And a Slightly More Sedate Supper...

(Summer by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1563)

After all that exciting baking and curious combinations, I thought I would cook us something that uses up those inscrutable veggie scraps from the fridge, one chicken breast that I had leftover and frozen, some crumbled Feta from a half opened pack and some dregs of Bulgar Wheat.
Yes, it's another one of those 'End Of the Month' dishes that I seem to spend more time cooking than anything else!
Actually, in spite of the ingredients perhaps being a little past their Use By Date, this dish was delicious and, according to Paul, exactly what he was craving. Furthermore, it was low fat to boot!
The beauty of this kind of dish is that it looks stunningly colourful, like you've spent hours slaving over it and all the ingredients are fairly interchangeable. No chicken? Then you could flake some salmon or ham or smoked fish, maybe some duck or turkey. Vegetarian? Skip the meat and use more vegetables and cheese. Don't have any Bulgar Wheat? Then use Cous Cous. Don't like Feta? So use Goats Cheese or no cheese at all. Suffice to say, the vegetables that languish in your fridge also dictate what you put in the dish.
And if you needed further encouragement, this is also really, really quick and simple to prepare.
To give my dish a slightly Middle Eastern flavour, I used Seasoned Pioneers Saudi Kabsa Spice Mix on the chicken and vegetables when I roasted them. Kabsa is a spicy blend of Cayenne Pepper, Cardamom, Coriander, Clove and Cumin, amongst many other fragrant ingredients. And of course, you can use your own favourite spice mix (Cajun is another favourite) or just plain old salt and pepper.
Because this dish without a name is effectively a warm salad, it needed a dressing, which is where the roasting juices come into their own. If you have used a spice mix when roasting your chicken and vegetables, pour the naturally flavoursome juices over the final dish before serving - it improves the flavour 100%.
If you have some flaccid vegetables that need using up before they walk out of the fridge and start a riot of their own, here's how to prepare this dish.
FREYA'S ROAST CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE BULGAR WHEAT BONANZA
Serves 2 generously
Ingredients:
250g Bulgar Wheat or Cous Cous
2 Chicken Breasts (or some leftover cooked chicken). I always use Skin-on chicken which is getting increasingly harder to find over here, but it does have much more flavour.
Selection of vegetables suitable for roasting, i.e. courgette (zucchini), carrot, asparagus, red onion, garlic, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, squash - cut into chunks
Spice Mix of your choice, I used Kabsa
Olive Oil
Vegetable Stock
100g Feta Cheese or similar crumbly, creamy cheese
Spring Onions and Parsley to Finish
METHOD:
If you are using leftover cooked chicken skip this step. If you are using raw chicken breasts, preheat oven to 200c.
In a large roasting tin, pour 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil and mix with a couple of tablespoons of your spice mix. Place in the hot oven whilst you chop the vegetables.
Toss the vegetables into the hot, spicy oil, season with a little salt and pepper (if you feel your mix isn't that salty) and roast until tender. This can take between 30-40 minutes, depending on the vegetables used.
Meanwhile, place the chicken breasts in a sandwich bag with 2 tablesoons olive oil and about a couple of teaspoons of your spice rub. Smoosh the chicken all around so that it is well coated in the oily, fragrant spices.
Remove from the bag and place in a small roasting tin, making sure to squeeze all the oil and spices left in the bag all over the chicken. You should put the chicken in the oven about half way through the vegetable cooking time.
Roast for about 15 minutes or until cooked to perfection. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and leave to stand.
Whilst the chicken is roasting, prepare the Cous Cous or Bulgar Wheat as per the packet instructions. I usually use a chicken or vegetable stock cube dissolved in boiling hot water poured over the fluffy grains to give them more flavour.
Assembling the dish:
Once the Bulgar or Cous Cous is fluffed and has absorbed all the stock, tip the deliciously roasted and slightly charred in places vegetables over the top and toss gently with a fork.
Cut the chicken in to generous chunks and add that.
Pour over the juices from both roasting pans, then crumble over the feta.
Give a final, all amalgamating forking, sprinkle over some chopped spring onions and parsley (or herbs of your choice) and serve!
Enjoy!

Freya's First Time...

Almost inconceivable isn't it? A member of the Daring Bakers who has completed three of challenges with mixed results (remember my Red Velvet Cake? Apparently Petroleum BP are interested in my recipe - they're looking for a new type of impermeable rubber for car tyres) who hasn't cooked one thing for Dorie Greenspan's From my Home to Yours.

It's not that the recipes were difficult or didn't appeal to me, far from it. I was just having problems deciding which recipe to make. Dorie's easy, friendly style makes even the most complicated looking cake seem achievable. Missing some of the ingredients? Dorie gives us side-bar options and encourages us to experiment with her recipes to find results that suit us.
From My Home to Yours has captured the imagination of the baking sector of the food bloggers like no other book. A google search for Dorie Blog Recipes brings up more than 77000 results, and not all of these lead back to her own personal blog.
Us Brits haven't embraced baking in the same way as Americans (or Canadians). Perhaps it's too easy to buy sub-par cakes from the local supermarket or over-priced pastries from the local bakery. The real truth is, the more you bake, the easier it becomes. And, if, like us, you have a small family, most cookies or muffins can be frozen for future snacking. Furthermore, for the price of a box of cakes from the bakery, you can buy the foundation ingredients for several dozen more sweet treats.
It is my experience through speaking with inexperienced cooks (and it must be something in the water - the only people I have ever spoken to who share my passion for baking and cooking in general have been online.) that they feel baking is an insurmountable challenge or a relic from the 1950s - and one that should stay in museums. This is a pity because making a batch of cookies or muffins is so easy that even young children can do it. Not only this, you can control exactly what goes into your recipes: no preservatives, no colourings (Red Velvet Cake excepted), no hidden baddies. You can sneak healthy things into baking that taste delicious but that would otherwise be shunned by fussy children. The Carrot Cake is a perfect example.
But, I'm not here to proselytise about baking, those who want to bake will do so, those who don't, won't and they won't be here reading my tirade anyway. They'll probably be at the gym.
What you want to to know is what I finally decided to cook from Dorie's Magnum Opus, right?
Don't get too excited. The pictures are fairly obvious visual clues. It was something quick but delicious. And versatile, as my illustrations indicate. Dulce de Leche Duos.
I love Dulce de Leche. The day I first discovered a tin of it, in the Mexican grocery section of a supermarket in LaCrosse, was the day my world changed. I have never been a huge fan of caramel, finding it too chewy and teeth-hurty, plus it always gave me stomach ache (which is also the reason I don't eat penny sweets, although inflation has guaranteed that penny sweets are now 5 penny sweets). You will never find me sucking a toffee. But, I am a sucker for anything unusual in a tin and couldn't resist this: La Lechera Dulce de Leche, produced by Nestle.
When I got back home, I used this tin of thick, sticky, slightly bitter, slightly milky but very sweet tasting tanned goodness on a banoffi pie. I have also made my own Dulce de Leche, which is incredibly simple but requires a keen eye and four hours patience. It is a lot quicker to pop out to the local supermarket and buy your own. If you do want to make your own, simply boil an unopened can of Evaporated Milk in a large pan of water for four hours, making sure the pan never runs dry, lest the can should explode, spraying your kitchen and innocent standbys with scalding hot, sticky caramel.

I know, I know. Now I'm waffling. Back to Dorie and her Dulce Duos. I have a love/hate relationship with American cookies (biscuits). They are usually too soft for my liking and when I visit the US, I have to bring my own secret stash of Digestives or Bourbons (like a nicer version of Oreos, sans the whiskey content, alas) so I don't feel too homesick. To me, a soft cookie (biscuit) means a stale cookie (biscuit) and only fit for the consumption of my husband, who, being American, loves soft cookies (biscuits). I have a sneaking suspicion that he leaves half opened packets of cookies (biscuits) laying around deliberately, so that they go stale.

When I bake cookies (biscuits) from an American cookbook, I always cook them for several minutes longer than recommended so that they become crisp and crumbly. I took a risk with Dorie's recipe though and trusted her when she said that this these slightly soft, cakey biscuits are perfect when sandwiched with a rich filling. And after all, didn't I almost overcome my soft biscuit phobia the day I bit into a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Sandwich?

Dulce de Leche Duos are easy to make but taste (and smell) sensational. Butter creamed with sugar (two types!), mixed with some Dulce de Leche, eggs and flour, dropped in small heaps and baked until softly golden. These are not healthy biscuits, particularly when sandwiched with something equally rich, but they do make a wonderful treat and if you freeze them in pairs, you have a little something to look forward to if you're feeling like you just have to have something sweet now! Besides, the taste of raw batter alone is worth the price of a tin of Dulce de Leche. And the smell when you open the oven door is just wow!
I experimented with various fillings to try and find the best combination. Paul's favourite was Peanut Butter and Jam. I also tried some of the leftover frozen Diplomat Cream which tasted great but looked like lard for some reason! Some of my other experimentations were not as successful but I've shared them here with you today to give you some inspiration....enjoy!


DULCE DE LECHE DUOS
- makes 60
Taken from Dorie Greenbergs Baking from My Home to Yours
Ingredients:
2.5 Cups Plain Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
8 ozs (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
3/4 Cup Dulce de Leche (use shop bought for this recipe)
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Caster Sugar
2 Large Eggs
METHOD:
Line 2 large baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
Preheat oven to 175c.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and leave to one side.
In a large bowl, using your standalone mixer or (in my case) an electric hand whisk, mix the butter until it becomes softened and splattered all over the bowl. Scrape it down and add the sugars and Dulce de Leche. Mix until pale and fluffy, a couple of minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time and beat for a minute after each addition.
The mixture will look split and curdled but this doesn't matter.
Add the flour in about three additions mixing each addition only until it has been absorbed. No more or you will overwork the mixture and get tough cookies (ha!).
Using a teaspoon or a small cookie scoop, drop spoonfuls onto your prepared sheets, leaving two inches between them. They spread out - a lot.
Cook for 10-12 minutes, turning the sheets around in the oven halfway through, until they are honey coloured but still soft to the touch. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then carefully remove to a cooling rack, using a spatula.
Serve as they are, stuffed with ice cream or spread with more Dulce de Leche or any filling of your choice.

Stuck Between Breakfast and Lunch

Regular readers are probably aware of our ethos, but if you’re just surfing in from GOOGLE or www.bringbackdawsonscreekormywifewillbeunbearable.com, I should probably put things in context for you. For without understanding our methodology it is easy to move on down the road looking for something a bit more flashy and a bit less candid. This isn’t a criticism of those places, we certainly visit them frequently, rather, this is a companion to those sites. A stripped down sucker punch showing the readers our life in a very real way, without a façade of glamour (we wouldn’t know how to start), without theatrical staging (we don’t have the room), and without the hair and make-up (my hair is thinning rapidly and Freya has delicate skin).

There have been occasions when we’ve considered censoring ourselves and not revealing so much about what makes us tick, but this just isn’t our thing. We’ve written things in our blog, which may be considered unrelated to food and the food community and wondered sometimes how many people will be alienated by those revelations. It’s true that we may have scared a few readers away with this approach, but we’ve decided that the benefits of integrity far outweigh the trappings of popularity. This is the reason that regular readers have learned that we would rather watch films about junkies than a romantic comedy, that we enjoy music that most people consider un-listenable, that our taste in literature is somewhat eclectic, and that our heroes are all nihilistic, reprehensible, or, at least, a bit naughty.

All of this runs somewhat perpendicular to the demographic of our core readership. There are exceptions, Jeff from C for Cooking, for instance, is a bit freaky. But fortunately for us, we’ve slowly captured an audience who have come to see us as we would like to be seen, loveable eccentrics pursuing a purity in the kitchen, which will hopefully negate the deeply disturbing aspects of all other outlets in our shared life.

So where is all of this leading to you ask? That’s simple and probably a bit unrelated, but I’ll figure an angle before this post is through, don’t you worry about that. It’s yet another meme! Yes, we’ve done tonnes of these things and yes, they do provide necessary filler material for bloggers, you’re probably one yourself, who occasionally can’t be motivated to cook and write about food. There’s nothing wrong with this. Nobody can be expected to be “on” all the time. We barely make it through each week even sharing the duty (well, I’ve kind of been muscled out of the kitchen by Freya, but that’s not for here). This meme is different though. It is food related and cooking related and even eating related. It’s the Sunday Brunch Meme!

We were presented with this challenge by Gattina at Kitchen Unplugged and were happy to accept it knowing full well that the answers may surprise people. The rules are simple, “Create a post (on your blog/site) that speaks about your typical Sunday (holiday or free day, also accepted) breakfast/brunch. Take pictures of your table and write about it.” Freya decided this was best handled by my department as I’m generally in charge of Sunday cooking. That’s cool with me, I love Sundays and this one was extra special since it was a bank holiday weekend and we have Monday off!

So, I got up bright and early to get two little quails out of the freezer. I took them downstairs and pulled out the few stalks of feathers that poked out here and there. I put a pan of water on the stove and dropped the tiny birds in waiting for the water to boil. As the quail was cooking, I put some White Leicester cheese and a carrot in the food processor along with some left-over spaghetti I was saving just for this meal. I let the quail cool down and removed the biggest bones from the birds and dropped them into the processor as well. I then pulsed the whole lot briefly until it formed a frappe, scooped the finished product into bowls, called the dogs and enjoyed watching them devour their breakfast. Next, I went back to bed.

This is the greatest part of the week for me. The only window in a seven day week when we’ve got no responsibilities and no place to be and the dogs are otherwise occupied and not trying to effect a schism between Freya and me. It’s the only time in the week when we can cuddle up without being growled at or prodded by paws. We revel in this moment when nothing can invade our microcosm.

Time progresses, the news is still war and death, the True Movie Channel loses some appeal, the smell of the neighbours roast dinner is wafting through the inevitable cracks in a Victorian terrace house wall, and we fight temptation to quit our jobs and live every day like this. Finally, I get up and start making brunch, although it is technically, lupper, to use a Homer Simpsonism. Freya has home made chips liberally sprinkled with sea-salt and vinegar from the jar of pickled onions she made last autumn along with two fried organic eggs, preferably baby bantam eggs. I fry some very good organic streaky bacon, reserving the fat to cook the hashbrowns in. Bread goes in the toaster, eggs go in the pan. I always have my eggs over-easy. I eat out of a baking dish because it’s the most accessible. It’s now 8PM. So, what makes this brunch you ask? We’ve only been up since 6.

And that’s where the connection is. This is our shared life. We could have laid out lobster Thermidor and champagne with blinis and caviar and little melon balls and told you that this is our Sunday brunch. We may still do that one day. But we would rather just live our life in full view of our dear friends and visitors who come back for seconds and thirds and whose patronage we greatly appreciate.

I've been to the original brunch post and haven't seen any rules about how many people I'm supposed to pass this on to. So, let's think, who can I tag?
1. Amanda and family at the Little Foodie - she is on a multi-cultural-culinary-crusade so I'm sure weekend brunch in her household is never boring!
2. Katie from Thyme for Cooking - a fellow Wisconsonsite will always eat well for Brunch!
3. Passionate Eater who, asides for being a Milli Vanilli fan, is usually cooking up something interesting!

P.S. Here's a new picture of Max for my brother and sister-in-law who have been missing the little guy.

Daring Bakers III - The Bakers Bite Back

After the almost crippling Martha Stewart Crepe Cake of last month, that monstrous creation that nearly brought so many of us to our knees, this month's challenge seemed to be a walk in the park.
I mean, it comprised merely of homemade puff pastry, a cooked patisserie cream and choux pastry, not to mention a demonstration of our piping skills and confidence with molten sugar. This could never be as infuriating, as exasperating and as disappointing as Martha's Cake.
However, this month's challenge, chosen by pastry chef extraordinaire, Helene, was always going to be something fantastical: Gateau Saint Honore.
And of course, Gateau Saint Honore is a traditional French cake, made as a somewhat fitting tribute to Saint Honore himself, the Patron Saint of Pastry Bakers. And as I've already mentioned, this gateau really does pull out all the stops. As, I suppose, you would expect the Patron Saint of Pastry Bakings' very own gateau to do. Since Saint Honore was the seventh bishop of French City Amiens during the 6th Century AD, one can only assume that their primitive bakeries were fantastical places to visit, much as they are today. And, although the bishops honorary gateau was supposedly not devised until the mid-18th Century, I wonder how many of the techniques utilised were of his invention? It is thrilling to imagine people eating caramel coated creme puffs during the time of Smallpox (according to Wikipedia, not much else happened in 600AD, other than the Persians beginning to use windmills for irrigation and Chess first being played) and Vandalism.
But I digress. I have never made puff pastry before, having never had a reason too. I have always found bought puff pastry to be oily and too puffy, it splinters into all of those tiny, wafer thin shards that stick to your clothes and your teeth. Most bought puff pastry is not even made with real butter. So, this was my first challenge.
Making Puff Pastry is a simple but somewhat tedious procedure. It is necessary for you to start in the morning due to it's SIX HOUR resting period which is interspersed with rollings and turnings. I, of course, chose to start it at 3pm. Fortunately, there was plenty of TV (although I am still mourning the end of Dawson's Creek and praying for the new series of America's Next Top Model - yes, it's intellectual viewing for me all the way) and Challah to be getting on with.
Slightly alarmed at the rapidity with which some of my fellow bakers had produced their Gateaux, I thought I should probably get a wiggle on and start the pastry, to be followed a few days later by the cream.
Ah yes, Diplomat Cream. An incredibly rich filling for the choux buns, made with flour, eggs (separated and the whites whisked to concrete stiffness), sugar, milk, double cream and vanilla extract. It is as luxurious as you might expect, although mine turned a slightly disconcerting shade of grey whilst languishing in the fridge for a couple of days. The strict notes we were given were "no chocolate, no coffee - this must remain white" - I did try Helene, honestly!
Today was the final assembly of the cake. This entailed making the choux buns, piping them full of the delicious Diplomat Cream and then dipping them in caramel.
Choux Pastry is incredibly easy and I had no qualms about this element at all. And for anyone who thinks that they can't make profiteroles at home or even a ramshackle Croquembouche - you can! It is much easier to work with than normal pastry. None of that tedious kneading and rolling and worrying that it might crack or you might get a soggy bottom (on your pie, saucy!). You just need to be good with the wooden spoon and have enough brain cells to squeeze a piping bag. And Paul and I are living, working proof of this.
One place where I became unstuck (or rather stuck in this case) was dipping my filled choux buns in the molten, hotter than Venus caramel. I got a little cocksure, so to speak, and instead of using the recommended tongs, I used my fingers. I now have a big, puffy, blistery thumb and first finger. And believe me, if you don't want to incur a hot caramel burn, you'll be smart and follow directions. It really does hurt. I surely empathise with those poor victims of the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. I can only imagine what it must be like inhaling scorching molasses into your lungs.
But enough doom and gloom. Finally, the gateau is assembled. The gateau looks a little tottery, dilapidated and rickety. But it's my tottering, dilapidated, rickety gateau and I am as proud as hell of it.
Oh, the flavour? Imagine ordering the most outrageous dessert on the menu at an upper class restaurant. Now, forget all that. What would you expect this to taste like? It's puff pastry, choux pastry, vanilla patisserie cream and whipped cream and crunchy caramel. Each mouthful is like a thousand tiny bursts of sugar on your tongue, subdued only minutely by the crisp pastries. And each mouthful leaves you wanting more until your stomach begs you no more. A wholly satisfying dessert that has left me feeling proud for making my own puff pastry and diplomat cream.

For the Daring Bakers, the sky is the limit!
Oh, and if you're feeling daring yourself, click here for the recipe in full and a rundown of all the other gals who took part!

Another Way to Serve Macaroni Cheese...

....Or this weeks Presto Pasta entry.

I have yet to meet someone who dislikes Macaroni Cheese. However, it can be a little bland, a little too sloppy, a little too dry, not enough cheese etc.
My husband makes a great Mac and Cheese, which I allude entirely to his secret cheese sauce recipe. I know his secret ingredient but I’m not spilling the beans....yet.
When I make Macaroni Cheese, I am never quite satisfied with the results, so I am on a permanent perfect pasta quest. Luckily there is lots of inspiration available online, through other food bloggers and in cookbooks. It would appear that Mac and Cheese captures our imagination in a way that can only be rivalled by Hamburgers.
My mum recalls a story about when I was very young. She would feed me macaroni cheese and I would suck all the sauce from the tubes which I would then feed to our black Labrador, Monty.
This isn’t the only Macaroni Cheese (from here onwards referred to as MC) story. Another time, my cousin Stuart poured a whole container of salt onto my MC and dared me to eat it. Bravely or stupidly (I favour the latter), I ate quite a substantial amount and then promptly regurgitated it, Linda Blair style.
Fortunately for those around me, my table manners have improved considerably, as has my intake of salt, but I still love the soft, gentle creaminess of MC. It is one of the first ‘solid' foods that many of us eat, along with sweetcorn, and for this reason I think we hold it close to our hearts – and even closer to our stomachs. Our first baby steps towards eating true, grown up foods.

Whilst surfing the UKTVFood website looking for ways to use up my cauliflower (and here's what I did with the rest of it), I came across this recipe for a posh version of MC. Now, this seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. Of all things, MC is not posh. It is homely, cosy, comforting, simple...but it is not posh or sophisticated or edgy.

However, there was something in the recipe that grabbed me. It wasn't that it was served in filo cups - pointless and frou frou. Nor was it the final sprinkling of chilli and coriander - seems like an afterthought to me. In fact it was the simple addition of some boiled cauliflower and a non-roux based sauce that won my heart. I had very few of the ingredients required so I reworked the whole dish, and stealing inspiration from Ina Garten's recipe for Chicken with Biscuits, used up some homemade puff pastry ("What??? You made homemade puff pastry? Why haven't we been informed of this development in your ongoing cooking skills?" All in good time is all I have to say right now) and came up with this Macaroni Cheese with Cauliflower and Puff Pastry. (Oh, and I do realise that biscuits aren't made with puff pastry - it's a visual thing).

It is a great way to use up any leftover cauliflower (and you could use other vegetables too, carrots, broccoli, green beans), scraps of pastry (which I always freeze for occasions such as this) and if you find you don't quite have enough pasta. In fact, I used small and large Macaroni tubes. Furthermore, the original recipe requires a melting cheese like Gruyere as the base for the sauce, I completely ignored this and used dried up nub ends of Cheddar, White Leicester and some Parmesan. I would think that you could use almost any combination of cheeses, or even stir in some cream cheese to make it extra unctuous.
So, if you find yourself stuck with all the above ingredients and nowhere to go, try this:

MACARONI CHEESE WITH CAULIFLOWER AND PUFF PASTRY - serves 2-4 (depending on if you serve extra veg with it)
Ingredients:

300g Macaroni or similar tube pasta, cooked as per packet instructions, drained
100g Cauliflower, cooked, drained
150g Grated Cheese which a good melting texture, any combination, Gruyere, Cheddar, White Leicester, Emmental, Edam, etc. Blue cheese would be fabulous too!
50g Grated Parmesan
6 Egg Yolks (freeze the egg whites for meringue)
Some Scraps of Puff Pastry (of course, frozen is fine) or Shortcrust Pastry (optional)
Worcestershire Sauce
Cayenne Pepper
Salt, Pepper
Squeeze Fresh Lemon Juice
METHOD:
Preheat oven to 180c.
If your pasta and cauliflower isn't leftovers, cook it all together in a large pan with plenty of salted water, until al dente.
In a large saucepan over very gentle heat, whisk together the egg yolks and cheeses until melted together (don't do as I did and place the eggs over a high heat because the hot plate doesn't cool down quickly enough and end up with partially cooked egg yolks before the cheese has even touched it. Don't worry, I just about managed to bring it back again, with lots of frantic whisking). If you find that the sauce seems to be a bit lumpy, add some milk or cream to thin it down slightly and make it smoother.
Add a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, Salt, Pepper and Cayenne Pepper to taste.
Add the cauliflower and macaroni to the sauce, mix well and pour into a ovenproof dish.
Roll out the pastry and cut out large circles to resemble biscuits. I thought afterwards that it would be cute to do little star cut-outs too but it was too late at this point.
Sprinkle over some grated Parmesan and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden.
Serve with some green vegetables and enjoy!

Sugar High Friday # 31 Welcome Back Ricotta

Tara at Seven Spoons is hosting this month's Sugar High Friday and her theme is inspired: Neutral Territory. We have to create a perfectly pure, muted, simple, non-gaudy, pale, never seen the sunshine sweet.
In stark contrast to last month's SHF, Flower Power, where stunning bursts of colour were seen on blogs across the world, Tara wants us to share our puddings in every shade of Magnolia.
As someone who has spent her life being pale and interesting, I was thrilled at this month's theme. And I knew I was going to use the pot of Ricotta in the fridge but how?
There have been so many other fabulous entries so far, ranging from a virginal Millefeuille to a sublime Illes Flotante, from a daring Coconut and White Chocolate cake to a recherche Mochi. Who knew that there was so many different flavours of white?
For the second month running now, I have turned to Tessa Kiro's beautiful book, Falling Cloudberries, in particular the section on Greece. Beautifully photographed, it is hard to decide exactly which recipe to use. Kiros’s book is wonderfully evocatively multi-cultural; her parents are Finish and Greek and her husband Italian. Falling Cloudberries is compiled into several ethnic chapters, one for each country she has lived in and she reproduces and reworks traditional recipes from each of those countries in an accessible manner.
Coming from a cold European country, the Greek recipes are more alluring to me than those from chilly Finland, however, there is a frosty beauty to these calming, warming dishes that is just as appealing and brings to mind Diana Henry’s Roasted Figs Sugar Snow indispensible book.
But, Summer beckons and I have an unbearable craving for something fried. Deep fried but light at the same time. Of course, unless you happen to visit our local chip shop, deep frying generally ensures that the food is crisp and light, albeit saturated with molten oil. This is where the second part of my craving comes in: a deep fried dumpling with a light filling. We all know that there is nothing better to plunge into hot oil than something already contained within a wrapper, whether it’s a relleno, a wonton or rangoon. But these are all savoury dishes. What about something sweet? What about a Greek Bourekia, a crisp shortcrust pastry filled with cinnamon scented cream cheese and then dipped in the drink?
Originally referred to, quite charmingly, as Breadmeats, the Bourekia has been enjoyed since the times of Ancient Greece. They later acquired the name through force, from the Turks who felt that the Greeks need to share the same names for delicacies as they did.
Whatever name the Bourekia goes under, it has infinite variety: savoury, sweet, vegetarian or carnivorous, rolled into cigar shapes or crescent shapes, wrapped into Filo or Shortcrust Pastry.
Kiros’ filling is cream cheese or ricotta flavoured with Orange Flower Water, Cinnamon, Lemon Zest and some Caster Sugar. This can be easily and deliciously adapted. Rosewater (another traditional Greek flavouring) could be substituted for the Orange Flower Water, different spices can be added, chopped chocolate and, as Paul suggested, using Mascarpone instead of Ricotta. I can see where he’s coming from: the finished crescents reminded me very much of Cannoli, with their ricotta and chocolate filling.
However, I am in love with this not-to-sweet, palest of pink fillings. Biting into the crisp, lemon-tinged pastry, a dusting of icing sugar exploding all over you, and then into the yieldingly soft, gently perfumed interior. Truly a perfect ending to any Summers day.
RICOTTA AND CINNAMON BOUREKIA - makes between 12-24, depending on how thin you can roll the pastry
Ingredients:
Pastry:
250g Plain Flour (cake or '00' is best)
Pinch Salt
55g Cold Butter, cut into cubes
Some Cold Water
Zest of 1 Lemon
Filling:
250g Ricotta Cheese or Cream Cheese or Mascarpone, drained
50g Caster Sugar (or to taste)
1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Flower Water
Zest of 1 Small Lemon
METHOD:
Make the pastry:
Gently rub the butter into the flour and salt until it loosely resembles the texture of oatmeal.
Pour into a couple of tablespoons of cold water and the lemon zest and knead for about 15 seconds, or until the dough forms a cohesive ball.
Wrap in clingfilm and chill for one hour.
Make the Filling:
Beat together the ricotta with the Orange Flower Water, Cinnamon, Sugar and Lemon Zest until well amalgamated. Taste and adjust flavourings as necessary. Chill until needed.
Make the Bourekia:
Heat a large pan of vegetable oil, filled about halfway, over high temperature until a scrap of pastry sizzles gently but not frantically.
Roll out the dough very thinly. Cut 3" rounds out. According to the recipe, you should get 24 rounds out of the dough, but I managed about 14. It all depends on how pliable your dough is, and mine was quite crumbly.
A hint for making little pasties, whether it's these Bourekias or Empanadas or Cornish, when you cut the rounds out, give them another couple of rolls with the rolling pin. This makes the dough thinner, and therefore crisper, but also it aids with manipulating it too.
Fill each round with a scant spoonful of filling.
Seal in little crescents shapes using some water, and a pinching technique.
Using a slotted spoon, drop the Bourekias into the hot fat, in batches of maybe 5 or 6 depending on the size of your pan. Fry for about 45 seconds, until they look crisp and puff up slightly. They will not turn golden brown.
Drain on kitchen paper, then serve dusted generously with icing (confectioners) sugar.
Eat whilst still hot.
Enjoy!

p.s. Just 3 days left to submit your entry for Pauls Big Burger Ballyhoo! So...get grilling!

Sunday Baking

Sometimes I think I spend all week looking forward to Sundays. It is the only day of the week that we spend together, just the two of us and the dogs, doing whatever we want. Sometimes we stay in bed until lunchtime watching the True Movie Channel (Paul jokes that despite my affected intellectuality, I actually prefer this made for TV movies to much more famous ‘good’ movies – he may well have a point). Other days, we decide to go to Subway and split a foot long sub, Club-style. He has mayo and ALL the salad, I have mayo, onion relish and some of the salad (no pickles).
When we’re flat broke (which seems all the time at the moment), we bake. I have come to terms with the fact that I am not one of those London types who shop at Borough Market for their groceries. If only. However, I do know that with just one pair of hands, a bag of flour, some yeast, butter and eggs working together in a mystical alchemy, something magical can happen.
I don’t remember my mum ever making bread when I was a child, although she did bake on special occasions, Christmas, Birthdays. I think that she found (and still finds) cooking to be a chore, a necessity rather than a joy. However, she did enjoy indulging her artistic side by decorating cakes which she doesn’t consider to be ‘cooking’ but rather ‘art’.
I suppose that this is where I first thought that certain tasks in the kitchen, such as baking bread, were for the experts only. It wasn’t until Paul started baking bread, and then I caught the itch off of him, that I realised it is really, incredibly simple. Even soft, sticky dough like Brioche is so simple to make with the most basic of electric hand whisks. The only 'difficult' part of breadmaking is the kneading and with stand-alone mixers (or husbands keen on baking), even this step is easy. However, I enjoy the almost ritualistic kneading of the dough - it is both therapeutic and relaxing.
Usually though, Paul kneads the dough. It is wonderful to see his large bakers hands working the dough until it starts to come to life. He does it so effortlessly and he responds to the bread as much as it responds to him.
Challah was our bread of choice this weekend. I love soft, egg-rich breads like Brioche and whilst browsing several of my baking books, Challah (pronounced Hallah) seemed to be an interesting variation on the sweet egg bread.

Challah is of great cultural importance within the Jewish faith, and it is traditionally served on the Sabbath or special occasions. It has a familiar braided shape which often varies to symbolise, for example Rosh Hashanah (when it is braided into a circle to represent birth-death-rebirth) and other observances of the Jewish faith.

To us it represented another step in our baking history: shaping bread. I had originally planned on making two simple braids (or plaits, as we call them), of three dough strands apiece. Paul decided he wanted to go bigger! So, we ended up with a sort of 4-strand plait shaped into a ring. Once baked to a rich, shiny, dark pine lustre though, it looked stunning and would be a truly memorable loaf to place on your celebratory table (whether you are Jewish or not). The taste is reminscent of soft American dinner rolls, a tender crumb with a satisfying crust. Even the next day, when I had forgotten to put the bread ring away, it felt slightly drier but still tasted delicious with butter and strawberry jam.

If you wanted to omit the artistic element of the bread, I think that this dough shaped into bread rolls, or a more traditional but free-form loaf shape would be just as good, just adjust the baking times accordingly. The proving time is slightly shorter than some breads, 2 x hour long rises, plus a 45 minute 'shaped' rise. I also found that it took a much shorter time to cook than the original recipe states.

n.b. If you prefer a sweeter loaf, reduce the salt by half and add a little more sugar.
This bread also makes great french toast, bread pudding and croutons if you find you have some that has gone stale.
If you want to make Challah, here's the very simple recipe:
CHALLAH - makes one large braided loaf, two small braids or experiment as you wish.
Ingredients:
500g Strong White Flour
2 Teaspoons Salt
20g Fresh Yeast (I used 2 and a quarter packets of instant yeast - about 16g)
200ml Lukewarm Water
2 Tablespoons Caster Sugar
2 Organic Eggs
3oz Melted Butter
1 Egg Yolk mixed with a tablespoon water for the glaze
METHOD:
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour.
In a small jug, mix together the water, sugar and yeast. Pour into the flour, along with the 2 eggs and melted butter. Stir well with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough and turn out onto a lightly floured board.
Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is soft and pliable and feels as though it is coming to life. Effectively it is - the yeast is activating under your touch.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm room to prove for an hour.
Knock down the dough which will have more than doubled in size, cover again and leave for another hour.
Knock down the dough once more, knead lightly and turn out onto a lightly floured board.
If you are shaping the dough, separate into three or four equal pieces, rolling each one out to about 18" long and 1" thickness. Plait using these directions here.
Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and leave to rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180c.
Brush with egg wash.
Bake your Challah for between 20-40 minutes, depending on how you've shaped it and how efficient your oven is. Our large loaf took less than 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and leave to cool on a rack.

Freya's Boiga Ballyhoo Entry and 60 Second Ice Cream!

I suppose it seems only right that I should support my husband's food event, Paul's Big Burger Ballyhoo (just 5 days to go, folks!). Whilst I am unhappy about donating our meagre supplies of Goatslick (it's a great mixer with vodka - seriously!), I do like the idea of a good food contest. I realise that I am exempt from winning the competition. However, when I knocked up this vegetarian sandwich yesterday, Paul suggested that I should at least put it forward as inspiration for other people.
Of course, it can only be cooked on a grill if you have a grill-safe skillet (or frying pan to us Brits) because it involves small mushrooms and scrambled eggs. Sounds like breakfast so far? Try adding some Parmesan, truffle paste, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and parsley to the mix and you've got a winner for your vegetarian (or hamburger squeamish) guests. Furthermore, if you're not using the grill, then you can just rustle this up in the kitchen (as I did) for a quick snack.
The recipe is taken from Jane Grigson's Mushroom Feast, who directly attributes the recipe to the formidable foodie Alice B Toklas. I have omitted several steps from the original, purely to make it much quicker and more convenient. I chose not to process the mushrooms into a paste because I love the squeaky texture of fungi but if you want to proceed as per the original, place the just cooked mushrooms in a food processor until process until coarsely chopped and then add the eggs. The Truffle Paste is my luxurious touch and proof that I really am going to use that expensive looking glass bottle of, what is in truth, chopped mushrooms with a hint of truffle oil (which is no more made with authentic truffles than baby oil is made out of babies). However, I enjoy the strong, garlic heavy flavour and a little goes a long way (and it keeps for much longer than it actually states on the packaging. Use within 5 days of opening? Mine has been open 8 months and tastes just as good as the day I first popped the lid). Obviously I don't suggest that you go out and buy this special item just for what is, in effect, glorified mushroom sandwiches. In particular, if you are privy to some rich, musky flavoured wild mushrooms, these will need very little adornment at all.
According to Alice B Toklas, the taste of the finished sandwich is much like chicken and indeed, the mushrooms combined with eggs and cheese had a deeply meaty taste.
This dish also lends itself to much experimentation: different herbs (Thyme or Tarragon) or cheese (Gruyere, maybe a not too strong blue cheese), some sauteed onions, perhaps some garlic, whatever type of mushrooms you are able to pick locally or pick up at your supermarket.
If you have some mushrooms that are crying out to be used and you're feeling peckish right now, here's how to make them:
ALICE. B. TOKLAS INSPIRED MUSHROOM SANDWICHES - serves 2 greedy people
250g Mushrooms (a punnet), I used Chestnut, you could use whatever you have
30g Butter
2 Tablespoons Grated Parmesan (or cheese of your choice)
2 Organic, Free Range Eggs
Spritz Lemon Juice
Salt, Pepper, Cayenne Pepper
1 Spring Onion, chopped
Teaspoon Truffle Paste (optional)
White Bread, cut into rounds using a large cutter, if you're feeling in a Mad Hatters Tea Party mood, if not, keep bread as is.
METHOD:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium height. Add a spritz of lemon juice (I used about a quarter of a lemon) and throw in the mushrooms. Grind over some black pepper and leave to sweat down, and then reabsorb the liquid that they initially emit.
Once they are tender but fairly dry (about 8 minutes) break the eggs over the mushrooms and stir briskly to scramble them. Remove from the heat before the egg goes dry and whilst hot, stir in the grated cheese, cayenne pepper to taste and the spring onions. Finally stir in some salt and truffle paste (if using), also to taste.
Serve on toasted bread. I fried the bread rounds in some butter because I love fried bread, however this is an overly luxurious touch and the toaster works just as well.
Enjoy!

For those of you who skipped the above burger waffle because you were seduced by the words '60 Second Ice Cream', let me reassure you that you will not be disappointed. Inspired by Lisa over at La Mia Cucina's and Marce at Pip in the City's Banana Ice Cream which does not require an ice cream maker or even copious freezing times, I decided to experiment with other 'instant' ice creams. A little investigative work informed me that other fruits won't give you the authentic ice cream texture that the bananas did. However, with a little lubricant supplied by natural (or Greek) yogurt, a dash of sugar (or Agave syrup) and some flavourings, you can produce something which tastes fruity and great.
I remembered that I had bought a bag of cherries some months (or was that years?) ago, with the probable intention of making cherry pie for Paul. Obviously this never transpired. I am not the biggest fan of cherries so didn't really feel compelled to make the pie. Feeling energetic after trying out the new local branch of Subway though, I decided to treat Paul. I placed half the bag of frozen cherries in my processor, poured in about 50g caster sugar, a dash of almond vodka (made with the kernels from damsons) and some almond extract and 150ml of yogurt and processed for 60 seconds or until smooth and vividly pink. Taste for sugar, add more if necessary and serve. I think that if you had frozen banana slices in your freezer, you could replace the sugar element with this instead for an even healthier, fruity frosty treat.
Again, experimentation is the key to success: I have decided to keep all sorts of soft fruits in the freezer; blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, currents, mango; with the idea that we have instant ice cream at the drop of a hat. Would this work with stewed fruits, like Rhubarb or Apple, flavoured with cinnamon or vanilla or made boozy with a dash of sloe gin? Let me know if you decide to experiment and find a truly amazing combination!
60 SECOND "ICE CREAM"
Basic Recipe
1kg Frozen Fruit
300-400g Natural Yogurt (you may need more depending on the texture of the fruit). At this point, I am wondering if you can use tofu for those of you who are lactose intolerant?
50g Sugar (depending on natural sweetness of fruit), Agave Syrup or Honey
Flavouring of your choice (vanilla, almond extract, fruit liqueurs as a starting point)
METHOD:
Place all the ingredients in a processor and blend until smooth. No longer or it will melt too much
Serve straight away. This stuff doesn't refreeze but if you find you have any left, you can drink it as a thick smoothie instead.

Yes, Another Potato Curry

For those of you who found the Sag Aloo (Bombay Potatoes) recipe interesting, I
thought I'd share another Indian potato dish with you. This recipe utilises
considerably more spices than the Sag Aloo, but most of them you will already have in
your store cupboard.
I adapted this Cauliflower and Potato dish from a recipe by Atul Kochhar, one of
Britain's most innovative Indian chefs. It takes absolutely no time at all to make,
literally the time it takes to find the spices out of the cupboard (in my case, this
can sometimes be several hours), and chop the cauliflower and potatoes, plus a couple
of tomatoes.
Unlike some curries, there is no need to sauté onions beforehand to add that extra
element of flavour but the addition of Nigella (Onion) seeds and layering of spices
gives the distinctive "Indian Restaurant" flavour that is so hard to replicate at
home. Despite this, the cauliflower is never overpowered and I liken this dish to a
spicy cauliflower cheese (although it has no cheese in it).
Paul and I served the curry with some plain boiled basmati rice, but it would be
great served alongside a meat-based curry if you were preparing an Indian banquet. I
think it would also be just as good served alone, with just some Naan Bread to mop up
the deliciously fragrant sauce.
Just a couple of footnotes:
1) I used Crème Fraiche to stir through curry, although yoghurt is recommended and is
more traditional. I just happened not to have any in the house. I imagine you could
also use some sour cream.
2) I used more potatoes than the original recipe states, for no other reason than I'm
a potato fiend and I love them curried.
3) I have a feeling that some trimmed green beans would also be pretty fantastic in
this curry.
OK, there's not much more to write about this dish without treading over the same
territory that I approached with the Sag Aloo post, so, without further ado, here's
the recipe:
CAULIFLOWER AND POTATO CURRY - serves 4
adapted from a recipe by Atul Kocchar
Ingredients:
4 Medium Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes (or wedges)
A Cauliflower, cut into florets
3 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 Teaspoon Nigella (Onion) Seeds
2 Cloves
2 Cardamom Pods
1 Bay Leaf
Half a Cinnamon Stick (or Cassia Bark if you can get it)
1 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 Teaspoon Chilli Powder (or to taste)
Salt
1 Teaspoon Sugar
300ml Hot Water
200g Yoghurt, Sour Cream or Crème Fraiche
2 Chopped Tomatoes (use good quality vine ones or home-grown)
Garam Masala for sprinkling (optional)
Coriander Leaves for Garnishing (I omitted the Coriander as I didn't have any)
METHOD:
Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium high height. Throw in the diced potato and
cauliflower florets and fry for about 5 minutes. Parts of the potato and cauliflower
will be browned and crusted, other sides will remain lily-white but this adds to the
final flavour of the taste.
Remove from the pan and set to one side.
Turn the heat up to high and add a little more oil if the pan looks dry. Fry the Nigella Seeds, Bay Leaf, Cinnamon Stick, Cardamom Pods and Cloves until they start to crackle and smell fragrant. Take care because those Nigella Seeds really are little spitfires - they gob out miniscule balls of molten hot oil. All over your arms.
Put the potato and cauliflower back in the pan and mix well with the spices. Stir in the rest of the spices and cook for a minute more to allow all the flavours to mingle.
Pour over the water, bring to the boil, which won't take long because the pan is really hot, turn down to medium low and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are just tender.
Stir through the yoghurt/cream and the chopped tomatoes and simmer for another five minutes.
Taste for seasoning, adding salt or sugar if you feel it needs it.
Sprinkle with Garam Masala and chopped Coriander.
Serve and enjoy!

P.S. This is my entry for Vegetables, Beautiful Vegetables, held by Abby over at Eat The Right Stuff. Abby is on a campaign for everyone to eat more, more, more vegetables so get on over there with your favourite vegetable dish and join in the (healthy) fun!

P.P.S. Only just this morning we had confirmation that the bank has now complied with 2 demands from our Particulars of Claim! They haven't done anything financial yet, but this proves they're now taking us seriously!

Third Time Lucky Bro...Blondies

These "Third Time Lucky Blondies" are so named for a reason. Of course, everything has a reason behind it but this title is particularly pertinent to me.
Have you ever baked a recipe from a cookbook, either penned by a reliable cook or that has been recommended by another reliable cook, only to find that the first recipe you cook is completely duff? Bowed but not beaten, you give the book another go. Perhaps the oven was too hot or you didn't sieve the flour for long enough.

(left) Bad Blondies (above) Great Blondies!

Deep down you just know that you did everything to the letter, yet you still plough on, like the culinary powerhouse you are.
The next recipe is also a stinker. And the next. And then the book is relegated from "next to the bed" status to "shoved away in the spare room under the bed" status.
The book I am referring to is Tamasin Day-Lewis' latest, Tamasin's Kitchen Classics. And indeed, this book is her own original take on classics from across the world. I have previously found all of her cookbooks to be impeccable and infinitely preferable to certain other female TV cooks who tend to perhaps rely more on seducing viewers with a lifestyle rather than concentrating on cooking. Tamasin has always been about the cooking and I cannot recommend her other books highly enough.

(left) Ooey, Gooey, Perfect Blondies

My gripe with Kitchen Classics is less that the recipes are bad, more that they are poorly notated and seem rushed. This is perhaps a reflection more on her publishing company than the author herself, her previous book, the mammoth and indispensable Kitchen Bible, having been published exactly a year before (in fact, a cursory glance on Amazon reveals that the prolific Ms Day-Lewis has another book due for publication in, you guessed it, September 2007. I'll still be buying it though).
"How does all this typical preamble and waffle connect to Brownies though?" I hear you ask. Well, I baked my first batch of chocolate brownies a few years ago, using a Tamasin Day-Lewis recipe from her Good Tempered Food and found them to be completely and utterly darkly delicious. They are as chocolatey as you could ever imagine, fudgy and dense. I don't bake them too often though because the recipe hinges on using excellent quality chocolate and I covet my expensive chocolate as though it were an internal organ.

(right) Bad Blondies, note Flapjack-type texture

Whilst idly (and I probably mean avidly) flipping through Kitchen Classics, a recipe kept catching my eye: Walnut and Date Blondies. Blondies! A cheaper variation of the chocolate brownie. Something in the ingredients seemed to click: the brown sugar, the sticky chopped dates and the crunchy, slightly bitter walnuts. I had a feeling this cheeky little recipe would jostle with the saucy chocolate brownies - who would be the cakey treat that got to rub mama's feet?
Strange metaphors aside, I got to work. This is a recipe that relies on few ingredients, my favourite type. I replaced the walnuts with pecans, which I prefer, and I refused to use a whole expensive vanilla pod on a small batch of bro...blondies. I used Vanilla Extract instead. Other than that, I followed the recipe to the letter.
Perhaps it was the direction "gently melt the butter and then stir in the sugar. Allow the sugar to dissolve but cook for no longer otherwise you'll have toffee" that I had problems with. In fact, it was that direction. The first two times. I must have melted the sugar too much each time because when I then whisked in the beaten egg, I ended up with toffee scramble. Don't get me wrong, I still used the mixture but instead of it being a cake-like batter, it was more like raw shortbread. I had to knead it into the corners of the tin!! However, the finished product, whilst divinely yummy, was a bit too dried-up Toothpaste-like in texture to deserve the title of bro...blondie.
Because I know that there is a great recipe in here somewhere, and I knew that the issue lay within the sloppy directions, I decided to make a third batch this week. Using my brain instead of relying on the recipe, I decided to melt the butter and stir in the sugar into the butter off the heat. It remains liqueous but doesn't turn to caramel, which, of course, is going to seize as soon as you dump any cold liquid into it (i.e. beaten egg). I tentatively stirred the beaten egg into this third batch of melted butter and sugar and was happy to see no seizing and no scrambling! The rest of the ingredients followed, I poured the batter into the prepared dish and waited, with baited breath. 25 minutes later, a golden, sugar-crusted bar of blondies emerged triumphantly from the oven! No way was I going to let this recipe beat me and it didn't! If I had been using my precious chocolate, then I might have fallen at the first hurdle, but seeing as I have a huge bag of dates and tonnes of pecans rolling around my bread-bin (don't ask), I felt happy to experiment.
Other dishes from this book that I wouldn't particularly recommend using, at least word for word, are her Butternut Squash and Crotin (baby goats cheese) tart - really, really bland. The Coffee, Chocolate and Raspberry Tart - the gelatine didn't work and neither did the flavours together. I feel strongly that this is just a case of recipes not being tested properly, a bit like wayward children with no direction in their life. With a little love and encouragement, these could all become dishes of great merit! And therein lies the lesson for today - perseverance pays off. Most of the time.
Oh, and of course, this is my entry for Brownie Babe of the Month, held by Miriam over at Once Upon A Tart. I doubt mine is worth one of her gorgeous aprons, but it must surely be worth a gold star for effort!

PECAN AND DATE BLONDIES aka Third Time Lucky Blondies makes...nowhere near enough!
Ingredients:
55g Unsalted Butter
180g Light Brown or Muscovado Sugar
1 Egg Beaten
100g Plain Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
55g Chopped Dates
55g Chopped Pecans (or walnuts)
METHOD:
Preheat Oven to 180c.
Line a small loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Once melted, stir in the sugar and warm very gently until it just starts to become absorbed into the butter.
Whisk in the beaten egg and vanilla extract.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and stir into the butter/sugar mixture.
Fold in the chopped dates and pecans, pour into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 25-30 minutes until you have a paper-thin sugar crust. A skewer will not come out clean because you want that gooey texture of the brownies.
Leave to cool. They will probably crack and collapse a little in the middle. This is all part of the blondie/brownie's ramshackle charm.
OK, once they have cooled a little, you can cut a slice. I should really make you wait until they're completely cold but I didn't (who does?)!
Enjoy!

P.S. EIGHT DAYS LEFT UNTIL THE DEADLINE FOR BIG BURGER BALLYHOO! AND THERE WILL BE NO EXTENSIONS THIS TIME! WE HAVE HAD AN OVERWHELMING RESPONSE ALREADY BUT WE WANT MORE, MORE, MORE BURGERS!!

Presto Pasta Night!

I don’t usually post my supper dishes, particularly if they’re pasta based because I think people might find them a bit boring to read about. However, my recent discovery of foodie event, Presto Pasta, held by Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast, has changed my mind.
Pasta can guarantee you a speedy, nutritious and tasty supper and if you’ve had a busy day, sometimes this is all you want. Pasta dishes just tick all the boxes. And the more inspiration I can get for quick pasta dishes the better, so thanks for inventing this event, Ruth!
Yesterday, I emailed Paul asking him what he wanted for supper. The reply was brief and swift: “Pasta”.
I like it when Paul wants pasta because it generally means we will eat before 6pm. If I choose supper, we’re lucky if we eat before 8pm.
Apart from pasta being quick, it is also a good way of using up the rubbery vegetables shoved to the back of the refrigerator drawer. I remembered that I had a couple of courgettes (or zucchini, if you will) that were well past their ‘freshly picked’ status and a small barrel of organic goats cheese (the spreadable type, not the one with the rind) that was so old that the goat who kindly produced the cheese was probably a proud octogenarian by now.
Aside from these two choice ingredients, some dried up Parmesan, a half empty bag of penne, a mushy onion and a handful of frozen peas also woefully resided in my kitchen. An evil plan started to form in my brain. How about pasta with goats cheese, courgette and frozen peas? All of the necessary food types in one pan!
And any fears I had of this being a little bland were quickly pushed to one side once I tried it. The goats cheese had added its familiar tang to the dish, the courgette chimed in with a yummy green bite, the peas threw in some pop-on-your-tongue sweetness for good luck and some sauteed onions and garlic tied the whole thing together with a big Allium bow.
I also have a feeling that this would be a great way to get vegetable loathing children to eat their greens, particularly if you use a fancy, child-friendly shaped pasta, like the bow-ties. You can also omit the goats cheese and use an alternative strong flavoured cheese, like cheddar or just parmesan all the way.
I suppose you could fry up some bacon and add this to the dish but I think it would spoil the herby good-naturedness of the vegetables, turning into something a bit more decadent and, yes, fattening. However, if you are going to run to the dark side and add bacon, then why not stir in some single cream instead of the milk, to make the sauce even more devilishly unctuous?
PENNE WITH COURGETTES, PEAS AND GOATS CHEESE serves 2
Ingredients:
200g Dried Penne (or pasta shapes of your choice)
1 Small Onion, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
1 Clove Garlic, finely chopped
Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Small (150g) Log Goats Cheese, the kind without the rind but with the texture of Boursin or Cream Cheese
1 Courgette (about 200g), topped, tailed and cut into roughly 1cm cubes
50g Frozen Peas
150ml Milk (I used skimmed) or Cream
50ml White Wine (optional but it does add a great dimension to the dish)
Small handful basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn
Salt and Pepper
Parmesan Cheese for Grating
METHOD:
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquor. Lightly oil the pasta and place to one side.
Heat the olive oil gently in a sauté pan and cook the sliced onion until soft. Throw in the garlic and cook until fragrant, maybe 30 seconds.
Add the courgette and fry gently until the courgette starts to turn translucent. Season lightly.
Crumble in the goat’s cheese and then add the pasta stirring well to combine.
Pour over the milk, white wine and pasta cooking liquor and bring to a rapid boil. You are aiming for most of the liquid to cook off, leaving a light coating on the pasta. This should take no longer than 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat, taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Stir in the basil leaves.
Serve in large bowls and sprinkle of some grated parmesan.
Apply to face and enjoy!

The Bagel Debargle

My first encounter with bagels was unpleasant enough to discourage me from trying them until I met Paul, some 2 or 3 years later. My then work colleague, Peter, who lived in London, decided to treat us by bringing everyone breakfast. I was thrilled. The arrival of Peter in the office always meant treats like Easter Eggs or large bars of chocolate or fish and chips, and as someone who is appallingly lazy at eating that first important meal of the day, I am forever devoted to someone who brings me breakfast.
I peeked in his little bag of breakfast and saw raisin cinnamon bagels, produced by the New York Bagel company. I hopped up and down a little. Back then, Bagels were prohibitively expensive and the more expensive a product, the more I want to try it.
Unfortunately, Peter forgot that we didn't have a toaster at work or any butter, jam or cream cheese so we had to eat them untoasted and dry. I might also mention at this point that Bagels were so unpopular ten years ago that they would sit on supermarket shelves for weeks and weeks, impervious to the normal blue moulds that generally inhabit old bread.
I politely declined a second bagel and remained hungry until lunchtime. After that I often waxed lyrical about how bagels were really over-rated and that my friend from London said that the Jewish community pronounced it "bar-gle" and not, as I had thought "bay-gle" Suffice to say, this nugget of misinformation produced a barely disguised snigger from Paul when I spouted my bagel bargle philosophy to him. He could hardly wait to re-educate me.
The true etymology of the word bagel is mixed but it is widely agreed that it is either derived from: a) the Austrian word beugal, meaning stirrup. A Jewish Austrian baker produced the bagel, originally in the shape of stirrup for King Jan Sobieski to commemorate the victorious cavalry charge over the Turks or
b) from the Polish beygl, a gift presented to women during childbirth. One can only assume that they were expected to bite down on the beygl during the pain of contractions. Thank heavens that a more common gift these days is an epidural.
As the Ashkenezi Jews immigrated to New York in the middle of the 19th Century, they brought these tasty yeast treats with them and they are synonymous with New York, despite wide-spread popularity throughout America and much of the Western world.
The most common filling for the Bagel is Lox and Cream Cheese. Lox, I discovered only in the last few years is Yiddish for Smoked Salmon (Lox itself being a natural development of the words Lachs, Lacs, Lax, Laks and finally Laeks, all of mean Salmon).
The texture of the Bagel is unusual, due to the procedure of boiling the formed bagels before baking (if the Bagel is not boiled and just baked, it becomes a Biali). The crumb is very dense and chewy and in my opinion, unpalatable before toasting. However, homemade Bagels are another story altogether.
After having a mixed reception to bagels, I have come to the conclusion that some pre-packaged ones are dreadful, Sainsbury Supermarket makes superb ones and as for McDonalds filled Bagels - Oy Vey!
Yet since that first morning together in America, when my husband served me hot bagels, dripping with butter, cream cheese and grape jelly, I was hooked.
Ever since, I have wanted to make my own and yesterday Paul and I finally got around to it. I have unofficially labelled Sundays as Baking Day, a day for getting covered in flour and getting thrilled at the thought of what some yeast and a hot oven can produce.
I have been reading through one of Paul's revered books on baking, part of the Good Cooks series by Time-Life, simply called Bread. There is one simple reason why I trust this book, and that is because Richard Olney wrote the entire series. Paul's reason is, he has never had a failure from the book yet, despite it being nearly 30 years old. I would highly recommend it to anyone, experienced or novice.
As with the Brioche, I had always imagined Bagels to be labour intensive, time-consuming and probably a bit tricky, but since becoming a Daring Baker, nothing seems too far out of my grasp nowadays. In fact, Bagels are just as easy as the Brioche was. The dough is a joy to handle. It is soft but not unworkably sticky (unlike the Brioche). There is a rising time of only an hour for the dough, a 10 minute proving time for the formed Bagels and then the cooking, which involves a 15 second dunk for each raw bagel in boiling water, a generous brush of egg-wash, the topping of your choice and then baking for 30 minutes or thereabouts.
My one issue with this recipe was the size of the final product. The recipe states that you will produce about 24 bagels from the dough and we did. I naturally assumed that they would either double in size during the 10 minutes proving (foolish, I know), or, failing that, double in size during the rapid boil or, in case of emergency, double in size in the oven.
As you can see, this was not the case.
But they are dinky aren't they? So, what I would recommend is this: if you are planning on making BBLTBs (Baby BLT Bagels) like we had to, proceed as we did, cutting the ball of dough in half, then each half into quarters and again until you reach 24 small balls of dough. Or, just cut the dough in half and stop halving when you reach 12. And only then should you have normal size bagels.
The fun part is deciding what toppings to add to the boiled bagels. Because we had so many, we decided to make a good variety. Sea Salt (Paul's favourite - he said they reminded him of soft pretzels), Black Sesame Seeds, Caramelised Onions (my favourite), Parmesan Cheese and finally Demerara Sugar and Cinnamon. Straight from the oven they are a delicious bite-size morsel, great to nibble on whilst watching the True Movies Channel (as we spent much of yesterday doing), but as with all bagels, they are best lightly toasted and filled. How you choose to serve yours is up to you, but if you want to make these at home, here is the simple recipe:
BAGELS: makes 24 small 'uns or 12 regulars
Ingredients:
3.5 Cups Plain Flour
7g Dried Yeast (1 packet)
1 Cup Milk (I used skimmed)
4 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Caster Sugar
1 Egg, separated
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Toppings of your choice
METHOD:
Heat the milk to just before boiling point, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and butter until melted. Pour into a large bowl leave to reach tepid.
Sprinkle over the yeast, whisk well and leave for 10 minutes to activate and start to go foamy.
Meanwhile, gently mix the egg white with the salt. Pour this into the yeast mixture, beating well, and the incorporate the flour until a soft dough starts to form.
Tip out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about fifteen minutes, or until soft, smooth and feels 'alive' under your fingertips.
Place in an oiled plastic bag (it's what the recipe says!) to rise for an hour. It will double in size to bear this in mind when choosing your bag!
Preheat the oven to 200c.
Remove the dough from the bag. On a floured surface, cut the dough into half and then half again until you have either 12 or 24 pieces of dough.
Roll into balls and using either a piece of doweling or your finger, make a hole in the middle of each ball.
Leave for 10 minutes, during which time they will rise a little.
Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to a rapid boil and lightly oil a couple of large baking sheets.
After the 10 minutes, drop five or six of the bagels into the boiling water for no more than 15 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on the baking sheet. Once the sheet is full, brush each bagel with the egg yolk (mixed together with a little water) and sprinkle over the topping of your choice.
Place in the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Serve as per your own preference and enjoy!