Archive | December, 2012

Merry Christmas!

28 Dec

I had all good intentions of keeping you updated with Christmas food and cooking, but as it always does, spending quality time with friends and family (and the rest of the time actually eating……my belly is expanding as we speak: note to self, must STOP eating cake for breakfast) has taken up lots and lots of much needed time. I hope you’re all having as much fun as I am!

I thought I’d just give you a sneaky peek at some of the delicious-ness of our Christmas, and a quick review of some new recipes which I’ve tried.

Turkey – always my favourite bit of Christmas food…and probably quite predictable, however I felt a need to include a picture of this one as it was 12.5 kg. TWELVE AND A HALF KILOS!? I think my dad might have got a little bit competitive at the superstore. I can just imagine him in line with all the other turkey-orderers, getting to the front and thinking, ‘Aha, I know what I can do…the BIGGEST TURKEY IN THE WORLD please!’ It was amazing. I am obviously happy as I am still eating turkey, and probably will be for at least another week. Or month. Or several months…

TURKEYYule Log: I have never made the Christmas log before as normally it’s my sister’s job. After a little bit of persuasion she let me do it this year, as I was desperate to give Mary Berry’s recipe a go. It turned out wonderfully! I added a few tablespoons of raspberries to the cream before rolling it up for the second time, as it’s something my mum always likes, and it was really delicious. In fact, I’d probably say the raspberries added a bit of much needed sharpness to an otherwise incredibly sweet dessert. I didn’t have time to pipe the ganache on, but instead used a fork to make it look ‘loggy’ and then piped only the ends of the log. A little tip is to assemble everything at the last minute, to prevent the very light sponge from going soggy.

Match a good wine: we enjoyed Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Madeira alongside this chocolatey pud. It’s a great match!

YULE LOG

Christmas Cake: Christmas cake and Christmas pudding are probably competing with the turkey for my favourite dish of the Christmas period. There is something about the yumminess of dried fruit in a delicious cakey shape with some wonderful marzipan and icing which I just cannot resist (much to the frustration of my normally quite disciplined, healthy self!). This year I tried Paul Hollywood’s recipe, and it worked out fabulously. One thing I’ve noticed about his recipes is that if you follow them to the letter, they will generally always work out perfectly. He knows his baking. This cake was probably one of the nicest fruit cakes that I’ve tried. The only change I made was to ‘feed’ it with a few tablespoons of brandy in the weeks running up to Christmas (don’t overdo it though, otherwise all you’ll taste is brandy! I added probably around 5-6 tbsp over the weeks).  The decorations are simply a layer of marzipan plus a layer of fondant, then coloured fondant to make the presents and santa, plus some little snowflake shapes made using a plunge cutter and painted with some shimmery dust.

CHRISTMAS CAKE

cakeWishing you all a very merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013!

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

16 Dec

It had been an age since I’d baked anything, and I had forgotten how satisfying it is to see little cupcakes so neatly lined up, their swirls of icing all tidy and inviting. With a good friend’s birthday party in the evening, a wonderful number of baking books to draw inspiration from but a pile of work that needed to be done, I needed something that I could do quickly. And I did NOT want to do red velvet again!

mint choc web version

Ever since I was small I have absolutely loved mint chocolate chip ice cream, to the point that if I chose any other flavour as a child my parents would wonder whether there was something wrong. When my relatives heard I was coming, there would always be a tub of it in the freezer (yes, I was most definitely a chubby child). I don’t know what it is about mint and chocolate mixed together, but I for one adore it, so when I found a recipe for mint chocolate cupcakes I definitely wanted to give it a go! I changed the recipe up a bit to suit what I had in my cupboards, and PD popped out to buy some flakes to decorate them with. I originally wanted to bake them in ice cream cones to simulate the whole ice cream obsession, but I couldn’t find any flat bottomed ice cream cones. In hindsight I think it might have been a bit too much anyway – cupcake, chocolate, frosting, AND cone – but if you want to try it let me know how it goes. Next time I think I’ll throw a couple of handfuls of chocolate chips into the cupcake batter too, to give it a little more chocolatey-ness and a bit more crunch! I managed to do this all in an hour, including the washing up, so it’s fabulous for when you’re pushed for time but want something home made and yummy.

Recipe (makes ~12-15 cupcakes – not USA muffin size)

Cupcakes

  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 35g cocoa
  • 165g caster sugar
  • 185g butter (softened)
  • 3 eggs
  • 130ml milk

Frosting

  • 250g butter (softened)
  • 2 tsp peppermint extract
  • 400g icing sugar (you might want a little extra handy depending on your taste buds)
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • few drops green food colouring

Decorations

  • Flakes
  • Melted chocolate (I used milk chocolate – just under half a regular bar is enough)
  1. Preheat oven to 180C and line your cupcake tins with some pretty cupcake cases.
  2. Sift the flour, bicarb and baking powder into a bowl and give them a good mix together before adding the cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs and milk. Mix together until smooth and well combined with an electric hand whisk.
  3. Spoon into your prepared cases and bake for around 20 minutes. They should be springy to the touch and a skewer should come out clean. Take out of the oven, leave them in the tin for five minutes and then place on a cooling rack.
  4. While they’re baking, mix up the buttercream by mixing the butter and peppermint extract with an electric hand whisk until pale and smooth. Sift the icing sugar into the mix and add the milk, then whisk up the mix until it’s nice and smooth and there are no lumps. Add a few drops of green food colouring until you get the colour you want, and keep mixing.
  5. When the cupcakes are cool, you can pipe your frosting onto the top, or simply use a knife to shape it. Decorate with the flakes.
  6. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water), and leave to cool slightly before spooning it into a small piping bag (you can easily use a plastic sandwich bag and then cut a tiny bit of a corner off when you’re ready to decorate). Drizzle over the top of the cupcakes, and you’re ready to rock and roll!

Quick Prep-ahead Party Nibbles

10 Dec

Gosh, where has this week gone? I can’t believe I haven’t even had time to write up those recipes I promised – terribly sorry. Here they are now! Unfortunately there aren’t any good photos because all the food was gobbled up before I had a chance to take any photos, but at least I know they tasted good. The aim is to give you some really easy nibbly recipes for any festive get togethers you may be having over the coming weeks, which will enable you to be able to gloat about your home cooked treats to all your envious guests yet still have time to glam yourself up with the many hours you’ll have left over! I made the majority of these bits and bobs in the morning, and then just assembled them or put them in the oven as people arrived.

Easy Sausage Rolls (I didn’t actually get to try any of these – by the time I got to the table they were all gone! Apparently they were really tasty!)

  • 500g ready made puff pastry
  • 10 good quality herby sausages
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • plain flour, for dusting
  1. Take the sausages out of their skins by using a sharp knife to slit the side.
  2. Dust some plain flour onto a clean work surface, and use a rolling pin to roll out the pastry into a long rectangle, wide enough to cut it into two pieces which will both be able to wrap around a sausage shape.
  3. Line your sausages up the length of the long pastry rectangles.
  4. Brush one long side of the pastry rectangle with beaten egg, and fold the non-egg washed side over to join it. Press down firmly with a finger along the length of the rectangle to seal, and cut the long sausage roll into smaller pieces. You can leave them on a baking tray in a cool place for a couple of hours this way until needed.
  5. Lightly brush the tops with egg wash, and bake in a preheated oven (180C-200C) for 25 minutes until puffed and golden, and the sausages are cooked through.

Mini Quiches

NB: The fillings I have used here are personal taste/guidelines only – it’s really easy to mix it up a bit!

  • 500g pack ready made shortcrust pastry
  • ~4-6 eggs (depending on how deep you make the quiches/how much filling you put in)
  • 75g grated cheese
  • 100g bacon lardons
  • 1 onion
  • Parsley, chopped.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Plain flour, for dusting
  1. In a jug, beat the eggs with a fork and season with salt and pepper (go easy on the salt, the bacon will be quite salty in itself).
  2. Gently fry the bacon lardons (getting rid of some of the fat, if a lot is given off) and the onions, until the bacon is golden. Leave to cool.
  3. Dust a clean work surface and roll out the pastry. I didn’t roll mine out thin enough really, and it does make a difference when the quiches are so small! I’d say try to get it about the thickness of a 2 pence piece. Cut them out into circles using a pastry cutter (tip: when I didn’t have pastry cutters I would use the top end of a glass tumbler, dipped in flour).
  4. You can store everything now until last minute assembly, if you want. If you’re doing this, make sure you take the pastry circles out of the fridge about an hour before you want to use them, as they will firm up considerably in the fridge and crack when you press them into the cupcake tins.
  5. Liberally grease the holes of two cupcake tins and gently press the pastry into each hole. Prick the bottom of each pastry circle a couple of times with a fork.
  6. Place some of your fillings in the centre of each pastry circle and top up with the egg mix. Sprinkle some parsley on the top, and bake in a preheated oven for around 20 minutes at 180C until puffed up and golden.

quiches


Red Onion, Balsamic and Feta Bites

NB: I did mine with bread as I forgot to get more pastry! Either works well. If you’re using bread, cut into circles and toast one side gently under the grill until just turning, and then put the topping on the untoasted side before placing back under the grill. If you’re using ready made puff pastry, roll out and cut into shapes, place the topping on the top, and bake in a preheated oven at 200C for about 15 minutes. I am of the opinion that pastry works better…

  • 2 medium red onions, chopped thinly
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 100g feta cheese
  1. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the onions. Cook gently until soft and becoming translucent.
  2. Add the balsamic vinegar and sugar, and continue to cook over a low heat.
  3. Leave them cooking for around half an hour (you can cook them for less, of course, but the longer the tastier!). If they begin to look too sticky or too dry, add a tbsp of hot water to the pan.
  4. Leave the onion mixture to cool. You can leave this overnight, or even a few days if stored in an airtight container.
  5. Sort out your bases (either pastry or toasts – see note above), then place a dollop of onion mix in the centre and crumble some feta cheese over the top.
  6. Either grill or bake, depending on your base, and serve immediately while warm.

Other quick prep-ahead ideas:

– Spicy Pork Balls

– Thai Fish cakes

– Scones

– Gravlax

– Profiteroles

Call for action: fellow medic missing in Syria

3 Dec

Dear fellow bloggers,

It has come to my attention that a fellow student at St George’s is in the midst of a family crisis.

Please take a minute to read the below and pass it on to whomever you feel may be able to help.


Copied message:

Dear friends, Please LIKE AND SHARE this facebook page. My very good friend Sara Khan, a fellow student at SGUL is going through an urgent crisis. Her brother Dr Abbas Khan is training to be an orthopaedic surgeon in London and recently took a sabbatical to engage in relief medicine. He travelled to the Turko-Syrian border with thousands of pounds worth of medical aid to treat injured civilians. Whilst undertaking this humanitarian work in Aleppo, he has disappeared and the family have unconfirmed reports that he has been detained unlawfully by the Syrian government for no other reason than treating the injured. They have not heard from him for 12 days. As you can imagine this is an extremely distressing time for the family and we are urging everyone to help raise awareness of his capture so that British officials may urgently pursue his release. PLEASE LIKE AND SHARE THIS FACEBOOK PAGE. Any help is greatly appreciated in ensuring his safe return home. Thank you.

http://www.facebook.com/freedrabbaskhan

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/brother-fears-for-surgeon-missing-in-aid-dash-to-syria-8375585.html?origin=internalSearch

Spicy Pork Meatballs

3 Dec

I have been feeling a little uninspired recently.

As much as I love Christmas, I do find it a little stressful; it’s almost like everyone waits all year until the 1st of December and then tries to cram in all parties at once, making it difficult to celebrate properly with all the friends I desperately want to catch up with. With Uni work taking up so much time, I struggle to find time to fit everything in. The other thing I find quite stressful about the Christmas period is shopping. Food shopping actually becomes quite a traumatic experience for me around the festive season! It’s like everyone is somehow convinced that the world is going to end in a few days and then has been given a really high dose of speed before commencing the ‘trolley dash’. It’s faintly reminiscent of bumper cars, but with temperamental trolleys, many screaming children, very stressed out parents, long queues and grumpy people. Where’s the Christmas spirit?! To top it off, all of the normal food has been replaced with huge boxes of chocolates, mince pies, stollen, cheap booze, etc., etc….which is somehow all horrifically cheaper than the healthy food I try so hard to keep in my basket. I find it very difficult to stick to a healthy diet over the Christmas period, and end up waking up mid January feeling terribly frumpy and wondering what on earth happened over the last few weeks! (“What’s that darling? Another mince pie? Oh, go on then…”)

presents web

So, how to sort out nibbly bits with very little time (and probably very little money after all the parties and presents…I do not want to look at my bank balance…eek!)? The next few posts are going to be about how to put on a load of party nibbles cheaply and quickly, with the majority of them able to be prepped the night before, so that you have maxxxxxxxxxxximum time to spend with your besties!

I noticed a good friend of mine munching away on some rather tasty looking food at lunch one day, and when I dropped a few hints about needing some new, speedy recipes she sent me the recipe for Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s spicy pork meatballs. These are so easy to make, it’s just really a matter of mixing everything together in a bowl and then flashing them in a pan. I would be interested to see how they would turn out if using a grill or oven instead, as it might make them a little healthier. They can be prepared the night before, cooked before guests arrived and then kept warm in the oven. The most expensive ingredient is the pork mince, and even that isn’t much of an expense! They are so delicious, each like a little delicious explosion of flavour!

pork balls WEB VERSION

 

Recipe (makes around 24, or 30 if you make them slightly smaller)

For the meatballs

  • 500g minced pork
  • 20g white breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Rapeseed oil or olive oil, for frying

For the dipping sauce

  • 1 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
  • 2 spring onions, very finely sliced
  • Juice of 2 limes, plus the zest of one if you wish
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1½ tsp sesame oil

1. Toast sesame seeds over a low heat in a dry pan. I like to add a few more sesame seeds, perhaps an extra teaspoon.

2. Mix all ingredients together for the meatballs in a large bowl, cover and leave for an hour in the fridge to enhance the flavours.

3. Shape the mixture into small balls. I use a good heaped teaspoon of the mixture.

4. In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients for the sauce. A quick note on knives: it really is worth investing in some good kitchen knives. I take them for granted now and don’t know how I managed to chop herbs and vegetables without them before! We use Wusthof and Global knives at home. They are expensive, but they are such an investment and if you look after them they should last for many, many years.

5. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan, or two small frying pans over a medium heat and fry the meatballs until cooked through and golden. This should take around 10-12 minutes. Place them onto a piece of kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil.

6. If serving as canapes, place little cocktail sticks in each one, pile them onto a plate around the little bowl of dipping sauce. Alternatively they would act as a wonderful starter before an Asian inspired meal.