Sunday 27 October 2013

Pumpkin Macaroni Cheese

After making the pumpkin doughnuts last week I had some pumpkin puree leftover. I ate a bit of it spread on toast (delicious with a pinch of cinnamon) but decided to use the rest to make something warm and comforting for dinner. What could be more warm and comforting than macaroni cheese? Only this macaroni cheese was given an extra autumnal twist from the earthy sweet pumpkin puree.

The sauce became a lovely golden orange colour when I added the pumpkin puree and produced an enticing roasted veg aroma. I grated in some freshly grated nutmeg which seemed to enhance the sweet nuttiness of the pumpkin. The puree itself somehow transformed the sauce from being delicious to something spectacular. It was so rich, creamy and velvety smooth that it tasted as though it had been made with cream, amazing considering the base was mainly vegetable puree.

Some people may be wondering what those little green speckles are in the macaroni cheese… they’re peas. I know adding peas to macaroni cheese is highly unconventional, but I love peas and think having a little freshness and pop from the peas, in contrast to the rich and creamy sauce is a welcome change, plus its colourful too. I’ve just thought, what with the sauce being pumpkin based and the addition of the peas, this macaroni cheese could almost be classed as healthy – not something you usually hear associated with macaroni cheese!

To serve, I spooned the pasta into deep bowls, topped with more cheese and gave them a quick bake in the oven. This created a golden and crisp top which I think is one of the best bits. It also adds another texture against the creamy stodgy (in a good way) sauce and pasta combo. The textures from crisp golden top, thick and creamy sauce and a little pop from the peas is delicious combination. The pumpkin had a wonderful flavour making the whole dish feel warming, autumnal and very comforting. This is perfect meal to enjoy curled up on the sofa as the rain lashes the windows outside.

Pumpkin Macaroni Cheese
20g butter
1 tbsp cornflour
130g pumpkin puree
300ml milk
2 handfuls grated cheddar cheese
100g frozen peas
Salt & pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
Gluten free macaroni pasta for 2 people
Preheat the oven to 200C
Cook some gluten free macaroni, enough for 2 people, in boiling water until it is al-dente.
Meanwhile, add the butter to a large saucepan and heat until melted. Add the cornflour and whisk until smooth and a paste is starting to form. Add the pumpkin puree and mix to combine.
Slowly whisk in the milk and allow to come to a simmer, stirring occasionally. It should start to thicken into a thick and creamy sauce.
Add a generous grating of fresh nutmeg and some salt and pepper.
Once the sauce is thickened and creamy, stir in the frozen peas and three-quarters of the grated cheese. Stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the drained gluten free pasta to the sauce and stir to coat.
Spoon into two deep bowls or one larger dish and scatter over the remaining cheese and a little extra nutmeg.
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden and crisp on top.
Eat and enjoy.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Baked Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Doughnuts

Tis the season for pumpkin and spice and all things nice. In the UK we have never really got into pumpkin based desserts like they have in America and most of the pumpkins sold in UK supermarkets around Halloween are grown purely for the purpose of carving into lanterns and are far too bland and watery for eating. Luckily it is now possible to buy tins of densely packed pumpkin puree which is rich in both colour and flavour and perfect for baking.

With that in mind, I decided to try my hand at making baked pumpkin doughnuts. Seeing as it’s been National Chocolate Week this last week (how did I miss that?!) I also included a few dark chocolate chips in the batter.

Pumpkin loves spices and so I used a mix of freshly grated nutmeg and mixed spice in the pumpkin batter as well as generously coating my still warm doughnuts in cinnamon sugar. The raw batter had the taste and aroma of a spiced gingerbread, only slightly more earthy. The pumpkin lent its own special mysterious sweet earthy flavour which was only enhanced by the spices.

Baked doughnuts are sturdier and a little more cakey than their yeasted, fried counterparts but when eaten warm, with their spiced sugar coating and little pockets of gooey melted chocolate chips they were fabulous. I loved the bright golden glow from the pumpkin and they were light and moist, reminiscent of a good carrot cake.

I discovered, like scones, they are best eaten on the day of baking or else freezing. I kept a few overnight and the next day they were denser and the cinnamon sugar has dissolved into the doughnut. They were still very moist and tasty, but needed a short blast in the microwave to refresh them. So I’d recommend either freezing them or else eat them all on the day you bake them – what a hardship!

What’s your favourite way to eat pumpkin? Oh and if you can’t find tinned pumpkin puree, a cooked and mashed sweet potato would be just as good, just don’t mash it with butter or milk!

Baked Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Doughnuts with Cinnamon Sugar
(Recipe adapted from The BiteSized Baker blog)
Pumpkin Doughnuts
150g brown rice flour
25g tapioca starch
15g potato starch or white cornflour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
75ml sunflower oil
100g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g (½ can) canned pumpkin puree (or mashed sweet potato)
110ml milk
40g dark chocolate chips

Cinnamon Sugar
50g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 175C. Grease two 6 holed doughnut pans and set aside.
For the cinnamon topping, combine the sugar and cinnamon together on a plate and set aside for use later.
For the doughnuts, in a medium bowl mix together the flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, brown sugar, egg, vanilla, pumpkin and milk until combined. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture and stir with a spatula until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips, do not over mix the batter.
Using a piping bag, fill each doughnut ring with the batter, until it reaches nearly to the rim.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until the doughnuts are lightly golden and look set. They should have a little spring when pressed. Leave to cool for 2 minutes before running a small knife around the edge and carefully lifting out of the pan. They will be a little fragile when still warm so be careful.
Toss the still hot doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar and place on a cooling rack. Alternatively leave until cool before topping with the glaze of your choice.
Delicious eaten when still warm. For best results, eat or freeze on day of baking.
Makes 10-11 doughnuts

Sunday 13 October 2013

Spicy Sweetcorn Soup

Autumn has definitely arrived. The leaves are turning red and golden, falling from the trees to be crunched underfoot. The nights are drawing in and the weather is turning cold and blustery. This weekend (so far) it has rained constantly and an icy wind is whistling past my windows. In weather like this it is the perfect time to stay snugly indoors and lock yourself away in the kitchen. I normally resort to baking but in such wet and windy weather I was craving a big bowlful of soup. There is no other food that is so comforting and warming on a cold day than soup. It seems to warm you from the inside out.

Root vegetable soups are one of my favourites, but it’s not quite cold enough yet for parsnips and other winter veg, so I decided to make use of a big bag of frozen sweetcorn and make sweetcorn soup. I’ve seen this on a few blogs in the past but ever attempted one myself. To give my soup an extra warming kick I spiced it up with a couple of green chillies, which lent a slow warming heat that lingered pleasantly rather than being a fiery heat.

I like my soups to be thick and smooth, but I also wanted a little texture and hit upon the idea of reserving some of the sweetcorn, chilli and red pepper to use as a topping. I fried it until it became toasted and bronzed and sprinkled it on the soup when serving. This worked well and I loved the look of the red, green and yellow colours together.

The soup was thick, creamy and comforting. The sweetcorn added a wonderful natural sweetness, while still being savoury. It’s so creamy you would almost suspect it had some cream stirred in at the end. Why not hug a big bowlful of this and snuggle up on the sofa for a lazy weekend? There are some perks to the rain.

Spicy Sweetcorn Soup
1 tbsp, plus 1 tsp oil
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
1 small potato
2 green chillies
1 red pepper
1½ pints vegetable stock
600g frozen sweetcorn
Salt and pepper

Start by reserving ½ green chilli, ¼ red pepper and 100g sweetcorn and set aside for toppings later.
Heat the 1 tbsp oil in a large pan. Peel and roughly chop the onion and garlic and add to the pan. Place the lid on and leave to sweat gently for a few minutes.
Peel and dice the potato. Cut the remaining 1½ green chillies into chunks (you can remove the seeds or leave them in for an extra kick). Add to the pan, stirring to ensure nothing is sticking to the base and cover with the lid once more.
Roughly chop the remaining ¾ red pepper and add to the pan and leave everything to cook for 10 minutes.
Stir in the vegetable stock and bring to the boil, before reducing to a simmer and then leaving to cook for 15-20 minutes, with the lid only slightly on the pan, until all the veg is softened.
Stir in the remaining 500g of sweetcorn and leave to cook for 5 minutes more.
Remove from the heat and blitz with a hand blender or in a liquidizer until smooth.
Return the soup to the pan over a low heat to keep warm while you make the topping.
Very finely dice the reserved green chilli and red pepper. Heat 1 tsp oil in a saucepan and add the chilli, red pepper and reserved 100g sweetcorn. Fry over a high heat until the sweetcorn is lightly bronzed and going golden at the edges. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into warm bowls and top each bowl with 1-2 tbsp of the toasted sweetcorn mix. Eat and enjoy.
Serves 4 generously

Sunday 6 October 2013

Chocolate Almond Brownie Bites

I was craving something chocolaty and fancied brownies but also fancied cookies too. In the end I decided to try and adapt a brownie recipe to make cookie shaped brownie bites.

I decided to make teeny tiny, bite sized brownie bites using a melon ball scoop to shape the cookies. To accommodate the smaller size, I halved the recipe and still ended up with 30 cookies! The original recipe used plain flour, but I replaced this with ground almonds and some cornflour to make them gluten free. I think this helped make them extra soft and fudgy, as they stayed wonderfully gooey.

Brownie batter does not naturally lend itself to being shaped into cookies, so after making the batter I chilled it in the fridge until firm, shaped it into balls, chilled again and then baked them with my fingers crossed. The intense chocolate aroma as they baked was intoxicating. They did spread out in the oven, but due to their teeny tiny size the top crust firmed up quickly enough to stop them oozing into a gooey mess, resulting in some seriously cute mini cookies.

They were far too soft to handle when straight out the oven, but just like brownies they firmed up on cooling and were just about sturdy enough to handle. They remained very soft but this made every gooey, rich chocolaty bite taste every bit as good as the fudgy middle of a brownie.

These are some intensely rich and chocolaty brownie bites, especially as they are studded with extra white chocolate chips for good measure. I loved their tiny size. They were so indulgent that I only needed 1 or 2 to satisfy my chocolate craving. I shared most of them with my boyfriend and the following day I received a text asking for another batch. They also taste amazing mushed into some soft vanilla ice cream!

Chocolate Almond Brownie Bites
50g ground almonds
15g cornflour
15g cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
100g dark chocolate
50g butter
50g caster sugar
25g light soft brown sugar
1 egg
100g white chocolate chips

Break the dark chocolate into pieces and cut the butter into small cubes. Place the chocolate and butter in the base of a large saucepan. Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the butter and chocolate has melted and combined.
Remove from heat and beat in the caster and brown sugar, followed by the egg.
Weigh out the ground almonds, cornflour, cocoa powder and baking powder and add to the pan. Beat until combined.
Pour the batter into a clean bowl before quickly folding in the white chocolate chips. Don’t do this too long or the chips will melt into the batter.
Place the bowl into the fridge to firm up for 30 minutes.
Once chilled, scoop out small balls of dough using a melon baller/scoop and place onto a cling film lined tray. Alternatively use a level teaspoon of mix and roll into a small ball. Cover the surface with clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill for 20-30minutes until firm.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180C and line two large baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Place half the cookie mounds onto one of the trays, one inch apart. Gently flatten the surfaces so they are level, but still remain very thick.
Bake for 6-7 minutes, they will still look soft and unbaked. Allow to cool on the tray until completely cold or else they will be too soft to handle. Once one tray is baked, repeat with the remaining brownie bites on the second tray.
Makes 30 mini brownie bite cookies