Wednesday 30 June 2010

Insanely Delicious Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

The joys of peanut butter cookies have been discussed by many bloggers in recent months, and as nice as they sounded I wasn’t in any particular hurry to try them out myself. They seem on first glance quite a simple plain cookie, I was sure they would be nice, but nothing that special. Oh how wrong I was!

A few weeks ago I was hunting for a simple cookie recipe to bake and send to my brother who was sitting his first year exams at university. Everyone knows what horrible things exams are and how much of a treat a break from revision is with a tasty snack. While browsing some blogs for inspiration I stumbled across the flourless peanut butter cookie recipe again and decided now would be the ideal time to try them out. Packed with nutrient rich peanut butter, sweet, simple and very post-able they fit the brief perfectly.

They were so quick and easy to put together that in a matter on minutes the creamy nutty aroma of hot peanut butter was filling the kitchen. When I opened the oven door I got a faceful of the steam and it was so intensely peanut-buttery that I began to think these cookies might be a lot more special than they first appeared.

I could hardly wait for them to cool down to try one. They had a craggily surface appearance and were lightly golden and crisp around the edges but stayed gorgeously soft and chewy in the centre. So chewy in fact that you could bend one almost in half before it broke in two!

The flavour was delicious – insanely delicious. The peanut flavour seemed to blossom and grow with each bite. They are in fact one of the best cookies I have ever made/tasted!! They don’t lack anything by being flourless, they are still quite a substantial cookie.

I sent a stack of 10 of them off to my brother and I got a text from him two days later saying they were all gone and could he have some more! Even my sister who hates peanut butter came back for a second one. They have to be tasted to be believed.

Insanely Delicious Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies
(Recipe adapted from Joy The Baker blog)
170g smooth peanut butter
80g caster sugar
80g light soft brown sugar
1 egg
1tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with a silicone mat or parchment paper and set to one side.
In a large bowl, beat together the peanut butter and both the sugars using an electric mixer until well combined (it will be quite stiff).
Add the egg and beat again to incorporate before beating in the baking powder.
Take slightly heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll into small balls. (Don’t worry if the mixture appears a little greasy, it’s just the nut oils in the peanut butter).
Place the dough balls 5cm/2inches apart on the prepared baking tray. Use the back of a fork to slightly flatten the cookies and give the indent of the fork tines.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes until lightly golden brown around the edges, but still soft in the middle. (If you like a crisper cookie, bake for 12 minutes rather than 10)
Allow to cool for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. They should crisp up around the edges but stay deliciously soft and chewy in the middle.
Makes 18-24 cookies
Store in an airtight container and eat within 4-5 days (this won’t be a problem!)

Thursday 24 June 2010

Rum & Raisin Cheesecake

Rum and raisin ice cream is my dad’s favourite ice cream flavour. You can’t buy it very easily in the supermarkets here, but whenever we come across a special ice cream shop on holiday rum & raisins is usually his flavour of choice. This year for Fathers Day I decided I wanted to incorporate rum & raisin into a dessert especially for him. My first thought was cake, but we’ve been eating a lot of cake recently and I wanted to do something a bit different. I soon came around to the idea of incorporating the flavours into a cheesecake, which seemed particularly fitting as the creaminess of the cheesecake would represent the creaminess of his favourite ice cream.

I searched the internet for recipes but found a lack of rum & raisin cheesecake recipes and so instead I decided to adapt a divine looking cheesecake recipe I spied a few weeks ago on Smitten Kitchen with my own flavours. First off was soaking the raisins in lots of rum. I used amber rum, mainly because it was all we had in the cupboard, but I think it was a good choice. Not too sweet nor too sharp or bitter. I left the raisins seeping in the rum for two days, by which time they became wonderfully plump and glossy.

The biscuit base consisted of crushed chocolate bourbon biscuits, crème filling and all. I thought their dark colour would add a nice contrast to the pale creamy cheesecake filling. To create a two toned effect decided to add some melted dark chocolate to the sour cream topping, sandwiching the rum raisin filling inside the dark top and base layers. I love the finished look this created and I think it helped keep the sweetness and strength of the raisins and rum in check.

How did it taste? A-maze-ing!! You have to try it to believe it. The cheesecake was silky smooth and incredibly creamy and the fruity stickiness of the raisins seemed to have permeated the whole cheesecake, being quite subtle in the cheesecake on its own but when eaten with a plump boozy raisin the flavour just exploded in your mouth. I added a little date syrup to the mix to enhance the treacle-iness of the raisins which I think helped. The rum was very strong and apparent on first bite, flooding your mouth with flavour; then the creaminess from the cheesecake swooped in and left you with a smooth luxurious aftertaste with the cocoa bitterness of the biscuits and topping helping to tone it down. The flavours really came in layers, it was addictive and more importantly my dad loved it.

The rest of the family don’t like rum so they weren’t so keen, but as I made it for my dad I didn’t mind – plus it means all the more for us!! (I can’t work out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing!?!) If you don’ like rum I’m sure it would taste equally wonderful with an orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier.

(Apologies for the photos, they don’t do it justice. The sun was going down and making everything come out orange with funny shadows – grrr)

Rum & Raisin Cheesecake
For the rum soaked raisins
70g raisins
4 tbsp (60ml) Amber rum

For the cheesecake filling
200g Chocolate bourbon biscuits
50g butter
600g cream cheese
180g caster sugar
1½ tbsp plain flour
3 eggs
1 tbsp date syrup (or ½ tbsp molasses)
The rum soaked raisins

For the chocolate sour cream topping
300ml sour cream
50g dark chocolate

To serve
100ml double cream

Place the raisins in a small bowl and cover with the rum. Cover the top of the bowl with clingfilm and leave for 24-48 hours to allow the raisins to plump up and absorb most of the rum.
On the day you want to bake the cheesecake, line the base of an 8inch deep springform tin with parchment paper or wrap the base of a ring mould with clingfilm.
Now prepare the biscuit base. Place the bourbon biscuits, crème filling and all, into a food processer. Blitz until the biscuits are broken down and resemble fine crumbs. Warm the butter in the microwave until soft but not melted. Add to the biscuit crumbs and blitz again to incorporate.
Tip the crumbs into the base of the tin and press down firmly to form an even layer. Place in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling.
Preheat the oven to 175C. Beat the cream cheese and sugar together until no lumps remain and the cream cheese is soft and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scatter over the flour and date syrup and beat again to incorporate.
Finely fold in the rum soaked raisins and any remaining rum juices, keeping 1 tablespoon of raisins back for later.
Place your tin on a sturdy baking tray. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the biscuit base and smooth out if necessary. Scatter the few reserved raisins over the top and bake for 45-50 minutes. The cheesecake should be puffed up and slightly cracked around the edges, but still wobbly in the centre.
At this point remove the cheesecake form the oven but leave the oven at temperature. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes while you prepare the sour cream topping.
Melt the chocolate in the microwave. Add the sour crème and fold together quickly into a chocolate cream before the chocolate starts to set.
By now the top of your cheesecake should have relaxed and flattened out. Pour the chocolate sour cream mixture over the top of the cheesecake and return it to the oven for a further 12-15 minutes. The topping will still look quite soft, but it will firm up on cooling.
Remove the cheesecake from the oven and leave to cool for 1½-2 hours before refrigerating for at least 4 hours.
When ready to serves, run a hot knife in-between the edge of the cheesecake and the tin and release it from the tin. Use a large flat fish slice spatula to remove the base and transfer the cheesecake to a serving plate.
Whip the double cream until soft peaks form and then pipe around the edge of the cheesecake using a star nozzle, or any other nozzle you fancy.
Serve in generous slices.

Note: This cheesecake is not really suitable for children as the rum flavour seeps into the whole cheesecake and remains quite boozy and evident.

Sunday 20 June 2010

The Cake Slice June 2010: Shenandoah Valley Blueberry Cake

After my doubt of salads it is high time I return to the main source of recipe inspiration on this blog – cakes, bakes and other sweet treats! To welcome me back to my love affair with baking I have for you this months Cake Slice cake.

The winning cake this month is Shenandoah Valley Blueberry Cake. A simple yet delicious tray bake cake studded with blueberries – originally made with blueberries from the Shenandoah Valley in America, but blueberries from anywhere – fresh or frozen will work equally well. I used some lovely fresh blueberries I picked up in a local Bedford market so really I should call it Bedford Blueberry Cake – it’s got a good ring to it anyway.

This cake is quite plain and simple to look at, is syrup and frosting-less and contains no vanilla, lemon or other flavouring in the cake itself, relying on blueberries for its stand alone flavour. While I applaud this simplistic approach I was slightly disappointed in the finished cake. If you got a mouthful compete with a big juicy blueberry then the flavour was wonderful, but on its own it seemed to lack that extra something special. I felt it was crying out for a bit of lemon zest or vanilla in the cake and could have done with being served with a blob of yoghurt and a drizzle of lemon curd to bring it alive. However, the author suggests eating this cake for breakfast or even as a midnight snack(!!) so maybe a plain cake is appropriate in this case.

The batter for this cake is very thick and dense and I was worried I was going to end up with a heavy, thin cake so I was very happy when it rose well and baked into a lightly textured cake. It was also one of the quickest cake to put together I have ever made. I should think it was in the oven and baking in under 20 minutes and as its recommended to eat it while still warm it’s the ideal cake to have up your sleeve for any unexpected guests who might suddenly phone to ask if “it would be alright if they just popped by to say hello” You could have this baked and ready for them when they arrived and leave them feeling you are the ultimate domestic goddess. Served with a little lemon curd, a few extra berries and a dusting of icing sugar this cake could easily be a winner.

It’s also Fathers Day today and as I knew this post was coming up today, after baking and sampling a small slice I gave this cake to my Dad as a sort of early treat. He said it was great with a cuppa and a blog of cream. Happy Fathers Day Dad!

Shenandoah Valley Blueberry Cake
(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)
200g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
65g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
1 egg
75ml milk
100g fresh or frozen blueberries (do not thaw)

Heat the oven to 170C and generously grease a 9 inch square or round pan.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and stir with a fork to mix well. In a medium bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat with a mixer at high speed until well combined. Add the egg and beat well for 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl until the mixture is smooth and light.
Stir in half the flour mixture then half the milk, mixing just enough to keep the batter fairly smooth and well combined. Add the remaining flour, then the rest of the milk, mixing gently. Stir in the blueberries.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is golden, springs back when touched gently in the centre and is pulling away from the sides of the pan.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then turn it out to cool, top side up. Serve a slice of cake right from the pan, warm or at room temperature.
Makes 1 x 9inch single layer cake

Monday 14 June 2010

Greek Salad

This is the final salad of the 5 salad theme. I have made Greek salad once before on this blog, but it is such a delicious yet simple dish that I couldn’t resist sharing it with you again. When made with real creamy Greek feta cheese, sun ripened tomatoes, olives, lemon and fresh oregano it captures the taste of Mediterranean summers. It makes use of all the Mediterranean colours too, red, white and green, which look beautiful together.

It’s zesty, juicy, salty, creamy, fresh, crisp, fragrant…in a word delicious. What more could you want on a summers day?

One of the things I like best about this salad is how it matures and develops in flavour when made a few hours or even a day in advance. All the juices slowly seep out of the fruits and vegetables, mingling with the herbs, lemon, olive oil and the saltiness from the feta creating its own dressing. It’s also highly versatile and tastes great eaten on its own or served in pita bread, with baguettes, a topping for a jacket potato or even used as a filling for a tart. Next time you have need of a salad I urge you to give this one a go.

Greek Salad
200g Greek feta cheese
½ cucumber
200g cherry or small tomatoes
1 small red onion
100g black olives
1 lemon, zest only
1 tbsp fresh or 2tsp dried oregano
2½ tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Start by preparing all your ingredients ready for layering.
Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds using a teaspoon to create little boat shapes. Slice them into 5mm thick crescent slices.
Drain the whey from the feta cheese and pat dry using some kitchen roll before cutting into small cubes. Slice the tomatoes into halves or quarters, size dependant, along with the black olives.
Peel, cut in half and very thinly slice the red onion, as thin as you can. Finely grate the zest of the lemon onto a chopping board for ease of sprinkling later. Do the same with the oregano.
Arrange a third of the tomatoes, feta, olives, red onion and cucumber over the base of your serving dish. Scatter over a third of the lemon zest, oregano and a light dusting of freshly milled pepper.
Drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil over the top and repeat the process with another third of the ingredients, followed by another spoonful of oil and the rest of the ingredients. Drizzle with a little extra oil and cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.
I find Greek salad tastes best if made a few hours or even a day before you need it to allow time for the flavours to develop and meld. All the vegetables release their juices and create their own delicious lemony, herby, fresh tasting dressing if left for half a day or more.
Serves 6 – 8 as an accompaniment. Perfect served with a picnic or BBQ.

Here’s a photo of all the five salads together – so colourful and summery! Now we just need the warmer weather back again to enjoy them.

Friday 11 June 2010

Potato Salad with Mustard Dressing

Salad number 4 of 5. This is such a simple but delicious salad, well its not really a salad apart from you would serve it with other salads. I always think this is a bit odd, as even the potato salads you get covered in mayonnaise - that have never seen a salad leaf in their life is called ‘salad’ and potatoes don’t even count as a fruit or veg portion – oh well just one of those things. Anyway, this salad is lighter and more summery than a mayonnaise potato salad, which I often find a little rich. It makes use of a very simple mustard dressing and is also tossed with some mustardy, garlicky scented herbs such cress and chives, which work brilliantly with potatoes without being overpowering. The streaks of green they add make it look even more appetising too.

I’ve used wholegrain mustard for this dressing as it’s slightly milder than a Dijon mustard and often more vinegary, which works so well with potatoes, sort of like adding vinegar to your chips I suppose. I also enjoy how the whole mustard seeds pop when you bite down on them, releasing their mustard pungency. However, I’m sure other types of mustard would work well too, so use whichever one is your favourite. The most important thing to remember when making this salad is to add the dressing to the potatoes while they are still hot, as this allows the vinegary, mustard, garlic flavours to be absorbed into the potatoes. Makes a great addition to a picnic or BBQ spread and can be eaten hot or cold.

Potato Salad with Mustard Dressing
400g new potatoes
2 spring onions
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Small handful of fresh cress
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
½ tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp water

Wash the potatoes, but there is no need to peel them. Cut any particularly large ones in half but leave the rest whole. Boil them until tender.
Meanwhile, finely slice the chives and spring onions into 5mm pieces and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the mustard, olive oil and water together to form a runny paste.
Once the potatoes have cooked, drain them and then return them to the hot pan. While still very hot, pour over the mustard dressing and add the chives, cress and spring onions. Replace the lid on the pan and toss everything together to ensure the potatoes get coated in the dressing. Leave the lid on until the potatoes have cooled down slightly, about 15-20 minutes, before serving warm. Also tastes delicious cold the next day.
Serves 6-8

NOTE: Adding the dressing to the potatoes while they are still hot is important, as this allows them to absorb all the flavours from the mustard and herbs.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Moroccan Style Chickpea Salad

Chickpeas are not just for houmous, they can also be the building block for some great salads. Their soft and subtle flavour works well with other foods while easily absorbing any flavours or dressings you throw at it. In this instance it was intense sun dried tomatoes, smoky paprika and fiery harissa with just a hint of cumin. All these flavours work together well and remind me of my holiday to Morocco a few years ago, when the air was hot, and filled with the scent of smoke and spices.

I kept with the Moroccan theme by roasting aubergine, pepper and red onion to accompany the chickpeas. I also added in some sweetcorn, which I admit is not very traditional, but it added a little crunch and brightness to the dish.

Adding fruit, usually dried fruits, to savoury dishes is also very common in this culture, typically apricots, dates and prunes. I wanted to add some apricots to my salad and decided to use fresh, rather than dried ones. However, when I was shopping for ingredients I wasn’t able to find any, but I did come across some very nice smelling peaches, so I decided to use those instead. This turned out to be a very good substitution as they added a fruity sweetness to the dish without it being obviously fruit, particularly once it had absorbed some of the red dressing.

This was probably my family’s favourite of the five salads I made. It was sweet, spicy, smoky, fruity with a wonderful mix of colours and textures from the vegetables. After the first few hours everything ended up being glazed with an orange-red hue thanks to the smoky spicy dressing. This is the kind of salad that would bring sunshine to your day even if it’s raining outside.

Moroccan Style Chickpea Salad
1 aubergine
1 x 400g tin chickpeas
1 red pepper
1 red onion
4 tbsp sweetcorn
2 ripe peaches (or apricots)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste (not the same as tomato puree)
2 tsp harissa paste
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Dice the aubergine, red onion and pepper into 2cm cubes and place on a baking tray.
Mix the cumin and paprika with 1 tablespoon of the oil and drizzle over the prepared vegetables. Toss gently to ensure an even coating.
Bake for 40-50 minutes until softened and roasted. Stir after the first 20 minutes to ensure an even baking. Once baked, set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Drain the chickpeas and place into a large bowl along with the sweetcorn. Peel the furry skin off the peaches and cut into small cubes, add to the bowl with the chickpeas. Mix in the roasted veg and any of the juices collected on the tray.
Mix the remaining tablespoon of oil with the sun dried tomato paste, harissa and a little salt and pepper to season if desired.
Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Cover and leave the flavours to mingle and marinate for at least two hours before serving.
Serves 6

Saturday 5 June 2010

Pea, Bean & Mint Salad

This is the second of the five salads I made recently. I love the combination of lots of different peas and beans together. All the different shades of pastel green and creamy coloured beans are so pretty, and give a mingling of textures and flavours, very fresh and vibrant.

The broad beans, flageolets and marrowfat peas are soft and creamy while the asparagus and petit pois are naturally sweet with a slight al-dente bite. There is no need to cook the peas in any way; they are blanched before freezing and as they are so small that they soon thaw out. The mint and lemon infused olive oil is all the dressing they need and the two flavours complement the sweet peas and beans perfectly.

If you want to make the salad more substantial, it also tastes delicious with a few small cubes of feta cheese mixed in, but as this was one of many salads on offer, I didn’t think it was necessary this time.

Pea, Bean & Mint Salad
100g frozen petit pois peas
200g flageolet beans, tinned
100g broad beans, tinned
100g Marrowfat peas
6-8 spears of asparagus
2 tbsp fresh mint
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp coarse sea salt
½ lemon, zest

Steam or blanch the asparagus until it is slightly softened but still retains some crunch, about 2-4 minutes depending on size.
Remove the outer shell/skin from the broad beans. Do this by making a tiny slit in the top of the pod where the shell joins together, then squeeze the base of the bean and it should pop out of the skin.
Place the broad beans, frozen peas (no need to defrost, they thaw very quickly), flageolet beans and marrowfat peas into a bowl. Chop the blanched asparagus into 1inch chunks and add to the bowl.
Chop the mint and grind in a pestle and mortar with the sea salt and olive oil to infuse the oil with the mint.
Drizzle the minty oil (and the mint leaves) over the salad and finely grate over the zest of half a lemon. Mix gently, cover and allow to sit for at 2 hours before serving to so the flavours can infuse.
Serves 6 as a side dish

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Green Vegetable Salad with Roasted Beetroot & Goats Cheese

With the sunshine and warmer weather finally making an appearance it initiates the start of a new range of dishes – summery salads! Salads can be dull and boring, but a salad constructed with a little care and attention can easily be the star of the meal. The weekend before last when we had such lovely weather I decided to make some salads for the family to enjoy with dinner. I had so many ideas fighting for attention in my head that I went a little salad crazy and ended up making 5 different ones! Opps. Not that it mattered as it meant we then had leftovers for lunches for the next few days – and some salads seem to get better after a day or two when all the flavours have had time to mingle and marinate together. Now the sunshine is back again, for the next few posts I’m intending to share the summery salads with you. Allow me to introduce the first one - Green Vegetable Salad with Roasted Beetroot & Goats Cheese.

This is a wonderfully fresh and vibrant summer salad. Some of the veg is steamed to maintain its freshness while others are roasted to give a more intense depth of flavour. The hot veg is then added to fresh baby spinach leaves which allow them to wilt ever so slightly without going all soft and mushy. Some very fresh herb rolled goats cheese is then scattered on top, in striking contrast to the vibrant green, red and orange of the vegetables as well as being wonderfully creamy against their fresh crispness. The juices from the roasted veg are mixed with a simple balsamic dressing and a scattering of lemon zest to really bring the salad alive.

I love how the following day the goats cheese took on a mottled effect from the beetroots juices and the dressing. Simple, summery and oh so tasty.

Green Vegetable Salad with Roasted Beetroot & Goats Cheese
125g very young soft goats cheese (the one rolled in herbs is best)
4 cooked beetroot (not pickled)
1 carrot
2 courgettes
½ head broccoli
200g fresh young spinach
6 spears of asparagus
1 lemon – zest
3 sprigs lemon thyme
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Peel the carrot and cut into 1cm slices and the courgette into 1-2cm slices. Cut the beetroot into quarters or eights if they are very big. Arrange on a baking tray and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil and the sprigs of lemon thyme.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes until softened and golden brown. Stir and mix about half way through to ensure even cooking.
Meanwhile, cut the broccoli into florets and slice the asparagus into 3 on the diagonal to make long spear shaped pieces. Steam the broccoli and the asparagus for 3-4 minutes until softened and just tender, you want a bit of bite to remain.
Arrange the spinach leaves in the base of a large serving bowl. Scatter over the steamed broccoli and asparagus and the hot roasted veg. (This will make the spinach leaves wilt slightly and catch any juices given off from the veg.)
Grate over the zest of the lemon and toss gently.
Tear the goats cheese into small pieces and scatter over the top of the salad.
Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper and the balsamic vinegar together and drizzle over the top of the salad.
Serve with other salads or BBQ/picnic food and crusty bread.
Serves 6