Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Chicken, Plums and Soy.

I am a bit of a fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The River Cottage books are superb from the River Cottage Cookbook to the encyclopedic tomes of Fish and Meat to the ever excellent Veg Everyday. The recent offering from Sir Hugh is Three Good Things of which a small sample of the recipes was given out in a newspaper a while back. Fellow blogger Clare at Feast and Glory tried out a sample of the recipes from this in her quest to use all her cookbooks. You can read her post here.

The first dish in her post appealed straight away, a strange but weirdly nice sounding concoction of Chicken thighs, Plums and Soy Sauce. So having nothing better planned for my dinner, I had a wander to the local butcher and picked up 4 fat whole legs, (thigh and drumstick) for the bargain price of £2.40.

Another reason the recipe appealed is because I'm quite a lazy cook and if something can go into one pan then that's all good with me and all this requires is the occasional removal of the roasting tray from the oven to add a few more ingredients.

The end result is amazing. Crispy juicy chicken, a nice little battle between the salty soy and the sweet roasted plums alongside chilli heat with an undercurrent of garlic. The recipe states to serve with plain rice or noodles, I opted instead for buttery polenta which worked extremely well and offset the main flavours very nicely.

This I am definitely going to be making again.

Ingredients (for two)

4 bone-in, skin-on, free-range chicken thighs
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1–4 red, mild-to-medium-hot chillies, to taste
4 garlic cloves, sliced
A thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely grated
4 plums, halved and stoned
3 tbsp soy sauce
A small bunch of coriander, leaves only, chopped (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

400ml water, salted
100g fine polenta
20g butter

Place the thighs on a roasting tray, drizzle with the oil and season well.Place in a preheated oven at 200C for 30 minutes, turn occasionally.
Remove the tray from the oven and add the chilli, ginger and garlic, roast for a further 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and add the plums and drizzle the soy sauce over the plums.
Roast for a further 10-15 minutes until the plums are soft.
Remove from he oven and rest for 10 minutes.
Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan.
slowly pour the polenta into the water whilst whisking constantly. cook on a low heat until all the water is absorbed, whisk in the butter and some ground pepper.

Serve and Enjoy.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Spiced Rum 'Eccles' Cakes

To the good people of Eccles, I apologise for messing with the recipe for the very fine creation that is the Eccles cake but I have no cinnamon or orange juice/zest so needs must.

To the uninitiated an Eccles cake is a classic bake from the town of Eccles and have been made and sold since at least 1793. It is a simple product of currants and spices wrapped in a flaky pastry casing. I had quite fancied making them since I spied them being sold in the little Marble Brewery pub on Thomas Street in Manchester as part of their bar snack range.

Having a collection of nearly every spice apart from cinnamon and the lack of a orange in the house meant I had to play around and decided to substitute the spices and liquid with a couple of tablespoons of Spiced Rum to give a nice spicy alcoholic kick.

I also found, thanks to Her Royal Highness (Delia), a recipe for a quick flaky pastry which cuts out all the rolling and folding to make normal flaky pastry which you can find right here on her website.

I am entering these for Calender Cakes, a blogger challenge run by Rachel at Dollybakes and Laura at Laura Loves Cakes of which the theme for this month is The Great Village Show a celebration of all things Great British.

Spiced Rum 'Eccles' Cakes
one batch of quick flaky pastry or you could use 500g puff pastry if you want.
75g butter
150g dark brown soft sugar
150g currants
50g mixed peel
3tbsp Spiced Rum

Gently melt the butter in a saucepan. once melted stir in the other ingredients until well combined and leave to cool.
Roll out the pastry until about the thickness of a pound coin.
Cut out circles with your largest cutter, at least 3 inches wide.
Add about half to a full teaspoon of mix to each circle, leaving a gap around the edge, don't over fill.
Wet the edges of the circle with a bit of water and fold up the edges and seal.
Gently roll into a ball with your hands.
Place on a flat surface, seam side down and gently, with a rolling pin, flatten to about 1/2cm-1cm thick.
Repeat with all remaining pastry circles.
Brush each cake with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar
Bake in a preheated oven at 220C (fan) until golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack then serve with a brew.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Slow Roast Leg of Lamb

Can you feel it people? It's only subtle currently but it's there. That little change in the air, the increase from single to double digits, the lack of that chill that burrows deep into your core. Yes, It's finally Spring.

After a winter that George R.R Martin would be proud of the signs are definitely there that the worst is over. The flowers will begin to bloom, bees will buzz and lambs will frollick happily in the fields well for a short time at least they will because they are very tasty, lamb not bees.

It's a fine meat is lamb, not my absolute favourite but in the top three after Beef (steeeeeak) and Venison. It can be used as a work of art with a rack of lamb in fine dining, form a hearty meal with slow cooked shanks or as part of Sunday dinner and many meals afterwards with a slow roast leg.

It is this latter I cooked a couple of weekends ago, fancying something different than the usual chicken and beef. I also wanted to have another go at slow cooking meat, Heston style such as the unbelievably amazing beef I cooked for Christmas dinner. Fortunately the bald headed genius didn't let me down with a recipe in Heston at Home for a slow roast leg of lamb with Anchovies, garlic and rosemary.

The recipe is a little bit more complicated than the beef but the extra stages in it are well worth carrying out. Blanching the garlic repeatedly in milk, takes away all the harshness and leaves a mellow little clove to do its job. The anchovies are a revelation, as it states int he book, the fishyness vanishes and leaves little salt explosions which are just superb. The meat...utterly amazing, soft, juicy, cuts like butter and practically melts in the mouth.

Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb
1 leg of lamb about 1.5 -2 kilos
3tbsp oil
6 cloves of garlic
400ml milk
12 anchovies in olive oil, drained and cut in half
3-4 sprigs of rosemary

Get your oven nice and hot to 80C (not a typo).
Heat the oil in a large frying pan until smoking hot. sear and brown the lamb on all sides until golden brown. Remove and place in a roasting tray
Cover the garlic in a small saucepan with 100ml of milk and bring slowly to the boil, once it boils remove from the heat, rinse and drain the garlic with cold water. repeat 3 more times with the remainder of the milk.
Cut the garlic into slivers.
Using a very sharp knife cut slits into the lamb at regular intervals and stuff with an anchovy, rosemary leaves and a garlic sliver. 

Place the lamb into the oven until core temperature reaches 55 degrees Celsius, about 3 hours. We went to the pub during this time and over cooked by 10 degrees but it was still nice and pink so the choice is yours to the final temperature. Don't go much further though.
Wrap in foil for half n hour to rest then slice and serve with trimmings of your choice.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

A Bouquet of Cupcakes

For the wedding cake, which you can read about here. I wanted a interesting way of presenting cupcakes that wasn't just the usual stands or just simply spread about on the table. Each of those methods I looked into required a lot of equipment. Cupcake stands are not cheap and are not easy to transport also with the numbers I had to make (150) buying fancy wrappers and cases and making decorations to make each cupcake look the same and look good would be far out of my budget. Therefore when a colleague of mine at the staff bake off made one similar and showed me how she did it, it was the answer to all the problems.

This type of presentation requires no fancy stands, the cupcake cases are not visible and decorations can be kept simple but they also look pretty good when finished.

Plus it's all very simple to do even though it looks quite complicated at first glance.

These recipes use the 'weigh your eggs' method as in whatever weight your eggs are when weighed in their shells then every other main ingredient uses that measurement.

Lemon/Chocolate cupcakes
Ingredients (makes around 50 mini cupcakes, scale up or down as required)
7 eggs (470g)
470g butter
470g SR flour
470g Caster Sugar
Zest of 4 large lemons or remove 50g of flour and replace with cocoa powder

Weigh your eggs to get your measurements. Add all ingredients into a bowl and mix with an electric hand whisk until a smooth batter is formed. Pour gently into the cupcake cases and bake in a preheated oven at 160C for about 20 minutes or until the cupcakes are golden.

Butter Cream Icing
(Makes enough to cover about 70 cupcakes)
300g soft butter
1.050kg Icing sugar
150ml Milk

1 capful peppermint extract and 10g green colour paste or zest of 3 large lemons

Mix the sugar with the butter until well combined then add the milk until the consistancy you want is formed, add a tbsp or two more if required.
Add the peppermint extract and green colour paste for a peppermint icing or add the lemon zest for a lemon icing.

Simply roll out white and bottle green royal icing to the thickness of a pound and use a cutter to make as many butterflies and leaves that you like.

4 floral oasis balls
4 small bowls
cling film
2 piping bags and small star nozzles
Cling film the balls and place in the bowls.
To attach the cupcakes, stick a toothpick into the bottom of the cupcake and press into the foam ball, alternate with chocolate and lemon cupcakes around the ball and make sure there are no large gaps.
Fill an icing bag with the green icing then ice each chocolate cupcake from the inside out in a circle, finishing in the middle. This should give a rose look. Repeat with the lemon icing on each lemon cupcake. Do not try to decorate the cupcakes before attaching to the oasis ball.
May have made a mistake at the back. oops
Randomly place the butterflies and leaves around the bouquet and sprinkle with edible glitter if you like.


By some random coincidence. Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Kate at What Kate Baked are doing a cupcake themed Tea time treat challenge this month of which I will be submitting this as my entry.

Wedding Cake

On the 4th of April 2013, my good friends James and Laura finally tied the knot and became Husband and Wife on a freezing cold snowy day... bet that didn't come up when planning an April wedding. I had the great honour of being one of James's Groomsmen and signatory to the marriage. As you have already probably gathered I had the even greater honour of making the wedding cake.

 Laura sent me some guidance and suggestions to the cake she wanted but my general brief was: 2 tier plus 150 cupcakes in the colours of white and dark green, easy enough....

So the problems, 1. I'm untrained and my skill at sugar craft is very low, 2. I don't drive so it had to be transported on a train. 3. equipment, I don't have loads of sugar craft equipment to create intricate designs plus see point 1.

To combat these problems, I kept the actual cake very simple, with ribbons and simple icing. The decoration you see on the cake is bought because something of that intricacy is currently beyond me, maybe one day.

The cupcakes were another problem in how to decorate and present them, I spent several hours looking at fancy cases, wrappers and stands. Fortunately a solution came along from the staff bake off where one competitor made a large teacup with cupcakes made to look like a bunch of flowers.

So the final design of a simple two tier white cake with several small bouquets of cupcakes had been settled, the final cupcake flavours were; chocolate sponge with green mint buttercream icing and lemon sponge with lemon buttercream.

Now just the small matter of making, transporting and assembling to do.

The actual making was the easy part, two fruit cakes are simple enough just time consuming and because I have two 24 mini silicone cupcake trays, making 150 cupcakes took only a few hours from start to finish.

Transporting however is a different matter, two heavy fruit cakes, 150 cupcakes, 4 bowls of butter cream icing and 6 floral oasis balls plus usual stuff for a weekend away are a 'insert swearwords here' to transport, but with the two of us we got it down there.

Assembly was done at the venue, the cake was smoothed down and the floral spray attached, then 150 cupcakes were attached with toothpicks to four floral oasis balls then iced with the two icings, leaves and butterflies were attached and voila my first wedding cake was complete.

To the Bride and Groom. Cheers