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Tastes Like Mojitos

This time last year I rather perversely made an Easter bunny bolognese, which displeased me so much that it went straight into the freezer and there it stayed until we moved and it was chucked away. You’ll be pleased to know that the Easter bunny was spared this year and there was no seasonal symbolic cooking involving cute fluffy rabbits at all. They breed like wildfire, bite, spread vermin and wiped out a lot of native Australian wildlife so I’m not sure why people are so fond of them, but there you have it, we eat lamb but seem horrified at eating those poor baby veal despite the fact they’re killed at the same age sheep are for our Easter roasts. Our eating habits make no sense whatsoever which probably really tickles the French. The only concern I have about veal is that if you eat it it should be British as veal imported from Europe has in general had a pretty horrendous life and spent an awful lot of time in crates. I’m straying a little here seeing as I cooked neither lamb nor veal this weekend, but nevertheless it’s worth knowing.

What with it being a long weekend it felt only right to get stuck in to a bit of baking, using my dads oven. What with it being Easter I had to make something chocolatey, and craving some salted caramel I made Gizzi Erskine’s delicious salted and rosemary caramel millionaires shortbread. I made these last year and fell in love with the odd combination of rosemary and chocolate, yet didn’t quite manage to win anyone else around to them. I took these to a family get together and my cousins twin boys informed me that they would be much better if I used milk chocolate rather than dark. Chocolate is totally wasted on the young! However, I decided this time that maybe I should heed their advice and go for the less intense stuff. Kids, what do they know? While still utterly edible and moreish, these sweet treats need the slight bitterness of dark chocolate to take them from good to great, and being a bit richer its harder to over eat. With milk it’s oh so easy to just have one more. If adding rosemary to millionaires shortbread sounds like one step too far for you, I’d urge you to at least try it. The hint of rosemary stops the caramel from being too sweet and the slight umami taste alongside the chocolate and shortbread really adds something, but I can’t put my finger on what that is exactly.

As well as that, I made a lemon, mint and blueberry loaf cake from the April 2012 edition of Delicious. And Delicious it truly is. You make a simple loaf cake with blueberries, bake and while cooling pour over a mint and lemon sugar syrup and leave to soak up. The key to this cake is using real mint leaves instead of flavouring, and you end up with a soft, fruity cake that has a sharp yet minty crunch on top. Gorgeous, and tastes just like a mojito. In fact, I think this cake would be even better if the blueberries were replaced with raspberries, and the lemon with lime, resulting in what I’d like to call a raspberry mojito cake. Can you imagine anything more tasty than a cocktail turned into a cake? I can’t quite frankly and am now itching to make my own version. The blueberry cake itself is still very good and I love how it looks as though the blueberries exploded within the cake, leaving only a juicy blue stain as a clue that they were there. When you pour the mint syrup over the cake it looks like you’ve poured a delicious bright green sludge over it, but this soon gets absorbed into the sponge, leaving only crunchy sugar behind. Gorgeous.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Baking, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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For The Love Of Chocolate

I’ve made no secret of my pure, unadulterated love for chocolate. It’s been 26 years but my love for the brown stuff shows no sign of abating, and nor would I want it to. Unluckily for me though, this week chocolate has not loved me. I don’t know what I’ve said or what I’ve done, but clearly I’ve pissed the chocolate gods off in some way, shape or form; what else could explain the disasters that have befallen me this week? Before I tell you of the heartbreak and distress that I have suffered, I should probably start with the more savoury stuff. Some of my lovely workmates came over for dinner earlier on in the week (this blog entry features these cheeky scamps heavily I’m afraid!) and rather than stressing myself out by cooking something time consuming or complicated I decided to take advice from my all time favourite, Nigella Lawson, and make a simple tray bake. It was Spanish chicken from Kitchen, and the only effort required of me was to chop up some chorizo, red onions and sweet red peppers and chuck them in a roasting tray with some chicken thighs, olive oil, new potatoes, oregano and orange zest. Minimum effort, maximum taste. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, you can always rely on Nigella. I was worried the dish might be a little dry but the amount of spicy paprika oil provided by the chorizo was enough to prevent any dryness and gave everything shed loads of flavour. Plus the skin on the thighs was nice and crispy due to the high oven temperature, perfect. The dish even introduced one of the girls to the delights of chorizo, so as well as feeding I like to think I’m also educating! This yummy main was followed by chocolate lava cakes with a salted caramel centre (this sounds so much sexier in French- moulleux au chocolat coeur fondant caramel sale – swoon) which came from The Little Paris Kitchen. Then things started going wrong. If only I was capable of following instructions To.The.Letter. Being the maverick that I am though, I fobbed off her advice to fill up the ramekins with the cake mix and then pipe salted caramel into the centre of the uncooked mix, and instead filled the ramekins up by a third with cake mix, dolloped some caramel on top, then topped with some more mix. A silly, silly mistake. After baking until juuuuuuust right (thank you Goldilocks), I attempted to get the fondants out of the ramekins. Instead of cakes with an oozy caramel centre, I ended up with a thin layer of chocolate cake covered in salted caramel and the rest of the cakes stuck in the ramekin. Oh sure, they came out eventually with a little prodding and poking, but the effect of cutting into the cake and a soft, oozing centre flowing out was lost. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would be less than complimentary. Luckily for me, my workmates are not Paul and Mary, so I may have gotten away with it, but Masterchef it ain’t. When the entire structure of a pudding collapses, you know you should have just manned up and tried to get to grips with a piping bag instead of taking the easy way out. They looked a mess, so no photo this time. Despite this disaster, the ladies seemed o enjoy it, and that’s the good thing about friends, they don’t judge you on your ability to hold a chocolate fondant together. That’s one of the positive sides of having a boyfriend who works away for long periods of time: you find out who your real friends are and which ones make an effort to talk, meet up, send texts, or just get me so trollied that I can barely even remember my own name or that my boyfriend is on the other side of the world.

Onto my second chocolate disaster. Once again, this was for one of my lovely workmates whose birthday it is on Monday, so what with it being a big birthday I decided to bake a cake for her. I do feel for my workmates, I’m regularly bringing in various baked goods to force feed them with, whether they regard themselves lucky or unlucky over this is hard to say as they may well be very good liars. Until they say stop, I’m going to keep bringing them in. This cake was Coca Cola cake from Marian Keyes lovely book Saved By Cake, and was chosen because the birthday girl is a coke fanatic. It’s hard to put down in words how much she loves the stuff, I’m not even sure I can fully comprehend her love for it, but I imagine it’s similar to my overwhelming love for chocolate. This is a cake that would be absolutely perfect for kids what with it containing coke, chocolate, mini marshmallows and topped with fizzy cola bottles (not such a perfect cake for the parents though I guess, what with toddlers likely to still be screaming and rolling around the floor from an intense sugar high at midnight) but is just as enjoyable for childless adults. The cake itself was lovely, damp with a gooey stickiness from the melted marshmallows, strong cocoa flavours and a hint of the fizzy stuff (you must go for the full fat coke, Diet would simply be wrong and pointless when you look at all the other ingredients). The icing though, was another story completely. Made up of butter, coke, cocoa powder and icing sugar, I just could not get it to thicken and set. It didn’t help that I had exactly the amount of icing sugar stated in the recipe, so adding a bit more to thicken the runny sauce was out of my hands. I was covered in flour and chocolate so a trip to the shop was out of the question, I just had to pour it over the stacked cake and pray it all went OK. It did not go OK. While some of the icing stayed put on the cake, the majority ran off the cake and gathered in a pool on my cake stand (which in actual fact was the lid from a Celebrations tub), which ended up looking like a very big boat in a small, muddy puddle. Again, my presentation skills need some serious improvement. Fizzy cola bottles saved the day though and I arranged these as prettily as my unartistic hands could manage. This morning upon waking I was in a foul mood, and on asking myself why I realised it was because of the failed icing and the cake looking a mess. I invest way too much emotion into my baking. Either that or life’s so great right now that bad icing is the only cloud on my horizon. But I think it’s the first one. In the end it didn’t matter too much as Cokehead seemed to really enjoy it and with lit candles and a sparkler the pool of icing didn’t seem so bad. Its the thought that counts, right? In baking, mistakes are easily made and I need to learn to not be so ridiculously hard on myself and just enjoy doing it, then subsequently eating it.

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Pavlova and Pretentiousness

I completely forgot in my last post to mention the delicious strawberry pavlova I made for a friends BBQ on Bank Holiday Monday. It was so good, the meringue was crunchy on the outside and gooey and chewy in the middle, which in my eyes is perfection for meringue. I would like to point out that I’m definitely not sitting here bigging myself up for such wonderful cooking skills, I literally follow the recipe and the end result is 10% down to me and 90% down to the writer of the recipe. Given free reign in the kitchen I come up with disasters, and while there are several things I can cook by heart, without my beloved cookbooks I would be limited to about 5 dishes! The pavlova recipe came from Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers, which I believe I’ve already told you is a beautiful book with some great food photography (way better than my poor efforts!). The only criticism, and it’s a small one, is that as advised by the book I made a salted caramel to drizzle over the pavlova which could barely be tasted amongst the cream, strawberries and meringues. Pavlova just doesn’t need any fancy drizzles or garnishes, it’s perfect in its purest form, salted caramel needs to find another dish to play with.

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Now onto the pretentiousness. I’ve been watching Great British Menu on BBC One, and while I love it, I have to say that the BBC really should hire me as a fourth judge to give the show some perspective. Some dishes would make me want to throw my plate at the wall and scream “enough of this pretentious shit, bring me some real food in a decent sized portion”. I’d love to see the look on Oliver, Prue and Matthews faces, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be invited back. I’ve nothing at all against fancy Michelin starred food, some of the dishes look amazing and very very tasty. However, I do have a problem with cooking purely to show off, being groundbreaking at the expense of the food, and pointless spherical shapes. I mean, the other week some guy plated up a dish with globules that were bright green, looked like peas, and according to him tasted just like peas as he really wanted to get the essence of peas in to the dish. Call me old fashioned, but may I suggest using actual peas? Instead of going to a huge amount of effort, using chemicals and fancy equipment, just get the best tasting peas you can find. Sure, there’s not a lot of skill in that, but surely the best meals are ones that reflect simple, good ingredients, cooked with passion? Save the skilled work for cooking meat perfectly or making amazing pastry desserts, not making a fake pea. It’s pretentious. And while I’m on the subject, don’t be so stingy with portion size. If I was an Olympic athlete and the BBC were throwing a banquet for me, I’d want to forget the exercise and diet regimen for one day and eat well and plenty. Just a thought. Saying all this, most of the dishes look awesome, and if any of the chefs on Great British Menu are reading, (very unlikely i know) I am more than happy to try your dishes and judge them accordingly!

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Food, Puddings

 

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Millionaires Shortbread with a twist…

Right, well I’ve definitely taste tested these beauties thoroughly and the only conclusion I can come to is that they are amazing. It’s Millionaires shortbread with rosemary infused salted caramel and while it sounds completely bizarre it is actually a revelation. It’s from Gizzi Erskines’ book Kitchen Magic which is fast becoming my favourite cookbook. I absolutely adore them, but I can see that these may very easily divide opinion, much like Marmite. If you don’t like rosemary then stick to the original, but otherwise you should at the very least try. In my opinion, I think they are stunning and while the flavour in the caramel is so obviously rosemary, it doesn’t taste at odds with the sweet chocolate, crumbly shortbread and gooey caramel, more enhances it. I normally find millionaires shortbread too sickly, but the rosemary and salt cuts through the sickly sweetness and makes it dangerously edible and addictive. Salted caramel has been a favourite of mine for a while and even just hearing the words makes me want to devour the nearest batch. Rosemary infused salted caramel is a really difficult flavour to describe, so you really should just try it. Obviously you don’t chop up the rosemary into the caramel, because that would be vile and chewy, but while cooking the caramel you chuck two sprigs of rosemary in and then remove once the caramel is cooked. Just don’t stir too vigorously otherwise you’ll end up doing as I did, spending 10 minutes picking out individual rosemary leaves that had been whisked off. Like I said, not everyone will like this, but if you’re one of the people that do you will find that this may be your favourite sweet recipe ever. Give rosemary a new partner besides lamb! Now, time for a coffee and a a slice straight out of the fridge (this absolutely makes up for not having any Easter eggs over the weekend).

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Baking, Chocolate, Cooking, Food, Puddings

 

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