Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Banana and white chocolate blondies (and some stuff about pubs)

We'll get to the blondies in a minute, don't you worry.  But first I want to talk about pubs - we all like pubs don't we (No? Then be off with you, there is no place for you here)?  I tend to mention them in passing a lot, in regards to where we live and what we do, so I thought I'd take some time to explain - there is a tedious link to the cakes here too.

Despite neither Ben or I ever having done a shift behind a bar (don't get any ideas that we haven't had our fair share of shit jobs - I spent three summers working at the Dinosaur Adventure Park, serving turkey pterodactyls and cleaning up child sick off trampolines), pubs play a big part in our lives. We live above one, we own one (or technically B does, but what's yours is mine and all that, darling) and Ben works for a load of them.

To break it down; Ben works for a small chain of Norwich bars. Not pulling pints, but doing the finances. And all the planning stuff.  And the shouting at the council stuff.  And occasionally the BEING TAKEN ON A BOOZE MINI BREAK BY BACARDI stuff (Jealous? Me? Whatever).  Basically, the sobering and complicated jiggery pokery that goes on behind the scenes.

Through his position we managed to wangle ourselves a flat above one of said pubs.  Lovely flat, 2 floors, city centre.  Yes, we're a jammy pair of pricks, karma is coming for us.  If it makes you feel any better, we are subjected to Ed Sheeran cover acts through the floorboards at least once a week and the chap who does the cleaning at 8am on a Sunday morning listens to nothing but 80s power ballads, VERY LOUDLY.  Also - hordes of drunk people - they really suck when they're not you. 

So that's pub involvement parts one and two.  Then there's part 3: our pub, The Plasterers Arms.

Ben took it on last year, and we've been gradually doing it up and trying to get it back to its former glory (it had been let slip a bit by previous owners).  It's a lovely little pub and we're very proud of it.  Need a few more customers before I get a holiday to Barbados though, so perhaps pop by for a G&T sometime and help a sister out?  It's a traditional pubby pub. Cosy, lots of ales, pork pies, weekly quiz, that sort of thing. A microbrewery is currently being set-up in the back room, so the most local beer you could imagine will soon be on sale, and at some point I hope to get a supper club in there (oven dependent).  Any ideas are most welcome - what makes your favourite pub your favourite pub? Answers on a postcard (a.k.a. in the comments section).

Oh, and  the company Ben works for is also opening a brewery.  Just to keep things simple.

And me?  I don't technically have anything to do with pubs.  I work for a charity.

So...what was the poi...oh yes, cakes!  The other day, Stuart, the manager of the pub we reside above, very sweetly asked whether I might be interested in a little sideline of cake making for the pub.  I used to 'do' cakes (NO, BY 'DO' I DO NOT MEAN SEX THINGS, YOU SICK FREAK, I mean I had a cake making business), so this would be a simple and fairly obvious arrangement, yet I'd never really thought about, or actively pursued, doing them on the side (AGAIN, NOT CAKE SEXING).  So - partly through flattery - when asked, I thought 'why the hell not?', I like baking, I like cash, I'll do it.  Might as well make some for the Plasterers too. So, this weekend I set to, using up a haul of bananas which had been left over from a work event. 

And this is the result, banana and white chocolate blondies. Really fucking good. Shove them in the fridge overnight and all your diabetes inducing dreams will come true. Size zero dreams, not so much.  Rush on down to the Plasterers (like, now) and you might be able to pick one up and avoid the elbow grease.

Banana and white chocolate blondies

2 decent sized/3 small bananas (you can use ones which have started to go a bit brown and manky)
2 large eggs
280g caster sugar
280g plain flour
160g softened butter/stork
1tsp baking powder
300g white chocolate (chips or bars, cut up into chunks)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon

Heat the oven at gas mark 5.  In a mixer (or with a spoon and powerful arm muscles) combine eggs, sugar, butter, flour, baking powder, extract and cinnamon until you have a smooth mix. Roughly mash your bananas and stir these in, along with 200g of the white chocolate chips/chunks. 

Line a roasting-sized baking tin with greaseproof paper, and spoon in the mix.  It should be about an inch thick. Bake for about 30 mins, checking after the first 20.  Do the old skewer trick, should come out without any mix on it.  You want it golden on top, still fairly soft but not raw/wet in the middle.  Leave to cool.

Once the blondies are cool, melt the remaining white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once runny, trickle it over the top of blondies.  Slice and preferably refrigerate overnight in an airtight container, for maximum gngnrwmrrrrjf.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Dinner with friends: A slow-cooked pulled-beef chili and chocolate mousse with honeycomb

It's Autumn!  Hooray!  Away with you unsightly upper arms, begone sweaty fringe! Welcome, scarves and woolly tights, good day to you, casseroles and mashed potato!  I've missed you, my lardy friends.  Not that we actually had a Summer, but it's such a drawn out anticlimax of a season that I for one am rather glad it's over. If you remind me of this bon homie approach to these new temperatures in December - when our beautiful yet entirely ineffective old windows mean I'm constantly ensconced in a blanket, or I'm trying to get dressed under a duvet at 6am because our boiler is actually controlled by next door - I will deny all recollection of positivity. 

Anyhow, on with the show.  I might have needed an extra comma in the title.  You all understand that these are two separate dishes, yes? I've not gone all Heston on you and created a spicy beefy dessert mousse (although, adding dark chocolate to a chili IS a thing, one which works very well).  IT'S A CHILI AND THEN A CHOCOLATE MOUSSE. You with me?  Good.

Last Saturday people came over for dinner. I know, right, two posts in a row about people coming over and being sociable, ACTUAL FRIENDS - Norwich is warming up.  Ben's old school friend Robert was staying and we also invited our friends, Tom and the two Hollies (one with a Y ad one with an IE, for distinction).  The idea was that we'd have a big dinner, all casual like, then head into town for further drinking and merrymaking. 

One slight problem: I can't do casual dining. 

Casual in a sense that I don't give a crap about what fork anyone uses, and a good belch will get a round of applause - YES.  Casual in the sense of me just serving up a bowl of nachos or a pasta bake - NO.  I just have to faff to some degree.  I long to be one of those Italian mamas who can throw together a grilled fish, a couple of tomatoes and a good bottle of oil and it be pronounced the most glorious thing anyone's ever eaten, but alas, alack, this is not me. 

This propensity to go all out may seem to be a desire to show off, but in all honestly it's more an eagerness to make people happy; to feed, to fuss over, to make everyone so full that I don't have to go to some hideous nightclub.  I want people to enjoy themselves. I grew up with an excellent cook of a step-father and host of a mother, so my standards have been unreasonably set. Luckily everyone's catching on to this civilised shit now we're in our late twenties, but at 21 I think everyone found me a bit baffling. 

So this was my best attempt at being casual.  A chili and a chocolate mousse.  Pretty simple right? Well it would be if I just did a straightforward packet-of-mince chili, rather than one which takes 4 fucking hours to cook, with the meat having to be delicately shredded.  Or if I bought a packet of Gü puddings and a crunchie rather than whisking eggs to oblivion and making volcanoes of sugar.  But no sireeee, that would be far too easy to satisfy my sadomasochistic culinary habits. 

I must say, I don't often make chili, because I'm a terrible snob and I've come to view it as a bit ubiquitous.  I ate too much of it as a student and in house shares, and Ben eats it pretty much everyday when his band goes on tour, as this is what every promoter who puts them on/up seems to provide.  So I don't tend to bother.  Same applies to spag bol, Thai green curry, stir fry etc.  But really the joke's on me, because these are some of the best dishes out there, if made properly. And in this case, despite spending 6 years in the kitchen, shelling out our week's food bill on beef, and sending Ben back into town at least three times to buy forgotten ingredients, I would say it's worth the faff.

Same goes for the chocolate mousse.  Unfortunately I did something really bad in a past life and now chocolate gives me migraines, so I could only eat half, but it was a good half.  It's probably a blessing really, if I wasn't limited by such an ailment I'd almost certainly be the size of a rhino.  Warning - the mousse contains raw egg, so this is an excellent tool for discovering if any of your friends are pregnant. If they're suddenly not drinking and are too full for this pudding they're definitely up the duff. Additional warning - the honeycomb is seriously chewy, so if you've invested in expensive fillings rather than the standard NHS ones you might want to take it easy. 

Luckily, my cunning plan of making everyone too full to go out to a bar was perfectly executed  and within two hours we were all totally shitfaced and too busy trying to pull off 'the egg-separation trick' to realise that we weren't out being young and trendy. The aforementioned state of shitfacedness meant I thought I was doing an instructional video when I was apparently just pressing the camera button, so the only video is of my attempt with my horrible oh-god-is-that-really-what-i-sound-like recorded voice, once Robert had rescued the camera from me.

Slow-cooked, pulled-beef chili
Serves 6
About 1kg of beef  (braising steak, brisket or shoulder is probably best), cut into chunks of about 2" or so
2 large white onions, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 red chillies, finely chopped
2tbsp ground coriander
2tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp of cayenne pepper
2tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp tomato puree
3 bay leaves
2 glasses red wine
2 pints beef stock
2 x 400g tins tomatoes
1 x 400g tin kidney beans

To serve - fresh coriander leaves, wraps, tacos or rice, guacamole, sour cream, salsa

You're going to need a substantial casserole dish for this.  I actually used two, because I'm the sort of person that has two casserole dishes (*sheepish look* make that three), but you can probably get it all in one if you're careful.  Or make less for that matter. 

In your casserole dish brown-off your beef in small batches and put to one side.  Then fry your onions till soft, add the garlic and chilli for a moment or two then add the spices. Give a good stir around, so you can smell all the spices, then add tomato puree, then add your beef back in and the wine.  Give a couple of minutes for the alcohol to burn off, then toss in the tomatoes, bay leaves and about 2/3 of stock. 

Put in the oven at gas mark 3 for about 2 hours, checking after the first half hour then every twenty minutes or so.  What you want is for the sauce to be very thick and reduced and the beef to be falling apart.  This could take up to three hours, depending on your cut/size of beef pieces. If it seems to be drying out, add more of the stock.

Once you've got it to the desired state you basically need to take two forks to the beef and 'pull' it, so it's roughly shredded.  Taste to see if you need any further spice or seasoning. Then add in your kidney beans and warm through again on the hob.

Serve with all manner of accompaniments.

Chocolate mousse with honeycomb
Serves 6

For the honeycomb
5 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

In a sturdy saucepan heat the syrup and sugar until all the sugar has melted and it has turned to a good bubbly caramel (not too dark or it will taste bitter).  Add in your bicarbonate of soda and it will suddenly all foam up like one of those volcano experiments at primary school.  Have prepared a sheet of baking paper, on a tray or a cool counter, and pour the foaming mixture onto the sheet.  You want it to be quite thick, otherwise you with have flat honeycomb.  Leave to cool for at least half hour, until it is firm and brittle.  Break into shards.

For the mousse

100g dark chocolate
100g milk chocolate (you can use all dark if you like)
4 eggs
200ml double cream

You need several bowls for this one.  Four bowls to be exact.  In one bowl, whip your cream until it's nice and thick but not stiff.  In another you want your egg yolks, beaten.  In the third whisk the egg whites to soft peaks (again, not stiff).  The final bowl is for your chocolate, and it needs to be a good size to sit over a pan of water. 

So melt your chocolate in a bowl over a pan of water.  If your chocolate starts to play silly buggers and splits, take it off the heat and beat in a little sunflower or vegetable oil, this might rescue it.  Once melted, add gradually (you don't want to do it all at once and scramble them) to your beaten egg yolks, stirring vigorously to stop it from splitting.  Once this is nicely emulsified, stir in the whipped cream. Then fold in the egg whites.  All the while, stir stir stir, your arm should hurt.

Split into 6 ramekins/tumblers/small bowls and leave to set in the fridge for at least an hour.  Then adorn with honeycomb and serve. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Dr Pepper BBQ Ribs

I challenge you to find a phrase more wanktastic than, "hang-on guys, don't tuck in yet, I've just got to take a photo for my blog!".  Sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it?  Well then please accept that as an excuse as to why this photo is so shoddy.  We had some friends over for a BBQ and I just couldn't bring myself to fart around with the SLR when everyone was sitting there, several beers down, waiting to rip apart a much anticipated pig carcass. More than anything else, I can't close one eye, so the sight of me trying to squint down the viewfinder is best avoided.

Obviously this was two whole weeks back - technically a different season to where we are now - and it was still appropriate to sit outside in a t-shirt at 10pm.  We ate, we drunk those tiny stubby bottles of lager, we got bitten to pieces by mosquitoes - it was quintessentially British (although no pimms - I have not had a single fucking glass of pimms this summer, what are you all playing at?).

I actually made these for the first time a few weeks ago; spent several hours preparing them, thinking, 'Everyone's gonna shit themselves for these badboys', then, when we sat down to eat, realised I'd left the camera in the car and I blew a gasket. I'm not just massively lazy, we live in the city centre so my car is parked quite a way from our flat and it would have meant everything was stone cold by the time I returned. So, the aforementioned BBQ was basically an excuse to scoff these again.  Yes, they are that awesome.

People will probably be split into two camps when looking at the ingredients for these: half will think 'eh?' and the other will see it as pretty normal.  The latter have probably made or eaten a lot of BBQ food.  Or are American.  When I started to make these for our gathering, two of our guests were already present. I laid the ribs in the baking tray - nothing untoward there - then covered them in a bottle of DR Pepper.  They looked at each other, looked at Ben, then did a nervous look at their shoes, as if to say, 'Is she OK? Should we call someone?'. With each extra ingredient I added they were squealing with disbelief, "KETCHUP? HONEY? NO, WAIT WAIT, WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE?".  Yes, all that stuff goes in there.  A bit later on, our Canadian neighbours came over, gave the above selection a glance and shrugged, "yeah, standard ribs procedure".  Basically this recipe is pork + sugar + everything else in the house that contains sugar.  Don't forget to clean your teeth after.

You can do these in the oven just as well as on the BBQ, so don't panic that you've missed your chance.  It'll just take a bit longer and probably come out less charred.  I served with slaw (grated/sliced carrot, red cabbage, red onion plus a mix of natural yoghurt and mayo to dress) and corn on the cob (marinated an hour before in lime juice, chilli flakes and seasoning).

As a helpful piece of advise - if you have a BBQ with a lid, don't shut it. It will set on fire (more so than it's mean to), you'll burn the first lot of ribs to a crisp and your girlfriend will yell at you.

DR Pepper BBQ ribs

I've done this based on a 1.5kg of ribs, which will serve about 4 people. Scale-up or down as required. 

1.5kg pork ribs (if they don't have pre-cut ribs just ask your butcher to slice some pork belly into ribs and remove the skin)
1 tsp sea salt
2 litres of Dr Pepper
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks (or a small handful of cassia, which is a lot cheaper)
150g soft brown sugar
4 tbsp honey or maple syrup
100g tomato ketchup
3 tbsp brown sauce
2 tbsp tomato puree
2tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

Line two baking trays with tin foil, chuck in your ribs, and pour over 1.5litres of the Dr Pepper (split between the two trays).  Add the star anise, salt and cinnamon/cassia equally.  Cover with foil and roast for about 1.5-2 hours at gas mark 4, until cooked through.  If your oven is shit, like mine, you might want to swap the position of the trays half way through, so that both are equally done.  Once cooked, discard the liquid.

For your sauce, put all the remaining ingredients in a pan and simmer until it has reduced to a glossy, honey like consistency.  This should take about fifteen minutes.  If you find it doesn't thicken as much as you'd like, then mix a teaspoon of cornflour with some water until it's a runny paste, and add to the sauce as required. 

Now either dip your ribs in the sauce or paint it on with a pastry brush.  If you're continuing in the oven then place the ribs on a roasting rack, over a baking tray and up the temperature to gas mark 5.  Check and turn every ten minutes, basting with more sauce, for about an hour, or until they are as saucy (ooh err) and coloured as you want them. If you're doing them on the BBQ then you won't need to do them as long, as they'll catch pretty quickly, but try and get a couple of coatings and turn at least once.

Consume, with napkins to hand.