Archive | November, 2012

How to prep a Christmas Pud

30 Nov

This is going to be a super speedy post because I am absolutely sinking in thousands of cells of data for a Uni project, but if I look at another random assortment of letters and numbers I think I might need to hit something.

So this is my way of unwinding. Simple, yet effective.

And delicious.

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This year I decided to have a go at making my own Christmas pudding. I’ve never done it before, but last year we had a lovely get together of friends for a Christmas meal before we all travelled to our respective families to celebrate the ‘big day’, and a good friend of mine brought the most delicious Christmas pud which had been made so generously for us by her wonderful mother. It has been said that home made Christmas puds really are a bit lighter than the bought versions, and you know what I’m like – I like to know what has gone in to my food. It’s also so comforting and fuzzy when you bring out your home made goodies to a group of besties, be they family or friends, and they realise that you were thinking of this moment weeks ago when you were slaving over a hot stove to make it (and yes, this time the stove DEFINITELY gets hot. Eight hours of hotness in fact). Then you pour over a little brandy, turn the lights off, strike the match and light the pud, listening with great satisfaction to the squeals of delight around the table. Okay, so I’m daydreaming a little now – this pud might be an absolute disaster and fall apart as soon as I put it on the table, but you know what, it’s the thought that counts. That, plus the fact that when he found out I was making the pudding this year, PD oh-so-swiftly bought a ‘back-up’ pud (a Heston one, no less). Great to know those closest to me have the most confidence in me, eh?

I’m remaining confident. Yes. It will be AMAZING.

Anyway, I’m not going to post the recipe for the Christmas pud because I don’t yet know what it will taste like (or if it will work) and there are hundreds of gorgeous ones out there. What I do want to share however, is how to wrap the pud, ready for steaming. I watched a fair few videos of this before doing mine and here are a few handy hints and tips. I recommend reading them all before you start!

1. You need to be thinking about making the pudding now. Like, RIGHT now. The longer you leave it (within reason, obviously), apparently the better it tastes. The pudding also needs time to come together so that it doesn’t fall apart when you turn it out.

2. The bowl. I bought a plastic bowl which is fine for steaming in a pan of boiling water over the hob, but not in the oven. If you want to boil-steam yours in the oven (basically put the pud in a dish of hot water and leave it in a hot oven), make sure that you get the ceramic bowls. Plastic ones are a bit cheaper, and generally come with lids, which means they make great containers throughout the rest of the year!

3. Find yourself a pudding recipe, and a few clean coins (I wrap mine in silver foil) to hide away in the pudding. Traditionally Christmas time has been a time of giving, and a six-pence was stirred into the mix to bring whoever found it wealth in the coming year. On that note, I might put a few coins in, does that count?

4. You want to pack your pudding into the bowl tightly. Give it a jolly good squish.

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5. Get yourself some silver foil, greaseproof paper, butter or margarine for greasing, some string and some scissors and you’re ready to go.

  • Cut a rectangle of foil which is large enough to generously cover the top of the bowl, and then cut a section of greaseproof paper which is slightly smaller than the foil but still large enough to generously cover the top of the bowl. 

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  • Grease the greaseproof paper.
  • Make a little fold in the middle of the foil/paper spread (most people call this a ‘pleat’), and press it down to form a sturdy fold. This allows for a bit of space when the pudding is cooking, normally for steam.

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  • Press the foil/paper around the top of your basin with the pleat in the middle, and going round the basin press the foil/paper gently around the sides.

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  • Tie the foil/paper around once with a piece of string to hold it in place.

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  • Go round the string again with some more string, and double the string back on itself, then knot in place. You want to make it as tight as possible to make sure that no water will be able to get in, otherwise your pudding will be ruined. An extra pair of hands are helpful here!

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  • Once all the string is tied off, bring the foil up so that you can easily see the greaseproof paper. Cut the paper back so that there’s just under an inch showing. Cut the foil back a little to make it a bit more manageable, and then begin to slowly go round the basin, tucking the foil underneath the greaseproof paper so that you can’t see any more paper showing. Keep going round to make it as tightly folded as possible. This takes a little bit of time.

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  • Once you’re done with the foil tucking, you can make a handle for the pudding to make it easier to get the pudding out of the hot water. Double up a piece of string (makes it a bit more sturdy!) and thread it underneath the string on one end of the pudding. This is a bit difficult when you’ve done it as tightly as possible, so I found it easier to leave a trail of string on one side from the first tie off round the top of the basin, and then make sure that the second tie off round the top of the basin had a trail on the other side. This means you don’t have to faff around trying to thread it underneath the string and can simply tie it to the left over string from earlier! (I really hope that makes sense!).

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  • Final tip: if you’re steaming your pudding in a plastic basin in a pan over the hob, make sure you put a saucer or something similar into the bottom of the pan to rest the pudding on.

Keep your fingers crossed that mine turns out okay – if it does, I will most certainly post the recipe up here! So exited for Christmas pudding and brandy butter……possibly my most favourite Christmassy indulgence! xxx

Quick and delicious scones

25 Nov

Where, oh where has the time gone? It’s nearly December already! It’s around about that time that we all like snuggling up next to the fire with a warm glass of mulled wine and something to nibble on. Unfortunately I have no fire, so I’m going to make do with the oven, and one of my favourite things to have rising dutifully in my oven is the humble scone. Preferably half a dozen of them, golden and proud, with little raisins poking out here and there.

 

So quintessentially British, scones really do bring me such fond memories of afternoon teas in the middle of London, a glass of bubbly in one hand, tea in the other, shutting out the crazy claustrophobic noise of the city for a few moments. They make me feel homely and content, and provide that familiar feeling of relaxation. They also remind me a lot of my mother and her mother, who both make such wonderful scones.

They are so quick to make, and one normally has the necessary ingredients in the cupboard, so they’re a perfect idea if you need to whip something up in a jiffy because your friend is popping over for tea. Now, I’ve tried many a recipe for scones, there are many out there. Many of the modern recipes seem to use buttermilk, and I must say I tried, I really did, but after the 36th scone on a particularly stressful baking day, I packed it in and called my mum. Of course, my housemate couldn’t notice a difference, but to me the buttermilk scone was too dense, and I like my scones light, fluffy and much more fragile. My mum’s recipe really does seem to be the only one which works for me; it’s uncomplicated and straightforward, and produces wonderful results time after time. I do sometimes also like to add in half a teaspoon of baking powder. I’m not sure whether it actually makes any difference, but I like to think I’m giving my little scones as much of a helping hand as possible. I’ve found that smaller scones tend to rise better than the larger ones, so I tend to use the smaller cutters.

Recipe (makes around 6. I normally double this recipe.)

  • 8oz self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1.5oz margarine
  • 1oz caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp raisins or sultanas
  • 1 egg plus milk beaten to make 1/4 pint of liquid. Keep back a tablespoon or so to use as egg wash.

 

Try to keep things nice and cold. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. You want to be able to see a few little flecks of margarine in there! If I know I’m pushed for time the next day, I have been known to make this up and store it in an airtight container in the fridge overnight.

Mix in the sugar and the sultanas, and add the egg and milk mixture a little at a time to make soft dough. Handle the dough as little as possible!

Roll out onto a floured surface delicately (the less you work the dough the happier it will be), around about 1 inch – 1.5 inch deep, and cut into rounds. Brush the tops of each with a little egg wash.

Place onto greaseproof paper on a baking tray and bake in a hot oven for about 10 minutes at 215-220 C.

Serve warm with strawberry jam, a little whipped cream or butter, and a hot mug of tea.

Profiteroles (our first guest blog!)

19 Nov

Thank you to my wonderful and beautiful friend Claire for not only providing such delicious ‘rofiterpoles’, but also agreeing to write up how she makes them so perfectly! x

Given my host’s rather exacting gastronomic standards, I couldn’t just rock up to her birthday afternoon tea with a box Mr Kipling’s finest. However, given my predisposition to skid into most situations by the seat of my pants, I also had only about an hour (tops) to pull some culinary wizardry out of the bag. The suggestion ‘choux pastry?’ under such circumstances may sound rather ambitious (or even strike fear into your soul). I am here to expel the myth that choux pastry is hard to make – I hope that after reading this you will agree that, under pressure, profiteroles really are the smart chef’s choice.

I say profiteroles, but since an incident last New Year’s eve (involving combining baking with a flood of champagne), they are forever to be known as rofiterpoles. I don’t condone drunken baking, but this story just illustrates how easy they are to make.

So to begin. The choux buns can be made in advance and only require basic ingredients you’re likely to have in stock:

2 oz (50g) butter or margarine

2 ½ oz (65g) plain flour

¼ pint of cold water

2 eggs

I’m generally in a rush when I bake rofiterpoles, so here’s my super fast, not-a-minute-wasted, fail-safe method!

  1. Grab a nice heavy based saucepan, baking sheet, wooden spoon, 2 bowls, 2 teaspoons, your scales, cooling rack and a measuring jug.
  2. Turn on the oven to 220C.
  3. Measure 2 ½ oz plain flour and put in bowl. (Keep it close to hand as it will need to be shot all at once into your pan shortly).
  4. Measure the 2oz of butter or margarine and cut up roughly into small cubes. (This way they melt faster shaving seconds off cooking time!).
  5. Measure ¼ pint of cold water, put in the pan and on the stove over a medium heat.
  6. Here comes the concurrent activities, faites attention mes amis! With practice this will all run like clockwork:
    • Put the butter immediately into the pan with the water.
    • Grease the baking sheet with your butter/marg wrapping.
    • Take the baking sheet over to the sink and run it under the tap. Turn the sheet upside down and give it a sharp tap – you should have little droplets of water all over the sheet which helps the little choux puffs rise.
    • Crack the 2 eggs into the other bowl and briefly beat.
  7. Return to the stove armed with your wooden spoon and give it a stir.
  8. When the butter/marg has melted and the mixture comes to the boil, take it off the heat.
  9. All at once shoot the flour into the pan and start mixing vigorously.
  10. Hold your nerve. (It looks dreadful right now, but I assure you it will get better. Your arm might hurt a bit, just keep mixing).
  11. By now the mixture has become a ball of paste that leaves the sides of the pan. Add around a third of the lightly beaten eggs and begin beating the mixture.
  12. Hold your nerve. (Again, this looks awful right now, but it will come together. Just keep beating the mixture).
  13. When the egg has become part of the paste, add another third of the eggs and beat again.
  14. Add the remaining eggs. Beat until you have a smooth glossy paste.
  15. Whip out your 2 teaspoons (I do not pipe choux buns as I don’t have the time for such frivolities!). Use one to remove a dollop of paste from the pan, and the other to deftly push your golden nuggets onto your baking sheet. I get about 20 buns from this recipe.
  16. Cook for between 20-25 mins until they are risen and golden. (Do not under any circumstances open the oven door before 20 mins has passed, you can’t resurrect a rofiterpole once it has deflated!).
  17. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 180C.
  18. Pierce the side of each puff with anything pointy you have to hand. (You just want the steam to be able to escape so they don’t get soggy).
  19. Return to the oven for 5 mins.
  20. Turn out your wonderful golden puffs onto a cooling rack.

The hard work is done, go do your hair/get dressed/wrap presents or whatever else last minute activities need doing.

Final touches (preferably this should be done at the host’s venue as the cream filling will make buns eventually go soggy – no one likes a soggy bun):

Cream filling:

  • Beat double cream until it is stiff.
  • I use a bread knife to cut buns in half.
  • Use a dessertspoon to sandwich them together with a generous dollop of cream.
  • Arrange on a plate.

Finally, carefully melt a packet of plain dark chocolate drops in your host’s microwave. Avoid chocolate burning schoolboy errors by melting for 20 seconds initially, stirring and returning to microwave for subsequent blasts of 10 seconds, stirring between each. Drizzle liberally over the buns and voila; you’re suddenly a party hero.

Apple, oat and raisin breakfast muffins

10 Nov

There is something incredibly satisfying about waking up early on a Saturday morning, with no fuzzy head from sticking to the non-alcoholic bevvies the night before, and realising that half of London is probably still in bed, nursing an awful hangover. I do feel a post about alcohol coming on soon….

…but not today! I woke up with a spring in my step and whilst listening to the rain pattering down on our attic windows I felt it best to make the most of the early morning enthusiasm. I haven’t baked in a long time, mainly because I’ve been so busy with placement (I’m now on the acute medical unit, and I’ve managed to do quite a few exciting things!), and I had that urge to fill the house with that lovely freshly baked smell. However, I also wanted to get some work done, AND not leave the house for the rain, so it had to be something quick and easy. As you know I was given a load of apples a while back, and made some yummy things like chutney and apple cake, and with the left over apples I made some apple sauce. It’s really easy to make, I personally LOVE apple sauce, and it also freezes well – so I had a load left over in the freezer. It’s great for when those apples are just starting to turn, and you’re not sure what to do with them. I don’t really have a recipe, I just peel and core the apples, cube them, then stick them in a pan with a bit of water (I think I used around eight apples and 150-200ml water), a tablespoon of light brown sugar (white works too) and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Boil it up until the apples are nice and mushy and you can mush it a bit with a fork, leave it to cool, then whizz it all up into a rough puree. Yum!

Anyway, I hunted around a bit in the cupboards to see what we had and made some tweaks to a recipe for muffins I had found. As an interesting point, I’ve also read that apple sauce can be used as a substitute in place of many oils in baking. I’m not sure I wholly agree with this as oil gives many sponge recipes that fluffiness and lightness that I’m not convinced apple sauce would, but incidentally this recipe only uses three tablespoons of oil and no other fat. The muffins are actually quite healthy – the apple sauce was home made, so it had no nasty artificial additives (and very little sugar), I didn’t put very much sugar in the muffin mixture because the apples I used in the sauce were quite sweet and I added raisins to give it a little more sweetness, and as I mentioned, it contained practically zilch fat. Not a bad way to start the day!

The only thing I would say, is that these are definitely breakfast muffins. The oats really bulk them up and they are quite heavy, so don’t try and serve muffins up in place of cupcakes!  They are best served warm with a little butter or margarine and a good cup of tea. I would even suggest that they may be better as ‘mini’ muffins, served as part of a breakfast spread. Also, I was rather frustrated that they seemed to stick to the muffin cases (mainly frustrated because I’m a bit greedy, so I want to eat ALL of the muffin), but it was fine to scrape it off with a spoon. Next time I will try not using the muffin cases and just greasing the muffin tin well – I don’t think they should stick, but if you try it and they do please let me know.

Recipe (makes 12)

Muffins

  • 1.5 cups oats
  • 1.25 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking bowder
  • 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 cup apple sauce
  • 1/2 cup semi skimmed milk
  • 1/4 cup soft brown sugar (plus a tablespoon if you prefer them a bit sweeter)
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 small handfuls raisins/sultanas

Topping

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 2 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp margarine, melted

1. Heat oven to 180C (fan)

2. Line a 12 holed muffin tin with cases (or just grease them without the cases, might be better! see above)

3. Mix the topping mixture in a small bowl until well incorporated.

4. In a separate bowl, combine oats, flour, cinnamon, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.

5. Add the apple sauce, milk, sugar, oil, egg white and raisins and mix until incorporated.

6. Use a tablespoon to fill the cases.

7. Using your fingers, sprinkle the topping over the muffin mixture evenly and equally.

8. Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for around 22-24 minutes.

9. Serve warm with a little butter or margarine.

Gravlax

5 Nov

Gravlax. It sounds like some industrial type car polish, or something. When I heard it was a food, I was rather curious, and in my nonsensical naive way I decided it was worth trying out. Now I like fish, but I have unfortunately endured horrific bouts of food poisoning from fish that has either been slightly dodge, or just prepared incorrectly. So, what I’m trying to say is that this was a bold move.

Raw. Fish.

In my fridge….soon to be….in my belly. And hopefully no where else quite too soon, if you catch my drift.

Okay, so ‘gravlax’. Gravlax, or gravad lax has its roots with Scandinavian fishermen, who are said to have buried salmon in the sand on the beach for a while which helped to  preserve it (‘grav’ = hole in the ground, ‘lax’ = salmon). I’m guessing that the amount of salt in the seawater had something to do with it, as traditionally it is cured using salt, sugar and dill.

There are loads of recipes out there; I used one with coriander, white pepper, dill, sugar and salt. Essentially the salt draws the water out of the salmon (food SCIENCE – how cool is that?! It’s called osmosis…water moves from a high concentration of water to a lower concentration of water. As there is a high amount of salt, the concentration of water is proportionally lower, and so the water moveeeeees……..whoever said science wasn’t cool was just SO wrong!).

There are a few different methods for making gravlax, but my goodness it is so easy. It also looks incredibly impressive for a nice nibble or starter, and there’s something ever so satisfying about being able to say, ‘Oh yes, of course I cured the salmon myself’.

You need some salmon, some sugar, salt and dill, and perhaps some other spices of your fancy (check out some of the popular recipes online). Run your fingers along the salmon to find any pesky bones and take them out. Press the salt/sugar/spice/herb mixture into the salmon on both sides, wrap it up tightly in either foil or clingfilm, and then put it in a dish under something really, really heavy (I used our huge stone mortar in a smaller dish). Rotate the salmon every 12 hours for around 36-72 hours. You may find that the longer you leave it the saltier it gets, and depending on the amount of salt in your recipe you’ll end up with a hefty amount of brine in the dish. I poured ours off, but I believe in Scandinavia they often use it for sauces/stocks.

Once it’s done, slice the salmon into very, very fine slices. Some people suggest thickly slicing so I suppose it depends on your tastes, but I prefer it very finely sliced otherwise it may be quite overbearing (and in my mind, salmon should be a delicate food). Serve it with some rye bread, some leaves and a mustardy-lemony-cream cheesy drizzle.

You’ll be pleased to know that yes, my tummy is still very much okay, and no, there was no sign of food poisoning! You can trust it!

On the health front (because I know that you know that I’m all about trying to convince people that healthy food CAN be delicious), this is pretty high in salt, so just keep an eye on that (check out my earlier post about the health effects of too much salt in the diet). However, salmon is a great source many great nutrients, such as protein (essential for helping build and repair important tissues in your body – especially muscles. Take note, you athletic types!), omega-fatty-acids (good for a host of things such as contributing towards maintaining healthy cholesterol  levels, a healthy heart and a healthy brain!) and vitamin D. 

Vitamin D is a super important vitamin (well, they’re all pretty important, but I’m focusing on this one today). Normally we are able to create vitamin D through some funky reactions which happen in our body when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The problem is, it’s now November, it’s freezing, and there’s hardly ANY sunlight! Have you heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder? Well, the theory is that seasons (i.e. winter) modify levels of vitamin D. When it’s summer, there’s lots, when it’s winter, there’s much less. Vitamin D has in turn been linked with emotional states and depression, so the low levels of vitamin D may cause your mood and emotions (or, ‘affect’) to change, and we can get a bit glum. So it’s important to consume foods high in vitamin D around about now. Additionally, vitamin D is important for calcium absorption in your gut (calcium is essential for healthy, strong bones), and a whole host of other fabulous bodily functions which are necessary to keep us ticking over. Happily.

More salmon, anyone?