Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Avocado & Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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I have always been a massive fan of cheese on toast but fairly recently discovered the phenomenon that is a grilled cheese sandwich- Our friends over the pond really do get somethings very right. Up until now I haven't really delved much further than some nice mature cheddar and a bit of chilli sauce between my bread but this weekend I took it up by about 5 notches with the addition of crispy bacon and avocado.

To make a grilled cheese sandwich you need a griddle pan ideally but a frying pan will work too. 2 slices of bread, 3/4 rashers of cooked dry cured, smoked pancetta bacon, 1/2 avocado sliced, mature cheddar & chilli sauce. Heat your pan on a high heat then either butter or brush oil onto the outsides (not the sides the fillings go in) Build up your sandwich and then place onto the pan. Cook for a few minutes on each side or until the cheese starts to ooze. Placing the butter or oil on your bread ensures you get that lovely golden & crispy outside.

Some days you really have to give in to your cravings and go all out.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Clandestine Cake Club & A Saturday in Cambridge

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This Saturday I went along to my first Clandestine Cake Club which was hosted by Miss Sue Flay at La Tasca in Cambridge. It was great fun, and lovely meeting new people as well as trying some amazing cakes. Unfortunately I only managed 4 slices before ending up in the biggest sugar coma. The theme was show stopper cakes and they sure were. I ended up making another Dan Lepard recipe, a coconut milk layer cake with meringue buttercream icing which I was pretty pleased with. I just wish I had added a little more lime. It is a cake I have been baking at work so I had managed to get a little practice in with the icing. It was great meeting Lynn, the founder of the Clandestine Cake Club who came along to join us for the event. Miss Sue Flay is planning some more events for the year so if you would like to find out more details check out the Clandestine Cake Club website

After the event, Victoria, Jo & myself headed off for a G&T in the sun. We ended up on the wall outside Kings College soaking up the rays and people watching. It was the perfect thing to get my out of my sugar coma. We have been so lucky with the weather the last week or so and I am dreading it getting cold again. Days like that really make me appreciate how beautiful Cambridge is and how lucky I am to live where I do. (The last picture is just for Jo, this 'chap' was posing for everyone for about 15minutes)

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Placke, Fried Dough recipe

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For as long as I can remember my mum used to make these placke as a special treat on the weekends. They are fantastic eaten sweet or savoury but my favourite is with a big dollop of jam. They would be great served with a poached egg on top or just with some yogurt. 

You can make these with left over pizza or bread dough or even shop bought, ready made doughs like pizza or the Pilsbury bread doughs work really well. As there is just two of us in our house, whenever I make pizza I always have lots of leftover dough. I keep it in the fridge and then just break off little golf ball sized piece. You need to place a pan over a medium high heat with a tablespoon or so of rapeseed or sunflower oil and when its nice and hot stretch your dough out quite thinly and then place them in the pan. They take just a few minutes to cook on each side. You want them to be golden brown on the outside so keep an eye of them so they don't burn. Before serving them sit them on some kitchen paper to soak up the oil and then serve warm with your favourite toppings.

 Ok, I admit they're not the healthiest of breakfasts but the combination of the crispy outside with the lovely spongy inside is irresistable. I can't guarantee that you won't end up making these a little too often.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Review- La Tasca, Cambridge

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Last week I was invited by the manager of La Tasca in Cambridge to come and sample their new menu. The last time I had been to La Tasca must have been at least 3, if not 4 years ago. The last time I had felt like everything seemed to taste the same, all in a tomato sauce and reheated rather than cooked from fresh. Well I have to say, it looks like La Tasca has completely changed their game. Kevin, the manager informed my that they have changed 80% of the menu and updated many of their other dishes. As well as this they have gone from just a handful of suppliers to around 45 in an attempt to source the best ingredients. I noticed on the menu that their paellas are cooked to order and they ask that you allow a minimum of 20 minutes when ordering them which gave me hope that they had made a big effort to make things better.
I also noticed that they have made a huge effort with gluten free dishes. They even serve a gluten free beer. A couple of my family members are wheat intolerant so its something I always keep my eye on with new places that I go to.
We started off the meal with a jug of of their traditional sangria and one of their sharing platters. My previous experiences of sangria have been of a very sickly and sweet drink that gives you an instant headache but I was very happy to discover a lovely light and refreshing drink which I could of happily drunk all night. Out of 1 jug we managed to get about 6 glasses and didn't end up stumbling out of the restaurant afterwards.
The sharing platter Tabla Espanola consisted of sliced chorizo, salchicohn, serrano ham, mixed olives, Manchego cheese & Spanish ciabatta which was a bit of a cross between ciabatta and a baguette. It was a nice start to the meal with good quality ingredients although it did fill me up quite a lot before the tapas so perhaps next time I would share this between more people or just choose a couple of items from the nibbles menu.

We then went on to choose our tapas dishes. We were recommended 3 each but everything on the menu sounded great and we found it really tricky choosing. We decided on Empanadas which were filled with spicy mince beef & regato cheese. These were devoured first and definitely something we want to have again.
We also chose the chorizo to see if whether the quality of the sausage had improved. With it being just grilled there was no hiding. The chorizo was lovely and tender and a really nice flavour, and thankfully not swimming in oil or a sauce.
Another favourite was the 3 bean and mint salad. Lovely and refreshing along with some of the slightly heavier choices. This is something I will be attempting to make at home. It is a mixture of kidney, borlotti & cannellini beans with chickpeas in a mint dressing. Another thing I would definitely order again.
For our 4th option we chose the slow cooked pork belly, another new item on the menu. This was lovely and tender and fell apart. It was a good quality piece of meat with not too much fat on. This was served on a tomato & bean sauce which accompanied it very nicely. Even Tim, who is a bit picky when it comes to meat loved it.
The lemon chicken was our 5th choice. It's a mixture of chicken breasts and Mediterranean vegetables that have been pan fried with lemon and served with a sticky lemon glaze. This was another lovely refreshing dish although probably my least favourite, although Tim really liked it, I'm just not a huge fan of chicken breast.
The calamares were our last choice but because Tim doesn't eat fish they were all mine. They were perfectly cooked, no rubber bands in sight and in a nice light batter. Unfortunately I couldn't quite finish this dish all on my own.
For pudding I had been planning on trying their churros but by this point we were so full we went for the lighter option of the strawberry & lemon sorbet which was a great end to the meal.
I really was pleasantly surprised by this meal as I had written off La Tasca a few years ago. We both thoroughly enjoyed our meal and are already planning a trip back to try some of the other tasty sounding dishes. I am already kicking myself for not trying some of the other things on the menu.

The food is very reasonably priced with tapas dishes ranging between £2.95 and £5.95 and Paella between £8.95 and £11.95.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Salted Peanut & Caramel Macarons

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I have been eager to have a go at making macarons for a long time, but was always really put off by all the horror stories I had heard and read. Today is my only day off this week so I decided to grab the bull by the horns and jump in to making macarons head first! I did a bunch of research last night reading Deepa's and The Pink Whisk's blogs as well as my Ottolenghi cookbook. I decided that I wanted to try the filling in Ottolenghi's book but with the method from The Pink Whisk. I had read in many places that I should age my egg whites so I left them overnight to do their thing. I had to use my tiny food processor which meant blitzing together ground almonds & icing sugar in 2 parts. I ended up with some quite sold lumps of the mixture which I had to break with my fingers so I sifted it twice and left it in a bowl. As this was my first go I tried to be as careful as I could when it came to the folding but I think I did overdo it a bit. I had drawn circles on my greaseproof paper for the piping but I came to realise really early on that they were way too big.

They spread quite a lot and looked a little too flat for my liking but I carried on and sprinkled them with the peanuts (stupidly the whole lot instead of just half) and left them for 30 minutes for the outsides to set. My oven is ridiculously hot so I heated to 130 ready to get baking. Once they went in I kneeling on the floor infront of my oven, shining a torch in checking for the precious 'feet'. When it got halfway through cooking and I decided to turn the tray, knowing how unevenly my oven cooks that was when I discovered disaster! My macarons had spread so much they were touching and to add insult to injury had cracked like mad. I finished cooking them as I still wanted a taste. Whilst they finished off baking I did a little more research and decided that
1. I had piped them too big
2. I had over mixed
3. My oven was too hot, hence the cracking.
I really didn't want to give up there as I had the feeling that otherwise I probably wouldn't attempt them again in the future so I washed everything up and started again using Ottolenghi's recipe.

This time around I didn't have aged eggs so just got going with some I had bought the previous day. These seemed to work fine and as you can see from the following photos I had a much better result the 2nd time around. I'm so glad I didn't give up! I don't think that the Pink Whisk's recipe is wrong I just think that I had learnt my lesson a little from round 1. I piped them a lot smaller, Ottolenghi recommends no bigger than a £2 coin and also left a lot of space in between. The recipe called for a lot more peanuts and caramel than I used so I have reduced the quantities in my recipe.

To make 12 you will need-
Recipe adapted from Ottolenghi The Cookbook
  • 60g egg whites from free range eggs (around 2 eggs worth)
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 110g icing sugar
  • 10g roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
For the filling
  • 15g roasted peanuts
  • 50g dulce de leche/caramel made from condensed milk
  • A pinch of salt
Pour your egg white and caster sugar into a clean bowl of a stand mixer (or use an electric hand whisk) and whisk on the highest speed until you have a thick but not dry meringue.

Next, sift together the ground almonds & icing sugar into a separate bowl. Add a third of the meringue into it and fold it in really gently until it is all mixed together and then added another third and kept folding and adding till you have used it all up. Fold till you have a 'smooth and glossy' consistency but be really careful not to overdo it as it will cause them to spread lots and be really flat. 

Dot a little of the mixture in the corners of your baking tray to hold the paper down and then using a piping bag with a large round attachment pipe your small circles. (I actually just used my bag with no attachment as mine were all too small. You could also use a sandwich bag with a corner snipped off)

Bang the tray down a couple of times to make the macarons spread and smooth out a little and then sprinkle half of them with the chopped peanuts. Leave to one side for 15 minutes so that they get a little skin over them. Whilst that is happening preheat your oven to 140C fan assisted. If your oven is really hot reduce it further. I baked mine at 120C and for a few minutes longer than instructed.

If baking at 140C bake for around 12 minutes. To check if they're done use a palette knife to check if they easily lift off the paper. If they don't cook for a little long, just be careful not to over cook them though.

Once they're ready remove them from the oven and leave to cool completely. To make the filling just combine the peanuts and caramel together and then add the salt to taste. You want there to be a good balance of salt and sweet.

When the macarons are cool pipe or spoon on a pea-sized amount onto the macaron halves that don't have the peanuts on then place the tops on and gently press them together. Leave them to set for a few hours if you can manage it or just dig in straight away like I did!

I was ao pleased with this batch, that I baked another lot that afternoon to use up the caramel and ensure I had plenty for mothers day. I am feeling really excited about trying out some other flavour combinations very soon!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Oreo brownies with a cheesecake swirl

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So let me begin by telling you about my lovely friend Victoria, she has a rather sweet tooth and recently admitted to having a secret stash of cakes by the side of her bed for emergencies. She even ate a record number of my disastrous Lamingtons the other week.  Tuesday was  Victoria's birthday so I knew I had to make something special for her. I decided that you really can't go wrong combining Oreos & brownies, a lip smackingly good combination and also good for transportation. -As you can see, I can be quite practical sometimes. I was a little heavy handed with the cream cheese topping, the recipe I used called for a little too much for my liking so I have cut down the quantities for this recipe.

Recipe adapted from Annies-Eats
I used a 21x21cm tin but you could of course use something similar in size. Or, if you only have big tins, just double the recipe.
Makes 16 pieces
You will need-
  • 4oz/113g unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cocoa powder, preferably dark & unsweetened
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 pack Oreo cookies cut into fairly big chunks- minus 1 cookie which has been taste tested.
  • 3oz/85g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Add the butter & sugar to a small pan and heat over a medium temperature till it comes up to a boil whilst whisking regularly. Leave it to boil for a minute and then take it off the heat and leave it to cool for a little while.

Whilst its cooling line your baking tin with greaseproof paper and preheat your oven to 170C/160C for fan assisted.

In a bowl mix together the flour, cocoa powder & salt. When the butter mixture has cooled, whisk in the eggs and keep mixing till its all fully combined- Its important not to add them to a hot mixture otherwise you'll end up with scrambled eggs. Once the eggs are mixed in add the milk and whisk again. 

Pour the butter and egg mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until its just combined, be sure not to over mix at this stage. Then just fold in the Oreo pieces before pouring the mixture into your baking tin.

Finally add the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla extract and either with a wooden spoon or a mixer beat together till smooth. Dollop onto the brownie mixture and then using a knife swirl it through the brownies. This is where I went a little wrong and used too much which didn't quite result in a swirl.

Bake in the oven for 22-24 minutes and then cool completely before cutting into chunks. You could refrigerate the brownie after it has cooled to help with the slicing if you wanted neat pieces. Keep in an airtight box

P.S How beautiful are those doilies? There were handmade by Tim's great grandmother and I have just been given a few.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Butterbean & Chorizo pie

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I made this pie last week and planned on blogging it then as it was pie week, but then life got busy as it does, and I got a little side-tracked. I have been planning on making a pie like this since my autumn pie marathon (sweet potato, goats cheese & spinach & butternut squash, mushroom & leek) but I never quite got round to it. I bought my lovely pie tins recently from Lakeland and have been really eager to use them. I was a little lazy and used a shop bought shortcrust pastry as I was short for time but if you want to make your own I do have a recipe here. The next time I make these, I will make them with just a pie top as it was a little too much for the 2 of us, but I may just need smaller pie tins.

For 2 pies you will need-
  • 1 packet of shop bought or this pastry
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1/4 piece of a chorizo ring, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic sliced
  • Red wine
  • 1 tin butterbeans
  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red pepper thinly sliced
  • Milk for brushing
I began by placing my pastry in the tins and then lining it with greaseproof paper and beans and baking them in a preheated oven on 160C till slightly golden so that I didn't get a dreaded soggy bottom.
Whilst that is in the oven heat a large saucepan and cook your onion, chorizo & garlic over a medium heat. Once the onions are soft add a splash of red wine and cook down. Next add the butterbeans, tomatoes and pepper and season to taste. Put a lid on, turn the heat down and simmer for around 15 minutes.

Once the pie crust is ready remove from the oven take out the beans and paper. Fill your pies with your chorizo mixture and then brush the sides of the pastry with a little milk to help it stick. Cut the tops for your pie and then place on top. Go all around the edges and pinch them them together and then cut a couple of slits for the steam to escape. You could also be a little creative and cut some designs to stick on top. I was a little unimaginative and did some hearts again. Brush the top of the pie with more milk and if you are sticking on some designs brush a little milk underneath to help them stick. Bake in the oven for around 15-20 minutes or until your pie is lovely and golden brown.

Serve with your favourite vegetables and a nice glass of red wine.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Quickest, Tastiest Egg Sandwich

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I first saw this recipe on Sunday evening on A Cup of Jo's blog and was instantly planning when I could make it. It claimed to be the best egg sandwich you'll ever eat so I just had to test that claim out for myself. All you need for 1 sandwich is 
  • 1 egg beaten with 1/2 tsp of water 
  • Salt and pepper
  • A small pile of grated cheese
  • Chilli sauce if you fancy 
  • Toasted English muffin

Heat a round frying pan on medium and wipe a little oil or butter around it to lubricate it a little. Beat your egg with the water & seasoning and then pour into the pan and swirl around like a a pancake till it has coated the whole pan. Dump your grated cheese and chilli sauce in the middle and then cook for around a minute or until the egg isn't runny on top. In my experience it hasn't taken more than a minute but this will vary depending on the size of your pan and therefor the thickness of your egg.

Fold the nearest side to you over and then fold the other sides in till you're left with a square. Place it inside your muffin and eat straight away.

1 challenge, try to resist having it 2 days in a row!

Enjoy x

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Explorer Magazine, March

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Here is my latest article in the Explorer magazine on the fantastic FoodCycle and the great work they do.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Cherry Beet Cake

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Last night I went to my monthly book & bake club where we all had to bake a Dan Lepard recipe. Now with all the things going on at the moment with Dan's publisher on a bit of a rampage I thought I'd play it safe and do what he suggests, linking to the recipe and talking about it. I don't want a telling off after all!

The recipe can be found on the Guardian website and in Dan's book Short & Sweet. My cake tins were a lot bigger, 23cm rather than the suggested 18cm so I ended up doubling it up (apart from the streusel topping) to get 2 decent layers. Because of my last minute decision I didn't have quite enough cherries so I added some sultanas to make up the numbers with good results. After my failed lamingtons the other day I was worried that
1. I had lost my baking mojo
2. Short & Sweet wasn't as good as I had hoped.
I breathed a massive sigh of relief when I finally got to have a taste and saw that I hadn't ended up with another dense inedible cake. The ground almonds and almond extract give the cake a lovely marzipan flavour and the cherries & beetroot add a lovely sweetness and moistness. It is still a fairly heavy cake so you wouldn't necessarily be able to manage a big slice but its definitely one to impress with. Don't let the beetroot put you off,  it just helps to inject some moisture. I should also add that I couldn't find sour cherries so I used Urban Fruit's dried cherries and it was delicious. I did wonder how the sourness of the cherries would affect the overall flavour of the cake so I will make sure I use them next time to experiment.

Anyway, I'll stop babbling. We're flying to Warsaw this evening and need to leave for the airport in about an hour. I'm really looking forward to trying some more Polish food, although I only today found out what aspic is and its safe to say I will be trying to stay away from it. Bring on the pierogi & placki though!
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