an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Squashed Cupcake Truffles

Ever make or buy more cake than you can get through?? A few years ago I made about a quadruple batch of the chocolate cherry cupcakes.  I left about a third of them un-iced because I had this bright idea that as they had so much chocolate in them, they could be zapped in the microwave and turn into molten chocolate thingies (also because I ran out of glace cherries).  This sort of worked, but I was left with a whole load of cupcakes that were going a bit stale.  Anyway, I typed ‘stale cake recipe’ into google and found a fantastic idea for squashed cake truffles.  This is how I modified it for the chocolate cherry cupcakes.

Crumble up the cake into a big bowl, and add a handful of dried sour cherries, and a slug of some sort of chocolate-y cherry-y booze (I used cherry brandy).  Mix it all together and make small balls out of the goo – about the size of a walnut.  Dip the balls in melted chocolate (dark, or a mixture of dark and milk), and leave them to set on some foil or something else that wont stick.  Double-dipping in chocolate would be good too.  Now I don’t quite know what happens but inside that chocolate shell, magic happens and the whole thing tastes like something totally new, and really, really amazing.  Its actually worth making too much cake.

*For Passover* This would work really well with the prepackaged chocolate 'cake' that you can buy at Passover-time.

Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes

Also known as the ‘Plumptious Beauties’

So this post is a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a domestic goddess.’  Her books are fantastic, incredibly well written with just the right mix of story, memory, interesting recipes and photos.  I do find that the portion-control is a little off though, as are some of the quantities and timings.  I can’t really make my mind up about Nigella.  My feminist self basically gets into a bit of a knot about the whole thing.  Do modern women want to be seen as domestic goddesses? What does a domestic goddess even mean in this day and age?  I have spent most of my life with various people telling me that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – as if this is the main reason why I should be really pushing myself with my cooking. Nigella pouting suggestively at the camera while plunging half a cut lemon into an overly-phallic juicer doesn’t really help.  My new mantra will probably by WWCMD? (what would Caitlin Moran do).

I’m not sure what my feminist-self would say about the outfit I put on specifically to bake these cupcakes.  I got a bit carried away really.  It all started with a new cookbook – The Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree.  This is one of the best things I have spent money on in a long time.  It is an incredibly beautiful book, with great recipes and really cute little touches like invitation stencils, fascinator making, how to get your victory curls perfect and tie headscarf, 1950s style.  So for my day of baking I decided that a headscarf was probably a good idea (all for the sake of hygiene of course), as was a proper apron.  Then I had to put my pearl necklace on, and then the whole ensemble looked really half-done without the addition of red lipstick.  So there I was, dressed up and feeling a bit silly as a stepford wife, baking.  AND I LOVED IT.  Now what would Caitlin say to that??

And now for the recipe.  These were in fact the first cupcakes I ever made, in my house in Dawlish Road when I was in the second year of university in Birmingham.  I over-filled the cases and they mushroomed over the top, in a style known affectionately as ‘Hiroshima cupcakes.’  According to Niki Segnit’s Flavour Thesaurus (love love) cherry and chocolate is a ‘winning combination’ and she even refers to this recipe as an example of how well they work together! Due to the melted chocolate and jam these cupcakes are much denser than regular ones, but they are really yummy.  Nigella says that this makes 12 – she must be using gigantic cupcake cases or something, because I made about 28 cakes from 1 of these batches!  You could of course make them in a muffin tin – but they are quite rich and unless you are a major chocaholic, it might be a bit much.

For the cupcakes
125g unsalted butter
100g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
300g morello cherry jam (I usually use the Tiptree black cherry jam, but this time I used Sainsburys special selection red cherry jam, which was a little more sharp and gave a really nice flavour).
150g caster sugar (or a bit less, depending on how sweet the jam you are using is)
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten (usually I just use a fork, but I think the next time I try this I will use a whisk, and try to properly aerate them, might make the cupcakes a bit lighter)
150g self-raising flour

for the topping
150g dark chocolate
100ml double cream (I never have any cream, and tend to just use a blob of butter, about 20g worth I reckon)
glace cherries – some shops stock natural coloured glace cherries, which are incredibly classy (or, as classy as a glace cherry can be) the lurid pink of the normal kind is pretty perfect for a cupcake though.

Preheat the oven to 180c, or about 160-170 if using a fan oven (recommend).

Put the butter in a saucepan or large microwave-safe bowl and melt.  When melted, take off the heat and stir in the broken up chocolate.  There will be enough residual heat to perfectly melt the chocolate without it seizing (chocolate melts at exactly body heat – isn’t that good to know??).  Once the chocolate is melted add the jam, sugar, salt and eggs.  Stir it all up and when its amalgamated add in the flour, and combine.

Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases to about 2 thirds full.  This is possibly the best tasting cake batter ever – so make sure you lick the bowl.  Now I know that I’m not 6 anymore, but that is definitely the best part of baking, possibly the only reason to bake in the first place.  Bake for about 25 minutes.  These cakes will be a little wobbly when they first come out of the oven, because of all the chocolate, but they will harden up as they cool.

When they are cool melt the chocolate with the cream or butter, and generously coat the top of each cake, and top with a cherry.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Yasai Itameru

Stir fried tofu with mixed vegetables, noodles and coconut ginger sauce

This recipe comes from the Wagamama Cookbook.  It’s a really great book, with all the greats from the restaurant as well as many others.  I have cooked a few things from this book and they always turn out just right – with the Amai Udon (udon noodles with peanuts and leeks in a tamarind sauce - without prawns) turns out exactly as it does in the restaurant. 

For Hannah’s birthday at the beginning of the summer I said that I would make her dinner, and she picked this recipe.  It did seem much more involved than stir fries that I usually make, but it really was worth it.  I was lucky enough to have the wonderful Alli helping out in the kitchen – especially when I grated off my fingertip with the microplane. 

Serves 2.

150g rice noodles (we used udon noodles, as well as being squishy and delicious, they also come in handy serving-sized packets)
approx. 3 tbsp vegetable oil (or other flavourless oil)
1 tbsp garlic paste (homemade or bought)
1 red chilli, trimmed, deseeded and finely chopped
200g firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
3 pak choi, halved lengthways
1 red onion, peeled and thickly sliced
5 spring onions, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths
1 small sweet potato, peeled and julienned
2 handfuls of beansprouts
1 tsp salt (we did not use anywhere near this much)
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
250ml coconut ginger sauce (see below)
handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges

Cook the noodles in a large pan of water for 2-3 minutes (if necessary), drain and refresh under cold running water to prevent them from overcooking.  Leave them in cold water until you are ready for them.

Heat a wok (or medium frying pan, or like us in one which was way too small, leading to stir frying being done in batches) over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until completely hot and almost smoking, and then add the vegetable oil.  Stir in the garlic paste and chilli, cook for 10 seconds and then add the tofu, pak choi, red onion, spring onions, sweet potato and beansprouts and stir fry for about 5 minutes.

Add the salt, sugar and soy sauce and stir fry for 4-5 minutes until tender.  Remove the pan from the heat and drizzle over the sesame oil, stirring to combine.

In a separate pan, mix the coconut ginger sauce into the noodles and warm through on a low heat.  Divide between 2 bowls (or however many you are using) and top with the stir fry, coriander and lime wedges.

Coconut ginger sauce

Makes about 500ml
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 inch piece of fresh galangal, peeled and grated
4 lemongrass sticks, outer leaves removed and finely chopped
500ml hot water
½ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
200g can coconut milk
3 tbsp roughly chopped fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over a low heat.  Add the ginger, garlic, galangal and lemongrass.  Sauté over a moderate heat for 6-8 minutes, until softened and fragrant but not coloured.  Add the hot water, bring to the boil, add the sugar and salt.  Turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes, until reduced by about half.  Then stir in the coconut milk, heat for a further 2 minutes, remove from the heat and add the coriander.  Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Can't cook without a decent sunset over the sea right?

The finished dish - delicious!

Lemon and Caper Vinaigrette

So I have started cooking again.  I vanished from the world and am now back with a vengeance (and a silly new blog profile picture – watch this space).

I made this dressing last week to accompany some simply roasted whole Sea Bream – see Sea Bream post for method.  Its incredibly easy and really yummy.  Serve it with any kind of plain fish or chicken (or somesuch) and everyone will be really happy.  The dressing is kind of like a salsa verde, but without the same degree of pungence, and also much easier to make.  It reminds me of summer holidays, and those trips to seaside places where you get incredible fish with nothing but a little punchy dressing.

Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
Large handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed and finely chopped
Big handful of capers, rinsed and roughly chopped, with some of the little ones left whole
½ teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon mustard, wholegrain or Dijon
Lots of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Mix everything together.  You may also want to add a splash or 2 of water.  Make this a few hours before you want to serve it for the flavours to mingle and settle – don’t refrigerate it if you can help it though.

Here are some photos of sea bream with the vinaigrette – I didn’t manage to take any photos the last time I cooked bream – as you can see, one of the fishies lost a bit of skin when I was turning it in the oven, and so I gave it a little ‘coat’ made out of foil – ahhhh.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Olive oil, rosemary and dark chocolate spelt cake

After a summer hiatus, the blog is back with another guest blogger - my wonderful housemate Hannah.  I have hardly cooked at all this summer, as i spent most of it sulking, and have really been inspired by Hannah's experimentation and general cheer.  She was cooking up a storm while I was stomping around eating yogurt.  I know this recipe sounds a bit odd at first, but it really was delicious - as I'm sure everyone who tried them will agree.  It was complex and perplexing, both sweet and savoury in a mind and tongue-bending sort of way.  And due to the use of spelt, also a little smug, but in that really great way.
and now I introduce Hannah:
Our kitchen has two chefs. The professional and the wacky. As flatmates for the past year, our kitchen personalities have clearly rubbed off on each other. I for one will now only make coleslaw using a Julienne, I grind my own spices with a Pestle and Motar, and will only use sharp knives at whatever risk to my limbs. In turn Miri finds inspiration in my the-weirder-it-sounds-the-more-I-want-to-try-it attitude. To push me on this she bought me the perfect book entitled 'Good to the Grain' Baking with Whole-Grain flours. Flicking through the book from the back (as all left handers do) the first recipe that caught my attention was 'Olive oil Cake Muffins'. The combination of bitter sweet chocolate, rosemary, spelt flour and olive oil, was my idea of cake fantasy. 

If cake baking was a Sesame Street theme it would be brought to you by the letters W & D and the number 2. 
Because to make cake loaf - in one bowl you sift the dry ingredients in the other you mix the wet ingredients. Then fold the wet into the dry, gently mixed until combined, pour into the cake tin and bake it. 

So now here is that again with the ingredients (NB Measurements are in American cups)

Olive Oil Cake

Prep: Position a baking tray in middle rack of oven and preheat to 180 degrees celcius. 

Dry bowl:  sift together 3/4 cup Spelt Flour, 1 1/2 cups Plain flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt. 

Wet bowl: whisk three eggs, then add -1 cup olive oil, 3/4 cup milk, 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped and mix. 

Mixing: Fold wet into dry mixture

The best bit: Take a packet of really good chocolate like Lindt 75% and cut into small pieces and mix in to batter. 

Bake: Pour into cake tin or muffin tins and bake for 40 minutes. 

And there you have it - one wacky recipe. 

The results - well you must ask the professional.