26 October 2014

Halloween


So today didn’t quite go according to plan.
I had the best intentions- to have a leisurely morning strolling the shops and buying ingredients and then spending all afternoon baking, styling and shooting- with Sam Smith on full volume, a cup of earl grey and the beautiful Spanish October sun peeping through the window on a Sunday afternoon.  
What actually happened was a panicked manic run through the streets of Malsana, realising just how little baking equipment I had in my flat and questioning how I was ever going to make a cake without weighing scales!
(Who am I kidding- this cake looks as though its been made with a wooden spoon, a mixing bowl and not much else!)
Coco powder just doesn’t really seem to exist here in Spain and double cream is even more of a mystery!
But eventually I tracked them down and set about turning my little Spanish kitchen into an absolute bomb-site!
I was aiming to create a chocolate extravaganza, perfect to celebrate Halloween.
The original plan was to fill the cake with a chocolate orange buttercream and then to top with chocolate ganache and a white chocolate cobweb pattern.
However, today it was just not meant to be and so I ended up with a very messy (but still delicious) chocolate cake topped with a whole array of icing attempts!
Therefore if like me, you are a messy pup in the kitchen- this recipe is for you. The basis of the cake is a super moist chocolate orange sponge made with dark chocolate. And then the rest is up to you- I filled mine with fresh cream and topped it with layer of melted milk chocolate, white chocolate swirls and grated dairy milk! If you have small children around- leave them to it!
I know I'm a bit early for Halloween but in my opinion, it's a good reason for anything chocolate and sweet related. It's not really celebrated in Spain - it took me a good few hours just to find a pumpkin!
But if you're back home and looking for some inspiration for a dinner party or something to take to a friends this halloween then look no further. 


The truth is, living in a new country is hard. I'm not going to lie and pretend that I'm eating paella every night, dancing Flamenco every weekend and enjoying an afternoon siesta. 
Speaking a new language 24/7, making new friends and just adapting to a completely new culture is a real challenge- I'm exhausted. But I'm also learning to relax into a completely different style of living and frame of mind. Everybody here is just so chilled!! 
Baking is one of those things lets me stop for a minute and think. It's time for myself and something that reminds me of home and cosy Autumn nights. Plus Spanish people just really don't do cakes like us British!

Ingredients:

125g dark chocolate (70% minimum cocoa solids)
200g butter
100ml water
Juice of 1 orange
225g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
50g cocoa powder
400g caster sugar
3 large eggs (or 4 small)
Zest of 1 orange

Double cream
Chocolate


Method:

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. 

Put the butter, chocolate, fresh orange juice and water in a medium-sized saucepan over a low heat and melt until smooth and combined. 
Remove from the heat and leave to cool. 
In a separate bowl, add the flour, baking powder, cocoa and caster sugar, 
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the orange zest and then gradually whisk in the chocolate mixture. 
Fold in the dry ingredients and mix with a large wooden spoon until you have a smooth cake batter. 
Pour into two greased and lined 23cm circular cake tins and then bake in the centre of the oven for 25-35 minutes. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5-10 minutes before tuning them out of their tins and onto a wire cooling rack. 

Fill the cake with your choice of fresh cream, chocolate buttercream or whipped orange flavoured frosting. 
Top with whatever you fancy! I made a simple milk chocolate ganache by melting 300ml cream over a medium heat until simmering. Pour the hot cream over 150g milk chocolate and stir until smooth. I then pop this into the freezer for half an hour or so to firm up before spreading over the top of the cake. 




Have a great Halloween!





9 October 2014

Roast chicken with lentils and brandy



I've moved to Madrid. 

Yep, I'm still not sure its really hit me- I'm not here just for a holiday. I'm actually here to live in Spain, talk Spanish and eat Spanish food for a whole year! Of course me being me, I packed so badly and ignored the idea that Spain ever gets cold but it definitely does and as its started to chuck it down with rain today, I'm starting to question whether sandals and dresses will be sufficient for the next few weeks! I think a trip to Zara might be in order (after all it's a Spanish company and therefore much cheaper out here- such a good excuse!)

One thing that's proved very hard to get used to out here is the timings. Last week someone asked me if I'd like to go for a drink. I thought great but had to think again when they suggested having supper at 10 and going for a drink at 12!! way past my bed time! The clubs here don't even open till 2 and most people stay out till 5 or 6 in the morning. I think it's definitely going to take me a while to adjust! 

This week, I've just about got the hang of my new flat and although I couldn't bring any of my cooking equipment or books with me, (I only had a precious 35kg worth of clothes allowance for a whole year!) I've already scouted out some shops where I can buy my cooking essentials and loads of funky restaurants and cafes that I can't wait to try. 

However, until I've established myself a bit better in my little spanish kitchen, here is a recipe I made before I left for Spain, when the leaves were just starting to turn back home. 

I originally intended to make this recipe with guinea fowl. I've never cooked guinea fowl before and as a gamey board with a much meatier and richer taste, I wanted to try it roasted with this combination of smokey bacon and earthy lentils. However, as I was just a bit too early for guinea fowl- another week or so and it would have been right in season,  I had to rethink my recipe to chicken. If you are able to get hold of some guinea fowl from your local butcher, then have a go at the recipe I've linked to at the bottom of this post. 
Whatever meat you serve this with, the lentil mixture is really wholesome, tasty and great even eaten just by itself or added to soups. 
It's the perfect autumnal supper and involves minimal washing-up!



Ingredients:

1 large free range chicken
1 large pack bacon lardons/pancetta
4 medium garlic cloves
2 carrots
1 large onion
2 sticks of celery
2 big mushrooms
1 tin of cannellini beans (246g drained weight)
Large handful fresh tarragon
200g green lentils
50ml brandy
700ml chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Double cream (optional)
Extra brandy (optional)


Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (fan.)

Put a large heavy-bottomed casserole dish over a high heat and add a good glug of olive oil and a large knob of salted butter.

Season the chicken and put it breast side down into the pan. Brown the chicken on all sides and then remove it from the pan and onto a plate.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the bacon lardons to the same pan. Fry until they start to turn golden brown. Finely chop the garlic, onion, carrot and celery and add to the pan. Continue to fry the mixture for 5-7 minutes until the vegetables begin to tenderise. Roughly chop the mushrooms and add them to the pan.

Add in the brandy and stir the mixture for a few minutes- letting the alcohol evaporate. Then add in the drained beans, finely chopped tarragon and the lentils.

Season the mixture well with salt and pepper and then add in two thirds of the chicken stock. Stir the mixture well and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add in the remaining stock and then place the whole chicken back in the pot on top of the lentil mix. Cover the dish with a lid and put into the oven.

Roast the chicken in the oven (covered) for 45 minutes. (You may need to add in a little more stock throughout if the lentil mixture looks a little dry or as if it might catch on the bottom of the pan.)

After 45 minutes, remove the lid from the dish and brush a little butter over the top of the chicken. Return the dish to the oven and roast for an extra 15-25 minutes until the chicken is golden brown on top and the juices run clear and then remove from the oven.

If you want to, you can also stir a little double cream and brandy through the lentil mixture at this stage before serving.

Serve the chicken on a large plate, seated on top of the lentil mixture. I served mine with purple sprouting broccoli.






Inspired by: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2875670/potroast-guinea-fowl-with-lentils-sherry-and-bacon

19 September 2014

Spiced apple cake with rum caramel and pecans







The smell of spiced apples and caramel means that Autumn is definitely here.  
This time of year is a difficult one- I never know what to wear- it's a cross between gloriously sunny evenings and frosty chilly mornings with Ugg boots at the ready. Although I love the sun, I also love freezing cold mornings filled with hot chocolate, bracing walks with the dogs and an excuse to curl up by a fire for the day! This cake is a real comfort food recipe- roasted apples mixed with ground cinnamon and mixed spice - baked into a light and squidgy cake batter and then topped with a rich dark caramel flavoured with rum- absolutely delicious and so moreish!
You can use this recipe to make either loaf cakes or small muffin sized cakes. I made a combination of the two and topped them with dried apple rings. I keep seeing the recipe for dried apple everywhere and decided I eventually needed to try it! They make a healthy little afternoon snack or something to through on your breakfast and are super easy to make. 



Ingredients: (to make one loaf cake and 6 muffin-sized cakes)

200g light brown sugar
200g butter
4 medium sized eggs
200g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
2tbsp milk
1tbsp honey
4-5 small apples (350g peeled and cored weight)
1tbsp brown sugar
3tbsp dark rum

200g caster sugar
200ml double cream
50g butter
1tbsp rum

2 apples
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pecans


Method:

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C(fan). 
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the 200g each of butter and light brown sugar with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. 

Gradually add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well between each addition. You may need to add a tablespoon or so of the flour to stop the mixture from curdling. 

Then measure out the rest of the flour, baking powder and spices. 


Add these dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and mix well. 


Add in the milk and honey and whisk again. 


Peel and core the apples. Cut into small chunks and put in a bowl with the tablespoon of brown sugar and the rum. Mix well and leave for 5-10 minutes. 


Then mix the apples and rum into the cake mixture with a metal spoon. 


Grease a rectangular loaf tin and a muffin tray with butter. Then spoon two thirds of the mixture into the loaf tin and the rest into the muffin tray. 

Bake the cakes in the preheated oven. The small cakes will take 18-20 minutes and the loaf, 35-40 minutes. (They should turn golden brown and when a skewer is inserted into the cake, it should come out clean.) Cool the cakes on a wire cooling rack.

Whilst the cakes are baking, prepare the apple crisps. Really thinly slice the apples and lay them out on a baking tray on baking paper dusted with a little ground cinnamon. 
When the cakes are baked, turn the oven down to 140 degrees C (fan) and bake the apples for 45min-1 hour, turning them over half way through. 


Whilst the apple slices are drying out, make the caramel. 
Put the caster sugar in a large wide pan. Put over a medium-high heat and let it sit until the sugar begins to melt (do not stir it!) Then when it begins to turn into a golden caramel, add in the butter and cream until you have a smooth caramel. Stir until mixed. (You may need to strain your caramel if you have some lumps of sugar left.) Take off the heat and stir in the rum. 


When the cakes are cool, spread over the caramel, top with the dried apple slices and some crushed pecans. 













1 September 2014

Courgette and feta tart




The lovely people over at Curry's asked if I would create a recipe to share in their student cookbook. This is a really quick, cheap and easy to make recipe that still tastes delicious and is perfect for a crowd. It's also a good main course for when you've got friends over, served with a big side salad and new potatoes and it's also super yummy cold (as a hungover midnight snack!)
Here's a link to their campaign. 


Ingredients:

1 packet puff pastry (you can even buy a ready-rolled one)
2 medium sized courgettes
2 garlic cloves
200g packet of feta cheese
Handful of tomatoes, different sizes is fine, roughly chopped
Large handful mint, finely chopped
Fresh basil, finely chopped
A few olives, chopped in half
Zest of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Parmesan


Method:

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Put a baking tray in the oven to warm up.

Roll out your pastry into a large rectangle. Lay it on a piece of baking paper on the preheated baking tray and spike the middle of the pastry rectangle a few times with a fork (this stops the middle from puffing up too much.)



Bake the pastry in the oven for 10-15 minutes until it has started to turn golden brown and the edges are puffed up nicely. 

Meanwhile, wash and cut your courgettes lengthways into thin slices. Put a frying pan on a high heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Peel and chop the garlic cloves finely and then add to the pan. Fry the garlic for a few minutes and then add in the slices of courgette and fry until they are tender and start to take on some colour (you may have to do this in batches.) Once you have cooked the courgette slices, lay them on a piece of kitchen towel on a plate in order to soak up any excess liquid. 

Once the pastry is baked, remove it from the oven and top with half the feta cheese, crumbled over the pastry. 
Then lay over your courgette slices, overlapping each one slightly. Top with the tomatoes, fresh mint and basil, olives and the remainder of the feta cheese. Grate over the zest of 1 lemon and some parmesan cheese. 


Drizzle over a little olive oil and then return to the oven to cook for another 15-20 minutes until the cheese has melted slightly and the tomatoes are caramelised. 



Let it cool slightly before cutting into big wedges and serve with a big green salad, lentils or new potatoes. 






Curry's blog post: http://techtalk.currys.co.uk/cooking-home-appliances/the-currys-student-cookbook-perfect-recipes-for-beginning-a-new-term/

22 August 2014

Sweet potato brownies with pecans and a toasted marshmallow frosting




In need of something gooey, fluffy, sticky and sweet?
Well then say hello to these sweet potato and pecan brownies topped with a pillowy layer of marshmallow frosting- (slightly toasted of course!)
(Yes it may create a bit of a messy marshmallow explosion in your kitchen but then thats part of the fun of baking!)









I'm a big fan of the blog Deliciously Ella - it's such a good source of inspiration filled with really healthy but super tasty recipes. Ella has a great attitude towards food and all her recipes are gluten free and free from refined sugars which is great if you're looking for a tasty recipe without all the guilt and health problems that come with too much refined sugar, wheat and bad fats.

Inspired by Ella's sweet potato brownies and a recipe I recently came across for butternut squash cake, I decided to have a go at my own take on her brownies, adapting the recipe and topping it with a squidy and sticky toasted marshmallow frosting. Yes- these brownies are a healthier version of my normal recipe but then as a tea time treat I couldn't resist topping them with something sweet and delicious- and who can resist the smell of marshmallow frosting slowly toasting under the grill?!! (It's like the best bit of a campfire without the sogging, sleep-deprived camping bit!)
The frosting is actually way easier than it sounds- the basic recipe is a bit like Italian meringue and is cooked over a pan of simmering water.


Ingredients: (to make 10-12 brownies)

2 medium sweet potatoes (700g peeled weight)
225g dates
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla paste (not flavouring or extract- you need the real stuff here!)
1.25tsp ground cinnamon
100g ground almonds
75g rice flour
75g pecans
4 tablespoons cocoa powder (or raw cacao if you have some!)
3 tablespooons runny honey
Pinch of salt

For the frosting:

4 large egg whites
200g caster sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
2tsp vanilla paste

Blowtorch or hot grill


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.

Peel your sweet potatoes and chop into rough chunks.


Steam the sweet potato chunks over a medium-high heat for 20 minutes or so until soft and tender.



Remove from the heat and add the sweet potato to a blender along with the dates, honey and vanilla.
Blitz until smooth and creamy. Let the mixture cool slightly before you blitz in the egg.


In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, ground almonds, ground cinnamon, cocoa, salt and the pecans, roughly chopped.




Then pour the sweet potato mix into the dry ingredients and mix well- if it is too stiff to mix by hand, then use an electric whisk. The mixture will be quite dense and sticky but this is fine.

Grease and line a rectangular baking tray with greaseproof paper. Pour in the mixture and smooth over with a metal palette knife. Bake in the oven for around 20-25 minutes until firm and a knife, when inserted into the brownie, comes out clean. 
Cool on a wire cooling rack and then cut into squares. 


To make the frosting, add the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar to a heat-proof bowl. Mix together with an electric whisk until combined. Then place the bowl over a pan of simmering water on a medium heat (make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water.) Whisk the mixture over the heat with a balloon whisk continuously until it reaches 120 f on a thermometer (or hot to the touch- it will take around 5-6 minutes to get to this point.) At this stage the sugar should have all dissolved and the mixture should be slightly thicker and more pillowy. Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk with the electric whisk on full speed for another 4-5 minutes until the mixture forms glossy and stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla paste for another 1 minute. 


Then using a palette knife, top each square of brownie with a generous layer of the marshmallow frosting. 



Use a fork to create little peaks on top of each one and then grill the brownies in batches under a hot grill for 15-30 seconds until the marshmallow begins to toast and turns a golden brown colour. 




Then dig in!! (campfire sing-a-long optional)



PS: If you have any of the frosting mix left over, you could make a mini lemon meringue pie using a pastry base, lemon curd as the filling and then pipe over the frosting. Then put the whole thing under the grill for a few minutes to brown the top. (or you could just sandwich the marshmallow mix in between two digestive biscuits- YUM!)

Adapted from: http://deliciouslyella.com/recipe/vegan-sweet-potato-brownies-gluten-free/
Frosting recipe inspired by http://www.chow.com/recipes/30784-marshmallow-frosting