Monday, 27 September 2010

Messiest baker of the year 2010

This is what Rob wrote on our chalkboard today after I had been baking, and to be fair I don’t think he was far wrong. I have made no secret of the fact that I love my coffee, but in equal measure, I put a great deal of thought into how I can combine caffeine and sugar successfully in order to create the ultimate buzz.  Today, nothing was going to hit the spot like chocolate. Now let me be more specific, I was not just about to settle for the bar of Green and Blacks nestling in the cupboard, I needed something stronger, richer and more luscious. This was how chocolate and hazelnut cake was born, and also how I earned the aforementioned accolade.
The kitchen was temporarily ruined, and the only reason I have not included the photographic evidence, is due to the sheer shame of the situation, further aggravated by the fact that my camera was buried in a mountain of icing sugar. This however should not put you off. This cake is amazing, and being an experimental cook, the kitchen often resembles a disaster zone when I try something new.
If you love chocolate, trust me this cake will well and truly hit the spot.  What more could a chocoholic ask for? If anyone has any other ideas I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, here is how you go about devastating your kitchen.
200g plain flour
250g icing sugar
200g unsalted butter, softened
150g hazelnuts, crushed
150g plain chocolate
30g cocoa powder
1 tbsp Nutella or chocolate spread
5 free range eggs, separated

1. Preheat the oven to 180°, grease and line a 26cm cake tin.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the softened butter and icing sugar. Then add the egg yolks one at a time, beating the mixture well after each yolk has been added.

3. Add the flour, cocoa powder, chocolate and hazelnuts to the bowl. When I made this recipe, I put the hazelnuts in a sandwich bag and bashed them using a rolling pin. This creates a range of hazelnut chunk sizes, which gives the cake a great texture.

4. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the cake mixture, alongside a tablespoon of Nutella. Finally bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

I served my cake with some homemade blackberry compote and of course a cup of coffee. It would be equally delicious served with cream or ice cream.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Rice and peas

Another busy weekend full of culinary delights. Yesterday we went to a friend’s engagement party, with a buffet that literally had something for everyone. Although a lover of the buffet, they do play havoc with my self control and before I knew it I had made three visits to the table, had one too many potato croquettes and then desert appeared. What a spread!
Today my culinary exploits have been a little more restrained, with not a muffin in sight. I even managed to resist the gorgeously gooey looking cake on offer at Artisan Roast, and opted merely for a soya latte, which accompanied me on my walk through Stockbridge and the New Town.
Upon coming home to a cold flat and in desperate need of something warm and filling, I turned to one of my favourites for our evening meal, the mighty risotto. I fell in love with risotto whilst living in Verona, although I must confess my first experience of cooking it turned out to be more of a rice soup than a bowl of creamy meaty rice. Now, after years of practise I can confidently say that I have mastered cooking with the thirsty grain. I am patient enough to understand it is not a dish that can be rustled up in ten minutes, but something that needs a little more time and attention.  
The beauty of risotto lies in its versatility. It is a grain of rice that is open to any number of ingredients and flavour combinations. But in our household, the firm favourite is risotto with pancetta and peas,  or to put it a little more eloquently, risotto con pancetta e piselli. Here’s what you need to make enough for four generous portions:
300g of Arborio rice
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
75g of pancetta, cut into cubes
1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
1 small glass of white wine
2 tbsp of olive oil
100g of peas
30g of parmesan, grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper to season
1.   Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy based pan. Add the onion, garlic and pancetta and sauté until the onion has softened.

2.   Turn up the heat,  add the rice and the second tbsp of olive oil to the pan, stirring constantly to ensure that each grain of rice becomes coated in the oil.  Then add the wine and stir until the rice has absorbed the liquid.

3.   Start by adding a ladle of stock to the rice, and turn down the heat to a simmer as you don’t want to cook the outside of the rice too quickly. I always keep my stock warm on the stove as I feel it makes for a much better risotto. Continue adding the stock ladle by ladle, always waiting for the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. After roughly ten minutes, add the peas.

4.   Around 15 minutes into your cooking time, taste the risotto to check if it’s cooked. If it still needs more cooking time, continue to add stock until the rice is soft.

5.   When the rice is cooked, remove from the heat and add the parmesan, stirring it through the rice. Place a lid on the pan and allow the risotto to sit for two minutes. This is the final stage in helping the risotto achieve its wonderful creaminess. Finally, season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Never have I made this dish without someone asking for seconds. I hope this has the same effect on your friends and family too!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Happy products for happy people

Ah Sunday. I love Sundays. It’s the one day of the week I dedicate to complete and utter indulgence, otherwise known as doing all the things in life that make me happy. Today was spent reading the papers, shopping, drinking coffee and baking. To be honest, this is what I do almost every Sunday, as when I’m in my kitchen cooking I am most definitely at my happiest. My mood was further elevated by adding to my Pip Home crockery collection. I discovered Pip Home on a trip to Bliss on Broughton Street a few weeks ago, where I bought a blue cup and bowl, both featuring a hand painted bird. I went back today to try and get the matching plate, and it transpires that I’m not the only person who has been seduced by the bright colours and beautiful detailing. This resulted in me moving onto one of the other colours on offer, just to add to my collection.

So back home with my new crockery, and what better to do than put it to good use. I had a real craving for a fresh warm muffin today, something sumptuous but not too naughty. Upon raiding the cupboards for inspiration, I found I had rather a large number of dried apricots, which have now been chopped up and turned into Apricot and Vanilla muffins. Although only out of the oven an hour ago, there are now only two left. Of course, you must be thinking that I am incredibly greedy. I have however shared the fruits of my labour with friends and family, who have all asked for seconds. The lovely thing about these muffins is that they are very light, and due to all the apricot, you don’t feel like you need to run a mile afterwards to burn it off. Here’s what you need to get started:

300g self raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

50g butter

75g caster sugar

200g dried apricots

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

2 eggs

225ml milk

apricot jam (for the unexpected gooey apricot filling)

Here is where the fun begins:

1. Preheat the oven to 200. Grease a muffin tin, or line with cases. This mixture makes around 10 muffins.

2. Mix the flour and the baking powder in a large bowl, then rub in the butter. You should end up with a mixture that resembles fine breadcrumbs. Now stir in the sugar and the chopped apricots.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, milk and vanilla extract before adding this to the dry ingredients and mix until combined.

4. Spoon a little batter into each of the muffin cases. At this point you should aim to have each case half full. Using a teaspoon, take a small amount of jam and place on top of your mixture. Now cover the jam with the rest of the batter, filling each case up to the top.

5. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until well risen, golden and firm to the touch. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

I recommend topping this off with a mug of coffee and a magazine. This is exactly what Sundays are made for.