Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Snow Day Bake Off - Parsnip Cake.

This is my post for the Snow Day Bake Off on A Slice Of Cherry Pie.

We have loads of snow here but are quite used to it.  Steve is managing to get to work in Aberdeen.  I have managed to get to my work too but I only work two days a week so the rest of the time the kids and I have stayed at home to keep cosy.  Some cooking and baking and making cosy dens out of chairs, duvets and loads of cushions has kept us busy.

So, I decided to make Parsnip Cake from the Riverford Farm Cook Book.

Recipe - 

Ingredients - 
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
4 medium eggs
250g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp ground mixed spice
175g toasted hazlenuts, finely chopped
250g peeled and finely grated parsnips
4 tbsp milk

For the topping - 
125g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter
250g icing sugar, sifted
60g toasted hazlenuts, roughly chopped

Method - 
1. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour with each one.
2. Fold in the remaining flour, plus the spice, nuts, parsnips and milk.
3. Use baking parchment to line a rectangular tin, roughly 28 X 18 cm.  Spoon in the mixture and place in the centre of an oven preheated to 180C/ GM 4.
4. Bake for 40-50 mins, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. Remove from oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
6. To make the topping, place the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat until soft.
7. Beat in enough icing sugar to give a thick consistency.
8. Spread the icing over the cake and scatter on the chopped hazlenuts.
9. Cut into squares or triangles to serve.

A nice, moist cake with a subtle but distinct flavour of parsnip.  A cake for Autumn really with the lovely nuttiness and officially it is still Autumn but really it is winter.  I like this cake and would probably make it again especially if I had parsnips to use up but I don't think it is quite as good as a sweet carrot cake.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Cauliflower Cheese Soup.

The cold weather needs hot, comforting soup, doesn't it?

Well, this month I got Jamie's Ministry Of Food out of the library.  I seem to have missed the whole TV series and campaign.  I quite like the book - lots of different variations on easy dishes. As you will see below, the recipes are very clear and suitable for complete beginners so this would be a great book for a student leaving home for the first time or other beginner. 

So, cauliflower cheese soup - yum.

Recipe - 
Serves 6-8.

Ingredients - 
2 carrots
2 sticks of celery
2 medium onions
2 cloves garlic
800g cauliflower
olive oil
200g cheddar cheese
2 veg stock cubes
salt and pepper
1 tsp English mustard

Method - 
1. Peel and roughly slice the carrots.
2. Slice the celery.
3. Peel and roughly chop the onions.
4. Cut cauliflower into 1.5cm slices.
5. Put a large pan on a medium heat and add 2tbsp olive oil.
6. Add all your chopped and sliced ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon.
7. Cook for around 10 mins with the lid askew, until the carrots have softened but are still holding their shape, and the onion is lightly golden.
8. Grate the cheddar into a bowl and put aside.
9. Put the stock cubes into a jug and pour in 1.8L of boiling water.  Stir until the stock cubes are dissolved, then add to the vegetables.
10. Give the soup a good stir then bring to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 mins with the lid on.
11. Remove the pan from the heat.  Season with salt and pepper and add the cheese and mustard.  Using a hand blender or liquidiser, pulse the soup until silky smooth.
12. Divide between your serving bowls and grate over some nutmeg.
13. Lovely topped with crispy bacon.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Fresh From The Oven 1 - Nov 2010 - Kiflice.

This is my first challenge with the Fresh From The Oven Bakers.  I wanted to join a bread making challenge as bread is something I have never really made much effort with.  Steve makes all the bread in our house (well, all the home-made bread in our house which is a rather small proportion of all bread consumed - I think Tesco makes the lion-share of all the bread eaten here!) and so, I thought that if I started doing these challenges, it would improve my skills enough that I could maybe catch up with him in this area!  Yes, I'm a competitive wife! 

So, my first challenge was hosted by Maja from Cooks and Bakes. She challenged us to make kiflice - or Serbian cheese rolls.  We have a friend from Serbia so my first question to her was how to pronounce kiflice - apparently it is keefleetse (the 'c' is pronounced as in tsar).

I then asked her if she thought my pictures looked like the real thing and she said they did! Yay.  She said that it was impossible to replicate the taste of a strong, distinctive Serbian cheese but that if I do them again, next time I should try Wensleydale instead of the cottage cheese as that is what her Grandmother used.  She also told me that the kiflice can be done with a jam filling instead of the cheese.

So, here is the recipe - it is Maja's own family recipe.  She lives in Belgrade. 

Ingredients - 

Dough -
500g plain flour
1 tsp salt
20g fresh yeast (or 2 tsp instant)
1 tsp sugar
250 ml milk
75 ml sunflower oil
1 egg

Filling - 
200 - 250g cottage cheese (or feta, or as above - Wensleydale)
1 egg white, optional

And more - 
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk
100g butter or margarine

Method - 
1. Crush the cheese with a fork.  Add some salt if it tastes neutral.  Stir the egg white in if the cheese is too crumbly.  Filling shouldn't be runny, but thick and compact, thicker than cream cheese, and pretty salty.
2. For the starter - dissolve yeast with some lukewarm milk in a cup , add a tsp of sugar and a tbsp of flour, stir to get smooth batter.  Set aside at room temperature, or near the stove top, to let the yeast activate and fill the cup.
3. Sift the flour, add salt.  Add activated yeast, egg, oil and milk then combine using a wooden spoon to get smooth dough.  The dough seems like too soft and too sticky at the beginning, but don't worry, continue with kneading, and soon your dough should start to separate from the bowl, and thicken.  Grease cling film with oil, cover the bowl and set aside for at least an hour in a lukewarm place, to let the dough double in size.
4. Re-knead the dough, divide into 5 equal parts, shape them into balls.  Each part should make 8 rolls so you'll end up with 40.

5. Flatten each ball by hands over the floury work surface, then use a rolling pin to roll the dough out into a circle, a few millimetres thick.  Use a sharp knife to cut the circle into 8 triangles.  Take on triangle, stretch it in the air with your hands, to get it extended as much as you can, gently.
6. Put some filling at the triangle base then fold the edges of the base to avoid the filling leaking out during baking. Roll.  Arrange the rolls in a baking tin lined with parchment paper.

7. Lightly beat the egg yolk with a tbsp of milk then brush the top of the rolls with the mixture.  Sprinkle with some sesame seeds if you like.

8. Arrange small pieces of butter between the rolls.  Don't skip this step or you'll end up with just ordinary cheese rolls, the fat they absorb during baking is what gives them the extra softness and taste and a kind of "fried" and crispy bottom of the rolls.

9. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about 20 mins.  Be careful not to overbake them.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Daring Bakers' Challenge No. 1 - Nov 2010 - Fig and Honey Crostata.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Simona gave us lots of great information and recipes and free rein to really do what we liked with the basic idea.  I followed her first recipe for pasta frolla which is an Italian sweet, shortcrust pastry.  I chose to make a crostata di frutta fresca (crostata with fresh fruit) which involves the pastry, a layer of pastry cream then fresh fruit.  I decided to try fresh figs with a honey glaze.  It was delicious.  However, next time I make it, I think I would use something like kiwi fruits as I really like the sharpness as a contrast with the pastry cream.  I also found that my pastry cream hadn't set as well as I would have liked so I couldn't cut it into pretty slices.  I know exactly why this was - the kids were with me in the kitchen while I was bringing the pastry cream to the boil.  They were cutting shapes out of the leftover pasta frolla and kept asking me to help them or asking to get down or endless questions while I was trying to stir constantly so I was beginning to get a little stressed and harried.  So, instead of letting the pastry cream come to the boil, I gave up before that point.  So, of course, a runnier pastry cream than would have been ideal.

Recipe - Pasta Frolla

Ingredients - 
100g caster sugar
235g plain flour
pinch of salt
115g cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl

Method - 
1. Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
2. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs.
3. Make a well in the centre of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it.
4. Add the lemon zest.
5. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
6. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.

7. Shape the dough into a flat disc and wrap in cling film.
8. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours or overnight.
9. Heat the oven to 180C/ Gas mark 4/ 350F.
10. Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge, roll out and cover the base of your tart pan.

11. Cut a piece of parchment paper or foil large enough to cover the pastry and extend a bit past the sides.
12. Place pie weights or dry beans in an even layer over the parchment or foil.
13. Bake for 20 minutes.
14. Remove the weights and paper and continue baking until the border is light golden, about 5 mins.
15. Let cool completely.
16. Remove from tin and place on a serving plate before filling with the pastry cream.

Recipe - Crema Pasticcera.
This is Simona's Aunt Lucia's recipe.

Ingredients - 
2 extra-large eggs
65g sugar
500ml milk
3 strips of lemon peel
3 tbsp plain flour

Method - 
1. Pour the milk into the pan, add the lemon peel, and warm up to well below boiling point.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is bubbly.

3. Sift the flour over the egg mixture and beat briefly until incorporated.
4. Temper the egg mixture with a small quantity of milk, then slowly add the rest of the milk, mixing with a wooden spoon.
5. Pour the mixture into the pan and set it to a very low heat, stirring at least every couple of minutes.  When the froth on the surface disappears completely, the crema starts to feel slightly thicker.  From this point on, stir almost continuously.
6. When the crema reaches boiling point and thickens, cook briefly (1-2 mins), then remove the pan from the heat, remove the lemon peel, place the saucepan in a cold water bath, and stir to bring down its temperature.
7. While the crema cools down, stir it every now and then to prevent the formation of a film over it.

I then filled the pastry with the cream, arranged the sliced figs over the top and glazed with some heated honey.

We had some pasta frolla left over so the boys cut out some cookie shapes and we made cookies which they then decorated.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Home-made Pizza.

There's a good reason that making pizza at home is a very popular thing to do with children.  They love it and it gets them interested in food.  In an effort to limit my kids' TV viewing, we have film night specifically on a Saturday evening and we watch a DVD.  We quite often have tea that can be eaten in the living room as a treat.  We eat all other meals at the kitchen table as a family.  So, last Saturday we decided to do the home-made pizza thing and then eat it in front of a film.

I know you don't really need a recipe to do home-made pizza but we used the recipes from The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr.  This is a lovely book for families.  Some great recipes and a bit of education on where food comes from and how to source welfare friendly meat and eggs, etc..  It is not a patronising book at all - has recipes for proper meals and tricky things that Hugh and Fizz know full well children can either manage themselves or with a little help from their parents depending on age.

Recipe - 
For 4 pizzas.

Ingredients - 

For the dough -
Strong white flour, 500g, plus extra for dusting the work surface
Salt, 2 tsp
Easy-blend yeast, a sachet or 2 tsp
Olive oil, 2 tbsp
Sugar or honey, 2 tsp
Warm water, about 300ml

For the tomato sauce - 
Garlic, 1 clove
Plum tomatoes, 400g tin
Olive oil, 1 tbsp
Sugar, 1tsp

Toppings - 
Anything you want

Method - 

1. Put the flour into a mixing bowl, add the salt and the granules of yeast and stir with a wooden spoon so they are all combined.
2. Spoon the olive oil and sugar or honey into the measuring jug then top up with warm water to just over the 300ml mark and stir well.
3. Pour the oily water on to the flour in the bowl a little at a time.  Either with the wooden spoon or your hands, work the water into the flour and gradually bring it all together into a mass of soft, slightly sticky dough.  If the dough feels very sticky, add a little more flour.  If it feels as if it won't come together, then work in some more warm water - a soft dough is much easier to knead.
4. Flour the work surface and turn the dough out on to it.  It'll look rough and saggy at this stage, so it has to be kneaded until it's smooth and bouncy.  Keep kneading for as long as you can - at least 10 mins, if possible.
5. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave it in a warm place for one and a half to two hours, when it should swell to double its size.

6. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce.  Peel the garlic clove, place it on a board and crush it with the flat of the knife blade until it turns into a rough paste.
7. Tip the tinned tomatoes into the pan with the olive oil and garlic.  Break them up with a wooden spoon.  Add a teaspoon of sugar.  Turn on the heat to medium and let the tomatoes bubble furiously, stirring every now and then to make sure they don't catch on the bottom of the pan.  Let them bubble for about 5-10 mins until most of the juice has evaporated and you have a thick, pulpy sauce.  Let cool.

8. When the dough has risen, press it down with the palm of your hand and take it out of the bowl.  Divide it into four.
9. Turn the oven to its hottest setting.  Put the baking sheet in to get hot.
10. Sprinkle some flour on to the work surface.  Take one of the dough pieces and shape it roughly into a circle.  Then continue to shape it - either with your hands or a rolling pin.  Shape the other pieces int he same way.
11. Oven gloves on! Take the hot baking tray from the oven.  Carefully lay one (or two) of the bases on to the sheet.  Spread a quarter of the tomato sauce over the pizza, leaving a bit of bare dough round the edge.

12. Scatter on your chosen ingredients.  Trickle a very little olive oil over the top.  Finish with a little salt and pepper.

13. Put the tray back in the oven and bake for 8-10 mins until the base looks cooked and the cheese is bubbling and spotted with brown.  Cook the others in the same way.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Biscuit Head To Head 1 - Nick Nairn v Island Bakery.

I eat a LOT of biscuits.  I am one of those people who needs to have a cup of tea every hour or so (and it's decaffeinated so it's a psychological addiction, not physical) and with a cup of tea you need a biscuit. I very rarely make my own biscuits although it's something I would like to do more of.  So, I'm a bit of an expert on the biscuit ranges out there.  I thought I would have a bit of fun and actually taste two different kinds each time I have a cuppa so I can compare and find my favourite biscuit.

So, this is the first of my head to heads.  Nick Nairn's All Butter Chocolate Drizzle Shortbread vs Island Bakery Organics Oat Crumbles.

So, battle of the Scottish brands.  This wasn't intentional - they are just the biscuits I happened to fancy in Tesco the other day.  Although I notice that the correspondence address for the Nick Nairn biscuits is in London. Hmmm.

So, starting with Nick Nairn's biscuits.  The very first thing I notice and you can maybe see this in the photo is that there is a big difference between the thick chocolate drizzles on the picture of the biscuits and the thin, almost non-existent drizzles on the real biscuit.  You cannot taste any chocolate at all when eating the biscuit which is very disappointing.  Yes, the biscuits look pretty and would look more like a treat if serving to guests than the oat crumbles, but, if I fancy a biscuit with chocolate on it, I would like to taste the chocolate! 
So the shortbread does melt in the mouth like it says on the box but it didn't have the buttery taste or the satisfying denseness of Walker's shortbread.  I hardly noticed I had eaten one, unfortunately.  Great dunking biscuit, though - lovely soft meltingness when dunked in the tea.
I appreciated the nutritional information on the box.  It gave you all the info per 100g but also per biscuit aswell whereas the Oat Crumbles only had the info per 100g.  I am sure it is much easier for people counting their calories but it is also easier for people like myself who are diabetic and adjust their doses of insulin depending on how much carbohydrate they are about to eat.  So, brownie points from me for that.
So, speaking of the nutritional info - these have 133 cals per biscuit and fare worse than the oat crumbles for sugar, fat, and saturated fat.  They do, however, have less sodium. 
The first four ingredients (it is compulsory in this country to list ingredients ranking them in order of volume) are butter, wheat flour, cornflour, sugar.
And lastly, price is £1.59 for 155g.

On to the Oat Crumbles.  I really enjoyed them but you need to have a minimum of two at a time.  They had a very satisfying texture - initial crunch then oaty chewiness.  A lovely oat and honey taste too.  Kept a good bit of texture even after dunking.  I think these biscuits are much more satisfying and have more taste too.
The downside is that they are more expensive.  They cost £2.35 for 150g which is pricey.  I think it is because of their organic status (which I am not particularly fussed about) and the fact they are a relatively small bakery on an island.  (I suspect Nairn's biscuits are made in one of these giant food factories which make stuff for all the big brands).  And, as I have said, they only include nutritional information per 100g.  I weighed the biscuits and they are 20g each so not too difficult to do the calculations and work it out.  So, to that end, each biscuit is worth 98.4 calories and they obviously come out as being generally healthier than the Nairn's ones per 100g apart from the salt which is higher.  Their first four ingredients are oats, wheat flour, butter, honey.  

So, in conclusion, I preferred the Island Bakery Oat Crumbles for taste and texture but they are pricey!  The search for the perfect biscuit continues...

(Oh and just to let you know, I bought these biscuits myself from the supermarket and have no affiliation with either brand.)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Romantic Dinner For Two.

This is a bit of a staple for whenever we have a kids-free night.  It is quick and easy to make and we both love it.

It is simply - steak, dauphinoise potatoes and rocket and parmesan salad.  You'll notice from the photos I forgot to put the parmesan shavings on before taking the pictures.

For the dauphinoise potatoes we just use the really simple, un-mucked-about-with, recipe from Nigel Slater's Appetite.  The steaks are usually ribeye if we can afford it done rare (I slightly overdid these ones so they were medium but they were still fine).

Dauphinoise Recipe - 
Serves 4.

Ingredients - 
potatoes - waxy fleshed if possible, about 1Kg
garlic - 2 large, juicy cloves (we use about 4)
butter - just enough to butter the baking dish thickly
double cream - enough to cover the potatoes (about 600ml)

Method - 
1. Set oven to 160C/GM 3.
2. Peel the potatoes and slice them thinly.
3. Either cut the cloves in garlic in half and rub them round and round the dish, pressing hard to release the juices, or do what we do and just slice thinly and tuck the slices between the potatoes.
4. Smear the dish generously with butter.
5. Lay the potato slices in the dish, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.
6. Pour the cream over the potatoes - it should just come to the top of the slices.
7. Bake for an hour and a half until the potatoes are virtually melting into the cream.


Sunday, 21 November 2010


Raclette is a type of cheese but it also the term used for serving the cheese molten with a variety of accompanying foods.  I believe it originates in Switzerland.  I am no expert, I'm afraid.  My in-laws were invited to a raclette evening during a trip to Germany last winter.  When they got home they invited us down to try it out and then gave us a raclette grill for our Christmas.
We have really enjoyed using it - makes a lovely informal way of eating with friends in a similar vein to fondue.  It really came into its own last winter, though, when we were snowed in for about 6 weeks.  We ran out of gas and there was no way we were going to get an LPG tanker to come  and fill us up for weeks.  That meant we had no heating and no cooker.  Ughhh.  We managed, though.  Luckily we have an open fire in the living room and had plenty of wood to burn and we had a few electric heaters.  We also managed to cook on the electric raclette grill so we were so glad of it!
Anyway, this is our first raclette of this winter (for me it seems ideal for colder weather).  My parents came back from Geneva and brought us a lump of raclette cheese with peppers in.
So, this is the way we serve it, but, as I say, I am no expert and this may be completely non-authentic.
Here is a link to raclette on wikipedia if you want to investigate further.

So, the idea is that you melt the cheese under the grill and scrape it onto whatever you like or you grill it on top of your ingredients.  These are what we like to serve with the cheese but obviously the possibilities are endless - 

  • potatoes
  • baguette
  • onions
  • cornichons
  • peppers
  • mushrooms
  • fruit chutney
  • salami
  • olives

Okay, sorry about this photo - it looks so unappetising.  It's just the rubbish photography - it actually tastes great!

And, of course the kids love it - they get to pick whatever they like and make up little pans of food - we then grill it for them.  And, no, I don't have favourites but when I looked back at the photos, the ones of Rufie were awful as he has a cold and his face was covered in snotters.  I know I'm a bad Mummy putting lots of photos of them on the internet as it is without me being really bad and putting the disgusting snottery ones up aswell.  But, to be fair, Rufie is a very snottery child so chances are most photos of him will be like that!  Poor kid. 

Anyway, if anyone has more experience of raclette than me, let me know in the comments if there is anything else we should be trying/other ways of doing it.  Thanks. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Cake Slice Bakers - Challenge 2 - November 2010 - Cinnamon Pudding Cake.

This month we made the cinnamon pudding cake from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman.
My first attempt came out very dry and not nice at all.  I then tried again and reduced the cooking time and it was a big improvement.  However, it wasn't a cake I would particularly cook again.  Although I liked the idea of the cinnamon cake with the lovely topping of gooey caramel, I have had far nicer ones than this.  It is simple and quick to make but I think any little extra effort to make a more traditional sticky toffee pudding is worth it.  Some of the cake slice bakers rave about it so if you fancy the idea, maybe you should try it and see if it is for you - have a look at The Cake Slice Blogroll to see some adjustments that others made to improve it.  In fact, one of our members, Felice emailed Lauren Chattman about it and got a very friendly reply.  She suggested that you could increase the topping ingredients by 50% to make more caramel or add an egg to the cake mix to make a richer cake.


I have just looked through my photos and found that they are blurred and horrible.  I wonder if my feelings about the cake affected the effort put into the photography?

Recipe - 
Serves 9.

Ingredients - 
For the caramel topping - 
1 cup plus 2 tbsp light brown sugar
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
For the cake - 
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Method - 
Make the topping - 
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/GM 4.
2. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. (Not a loose bottomed one like I did the first time!  Of course, several minutes into cooking I hear the caramel start to pour out onto the oven floor - doh!)
3. Combine the brown sugar, water, butter and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally.  Set aside to cool.

Make the cake - 
1. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

2. Combine the butter and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 mins.

3. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the bowl.  Add 1/2 of the milk and vanilla.  Add another 1/3 of the flour.  Add the remaining milk and the remaining flour.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on medium speed for 30s.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  Pour the topping over the batter. 

5.Carefully transfer to the oven and bake until set, 45 - 50 mins.  Now, my second attempt I only cooked for 35 minutes and it was much less dry.  The other cake slice bakers seem to have found that this is a better time for cooking, too.

6. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, invert it onto a large rimmed serving platter, and serve warm.

7. Let leftover squares cool completely and store in a cake keeper or airtight container at room temperature for up to one day or in the refrigerator for 3 days.