Friday, 25 September 2009

Brownie Semi-Success

I attempted a recipe from my Hummingbird Bakery cookbook the other day, one that I've been dying to try for months - basically since I got the book, and let's just say, it didn't go swimmingly.

It was brownie with a layer of cheesecake then whipped raspberry cream completing the three layers. You can see why I've been wanting to make it for so long! Well, the making the brownie mix went well, making the cheesecake mix was fine, then I put two trays of it in the oven and left it for 25 of the 40 minutes cooking time the recipe suggests. Mistake.

I had forgotten about the oven's uneven temperature and the one on the right side of the oven burnt to a cinder. The one on the left however, was still slightly overcooked but ok. After getting all grumpy and upset about my brownies, I turned them out, and left them to cool. Now, as much as it pains me to throw away food, I really did have to throw away the burnt one, it was practically inedible. When the brownies were cooled I topped them with the cream which was a gorgeous bubblegum pink flavour, and left them to set a little in the fridge.

They were lovely slightly warm ( I couldn't resist eating the trimmings straight away!!), but it has to be said they were better after an overnight stint in the fridge. The cookbook did say to leave them in the fridge overnight, but I'm just too impatient when it comes to food, but I do recommend following the rules it if you try this recipe!! (Well, after snaffling the trimmings immediately after cooking of course!!).

After the overnight stay in the fridge, they soon disappeared due to excessive yummy-ness and I think I'll end up making them again - but keeping a keen eye on them while they cook next time!!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Emerald Isle

Hello!!! I'm back from the land of Guinness, leprechauns and St. Patrick's day, well rested and well fed. We spent one day and night in Dublin, then drove south for about an hour and a half for two nights at the Brookledge Hotel, a beautiful hotel and spa with a really fantastic restaurant.

But I won't get ahead of myself, first, Dublin. We arrived at lunch time, ready for something to re-fuel us and keep us going for the afternoon. Avoca is a shop in central Dublin which sells all manner of things from aprons, to cooking utensils, to childrens toys, but it also has a lovely cafe downstairs and a more formal restaurant upstairs. We opted for the cafe as we were laden with bags and didn't feel like walking up any steps to be honest, and it turned out to be a great choice. With two salad bars to choose from, as well as home made tarts, sandwiches and hot meals, and much much more, we were spoiled for choice. We all settled on the salad bar as it was just so colourful and a real variety to choose from. I had a mix of about five different 'salads', which were distinctly un-leafy, but totally delicious, like a pasta and roasted pepper salad, mange-tout, hazelnut and beef salad, tomato and mozzarella salad... I can't remember the rest but they were yummy!

Then we ambled over to where we were staying to leave our luggage, before heading off to the Guinness Storehouse. What an impressive building!! It's sort of a cross between a museum, and a bar, and a brewery! The building is 'the world's largest pint glass', which you can't really tell until you look at the map. As you go up the many, many, many floors, the glass middle of the building widens in the proportions of a pint glass. Hmm, I'm not really doing a very good job of explaining, so I suggest you go there and see for yourselves!! Each floor is fascinating, ranging from the way Guinness is made, to the history of the brewery, to the advertising through the years. It really is worth seeing, and you get a complimentary pint when you reach the top of the building to quench your thirst!!

Our first night at the spa was a real treat for the tastebuds, as we went to their fine dining restaurant The Strawberry Tree. It's Ireland's only certified organic restaurant, and serves only organic produce (unless it's wild of course!). So, let's get down to the important stuff, the food!
To start I had a beautiful mackerel with hollandaise sauce and caper cake. I wasn't sure what caper cake would be, but it was a sort of cross between a spongy savoury souffle and a fishcake with capers. It sounds odd I know, but it was really light and delicious, with the acidity of the capers complimenting the creamy hollandaise and fishy mackerel.
Then, there was a palette cleansing course - the others had an elderflower sorbet which was lovely, and I had an olive, feta and leaf salad. Really tasty lettuce and zingy feta, but it was quite a mountian of salad which was probably a little too much.
Then for the piece de resistance, my main course. I had an absolutely phenomenal beef fillet atop caramelised roasted sweet potato, and a blue cheese crust crowning the beef. It was quite a tower! It came with a red wine jus and green beans. There was also a dish of mixed vegetables for us all to share which were just lovely. Although the whole dish was fantastic, I didn't think it needed the cheese. The beef was just so good and the cheese overpowered it, turning it from a rich and indulgent meal to something a little too overwhelming. Saying that, this is just my opinion!
And for dessert I had a chocolate platter which was so indulgent! There were about five different mini-desserts on the plate, all fabulously rich! However, as much as I loved it, my sister chose a passion fruit pannacotta with white wine soaked peaches, which was just to die for. The pannacotta was so soft, only just set, and completely melt in the mouth. Yum. I was totally envious of her choice.

Then we went back to our rooms and collapsed in a heap,looking forward to breakfast!

Breakfast was quite an impressive affair too, with the usual array of cereals, fresh fruit, some really amazing yoghurt, and pastries. Then there was a choice of a cooked breakfasts, one of which was poached egg and potato cake which I had on the first morning, and the second morning I chose pancakes with maple syrup. The potato 'cake' was actually just cooked potatoes with onions, not quite what I was expecting, but delicious nonetheless. The pancakes were a better choice though I think. Very light and fluffy, and not too filling after a heavy meal the night before, with great maple syrup to give me a bit of a sugar boost for the morning!

All too soon it was time to come home, and back to normality. Hey ho, I'll just have to find an excuse for another foodie break soon!

P.S apologies for the distinct lack of photos - I was too excited about eating and completely forgot!! I promise photos next time!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

An Abundance of Organic

I'm having a relaxing day today, after a hectic couple of days travelling, and before heading across to the Emerald Isle tomorrow. Yesterday was a busy but fascinating and really fun day at the Bristol Organic Food Festival, which was a treat for the tastebuds!! Actually, it was a treat for the nose and eyes too! Beautiful stalls overflowing with vegetables, cheeses stacked high, butchery stalls full of matured meats, obviously full of flavour and depth just by looking at them!! Bottles of wine lined tables, jars of jams, pickles, chutneys and jellies adorned stalls, and smells of barbeques, cheeses and cooking demonstrations from jam to fish permeated the air.

Obviously, being the type of person I am, I didn't turn down a single offer of a taster ( I certainly didn't need to buy any lunch!!)- and my oh my did I taste dome strange things!! Of course there were the cheese stalls offering up morsels of excellence, from soft ripe cheeses to vintage cheddars to the more aquired taste of blue cheese and a particularly lovely mozzarella stand from buffalo in Hampshire, which offered a fresh clean taste. I picked up some Perl Wen cheese from one of the many cheese producers, which is a mild but tasty soft cheese in the sort of brie/camembert style. I was tempted to buy some wonderful Parmesan on display, stacked high in giant wheels which made my mouth water just at the sight of these incredible wheels, alas, I didn't want to overload on cheese when there was so much else to be experienced!!There were also Jars as far as the eye could see, the humble strawberry jam as well as more experimental flavours like carrot and cardamom chutney. As well as this, there was a demonstration for plum jam which used lavender sugar for an extra twist, which inspired me to get collecing jars and make the most of the last of the summer berries and fruits!!

Some of the most impressive stands were the vegetables. Tables overflowing with mountains of carrots, corn tumbling down the slopes made by the multible cobs piled high, a wall of regal beetroot, it's deep purple jumping out at you as you meander past. A variety of lettuce shooting up from earthy beds, tempting me to rip off a bunch of leaves and make a salad that actually tastes of lettuce, rather than the watery excuse we're offered at the supermarket.

There were interesting 'pastes' to try from Bio-Grape, with flavours such as Chilli Shiraz and
Cabernet Pepperberry Paste. Set with natural pectin they were a curious product, I would have thought most appropriate eaten with cheese, as you would a quince jelly.
Another interesting stall was Kentish Cobnuts. I'd never tried cobnuts before, and was pleasantly surprised by the delicate flavour and crunchy texture of the nuts. Quite 'green' in flavour, (if that makes any sense!) and a texture much like macademias, they were subtle and would be fantastic in salads. Rick Stein even has a meringue recipe using cobnuts from the producer herself in one of his cookbooks, which was proudly on display on their stall!

More inventive ideas came fram The Organic Seed and Bean Company who produce flavoured chocolates. Of course they sell the usual plain chocolate, mint chocolate which is award-winning, and the fashionable chilli chocolate, but more interestingly they also make lavender chocolate - another award winner, lime flavoured, rose flavoured, and mandarin & ginger flavoured chocolate.

I was particularly drawn to the Bacheldre Mill stall, which had an array of different flours (hardly surprising I ended up browsing there for quite some time considering my newfound obsesion with bread-making!!) from unbleached white flour, to spelt, malted blend, rye, wholemeal, and something I'd never come across before; oak smoked flour.
There were some absolutely stunning bread stalls dotted around the festival, selling beautiful loaves of a variety of loaves. We picked up some fig and walnut bread, but I was also interested to hear how they make their seeded bread. I was told that they soak the grains and seeds overnight and then add them to the mix the following day to create an even more moist and soft loaf, which would hold it's moisture for four or five days. This is a tactic I must try!!

Perhaps less sophisticated, but by no means less alluring, was a stall called Mr. Organic. Run by very enthusiastic Italian men, whose sales tactic seemed to be being loud and excitable and flirting with the women, they produced tomato based products like ketchup, passata, tinned toamtoes and other tomato based sauces. Their tactics worked though, as we picked up a very modestly priced jar of tomato sauce, which I have yet to try, so I can't tell you whether their product lives up to their enthusiasm!!

But by far my favourite stall was a Welsh farmer from mid Wales, whose farm is just outside of Newtown in mid Wales - Welsh Farm Organics. Showing off beautifully dark joints of red meat, just asking to be roasted, and glossy livers perfect for making a pate, or simply pan frying and serving with fresh salad and a balsamic dressing and maybe a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts. Delicious!! Watch this space though, because as well as their very impressive meat (the cattle is Welsh Black if you're interested, an absolutely stunning breed), I was told that they have recently aqcuired another farm to start producing wheat, grains and generally use the land for crops. If their crops are anything like their meat in terms of quality and yum-factor, then that's definitely a producer worth keeping an eye on!

By lunchtime, I was completely unhungry after having filled up on morsels of cheese, dollops of jam on crackers, cubes of chocolate, sips of wine, mini hunks of bread, dips from every corner of the world, and much much more!! So instead of queuing for an age for a burger, (which although I'm sure would have been sensational, would definitely have been too heavy) I decided on a corn on the cob from that mountain I mentioned earlier, which was served brushed with butter (a choice of normal or garlic, I chose normal for the sake of those around me!) and freshly ground black pepper. And what a lunch!! Tender kernels which fell off the cob oh-so-softly and were so sweet you'd think they'd been dipped in sugar!! Delicious!!

So, if you're free for it next year - go go go!!! It's only £5 entrance, and it really is an abundance of organic!!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Clotted Cream Ice Cream - especially for Helen!!

I've been attempting Twitter these past few days to try and chat and meet like minded foodies, who love to discuss and share recipes, and it's becoming quite addictive...

I find myself logging on while I'm bored at work, eagerly awaiting new Tweets from other food bloggers, hoping that they have posted links to wonderful and delicious new recipes that I can try. So far, I've come across some great people who always have brilliant links, and are just as enthusiastic over food as I am...and to think they're all there at the click of a mouse!!

Anyway, the point is, I have promised to post a recipe for Helen, who writes Food Stories, and has a wonderful blog. She has an ice cream maker waiting to be used (lucky thing, mine is at my Dad's house, wasted in a cupboard!!), and asked for ideas for ice cream flavours.

Well, here is my absolute favourite. I was taught it when I worked in the pastry section at one of Michael Caines' restaurants, and it truly is the most beautiful ice cream I've ever tasted.

Clotted cream ice cream is the height of indulgence It's silky texture and creamy taste transport you to days of summer instantly, perfection with summer berries, or for a more warming dish in the autumn it marries wonderfully with warm apple tart, when it melts slightly and creates a mess of creamy appley vanilla-ey heaven!!

Clotted Cream Ice Cream

190g milk
100g sugar
3 whole eggs
6 egg yolks
200g clotted cream

Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a bowl.
Bring the milk to the boil, then pour over the eggs while whisking.
Place the clotted cream in a blender.
Pour the mixture back in to the pan and place back on the heat.
Cook the miture out well - it will scramble, but don't worry!!
Pour the mixture into the blender over the clotted cream quickly, and blend while still hot until smooth.
Pass and churn.

And there you have my idea of the perfect ice cream!!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Moving Day

It's been a busy few days at the Colehill Kitchen, we've moved to a shiny new flat (luckily just a few doors down - which was a godsend!) and spent the weekend turning it into a home. It's a beautiful flat, but most importantly it has a lovely kitchen, perfect for cooking up a storm in!

It's taken a little getting used to, the oven, for example, has a mind of it's own. Completely different to the old oven, so far I have discovered that one side is hotter than the other, and that the temperature on the dial is nowhere near as hot as the temperature is in reality!! However, it's a challenge and so far it hasn't caused any disasters. In fact, my bread is actually better in this oven as the initial baking heat is higher, and the bread has a much more flavourful crust on it - delicious!!.
I decided that as we were all in need of a little relaxation and something soothing during the hectic weekend, I would bake scones for cream tea on Sunday afternoon. I love scones, especially with jam and clotted cream. They are so wonderfully British and elegant. You can't help but feel civilised when you have a dainty scone and little pots of jam and cream. I'm more of an 'eat each half separately' kind of person. If you sandwich them together with the jam and cream, as soon as you take a bite it all squirts out everywhere with ensuing chaos and the jam and cream has seemingly travelled an amazing distance, managing to cover your hands and clothes and your eating companions. Kind of takes away from the whole 'cream tea is so elegant' notion! With four of us eating, two girls and two boys, guess which two decided to sandwich their scones together and cause a mess?!?!?

So, I made the scone recipe from my River Cottage bread handbook,

Scones (makes 12 mini scones)
300g flour
75g butter (if it's unsalted add a good pinch of salt) plus extra for greasing
2 tsp baking powder
50g caster sugar
1 egg
120ml cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
a little milk

Sieve the flour, baking powder, caster sugar and salt (if needed) into a mixing bowl.
Add the butter at cool room temperature (not fridge cold but not soft either) and rub together until it resembles a breadcrumb texture.

If you prefer you can put it all in a food mixer and use the whisk attachment to combine.
Combine the cream, egg and vanilla essence, then add to the dry ingredients and bring together to form a rough dough.

Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 seconds.

Roll out to about 1 1/2 centimetres (these make mini scones, you can increase the thickness and use a larger cutter to make bigger ones).
Cut out scones, don't twist the cutter though, try and push it straight down and straight up again, this will help the scones to rise up. It may help to dip your cutter in flour to prevent it sticking to the dough.

Place on a greased baking tray and cook in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the scones are turning golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool on a wire rack for a few minutes, then demolish when still warm with jam and cream and a cup of tea!!

Perfection on a Sunday afternoon!!!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Step-by-Step Breadmaking

I made bread again this weekend, it's becoming something of a Sunday afternoon tradition, it's so nice to have fresh home-made bread during the week. And while I was playing with ingredients and watching the dough develop from a sticky mess to something quite amazing, I thought it would be useful to take some pictures to put up here to give you a better guide to baking bread than my previous post. I've always felt that pictures are an invaluable addition to any recipe, as it gives a much clearer indication of what everything is supposed to look like!! I find this particularly useful when baking, because it's such a technical from of cooking, and if one step is wrong, it can spell disaster for your end result!

So here are some photos from my last batch of bread for you to browse through!

When you have combined all your ingredients, you will have a sticky dough. Place it on a large work surface to knead.
It will stick to the surface, but don't panic - this will actually help with the kneading process and do some of the work for you!! It will also become less sticky as you knead, so have patience and wash and flour your hands every few minutes to help.

When you are kneading, if you are right handed, place your left fingers into the nearest part of the dough, and push the rest of the dough with the knuckles of your right hand away from you as far as you can go (or vise versa if you are left handed!). Scrape the dough back towards you, turn 90 degrees clockwise and repeat. Knead for about 15 minutes.
This will get easier with time, and eventually you won't even think about it!!

Shape into a round, oil a bowl and the dough and place upside down in the bowl. Leave to ferment in the bowl with a black bag around it and tucked underneath the bowl (keep it loose though, the dough needs room to rise!!) for about 30 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.

Now is the stage called 'beating back'. However, as Daniel Stevens says in the River Cottage Handbook, this is far too violent a description, and that you have loved your bread up until this point, don't ruin it now! Most recipes suggest giving it a good punch, however a better and more gentle method is to prod it with your fingers until the air is pushed out and the dough rather flat.

Bring the edges into the middle to create a round again. You can leave the dough to rise another 2 or 3 times by repeating this process, which will make the dough softer and more pillowy, and result in an easier bread to digest, and I've found, a lighter bread.

Next you need to shape your loaves however you want. My favourite is this short loaf. To do this you need to press out all the air as before, then roll it tightly towards yourself, pressing on the seam to seal. Then flatten out lengthways so that it is three times as long. Fold in the left third, then the remaining right third on top of it. Press down again so that you have a fairly square shaped dough. Then roll tightly towards yourself again and press the join gently to seal. If you want to coat your loaves, now is the time. I love oats, but it's the same method for any coating. Roll your loaf in little milk or water all over, then transfer onto a plate or work surface covered with oats (or whatever yoy are coating your loaf in). Roll in the oats then transfer onto a board to prove for the last time before baking. Wrap loosely in a black bag and leave to prove until it has almost, but not quite, doubled in size, and the dough bounces back lightly when you give it a gentle squueze. I usually leave mine for about 30-40 minutes, but every dough is different, so follow your instincts.

Place a baking tray in your oven while it preheats to the top temperature, and one at the bottom of your oven, deep enough to hold some water. Boil the kettle. When your dough is ready, take the preheated tray out, place the loaves on it and if you want, make some slashes in the dough about a centimetre deep, then place the tray in the oven. Pour some water from the kettle into the bottom tray before closing the oven door. Bake at the top temperature of your oven for about 10 minutes, then if the bread is browning quickly turn to 170 degrees, if it's visibly browning turn to 180 degress, or if it's still quite pale turn to 190 degrees, and bake for a further 30-40 minutes. To check if they are done, tap the bottom with your knuckle, if they sound hollow, they are ready!!
Leave to cool for 20-30 minutes, then slice gently, apply lashings of butter, and devour!!

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Chewy or Crunchy??

There's nothing quite like the smell of freshly home made cookies to welcome you when you walk through the front door. There is something so comforting, so soothing and so tempting about them, like the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders just for a few moments while you bite into the warm, chewy, chocolatey treat.

Cookies are universal comfort food that I don't think anyone would pass up...from cookies and milk before bed, to a delicious offering for visitors, to home made gifts or just a cup of tea and a cookie mid morning, or mid afternoon...or any time of the day really (let's be honest, when would you pass up on a homemade cookie?!). They make us feel better when we are down, they make us feel appreciated if someone has made the effort to bake for us, and they give us a little energy boost when we need's the ideal remedy for that afternoon slump at work!! And they are so simple to make!!

They are also so versatile, I doubt you could find a person who doesn't have their favourite flavour, or indeed someone who claims not to like cookies at all!! They lend themselves so well to an array of flavours; there's chocolate of course, whichever chocolate you choose, oatmeal and raisin, apple and cinnamon, ginger, blueberry and almond, apple and sultana, or even just the humble butter cookie. The list is endless, and it's a vehicle that you can use to try out different combinations of ingredients.

Quite apart from the flavours added to the cookie, there is the question of texture. Are you a crunchy person or a squidgy person? Do you like them crispy on the outside and chewy inside, or do you prefer a harder, crunchier treat? Sugar and cooking time are the key when deciding this. More white sugar will make them crispier, and more brown will make them chewier, so a combination of these can create a cookie to your taste. But slightly more importantly in my opinion is the cooking time. Often we are tempted to leave them in the oven until they are completely golden as this is so aesthetically pleasing, however this will result in a very crispy crunchy cookie that although lovely, is not to my taste. For a softer cookie, you must be brave and take them out when they are only just browning around the edges, and are still soft to the touch. They may look uncooked, but they will continue to cook as they cool, and the result is a beautifully soft and chewy cookie.

So here is a recipe I tried out on the weekend, it's a combination of white and demerera sugar (although it probably would have benefited from some soft brown sugar for an even more chewy texture). Also, I say chocoalte chunks here as I have an aversion to the 'chocolate chips' you can buy in a bag...they taste suspiciously un-chocolatey, and if you're going to bake chocolate chip cookies, you should probably be able to taste the chocolate!!!

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

280g caster sugar
170g demerera sugar
225g unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
450g plain flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder (this makes for quite an airy cookie, if you want a denser texture, reduce this amount)
3/4 tsp salt
as many chocolate chunks as you can squeeze in!!
Beat the butter and sugars until pale and fluffy.
Add the vanilla essence and eggs one at a time.
Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a separate bowl.
Add the flour mix to the wet mix gradually and combine until you have a fairly sturdy cookie does take some elbow grease!!
Add your chocoalte chunks, then make balls about 1 1/2 inches in size and place on a baking tray. Be sure to leave space between them as they will spread when they are cooking.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until they are just about browning around the edges, but still look a little undercooked, then be brave and take them out!!!!
Leave to cool, then eat eat eat!!!

These lasted quite well when wrapped in cling film, and were perfect with a cup of tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon!