14 September 2014

Lundulph's Birthday Cake 2014

My Sister Bip's been to visit us for a short week. She had a few days left on her holiday and decided to come over for Lundulph's birthday and some shopping. And it's during this that she bought me a little book called Peek-A-Boo-Cakes, which was rather interesting, particularly after my dismal failure at Falbala's last birthday. This book has a more traditional approach to hidden design cakes plus some quite novel ideas, which seem very appealing and I might try later on.

I took Friday off, to make sure to get all ingredients and bake the cake. Also Bip wanted to go to our local farm shop, she's been there before and wanted to go back to have a look at the various curiosities they have there. And she wanted cream tea for breakfast and it made quite a nice start of a long day.

It was Bip that chose the cake for Lundulph this year. I was a bit skeptical to it, but thought that worst case it would be similar to Falbala's latest cake - ugly, but very much edible thanks to all the sugar in it. Also Bip had brought me 500 g of 60% marzipan, not something you want to waste just like that.

I made some stupid mistakes here, it's embarrassing to mention really. Still it turned out quite nice.

Ingredients
Makes a 20 cm cake
700 g marzipan
blue, red, green and purple food colouring, preferably paste
3 large eggs
225 g unsalted butter + extra for greasing
175 g caster sugar
300 g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp almond extract
100 g ground almonds
2 tbsp milk
4 tbsp apricot glaze
icing sugar

Method

  1. Make sure everything except the milk is at room temperature.
  2. Take four 75 g pieces of marzipan and colour in blue, red, green and purple respectively. Use about a knife's edge (1 ml) of paste, to get a nice bright colour. Using latex gloves, knead each piece by folding it along with its colour until it is evenly coloured through, then set aside.
  3. When all four are done, roll each out to a circle between two sheets of baking paper - preferably use one large piece folded in two. Roll until the circles are just a little smaller than the diameter of the cake tin. Wrap in cling film so they don't go dry and set aside.
  4. Grease the cake tin and line it with baking paper. Pre-heat the oven to 160 °C.
  5. Break the eggs into a small bowl and whisk together lightly.
  6. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Preferably with an electric whisk.
  7. In another bowl sift together the flour and baking powder, making sure they are well mixed and lump-free.
  8. Add the eggs to the butter-sugar mixture, a little at a time and incorporate well before adding more. Add the almond extract as well.
  9. Using a large spoon, stir in the ground almonds, followed by the flour and finally the milk. Note that the batter is quite thick, almost like porridge.
  10. Divide the cake mixture into five parts. Spoon one into the cake tin and spread evenly.
  11. Carefully place one of the coloured marzipan circles on top of the mixture, making sure there are no air bubbles.
  12. Proceed with the next part of cake mixture, followed by another marzipan circle, then continue layering and finish with the firth part of the cake mixture. Make sure to level it.
  13. Bake in the oven for about 1 h 30 minutes, until it's golden brown and has come away from the edges and feels firm to the touch. If it goes too brown, cover with aluminium foil to prevent it from burning.
  14. Remove from the oven and turn upside-down onto a cooling rack, but leave the cake tin on for about 20 minutes.
  15. Then remove the tin and the lining paper and leave to cool completely.
  16. In the mean time colour in the remaining 400 g of marzipan purple (or another colour if you like).
  17. When the cake has cooled down completely, roll out the marzipan to a large circle, enough to cover the whole cake and the sides, again between two pieces of baking paper.
  18. Heat up the apricot glaze in a small pan until it starts boiling, then brush the whole cake with a thin layer.
  19. Carefully transfer the marzipan circle onto the cake, make sure it's centered, then carefully start working down the sides to gently stick the marzipan onto the cake without ending up with folds and edges. Using latex gloves when handling worked really well for me.
  20. Trim excess marzipan around the base - this can be used to make additional decorations or you can just tie a ribbon around to hide the edge.
  21. Dust with icing sugar on top before serving.

Overall, I'm rather pleased with the result. The mistakes I made were that I skipped sifting the flour and baking powder. Really a beginner's mistake, I really don't know what I was thinking there. I had a number of lumps in the cake mixture, I fished out the biggest ones and was worried I'd end up with big holes in the sponge, but it was actually OK. A lucky thing was that I had cut the lining paper for the sides a bit wider than necessary. This was good as I filled up the cake tin and when it baked it rose up and was attempting to escape, so an extra cm or two of baking paper is recommended very strongly.

I also had to cover it up after one hour, since by then it looked ready. The book said to test the cake with a skewer, but I'm not sure it would work because of the marzipan. I think it would end up cleaning the skewer on its way out, so you wouldn't be able to tell if the cake was done or not. I gave it 1 h 30 minutes, at which point it had come away from the paper lining a bit. I also touched it and it felt firm.

Once it was out of the oven and on the rack, it sort of sank in at the middle. This was very worrying, I though it meant it hadn't cooked through, but at this point it was fairly late in the evening, so I left it at that to cool. I covered the cake the following morning. Now here I made another mistake - I didn't gently try to work around the edge, but squashed the whole lot in and of course ended up with some folds. The principle is the same as with fondant icing, but with marzipan more care is required as it can crack, at least at the 3 mm thickness I made it. The original recipe called for 800 g marzipan just to cover the cake, but I think that's a bit of a waste. I used 300 g and this was just right, but 400 g would have been easier to work with and you wouldn't need to worry about centering it perfectly. I ended up rubbing the whole cake for ages to hide the edges and various other lines. Again, latex gloves are brilliant and I didn't need to change them between the various colours either, one pair were enough for everything.

One unexpected surprise was that the purple food colouring didn't cope with being baked - as you can see in the photo, it's gone orange, when it was an aubergine colour when I put it in the cake. This didn't matter here, but is good to keep in mind in the future. I'm not sure there was a comment on this on the packet either. I'll have to try a different brand next time. As for the covering marzipan, it's not baked. However just using the purple resulted in grey colour. Bip said it would not be acceptable on a birthday cake. So I added a little of the red paste and it gave a really brilliant purple colour. So on 300 g marzipan, I had 2 ml purple colouring paste and 1 ml red colouring paste.

Mistakenly the green food colouring was liquid, I really wasn't pleased with this, as it means the mixture being coloured is diluted. This didn't seem to be a problem with the marzipan, but if colouring batter or meringues, it is important not to ruin the proportions..

As expected the whole thing was massively marzipan-y in flavour and went down extremely well with most of the family. We still have half a cake to go, along with lots of other things too. Birthdays are hard sometimes, when it comes to dealing with the leftovers.

2 September 2014

Pear sorbet

Sorry for dropping off for several weeks, I've reached new heights in stress levels at work and I'm worried that I'll start looking my age. There are bags under my eyes and there are wrinkles and what not. But things have finally calmed down and my inspiration and creativity is on the mend.

It is also the time of the year when the large pear trees in Lundulph's parents' garden are loaded with fruit, which is ripening and falling down and creating a health and safety hazard. So the week-end before last, Lundulph and I made a special trip for the purpose of picking pears and came home with a large bagful of the lovely things. OK, they were a bit on the hard side and quite a few of them were russet-y, but on Lundulph's Mum's recommendation, I left some of them on the window sill and a couple of days later the pears had turned yellow and started to go soft.

Thus the question came up - what do you do with a glut of pears? For some reason I plucked the word "sorbet" out of the wrinkles of my brain and did a quick search on the internet. And I was lucky to find this recipe (in Swedish), which turned out to be very easy and stunningly tasty.

I still don't have an ice cream machine, but decided to go ahead anyway, freeze the sorbet into ice cube trays, then run in the smoothie maker to basically turn it into some sort of granita or slush puppy. I also forgot the walnuts, again this turned out not to be an issue.

Ingredients

900 g ripe juicy sweet pears (net weight after peeling and removing the cores)
5 tbsp honey
2 dl chopped walnuts (optional)
50 g caster sugar
2 large egg whites

Method

  1. Peel some ripe juicy sweet pears to make up 900 g and place in a deep bowl.
  2. Add the honey and purée together with a handheld blender, it should go a little fluffy even.
  3. Stir in the walnuts.
  4. Make Swiss meringue with the caster sugar and egg whites, taking care not to over-cook it.
  5. Carefully fold in the meringue into the pear purée by first loosening it up with a couple of tablespoons and then adding the rest of the meringue.
  6. Make sure there are no lumps of meringue left, then distribute into portions and put in the freezer.
  7. After 24 h the sorbet is ready

I was only able to find one ice cube tray, so distributed the rest of the sorbet mixture into my silicone brioche moulds. Then into the freezer they went last night and tonight we had some of this wonderful dessert. As I took it out, I realised that after a whole night and a whole day, the sorbet was still rather soft and would not require the smoothie maker treatment. So no need for an ice cream machine.

The one "special" thing I did was to use my vanilla infused caster sugar, though I don't think it made any difference. However, some cinnamon might be nice and possibly almonds rather than walnuts. I also wonder if this sorbet would work with other fruit like apples, bananas and mango. Actually I thought it was a bit on the sweet side, I'll use 4 tbsp of honey next time. I'd not realised how sweet the pears were.

Lundulph's verdict: Very nice, it was like eating frozen pears, but with a really nice texture. He also theorised that this might not be possible to achieve with shop-bought pears as they are varieties with long shelf life, rather than sweetness/softness/juiciness.

20 June 2014

Japanese-style Curried Pork and Mushroom Udon

Gosh, how time flies and I'm not keeping up with my blogging at all. My focus is entirely on work these days. Bah!

IMG_4195

Anyway, one more of the Waitrose cards I've picked up recently. This had a pretty picture of the dish on the front and was trying to plug some spice paste, which I decided against, purely because of the packaging - it looked like it was straight out of the 1960's. Instead I googled for alternatives and found this one which introduced an interesting concept to me, which I might explore more in the future. The ingredients below serve 4 - 5 people.

Ingredients

400 g pork fillet
1 carrot
¾ Chinese leaf cabbage
250 g shiitake mushrooms
4 salad onions
300 g fresh egg noodles
3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional for extra spice)
500 ml boiling water
1 tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tbsp soy sauce

Method

  1. Trim the pork fillet, cut into strips and set aside in a bowl.
  2. Peel, wash and thinly slice the carrot. Wash and shred the Chinese leaf cabbage. Brush the mushrooms and cut into strips. Place all of these in a separate bowl.
  3. Slice the salad onions, but keep separate
  4. In a frying pan, melt the butter on medium-low heat.
  5. When it starts bubbling, stir in the flour and keep stirring for about 20-30 minutes until the roux turns lights brown.
  6. Now add the curry powder, garam masala and cayenne pepper to the roux, while stirring and let cook for about half a minute, then remove from the heat.
    IMG_4192
  7. Pour the boiling water over the curry roux and stir to remove any lumps and form a sauce.
    IMG_4193
  8. In a wok pan, heat up the oil on high heat, and brown the pork strips for 5 - 8 minutes until nicely brown.
    IMG_4194
  9. Stir in the carrot, Chinese leaf cabbage mushrooms and stir-fry for 3 - 4 minutes.
  10. Add the noodles and the curry sauce and stir-fry for a further couple of minutes.
  11. Divide up between bowls, drizzle some soy sauce on each and sprinkle some salad onions, then it's ready to serve.

Preparations took a bit longer than expected and I should perhaps have prepared the meat and vegetables on the evening before, but I felt a bit lazy and didn't. The roux is definitely worth making in advance. In fact at the point when it comes off the heat, it can just be allowed to cool down and then frozen. The amounts given resulted in 112 g, which worked fine for this recipe. The stir-frying is fairly quick on the whole.

The roux was the bit that interested me most - I've not made a roux with just flour and butter. Normally I'll add milk and some seasoning into a béchamel sauce. But this is quite an interesting approach - to swap out some of the roux flour for spices.

On the whole, this was quite a nice dish, unfortunately I used unsalted butter for the roux and also reduced salt soy sauce, so the whole thing was a bit on the tasteless side. I came to realise that reduced salt soy sauce, although it sound good, actually means we use more of it at a time, so not really healthier. The bottle emptied fairly quickly and so I've decided to go back to the regular stuff. I've also started using reduced salt stock cubes and again notice I need to add extra salt. Once the soy sauce is in, things are good.

Oh and before I forget, I was actually talking to my Sister Bip, while I cooked and completely missed that I'd bought hot curry powder, which I used in the curry roux. Not just that - garam masala means hot spice mixture and of course I put in the cayenne pepper, so the whole thing had quite a kick to it, but I had yoghurt on standby, in case it was too hot to eat. But as it turned out, it wasn't.

Finally due to an administrative error, I also forgot to get spring onions and peeled a regular onion instead, but that wouldn't have worked to sprinkle over the noodles, so I skipped it entirely and used some of the spare Chinese leaf cabbage, because it's quite nice uncooked as well - sweet and crunchy. In fact we had it instead of lettuce in our salad tonight and Lundulph commented that this might well be the way forward.

30 May 2014

Chicken Tikka & Green Pepper Karahi

We were away for about a week and since coming home, work has been rather hectic, I've not had much time to plan any meals, but I had lined up this card on the fridge door and decided to give it a try as a special Friday-end-of-the-week dinner. It is another quick recipe utilising a new product, which seems rather good, even though I generally would prefer to do it from scratch. It's something called The Spice Tailor Original Tikka Masala and consists of 3 bags - one with a spice mixture and two with sauces and it is used in 3 steps. There were other varieties available, might be worth trying out as well. The packet had basic instructions, which sort of match this recipe more or less. I guess as long as you add the packets at appropriate stages in the cooking, pretty much anything goes.

IMG_4191

Ingredients

500 g chicken thigh fillets
1 onion
2 peppers (green preferably)
200 ml hot chicken stock
3 - 4 plum tomatoes
2 tbsp grapeseed oil
300 g pack The Spice Tailor Original Tikka Masala
2 tbsp chopped coriander
Mp>Method

  1. Trim the chicken fillets if needed and cut into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Peel and coarsely dice the onion
  3. Cut, de-seed and wash the peppers
  4. Wash, trim and cut up the tomatoes into bite-sized chunks.
  5. In a large wok, heat up the oil, then add the chicken and brown for a few minutes.
  6. Add the spice bag, onion and peppers and stir-fry for a further few more minutes.
  7. Stir in the base sauce (marked on the packet) and continue to cook 2 minutes before adding the main sauce, chicken stock and tomatoes.
  8. Stir through and let simmer for 5 minutes until the tomatoes start going soft, but still keep their shape. The chicken should be cooked through by now.
  9. Serve with boiled brown basmati rice or naan bread. Sprinkle the coriander to decorate.

As with many curry recipes - the chicken can be swapped with beef, pork or lamb or with paneer for a veggie alternative.

And as before, I spent ages trimming the chicken thigh fillets, so I recommend using chicken breast instead. However, the end result was very good, smelt lovely and was full of flavour. Lundulph would have preferred it with more spicy heat - another teaspoon of chilli powder. Actually the heat did build up over the meal, but was still quite measured.

As an aside, I had some rice left over and at the next meal (baked salmon in foil), I had a bit of a play with it:

IMG_4190
Lundulph was impressed and it was rather tasty too. I was surprised that the whole thing stayed in shape, since basmati rice isn't that sticky, but I made sure to press down the layers in the food ring and was careful when I removed it.

26 May 2014

Moroccan Lamb Meatball and Basmati Bake

Here's another of my recipe cards from Waitrose, for some reason I forgot to blog it at the time. This one was a quickie cheater thing, with most ingredients sort of ready. However, I wasn't able to get hold of some of them, so had to go from scratch.

IMG_3953

Ingredients
500 g lamb mince
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp dried mint
1 dl breadcrumbs
300 g basmati rice
400 g can of tomatoes
500 ml beef stock
1 tbsp harissa paste
1 cinnamon stick (5 cm)

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200 °C.
  2. Mix together the mince with the black pepper, ginger, coriander, mint and breadcrumbs.
  3. Place the rice in a casserole dish.
  4. Crush or blend the tomatoes, then stir together with the stock and harissa paste. Break the cinnamon stick in two and stir in as well, then pour over the rice.
  5. Form small meatballs from the mince mixture, it should make 20 - 24, then place on top of the rice in the casserole.
  6. Cover the casserole and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and let cook for a further 15 - 20 minutes to brown the meatballs.
  7. The rice should be cooked through and the liquid should have mostly been absorbed. It's ready to serve.

On the whole this was rather nice, but a bit on the cinnamon-y side. Also the harissa I bought wasn't as spicy/hot as I would like it to be - I recommend tasting it first and adjusting the amount. Also possibly a little more salt might be a good idea.

6 May 2014

Spicy Thai Noodles

Another quick mid-week recipe, the original actually uses quorn mince, but I swapped it for lean beef mince. It looks a bit colour less in the photo unfortunately, but believe me, it was stunningly tasty.

IMG_3965

Ingredients 1 stick of lemon grass
2 - 4 red chillies (depending on desired spiciness)
2.5 cm piece fresh ginger
2 - 3 carrots
1 head of broccoli
2 dl soy beans
1 lime
2 tsp Thai fish sauce
1 tbsp light brown sugar
10 g fresh mint
3 tbsp toasted sesame seed oil
500 g beef mince
300 g fresh thin rice noodles

Method

  1. Wash the lemon grass and chillies, then slice thinly. Peel and grate the ginger finely.
  2. Peel and grate the carrot coarsely. Wash and cut up the broccoli into florets.
  3. Wash the lime and grate the zest. Then cut in half and squeeze out as much of the juice as possible.
  4. In a bowl, mix together the lime zest, juice, Thai fish sauce and sugar.
  5. Wash and chop the mint.
  6. Heat up the oil in a wok pan on low heat, then add the lemon grass, chillies and ginger and fry gently for 2 minutes.
  7. Add the mince and stir vigorously to prevent it from clumping. Fry until it's browned a little.
  8. Add the broccoli, carrots and noodles and stir until the vegetables soften.
  9. Pour over the lime/fish sauce mixture over the stir-fry and add the chopped mint and stir through for 1 more minute, then it's ready to serve.

Looking at the recipe card, it's from April 2006, but the recipe seems to be still available on-line here at the time of writing. Curiously it has only received 3 stars out of 5, but there were no comments as to why people didn't like it. I gave it 4 stars, removing one because the original recipe didn't have any veggies.

Lundulph thought the use of mince in a stir fry was quite unusual and novel, but says he quite liked the resulting texture. I guess strips of beef or chicken will do just as nicely.

4 May 2014

Lamb Gyuvetch for Easter

Once again the family gathered together to celebrate Easter and this year everyone came to our house.

Traditionally in Bulgaria, lamb is on the menu for Easter (at least that's what my Mum says) and so I decided to do that. I also decided to try one of the recipes in a cook book I got a couple of years ago. However, after reading it through, I felt it didn't have enough veggies, so I kind improvised quite a lot. But it turned out really good and I'm sorry to say, I completely forgot to take a photo.

Since a significant number of the family are vegetarians, I made two stews - one with lamb and one without. That was the only difference. And the amounts make loads of both stews, so really good for a large crowd.

Ingredients

2 kg lamb shoulder fillets
3 largeish aubergines
3 large courgettes
900 g button mushrooms
8 medium carrots
1 dl grapeseed oil
400 g salad onions
2 cans of tomatoes (of 400 g each)
300 g frozen soya beans
100 g runner beans
1 l beef stock
0.5 l vegetable stock
5 tbsp harissa
4 cloves of garlic, pressed
3 tsp smoked paprika
1 dl fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 dl fresh parsley, chopped
0.5 dl dried savory
salt and pepper
2 dl water
2 tbsp flour
2 dl white wine
boiled potatoes

Method

  1. Trim off fat from the meat, dry with kitchen tissue and cut into 2 cm chunks.
  2. Wash and dice the aubergines and courgettes.
  3. Peel and dice the mushrooms.
  4. Peel and slice the carrots.
  5. Heat up a little of the oil and brown the pieces of lamb, then transfer to a large casserole dish, preferably clay.
  6. Add a little more oil to the pan and fry half of the aubergines, courgettes, mushrooms and carrots for a few minutes until the start softening, then transfer to the casserole with the lamb.
  7. Heat up a little oil in another frying pan and fry the remaining aubergines, courgette, mushrooms and carrots for a few minutes and transfer to a separate casserole dish.
  8. Place the canned tomatoes in two bowls and blend each.
  9. Trim the salad onions and slice, then divide between the two bowls
  10. Divide the soy beans between the two bowls.
  11. Wash and slice the runner beans, then divide into the two bowls.
  12. Add the beef stock to one of the bowls and the vegetable stock to the other.
  13. Finally stir into each bowl half of the harissa, garlic, paprika, mint, parsley, savory, salt and pepper.
  14. Pour the beef mixture into the casserole with the lamb and the vegetable mixture into the casserole with the veggies.
  15. Place in the oven and bake at 200 °C for 2 h.
  16. After the 2 hours are up, place 1 dl of water into a small bowl and stir 1 tbsp flour into each.
  17. Take out the casseroles of the oven and add the water/flour mixture to them. Also add 1 dl of white wine to each and stir.
  18. Put back in the oven and bake for another 30 minutes.
  19. Serve with boiled potatoes.

I think I've sussed the secret with a successful gyuvetch - fry both meat and vegetables before the bake. Also, even if slow-cooking, aim to bake above 100 °C. Either way, the stew was fabulous, though a bit on the runny side, despite the flour. Good for dipping bread in. The whole crowd seemed to enjoy it and we had a great Easter.

Healthy Chicken Chilli

Time for another recipe card and since it's been a while since we had chicken, I decided on this one from Waitrose. Do I need to mention that I tweaked it?

IMG_3963

Ingredients

1 large onion
2 cm piece of root ginger
500 g chicken breasts
2 red bell peppers
1 yellow bell pepper
400 g can of tomatoes
2 cans of kidney beans (of 400 g each)
100 g red lentils
0.5 l chicken stock
2 tbsp chipotle paste
1 tsp hot chilli flakes (optional)
salt and pepper
3 tbsp grapeseed oil

Method

  1. Peel and dice the onion. Peel and grate the root ginger. Trim and dice the chicken.
  2. Wash the peppers and remove seeds and pith, then dice.
  3. Blend the canned tomatoes. Drain and rinse the kidney beans.
  4. Measure up the remaining ingredients.
  5. Heat up the oil in a large frying pan and brown the onion, ginger and chicken.
  6. Stir in the peppers, tomatoes, beans, chicken stock, chipotle, chilli flakes, salt and pepper, then cover and let simmer for 20 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  7. Check and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Looking at the comments on the Waitrose website, it seems that their chipotle paste is actually quite hot. I bought mine from a different shop and it was more sweet and smoky, but not hot, this is why I added the chilli flakes.

I decided not to bother with carbs to go with this dish - we'd been gardening all day and it was getting late and I was tired. But it was one tasty chilli, even though I forgot to turn down the heat after I covered the pan and didn't stir while it was cooking, so I ended up with a burnt layer at the bottom of the non-stick pan. I guess not that non-stick after all. I fished out what black bits I could. Still, both Lundulph and I had seconds.