Saturday 26 January 2013

Creamy & Comforting Macaroni Blue Cheese

Ugh! I am so sick and fed up with all the snow! In Sheffield, I live on the top of a hill which I have discovered means you are very open and exposed to the elements, especially snow. Come Monday, I will have been surrounded by snow permanently for 2 whole weeks. Snow lasting that long is not fun and means my dead-end-road estate where I live has turned into an ice rink. Yesterday was the first time in 9 days that I have been able to get my car out of its parking spot. Not only is it a long way down a dead end road (meaning no gritters have been along it and no through traffic) but it’s also on a steep slope. Every time I’ve attempted to move my car it just skidded and wheel spun. It’s not been a matter of driving slowly, I couldn’t actually get up the incline. I was so overjoyed at being able to drive it free yesterday, and not have to use public transport to get to work. My joy didn’t last as I came out of work yesterday evening to find more snow falling – more?!? This morning I woke to find we’d had another 4 inches overnight – ARGH! Thankfully it’s a lot warmer today, a tropical 2C, meaning the snow is beginning to melt – hurrah!

Anyway…all this cold and snowy weather has meant I have been in the mood for comfort food this week. Macaroni cheese is one dish that definitely makes the grade. However, it can sometimes take rather a long time to make, not ideal when you get in cold, tired and soggy. This macaroni cheese takes only minutes to put together, as bypassed making a proper cheesy béchamel sauce and instead used a quick dust with flour, add milk and stir in lots of gooey cheese method.

I discovered an unopened wedge of blue stilton in the fridge and decided to make a blue cheese sauce for my macaroni cheese. Stilton always makes me think of Christmas so I decided to pair it with a few sprouts I had (bought recently, not leftover from Christmas!) and a few other veg. These were simply sautéed in a pan rather than boiling them, which I think gives them a lovely flavour and helps retain some of their freshness and crunch.

From start to finish it was only 15 minutes before I was happily tucking in. I ended up making rather a mountain of it with intentions to save a bit back for later, but I devouring the lot. The tang and saltiness from the stilton went so well with the sweet shallots and sautéed sprouts, with everything being coated in the creamy thick tangy sauce. Delicious and just what’s needed on a cold snowy day. I’ve given only a vague recipe below, as it’s more a case of following a general method rather than weighing out ingredients.

Anyone else have any comforting meals they always crave on cold snowy days?

Creamy & Comforting Macaroni Blue Cheese
Gluten free macaroni pasta*
5 sprouts per person
1 tbsp frozen peas or broad beans per person
1 shallot per person (use an onion for more than 3)
2 large florets cauliflower per person
½ tbsp sunflower oil
½ tsp French mustard
2 tsp gluten free flour (cornflour, gf mix, anything goes)
Freshly ground pepper
20g stilton cheese per person
100ml milk per person

Heat a large pan of water and add the macaroni pasta. Stir and cook according to packet instructions (I always give mine a couple of minutes less than stated, especially for gluten free pasta)
Meanwhile, heat a frying pan with the oil.
Roughly dice and shallot and add to the pan to soften.
Remove the outer leaves from the sprouts, if necessary, and then slice into quarters. Cut down through the stalk each time, so that the pieces remain intact.
Add the sprouts to the pan with the shallot.
Chop the cauliflower into small bites size pieces and add to the pan.
Cook until everything is softened and starting to take on a little colour.
Add the peas or broad beans when there is only one minute left on the pasta.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain it, leaving a small amount of the cooking water behind.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables in the pan and stir to evenly coat. Add the milk and mustard and stir quickly so the flour combines with the milk to produce a sauce.
Crumble in the blue cheese and stir gently to combine. Allow to simmer for 1 minute until the sauce is thickened.
Season with pepper, you won’t need salt as the cheese is very salty.
Add your cooked pasta to the pan, along with 1 tbsp of the reserved cooking water.
Stir to coat everything evenly and allow to bubble until thickened or add a little extra milk if too thick.
Serve straight away with a little more blue cheese crumbled on top.
Eat and enjoy.
Recipe easily scaled up to feed more people

Note: * I’ve never found gluten free macaroni pasta in the shops, but you can but it online. Otherwise you can use penne or any other shape you like.

Sunday 20 January 2013

The Cake Slice January 2013: Banana Cake with Coffee Walnut Buttercream

I was intrigued when this cake was voted as this months bake. Banana and walnut cake is a classic and so is coffee and walnut, but banana, coffee and walnut was not something I had come across before.

The cake was a plain banana cake, with the coffee and walnut coming in via a smooth meringue based frosting to which you add a nutty coffee spiked puree. I love meringue based buttercreams like this as they are silky smooth and creamy without the usual grittiness you can sometimes get from the more traditional butter and icing sugar buttercreams.

The recipe made a triple layer cake which was far too much for me, so I halved the recipe and baked them as cupcakes instead. You can see from the photos that the walnuts on top of my cupcakes look suspiciously like pecans, which is because they are! Having just bought a bag of pecans I decided to use those instead of walnuts in the buttercream, the flavour combinations still worked together well.

Things got off to a bad start when my digital scales ran out of batteries half way through weighing gout the cake ingredients. It needed a big rectangle battery which I didn’t have. I improvised with a coffee mug and tried to work out American measurements which seemed to work ok. I then didn’t have a sugar thermometer for measuring the temperature of the meringue for the buttercream, and to top it all when I added my nutty coffee concoction to the fluffy mounds of frosting the buttercream split and went very runny. Argh!

I put the buttercream in the fridge for several hours and thankfully it seemed to come together but not quite as light and fluffy as it should do. It tasted divine though, so silky, it just melted in the mouth. I really liked the boozy coffee nutty flavour too (yes there is booze in the buttercream too!)

The cake part however I found slightly disappointing. The cakes were quite dense and closely textured and only had the faintest flavour of banana. I made sure to use ripe bananas too. The super soft and creamy frosting made up for the slightly bland cake though. The cakes were quite moist, but by the following day I found them to be a little dry.
I’m pleased I tried the recipe but I wouldn’t make them again. I love the idea of the boozy nutty coffee cream though, so will try and use these flavours together another time. Click here to see the other Cake Slice Bakers banana cakes

Banana Cake with Coffee Walnut Buttercream
(Recipe from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson)
Banana Cake
375g gluten free plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 ripe mashed bananas (around 270g peeled weight)
170ml buttermilk
240g butter
420g caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
4 eggs

Coffee Walnut Buttercream
120g toasted walnuts (I used pecans)
50ml corn syrup (I used golden syrup)
50ml Bourbon (I used amaretto)
2 tbsp instant espresso powder
6 egg whites
260g caster sugar
¼ tsp cream of tartar
440g butter, cut into small cubes
2 tsp vanilla extract

Banana Cake
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line 3 x 8inch round cake tins.
Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and set on one side. In a small bowl mix together the mashed banana, vanilla and buttermilk and set to one side.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.
Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with half the banana buttermilk mixture in-between each flour addition.
Divide the batter evenly between the three cake tin and smooth out the surface.
Bake for 28-30 minutes until the cakes spring back when lightly pressed. Allow the cakes to cool in their tins for 30 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Coffee Walnut Buttercream
Start by making a nut paste. Puree the toasted walnuts in a food processor until they begin to form a paste. Add the corn syrup, bourbon and espresso and puree until combined. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Now make the buttercream. Lightly whisk the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar together in a large heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes white, thick and sticky. It should read 55C/130F on a sugar thermometer.
Remove the bowl from the heat and whisk using an electric mixer, until the mixture has tripled in volume, become glossy and holds a stiff peak. Reduce the whisking speed and continue to beat until the mixture is cool to the touch.
Once cool, keep whisking while slowly dropping in small cubes of the butter. Keep beating until it is all combined.
Add the vanilla and your pre-prepared nut espresso mixture and beat thoroughly to combine.
It can now be used to decorate your cake or covered with clingfilm and left in the fridge for up to two days. If refrigerated, bring the mixture back to room temperature before lightly whisking and using.

To assemble the cake, lay one of the cakes, top side up on a serving plate. Spread over around one-fifth of your buttercream and top with another cake layer. Spread this with another fifth of your buttercream and top with the final cake layer.
Use the rest of the frosting to cover the top and sides of your cake.
For a neater finish, allow only a thin crumb coat of buttercream to the outside of the cake before placing in the fridge of firm up for 30 minutes. Then cover the cake with a thicker layer of buttercream.
Store in the fridge. Makes 1 x triple layer 8inch cake.

I halved the cake recipe above and ended up with 10 cupcakes. The cake mix doesn’t rise much, so you can fill the paper cases almost to the rim.
I then used only a third of the buttercream recipe to decorate my cupcakes. I also substituted pecans in place of the walnuts.
My buttercream split when I added the nut espresso mixture, but I placed it in the fridge for two hours and then gave it a quick mix before using. It wasn’t perfect, but it did hold together

Sunday 13 January 2013

Smokey Bean Pasties

Brrr it’s suddenly got very cold this weekend and snow is predicted tonight and tomorrow. I hope it’s not too icy, I don’t want my driveway turning into an ice rink again!

I was out in town yesterday, wrapped up against the cold wind and walked past a pasty shop that was wafting out the most delicious and mouthwatering aromas. Warm, buttery and savoury. I couldn’t help but stop and gaze longing in the window. No, I’m not talking about the popular high street chain beginning with G! This is a proper pasty shop, where you can see them baking off the pasties throughout the day. They do about 10 different varieties, including three veggie ones and my favourite always used to be the three bean pasty in a crisp wholemeal pastry crust. During my student days I used to like treating myself to one every so often, sadly they are now off the menu as I have to eat GF.

I walked away feel a bit dejected, but then remembered the smokey bean chili I made a few weeks ago, of which I had a few pots stashed away in the freezer. I decided to try recreating my favourite pasty at home. I can make my own GF pastry, so why should I miss out on a pasty!?

Once home I defrosted a portion of the bean chili and set to work making my pastry. I added a little white teff flour to the mix which gives a lovely savoury nutty flavour. I was a little nervous about filling my pasties, but I used a sheet of clingfilm to help me lift, shape and press my pastry rounds into pasties, which worked well.

I was worried they would crack and ooze their filling while in the oven, but they behaved perfectly and I ended up with 3 very large pasties. Hurrah! They were so tasty with the smokey bean filling, especially with a dollop of tomato chilli chutney on the side. It was smiles all round for tea!

I’ve since been thinking that you could use all sorts of fillings or leftovers in a pasty format – leftover Indian veg curry with a few crushed Bombay potatoes sounds particularly appealing! You can always make a pie if the idea of individual pasties sounds a bit too fiddly. Haha once again missing gluten doesn’t mean missing out!

Smokey Bean Pasties
Smokey Bean chili or filling of your choice
85g butter
150g gluten free plain flour
50g white teff flour
1 egg
½ tsp xanthan gum
2 tbsp water

Mix the flours and xanthan gum together in a bowl to combine.
In a separate bowl, add your butter, (it should be soft, if not blast it in the microwave for a few seconds) along with half the flour mixture, the egg and 1 tablespoon of the water. Beat with a spoon or spatula to form a paste. (Yes I know this goes against all traditional pastry making!) Add the rest of the flour and bring the mixture together to form a dough, switching to your hands at the end. Add a little more water if it seems dry. Knead the dough gently for 1 minute to ensure everything is well combined.
Cut the dough into 3 or 4 pieces depending on if you want to make 5inch or 6inch long pasties.
Roll out each piece of pastry between two large sheets of clingfilm to form a rough circle shape. It should be around 4mm thick.  Peel off the top layer of clingfilm and cut out a round circle, using a small plate or bowl as a template.
Set the pastry circle, still on the base layer of clingfilm aside and gather up any off cuts of pastry. Add the pastry off cuts to the next pasty segment and repeat the rolling and circle cutting until you have your 3 0r 4 pastry discs.
Take a general spoonful of your chosen filling and place it on one side of your pastry circle, about 2cm in from the edge.
Flip the plain pastry half over the top of your filling, using the clingfilm to help you maneuver it. Press down firmly around the edge to crimp and seal the filling inside. Carefully transfer the pasty to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, removing the base layer of clingfilm. Repeat until you have 3 or 4 pasties.
Brush the top of the pasties with milk and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until nicely golden brown.
Allow to cool on the tray for 10 minutes before serving, or transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Freeze or eat on day of baking
Makes 3 – 4 pasties

Note: You can use any filling you like as long as it is quite a thick mixture and will cook in the 35-30 minute oven bake. You could also just make one large pie if you don’t want to worry about making individual pasties. Other flavours could include:
Potato, onion and cheese
Garlic Mushrooms (cooked) with paprika in a thick béchamel sauce
Roasted squash, feta, chili and mint
Leftover Indian curry with a few crushed Bombay potatoes!

Sunday 6 January 2013

Homemade Dehydrated Fruit Crisps

For Christmas my Grandmother gave me a food dehydrator. Some people may consider this a strange present or think that she was trying to prepare me for some global event that meant I had to preserve my own food, but to me this was a fabulous present. My grandmother shares my love of fruit and knows I enjoy dried fruit too, both to snack on and bake with. She also knows how I love kitchen gadgets and experimenting in the kitchen. This way I get to experiment making my own dried fruit!

The machine works by layering up tiers of fruit slices on slatted racks which allows the air to circulate. You can then set the machine to a chosen temperature and leave it to heat up and circulate the hot air around the fruit slices. The water in the fruit is evaporated off, leaving you with your very own homemade dried fruit. No preservatives or extra sugar required meaning they are super healthy.

I decided to start things off simply, by dehydrating some slices of apple and pear. The machine comes with a little booklet advising on drying times and temperatures but didn’t state how thick or thin and slices needed to be. I decided on fairly thin slices and then left the machine to do its thing.

A few hours later they were done. I may have cut my slices a little too thinly as they were a little thin and crisp, rather than soft and chewy. However, they were packed full of flavour, as the fruits natural sugars and juices intensified as they dried. On eating, they become wonderfully chewy. I had some on my cereal this morning and it made a lovely addition to the nuts and raisin already in the mix. I’ve put the rest in a container on my kitchen table and keep snacking on them every time I walk past. They’re addictive, like fruit crisps. My favourite is the pear, the flavour is just so intense.

Next time I’m going to try large chunks and slices to see if I can get some squashier fruit chunks. I’m also longing to try some dehydrated veg chips - carrots, beetroot etc. I tried kale chips at a food show once; they were horrendously experience, now I can make my own – ohhh the possibilities!! Thanks Grandma, you know me so well!