Sunday 10 November 2013

Pumpkin pie

Oh readers, I've been neglecting you so terribly, haven't I? Let's blame the baby. He's not arrived yet, but the little tyke is dreadfully distracting, I assure you.

This post was going to be called 'Pastry is a bloody bitch and I fucking hate it', but I figured that wouldn't work so well for google searches. None the less, pastry is a bloody bitch, and I do fucking hate it.

I think every cook has has a dish which will always elude them. I know I have several. But pastry is my ultimate nemesis. It just never works the way I want it to. I've tried so many recipes and so many techniques, yet on every attempt it shrinks and shrivels away from the edge of the tin. Or swells up at the bottom. Or burns around the top. Or if I allow for extra around the edge, and attempt a post-bake trim, it cracks and ends up having to be stuck back together.

With most things that are this consistently infuriating, you walk away, but the problem with pastry is that it's also delicious. And it acts as an edible receptacle for other delicious stuff. So it's become a bit like a cheating lover, who I can't stop myself returning to, time and time again, no matter how much it hurts. Hence this pie.

Like most households in Britain last week, we found ourselves with a load of pumpkin innards, having turned the outards into a ghoulish face (a ghoulish face which we then hid in our dining room, so that no actual Trick or Treaters saw it through the window and assumed we might want to give them some of our chocolate). I was loath to throw it away, so decided to make it into a pumpkin pie; something I've never actually had before. It was nice. Like a slightly vegetal custard tart. And we all know that puddings with fruit and veg in are basically calorie free.

Did I, on this occasion, find a new magical method which made perfect pastry? Did I fuck. I got it out of a packet and it still went to shit, but I chose to photograph the one slice where you can't tell. CUNNING.

Pumpkin pie

Clearly I don’t know how to make the pastry, so let’s assume you’ve got an 8”ish shortcrust tart shell, blind baked. We don’t need to talk about how you got to that point.
500g pumpkin flesh
100g soft brown sugar
150ml double cream
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground ginger
3 eggs
Boil your pumpkin until soft, then puree.  Allow to cool slightly and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Transfer to the tart case and bake for about 40 minutes, until the filling has set, but is still fairly bouncy.  Serve with ice cream.  

Monday 24 June 2013

In The Family Way


That got your attention, didn't it? Well it's true. Big Life Announcement: as of December I will have a new sprog-shaped accessory to clutter-up your timelines with. In fact I'm hoping I can give up on this cooking malarkey all together and just show you pictures of the baby. That's what everyone else does, right? To be honest, since that test showed positive I've lost all skill to string a sentence together, so we all better hope it's cute.

Having spent most of my adult life trying very hard not to be pregnant, it's very strange to suddenly be booking maternity leave and buying stretchy jeans (WHY haven't I always had these?). You kind of expect someone to tell you off. But everyone's being very nice about it. Mum's started knitting. Step Dad is trying to rebuild our house. And Ben and I are thrilled, I should probably point that out too (yes it was planned/yes we will find out the sex/no I haven't ever changed a nappy - why would you do that unless you absolutely had to? Gross.).

I've never been entirely sure how I feel about announcing such things on the internet. I suspect it's considered a terribly vulgar thing to do, but I figure if I'm going to go to the trouble of growing a whole new person, then it's probably worth a mention somewhere along the line. Plus it's only fair to let you in on the secret, seeing as I plan on doing a fair amount of complaining about the (seemingly many) less glamorous aspects of offspring production.

It also explains why things have been a bit quiet around here. Basically I don't like food anymore. Or at least I haven't for the last three months. I started off wanting raw, crunchy things and protein. I thought to myself, 'Dude, this is health, you're gonna LOSE weight having this baby'. That lasted all of three days before my staple diet became chips, pasta and Cornettos.

Of course I was expecting cravings and nausea, they warn you about that, but I wasn't expecting to go off everything I have ever loved. It's hard to maintain a food blog when your recipes stretch to 'pour Rice Crispies in bowl' or 'ring boyfriend demanding Fondant Fancies'. And I've become a complete glutton to advertising. Anything vaguely junk like, mentioned by anyone, anywhere, and I want it. It's been primitive around here, man.

Things seem to be returning to some semblance of normality these days, so I'll bring you some proper cooking very soon, I promise. But for now, just spare a moment of sympathy for my waistline. And the cat. He's going to blow a fucking gasket when the small person turns up.

P.S. I'm sorry if you're my best friend / closest relative and I forgot to tell you personally. There's always one.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

May Outline article: The Shooter's Sandwich

As a child, I was a fussy little shit. The list of things I would eat could fit on the back of a teabag, and mainly involved cheese, e numbers and an occasional slice of cucumber.  These days I’ll hoof any old thing into my gob (keep it clean, guys) but back in the day it was a battle of wills to get anything past my gnashers. This meant that school dinners were an absolute no go. There was zero chance of me eating mashed potato served in scoops, or that lumpy yellow custard, which everyone suspected to be closely linked to the class’ flatulence levels the proceeding afternoon.
Resultantly, I was a firm fan of the packed lunch. Sandwich, crisps, fruit, cereal bar. Sometimes my Mum might mix things up with a packet of raisins or a Petits Filous.  It was glorious.  And all held together in a Thundercats lunchbox, and a garish Disney flask which always, always leaked all over your P.E. kit. Good times.
As adults we get a bum deal when it comes to packed lunches. There are no sparkly containers or yoghurts with feet (do they still make Munch Bunch?). It generally comes down to whatever you can find in the fridge which doesn’t smell of egg and can feasibly be packed into a Tupperware.
So, how do we liven it up for the over 11s? Well, I’m pretty sure the answer doesn’t lie with Pret-a-fucking-Manger and a haphazard sprinkling of rocket. Instead, I think it comes down to the construction of the humble sandwich. We need to get more creative with our loaves; simply laying one slice of Mighty White on top of another just doesn’t cut the mustard for excitement levels during the daily grind. 
Some friends and I came across the recipe for this ‘Shooter’s Sandwich’ in a Sunday supplement a couple of years ago, and immediately organised an ill-advised March picnic to mark its consumption.  Whilst we all subsequently agreed, with chattering teeth, that the picnic was a terrible idea, the sandwich was a resounding success.  I assume it is named thus as it used to be consumed by hungry hunters, off in pursuit of a stag or something. Either that or its contents were traditionally the result of the shoot – but I’m not sure anybody in their right mind would hunt a cow...
It might seem like an overtly carnivorous option, but fear not, dear veggies, as this method can work with all sorts: a bit of halloumi and roast peppers; some goat’s cheese and caramelised onion. Or you could use fake meat stuff if you’re that way inclined. Basically you can bung all sorts in here.
Shooter’s Sandwich
N.B. The proportions of this recipe all depend on your loaf, so the larger that is, the more of everything else you’ll need.
Small round loaf, with a firm crust
2 medium sized steaks (I used rump)
Knob of butter
3 medium sized banana shallots, finely sliced
250g mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Handful of chopped parsley
Shot of brandy
1-2tbps Dijon mustard or horseradish sauce
Slice off the very top of your loaf to form your ‘lid’ and spread it with the horseradish/mustard.  Hollow out the inside of the loaf and put to one side.
Cook your steaks to your preferred method and level of doneness. You can either keep the steaks whole, or slice. Use one steak to line the bottom of your hollowed out loaf – you don’t need to leave it to rest as the juices will all soak in. 
Fry your mushrooms and shallots in the butter, until softened. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, then the brandy, allowing the alcohol to burn of for a minute or two.  Lastly stir in the parsley, season, and transfer to the middle of your loaf.
Top with the second steak and replace the loaf lid.  Wrap the whole thing in greaseproof paper, sandwich between two chopping boards, and weigh down with something heavy, so all of the juices soak into the bread.  Leave for a good few hours, preferably overnight, then slice, as you would a meaty cake. Serve with some sort of vegetable, to make you feel slightly more virtuous.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Birthday cake trifle

Technology is well and truly conspiring against me at the moment. Nothing in my life works properly. We've bought a newfangled tablet thing, which doesn't seem to do anything useful. My macbook is so old that it's about to claim its bus pass, my phone hasn't been updated for so long that it's simply refusing to do anything, and the DVD player has now decided it doesn't like DVDs. And nothing rivals Ben's laptop, which has half a screen and no keyboard. Everything media based seems to involve connecting one crappy piece of hardware to another, to share around the elements of it which aren't crappy.

The tip of the iceberg is that the oven seems to have gone on the blink. Now I'm not entirely sure if this is just my paranoia, it's not clapped out completely or anything, but something has definitely changed since we moved house. Things only seem to cook if they're on the top shelf, and then they cook a little too much. If you put anything on the bottom shelf then you might as well just stand there and breath heavily on it for two hours

*Insert something about bad workman, blame and tools*

All this resulted in me well and truly shitting-up Ben's birthday cake a few weeks ago. A simple victoria sponge and I couldn't get it right. It overflowed like some sort of eggy magma, covering the entire bottom of the oven. And I've only just plucked up the enthusiasm to clean it, because oven cleaning just isn't something I think anyone should ever have to do ever.

I couldn't face trying to make it look presentable as a cake, but nor could I bear to throw it in the bin. If I were clever I would have marketed it to the crowd as 'Deconstructed Birthday Cake', but really it's a fucking trifle. And it doesn't really warrant a blog post, as the recipe is just throwing a bunch of stuff together, but it's a handy thing to have in your head, should you similarly shit-up a cake...

Birthday cake trifle

One layer of sponge cake (2 eggs, 4oz stork, 4oz caster sugar, 4oz self-raising flour, 1tsp vanilla extract - all mixed together and cooked in a greased tin for about 30 mins, gas mark 3)
1 bag of frozen fruit, defrosted - mine was optimistically labelled 'summer fruits'
2 shots of creme de cassis (optional)
300ml double cream
2tbsp icing sugar
1 pot of fancy shop bought custard
Handful of toasted almonds

Now, my trifle doesn't have jelly in, because jelly is rank, but you can add some in if you're a bit twisted.

Line the bottom of a deep bowl with the sponge cake. Mix the fruit with the creme de cassis and then spoon over the sponge.  Next the custard.  Whip the double cream with the icing sugar, and use to top. Scatter over the chopped almonds and chill for a couple of hours.

Friday 12 April 2013

April Outline article: Tomato and basil soup

Below is my April column for Outline Magazine; on lurgy, tomato soup, and impure thoughts about Jon Snow (no, not the news presenter).

I’m generally all for a bit of cold weather. Summer is far too much like hard work – I spend most of it with a sweaty fringe and an overriding preoccupation with how to cover my upper arms. Winter is much more dignified. It has big coats and scarves; log fires, mulled wine, CHRISTMAS (remember Christmas?). As it approaches I can pretend that I’m living in an episode of Game of Thrones, and any minute now I’ll bump into the handsome, young Jon Snow. Jon and I will take his pet direwolf for a walk, feast on roast boar, and then he’ll lay a load of bear skins down in a snowy cave and hang his cloak up and we’ll...
But Jon never showed up, and now it’s April and I’m still sat here wearing three jumpers and a balaclava in my living room to keep warm. My 200 denier tights have lost their elastic through overuse, the cat hasn’t a clue what stage of malting it’s meant to be at, and with every turn of the gas meter I can hear the pounds dropping into British Gas’s pockets and a fat cat grin spreading across the CEO’s face. It’s fair to say the novelty of a bit of a chill in the air has well and truly worn off.
Right now we should be skipping through meadows with lambs and baby bunnies, gathering daffodils as we pass. We should be getting overexcited about hanging our washing outside, or leaving the house without a coat, or planting a load of flowers and vegetables which will inevitably all die at the first sign of a heat wave. Really at least one of your friends should have organised an optimistic BBQ by now.
But alas, no, apparently we all fell through the back of a wardrobe when we weren’t paying attention and are stuck in fucking Narnia.
The biggest bore of the prolonged winter is the never-ending bouts of lurgy going around. Every trip on public transport is a stealth mission in phlegm avoidance; evenings are spent downing hot toddies rather than flaming zambucas, and we all have the complexion of Bella Swan with a hangover. Almost every person I know is suffering from some sort of affliction right now, be it cough, sniffle or pox.
The only advantage of this lack of health is a culinary gold ticket to eat whatever the hell you like. Of course, you can take the approach of snorting lines of Berocca and injecting orange juice into your eyeballs, but I view this as closing the stable door after the horse has legged it, somewhat. Instead I choose to eat what makes me feel good. I dose up on comfort rather than vitamins. Ice cream for sore throats, macaroni cheese post-noro, seven bars of Green and Blacks for anything vaguely resembling a menstrual cramp.
Tomato soup, I believe, is the epitome of ill food, and this is my version. Don’t get me wrong, at times of poorliness I’m all for the stuff in the can, but on one particular bout of near-death I was forced to create my own. It was either that, or leave the house to go and buy a tin, and the prospect of washing my hair and replacing my pyjamas with a snow suit was just too much to comprehend...

Tomato and basil soup
Serves 4
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tins chopped tomatoes
1 ½  pints vegetable stock
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
Large handful of basil, stalks and all
Glug of oil
200ml single cream
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion in the oil until softened, then add the garlic and fry for another minute. Throw in the tomatoes, stock, sugar, vinegar and chilli and bubble away for about 30 mins or so. Add basil and cream and blend. Taste, and add more seasoning etc if needs be. Serve and top with a swirl of cream or a handful of cheddar.  Another excellent accompaniment is the bread recipe from last month’s column...

Monday 1 April 2013

Feta, tomato and basil muffins

Happy Easter, y'all. In some gross failure of grocery shopping (and boyfriend selection) I'm sat here without any chocolate eggs. Its tough being me. Hope the bunny bothered to stop at your house.

To really torture myself I've decided to reminisce about a load of baked sugary goods which were in my possession just two weekends ago, all in the name of the Make and Do pop-up shop: a selection of artists, and a couple of bakers, come together to sell their wares.

This was my first foray into baking professionally for a good few years, and an excellent reminder as to why I don't do it anymore. I had forgotten just how OCD I get about washing my hands. I had forgotten how the cashier in Sainsburys looks at you when you buy 3kg of icing sugar and 10 packs of butter. I had forgotten how your brain feels after a whole day of eating nothing but raw cake mix, for 'testing' purposes. And I've forgotten where I've put my favourite icing nozzle (of course I found it straight after I needed it). That said, it was good to get back on the diabetic horse.

It was a fantastic day, with a wonderful bunch of people. Rose (of Mountain Bakery) and I sold a load of baked goods, and then went and spent all of the money we made on other people's stuff. That seemed to be how it worked for everyone involved, like some sort of arty food chain, but that's testament to how wonderful everything was.

On the day I made the obligatory cupcakes (cookies 'n' cream and vanilla), banana and white chocolate blondies, and savoury muffins. I also made some meringues, but the less said about how they turned out the better, the traitors.

Because you've all probably had far too much sugar already this weekend, I thought I'd give you the savoury muffin recipe. But if you need more of a fix, the cookies 'n' cream recipe (and a breakdown of my love/ hate relationship with the cupcake) is here and the blondies are here.

Feta, tomato and basil muffins

Makes about 8
100g feta, crumbled
Large handful of basil, torn to small pieces
150g cherry tomatoes, quartered and deseeded (sun dried would also work well)
250g self-raising flour
80g butter, melted and cooled
200ml whole milk
2tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarbonate soda
2 eggs
1tsp salt
Black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to gas mark 6.  Mix together the dry ingredients in one bowl (flour, baking powder, bicarb, seasoning) and the wet in another (eggs, melted butter, milk) then gradually add the wet to the dry. Once fully combined, add the tomatoes, basil and feta and stir.

Line a muffin tin - with muffin cases, or squares of baking paper - and fill about two thirds of the way up.  Bake for approx 20 mins, until the tops are firm and golden.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Outine article - March

Should you be interested, you can read my March article for Outline magazine here (p.34). The recipe won't be anything new to regular readers, BUT you can read my month's musings and blasphemous links between Jesus and artisan baking...