The Great Cake Conspiracy 

The problem with having a reputation for being a good cook/baker is that occasionally you find yourself awake at 4:30am on a Sunday, frantically swearing at a cream cheese frosting that refuses to form stiff peaks. That was the situation I found myself in after being asked to make a cake for a surprise 21st birthday party with only 10 days notice.

Normally not a problem; I’d just rock out a cake from my reportoire, ice it and stand back with a smug smile. In this case however, the theme of the party was red (that being the girl in question’s favourite colour). Now I know of only one truly red cake, and I’d always stayed away from it.

Red velvet cake has never appealed to me. Partly because of the colour (it just looks wrong!) and partly because of the cream cheese frosting (also unappealing to me). So I’d never even tasted the cake and icing I intended to make, let alone made them before! Fortunately Hannah, the Awesome Housemate, had tried red velvet cake and knew what it was supposed to taste like.

In her first week of living in the house not only did I cakebomb kitchen just about every night, I also fed her more red velvet cake than anyone wants to eat. By the end of the week, both of us were craving savoury food and the kitchen floor was decidedly tacky from all of the sugar.

I’d decided to get organised, and start making the cake six days before I needed it. That way I had the chance to make a couple of trial runs if I needed to, and I could freeze the cake layers and defrost them the day before they were needed, ready for decorating.

It was a good job I did. Because of the unusual rising agent (bicarbonate of soda and vinegar, which any young scientist can tell you is an explosive combo) all of the uncooked cake batter rises to the top… unlike every other cake I’ve made. Worst of all, when you insert a skewer into the cake and it tells you it’s cooked, IT LIES!IMG_2633 - Copy

Because the colour of the cake is more vibrant the more cooked it is, it was very obvious when the first two cakes were cooled and levelled that they weren’t actually cooked all the way through. I certainly didn’t want to be responsible for serving them up to med students! Carving each cake into layers revealed that while the bottom layers were done the tops were not.

I threw the tops into a scraps pile and froze the two good layers. Now, you may be wondering why I wanted four layers. Forty-three people had been invited to this party. Time to make more cake.

The oven temperature was increased for round two. This time I also fired up the top oven and used the leftover batter for cupcakes and muffins. When a skewer in the main cake told me it was cooked, I shut the oven door and left it for another ten minutes.

Perfectly cooked the whole way through. IMG_2632 - Copy

The top ended up in the scraps pile, which was growing bigger by the day. In desperation, I popped them into a cake tin and took them into work.  Muffins, cupcakes and the two new layers were bagged and added to the recently defrosted freezer. Which was now full of cake.

Work greatly appreciated the cake scraps but like Hannah and I, they struggled to get through the whole pile. We’re only a small team! They were very disappointed though, when I had a sudden brainwave and told them I was taking the scraps home to turn into cake pops.

First time making cake pops… Why do I make life difficult for myself?

Saturday morning arrived, the cakes came out of the freezer and took over the kitchen. Seriously, cake everywhere. I went to work. Came home, cooked a quick Indian stir fry dinner I was developing, burnt it, swore, and started making icing…

By 11pm I started to realize that my cream cheese frosting wasn’t going to thicken any further. I had a little more icing sugar left so I added it to the bowl.  It sank without a trace. Maybe the kitchen was too hot? Chilling it in the fridge for half an hour had no effect. Good luck finding more cream cheese, butter and icing sugar in Exeter at almost midnight on a Saturday night. Internet! Internet can help…

Internet tells me that it’s almost impossible to get stiff peak cream cheese frosting in the EU because America adds cornflour to their icing sugar and we don’t. That’s okay though, I have cornflour in the cupboard.

I don’t have cornflour in the cupboard. As I put the contents of the cupboards back, I distantly remember throwing the cornflour away because it was out of date… I have arrowroot though.

Arrowroot does nothing. At 3am I resign myself to sloppy icing.

Cream cheese frosting oozes out of every layer, puddling at the base of the cake. So I scrape it back up the sides with a spatula and stuck it back in the fridge. Meanwhile, I attacked the cake scraps with a fork to turn them into crumbs, discarding the darkest bits. Once that was done, the cake came back out and the crumbs were gently but firmly slapped into the side of the cake to disguise to the slightly seeping layers. Back into the fridge.

The Eagle is landing at 9am… 5 hours to go… Cake pops!  Aaargh!  Not enough chocolate to coat them.  No shops are open, but the one over the road opens at 8am on a Sunday.  Bed for two hours.  Get up.  Buy chocolate.  Start finishing cake pops.  People arrive.  Finish cake pops and decorate cake while people make sandwiches in the living room.  Pack cakes into many boxes.  Pile into car and drive to venue.  Set up party food.  Mainline coffee.  Hide in living room, waiting.  Yell, “Surprise!”

IMG_2652

Have a fab time, get home, and sleep!

A few days later, a friend finds out you can make red velvet cake and begs you to make one for their birthday… Sigh.  Of course, you agree to do it.  After all, it’ll give you a chance to try out the more traditional ermine icing.

Ermine icing works!


Red Velvet Cake

IMG_2647
Red Velvet Cake with the failed cream cheese icing – none exist of the ermine icing 😦

 

Feeds:   12           Takes:   1 hour 45 minutes
Ingredients
480g unsalted butter, softened
600g caster sugar
6 eggs
75g natural red food colouring (liquid)
3 tbsp cocoa powder
415g plain flour
250ml buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
235ml full-fat milk
Pinch of salt 200g granulated sugar

Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Prepare three 20cm cake tins by greasing them and then coating the inside with a light dusting of flour. Set aside until needed.

Grab your largest mixing bowl, and put 250g of the butter and all of the caster sugar in the bowl. Using a hand mixer or wooden spoon, cream the two together until the butter has whitened and the sugar has completely dissolved into it. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.

In a small separate bowl, mix the food colouring and cocoa together into a paste, and then scrape into the butter, sugar and egg mixture. Mix together until the colour of the proto-batter turns a violent red.

Set aside 40g of plain flour to use in the icing, and add the remainder to the cake batter a little at a time, and alternately with the buttermilk. Stir in a teaspoon of the vanilla extract.

In a small cup, mix together the bicarbonate of soda and the vinegar. Fold into the cake batter, taking care not to over mix it.

Divide the batter evenly between the three cake tins and level. Place on the same shelf of the oven, and bake for 25-35 minutes. The raising agent pushes the uncooked batter to the top of the cake and renders the skewer test ineffective, so if it tests as done when you insert your skewer into the cake, give it an extra ten minutes just to be on the safe side.

Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool in the tins for five minutes before you turn them out onto wire racks to finish cooling. While they’re cooling, whip up a batch of ermine icing.

Place a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add the full-fat milk and the remaining 40g of plain flour to the pan and whisk continuously as it heats to simmer. Keep it simmering until the roux becomes thick and stiff.

Remove from the heat immediately and whisk in the salt and the remaining teaspoon of vanilla extract. Pour into a bowl and cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming while it cools completely.

In a separate bowl, cream together the remaining 230g of softened butter and the granulated sugar until the resulting combination is light and fluffy, and the sugar has completely dissolved. Add the cooled roux a little at a time, beating continually. Continue until the roux has all been added and the icing resembles whipped cream.

Level the cooled cakes and retain the scraps; these can be turned into crumbs with a fork and used as either decoration or separate cake pops. Assemble the cake, using half of the ermine icing to sandwich the three layers together, and smoothing or piping the rest over the outside of the cake.

Decorate with cake crumbs, halved strawberries drizzled with white chocolate, or the decorations of your choice. Serve with a side order of celebration!

Turkish Delight Cheesecake

You’ve probably gathered by now that I really like food. At its finest, food is an artform, but even when it’s a messy-looking bowl of apple crumble it manages to enhance everything around it. To me, food isn’t just a form of fuel, it’s comfort, it’s fun, it’s family and friends, and some truly great memories.

Legs of lamb slowly roasting on a spit over an open fire in a field whilst canvas flaps in the breeze… a Sunday stew with the sounds of Formula 1 in the background… pancake day in New York… raspberries fresh from my grandmother’s garden, still warm from the sun… it’s all this and more.

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it before here, but I write a weekly recipe column for my local paper.  For me, the best thing about doing that is undoubtedly that I get to eat every recipe I write. The second best thing is the development stage, when I’m either daydreaming about food, or messing about in the kitchen to see if I can bring those fantasies to life.

I’ve been toying with the concept of a Turkish Delight cheesecake for a long time; wondering how I’d make it, taking ingredients out and putting others in, tweaking and refining it until finally… oh, sweet heaven!

They say a picture paints a thousand words, but I can assure you that the photograph of this week’s recipe doesn’t come close to describing the sublime reality of consuming this exquisite confection.

That first rush of sweet chocolate sweeping over the taste buds, blending perfectly with the delicately floral cream filling, followed by a palate-cleansing burst of bittersweet lemon jelly and a lingering echo of pistachio… it’ll send shivers down your spine!

This recipe is dedicated to a constant source of inspiration. This one’s for mum.

TD CCake

Turkish Delight Cheesecake
Feeds: 12
Takes: 45 minutes
+ 8 hours chilling time

Ingredients
300g bourbon biscuits
75g unsalted butter, melted
8 gelatine leaves
1kg cream cheese
275g caster sugar
80ml milk
12 drops red food colouring
300g double cream
1 & 1/2 tbsp rosewater
250g Turkish Delight
3 lemons
30g pistachios

Line a base of a 23cm spring-form tin with greaseproof paper, and the sides with cling-film.

Place the bourbon biscuits in a food processor and blitz until reduced to fine crumbs. Add the butter, and pulse until well combined.

Turn the biscuit crumbs into the tin and press firmly down. Clean and dry the food processor, and pop the tin into the fridge to chill, while you make the cream cheese filling.

Place five gelatine leaves in cold water to soften. Pour the milk into a small saucepan, set over a medium heat and bring to just below the boil. Remove from the heat, squeeze out the excess water from the gelatine and drop it in the milk. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved, and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, place the cream cheese, and 165g of the sugar in the cleaned food processor, and whiz until the mixture is smooth. Add the cooled milk, and the food colouring to the cream cheese mixture and combine well.

Cut each piece of rose Turkish Delight into square quarters, and the lemon Turkish delight into small pieces. Set the rose aside to use for decoration. Beat the cream and rosewater together until soft peaks form. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the cream and scatter in the lemon Turkish Delight. Combine by folding the two together.

Pour the filling into the spring-form tin and level it. Tap the tin to shake out any air pockets, and chill for four hours, or until the filling has set. Once it has, place the last three gelatine leaves in cold water to soften. Pour the remaining 100g of sugar and 125ml of water into a small saucepan, and set over a medium heat. Add the zest, and juice of all three lemons to the pan and bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before straining the syrup through cheesecloth into a bowl. Don’t crush the pulp to wring extra syrup out or it will make the jelly cloudy.

While the syrup is still warm, squeeze the excess water from the gelatine leaves and stir them into the syrup. Allow the jelly to cool completely and then place in the fridge for 15 minutes until it thickens slightly. Pour over the cheesecake and return to the fridge for three to four hours, or until the top has set.

Once the top has set, blitz the husked pistachios in the (cleaned, again!) food processor until they resemble large bread crumbs. Use these, and the reserved rose Turkish Delight  to decorate the cheesecake.

Carefully remove from the tin, peel off the cling-film and greaseproof paper, place on a pretty plate and serve to mum.

REVIEW: Jelberts, Newlyn

Jelberts, in my personal opinion, is simply the best ice-cream ever made.  They’ve been making it to the same recipe for over 70 years now and there’s absolutely no reason to change.  My mum can remember walking down Paul Hill with her Grandmother to do the shopping, and stopping off at Jelberts for a treat.  It’s a treat that we look forward to every year, and have indulged in every day of our holiday so far.  Tomorrow (our last day) will be no different.

jelberts-outThe unassuming shop on New Road is easy to overlook if you don’t know what it contains, but during the height of summer the queue stretches out of the door and down the road to Penzance.  This little gem is home to one of the oldest ice-cream makers in Cornwall, and they have only this one shop.

It all started with the eponymous S Jelbert, a local dairy farmer.  Ice-cream was a natural extension of his milk delivery rounds, and arrived at your doorstep every day in a pram.  When it proved popular he bought a tiny building to serve as his factory, and the shop on New Road from which to sell the ice-cream.  Jelberts still use those same buildings today, and the ice-cream is still delivered every day from factory to shop in that same pram.

These days it’s run by the grandson of the original owner, Jimmy Glover.  The recipe remains a closely guarded secret, but what we do know is that due to the high-quality ingredients and traditional processes the ice-cream cannot be stored for more than one day before solid ice crystals begin to form and the ice-cream deteriorates.  This means that you’ll never find Jelberts in the supermarket aisle – there’s only one place in the whole world that sells it.  Newlyn!jelberts-in

The interior is old-fashioned, sparse, and spotlessly clean.  Eagle-eyed visitors waiting their turn to be served will spot a long Olympic oar strategically placed along one wall, just above a framed photograph of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning.  Helen may be the number 1 female rower in the world, but her dad makes the number 1 ice-cream!

The prices are incredibly reasonable.  Buy two ice-creams and you’ll still have change from a fiver.  Of course, there’s only one flavour but that hardly seems to matter when that flavour is so intensely rich.  You can choose to purchase your ice-cream in a tub or on a cone.  Flakes are available but hardly necessary when for an extra 30p you can have a scoop of clotted cream on top… Oooh, heavenly!  jelberts2

 

REVIEW: Philps Pasties, Hayle

I consider myself to be something of a pasty connoisseur.  Although I was brought up in Hampshire, my Grandfather’s family remains scattered around the Cornish peninsula, and some of my favourite childhood memories are of noshing down on one of the traditional pasties which were then only available in Cornwall.  Although you could buy a “Cornish” pasty in Hampshire, they were pale and unappealing in comparison to the proper job.

Friends and family travelling to Cornwall were always under strict instructions to “bring back pasties!”.  I can remember excitedly waiting for a friend to return from Cornwall, even to the point of waiting outside his house.  Not because my friend was coming back, but because he was bringing me a proper pasty!

(In case you were wondering, the pasty he brought back was possibly the worst I’ve ever tasted.  Jon assures me that he bought it in Cornwall but to this day I entertain doubts.  It was made of minced gristle and clumps of powdery gravy granules… definitely not a true pasty!)

In recent years the Cornish pasty has spread across the UK, with shops opening everywhere.  Although this is a great improvement on the Ginsters slop, the best Cornish pasties can still only be found in Cornwall. (Amusingly, Ginsters was forced to hop the border from Devon to Cornwall back in 2011 when the EU ruled that only pasties made in Cornwall could be called Cornish pasties.)

Interestingly, the EU ruling also states that a genuine Cornish pasty has to have a distinctive “D” shape and be crimped on one side. It added: “The texture of the filling is chunky, made up of uncooked minced or roughly cut chunks of beef (not less than 12.5%), swede, potato, and onion with a light seasoning.”

This is somewhat irritating as the EU has failed to properly translate the recipe.  In Cornwall, a swede is known as a turnip and a turnip is known as a swede.  Therefore, as my Great-Aunty Yvonne will tell you at great length, a true pasty should be made with turnip, not swede.

So why the diatribe about Cornish pasties?  Well, this week I’m visiting Cornwall with my mother.  It’s a chance to catch up with the relatives, see some of our favourite sights, and gorge ourselves on Cornish pasties and clotted cream ice-creams.

hayle
Hayle, Cornwall

We’re staying at a site that billed itself as St Ives, but is actually Hayle.  We’re not that bothered by this – Hayle is actually more convenient for most of what we want to do and is picturesque in its own right.  As we drove through yesterday, we noted that Hayle appears to have at least four pasty shops, two Warrens Bakeries and two Philps.  In addition, the local butcher also sells pasties and pies.

Now Warrens I’m familiar with… we have two in Exeter and my family has another tie to the world’s oldest pasty producer – they opened their first shop in my Great-Grandmother’s village, St Just.  Philps on the other hand…  Well, mum tells me that they’re my second cousin’s husband’s favourite pasty shop.  Aunty Yvonne doesn’t think they’re too bad either!

With that kind of recommendation, how could I resist?


Philps
Famous Pasties from Cornwall

We chose the largest of the two Philps in Hayle, mainly because it has a spacious car park.  Although we arrived just before midday, the car park was busy with cars constantly coming and going – a testament to the quality of the pasties, especially since we’re now outside the main tourist season.

It was possible to peep through an open door into the spotless kitchen behind the scenes, but dallying was costing us our place in the rapidly forming queue.  Mum found a pasty keyring that she liked in their small gift section, while I loved the clip-lock lighthouse cookie jars.  But we were falling further and further back in that queue!philps2

The queue stretched passed the cake counter with a generous selection of delicacies and I was sorely tempted by a large Jaffa cake.  I eventually opted to buy it and save it for later, knowing full well that I was about to stuff myself with a large traditional.

We had the choice of four different kind of pasties.  Traditional, minced meat, cheese and vegetables, and vegetables and butter; all available in standard or large.  I also noted that they had a selection of standard traditionals available with extra salt and pepper.  Perfect for mum, who likes her pasties far more peppery than I can stand.

I’d skipped breakfast so I chose a large traditional, which almost managed to defeat me.  Stuffed full of potato, onion, swede and with a generous helping of large chunks of melt-in-your-mouth steak scattered evenly throughout, it was just as good as I’d hoped.  Even better, the crimped crust running down the side was tiny.  I normally discard this bit, but this time I found myself eating every scrap.  It was so good that I only remembered to take a picture once it was almost all gone!

philps3-2Pleasantly full, mum and I headed off to Penzance to see Aunty Yvonne.  Halfway there, mum suddenly realised that we hadn’t bought any saffron cake for tea tonight and was heartily disappointed.  It’s one of her favourite treats.  Fortunately, Aunty had remembered how much she likes it and had bought her one to have while we were there.

After our visit, we headed back to our temporary home for tea and cake.  Mum had her saffron cake but I still had the Philps Jaffa cake waiting for me…philps4

Exquisitely presented, it reminded me from the very first of the French patisserie lemon tarts.  Cracking open the chocolate exterior revealed three different layers… soft cake, tart orange, and silky Italian meringue.  The orange layer had the sharp tang of a really good marmalade, and contained shreds of actual orange.

Despite the large size of the cake, I couldn’t resist polishing the whole thing off (I’m on holiday so calories don’t count!).  But don’t worry, I resisted the urge to emulate Paul Hollywood and dunk my cake into my cuppa!

So it’s official.  I have a new pasty supplier.  Now I just need to put in my order of frozen pasties to take home….

Smoked Salmon en Croute

The Somerset smoking adventures continue…

Paid another flying visit to my friends in Somerset last weekend and was rewarded with a side of maple-smoked cold salmon.  I love the care packages I get to come home with…. they also sent me back with smoked cheese and butter… so I’m also working on a smoked cheese scones recipe.

They’ve upgraded the kit – the smoking bin now features a hot plate in place of the charcoal we were using. This allows for a more controlled temperature to smoulder the wood shavings.  It also means that we can start trialling hot-smoking!

After about two hours we were too hungry to wait any more so we pulled out the two sides of salmon we were hot-smoking and fried them instead.  Served with an “everything but the kitchen sink” salad and a potato salad, they were yummy.

We left the two sides of salmon that we were cold-smoking in the smoker all night, and pulled them out early the next morning.  The texture was right, but the flavour just wasn’t strong enough.  We suspect that the problem was that they’d only been brined for 3 hours… clearly we need to brine for longer.

Once home, I pondered recipes for a side of slightly smoked salmon.  Hannah, the awesome housemate, commented that her mum would do something with pastry and the idea for salmon en croute took root.

Cooking the salmon seemed to activate the smoked flavour – it came through much more strongly than when the fish was raw.  But the taste of salmon still came through, and it was perfectly cooked.  It took three of us three days to finish the meal, but it was worth it.  As good as it was when it was first pulled out of the oven, it was even better cold the next day!


Smoked Salmon en Croute
Makes: 6 portions  Takes: 1 hour

Ingredients:
1 side of maple-smoked salmon
1 tbsp. cooking oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
4 large florets of broccoli
salt & pepper to taste
200ml tablespoon crème fraiche
375g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
85g watercress

Place the onion and celery in a medium sized saucepan or frying pan and place over a medium heat.  Pour over the tablespoon of cooking oil.  Sauté lightly until the onion turns translucent.

Snip the tips of the broccoli curd off and into the pan, leaving the majority of the stems to be discarded.  Fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the broccoli is just cooked.  Add the salt and pepper to the pan, followed by a tablespoon of crème fraiche.

Stir the crème fraiche through until it has fully mingled with the vegetables.  Remove from the heat and allow the filling to fully cool.

Preheat your oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6.  Roll out your pastry to a rough rectangle shape.  Score a deep line down the length of the salmon in the middle, then flip the salmon over so that it closes like a book.

Place the salmon just off to the centre of your rolled out pastry so that when it is closed it will be exactly in the middle.  Spoon the chilled filling along the length of the salmon on one of the sides, and then close the salmon over it.

Wrap the pastry around the salmon, crimping the ends and tucking the edges underneath.  Brush with the beaten egg to glaze.  Cover a large baking tray with greaseproof paper, and place the wrapped salmon on top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden.  If the pastry starts to turn too brown, cover with tin foil.

Meanwhile, make a watercress sauce by blitzing the remaining crème fraiche in a food processor with the water cress.  Pour into a bowl and chill until the salmon is ready.

Serve the salmon hot, with steamed broccoli, garlic mushrooms and the watercress sauce.  Keep going back for leftovers until it’s all gone.

Egg Kothu Parotta

I was introduced to this dish by an old friend of mine, and I immediately begged her for the recipe so that I could share it with everyone I know. Fragrant and delicious, this simple meal lingers lovingly on the palate, delivering delicate layers of flavour long after the pan has been scraped clean of leftovers.

It’s not the kind of meal that you’ll find in an English Indian restaurant, although it’s extremely popular in Southern India. In fact, it’s commonly believed there that the very best Kothu Parotta comes from street food stands rather than restaurants. In parts of Pakistan it’s served for breakfast, but I find it makes a perfect weekday supper; quick and easy to make, and leaving only one pan to wash up.

For those of you (like me) who have an aversion to extremely spicy food, fear not. This is remarkably mild, and you can make it more so by decreasing the amount of chilli powder used to a mere quarter of a teaspoon. As for the more esoteric ingredients; paratha can be found in the frozen section of any good supermarket, but you may have to resort to the internet to find chaat masala (in fact, if anyone does know where I can buy it locally, please get in contact – my supply is running low!).


Egg Kothu Parotta
Makes: 4 servings   Takes: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 medium onions, finely chopped Egg Kothu Parotta 006.JPG
2 dozen dry curry leaves
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 green chilli, deseeded & finely chopped
250g baby plum tomatoes
1 tsp chaat masala
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp mild chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 packet of paratha, cut into pieces
1 large bunch coriander, finely chopped
5 eggs

Pour the oil into a large frying pan (I use my wok) and place over a medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook until the seeds begin to pop. Add the garlic, ginger, onion and curry leaves to the pan and fry gently until the onion turns translucent.

Add the chilli and tomatoes to the pan and cook for a few minutes or until the tomatoes begin to soften. Add the chaat masala, garam masala, chilli powder and salt to the frying pan and stir well until thoroughly mixed.

Add the paratha to the pan, along with the majority of the coriander, and cook until all of the paratha has fully cooked (it will no longer resemble dough). Add the eggs to the pan and stir continuously until the egg has all cooked. Sprinkle the reserved coriander on top and serve immediately with a side of raitha.

On Top of Spaghetti…

… all covered in cheese.  I lost my poor meatball, when somebody sneezed.

If you were ever a child (and I think that most of us were) then you’ve probably heard at least the first verse of the popular folk song “On Top of Spaghetti”.  When my nephews came to stay for a week over the summer holidays, my eldest nephew constantly sang it for about two days until I introduced them both to Ging Gang Goolie.  They’re seven and five so that went down well.

With that brain worm firmly stuck in my head I announced to the boys that we were going to make spaghetti meatballs.  The deal when they come to my house is that I’ll cook their favourite meals, but they have to help.  Granny does the washing up.

I had a packet of Heck’s chicken Italia sausages in the fridge that needed eating, so instead of going to the butcher’s for some pork sausage meat, I slid the sausages out of their cases and used those as the basis of the meatballs.  Because they’re made from chicken it gives the meatballs a lighter and more delicate texture than pork, and allows the Italian flavours to shine through.

For a sauce we made my famous Italian “splodge”, which is basically made from whatever vegetables are in the fridge, a tin of tomatoes and Italian herbs and spices.  I’ve been making it for so many years that I no longer even have to think about what I’m doing, it’s just second nature to me.

The boys really enjoyed making the meatballs, although they were both a little uncertain about getting their hands into the mixture and rolling it into balls.  Once I’d got them started though, it was difficult to persuade them to stop!

Mum told me when we were about halfway through cooking the meal that the boys don’t like meatballs.  You can imagine my response!  They delighted in proving her wrong and both of them went back for seconds.

All in all, it was a quick and fun recipe that got us all involved in the kitchen.  Plus it tasted great too!


On Top of Spaghetti Meatballs
Feeds: 4    Takes: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
340g Heck chicken Italia sausages meat1
35g fresh breadcrumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sticks of celery, finely diced
1 tbsp tomato puree
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
Dash of Lea & Perrins
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 red pepper, finely sliced
200g dried spaghetti
100g cheddar cheese, grated

Remove the sausages from their casing and place in a bowl. Add the breadcrumbs to the bowl and mash the sausage innards and crumbs together with a fork.  Using your hands, scoop up pieces of the meat mixture and form into evenly sized balls.

Place a large frying pan over a medium heat and add the oil. When the oil has heated, add the meatballs to the pan.  Fry the meatballs for 5-10 minutes, turning occasionally, until they’ve browned on all sides.

Remove the meatballs from the frying pan and set aside. Add the chopped onion, crushed garlic, and diced celery to the frying pan and sauté until the onion turns translucent.

Tip the onion, garlic, and oil into a medium saucepan and add the tomato puree. Place the saucepan over a medium heat.  Mix the puree in with a wooden spoon, then add the chopped tomatoes to the pan.  Stir well.

Add a dash of Lea & Perrins, and the paprika, basil and oregano.  If you happen to drop the entire container of basil into the sauce, don’t panic.  Sam did the exact same thing and it still tasted amazing.

Stir the new ingredients into the tomato sauce and simmer for five minutes.  Add the meatballs and red pepper to the saucepan, stir them in and allow to continue simmering, stirring occasionally.

Cook your spaghetti according to the packet instructions and then drain. Serve with the meatballs, smothered in cheese.

REVIEW: Dr Ink’s Curiosities, Exeter

A new Victorian-themed cocktail bar opened in Exeter last month; Dr Ink’s Curiosities.  I was alerted to this fact fairly quickly by my friend Dru, who prefers to dress in strictly Victorian clothing.  As a lover of both history and cocktails, I immediately made plans with him to go there.

It took us a couple of weeks but we finally agreed to meet last night, accompanied by my new housemate.  Hannah and I arrived first and strolled up and down the quayside looking for the bar.  Then we walked a little further up the road.

Resorting to GoogleMaps sent us in circles.  Finally I caved and called Dru, who was running late.  He told us it was at the Customs House – which was clearly closed for the night.

But just to the left of the customs house, tucked behind a discreet courtyard garden was a blue door, standing open.  We had found Dr Ink’s.

It’s the tiniest jewel of a bar.  Beautifully decorated, with original oak beams across the ceiling, a library corner, and a boudoir alcove with plush red velvet and god leaf walls.  It even has the nicest toilet I’ve been in, complete with music piped in through a hearing trumpet!

The staff were incredibly friendly and very well-trained.  They were happy to either banter with us or leave us to enjoy our drinks and each other’s company, whichever we preferred.  When Hannah and I mentioned how difficult it had been to find them, they explained that they’re aiming for quality, not quantity (although they did promise to give some thought to my suggestion of a 12-piece brass band to announce their presence).

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The Bee’s Knickers

They certainly delivered.  Hannah and I were both impressed with our first cocktails – a scrumptious citrus and honey concoction entitled “The Bee’s Knickers”.  Dru arrived whilst we were sipping them in the sheltered courtyard, and ordered himself a scotch and water.  He’s not the biggest fan of cocktails, but he promptly perused the menu.

Dru kept supping his scotch while Hannah and I moved onto our next drinks; Genever Daisy for her, and an Augustus Julep for me.  I liked my julep with its notes of peach and mint, but Hannah found that her drink was a little too sour for her – she prefers her cocktails sweet.  Dru was under strict instructions to order her the sweetest cocktail they had when he went up for our third and final round.

We’d managed to convince him to try one of the cocktails by feeding him tastes of ours throughout the night.  He’d chosen the Black Orchard Shrub; whiskey based and flavoured with apples and blackberries.  I have to admit that the tiny bit I managed to try was delicious, but not nearly as much as my Lady Luscombe, which closely resembled an alcoholic Lady Grey tea.  I dearly love both Lady Grey and Long Island tea, so it was the perfect cocktail for me.  Hannah was delighted with the Edinburgh Clouds, which was crowned with fairy tears and definitely sweet as well as yummy.

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The final round…

I refused to let them clear the table all night just so I could get a picture of the aftermath, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Instead, you’ll have to content yourselves with this picture of the last few drinks.

Once we were done, we headed inside to say a big thank you for a fantastic night.  I was very pleased to be kindly allowed a copy of the menu to take home with me and Dru was delighted to have finally found a cocktail that he likes.  Then it was time for the long trudge back up the hill to the High Street via the Roman Wall, and finally home to bed.

I’ll definitely be heading back to Dr Ink’s.  Not only is it a magical place to spend an evening, but I also need to finish working my way through their menu!

Hedgerow Harvests: Elderberry Ideas

I woke up the other day with the first autumn mist rolling past my bedroom window. As much as I love this time of year, I can’t help mourning the loss of summer as we slip inexorably toward winter. The chill in the air was a bittersweet reminder to make the most of the sunshine while it lasts.

The mist burned off by ten o’clock, and turned into a beautiful day. But it was a definite kick in the butt! I’ve been saying for a while that I want try my hand at my Grandmother’s recipe for blackberry and elderberry wine, and this year’s chance to do that was slipping away.

Elderberries weren’t a problem (I managed to stumble into an eldertopia my first year in Exeter and have been harvesting the flowers every spring since) but blackberries were more difficult. My local parks had been picked clean, so I had to go further afield. Fortunately, I don’t have far to go to find fields. Blog - Field

A quick diversion in the car with a 5 litre food tub got me the elderberries, and a sunny countryside ramble after work not only put me in a good mood, it also netted me those blackberries. As an added bonus, I found damsons, rosehips and sloes on my travels. I grabbed the damsons, and left the rosehips and sloes for another day.

My hands were purple up to the elbow by the time I finished raking the elderberries off the stalk with a fork (because the stalks and unripe berries are mildly poisonous, they have to be discarded). Ten minutes work with a pair of secateurs left me with 915 grams of elderberries.

I needed a kilo to make a gallon of wine.

So I halved the quantities, and made half a gallon of wine. Well, when I say made, I mean there’s a tub of blackberries and elderberries fermenting in the kitchen. That left me with 415g of elderberries sitting the fridge, waiting to be used.

A friend of mine says she can hear mistreated plants screaming. I’m like that with food. It calls to me. Begs not to go to waste.

Research for recipes online turned up various syrups and cordials, a couple of mentions that it was good with game (duh!) and a few liqueur recipes. I’d already decided to try a test pot of rumtopf, and a damson and elderberry jam sounds good to me.

With a couple of cooking apples from the allotment, I could make an apple, blackberry and elderberry crumble. But elderberries pack a powerful punch and a little often goes a long way. I could easily find myself with berries to spare.

Throwing the floor open to suggestions led to baking ideas beyond crumble. Suddenly I had a list of things to try, and even less time to implement them…

Blog - Elder Trio

A word of warning when harvesting elderberries; make sure that you’re not picking roadside berries, and that you have the permission of the landowner. You also need to ensure that when you’re stripping the berries from the stalk (best done with a fork), that you discard all of the stalk and any unripe berries. Both of these are mildly poisonous and may upset delicate tummies. The ripe berries are fine to eat as long as they’re cooked.


Elderberry Muffins
“Better than blueberry!”
Makes: 6              Takes:   50 minutes

195 plain flour Blog - Elderberry Muffins
150g granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
80ml rapeseed oil
1 large egg
100ml milk
150g ripe elderberries, removed from stalks
1 tbsp soft brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Grease a large muffin tin, and line with greaseproof paper. Grab a medium bowl and tip in the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir the dry ingredients together.

Measure the rapeseed oil into a large measuring jug. You can use other oils if you don’t have rapeseed, but make sure that they’re fairly tasteless, don’t use olive oil as the flavour is far too strong. Rapeseed has a slightly nutty flavour which compliments the elderberries well.

Crack the egg into the measuring jug and then measure the milk into the jog. Whisk the wet ingredients together until well combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until the batter is just starting to come together. Don’t overmix the batter or the muffins will refuse to rise.

Add the elderberries to the bowl and softly fold them into the batter with a knife or spoon. Divide the batter equally between the lined muffin holes and sprinkle the soft brown sugar over the tops.

Place the muffins in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins have risen and are golden brown. You can test them by inserting a wooden or metal skewer into one of the cakes; if it comes out clean, they’re cooked!

Remove the muffins from the oven. Take them out of the muffin tin and cool them on a wire rack. They can be eaten hot or cold and will store for up to three days in an airtight container.


Elderberry, Blackberry & Apple Crumble
A sugarless version, ideal for diabetics and those wishing to lose weight!
Makes: 6              Takes 50 minutes

6 Bramley apples Blog - ElderCrumble
100g blackberries
65g elderberries, destalked
150g muesli
50g low fat margarine

Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Core and slice four of the apples. Place them in a medium saucepan with a small amount of water, cover and place of a medium heat. Stew for five minutes.

Core the remaining apples and cut them into chunks. Grab a deep ovenproof dish and pour the stewed apples into it. Scatter the uncooked apples over the stewed ones and press them into the mixture. Strew the blackberries over the apples, followed by the elderberries.

Mix the muesli and margarine together until well combined and then use it to top the fruit. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the top is browned and the fruit juices are bubbling through.  Serve hot.


Damson & Elderberry Jam
Oh, God, so good!
Makes: 2.5lb of jam        Takes: 30 minutes

400g damsons
100g elderberries
150ml water
Juice of 1 lemon
750g sugar
45ml Certo pectin

Wash your jam jars and pop them in the oven on its lowest setting to sterilise. Pop two saucers in the freezer. Wash the fruit and place in a medium sized pan with the water.

Stir until the fruit and water boil. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and sugar and stir well to mix. Turn up the heat to full and bring to a roiling boil, stirring constantly.

Boil hard for one minute and remove from the heat. Stir in the Certo pectin, and skim to remove any damson stones and scum.

Take the jars out of the oven and carefully but quickly pour the jam into the jars. Cover and allow to cool. Store in a cool dark place.


I need more elderberries…

Nutella Hell

Or, why I obsessively write stuff down now…

Just over a year ago my friend Toria and I were translating an American recipe for Nutella cookies.  She converted the measurements and I followed the instructions, secure in the knowledge that I could simply retranslate the recipe if it was a good one.

It was.  Those cookies were perfect!  Thin and crisp but still chewy, they were everything a cookie should be, only with Nutella added in.  Ohhhh…. those cookies…. *drools*

Later that evening, after Toria had started the drive home with a bag of cookies I’m told didn’t make it all the way, I scribbled down what I remembered of the recipe into my book and tucked it away for future reference.  It wasn’t until I came to make those cookies again that I realised I’d got one of the measurements wrong…  I couldn’t possibly need almost a whole kilo of flour!

Fortunately I’d tucked the original in at the same page so I simply converted the measurements and started to make the cookies.  But the consistency was all wrong.  I could see it even before the dough was ready.  Somewhere, something had gone horribly awry.

Those cookies were awful.  Thick and stodgy, they sat heavily on the stomach.  Chewing them felt like the cookie was trying to pull your teeth out.  What had happened to my perfect cookies?

There were three ingredients that were my variables.  Flour, sugar, and butter.  Any one of those could be wrong, or it could be all three! So, I started to experiment.

It took three large 400g jars of Nutella, and 192 cookies before I managed to recreate the original recipe Toria and I had mysteriously invented. I might have been the most popular person in the office that day, but I’ve never been able to look at Nutella the same way… I certainly hadn’t made those cookies since it happened!

So why has this come to mind after over a year? Well, over the summer holidays my nephews came to stay with me for a week. I bought and made a lot of food that I don’t normally eat simply because they do. And now they’ve gone home and there’s a jar of Nutella sitting on my kitchen side just daring me to make cookies again.IMG_0956

So I did.

 

 

Mmmmm……. coookies….


 

Nutella Cookies

Makes: 40  Takes: 45 minutes
Ingredients:
125g unsalted butter
75g white sugar
125g light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
200g Nutella

Preheat your oven to 180C or Gas Mark 4 and line several baking trays with greaseproof paper. Beat the sugar and the butter together in a large bowl until fluffy and well-combined. Add the beaten egg and vanilla and mix together.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and beat until the flour has combined with the butter, sugar and egg mixture and the dough is just starting to come together. Add the Nutella to the bowl and swirl it through the dough using a knife.

Drop heaped teaspoons of dough onto the paper lined baking sheets, spacing them approximately 3 inches apart. Bake for 8 minutes, by which time the outside of the cookies should be golden brown.

Allow the cookies to cool in the baking trays for 5 minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling. If you only have the one tray and want to keep baking batches, carefully lift the greaseproof paper from the tray and place directly on the wire rack as soon as the cookies are removed from the oven. Make sure you take care if you do this – the cookies and baking tray will not only be extremely hot, but the cookies will be inclined to crumble!