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Saturday, 29 June 2013

Eggs Benedict

Sunday starts rather late for me.  I hate to admit it but I often don't get out of bed till way past 10am.  My weekend routine normally involves fresh coffee, morning TV and catching up on the weeks news on my iPad while thinking about what to do for the day.  Midweek breakfast usually consists of something in a bowl with milk, coffee, followed by another coffee when I get to work.  At the weekends I can spend more time doing what I love - cooking.   

Eggs Benedict is a recipe I first tired Christmas morning.  I wanted to test out my newest gadget straight away and one of the first things I thought of  was warm hollandaise sauce poured over softly poached eggs.  Replacing the normal muffin with more fancy and softer brioche and serving it with salty thick cut smoked bacon makes this a perfect breakfast/brunch dish.  

Making hollandaise can be complicated and if not careful you can end up with buttery scrambled eggs.   I came across Delia Smith's blender version when hunting through my collection of books for a recipe.  Delia recommends using a blender or food processor (I have tired both with the blender being the better option).   This is pretty much fool proof and has worked every time.  My recipe below makes enough for two people - double the amount if you like for four (2 eggs yolks).  The only issue you may have is keeping the sauce warm while you prepare everything else.  It is so quick to make I would leave it until you have cooked the bacon.

I cook my bacon in the oven, its easier and allows time to get on with other things.  Keep an eye on the brioche as it browns very quickly while it toasts due to the high butter content.    This is a very rich breakfast and isn't something you want everyday.  Butter sauce, eggs, brioche and salty bacon is the most perfect combination.  If your a veggie simply replace the bacon with asparagus.  Served Christmas morning or any morning this is a real treat.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Fudge Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate, butter, eggs, flour and sugar...such a simple mix creates one of the best and easiest chocolate hits.  I have struggled to find a chocolate brownie recipe that works for me. What I mean by works is a brownie that is dense, fudgy and as far from a cake as possible.  A brownie should be dense, but not under-cooked, sweet, but not sickly and have a real chocolate hit.  Get it right and you should end up with a shiny crisp top that hides a rich dense cake.  This recipe, I believe, is the one.  Taken from Edd Kimber 'The Boy who Bakes' I have found these brownies work perfectly.  Although relatively cheap to make these brownies do contain 300g of chocolate and if your buying the good stuff (I wouldn't even bother if not) it will be the most expensive part of the recipe.  I tend to collect chocolate, adding a bar or two with the fortnightly shopping order and then stashing it away (well away) for days when I fancy something sweet.  All the other ingredients will be things you have in the store cupboard.

Brownies, a dessert developed in the United States, are flat baked squares that due to the lack of baking powder stays dense and fudge like.  There are many variations - plain, with nuts, with frosting, with extra chocolate chips, with cream, with ice cream (yum) and not forgetting no chocolate at all (the blondie)

Not overworking the flour is the key to the perfect dense brownie.  If you mix to hard during the flour stage you will develop the gluten and the result with be more of a cake instead of the dense 'almost, yet not' uncooked dessert seen above.

Quick and easy to make I think Edd's recipe is my favourite brownie so far.  Try it and see what you think.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Raspberry and Nectarine Crumble Cake

The warm weather has made me think about cakes suitable for eating on sunny days, perhaps by the riverside, most definitely with friends.  A cake that is light and easy to handle yet tasty and filling.  I have always liked the idea of 'tray-bakes' and this recipe could be consider as an American Coffee Cake, although it does not contain any coffee.  Light vanilla scented sponge kept moist by fresh fruits and topped with a slightly crunchy crumble topping.  I have made this cake a number of times because its relatively quick, always works and tastes great with whatever fruit you decide to put in it.  I consider this a good seasonal cake, it works with a variety of fruits - apples, peaches, plums, rhubarb and pear.  

I have made this cake as a tray-bake (this recipe) but it also works perfectly in a 25cm round loose bottom tin.  I find the square tin easier to divide in to sharable portions, it is also easier to pack in to boxes to take outside.  

Making the sponge is far easier with a stand mixer but you could make it by hand.  The large amount of egg will more than likely result in a curdle, even with electric mixer, so making sure all ingredients are at room temperature and adding a spoonful of flour to the mix as you add the eggs with reduce the risk of splitting.   Even if this does happen don't worry too much, the baking powder will support the slightly reduced air from the eggs.  A good point to remember when caking making is to mix hard as you can UNTIL you add the flour, then fold in and try not to over mix.  Working the flour causes gluten to be released resulting in a heavy cake.  As soon as you add the flour in to this mixture switch to a folding action with a large spoon.  I have been known to allow the machine to fold in the flour, and this will more than likely work well, but with cake making I always try a little bit harder.

Originally I wanted to make this cake with fresh peaches, then along came the idea of adding raspberries, but when I went to my local 'fruit & veg shop' they only had nectarines.  A quick search on my iPhone confirmed what I was thinking - nectarines are from the same family as peaches and have a similar flavour, they also make an excellent sub.   This cake is perfect eaten warm from the oven with some double cream or even better served cold at a picnic.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Cupcakes - Cherry Coke & Bounty

I was recently tasked with the job of creating cupcakes for a friends birthday party (I say tasked, it was me who suggested it...)  The party was staged in an old fashioned bowling alley and this lead to the theme of rock' n' roll.  I carefully thought about what flavour cakes to make and then I remembered seeing a recipe for Coca Cola cooked Ham from Nigella Lawson, further research led me to another recipe from the 'Coke Queen' herself called Coca Cola Cupcakes.  Using this recipe as a basis I wondered if I could simply use cherry coke instead of regular and embellish the tops with something cherry flavoured, then top with her coke flavoured icing?  I hunted around the internet (as you do) and came across a number of recipes for cherry coke cupcakes, some looked great, others a little dull.  I was inspired by a recipe I saw on 'Katie Cakes' and with some minor adapting to the frosting my cherry coke cupcake was born.

The second flavour is simply based on me asking my friend what she would like.  Coconut and chocolate is a favourite, so along came the 'Bounty' Cupcake.  For all those not from the UK (possible US??) a Bounty bar is basically a nugget of dense coconut covered in milk chocolate,  very yum - if you like coconut.  I had a number of ideas on how to make this cake.  Idea one, chocolate sponge, topped with coconut frosting.  Idea two, white sponge containing coconut topped with chocolate frosting and a dusting of coconut.  Finally I decided on white sponge with coconut covered in  vanilla frosting dipped in molten chocolate, sprinkled with coconut, inspired by Martha Stewart's 'Hi-Hat Cupcakes'. 

I have tried to balance the complexity of these cupcakes so you would want to make them, what I mean by this is that the coconut sponge takes a second to whizz up while the frosting is the more complex part and the coca cola sponge is a little more technical compared to the easy frosting on top.  

Here are the recipes for both cakes.  Nigella supplies both the recipe for the white coconut cakes and the coke (with various changes made by me).  Martha supplies the hi-top frosting and coating and I invented the cherry frosting myself based on 'Kates' quantities.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Black Bean Chilli with Avocado Salsa

Since I was young I have never been a fan of kidney beans (nor real kidney/liver, yuck!) therefore I never really liked chilli con carne.  Its not that I don't like spicy food, because I do, but it was just something about the texture of the mince, the slight heat of the chilli and those horrible red beans.  However recently a friend of mine invited me round for dinner and she cooked Delia Smiths' Black Bean Chilli with Avocado Salsa.  At first I was worried I would not like it due to the beans, but I gave it a go and have never looked back since.  This is one of the best chilli recipes I have ever eaten.  Gone was the horrible mince and instead replaced with small chunks of beef, as tender as can be, those kidney beans where still there but I actually found I liked them if eaten all together.

What makes this dish so special is the extras...a bowl of plain white rice, topped with an ample serving of chilli, topped with a good spoonful of creme fraîche, finally followed by the cold avocado salsa.  There is something fantastic about the hot chilli mixed with the smooth cool creme fraîche and salsa that makes this dish perfect.

The chilli itself freezes perfectly and I often freeze portions and simply microwave from frozen for 8 minutes.  Of course you can't freeze the salsa but even if you dont have the avocado I often chop up a single tomato, red onion, salt and lime and use that instead. Very worst case, just chop up some fridge cold tomatoes, you basically just need something cool to put on top of the hot chilli.

I have slightly changed some of the ingredients for ease of cooking, feel free to read the actual version here.  All I have done however is speed up the prep time by using tinned kidney beans instead of the black beans and replaced the real chilli with chilli flakes.  Italics are my additions, the rest is totally Delia, I have simply copied it from her website.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Perfect Chocolate Fudge Cake

I have bravely titled this post 'perfect' because its one of a number of chocolate cakes I have tried that everyone seems to love, even those that do not like cake seem to like this one.  The recipe is from Nigella, her 'Bites' book, and she got it from Tish Boyle's 'Dinner Desserts'.   Serves 10 or one broken heart (as Nigella states).

My Grandma has always been known for her chocolate cake recipe.  Its a very old recipe spanning back to just after the war.  Be-Ro is the famous brand that invented her classic recipe that involves, amongst others, ingredients like condensed milk.  It is known throughout my family as 'Grandma's Chocolate Cake', the cake we always get at Christmas and other special occasions.  Until, however, my chocolate cake took its crown.  Now it may seem very mean to brag how good this cake is and that it blows my Grandma's famous cake out the water IF NOT that my Grandma herself said it to me only last week.  She has happily handed over the responsibility of making chocolate cakes for family celebrations and I am very happy to accept.  My Grandma is wonderful and is happy to have held the glory all these years only to pass it on to her grandson - thank you Grandma.

This recipe is very quick and easy.  Once you have weighed out the dry ingredients, whisked the eggs in a jug and put the oil/water in the mixer you are ready to go.  It may seem strange that this recipe calls for corn oil and sour cream but these two ingredients work and help to create this dense chocolate creation.  I have tweaked the chocolate fudge icing to make it less grown up.  Nigella calls for 175g of dark chocolate, I found this far too rich and instead I use 100g good milk chocolate and 100g good dark chocolate - yes I know thats 200g but really it does not make any difference, plus it saves you wasting (or eating) the two blocks left over.  What you are left with is a sweet, yet rich, smooth chocolate frosting.

I would highly recommend this chocolate cake - just seeing it standing tall on its platform is enough to send any dieter over the edge ;-)

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

My Gadgets - Part Two - "Cheap and Cheerful"

Continuing my obsession with gadgets I have decided to move away from the expensive tools I discussed in a previous blog and instead focus on those cheap little tools, that maybe wont get used everyday, but when you need them they are ready.

Some of these tools are rather old and I can't remember where I brought them or how much they cost.  I am sure however you can still find them around, try Amazon, they seem to have everything.

So, here we go, cheap and cheerful gadgets, I use the word gadgets very loosely, useful however, I think so.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Summer Smoothies Part One

Since getting my Kitchenaid Blender I have been looking for any excuse to use it.  As with all my gadgets, when they are new they get used all the time, until the next big gadget replacement comes along.  Since the sun is shining and I am on a bit of a health kick I decided to blog about two smoothies.  Now these are far from new concoctions, in fact I guess you could easily find them anywhere on the web.  But anyway, these are my versions of two classic smoothies - Coconut, Pineapple & Banana, and Strapple (Strawberry and Apple)

The Strapple is like one of those slushy drinks - fresh and cold.  The Coconut Smoothie is thicker and more filling.  I always have frozen bananas at hand, they keep for ages and are always ready for blending.  I guess you could use a non-frozen banana and add in some ice cubes if you like but I would really suggest throwing any bananas that are just about to turn in the freezer until you need them.  The coconut was left over from the banana muffins I recently made.  If you don't mind little flecks of coconut in your drink I think it works well.  If I had it to hand I would have used powdered coconut as this would have created a totally smooth drink, but the desiccated had to do.

I intend to post some more blogs about smoothies, but more adventurous ones, for example I want to experiment with different chocolate bars and ice cream.  I have a craving for 'dime bar' milkshake or white choc chip cookie.

Lets hope for more sunny days...