I don't own). I'm quite hit and miss when it comes to fudge making, so the simpler the recipe the better, for me, at least.

I really liked the end result- it's not chewy, which is how I prefer fudge to be, but it has a really lovely flavour- the dark brown sugar makes it slightly treacley. It is incredibly sweet, so cut it into little cubes (unsurprising for a recipe that contains 800g sugar).

Friday, 21 November 2014

Merguez Baguettes with Coriander Aioli and Harissa Vegetables

Sometimes you can't beat a really good sandwich. For 2 people with large appetites, I peeled and finely sliced one small onion, and fried in some olive oil in a large frying pan. While they were cooking, I made some aioli- if you need a recipe, you could use this recipe for mayonnaise, using an additional clove of garlic and using about two thirds olive oil, one third groundnut oil. I then stirred in a handful of finely chopped coriander leaf. When the onions were golden, I added some stoned kalamata olives to the pan and a handful of halved cherry tomatoes. I cooked for a few more minutes until the tomatoes started to look slightly pulpy, and then stirred in a tablespoon of harissa (adjust to the heat of the harissa you have, and you personal taste). Then I pushed the fried onion and tomato mixture to one side of the pan, and added 6 merguez, turning the heat up to a sizzle. While they were cooking, I spread some of the aioli onto some halved lengths of baguette. When the merguez were nicely browned and cooked through, I assembled the rest of the sandwich (easiest tomatoes and onions before the sausages, I think.) Apply to face- it's pretty messy, so have some kitchen roll to hand.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


I don't live near anywhere that sells a decent bagel, so if I want one without having to make a long trip, I make them myself. By decent, I mean chewy and slightly sweet, not the dry bread rolls with a hole in which is all I have ever been able to get from a supermarket. 

Bagels aren't hard to make, if  you have an electric mixer with a dough hook. You could make them by hand, but it would be a real upper body work out to knead the dough- it's so dry and dense it takes at least 10 minutes using a machine to knead the dough to the requisite smooth texture. Perhaps if you are stuck doing it by hand, get a friend to take turns with. 

The recipe I use (Nigella's) gives the dough a one hour rise at room temperature, I often let the dough rise overnight in the fridge instead. This way, if you want bagels for brunch, you can make up the dough the night before, and just have to do the shaping, poaching and baking the next day. I have made it both ways- the one hour rise, and the slow rise in the fridge- and haven't noticed any difference in the results. 

For shaping the bagels, I find it easiest to get a ball of dough, make a hole in it with my index finger, and gently widen it. The suggested method- having a strip of dough, curling it round into a circle and sealing the edges doesn't really work for me- my seals usually break, and I end up with 'C' shaped bagels. Another blogger suggested using a small round cookie cutter to cut out a hole, which I think is a great idea, and I would have tried it if I had the right sized cutter.

1 kg of white flour, plus more as necessary for kneading 1 tablespoon of salt
7g of easy yeast or 15g of fresh yeast
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for greasing
500mL warm water, plus more as needed
2 tablespoon of malt extract or sugar, for poaching the bagels (I got malt extract at Holland and Barrets)
2-3 baking sheets, oiled or greased

Combine the flour, salt and yeast together in a large bowl, add the sugar and the oil to the water. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid, mixing to a dough with a spatula or wooden spoon. Knead the dough either by hand or with dough hook, trying to add more flour if you can, dough is better drier than wetter, the dough will be stiff and hard work, even with the dough hook it takes 10 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and put it into an oiled bowl, turning once to coat all around, then cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it to rise for 1 hour. It should be well risen, and when you poke it with your finger , the impression should remain.

 Punch the dough down and then give a good knead and divide into 3 pieces. Using your hands, roll each piece into a rope then cut each rope into 5 pieces. Roll each piece between the palms of your hands into a ball and then roll into another rope, curling to form a ring. Seal the ends by overlapping (or use my suggested method, above)

Put on a large pan of water to boil, when it boils add the malt or the sugar.Sit the bagels on the baking sheets cover with tea towels and leave for 20 minutes by which times they should be puffy. Preheat oven to 240C.

When the waters boiling, start poaching, drop a couple of bagels at a time into the boiling water and boil for 1 minute turning them once, use a couple of spatulas for this. As you poach them put them back onto the oiled baking sheets, well spaced and then bake for 10-15 minutes until they're shiny and golden brown.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Quince Vodka

This is very easy to make- slice the fruit, put in a jar, add some sugar and top up with vodka. And then you wait. Quinces are very hard and don't give out their juices quickly, so I recommend leaving this for at least a year. Your patience will be rewarded with a golden, fragrant liqueur, good to drink  on it's own or in cocktails. It's nice mixed with some whipped cream too, to go with mince pies or Christmas pudding.

To make it, I sliced 2 quinces, (not huge ones), leaving the core behind. I put them in a 1 litre jar. I added about 50g sugar, and topped it up with about 600ml vodka. Put the lid on the jar, shake to help dissolve the sugar, and then leave for about a year. When it is ready, strain out the pieces of fruit. After the infusing period, I recommend storing in the fridge, as it is nicer to drink cold, but it can be stored at room temperature.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Chocolate Mincemeat Eccles cakes

The name is pretty clumsy, I'll grant you. I couldn't think of a better way to describe these, 'chocolate mincemeat in flaky pastry' sounds a bit dull. They aren't even Eccles cakes, but as I used the same sort of pastry and shaped them in the same way, I felt this title conveyed what they are reasonably well.

Proper Eccles cakes don't use mincemeat as a filling (let alone experimental chocolatey mincemeat), they use a less gloopy, less rich mix of currents, butter, sugar, citrus zest and spices. Mincemeat is an obvious substitution, especially if, like me, you make mincemeat in such large quantities you need a few different recipes to finish it up post-Christmas.

This was my first time cooking with the chocolate and sour cherry mincemeat, and I was really happy with the results. I was concerned the chocolate would take over and it would be too sickly, but the characteristic tang of the mincemeat still comes through, helped by the additional orange juice and the sour cherries. The chocolate is just another dimension to the mincemeat mix.

I used, as I always do for Eccles cake, this Delia recipe, using butter and not the suggested margarine.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Hazelnut, Yoghurt and Blackberry Cake

This is a simple adaptation of one of the first recipes on my blog, a hazelnut loaf cake. All I have done is stir 200g blackberries and some the juice of a small orange into the cake batter, to make a less plain cake. I like it both plain and with the fruit. When it is plain, I think it is nicest with some stewed fruit or jam or curd (I suggested this spiced damson curd), and with the fruit in the cake, it's good just by itself.

I have made the name a little fancier- the original recipe always had yogurt in it. Two reasons- I like the way it sounds, and you can taste the tang of the yogurt in the cake, so I think it is worth mentioning.

Skinning the hazelnuts is a bit of a faff, so I don't do it very thoroughly, but I definitely think it is worth the extra effort to use whole hazelnuts that you grind yourself. The flavour you get is much more intense than anything you could get with ready-ground nuts.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Osso Buco

Until last week, I had never tried the classic Milanese dish, osso buco, let alone made it myself. It's something I have been intent on cooking for some time, but the main ingredient, thick slices of veal shin, have eluded me. I have never been interested in making a variation on with a substitute for the veal, such as pork- I wanted to try the real thing. My butcher had osso buco in stock the other week- this is not a regular occurrence, so I took the opportunity to buy what I could.

I mentioned wanting to try the real thing- osso buco is one of those dishes that has a lot of dispute on how to cook it the correct way- namely, whether or not tomatoes should be added to the dish. I am not an experienced enough cook to join in on this debate, so I went with the advice of Anna Del Conte, who is both Milanese and author of some of my favourite cookery books. She is very clear on her opinion that tomatoes should not be added to osso buco. I wouldn't rule out trying it, as I would like to be able to form my own opinion on the great tomato debate, but veal is a bit too expensive for me to buy often enough to experiment.

I served the osso buco with the it's classic pairing, risotto alla Milanese. The recipe I used suggested using some beef marrow into the risotto, which I sadly do not have a ready supply of- I used the listed substitution of pancetta. The big slices of veal I had, did hold a lot of wonderful, creamy marrow, which was a real treat, especially with a sprinkling of sea salt on it- so I didn't feel I was missing out by not using marrow in the risotto too.

The recipe I used is here. I only had 4 slices of osso buco, but I kept the other ingredients in the same quantities. It meant I had a lot of leftover cooking liquid, but it was so delicately delicious that the remaining juices got eaten the next day with just some bread to soak it up.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Chocolate and Sour Cherry Mincemeat

 I have been deliberating about making a chocolatey variation on mincemeat for a while, I couldn't imagine if it would be a pleasant or disappointing change to a classic. I don’t follow the mindset that an addition of chocolate will make any sweet dish better, but having tried the Nigella Christmas cake with added chocolate, and seeing this recipe, I thought it would be worth a try. If I didn't love it, it’s not like non-chocolately mince pies wouldn't be available to me over the Christmas period. As well as the addition of chocolate (from cocoa and chips) I added made up some of the dried fruit weight with dried cherries, which I love, and thought would go well with the chocolate.

I used a tried and tested Delia Smith Mincemeat recipe, halving the weight of the currants and sultanas, and using 225g dried sour cherries. I also added in 50g of cocoa powder, and used an extra orange’s worth of juice, as the cocoa made the consistency of the mincemeat mix thicker. After cooking and cooling, I stirred in 200g chocolate chips along with the brandy.

I have tasted it, but I think it needs a little time to settle- for now, I’ll say it is very rich! I will be doing some cooking with it- obviously regular mince pies, but  I have made enough for some further experimentation. My ideas so far have included making mincemeat brownies, making rolls similar to cinnamon rolls, with the chocolate mincemeat in place of or alongside the cinnamon butter, and some puff pastry turnovers, with a chocolate mincemeat filling.