Thursday, 25 November 2010

Slice of Delight

The Handyman and I love tray baked cakes, they are easy to pick up with a cup of coffee (for me) and tea (for him) without it being too obvious that slices are disappearing. So we can keep our greedy secret at least for a while until the cake tin is empty. 

I don't know why we feel guilty for eating lovely home baked cakes that contain no unnatural additives and we certainly work hard enough in the garden and around the house to use up the calories; probably just our culture that seems to say that if you enjoy something it must be naughty!

Recently I've discovered a couple of new tray bakes that have disappeared from the tin with alarming swiftness.  One was a chocolate bake from Jacqueline over at Tinned Tomatoes, Chocolate Tiffin, a no bake slice, very easy to make and to eat.  I used 70% cocoa chocolate for mine, a very adult taste; if I was making for children I'd probably use a milk chocolate...a good excuse to make another batch to try out the milk choc version, oh, and what about a white chocolate version with apricots instead of the raisins!

The second bake that we've had recently is an apricot and macaroon slice.  I made a half quantity in a 7" square shallow cake tin and it came out beautifully after a few anxious moments when the first layer of sponge was baked - it looked too thin but actually turned out really well in the finished cake.  Sweet,coconutty and generally yummy!

Apricot and Macaroon Slice
Makes about16 pieces

100g unsalted butter, softened
80g caster sugar
1 egg
185g plain flour
half tsp baking powder 

250g dried apricots, roughly chopped
1 tbsp Amaretto
2 tbsp caster sugar 

100g unsalted butter, softened
80g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
270g dessicated coconut
40g plain flour
half tsp baking powder


Heat the oven to 180C and lightly grease and line an 8"x12" shallow baking tin.

To make the base put all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat with an electric beater until smooth.  Press into the baking tin and bake for about 25 minutes until golden.

Meanwhile make the filling by combining the apricots, Amaretto and sugar in a bowl with 4 fl ozs boiling water. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes then puree in a food processor.  When the base has cooled slightly cover it with the apricot mixture.

Make the topping by creaming together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat in the eggs and then fold in the flour and baking powder followed by the coconut.  Spoon on top of the apricot mixture then return to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden.

Note: Next time I make this I'm going to replace the apricot mixture with some Holly Grove jam in a thick layer.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Slàinte Mhath!

Unless you speak Gaelic or have a Scot in the family you may be confused by the title of this's an old Scottish toast: 'slainte mhath' (pronounced slanj uh va) meaning good health. And the reason for toasting you all is that I've been busy making drinks, soft and otherwise, in the Holly Grove kitchen recently.

First off the bench is an update on the cider front; the first demijohn is now bottled. It has retained its deep pink colour and, if I can work out how the hydrometer works, I'll let you know the alcohol level.  I bottled the cider in 2 litre plastic bottles that had previously held sparkling spring water. They were sterilised with Milton sterilising fluid and then rinsed out with cooled previously boiled water. So approximately 5 litres of pink cider awaiting next summer.

The water bottles came in useful again for my first attempt at ginger beer. I love this spicy, refreshing drink and was tempted to try and make my own when I read of all the ingredients in the commercial brands compared to the simple ingredients in a homemade version, and it's made in a bottle, so no special equipment required! The result is a lightly sparkling, gingery, not too sweet, moreish drink; perfect for hot summer days and cosy winter evenings by the fire. I'll definitely be making lots more of this one and will slightly increase the ginger content next time.

Clockwise from the top - cider, ginger beer, apple liqueur, lemonade

Now on the shelf and ready for Christmas is my apple liqueur; two versions: one made with the rosy red dessert apples from one of the old apple trees and one made with Cox's from one of the newer fruit trees in the garden.  Some of this liqueur went into our Christmas puddings this year.  Both are a lovely amber colour, though more colour in the old apple tree version, and both taste divine. To be drunk in small quantities as they contain lots of alcohol, lovely with a festive mince pie or slice of Christmas cake. Can't wait!

And lastly for this roundup, lemonade.  This has proven very successful and like the ginger beer really easy to make. I made about 500ml of this and keep it in the fridge. We drink it diluted with sparkling water, about 50:50, so refreshing and tasty. I'm going to reduce the sugar content and increase the lemon next time as we like a sharper more lemony flavour.

Looking at this line-up I don't think I'll be buying much in the way of drinks from now on, if only I could make a decent Chablis and/or Merlot! In the meantime here are the recipes for the ginger beer and lemonade - cheers!

Ginger Beer

2-litre plastic bottle
quarter tsp champagne yeast
225g caster sugar
2 tbsp finely grated fresh root ginger
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp honey

Add the yeast to the bottle then pour in the sugar. In a jug, mix the grated ginger, lemon juice and honey together. Pour this mixture into the bottle and fill to three quarters full with cold water. Put the top on the bottle and shake until the sugar is dissolved. Top up the bottle with water, leaving a 2.5cm gap at the top.

Cap the bottle tightly, then put it somewhere warm. Leave it for about 2-3 days. Once the bottle feels very hard place the bottle in the fridge for several hours to stop the yeast working. Pass the ginger beer through a fine sieve and re bottle.Your ginger beer is now ready to enjoy.

Lemony Lemonade
Makes about 500ml
half a cup caster sugar
1 tbsp honey
half a cup water
1 lemon, zest and juice
450ml cold water

Put the caster sugar, honey and cup of water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil, simmer for 2 minutes, until sugar has dissolved. Put the lemon zest and juice in a large jug and pour over the syrup. Allow to cool slightly then put the lemon mixture into a bottle. Add enough of the 450ml of cold water to fill the bottle.. Cap and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. To serve, dilute the lemonade about 50:50 with chilled sparkling water.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bags of Pears

To my mind there is nothing sweeter than a really ripe pear, just the thought of all those natural sugars and soft melting flesh makes me dream of cake.  So when I saw a large bag of slightly under ripe pears in the supermarket I was tempted to buy...and then the price confirmed it...only £1!

On my way home in the car I dreamt of what I might make with my bargain pears...cake, pudding, jam - all three?  So once the shopping was unpacked and stored; not a chore that I enjoy having just loaded it into the trolley, loaded it into bags and then loaded it into the car; I made myself a coffee and sat down with a couple of cookbooks.

One of my favourites at the moment is Hugh FW's Everyday, and I wasn't disappointed as in there I found a recipe for an Apple and Almond Pudding cake which looked delicious.  As it says in the title Hugh uses apples and adds cinnamon as his spice. 

I changed the recipe to use my lovely pears with ginger as the spice and where Hugh uses almond essence for extra flavouring I added Amaretto liqueur.  Served with custard this cake proved a real hit. I'm looking forward to trying a slice with my morning coffee and/or afternoon tea!

Pear, Ginger and Amaretto Cake 
4 firm pears, peeled, cored and thickly sliced
25g unsalted butter
1 tbsp unrefined granulated sugar (I might try honey next time)

150g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
75g self raising flour
75g ground almonds
half a tsp ground ginger
1 tsp (or a bit more) Amaretto  

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease and line an 8" round cake tin. Melt 25g butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the granulated sugar and stir gently until it has dissolved. Add the pears and cook gently, turning once or twice, until they have softened and are starting to colour, this takes about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and leave to cool. 

In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter with the caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Slowly beat in the eggs, adding a spoonful of the flour if required to stop the mix curdling. Fold in the remaining flour, ground almonds and ginger. Gently stir in the Amaretto and then put the mixture into the prepared tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour over any juices from the frying pan.  

Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow the cake to cool slightly in the tin before taking out.  Serve the cake warm with luscious custard.

Note: Look out for more pear recipes in the next day or so. I've a pear and lemon jam recipe to try...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Ingredient Challenge

Following my early success in the No Croutons Required monthly challenge last month I thought I'd risk it again and make a dish for the November challenge.  This one is more tricky as it's using an ingredient selected by Lisa that I've never cooked with before - quinoa.

From the reading that I've done on this grain, I understand that it can be used in place of couscous or rice in most recipes.  With this in mind, and given that I submitted a soup recipe for the October challenge, I've decided to try a salad this time.  The resulting dish was lighter than a couscous version and less grainy than a rice version; I'll be trying quinoa again perhaps in a soup next time.

Quinoa, Courgette and Dolcelatte Salad
75g quinoa
1 small courgette, sliced into ribbons using a vegetable peeler
quarter of a red onion, finely diced
75g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red chilli, finely diced
75g dolcelatte, cut into small cubes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cook the quinoa following the packet instructions.  Drain and refresh under cold running water.  Leave to drain and cool.

When cool, add the courgette ribbons, chopped onion, chilli, cherry tomatoes and dolcelatte cubes and toss together well.  Whisk the olive oil and red wine vinegar together and pour over the salad.  Toss together and there you have it!

Note: I didn't add any salt to this salad as the salty flavour of the cheese added enough flavour for me.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Two for One

Last week we had some rosemary and walnut bread from the market and it was delicious, I wasn't able to get there this week but we craved the delicious sweet nuttiness, so I thought I'd try to make some.  Bread making takes rather a long time and with the kitchen in some disarray I needed a quicker solution.  Soda bread is at the forefront of my mind as there seem to have been a number of TV cooks making it recently: Hugh FW and Nigella to name a couple.

I thought I'd try a rosemary and walnut version.  I was so pleased with the result, the walnut pieces were nicely distributed through the bread and the rosemary flavour was strong enough without being overpowering.

A good bread needs a good soup so two recipes for the price of one today!

Rosemary and Walnut Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf
450g plain white flour
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp salt
1 oz finely chopped walnuts
1 oz coarsely chopped walnuts
2 good sprigs rosemary, finely chopped plus a few rosemary needles for decoration
350ml plain yoghurt

Heat the oven to 220C and lightly flour a large baking tray.

Sieve the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl.  Add the salt and the finely chopped walnuts and rosemary, mix together well.  Now add the coarsely chopped walnuts and mix again. Finally add the yoghurt and mix together to form a sticky dough.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and bring together into a ball.  Flatten the ball to about 4cm deep then place on the floured baking tray.  Cut a cross into the top of the loaf, use a floured knife to do this to stop it sticking in the dough, then sprinkle a few rosemary needles over the top.

Place in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes.  The bread is ready when you tap it on the bottom and it sounds hollow. Place on a wire rack to cool slightly, then serve warm with the soup. 

With the current range and availability of mushrooms in the greengrocers and the supermarket I had to make a creamy mushroom soup. Mushroom soup doesn't end up a very pretty colour but the flavour is immense, if you don't believe me give it a try and I'm sure you'll be addicted.

Creamy Mushrooms Soup
Serves 6
1kg mushrooms, any mix you like, I used chestnut and portobellini
2tsps butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
small bunch of thyme
1ltr vegetable or chicken stock
500ml milk
100ml double cream 

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and sweat until the onion is soft but not coloured.  Add the sliced mushrooms and the thyme and cook for a couple of minutes then add the stock and milk and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Remove the bunch of thyme and blend the soup.  Pour the blended soup through a sieve and return to a clean saucepan. Add the cream, season with salt and pepper and stir well, gently reheat the soup, but do not allow it to boil.

Serve in warmed bowls with the rosemary and walnut soda bread.  Bread and soup heaven!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Kitchen Improvements

Having finished creating and tiling the roof on the Goat House the Handyman has turned his attention and skills to the changes required inside our house.  The first and most major changes will be to the kitchen.  This will have a huge impact on the way we live at HG and once we get through the disruption it will be fantastic to have the kitchen that we've always wanted.  At the moment the work has meant that cooking activities are being kept to a minimum whilst the dust settles - literally!

Handyman and Apprentice


The next stage, replacing the windows, is underway with time being spent on selection of installer, colour, shape, materials etc.  Then it will be on to changing the boiler so that we can remove the Aga Rayburn which currently provides our heating and hot water.  Yes, I did say remove the Aga! 

Romantic Notion
When we first moved here one of the attractions was the Aga, but I've found it to be a romantic notion.  It takes up a lot of space and, certainly for me working full time, takes a long time to heat up for cooking.  I have used it on about 5 occasions, Christmas and winter family gatherings and it does make fantastic pastry cases and provide a warm and welcoming spot to gather, but I'd prefer to use the space for a cooker that I can use every day.  So the plan is to replace it with a large electric range cooker - we don't have gas here only oil and electricity.  I've found one with a mix of 6 induction and ceramic heat zones and 3 ovens and I think I'm in love!  My sister cooks on induction and has found it as controllable as gas, can't wait to try it myself.
Dream Cooker
So once the heating boiler is replaced and all the plumbing completed we can move the Aga, raise the chimney breast where it currently resides, alter the positions of the cupboards and supplement with some new ones, get the electrics done - new lighting, more sockets and my dream cooker - have all the plastering done and finally...decorate, phew!

Quite a time consuming piece of home improvement and the reason for telling you all of this is that my recipe posts may be fewer and further between whilst the kitchen is decommissioned - unless I can sneak in between the Handyman and the various tradesmen to rustle up a little something...hmm!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Breakfast or Brunch

It's been ages since the Handymand and I have made time for a proper cooked breakfast, but by gaining an extra hour yesterday we decided the time was ripe.

It coincided with the last of the Holly Grove tomatoes and a recent trip to our local butcher resulting in bacon, sausage and free range eggs.  Though the kitchen is in upheaval (more of that to follow in a future post) we made a space to sit down and enjoy our brunch.

Not the healthiest of breakfasts but once in a while a real treat!
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